Paul Peruses Wisconsin's Finest
CoC covers the Milwaukee Metalfest XIII
at the Milwaukee Auditorium in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Friday and Saturday July 30th & 31st, 1999

by: Paul Schwarz
Introduction

This year's Milaukee Metalfest went through so many "last minute" (as in last month) problems that it was looking at one point not simply that it would be one big anticlimactic disappointment, but that it would not happen at all. The first line-up casualties this year were the headliners, with Manowar and Machine Head both cancelling mere weeks before the Fest was to go ahead. Rumours suggest that Machine Head pulled out due to the "extreme" line-up of the Metalfest ("Didn't want to play with too many death metal bands" was the way it was put to me) and Manowar wanted more money than was offered. Another possible explanation, however, is that Jack Koshick (Metalfest organiser) put these bands on the bill before a contract with them was signed and thus the bands may never have been set for Metalfest in the first place. In any case, the fact stands that high-profile headliners were not what Metalfest ended up with this year and thus Neurosis / The Misfits and Cradle of Filth were the more low-key lynch-pins for the two days of music and metal madness that the 5000 or so attendees were treated to. This year a venue shift was also planned. The idea was to take MMF outside to the Milwaukee State Fair Park, but when legal wrangles forced Koshick & Co. to fight a court battle over the right to hold it at this venue, a court case which was lost, the decision was made to move the festival back indoors, though not to the Eagles Ballroom where recent Metalfests have taken place, but instead to the Milwaukee Auditorium, a large, air-conditioned complex which housed all four stages with ease. To be honest, the oppressive and ludicrously humid weather made this new location a godsend; I think if MMF XIII had been held outside it would have been a painful and very unenjoyably hot experience. With a venue in place it was time for a few more bands to pull out, with Satyricon, Marduk, Morbid Angel, Nevermore and Solitude Aeturnus all cancelling, some mere days before the event was to go ahead. All this taken into account, then, it was with some trepidation and much pessimism that I made the trip down to Milwaukee for the second year running.

Heading down with colleagues and generally respected metalheads is always fun, and in traditional fashion the festivities began the day before the festival itself, with beer being consumed, jokes being cracked and great dialogues being had, long after Thursday night had faded into oblivion and the early hours of Friday morning had come upon us. Thus, sickness and headache greeted me on Friday as I prepared for a day of excruciating volumes and sweaty rooms, but this did not manage to stain the two days of music, which, at points, were almost revelatory.

The four stages this year's Fest played host to were an Arena-style stage, Bruce Hall, two medium sized rooms adjacent to each other, Kilbourn Hall and Juineau Hall, and an upstairs seated and furnished conference room, Plankington Hall, which was where Relapse had their sponsored stage. Moving between these was relatively unhindering and even the climb to the upstairs Relapse-sponsored stage was no hassle. Though the three apart from Bruce Hall got a bit hot once a large number of people were crammed into them, in general the air conditioning made things at least bearable, certainly a comparison to previous Metalfests.

But hey, enough of my yappin'... let's buggie!

Friday 30th July

After walking around the venue to check out the layout, various rooms, stages and tables full of merchandise, the first band who I actually took time to watch were ...And Here I Lie. They had a doomy feel to their music, most commonly chugging along and sprinkling melodic runs sparingly into the dirge-like mix, and reminded vaguely of the style of _The Fourth Dimension_-era Hypocrisy. Vesperian Sorrow took Bruce Hall's dauntingly large stage next and were quite the unusual combination of factors. Would you believe in the existence a black/death metal band with keyboard backings and an European feel who come from Texas and dress like a hardcore band, with Texas leaning like chequered shirts thrown in for good measure, who are signed to the Dutch death metal label Displeased? You wouldn't, would you? Well, Vesperian Sorrow are just that and, to be fair, they were also actually pretty decent despite their unusual image.

First on my list of bands I -intended- to check out were Chicago's Ember, who seem not only to have taken a slightly different musical path of late with their _Concession_ EP but also seem to have had an image change for good measure. A few supporters I know of walked out of Kilbourn Hall right after they walked in because they assumed that Ember weren't Ember. However, the few songs I caught sounded good and, despite emphasising the more punk leanings the band have recently taken on (especially with their cover of The Misfit's "Earth AD"), showed that they still have the power to kick some ass in the live arena. From The Depths followed Ember and impressed me mildly, showcasing a good range of dynamics and utilising melody well. Their highly appraising demo reviews in previous issues of this magazine were not overzealous, judging by tonight's performance, though I did leave briefly to get an opinion on the band currently whining their way through a set on the Bruce Hall stage, London Ontario's Kittie. This band are to me a female, punk/riot girl version of the Death Kids, with attention-grabbing stage antics, novelty status and painfully average music in abundance: I left quickly in mild disgust.

By this point in the day stages were already running late, a problem which would persist and become increasingly more agitated as the festival progressed, and so I arrived at the Relapse stage a bit before Bongzilla hit it and during the last few minutes of Fall's set. Fall seemed to be a death-tinged grindcore band who had achieved a good sound and had the confidence to play competently and look good on stage, and thus were worthwhile, though a long way short of a stand-out.

Bongzilla's sound filled the air and created a similarly encapsulating feel to Burn the Priest last year. However, like Burn the Priest, I found their music (which is of the stoner/Eyehategod variety) to be similarly uninteresting after prolonged listening. The same syndrome of heading for one band, finding they were late and thus catching another occurred when I came across Centurion on the Kilbourn Hall stage. Their take on _Harmony Corruption_-era Napalm Death / Massacre's _From Beyond_ was unastounding, though still suitably powerful, but Epoch of Unlight, who I had come to see, were a lot more worthy of my time. Having only heard rumours of their talents and no actual music, I was pleasantly surprised to be impressed by Epoch of Unlight. They play a technical mix of American death and European melodic death and possess more than a hint of black. The singer's vocals are thankfully far beyond inconsequential, as can sometimes be the case when a technical melee is on the cards, and in any case the band's technical prowess and occasional use of breakdowns was a pleasure to watch. Epoch are certainly a band I will be making an effort to hear more of in the future.

Today Is the Day kicked my ass for a man. Once again (this is the third time I have witnessed them and also the third time I have gotten a severe ass-kicking) they totally slayed live. Their sound was utterly raw though devastatingly clear, shoving the sporadic guitar work and insane drumming right in the audience's collective face. Steve Austin was once again a visual, musical and emotional focal point with his intense motions, mike swallowing and generally anguished presence enhancing the feeling of anger, disgust and fury which the spastic tones of Today Is the Day inevitably convey to the listener. Once again a highlight of the Metalfest and certainly the best band to play on Friday. Unfortunately, stage conflicts meant I could only catch a song and a half of Solus' set, but what I heard sounded as proficient and deadly as their past live appearances and their recently unleashed _Universal Bloodshed_ album.

Krisiun were my reason for leaving Solus. These Brazilian deathsters have a lot of thrash, a lot of technical prowess and a recipe for musical insanity in place on their records which led me to expect a live performance would be almost unbearably intense. I was a little let down. Though playing powerfully and well reproducing tracks from both _Black Force Domain_ and _Apocalyptic Revelation_, Krisiun lacked a fine-tuned clarity, especially in the vocal department, which meant that much as their impact was intense and violent, it did not draw the listener into their violent soundscape like their albums have that wonderful ability to. Granted, the spiralling solo-work of the single guitarist was captivating and the drum work was, especially in parts, astoundingly complex, but the performance was not the extra one up on their albums I had hoped it would be.

Neurosis' performance on the main stage, Bruce Hall, was similarly disappointing. Though projectors were present and a good sound was in their possession, Neurosis were not the life-changing spectacle live which I had been told so many times they are (and unfortunately they didn't play my personal favourite track, "Locust Star", either). At points I was drawn into their set enough to really live and breath the experience in the way I had been told would be the case, but they were not enrapturing enough to stop my mind from constantly wandering and pulling me back to the rather ordinary reality of just watching a band perform their material. I watched Neurosis' set, I enjoyed it, but I did not live it, and that was a shame.

Watching all of Neurosis led me to miss the majority of In Flames, who I am told were pretty astounding this evening. I was not convinced by the selection of _Colony_ tracks and old favourite "Behind Space" which I heard, and though I will admit In Flames were good, I found their stage presence a little lacking.

The night came to a mushy halt with The Misfits. Though their spikes, muscular physiques and unusual make-up and hairdos made for an imposing stage presence, which was backed up by their energetic jumps and runs around the stage and an impressively crunchy sound, they became somewhat tedious after fifteen or twenty minutes on stage and played an overabundance of recent or soon-to-be-released material, somewhat neglecting older classics. They also spent a ridiculous thirty minutes sound-checking, which was irritating, to say the least. Overall, The Misfits weren't that much of a disappointment since I hadn't expected a great deal from them, but they were a disappointing end to the first day of music at Metalfest XIII, and were certainly no substitute for Manowar.

Saturday 31st July

Today began at 17:00 for me with Lividity's appearance on the Kilbourn Hall stage. For the record, bands today started at 11:00 (yesterday it was 16:00) so we missed quite a considerable chunk of music, though nothing we -knew- was going to be any good apart from Toronto's own Rotting, who we meant to see but arrived late for -- sorry, guys. Lividity I had gone to check out solely because I had been told their stage comments relating to female genitalia were funny in their brash, offensive tone. I wasn't let down. Though the proceeding music was always -very- unexciting American death metal, proclamations like "This song is -Pussy Lover-!" or "This song is about getting fucked in the ass", chantings of "Show your pussy" from band to audience and comments on how the band hope the audience enjoys their new album capped off with "Ladies, we hope you blow your guys to this" kept me entertained, to say the least. That final comment resulted in an immediate middle finger salute from one female member of the audience, which is pretty much how I felt towards Lividity by the end of their set, with regards to both their music, their comments and the novelty of them that they seem to be exploiting for commercial gain.

Next up on this same stage were New York's Withered Earth, a band I am not only familiar with but also one whose music I enjoy. Their set was good, with a decent sound backing the band up and good performances turned in by all, though the drummer should be mentioned specially for his subtly excellent cymbal work. The band captured a good groove live and pulled off their various breakdowns and song dynamics seemingly with ease. I will admit their somewhat hardcore-like appearance threw me off somewhat, judging by the distinct death metal sound they have, but it certainly made no difference to their impressive performance tonight.

Next up were Pessimist, a band who certainly -do- wear their death metal stylings very much on their sleeve, or rather in their leather trousers, bullet belts and toned physiques. However, the band are more than just an imposing physical presence; their technical brand of brutal death is also an imposing musical force to be reckoned with and they certainly impressed me more than expected in their short 20 minute appearance.

Late running stages again led me to catch bands I had intended not to bother with, and I would have been happy to do without Exhumed, who were still grinding at the Relapse stage when Nasum should have been on. Exhumed are bearable but painfully generic and derivative and not that exciting to watch live. Nasum were quite a contrast. Though also a grindcore band, their songs are far better written, their anger is more affectingly obvious and their attitude seems more professional. Though they had a few sound problems which cut into their set and not every moment captivated me, their overall effect was devastating, especially when they played "The Masked Face" and its follow on.

I was only able to catch one song and a half of Dying Fetus (who were almost as viciously devastating as usual, even in that short time) despite leaving Nasum early to catch them, as a late running Kilbourn Hall but on-time Bruce Hall meant that Usurper were starting only five minutes, instead of half and hour, after Dying Fetus. Usurper were no kind of compensation for missing even three minutes of Dying Fetus, let alone over half their set. The singer's Tom Warrior-isms can become almost embarrassing at times, while his attempts to invigorate the crowd in-between songs had him sounding like a monkey. Additionally, the band played neither "Necrocult Part 1" or "Dead of Winter", which are surely some of their best songs, and the other members were not even close to stunning enough to offset the singer's inadequacies. Disappointing and close to just plain bad.

One thing I was going to make sure of today was that I saw The Chasm, and this led me to go into Juineau Hall (for the first time this weekend!) early and thus catch some of Lorde of All Desires' set. They seem to be decent, keyboard backed melodic death, with a gothic tinge, and though unexciting were far from offensive. However, I had come to see The Chasm, and my waiting was not without reward. Beginning with the vicious one-two of "Revenge Rises" / "Drowned in the Mournful Blood", The Chasm slayed and were one of the best bands of the weekend. Though some of the melodic, and especially acoustic, intricacies of the music showcased on their latest _Deathcult For Eternity: The Triumph_ album didn't come out live, their Slayer-esque stage appearance and similar live impact made them a deadly force to be reckoned with.

I missed two songs of Atrocity (who I was quite hyped up to see) to watch all of The Chasm, but to be honest that was definitely the right decision: Atrocity were a big disappointment. The two songs I missed were '80s covers; Atrocity played two more before I left and another one as I was leaving. The old material they played was poorly chosen in addition to the fact there wasn't enough of it, with the title tracks of _Blut_ and _Wilenskraft_ getting an airing along with "Necropolis" from _Hallucinations_ (which they played nearly two full times due to sound problems which cut off their first, nearly completed, attempt to play the song). Atrocity were just that today: an atrocity, and, to paraphrase one of their covers, sets like these are the things -I- can do without. Fortunately, changes in set times did mean that I didn't have to miss the beginning of Nile because of spending time watching Atrocity and thus I saw South Carolina's Egyptianally innovative death metal gods perform for the third time this year. Playing without samples, Nile began with "Barra Edinazu" and followed up with "The Black Hand of Set", "The Howling of the Jinn" and "Pestilence and Iniquity" before I looked at my watch, realised Immolation were about to play, and somehow managed to extract myself from Nile's enrapturing aura. Nile were astounding, with a truly inhuman presence imbuing them and making their set an experience far above simply watching a band play their music live.

Despite Nile's near-godly presence, I in no way regretted leaving them to see Immolation. As some of you may already realise, Immolation are a personal favourite of mine and they have also just released what will surely remain as one of 1999's death metal triumphs: _Failures For Gods_. From beginning to end their set was as violent as it was moving; Immolation injected me with the primal energy of pure enjoyment as they raged through "Once Ordained", "No Jesus, No Beast", "Under the Supreme", "Unsaved" (cut a little short by sound problems), "Into Everlasting Fire", "Dawn of Possession" and the ultimate closer (which also closes _FFG_), "The Devil I Know". Immolation were most certainly the band of the Metalfest for me this year; I bow down before them and shake with the anticipation of seeing them live in London, England early in September.

After being flattened by Immolation, I waited a while to check out Cradle of Filth, tonight's headliners. After a long and drawn out classical, organ tinged intro, the band hit the stage with a rather mushy sound and I quickly became bored and headed to the other stages to see what else was on offer. Upon finding nothing of interest at that point, I went back to the main stage a while later to catch Cradle finishing "Dusk and Her Embrace", then playing new track "From the Cradle to Enslave" and then beginning "The Twisted Nails of Fate" before I again got bored and headed off to the Relapse stage to see Gorguts.

Of course, they were in a wholly different class. Though second guitarist Steve was absent, Lemay and his two remaining compadres managed to very convincingly pull off a captivating set. Many tracks from their warped and brilliant _Obscura_ were aired along with "Stiff and Cold" from _Considered Dead_, and though they weren't destroyed by Steve's absence, there were times in the _Obscura_ material where one felt that something was certainly missing. All in all, a great set but one which could have been better.

The last band I caught this year were Rotting Christ, who took the Kilbourn Hall stage nearly an hour later than scheduled. This being the Greeks' first time ever in the US, it was gratifying that their presence was as strong and energetic as when I saw them support Deicide in London back in February. However, the band were cut off after less than twenty minutes because the festival had a curfew time which had been reached. With police around the building, the organisers obviously didn't want to risk problems, and thus, despite crowd and band protestation, Rotting Christ were unceremoniously removed from the stage. This was the ultimate end result of a very late running stage. I think time and thought should be expended to avoid similar problems in the future.

Conclusion

This year Metalfest was an overall success. The second day in particular presented enough great bands and stunning performances to offset the disappointment of so many cancellations, even of bands I was dying to see. The jury is still out for me as to whether four stages is a good thing. To be honest, I only went to three most of the time and even these provided and had the potential for enough clashes to really get on my nerves, so I imagine four stages all with bands I was interested in would have been near to impossibly irritating. The late running of the stages, especially Kilbourn Hall, should be fixed just to make it possible to know when you can see a band and to prevent what happened to Rotting Christ happening again. I know it seems like quite a demand, but giving each band their time and absolutely no more would be the best solution, otherwise there's often one who pays for the delay in the end, and thus the fans also pay.

Additionally, I would like to say thank you to Relapse Records for providing food and drink for some of us in a nice secluded room and of course for once again bringing so many of their bands, some of whom were among the best at the festival, to Milwaukee this year.

To close, here are some funny things which happened or which were heard at Metalfest, apart from those things, such as Lividity's stage comments, which have already been mentioned.

1. A rather dishevelled-looking person sitting in a corner holding a sign saying "Will put out for food and shelter". 2. One person screaming "Kill -all- the Christians!" after leaving a band in Kilbourn Hall. 3. Will Rahmer of Mortician, who decided that one woman idly stepping on a flyer needed to be stopped, and thus went and kicked her on the foot to get her to move off the flyer saying "Excuse me, can you move your foot, please?". She moved it.

(article submitted 12/8/1999)


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