The New England Metal and Hardcore Festival has been a staple of the Massachusetts music scene for 14 years now. I attended the third day of this year’s festivities at The Palladium in Worcester, MA on April 22. The two prior days featured such acts as All That Remains, The Black Dahlia Murder, DragonForce, The Acacia Strain, Overkill and tons more, but the sold out final day touted the highly anticipated return of Killswitch Engage.
I arrived just in time to catch Recon on the second stage. It was their return show and first with new vocalist Rob Fusco. Recon's music is more straightforward than Fusco's past projects (Most Precious Blood, One King Down), but he seemed to have fun. The crowd kept a healthy mosh going for their 20-minute set. In fact, the second stage was virtually a non-stop mosh pit - with the occasional stage dive - throughout the day.
On Broken Wings’ music is chock full of mindless breakdowns, but it’s always fun to see them in their homestate of Massachusetts, where kids go hard. The moshing was mostly respectful, despite encouragements for violence. The band has been laying low for a while, but they just recorded some fresh material and played one of the new songs. Longtime staples “I Do My Crosswords in Pen” and “Listless” really got the crowd going.
After their opening song, Stick to Your Guns frontman Jesse Barnett remarked how he couldn’t believe that he hadn’t seen one person jump off the stage yet. That’s all it took; the next song, “What Goes Around,” was a frenzy of stage diving. It continued throughout the remainder of their half-hour set, until the stage became a sing-along pile-on for closer “This Is More.” It was good to hear Josh James (of Evergreen Terrace and Casey Jones), the latest addition to STYG, doing some back-up vocals as well.
I’m not familiar with Sleeping Giant, but they were headlining the second stage (and my other option was Chelsea Grin), so I stuck around to check them out. It got surprisingly personal. Before “Eyes Wide Open,” vocalist Tom Green revealed that he was molested by his babysitter at the age of 4. The trauma in turn ruined his first marriage and affected his children. Despite the abuse, he said that he still believes in God (which received a lukewarm response). Green spoke about his religion a few times throughout the half-hour set, getting dangerously preachy at times, but he was so passionate and genuine that it was hard to mind even from an atheistic standpoint. Performing is his way to work out those demons, and members of the audience clearly shared that mindset.
With the second stage wrapped, I headed downstairs for the main stage. The vibe is completely different there. Where is the upstairs of The Palladium provides an intimate show perfect for a couple hundred tightly-packed kids, the main room is a full-scale concert hall that holds over 2,000 people. As such, most of the hardcore bands played upstairs, while the metal groups were downstairs.
I got to the main stage right before another Christian band, For Today, went on. I had just checked out their new album and enjoyed their August Burns Red-esque metalcore sound, so I was interested to see them. They delivered a solid set, and it too was not without a little bit of preaching. Frontman Mattie Montgomery proclaimed that if you feel broken, there is always hope in Jesus Christ. The band was joined by Matthew Hasting of fellow fellow Christian group MyChildren MyBride for "Devastator.” At one point, Montgomery went onto the barricade to sing; it’s always nice to see musicians bridge the gap with fans.
I have never made my disdain for Emmure a secret, and their live show certainly did nothing to change my opinion. I will say this: there were a lot of kids into them. More power to ‘em. I just don’t get it.
Vanna went through some line-up changes only a couple of months ago, but it didn’t seem to impact their live show. They always get a good reaction in their homestate, and Metal Fest was no exception. They kicked it off with the “Let’s Have an Earthquake,” a great opener. Matt Lanners, vocalist of The Greenery (who played the previous day), later came out for a guest spot. I was happy to learn that the band still plays “A Dead Language For A Dying Lady,” despite it being from two vocalists ago, and the audience loved singing along. They closed with “Trashmouth,” at the end of which the band members dove into the crowd.
Every Time I Die opened with “Underwater Bimbos From Outer Space,” the first track on the new album. It was the perfect way to set the pace for the energetic, 45-minute set. Everyone running around the stage at all times mixed with the inherent aggressiveness of the music made for quite an intense live show. There was even a fan in a beer can costume moshing and crowd surfing. With a new album to support and five others to also choose from, the band’s set was a mixed bag. They threw in “The Logic of Crocodiles,” from their full-length debut, for the old school fans. Frontman Keith Buckley asked for as many high fives as humanly possible during the second to last song, “We’rewolf” - which spawned an army of fans crowd surfing their way to the front. The band then closed with “Ebolarama.”
Killswitch Engage’s Alive or Just Breathing played a large role in developing my taste for heavy music, so to say that I was ecstatic to see their first show back with original vocalist Jesse Leach would be an understatement. I am happy to report that the show did not disappoint, and Killswitch Engage is officially back.
The band entered the stage, appropriately, to the tune of Peaches & Herb's "Reunited.” They started with a bang as the pulsating “Numbered Days” kicked in and continued on through “Self Revolution” and “Fixation on the Darkness.” At this point, I thought that perhaps the band was surprising fans with a complete performance of Alive or Just Breathing (as those are the first three tracks). Unfortunately, that was not the case - but the hour and a half set was still more than worthwhile.
Leach dedicated the next song, “Rose of Sharyn,” to former vocalist Howard Jones. The situation is awkward from the outside, so it’s great to see them being respectful about it. Leach took it a step further later when he confessed that “The Arms of Sorrow” is his favorite Killswitch song, and he didn’t even write it.
The band played a few more Howard-era songs in addition to the old favorites. They exited the stage after “The End of Heartache,” but fans knew that it wasn’t over yet. It wasn’t long before they returned to play “My Last Serenade.” As an added surprise, they ended the night with a heavy rendition of Dio’s “Holy Diver.” They famously covered it with Jones, but Leach did the iconic song justice as well.
Jones had great power as a frontman, making his performance seem effortless. Leach, on the other hand, gives it his all, with raw passion shining through. The debate as to who is better will rage on amongst fans, but I, for one, am happy to see Jesse back. The band seems rejuvenated and even more energetic than usual. The experience was perfectly described by eccentric guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz as “fucking amazing.” (He went on to confess that he woke up with the biggest boner that morning.)
The beautiful thing about this music scene scene in general is how it unites people, regardless of race, gender, beliefs, etc. The New England Metal and Hardcore Festival takes it one step further; it allows metal heads, hardcore bros, scene kids and mall goths alike, from the old school to the new school, to come together under one roof and enjoy some good music. It's no wonder that the festival continues to be a smashing success each year.