Metal Festivals can represent “too much of a good thing”. What begins as a party lasting all day, or several days depending on the fest, becomes test of endurance and the wallet, spending large sums of money drinking overpriced flat draft beer and eating greasy concession food while your ears are ringing because the hosting venue’s sound engineer doesn’t understand that turning all the knobs on the mixing board to their loudest setting doesn’t actually make the band sound better. By the end of the day, or weekend, you’re sick of standing everywhere, you're disgusted that you have to find a tree to urinate behind because the venue’s restrooms are that vile, you’re angry at the meathead jocks that pass for security randomly shoving drunk fans around because they’re bored with the generally well-mannered metal audience, and you’re sick of the overpowering odor that emits from the unwashed flock of crust-punks and degenerates who managed to sneak into the festival. Yes, the same crustpunks and degenerates that whatever local media shows up to cover the fest will interview instead of YOU, the well spoken person with a college degree and a proper job who showers every day and just happens to enjoy loud, ugly music. With the Maryland Deathfest coming up, and my annual deliberation about how many days that I actually want to attend, I thought it’d be fun to reflect upon the worst metal festivals in recent years.
The infamous Iron Maiden incident. The lineup itself wasn’t really that spectacular, but certainly the opportunity to drop $30 bucks for a lawn seat and get to see Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden on the same stage would make for a fun afternoon, right? So you’re going to endure the miserable parking situation that arises with these sorts of festivals, you buy your 12 dollar watery plastic cup of Heiniken at the “Beers from Around the World” Tent, and you suffer though the countless bullshit bands like A Dozen Furies, Trivium, and Bury Your Dead with the hopes that Rob Zombie puts on an okay show, and fuck, it’s MAIDEN, right? Who cares that Maiden is a hit and miss band; they’re not gonna play “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner”, or “Weekend Warrior” or anything from the Blaze Bailey era. It’s FUCKING MAIDEN, UP THE IRONS ACES HIGH MOTHERFUCKER. Right?
The fact that Black Sabbath, who had been on again, off again reunited since 1997, wasn’t the primary draw to this festival obviously bruised some delicate rockstar egos, none of the least of which was Sharon Osbourne. Throw in some snide stage banter about reality TV shows from Bruce Dickinson, and well, you get the “Iron Maiden incident at Ozzfest”.
The festival itself went on without a hitch at its other dates (even those with Velvet Revolver playing in Maiden’s slot), but imagine the scene of 20,000 people leaving BEFORE Black Sabbath following the egging of Maiden and cutting the power to their instruments. That’s just bad business, and frankly Ozzfest never recovered- it’s since been replaced by the equally mediocre Mayhem Festival in terms of large scale travelling festivals.
Dave Mustaine’s massive ego believes that he can fill the same amphitheaters that Ozzfest was filling if Megadeth takes on the Ozzy/Sabbath slot. The result is Gigantour, which admittedly has some solid, relatively popular bands. Nevermore, Opeth, Fear Factory, Life of Agony…I’ve enjoyed seeing each of those bands live. However, Gigantour has also hosted bands like…Bobaflex and Dry Kill Logic. Besides Dream Theater, Dave never really booked a band as big as Megadeth, who could really put a lot of asses in seats. And thus Megadeth takes his Gigantour to half-filled sheds across the country.
2008 was Gigantour’s lowest point. Besides Dave Mustaine and friends performing Megadeth’s “greatest hits” (which usually also means killing time with some pointless shredding and a 12 minute drum solo, if it was anything like my Megadeth experience in 1998), the lineup featured In Flames, Children of Bodom, Job for a Cowboy, and High on Fire. In Flames of course being so far removed from their glory years that they don’t even play songs from before “Clayman” live anymore. Children of Bodom being a tedious exercise in musical masturbation. Job for a Cowboy having the sound of a death metal band without the musicianship, songcraft, or authenticity. And High On Fire, who’ll put you to sleep with their repetitive riffs if you watch them for more than 10 minutes.
After such a failure you’d think Dave would opt to play smaller venues, but instead, in 2012 he’s playing 10,000 seat areas full of invisible fans. At least this year has Motorhead?
Milwaukee Metalfest- the last years
When I first started getting into underground metal, and I’d read Pit, or Terrorizer, or Metal Maniacs, or whatever ‘zine, I’d always read these reports of the Milwaukee Metalfest. It was the underground utopia, it was THE festival you HAD to go to. Over 100 underground bands, heavy hitters from Europe who wouldn’t actually tour the United States but would only play AT Milwaukee. Opeth basically made their career by giving an awesome performance in 2000, and the response Hypocrisy received in 1997 kept the band from breaking up. So what happened?
Greed. Jack Koshick, the promoter of the Milwaukee fest, sought out every opportunity to earn a dollar. He started promoting the March Metal Meltdown in New Jersey, and to finance the festivals, he began putting greater emphasis on “pay to play” bands. Your band gets 25 minutes on a stage if you can drop $2000, no matter how much your band sucks. Multiply that by about 60 bands at each fest. You also start stiffing your bands, and resorting to having guest appearances by porn stars and pro wrestlers to draw people in because bands no longer are willing to play your festival. Eventually, things culiminate in the 2007 edition of the Milwaukee Metalfest, an epic disaster where headliner God Forbid (I like God Forbid, but headlining?) played before 150 people, almost all of them from the other bands that performed that weekend.
Ohio Deathfest 2005
The predecessor to MDF, the Ohio Deathfest was held in the Cleveland suburbs for several years, and featured a lineup of death metal and goregrind bands. Bands like Skinless, Mortal Decay, Mortician, Incantation, et al would play each year for a healthy sized audience. Word had it that Brian Baxter, vocalist for Regurgitation and mild degenerate, apparently ran into some seriously hard times that involved him basically vanishing from the metal scene, and with it ODF died.
In 2005, a Midwest regional promoter known as “Metal Mom” attempted to bring back the festival at a Cleveland venue called the Phantasy, a club most famous for its upstairs pirate ship (seriously). Lividity, Circle of Dead Children, Fleshgrind, Pyrexia, and a handful of middle tier deathmetal and grind bands were supposed to perform on what turned out to be an incredibly hot, humid, miserable weekend, where temperatures easily reached towards 100 degrees. Of course, the venue lacked air conditioning or ventilation, and the show was promoted though nothing more than word of mouth and MySpace.
Safe to say that the turnout was so low (150 people tops?) that the owners of the venue, having not been paid for the use of the club, ended the show immediately after Circle of Dead Children’s set on Saturday evening. Supposedly some of the bands ended up performing at a bar across the street, but much like Jack Koshick, Metal Mom has since gone into some sort of witness protection program (though she did attempt, then cancel, an attempt to bring the same mess to Michigan a few years later). The Ohio Deathfest is thus finally laid to rest, so forgotten that hardly any trace that it ever happened remains online.
Death in the Forest Festival 2006
What happens when overly ambitious New Yorkers decide to throw a 2 stage outdoor metalfest in upstate? Comedy, that’s what. Trouble began when bands started cancelling on the fest (1349 and Belphegor come to my immediate memory), then the fest couldn’t get a stable venue, then more bands cancelled, and the fest ended up being a modest show in a club in NYC that switched venues on the DAY OF THE FESTIVAL. The lineup actually still featured some solid bands such as Skinless, Impaled, and Vital Remains, but this cluster fuck of a mess is why promoting and organizing shows should be left to people who understand logistics.