The New England Metal and Hardcore Fest is an institution, and this year was one of the best yet. The Palladium Theatre in Worcester, MA was choked with kids wearing way too many band t-shirts and full of enthusiasm on Day 3, when I attended. Days 1 and 2 this year boasted bands like Dragonforce, Bane, Unearth, This is Hell, Nile and The Greenery (though all in all the fest was way more hardcore and metalcore than metal this year, or what I consider metal). Still, I had to attend day 3 and see the return of the original Killswitch Engage line-up plus Recon with Rob Fusco (One King Down, Most Precious Blood)!
The show was awhile back in April at this point, but besides being very busy with multiple articles, bands of my own and jobs, I have also been trying to process all of the energy from that day and do it justice. Better late than never! (Just pretend this is a bi-monthly print mag and not a web site for a minute). Caught some good sets from For Today, Stick To Your Guns and many more.
By now it is no secret that the return of Killswitch Engage with Jesse Leach was a huge, powerful success that just might re-invigorate metalcore if scene kids take all that massive good energy to heart and stop the scene bullshit and redundant breakdowns. Jesse’s positive, spiritual and world searching lyrics initially defined the group that “killed Nu Metal”, before his absence of many years in other projects (Seemless,Times Of Grace and The Empire Shall Fall).
To read an in-depth review of Day 3 of the NEMHC Fest with exclusive pics and quotes from some of the bands, click HERE.
Fest day arrived! Drove a few hours from Kingston, NY to Worcester and was blessed by the Parking Goddess with a spot directly in front of the club. Improbable but true. It was a very rainy day but it wasn’t dampening the spirits of the attendees (except one kid who got run over and taken away on a stretcher. Poor dude). I was in great spirits not only anticipating moshtastic times, but because the Yankees had just creamed the Sox a few days earlier at Fenway and all of Mass sports radio was still whining about it.
One fan outside the Palladium was very excited to see Killswitch although that was the only band he knew. He didn’t even know who fuckin’ Bad Brains was when I was telling him I saw them a few nights earlier in NYC. But, that said, the good thing about a fest like this is that it should serve as a way to expose people to further aspects and depth of the metal and hardcore culture. We all start somewhere so instead of being elitist I will say it is cool that even if you are a person who only knew Killswitch (by far the most successful band on the bill), they are great and certainly a better gateway band to the scene that all the kids who only find out about punk and metal from Crunk-Core bands.
No Bragging Rights was finishing as we got there, but I was very pleased to catch Canada’s Counterparts, a Hulud influenced, dissonant and poetic band on Victory who are doing it all right. I wanted to focus this article mainly on positive bands and the good side of the scene, since it is so often the lamest bands with the least to contribute who become “the next big thing”.
(Chelsea Grin’s brand of “crab-core” crap later in the day was so monolateral, indistinguishable and bland. My girlfriend had no idea who they were and I had run out to the car and she texted me before I came back inside,”This isn’t metal. It’s cheerleading”. Me: “Do the vocals sound like barfing? Must be Chelsea Grin”. Disgusting band name and just so bland. Sorry if anyone is reading this and they are your thing, but I grew up on Boysetsfire and bands with more depth. Although, I do love murder grind bands, so maybe I am a hypocrite. I dunno. Chelsea Grin are just awful and of course played main stage while the second stage was almost all killer, no filler).
That said, back to the positive…Counterparts are tremendous and delivered a potent set, tight and passionate!
Post-set, vocalist Brendan Murphy met up and shared his thoughts. “We were on this Fest last year but couldn’t get across the border. One of the best festivals I’ve ever been a part of. People here genuinely care about us! It’s awesome. Hopefully we can come back next year,” Murphy said. “Kids in America are a little bit more appreciative of us. Back home people are like, “Cool, Counterparts…whatever, those guys live down the street. We can see them next week when they practice.” In America they know every word and thank us for coming. It’s weird. Not in a bad sense! People here seem to care and buy a lot of merch and it doesn’t seem like another country but at the end of the day I am in another country and it is the coolest thing. Excited to see a bunch of our friends like Hundreth, No Bragging Rights, Volumes. Wish I could’ve made it for the other days but is what it is. We had a nice 8 hour drive to get here. Pretty much don’t have to move. i can see all the bands I like on the second stage. ”
Some people at the Palladium, or at least one guy, were taking their love of hardcore to a pretty surreal level. On line for the bathroom (which fucking stunk!), some dude asked me what bands were left and said he was on ecstasy! Are you kidding me?!!! (Imagine compulsively groping your own chest like it is a fluffy blanket) “Wow, I just got spin kicked in the face and LOVED it.” Dude, there was barely a light show for any of the bands. I hope he was lying! Then again, I did see one girl so wasted during a SXE band set that she was trying to hump a guy in front of his girlfriend and going up to huge dudes and punching them. She eventually got really benignly head locked by someone and escorted out, but it was definitely her fault.
Recon were most definitely NOT on ecstasy, but they had the second stage crowd packed and ecstatic to see them. “The only thing we stand for is what’s about to happen in this room,” shouted new vocalist Rob Fusco. It was Recon’s only stateside show, I believe, and their first back as a band. They also had the best merch, just the band name and a picture of Robocop (The Hundredth mock Joy Division T-shirt was cool as well!). Hell yeah!
Rob has been someone I really admire ever since QE2 days of One King Down and Candiria shows which changed my life back in ’98. Any band I have ever seen him front he has killed it and Recon were just colossal. Dude performed the whole set in a hoodie and I can’t imagine it was LESS hot on stage! Massive kudos. Also, it is great to see REAL hardcore bands have good gear because they usually are hardworking and earned it instead of getting it sent to them by endorsers who just want to have their logo brandished by whoever has the new shittiest haircut.
Personally, I think by far the best set of the day…even considering how amazing it was to have Killswitch back, was Stick to Your Guns. What a classy fucking amazing band. So positive. All about pushing engagement in the scene and society and just massive respect has to be given to vocalist Jesse Barnett. I mentioned Boysetsfire earlier and I think STYG are the band that is best carrying on BSF’s amazing ability to communicate complex social meaning to crowds and inspire kids to cry, sing, stage dive and believe. It was so cool to hear STYG on stage amidst the Christian bands as well and see bands with different beliefs getting along. Even if you don’t see eye to eye on everything, everyone is supposed to be represented in hardcore.
“Amber” was incredible, just a wall of energy from the stage and crowd. The most touching part of the STYG set was when Jesse talked about missing his departed grandmother and how amidst the mourning he realized he could visit her anytime he liked because he knew she was in the cemetery and he could go there and talk to her about all the amazing memories they share.
Best one-liners of the day were of course Keith from Every Time I Die telling the crowd he wanted to see an “Avocado Pit” and Adam from Killswitch stopping right after a passionate Jesse Leach monologue about how much it means to be back in KSE. Adam pretended to be half listening and said ,”Wait? Your not black? What’s going on” or something to that effect.I think I heard it right. My ears were shot by then. More on Killswitch later.
Some bands I wish had also been on NEMHC this year: The World We Knew, Black Tusk, Nails, Animals As Leaders.
I was excited to meet the guys from Gideon, a Facedown band from Alabama who I really dig. They aren’t the handsomest dudes but certainly pack a wallop. Very cool to learn they are about to drop a sophomore record. Gideon’s set was direct and strong. Not the most stage presence at this show, but they still translated well and their drummer really cracks a snare! Crucial.
I talked to cool dude bassist Timmy Naugher post set. “This is the furthest up North we’ve played…We’ve played parts of Canada and Boston one time. It was before we were established. This is awesome. We had some issue with gear but as far as crowd response, today was awesome!,” gushed Timmy.”Our guitarist Blake, his favorite band is Killswitch. It has always been Killswitch and will always be Killswitch. We all love them and ETID, but he is floored! He got to come in during their soundcheck and was freaking out. He was stoked. Still also very surreal to me that music we wrote in our houses has an impact. Our drummer wrote a song called “Virtue” and was the main lyric writer for that. A Kid at SXSW told us that song kept him from killing himself. It’s a huge, foreign thing and we are flattered people relate and can work through stuff with songs we wrote to get by in our lives and world. It’s still surreal.”
I asked Timmy about what else is new with Gideon?
“We just got through recording two or three weeks ago,” Timmy said. “The album right now is set to come out July 3rd. I’ve never been a big part of writing stuff. I do other stuff in the band, but I am excited for my guys for what they’ve written and it is heavier. We matured a lot more. I am excited for people to hear it. We started about four years ago and have grown a lot. We have found what we like best about our sound. We tour as much and as long as we can.”
I have finally made a bit of peace with the Christian metal core genre. I just hope the bands are open minded. I loved Wrench In The Works when they were together and, again, I think there is a place for different beliefs in the scene. For Today have always seemed kind of cultish and way way way over earnest to me, though I was truly impressed with their live show and at one point even closed my eyes and got lost in the waves of heavy distorted feeling that was pouring from the main stage. I also like that they incorporated the “Thrones” angels into their new record art because I have a tattoo of that same image on my arm over where I used to bang dope as a teenager.
My grandpa was a Minister and a great man and even though my own spiritual beliefs are cut from a very progressive AND scientific cloth (Nuclear Mysticism with sprinkles of Hinduism kind of sums it up), I got the tat to kind of forgive myself and remember that we all have karma to learn from in life. So, that said, even when some band is pro-life or really extreme or seem closed minded I try and be objective. I am not sure about For Today but to me they are kind of the Tim Tebow of metalcore. I just have read some crazy sounding quotes from them in interviews about people being healed literally at their shows ( not spin kicked in the face?) But,again… I try and be objective. Yes, I know I just unobjectively bashed on Chelsea Grin a few paragraphs above.
To me, one big problem is, you can say “Christ is king” but a ton of these kids think you mean Burger King. They aren’t researching subculture or free-range or veganism or doing benefit shows or saying ‘We Are The 99%”. It’s about big hats and windmill kicks and preaching (again, that is NOT aimed at For Today but at some types of fans).
Ok. Rest of the show?
Emmure? They do what they do, but…Meh. They don’t fully suck and have some great grooves, but it just doesn’t light me up. Give me Hatebreed, Until The End, The Acacia Strain, Another Victim or All Out War over this any day.
Vanna had a great return from tour set and really whipped up the crowd. I am just getting into this band, though I know they are very popular. It is cool to hear some of the more adventurous, unorthodox song structures they incorporate. Some weird chord choices and moments that reminded of Deftones amidst the modern, post-new-emo-core whatever sound.
Every Time I Die was spastic and anarchic, towing that line between sick delivery and chaos where just when you think they might derail they manage to land it like pros. ETID played a wide range of material from their career and it was good shit. Best song of the set was “Bored Stiff”, which is just so wild and still overflowing with satirical bite.
KSE? Again, tremendous. While I was sad to see Howard Jones go, it is very meaningful to see Leach get another chance. I really hope Jesse also continues working with The Empire Shall Fall because their recent EP was up there in quality with “Alive Or Just Breathing” (even more realized in many ways as Leach is older now).
“Numbered Days” and the classic “Fixation On The Darkness” lit up the crowd. How could they not? “Fixation…” really is the song that for me shows why Jesse is such a great, inspiring vocalist lyrically. He never tips his hand in that song and yet delivers just enough deep, positive message to inspire mixed with enough grim imagery to still feel “metal”. I can’t wait to hear what Jesse will write for the new, forthcoming KSE which is sure to be a huge record.
The best part of the set was “Rose Of Sharyn”, in my opinion. While the band played a number of songs later on from the Howard-era, it was great to feel the band and crowd appreciate as one the Howard years via that classic tune from “The End Of Heartache”. It is such an inspiring song about losing a loved one and I hate it when bands throw out great tunes from their catalogue because of singer changes. How cool would it be if Ozzy sang a Dio or Tony Martin or “Born Again”-era song or if Dino from Fear Factory played “My Grave” live? It just shows respect for the full history of a band.
Every which way Killswitch delivered and reclaimed the metalcore crown. Well, they are certainly holding the belt, right now. The next full length will seal the deal. The last Killswitch self-titled was good but not their best, with recent great releases like As I Lay Dying’s “The Powerless Rise” (“The Only Constant Is Change” has terrific lyrics) and Unearth’s top to bottom great “Darkness In The Light” lately stealing some thunder and ruling the roost. It should be noted that this is really fucking incidental as Adam Dutkiewicz from Killswitch produced both those albums!
After the show we tried to find a diner and located a place down a dark alley called Ralph’s. It was not what we expected, with no real food being served but a punk girl bartender and some passed out old dudes! The Road Warrior was on a big projection screen! We drank beer and it was an amazing side note adventure at the end of a long, noisy day!
Worcester. A cool town. NEMHC Fest 2012 was great evidence that Mass still is a very important region for hosting or breeding great heavy music.
All Photos Courtesy of MetalRiot.com