Metal descended on the good lands of Wisconsin as the Milwaukee Metalfest made its triumphant return last weekend with the help of Jamey Jasta. Held at the Eagle’s Ballroom/The Rave, the festival boasted 3 stages spread across 3 floors hosting dozens of incredible Metal and Hardcore acts.
When discussing a festival, mentioning the headliners seems like a natural given; almost so inherently exemplary that mentioning their mere presence almost feels like an afterthought. But with that said, Milwaukee Metalfest managed to find a group of stand out artists who felt instrumental to preserving the legacy of the festival of yesteryear and captured the Metallic Zeitgeist of the moment. Each Night’s set of headliners were stand out victories, ranging from Hardcore tentpoles to Thrash instituions. On the first night, Jasta himself took the stage to welcome the reunion of the classic Hardcore band, and personal inspiration for him, Biohazard who played their first show in over a decade. The reformation pulled out all the stops, bringing guitarists Billy Graziadei and Bobby Hambel alongside with the return of the abrasive vocals from Bassist Evan Seinfeld. With a heated introduction the band slammed into the title track of ‘Urban Discipline’ winning an explosive reaction from fans. Their setlist was a furious collection of the first 3 albums, reminding Milwaukee of how this group infused hip hop elements into Heavy Hitting Hardcore and stormed the world.
The next night saw a pairing of Suicidal Tendencies with Anthrax, one band who thrived in chaos paired with the technical precision of one of the Big 4 thrash bands. Suicidal Tendencies were a hardcore tornado, kicking off on a rendition of ‘You Can’t Keep Me Down’ that seemingly stretched on for 10 minutes as the band jumped off any available surface. Mike Muir only stepped it up from there with the primal scream ‘I SHOT REAGAN!’ launching the crowdsurfers into the air, aimed straight toward the stage. Anthrax by contrast, were a precision strike of raw Metal. Their setlist was focused, teeth rattling thrash with hits like ‘Among The Living,’ ‘Madhouse,’ and ‘Keep It In The Family.’ The highlight of their time onstage came during ‘I Am The Law’ when Robb Flynn of Machine Head joined them to the massive cheers of fans. Finally, Milwaukee Metalfest alumns Lamb Of God closed out the entire weekend with a thunderous bang! Singer Randy Blythe took a moment to congratulate the festival on its return and recalled the time they played one of the second stages at the same venue nearly 20 years prior. Two decades later and Lamb Of God have evolved into one of the undisputed titans of Modern Metal and ignited a Circle Pit with slamming hits such as ‘Now You’ve Got Something To Die For,’ ‘512,’ ’11th Hour,’ and ‘Redneck.’
Aside from the main draws closing out the evenings, the day was filled with amazing rising stars, hidden gems, and seasoned treasures. First off, while Anthrax was the big draw to wrap up Saturday night, there is no overlooking the savage fan enthusiasm for the return of Shadows Fall. While out of the public eye in recent years, the Eagle’s Ballroom was packed when they took the stage and erupted into a circle pit from very beginning with the opening battle cry of ‘The Power Of I and I.’ Guitarist Jon Donais pulled double duty playing sets practically back to back sets for both bands, and reminded us all why his technical neo-classical riffs landed him the lead guitar duties of Anthrax in the first place. On the Martystore.net stage a number of different bands used the small club environment to stand out and demonstrate their raw potential. Massachusetts band Fuming Mouth mixed their lowkey Death Metal fury with often doomed and tortured refrains. Saturday also saw the stage taken over by Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens, the former blood-curling banshee cry of Judas Priest, and only voice that could rival Rob Halford’s. His set was a mix of Original material under the Ripper moniker as well as various Priest covers that defined his time with the band. The more observant of the pact were also present for the truly bizarre alchemy of Imperial Triumphant. The band is a confusing beast, combining Black Metal guteral growls and theatrics with Jazz Fusion and even Funk rhythms into a sound that is… well, there is certainly nothing that sounds like it. While not the easiest musical act to digest, between the cult-appearance, chaotic time signatures and general craziness of their performance, it stands as the most unique performance of the entire weekend.
On the Rave stage, Frozen Soul delivered a beast of a performance as big as all of Texas, with a robust and concrete presence to boot. Undoubtedly the stand out performance fell to Vended, featuring the vocals of Griffin Taylor and percussions of Simon Crahan. Do not overlook this band. Their Metallic legacy has definitely elevated the sensibilities of how they conduct themselves in a live performance. The ferocity on display is definitely familiar (pun intended), but still feels so unique and brutal.
On the mainstage, some bands warranted an extra look. Even for fans of the Swedish Death Metal scene and the bands that stemmed from it, The Halo Effect seemingly came out of nowhere with a spellbinding presence. The band is basically a fusion of former In Flames and Dark Tranquility members are combines the hard-hitting and aetherial sensibilities of both. Squint hard and let the music take you away, it’s like an alternate version of either band. Also, Dying Wish is an Ass-Kicker. No two ways around it, this band is exploding on the scene and one note from the vocals of Emma Boster is a feral air-raid. Don’t be fooled by the skirt, this band is ready for a street brawl.