|» Warriors Of Metal III 2010||
Warriors Of Metal III - 25-26 June 2010
A criminally under-attended weekend of metal
Amidst the pastoral fields and glowering, oppressive rural values of Southern Ohio-Ross County, to be exact-there is a hidden treasure in the ailing US festival circuit. Begun as a means for local heroes Lunarium to promote their own music, as well as the music of up-and-coming local rock and metal acts, It has soldiered on in three incarnations since then. Former members Ryan Carroll and JR Carter, along with Datis and Lea Alaee of Farvahar Records (Lunarium's former record label), decided to keep the tradition alive after the band's demise, and have over only two years garnered some of the larger acts in the US traditional metal scene for headliners. This year's lineup was particularly impressive, with Cage, Omen, Aska, Imagika, Dantesco, and Jacob's Dream leading the charge.
The focus of much of the weekend was to pay tribute to the recently-deceased metal master, Ronnie James Dio, and all of those present, bands included, were ready and willing to raises hails and ales for the maestro.
Friday kicked off with Wrecked and their uniquely Midwestern brand of Sabbathy modern metal. Like many of the bands who played over the weekend, their set included a Dio cover: the classic Stand Up And Shout.
Trazom (Mozart spelled backwards) came next, and I closed my eyes and could have sworn that it was Overkill playing the set instead, because of the near-copy that this band is of the New York speedsters. The chosen Dio cover here was Fever Dreams, and it was well done.
Seattle-based "true" metal warriors Skelator were the first band to really paste a grin on my face in the oppressive heat, due to the flag-waving, sword-swinging antics of their frontman(A dead ringer for Gerrit Mutz of Sacred Steel), and their "kill for steel, die in battle" lyrical stance. As a historian, I appreciated the song about the Wars of the Roses, which was about victory. Was there really victory in the Wars of the Roses? That remains to be debated by historians, while the fans bang their metal heads.
What followed was a rather poorly-organized guitar shred contest during set changes. The volume was a bit much, blaring out of three half-stacks, considering that most of the crowd was huddled within spitting distance of the amplifiers, as the six-string pugilists took turns trying to outshine each other. The clear winner, for my money, was Brandon AKA "The Mad Patcher" of Kentucky-based dark thrashers Death Dealer! In fact, each set change was punctuated by a guitar shredder or two strutting their chops for the crowd. The most impressive of these was a duel between Justin Zych, of Indiana Speedsters Zephaniah, and Adam Routte, formerly of Metal Blade band Woe Of Tyrants.
The guitar shred mayhem continued on the main stage next as the special event of the weekend commenced: the Shredhead Tribute to Ronnie James Dio, featuring guitarists Joe Stump (Holy Hell), Curran Murphy (Annihilator, Nevermore), Matthew Mills, and Greg Wagner (Breaker) on vocals. They performed extended versions of a handful of Dio and Rainbow songs, including the classic Man On The Silver Mountain. It was a touching tribute, but one whose novelty wore off after the fifth or six guitar solo. I was ready for the next act about halfway through.
The M.C. for an event of this calibre should be carefully scrutinized and chosen. This year's M.C. was a poor choice, to be perfectly honest. His excessive drunkenness inhibited his ability to coherently and interestingly perform his duties on both evenings, and his canned onstage banter was abrasive at best, offensive at worst: He referred to the crowd as "a bunch of homosexuals" at one point when they refused to respond boisterously to his beer-basted bellowing. Really? The Metal God himself is gay! Aren't we beyond that sort of puerile behaviour by now?
Beyond Fallen came next, and were advertised as drinkers by the weekend's M.C., who was, predictably, quite inebriated himself. Their brand of competent dark traditional metal was typical of the bands featured over the weekend. Their Dio Cover was a bit of a dark horse: Killing The Dragon. This was a nice surprise, indeed.
Musically, the highlight of the weekend was Puerto Rico-based Dantesco, hands down. Robe-and-vestment-clad singer Erico la Bestia is also an Operatic Tenor, and it shows in their Candlemass-meets-Twisted Tower Dire brand of Epic metal-which was damned entertaining from start to finish. Thankfully, the crowd had swelled from a handful to a small throng by this point, and Dantesco had a somewhat better audience than the preceding acts. Erico also brought along a case of stunning records to sell at the merchandise table to recouperate travel costs, which scored me a Gary Moore record, signed by Neil Murray, for next to nothing. Gracias, Erico!
Veteran Columbus, Ohio-based prog/traditional metallers Jacob's Dream were next, and they took us back to the days when Queensrÿche actually rocked. They invited original lead singer Dave Taylor on stage to sing an older number. They were not bad at all. If only more so-called "progressive" bands could take a cue from these fellows, and rock instead of erring toward obtuseness and self-indulgent excess.
Up next were San Jose-Based Power/Thrashers Imagika. Their brand of excellent Power metal is what I so desperately wanted recent Nevermore releases to be, except without the frustrating disappointment at the end. Power metal with blast-beats? Why not, say I! I see no reason why these fellows aren't bigger than they are, as their technical brilliance shone through throughout their set. It was a shame that I was too tired by this point to stand up and shout, as the festival was running behind schedule and it was getting late.
The moment I had been waiting for all weekend arrived: Omen took the stage. Fronted by Aska frontman George Call, the band has lost none of their fire and fury over their long career. Original guitarist Kenny Powell is an absolute madman on the stage, and kept the small-yet-enthusiastic crowd going throughout their set. My energy reserves were waning, as it was almost four-o'clock in the morning when Omen finally blasted through the last of their classic songs, but I was able to talk and laugh with Kenny (and MettleAngel, of course!) after the show had ended. This only highlights the kindness and professionalism of the bands who attended (and the absurdity of charging one hundred dollars for a VIP pass when everyone has access to any part of the venue at any time!). At this point the attendees were crawling back to their campsites-provided onsite-or to their hotels for the night, to rest for more metal on Saturday.
The second day was a bust for me, as transportation difficulties made it impossible for me to get out to the Ross County Fairgrounds until nine o'clock the following evening, but I did manage to see some of Saturday night's later acts, despite the fact that Thor himself had decided to attend the festival, and a huge thunderhead brooded angrily over the fairgrounds, forcing the organizers to shut down the stage due to lightning that was just a little too close for comfort for them-and the twenty thousand dollars worth of exposed sound equipment that was the backbone of the festival. Weather contingency plans should be made, as I know that many fans actually left during the silence caused by the abortive thunderstorm.
This time was not wasted, though, as there was plenty of it available to chat with the bands and the people attending-and their dogs.
Yes, that's right, there were many dogs present. In fact, it has become a theme at Warriors of Metal over the past two years that festival goers will bring their headbanging hounds along. Special thanks go to Megan and Dennis for bringing Kai, the official dog of heavy metal, back to the festival two years in a row. Heavy Metal... Pets? Again, why not?
Any event in Chillicothe Ohio and the surrounding areas should make it a point to shed the sort of "redneck" image that the area has unfortunately accumulated for itself over the years. Featuring something as trashy as a wet t-shirt contest at the event, only reinforces that image. From my understanding, there were only a few willing participants, and it became an excruciatingly drawn-out affair that did more to irritate than titillate. This kind of thing is not needed at a metal festival, and the female fans to whom I spoke seemed quite turned off by its inclusion.
On the subject of inclusion: why not highlight a few different sounds next year? The folk and Viking metal of the founders' fame was mysteriously absent this year, and hard rock, stoner, doom, and pure thrash were either minor footnotes or not included at all! My ears begged for just a touch more variety as the weekend of traditional metal band upon traditional metal band went on.
Dofka was an interesting addition to the show. Again, Nevermore is the stylistic point of reference, as they delivered a technically dazzling set of crunchy, dark metal, their guitarist being the star of the show for his tasteful solos and lockstep precision.
Widow was a favourite, with their slick, powerful NWOBHM worship. Their entertaining set went off virtually without a hitch, but so few people made their way up to the stage to watch, which is a shame, because they were one of the weekend's better acts.
Icarus Witch was chock full of neck-snapping power, and their singer's voice dripped attitude in songs like Drawing Down The Moon, doubtless inspired by Margot Adler's treatise on American witchcraft. They were tight and professional, and a good representation of the kind of unknown acts which populate the American heavy metal scene.
Making their return appearance to Warriors of Metal, veteran Texas traditional metallers Aska took the stage late, but to no diminished crowd. Frontman George Call's voice was in poor shape from talking for most of the day, but he managed to get through the set in admirable fashion-and to wish Farvahar Records' Lea Alaee well on her birthday-as the band powered through classics like Invasion, and newer material such as Longships (My personal favourite of theirs). Kai the heavy metal dog made his return appearance as well, barking like crazy during Blood Of The Wolf, much to the entertainment of the crowd and the band.
Saturday night's headliner Cage took the stage and wowed the crowd with their speedy, dark power metal. Leather-laden lead throat Sean Peck is perhaps the American Rob Halford, and despite the absurdly late hour his shrieking voice was in perfect form even on a demanding song like Kill The Devil. Despite having to leave halfway through their set, I was blown away by the quality of their show. Apparently, they played until a little before dawn, as the crowd kept demanding more. Being the professionals that they are, they delivered.
On the subject of schedules: If there is a schedule posted, it should be stuck to. I am all for egalitarianism, but if the festival is running hopelessly behind schedule, sets will have to "bow down to the axeman", as it were. Those are difficult things to have to do, to be sure, but to make fans wait around until after two o'clock in the morning to see a headlining band is frankly absurd. Thankfully, the fans who had to wait until three AM to hear Cage didn't seem to mind. Perhaps fewer bands on next year's lineup would be advisable, as the rigorous schedule left no leeway at all, and the overall experience suffered from inevitable delays which could easily have been alleviated.
This was an interesting and entertaining, if not a bit overlong, weekend to say the least, and as I sat on the grass listening to Joe Stump play his umpteen-millionth note, I realized that this was a fact for which we should all be grateful, both the fans who showed up for no other reason than that of loyalty to the scene and the sound, and for the bands who came and played, many of them from great distances and most for no pay at all. What complaints I, and my fellow festival-goers, had, can easily be rectified for next year's festival, which judging by this year's lineup, should be positively spectacular. Big things start in small places, and Warriors Of Metal is no exception, despite the fact that more people should have attended, because this festival has taken very little time to outgrow its humble beginnings. In this day and age of pointless commercialization and ridiculously over-priced tickets, Warriors of Metal is an honest, heartfelt attempt to put Southern Ohio on the metal map, and 494 Productions and Farvahar Records are certainly on the right track.
Beyond any doubt, I'll be attending next year.
6,5 chalices of 10
Nate - July 2010