The sun’s setting (how metal) outside the Gramercy Theatre on Friday, November 4. As I’m trying to figure out how ten bands are going to play rip-shit sets tonight, pornogrind band Lake Bukakke (trust me, this is a mild name in the genre) decide not to show up. A sense of relief washes over me but hell, that would have been one way to start a festival. Apparently, the band can’t stand press attention and chose to remain underground for all eternity. Then I miss the opening thrash band Prime Evil. Save your breath, I’ve already been scolded.
Risking riots from metal elitists, the lineup included a band from almost every sub-genre of metal. MetalSucks founder Vince Neilstein told me it’s, “Because our tastes in metal aren’t confined to one single sub-genre. We figure most people are the same way. Every now and again you meet the girl who only listens to thrash, or the dude who only listens to doom… but most people have a wider variety of tastes.”
The downstairs of the Gramercy Theatre’s low ceiling is making the room dark and essentially claustrophobic. Everyone’s standing against the walls and every unfortunate soul descending the staircase deals with the mostly contained chaos. Some fans are getting their pre-game on at the bar behind the brick walls. Ben Koller from All Pigs Must Die (better known in Converge) is warming up via air drumming in the corner. Merch tables are set up with signs that say something like “we’re assholes and only brought size smalls today.” Municipal Waste’s singer, Tony Foresta, isn’t talking to anyone and, according to his merch lady, has a “photo shoot” to prepare for (you’ve got to be kidding me). But hey, looking for trouble isn’t a legitimate story.
Upstairs however, Bostonian thrash metal band Ramming Speed are tearing it up. Let me tell you, there is some seriously illustrious hair full of sweat on stage being whipped around. The 20 people there I think liked them. Here lies the issue throughout the night- the place was almost empty until the late evening. I mean, you could literally Sunday afternoon stroll up to the gate barrier.
So a few more filter onto the floor for All Pigs Must Die, a deathly brutal hardcore supergroup (consisting of The Hope Conspiracy, Bloodhorse and Converge). They blast through songs on both the debut record and the newer God Is War. Magrudergrind take no prisoners and are bold enough to not even have a bassist. It’s nothing but pure grindcore (so they ripped through a few albums in the half hour set) and intense spitting. Then they pack up their gear and leave. Finito. Gone mysteriously into the night.
Then we have Black Tusk, with an alright reception. Perhaps what was more exciting was one guy working on a white quasi-wizard length beard. In retrospect, Howl were a lot better than I previously thought. They had really long songs that ended abruptly…confusing. It’s an accurate band name, because guess what the singer does?
Now all I want to do is see This is Hell, but a photographer is pompously shouting to his buddy in the crowd about how much he hates Metallica and Megadeth. Dude, what the fuck are you doing here? The lady next to me with a Warbringer back-patch is looking at him like killing is her business.
People participating in This is Hell’s circle pits read up the organizational handbook. Privileged we shall be, there was no wind-milling. The pit for “Salt the Earth” was so intense it was the most anyone moved up to that point. This is Hell thrashed through a mostly Black Mass set with Rick Jimenez sticking out his tongue with every guitar solo. And it’s not like many people there knew who they were, but after the set there were definitely a few “holy shit” expressions on faces.
I decided to park it up in the seats, which by the way gives you a close but amazing view of what disaster is occurring, just as long as you can put up with the crunch of 24 oz. American beer cans underneath your feet.
People-watching at a metal show is hilarious. You have every type: rats in homemade stud jackets, Lynyrd Skynyrd doubles, old hairy dudes, shaved-head hardcore two-steppers, Hot Topic neon, medieval garb waiting to larp and chicks in pink. What a culture.
Is there anything that MetalSucks will not put up with? “Excessive use of breakdowns and scene hair,” says Neilstein.
Oh, right to the disaster. Today is the Day were a head scratcher from the start. On the screen behind the band are these odd images that are basically a five dollar horror movie B-roll purchased from a dentist’s office. This guy’s lying on the ground playing his guitar and nothing but audible groans are coming from the audience, praying every song is the last. I can’t watch this anymore so I retreat back downstairs to where This is Hell are conducting their own pizza party.
Finally the crowd gets active for God Forbid by insistence of their incredibly large and entertaining singer. Yet, as soon as they announce they signed a deal with Victory Records, I vomit my non-existent dinner. They play a great energetic set as a nice warm-up for what’s coming.
Let’s get this out of the way: it is clear fans went to the festival that night to see Municipal Waste and couldn’t care less about anyone else. The back of the Gramercy turned into a giant pit with a few unnecessary punches every now and then. Even a wall of death was requested (at this size: wince). Fact two: Municipal Waste put on an amazing live show because they are incredibly tight…
…which surprises me because I thought they were drunk. No, I cannot prove it but when all players are stumbling around, slurring words during banters and cans of beer are visibly on the stage, it leads you to think that. But they didn’t miss one note in a solo and the singer wasn’t off key by one notch. How did this happen?
Here’s the key: Municipal Waste is a “fun” band – kind of like Every Time I Die, except these guys have zero lyrical content. There’s even a song called “Beer Pressure” (1+1=2 right?). Look, I know someone will inevitably shit on me for this but the arrogance of this band is really off-putting. He shouts, “Hey this next one is for Cliff Burton – it’s called ‘Black Ice.’” Yeah see, not so sure about that joke – it’s like a 9/11 joke: it will always be, shall we say, “too soon.”
That’s bad but it’s not a total discredit. Municipal Waste easily won over the crowd with their aggressive performance. MetalSucks also deserves a lot of credit too. “We’ve been working on it [the fest] since January 3, the first day after we got back from our annual Christmas-New Year’s break,” says Neilstein. “That it’s taken that long to get this lineup and all the logistics together, that should tell you how hard it was.”
Take this paragraph as my subtle reminder that planning a festival is calculus difficult. To not only book 10 bands to play in one evening, but to organize and shuffle it is beyond masterful. Yes, there were quite a few grumbles about the ticket price of $40, but it’s understandable on both ends and honestly the diversity of this lineup was worth the price alone. This was Day One, mind you, as the next night features Cynic and The Red Chord.
The Long Island Rail Road platform is crowded with congestion due to track work. Looking around, I’m one of three standing there in black. Instantly reminded of high school movies about their guesses as to who we are, they don’t know what we even participated in.
Metal is a culture. Cliché as it is, it’s a way of life. Yeah, (We Are) The Road Crew.