November 11, 2017

Rock Hollow Gun Club, Freeport, IL

By Dr. Abner Mality

Rock Hollow Gun Club in November has a lot of nostalgic power over my mind. I first started going to NYDM sponsored metal shows at this odd location more than 10 years ago and that opened up a whole new world of metal experience to me. Many of the reviews of those old events can be found in our archives here.

After taking a layoff last year, Slayfest returned for its 3rd go-round in 2017. Slayfest, promoted by Scott “Slayer” Severns, picked up the torch from the old NYDM Thanksgiving Bashes held at the same location. I had a melancholy feeling attending this year’s edition, like it might be the last time I’m ever in this place. I don’t know if that will be the case, but that was the feeling I had. The memories of past events were overwhelming when I walked through the door this year.

The first band to play was a new one. This was ATHAME, who were going for a 70’s proto-metal vibe that was part Zeppelin/part Sabbath, with a little bit of 90’s grunge tossed in. The band featured Tom Schoenhard of the legendary Lincoln Love Log among its members. These guys were a long way from the insane noise of LLL.  Their cover of Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf” was rocking, but Ozzy’s “Mr. Crowley” wasn’t on the same level. Their originals were strong, but I think as time goes on, this band will tighten up considerably. I hope they get the chance to improve because their sound is something we need around here.

Next up was a band that was completely new to me called SPACE BURIAL. I wish I could say I liked them, but their brand of hard psychedelia is just not to my personal taste. Their tunes all started spacey and mellow with tons of guitar effects before hardening up on the verses and veering into some ripping solos. The guitar work is very impressive, I’ll give them that, but on one tune, they got about ¾ through it and then just stopped playing and stood there without saying anything. That’s bush league and I expect better from a band I pay money to see. Their stage presence was lacking, but I do detect something in their music that can grow into something unique, so I chalk up the miscues to growing pains and leave it at that.

ABOLISH from Dixon, IL hit the stage next and these boys had the burden of playing without their lead singer, who apparently quit the band suddenly and left them in the lurch. Oh well, I give them credit for soldiering on without the singer but it sure makes a difference. These guys were a complete contrast to Space Burial as they played ultra-brutal deathcore heavy on the slam. Their drummer was an energetic young black dude who put on a real show…you couldn’t take your eyes off him. In contrast, the pudgy guitarist was as laid back as could be even when dishing out the most knee-buckling riffs. A real treat came when “Bossman” Randall Mikkelson, who did a great job putting together the old Thanksgiving Bashes in the same space, stepped up on mike to sing one song with the boys. His throat-ripping screams gave a good idea of what Abolish might sound like with a quality vocalist. Maybe Bossman ought to think about taking up that gig full time.

One area band that I always sing the praises of is Freeport’s power trio, THE SIRENS ARE CALLING. These boys always bring the heavy, playing a style of metal that mixes Clutch style hard rock with heavier, almost thrash vibes. They have a unique three pronged vocal attack that makes them memorable as well. I didn’t catch the names of all their songs, but I know tunes like “Big Chief” and “Victory” hit me with quality riffs and screaming leads. I can’t figure out why these guys don’t have a bigger following or even get signed to a label, but there is some real heavy metal here worth exploring.

By now the Hollow was rocking pretty good and the crowd was packed in tight. There’s no doubt many were there to see the next band, BLACKCAT MANOR, who have established a very strong local following. And why not? They play an aggressive but extremely tuneful mix of thrashing metal and pop punk with great vocals. It’s a sound that could go far if it greets the right ears. They played a lot of material from their latest EP “Relentless” tonight, including barn burners like “Hellfire” and “Old Friend”. I can’t say this was the best show I’ve ever seen them deliver, but they’ve never really delivered a bad one. You can say that this is pretty much Freeport’s top band right now.

A fair amount of the crowd evaporated after Blackcat Manor’s show, which was to be expected, but that left a lot of diehards and serious metalheads to check out the next 2 bands on the bill. Tonight was the debut performance of IRRITABLE DISCONTENT, a band that’s been together for a year honing their act. I have to mention right now that Wormwood scribe Thor is the drummer and guiding force behind these guys. They are pretty much a straightup thrash band, drawing influence from Nuclear Assault, Anthrax, Slayer and the like. Their lead singer Jeff is a burly bearded dude who is quite the character, roaring and diving right into the crowd. There were some sound hiccups during the band’s set and the expected little mishaps one would expect during a debut performance, but these guys had a pretty strong debut. Their thrashy material was a little chunkier and less lightspeed than I expected, but that’s fine with me. It would be great to have a real thrash band from these parts again and maybe Irritable Discontent will do the trick.

Originally The Sparrow was part of Slayfest but the drummer severely messed up his back, forcing them to leave the show. That gave a little more time to everybody, especially the new headliners, MUTILATED BY ZOMBIES from Dubuque, Iowa. I first saw this band here at Rock Hollow about 7 years ago or so and they made a big impression on me back then. I’ve seen them several times since and they improve with every performance. Lead growler/guitarist Josh DeMuth tells me that Prosthetic Records is taking a hard look at signing them. I can only say, I hope Prosthetic seals the deal. MTZ is one of the Midwest’s best death metal bands, drawing influence from masters like DEATH and OBITUARY but building on that foundation to create something unique. Sometimes there is an almost progressive quality to the riffing that mixes with more expected brutality. Josh’s death growls are superb and really need to be heard by a wider audience. I’m hoping that chance will come soon for these guys. As much as I love seeing them at Rock Hollow, they deserve bigger and better venues.

Slayfest III took a little while to get its momentum and there were some weird bumps on the way, but this little festival wound up smoking pretty well. Hats off to Slayer and all the NYDM faithful for keeping the metal in Stephenson County. I hope #4 is bigger and better yet.