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America's Secret Metal Paradise

Most of us in metal love to complain about trolling, irrational vitriol, subgenre tribalism, and elitism online. Not to mention the fact that most of said complaining also takes place online.

It’s like plugging the cord of a power strip into the strip itself and expecting it to produce juice. No wonder nothing positive ever seems to get accomplished.

So how do we fix this?

Well, we can’t. At least we can’t fix others. We can, however, control ourselves and try new things from time to time. And when considering just how ridiculously much time we spend drooling in front of our screens, the simple act of attending live music concerts is indeed a “new thing,” or at least a relatively seldom thing. Sort of like shutting off Facebook and actually writing your best friend a letter.

But don’t the same issues manifest in our local clubs? A package tour comes to town, containing bands with separate (or, at best, overlapping) fanbases, which promptly begin to work against each other. Show me such a concert that isn’t brimming with guys judging each other’s perceived tastes, putting on airs by boasting “I’m only here for [insert obscure opener],” and I’ll show you my fourth nipple.

How about major European-style summer festivals? Don’t get me started. Don’t get me wrong, either; they’re ten tons of fun. But often the numbers are too immense for any type of bonding to occur on a mass scale. Crowds usually just devolve into cliques, all corresponding to their chosen favorite acts.

So there needs to be a middle ground. A unique event, rare and special enough to draw the enthusiastic, but familiar enough to include the curious. Small and precarious enough to forestall any jaded complacency, and large enough to foster a carnival atmosphere.

The musical equivalent of a big group of friends around a campfire, bonded not only by the fun they’re sharing, but also by the knowledge that one bad attitude will douse the good time in cold water.

For me, the DeLand Rock & Metal Festival was that event. And for the moment, it has alleviated some of my cynicism over the much-ballyhooed “brotherhood and sisterhood” concepts thrown around in metal.

Here, in central Florida, from November 7th through the 9th, these bonds were very much alive.

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Slayer Filmed For Public Television

On Tuesday November 18th, PBS stood for Public Bruising Service as The Moody Theater filmed Slayer for another broadcast of ACL Live. Not only did Slayer bring the darkest and fastest songs to ever appear on public broadcasting, they did it with an old school thrasher’s dream lineup of Exodus and Suicidal Tendencies supporting. Fans were treated to one of the best light shows, sound systems and seating in the town of Austin. More...

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Fun Fun Fun Fest Day 3: Rock & Hardcore

Past Fun Fun Fun Festivals that I covered featured one or two metal headliners on the black stage and one day dominated by punk. This year the third day of the festival included punk but rock in general was the main flavor of the day. Metal was not the style closing out the Black Stage, but headliner Murder City Devils played hard and heavy. There is something about this band that just fits with the festival, as the Seattle-based band made it’s third appearance. The garage rock group played powerful hooks and electric organ that sounded like The Doors making a soundtrack for a Hammer Horror film. I believe this was their first headline performance at FFF. The band was definitely up to it.

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Fun Fun Fun Fest Day 2: King Diamond

Austin was buzzing with chatter about King Diamond ever since Fun Fun Fun Fest announced he would be on this year’s bill. This performance marked the end of his “Halloween 2014” tour so many of these fans had followed his shows on You-Tube, social media and in various ‘zines. Friends on social media recalled their experience with KD in Houston and Dallas. His stage set up was no secret as was his sound, but this didn’t make it any less exciting. Watching a You-Tube video is no where near as satisfying as hearing him live in person. One could make a cursory glance through the audience and find fans with black-and-white painted faces, inverted crosses and other symbols worn by the King. More...

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Fun Fun Fun Fest Day 1: Judas Priest

Transmission Entertainment delivered its ninth installment of the Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin, Texas. Four stages offered a variety of sounds from Hip-Hop and Electronic (Blue Stage), to Indie Rock (Orange Stage), Comedy (Yellow Stage) and Rock (Black Stage). Additional shows were held at clubs around the city as part of the FFF Nites. A ring was set up to watch wrestling. Next to the ring was a skate ramp for Pro BMX bikes and pro skaters. Games such as bean-bag tosses and Shiner bottle cap checkers were also in place. A movie screen besides the stage was a new addition that made viewing each band much easier, especially for shorter fans. Bean bags and rut sacks were located around trees so one could lay in the shade on a soft object. More...

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Housecore Horror Film Festival Day 3

A good night’s sleep and mild weather helped me catch a second wind on the fifth consecutive day of metal concerts. I watched NWOBHM legends Satan at Beerland on Wednesday, the day before HHFF kick-off party. The sun’s rays dimmed just a little due to Superjoint Ritual backdrop and a breeze gave us some relief while catching the bands on the Midway stage. For me, today’s activities didn’t start there, though, it started at the Grindhouse tent located around the side of Emo’s. More...

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Housecore Horror Film Festival Day 2

Michigan psyche doom-death group, Acid Witch opened day two on Midway’s outdoor stage. After a night of barely any sleep, I didn’t arrive in time to catch their set. It’s a shame because they were one of the bands I wanted to see. I heard a burst of guitar notes from tech-death metallers Archspire but only as I pulled into the venue. The first part of this day would be spent around the press tent conducting interviews with Napalm Death and Gwar. This included missing most of the set from Polish death metal veterans Decapitated, whose late coming was the apparent reason for Midway being behind on time. The day before their appearance at Housecore the group had totaled their van. I’m not sure how they made it to Austin, but they were there and played a full set. More...

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Housecore Horror Film Festival Day 1

The festival was able to condense four hours down to one but the first day of HHFF started an hour late. I didn’t expect to see any of Evil United since they were suppose to have ended at 12:30, but my 1:15 arrival time allowed me to catch a couple of songs from the Austin-based band. Evil United may be local, but the group consists of veterans such as Jason McMaster—who was well known in the eighties as front man for Dangerous Toys and Watchtower. In addition to Evil United, he now sings in Ignitor and Broken Teeth. McMaster’s voice soared through the parking lot that comprised Midway’s stage, Evil U was the sole representative of classic heavy metal at the festival. More...

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Housecore Horror Film Free Fest Kick Off Party

The second annual Housecore Horror Film Festival was a dream event for metal and horror fans alike. Iconic bands such as Voivod, Napalm Death, Danzig, Gwar and Superjoint Ritual all played phenomenal sets and then were on hand to sign autographs during organized sessions or just in the crowd watching with the rest of the fans. Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe was at the festival for a live interview following the showing of LOG’s “As the Palace Burn Documentary.” He popped up all around the fest and always made time to talk to his fans. Blythe was in the photo pit right next to me taking photos along with the rest of the photographers and journalists. Cast members from the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Part 2, including Bill Moseley, sat at tables in the court yard ready to tell stories about making the films. More...

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Unioni Festival at The Circus, Helsinki

Unioni Festival was a new occurrence this year, and this mini festival quickly became the most anticipated even of the autumn calendar in Helsinki. People came from all over Europe, and even as far as Los Angeles to catch the amazing lineup these two days boasted. Livenation has really outdone themselves this time around, and with both nights of the long anticipated Unioni festival sold out, they’d do well to be patting themselves on the back! More...

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God Has Many Faces

“We keep it melodic, and [the bands we book] have to be positive,” according to Tree House Lounge co-owner Colin Hoss. “We do pretty much everything except hardcore and death metal.”

Representing a metal publication, that would normally count me right out. But then again, I’ve always held the firm belief that the best way to be a metal fan is to be a rock fan first. Without doing so, you’re building your factory on a foundation of silly putty.

And once in a while, an act springs up that simultaneously embraces and defies conventions of both genres. This is the sweet spot, the perfect ingredient for a rousing evening on the town.

After all, the three young Finns surrounding me at the small steakhouse restaurant table appear to have just bumped into one another by accident earlier this afternoon and started jamming.

The diversity of backgrounds and influences, the casual indifference to excessive image, the refusal to acknowledge stylistic boundaries - all these things combine to form a rock sound that’s alternative in the truest sense, an identity as elusive as it is distinct.

This is Helsinki’s Face Of God, and they’re telling me their story.

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Skeletonwitch, Ghoul, Black Anvil Slay Austin, TX

Red 7 held the concert in their outside stage, which due to the previous days storms, we were wondering if we would be rained out. As if the gods were fans of this tour, there was no raining on September 20. However, the rain did leave a muggy residue that was heated even further by packed crowd. Being on a Saturday certainly helped nudge area metal heads to get downtown, as did the lineup itself. Ghoul probably brought in the most fans, as evidenced by all the Municipal Waste and other crossover shirts and hats. Skeletonwitch shirts were also in abundance. Black Anvil was a nice complement to Ghoul and Skeletonwitch.

Locals, Sore put the night in motion. Their sludgy sounds added another distinct flavor to the three tour bands who possessed unique styles in their own rights. Fronted by ex-The Roller vocalist Mike Morowitz, Sore’s sound was akin to tearing away a sore from one’s flesh. It was abrasive and loud and divergent in tempo. Stomping doomy grooves saw bodies beginning to warm up. Faster grind seemed too caustic and it was too early in the evening to start a pit. But people took notice. More...

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ProgPower USA XV: Day 2 (Saturday)

The fact that Friday’s ProgPower events went off without a hitch despite numerous technical issues that the audience generally wasn’t aware of and bands weren’t very delayed from their assigned time slots was a real credit to the ProgPower crew. Unfortunately, Saturday would bring its share of more obvious challenges. Waking up on Saturday had Friday’s attendees feeling as if they’d just collectively experienced the same dream for the entire day before. For some, that dream had lasted until dawn clawed its way overhead. As difficult as it was to believe, the festival was already half over. A full writeup on day one’s shows can be read here.

Saturday’s shows were to kick off with two of Norway’s more progressive bands - the young upstarts in Withem and the veterans of Divided Multitude. Divided Multitude’s drummer wasn’t available to come to America due to postal delays in getting him his visa, which forced the band to cut down their set and bring in the talents of two experts playing off the cuff: Withem’s Frank Røe and Pagan’s Mind’s Stian Kristoffersen. Following them would be Germany’s Voodoo Circle, whose vocalist would cause instant pregnancy among several of the female -- and male -- fans in the audience. Germany’s MasterPlan would round out the last of the power metal for the festival in huge fashion afterward, followed by a passionate full album performance by Sweden’s Pain of Salvation. Jon Oliva’s Pain would close out the festival with rare fire and what will surely be noted as one of the strongest performances of Oliva’s second half of his musical career - Savatage’s “Streets” performed in its entirety.

First, however, as is the tradition at ProgPower each year, gold badge holders were treated to a special additional set of music -- this time, by Seventh Wonder, performing non-Mercy Falls songs exclusively bright and early. More...

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ProgPower USA XV: Day 1 (Friday)

There really was no better way of preparing for the official days of 2014’s ProgPower USA festival than to have gone “Full Circle” with Pagan’s Mind, DGM, and Draekon the night before, on September 11th in Atlanta, GA. For the 12th of September, if you weren’t waking up late and shmammered from the after-party the night before, you were soon to be treated to a variety of international bands: From Greece, the proggy show-stealing Need, performing their latest album, “Orvam: A Song For Home.” From Germany, the power chant-fest that is Orden Ogan. From Norway, young prog super-champs Leprous. From Sweden, the humble prog-titans of Seventh Wonder were to perform their “Mercy Falls” album. Finally (and again from the Scandinavian countries!) from Finland, the prestigious major-key-masters of Stratovarius were to perform their 1997 album, “Visions.”

With doors opening at 1:30 in the warm Atlanta afternoon, crowds and pizza (courtesy of nearby restaurant DaVinci’s) flowed in steadily to Center Stage, combining with drinks, merchandise, band members, and a few awesome wheelchair-bound metalheads with passion for the music for a very warm “Welcome to ProgPower!” feeling. Truly, ProgPower is a festival like none other in the US - full of friendly faces, excitement, and a sense of brotherhood. Further, the first band of the day (Need), personified this enthusiasm and attitude perfectly as they took the stage at 2PM. They would have the crowd in their pocket within three songs. More...

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ProgPower USA XV: Kick-Off Day With Pagan's Mind

Just one year to the day after the expeditionary US satellite Voyager I left our solar system, pushing mankind’s exploration of space to interstellar regions, Pagan’s Mind, DGM, and Draekon were to push the limits of bombastic progressive and power metal in a live setting and leave the crowd -- and this writer -- with nothing but hyperbole to explain the feat.

After Wednesday’s Midweek Mayhem show, the bar was set high at ProgPower USA XV in Atlanta for Thursday September 11th’s Kick-Off Show festivities. Nevertheless, in ProgPower tradition, Thursday’s show by Swordlord Productions built upon Wednesday’s energy and elevated it beyond the stratosphere. On this night, I and the crowd were to be treated to the talents of the sci-fi prog thrill-seekers of Norway’s Pagan’s Mind, a show that was also to be recorded for a crowd-funded live DVD entitled “Full Circle.”

As if that weren’t enough, Italy’s long-running kings of speed -- DGM -- were to put in a set of their own, with the USA’s own Draekon opening things right. Moreover, Evergrey had just hosted an exclusive listening party for their upcoming album, “Hymns For The Broken,” in the main venue an hour before the doors opened. What a day it was to be! More...

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Vangough, Theocracy, Pain of Salvation Make Mayhem

The first date for the Pain of Salvation/Vangough North American tour (sponsored by MetalUnderground.com) doubled as ProgPower USA’s unofficial “Midweek Mayhem” show on September 10th in Atlanta, Georgia at The Loft music venue. Power metal band Theocracy joined for a set in-between the two bands to balance out the power- and progressive-metal for the evening with a powerful galloping energy. In the style of the three bands combined, here is a lyrical retelling of the experience of that show by writer Frank Serafine. More...

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Roundtrip To Hel, Part III

[Continued from Part II]

SUNDAY, 6/29 - 13:00

“We have less than thirty minutes to catch the bus.”

THAT gets me moving. Did I mention I’ve developed Midnight Sun Syndrome since arriving in Finland? According to the current DSM edition, its chief symptom is “a complete ignorance and lack of regard for the time of day and nonchalant indifference toward tardiness; see also ‘The Casual Southerner.’”

I enter the bathroom. Nera, a shy, tiny black cat, scampers between my legs and out the door. I almost trip and plant a bare foot smack in the litter box. I’m still waking up.

As the mornings have ticked by - it’s still “morning” to us this weekend - it’s gotten more and more difficult to grease the joints, clear the skull, and get going. Tuska is not a camping festival, so I’ll be damned if I’m going to forsake the comforts of home at my disposal. A shit, shower, and shave is as good as a full-immersion baptism after a night of drinking.

My ill-advised windmilling at Omnium Gatherum last night really did a twisting number on my hair, which is in danger of Chris Barnesing. Lacking a brush, I clumsily yank apart the knotted strands and clumps cemented together with dried sweat.

And then, Rachel’s muffled yell over the running shower, through the closed door: “You ready?” Not even close. More...

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Roundtrip To Hel, Part II

[Continued from Part I]

SATURDAY, 6/28 - 13:30

“That’s a killer e-cig; where’d you pick it up?”

Actually, the stranger on the bus doesn’t say that. At least not in English. And judging from his condescending glare from a row up and across the aisle, I’m thinking he doesn’t approve.

I exhale the last puff of vapor toward the ceiling and shrug uncomfortably.

Rachel exchanges a few words with him, nudges me on the shoulder. “He’s definitely not from here - I can’t recognize his accent - but he says you’re not allowed to do that on the bus.”

“If he’s not from here, why’s he lecturing other people on the rules?” I shoot the man a neutral nod. “This stuff isn’t affecting him.” Still, I put it away. Some people, man. Busybodies.

Through my vest pocket, I finger the boxy outline of the pack of Marlboro Reds I bought last night after I caved. Post-Dimmu, our gearing-down at Nikky’s place a few blocks away became a relaxed, languid, drawn-out gab session, leading us to miss the afterparty band, Amorphis. For shame. Harakiri shame.

Instead, we ended up at PRKL, another rock club, well after midnight. After buying the pack and stepping outside to smoke one, I nearly got myself flattened by a passing street tram. That was probably some kind of sign. More...

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Roundtrip To Hel, Part I

THURSDAY, 6/27 - 13:30

“Tuska?”

Unmistakable, husky German accent behind me. I glance over my shoulder, turn, step aside the river of disembarking passengers from the Lufthansa Airbus parked out in the drizzly gray. The veteran green-fatigue-jacketed metalhead, balding, sporting a life-without-parole graying goatee, sticks out his hand.

“Holger. Nuclear Blast.” We shake, he grins and nods at the Testament logo above my lapel, only partially obscured by my boarding pass. He slips me a company card - “Holger Tiefenbach, Distribution & Marketing” - and lifts a finger toward a sign down the corridor: “Matkatavarat.” Luggage.

As we stride through Finland’s Helsinki-Vantaa Airport, locate the carousel for Flight 848 from Frankfurt, and wait for our suitcases to materialize - I was forced to check mine at the last minute and have since developed acute missing-luggage paranoia - Holger brings me up to speed on our shared reason for being here: Tuska Open Air Metal Festival, sixteen years running, 2014 edition set to kick off tomorrow afternoon.

“It used to be held in Kaisaniemi Park, right in the middle of the city. It was the greatest. You’d show up, basically have an afternoon at the park, and then head straight to the bars nearby, when the sun was just barely set.” He seems to almost sigh while tossing off a plaintive, what-are-you-gonna-do shrug. “They moved the location three, four years ago.”

“So it’s not as much fun now?” I want to get my finger on the pulse of conventional wisdom.

He’s quick to clarify. “It’s still awesome. The new location just took some getting used to.” On our painless stroll through the open doorway that passes for an immigration barrier - the stamps and stern looks and “papers, please” stuff was handled back in Germany, natch - Holger gives an inside view of current happenings back at the Nuclear Blast bunker.

“We spent a lot of time promoting that Tuomas Holopainen solo album - the one about Scrooge McDuck,” he tells me. I haven’t heard it, and ask him how it is. “Not metal. That’s how it is,” he chuckles. “But cool if you’re into that wacky stuff, like the last Nightwish album.

“And we signed Slayer!” He clenches a victorious fist like a kid receiving his BB gun on Christmas. “Finally.”

We’ve reached the Arrivals lobby, and a leather-jacketed brunette gives a wave. Rachel Roth (WandererOfKalevala), Metalunderground.com photographer and correspondent, currently residing in Vantaa. We have a bus to catch, and before parting ways with Holger, I bum a cigarette, pocketing the e-cig I’ve been abusing for two months.

I make a half-hearted promise to myself not to do this too much during Tuska (and not to beat myself up for doing just that). Rationalization is still the great human sport. More...

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Morbid Angel Obliterates St. Pete, Florida.

The old saying proclaims that experience is something you cannot improvise or replicate. You need to acquire it through years at the war front, whatever your skill set is.

That was demonstrated on July 29th when the now mandatory Summer Slaughter Tour came to the State Theater, located in St. Pete, Florida. None of the participating bands on the current tour (including heavyweights Goatwhore, Origin, and the mighty Dying Fetus) were remotely close to reach the level of obliterating power and majestic sense of darkness showcased by legendary headliners, Morbid Angel.

Some people might disagree but to us, it's clear that after three decades pioneering and redefining the Death Metal genre, the appeal and panache of this Floridian quartet is impossible to emulate. That was demonstrated in the way every song on their set list (both old or new) was received by the rabid fans. "Rapture" "Fall from Grace", "Where The Slime Lives" and even the most recent "Existo Vulgoré" were all worshiped with equal level of euphoria by those in attendance. If that doesn't prove the longevity and influence of the band's repertory on older and newer generations, then, nothing else will. More...

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