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.
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.