For a festival that started out with an unpromising line-up and had every indication of being a disaster, things finally pulled together at the last minute. They wanted the stages to run on time, and for better or worse, the feat was accomplished this year. What looked like a bad idea (putting two stages side by side in separate rooms) worked wonders, although some of the bands had their sets cut short. Nevertheless, the Milwaukee Metalfest 2002 rocked hard, with bands like Tad Morose and Dew-Scented making first time appearance in the States, and Chuck Billy of Testament hosting the second night on the main stage. There was a fair share of terrible bands too, but the highlights easily overshadowed the lows points.

DAY ONE -- JULY 26, 2002


Thanks to a way early time slot (and the schedule not being posted until the day of the show), I only witnessed one song from Dead To Fall. A new signing on the Victory label, these guys are on tour with Decapitated and Vehemence. Kicking off the fest on a most brutal note, the bleary eyed who arrived early were treated to a thunderous prologue to the Milwaukee Metalfest XVI.


If Dead To Fall didn't wake your grumpy ass up, Grace To The Fallen did. A bit like Darkest Hour, this band performed driving songs with a metallic hardcore edge. Penetrating the soul and ears at the same time, Grace connected well with the audience early on.


The fun started when Vehemence took to the main stage. Based out of Arizona, this young band has worked hard and attracted the attention of Metal Blade Records. Their debut album, God Was Created, has caused quite a stir in the metal community. In a live setting, Vehemence is staggering. Nathan Gearhart is a terrifying presence on vocals, delivering the morbid lyrics with a sinister edge. The atmospheric keyboard work of Jason Keesecker really distinguished the Vehemence sound, bringing a chilling underscore to their menacing collection of tunes. Song performed included Her Beautiful Eyes and I Take Your Life. Believe the hype - Vehemence has arrived big time and will shatter your world with their extreme nightmarish visions.


Silencer is one of the hardest working bands to come out of the Denver, Colorado heavy metal scene. They play just about every metal festival known to man, have dynamic songs and killer demos, yet still remain unsigned to this day. The band continues to deliver their mighty thrash metal sound and gain fans along the way with impressive live performances. Quite a crowd gathered as Silencer launched through their killer set with songs like This Mythical Image and The Error Of Your Ways. An instrumental entitled Descending The Ziggurat showcased just how versatile the Silencer musical line-up can be. Lead guitarist Ritchie Wilkison was also scheduled to perform with Angel Dust later on that night, but the band had to cancel due to missed flights from Germany.


Naos Project performed a passionate set of spiritual rapcore metal to a small but appreciative crowd on the main stage. In spite of the people milling about, Naos Project went all out like their very lives depending on getting their urgent messages out. Songs performed included Inside, Speak, and Transcend. Reminding me a little bit of POD meets Hatebreed, Naos Project is a musical endeavor that demands your undivided attention.


One of the standout bands I saw perform at last year's Metalfest was Veneficum from Chicago. Performing Black Metal on the same level as genre stalwarts Dimmu Borgir and Dragonlord, it won't be long before Veneficum find themselves mentioned within the same company. G. Reymond is an extremely charismatic frontman, spewing out the darkly poetic lyrics. The music is extremely memorable, due to the classical keyboard work performed by Antarktis. Heavy and atmospheric, Veneficum's metal symphonies are filled with an unpretentious moodiness that set them way apart from other US Black metal outfits. The new material was outstanding - unfortunately the soundman cut the band off before their set was over, due to allegeded time restraints. This was happen a good number of times throughout the day. Here's hoping they play Metalfest next year, or decide to do a tour. In the meantime, Veneficum's debut CD Dysphoria is still available through the Forever Underground label.


It is good to see Onward performing out more often. I caught them a few months ago at their CD release party at Palladinos in the San FernandoValley, and they've been gigging out ever since. In the grand tradition of Maiden and Dio, Onward present the kind of music that makes you want to take on the world. Vocalist Michael Grant is outstanding in the showmanship department, his singing filled with passion and enthusiasm. The guitar whiz in the band is Toby Knapp, who continues to impress with his imaginative soloing techniques. Playing tracks from their two Century Media albums, the crowd reaction was extremely positive, granting Onward the respect they so rightfully deserve.


The Chicago metal scene was certainly well represented at this year's Metalfest. Desolate, hailing from the windy city, blew the walls off the venue, playing melodic thrash and death with a remarkable precision. Recently signed to Crimson Reign, Desolate stormed their way through tunes such as Wages Of War and A Killing Perfection. Exhibiting a grand state of musical prowess for such a young band, it was surprising to find that Gil, their fill-in guitar player, learned all the material in a single week.


Poland is a country with some of the heaviest death metal bands on the planet, and Decapitated are clearly chasing the crown as the most infernal of the horde. Playing for the very first time here in the States on a small stage, Decapitated filled the room with a relentless metallic terror and inspired an impressive mosh pit in the process. One of the few Polish death metal bands to make it here to the States (Vader and Hell-Born are the only other two I know of), Decapitated are sure to make fans and demolish unsuspecting venues in the process. The average age of the band is 18, yet these guys play with a vigor and spirit of seasoned pros. Their original tunes are brutal as fuck, and the cover of Slayer's Mandatory Suicide drove the audience over the edge. Be sure to check out their dastardly duo of albums available from the Wicked World/Earache label.


After their abbreviated set at last year's Milwaukee Metalfest, it was good to see Novembers Doom perform what appeared to be a full show. Yet another band from the Chicago team, Novembers Doom is America's answer to My Dying Bride and Opeth. Vastly underrated here in the States, Novembers Doom play depressive gothic metal, seething with passion and imagination. While most of the bands at this year's Metelfest sound like they are on the way to a fire with their relentless speed, Novembers Doom take their time to throw in a soothing passage during the emotional violence. Opening song Not The Strong is devastating, filled with a highly personal anguish. Another highlight was the first time appearance of A Silent Tomorrow into the set. Whoever requested the band perform this masterwork should be commended - the dark and wistful A Silent Tomorrow was as compelling as any high speed death metal composition. One of the most memorable performances at the 16th Annual Metalfest. Be sure to check out their new album To Welcome The Fade and envelope yourself within the harrowing desperation that is Novembers Doom!


All I can say about this one is that the singer has a huge xyzlophone set that he plays with onstage, confusing many a metalhead. Idiom are fiercely unique, something that is not easily accepted by a crowd bent on seeing more traditional faire. Heavy as hell when they want to be and quite accomplished in the musicianship department, it was apparent that the band cared not for the narrow mindedness certain sectors of the crowd were displaying. Others were completely won over by this unit of sheer metallic brilliance.


Overheard during the Arch Enemy set at the Metalfest: "I have to give the bitch credit. She doesn't suck." Well, the whole world is finding out just what a formidable presence Arch Enemy vocalist Angela Gossow has become. She growls better than most guys and commands the stage with a ferocious magnetism. Also, she's quite hot and has become the metal dream of many guys the world over! On tour over the last few months, Arch Enemy have become a top metal act. Performing tracks from their current Wages Of Sin album and other earlier efforts, Angela and Arch Enemy sent the crowd into an all-out frenzy. The Amott Brothers were in top form, and Sharlee D'Angelo was his dynamic, usual scene stealing self. Expect Arch Enemy to rule the extreme metal world with live shows as intense as the one performed at Metalfest.


The final band of the evening was Tad Morose, a dynamic power metal act from Sweden. I've been wanting to see this band ever since their Black Mark days, and was excited to find out that they would finally be playing a show here in the States. Frank Banx, bassist for Angel Dust, came on and apologized to the crowd for their cancellation, promising a new album and full-on tour within the next few months. Then he introduced the mighty Tad Morose to the US masses.

Tad Morose certainly did not disappoint, and appeared genuinely excited to be playing for the first time in America. It was after 1AM when the band hit the stage, and their superb musicianship and wild enthusiasm won over the crowd big time. Urban Breed was always smiling, delivering outstanding vocals that would do Bruce Dickinson proud. Fans of the older material were treated to Fading Pictures from Sender Of Thoughts and Miracle from Leaving The Past Behind. A lot of the set was dedicated to their new Century Media releases Undead and Masters of The Dark, with highlights being I Know Your Name, Another Time Around and the dynamic Corporate Masters. A killer set was delivered by these Swedes, and my only worry was that no one performing Saturday would be able to even come close to the excitement Tad Morose generated. Here's hoping they show up in the States to do a full on tour to show the metal community how great, spirited power metal should be played!


THE MILWAUKEE METALFEST XVI DAY TWO: Reviews friom the Saturday show!!!!
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