While the majority of New Englanders spent Friday, April 19th glued to the television watching the latest developments in the Boston bombings story, fans of heavy music from the area found refuge at the New England Metal & Hardcore Festival. While Boston was unprecedentedly shut down for the day, The Palladium in Worcester, MA went on with the show. Despite the uncertainty looming less than an hour away in the capital city, the festival offered a safe and fun environment; a much-needed escape from the horrors of real life we had experienced in the week prior.
Despite the horrifying events that transpired nearby, the New England Metal & Hardcore Festival is a cause for merriment. The three-day festival celebrates dozens of bands from the various subgenres of metal and hardcore, ranging from well-established legends to young, up-and-coming acts. This year's event was extra special, as it marked the 15th anniversary of the festival.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a better way to celebrate the anniversary of a metal festival than with the almighty Anthrax. The thrash metal legends headlined the first day of the event, delivering a top-notch performance for all to see. It was the second-to-last stop of the band's headlining run on the Metal Alliance Tour. To make their appearance extra special, Anthrax performed their 1987 breakthrough album, Among the Living, in its entirety.
Anthrax have been around for more than 30 years, and the album they performed is 26 years old itself, but you'd never know it by watching their performance. Sure, Scott Ian's iconic goatee may be gray these days, but the band sounds as good as ever. At 52, vocalist Joey Belladonna is the eldest member of the group, but he shows more charisma than many musicians half his age.
Unlike most full-album shows, Anthrax decided to breakup Among the Living into segments. They began with Side A, performing the first five tracks, and then they mixed in the three of the four remaining tracks among other fan favorites. For some reason, "Horror of It All" was not performed. It seems they played it at other dates of the tour, so it was likely excised due to the festival's time restraints - although it would have been much more logical to cut a non-album track.
In addition to Among the Living - featuring such standouts as "Indians," "Caught in a Mosh," "I am the Law," and "Efilnikufesin (N.F.L.)" - and other fan favorites, Anthrax's performance included several covers. There was a quick, surprise take on Stormtroopers of Death's "March of the S.O.D.," the band's well-known cover of Joe Jackson's "Got the Time" and their straightforward rendition of AC/DC's "T.N.T." (with which the crowd loved singing along) from their recent Anthems EP. Lastly, the band ended their set with their trashy, catchy version of Trust's "Antisocial" before giving the beckoning audience a heartfelt thank you.
Although an announcement was never made about the second Boston bombing suspect being captured during the festival, the local tragedy was on everyone's mind. Despite their proud New York heritage, the band members showed no reservations in their support for Boston. "We all humans, and we stand together," proclaimed Ian as he put on a Red Sox cap. Looking at the crowd, the unity was obvious. There were fans young and old; headbangers side-by-side with moshers; people in Anthrax shirts who made their way to the barricade early in the day and remained in place for hours; parents accompanying children and vice versa.
Anthrax's "Caught in a Mosh" could be the official anthem of the New England Metal & Hardcore Festival, especially considering Hatebreed played right before them. Vocalist Jamey Jasta seems to have unlimited energy. In addition to fronting Hatebreed, he sings in multiple side projects, owns a record label and runs a clothing line. You'd think he'd be tired with all that on his plate, but his performance proved otherwise.
Hatebreed packed 20 hard-hitting tracks in an hour. A solid mix of old and new material, the set included the likes of "This Is Now," "Before Dishonor," "Perseverance, ""Everyone Bleeds Now," "In Ashes They Shall Reap," "Last Breath" (dedicated to the recently deceased Deftones bassist Chi Cheng) and the anthemic closer, "I Will Be Heard."
Jasta announced that the band would be touring the U.S. in late 2014 to celebrate their 20th anniversary. And, much like Anthrax, you'd never know the members of Hatebreed have been at it for so long. Jasta told the crowd that nothing in the world compares to playing shows, and the smile on his face throughout the set as he saw fans cheer and sing along showed that it was a genuine sentiment.
I had missed Every Time I Die's recent Boston appearance, so I was happy to see them back at Metal Fest for the second year in a row. The band dedicated their set to the city of Boston. The scorching performance was similar to thatof the previous year in terms of both vigor and song selection. They opened with "Underwater Bimbos from Outer Space" and kept the energy high for 45 minutes, closing with a killer one-two punch of "Ebolarama" and "We'rewolf."
Exodus may have given the crowd whiplash with all of the thrashing headbangs caused by their set. Vocalist Rob Dukes sent out "War Is My Shepherd" to the Boston bombers, stating "You come to Boston and think you're not going to die? Fuck you!" Municipal Waste is a band I don't listen to on record very often, but I love seeing them live because it's always a blast. Massachusetts' own Shadows Fall took the stage around 5 o'clock, which is probably among the earliest times they've ever played in their homestate - but it's merely a testament to how strong the festival's line-up is.
The main stage offered plenty of other good acts throughout the day, but I spent most of the afternoon upstairs at the second stage. While the main stage is great for larger-than-life metal bands, the second offers a much more intimate, barricade-free setting for hardcore acts. Trap Them headlined the stage - although vocalist Ryan McKenney told the crowd, "This isn't a stage; this is a launching pad!" Their rousing performance can best be described as a half hour of power.
There was once a time when Death Before Dishonor shows, particularly in their homestate of Massachusetts, would turn into war zones of flying fists. Many of the younger kids who were going hard earlier in the day for newer bands were noticeably absent from the pit, but old favorites such as "666 (Family Friends Forever)" got fans moving. The band isn't as active these days, but frontman Bryan Harris promised new material soon. The band sent out their set-ending rendition of Cock Sparrer's "Boston Belongs to Me" to the city they call home.
Other highlights from the second stage stage included Power Trip's refreshing take on crossover thrash/hardcore, the endless bodies piling up for Expire, and Code Orange Kids setting the bar high early in the day. The festival continued on for two additional days, boasting acts such as Opeth, Suicidal Tendencies, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Sick of It All, D.R.I., Miss May I, Terror and Trapped Under Ice.
On Friday evening, the New England Metal & Hardcore Festival crew came out and presented founder Scott Lee with a trophy in celebration of the event's 15th anniversary. He was thanked for giving locals a home away from home over the years, and the audience roared with approval. Lee's acceptance speech was brief, proclaiming that he intends to keep the festival going for another 15 years. With its unparalleled track record of success, that shouldn't be a problem - and fans like myself will continue to flock there every April.