Special report by Mark Gromen
If you build it, they will come, as there’s no other reason to be in Chillicothe, Ohio the last weekend of June. The produce on the surrounding farms is not mature enough to pick. There are the two massive correctional facilities down the street from the Ross County Fairgrounds, were the open air Warriors Of Metal III (WOM) took place. Two days of sunshine, music, drinks and a wet t-shirt contest to boot, that’s the ticket. Speaking of which, admission was an economically responsible $15 a day, or the whole weekend for $25.
After the first band canceled, WRECKED were set to kick things off, although the 5pm start came and went. A dual guitar foursome that lacked a definitive style, blues based hard rock formed the bedrock. However, the instrumental ‘Smoke Break’ wandered into Sabbath meets southern rock territory. Think NOLA sludge, albeit atypical of the remainder of their set. Like many to follow, they concluded with a DIO cover (‘Stand Up & Shout’), a planned theme for the weekend. Cleveland area TRAZOM (that’s Mozart spelled backwards) added a thrashy bent, the singer sported eyeglasses and most of his compatriots wore camouflaged shorts. In tribute to Ronnie James Dio (RJD), they ended with ‘Fever Dreams’, off his Magica album.
SKELATOR were the first “must hear” band of the weekend, although a heretofore unknown experience. They also get the mileage award (over DANTESCO, who came from Puerto Rico) for driving from Seattle, Washington! Sporting leather armbands, the singer took the stage, unfurling a flag bearing their logo. Later, he brandished a sword, but their catchy tunes were the weapon of choice. They were the initial act to amass a crowd at the front of the stage, enjoying the high pitched, traditional metal: maybe Maiden fronted by James Rivera (Helstar). “This is a song about a fucker names Socrates,” (cue Bill & Ted references) was the intro to ‘The Truth’. Skelator were active onstage, looking like they were actually happy to be there. Then again, maybe they were just ecstatic to get out of the white panel van they drove cross country. ‘Symphony Of The Night’ supposedly was inspired by Castlevania II computer game and after the simplistic, traditional styled original ‘Stand Up For Rock N Roll’ was dedicated to RJD, they concluded with a nearly thrash ‘Give Me Metal Or Give Me Death’. Good stuff all around!
The planned between band guitar demos were nixed, when the power source was limited to main stage only. A “shreadhead” tribute to Dio was already planned for the big stage each day, since it featured a trio of guitarist, including JOE STUMP (Holyhell) visiting from Boston, CURRAN MURPHY (ex-Nevermore/ex-Annihilator) alongside vocalist GREG WAGNER (Breaker/H.A.T.E.). They opened with a version of ‘Man On A Silver Mountain’ that even Ritchie Blackmore would call indulgent; the three stringbenders took turns strutting their stuff, each trading multiple solos. ‘Voodoo’ was a given a similar, but abbreviated, treatment.
The aggressive BEYOND FALLEN came next, ‘Fields Of Honor’ standing apart from the others aired. The singer tried to whip up interest, as the sound ricocheted off the municipal water tanks, the only solid object within eyesight of the open field. Note to musicians and MCs alike, can we dispense with the usual, pre-fab onstage banter at these multiple day events (where everyone has been there for what seems, at times, like eternity)? “How you doing?” (You were drinking with us before you went onstage and probably will be after, if not camping together.) “You are the best metalheads in the world.” Really? They left the stage after honoring the recently deceased Dio with ‘Killing The Dragon’.
A hooded monk, with vestments, proved to be DANTESCO frontman Erico "La Bestia,” quite the metal fanatic himself, judging from the rare vinyl and vintage shirts he brought from Puerto Rico (to offset the band’s expenses). Apart from the opening ‘I Came From Hell’ their set was delivered in Spanish, although he took the time to translate titles like ‘The Exorcist’, ‘In The Forest Tonight’ and the thrashier ‘Chronicles Of The Black Death’ off their ’05 debut. The atmospheric doom heavy five piece played air guitar, threw the horns Ozzy style and headbanged furiously, happy to perform their first concert on US soil.
Local boys JACOB’S DREAM (Yeah, the same ones who were on Metal Blade) got the shortest straw. IN an attempt to remedy the two hour lag in schedule, apparently being from the area made it OK to reduce their set to just four songs! After ‘Scapegoat’, they called up original singer David Taylor for a dual voiced, Queensrÿche-ish ‘Funambulism’. It was a pair off the latest; Beneath The Shadows, ‘Stain’ and the title track, then they were gone.
IMAGIKA, from California, have of late, made frequent sojourns to smaller regional events east of the Mississippi. They opened with newbie, ‘Scared To Death’ (which also kicks off the Portrait Of A Hanged Man CD), announcing that they were shortening their set by a few songs. Still got to hear the proto-thrash sounds of ‘Keep The Wolves At Bay’, ‘Fallen One’ off 2000’s And So It Burns and ‘The Hit’.
Today, 80s powerhouse OMEN feature only guitarist Kenny Powell as original member, but includes half of ASKA as well, frontman/guitarist George Call and drummer Danny White. Anyone who has seen Call knows he’s a star waiting to be discovered, but he’s obviously rejuvenated Powell, more active than I last saw him, which was almost a decade ago. The setlist remains classic Omen, buoyed by ‘Die By The Blade’, ‘Teeth Of The Hydra’, ‘Death Rider’ and ‘The Axeman’.
Actually, OMEN finished just a couple of hours before sun-up on Saturday, yet the line-up reconvened at 2pm. Seduced by America’s creed of quantity over quality, WOM needs to tighten up the schedule (and keep to it!) so people will still be around when the headliner plays. Really need to get some new blood interested too, as it’s the same thirtysomethings (or older) at these types of events around the country (Hi, Kit/Jen, Matt…). Kids aren’t interested in paying for music in this “free” (Illegal) download age, not even $15 a day for a dozen bands, with no club restrictions and the ability to camp with (girl)friends. Even in the digital age, unplugged campouts don’t mean separation from precious video games or Internet, what with I-phones and such.
World Cup kept me from seeing the first couple bands, although my “spies” filled me in on certain aspects of what was missed. LORDS OF THE TRIDENT ventured down from Wisconsin, featuring lots of props, including the singer “slaying” audience members with plastic swords. Named from Swedish mythology, Kansas City’s VANLADE, with umlauts over the first “A,” were decked out in bullet belts and peroxide dyed guitarist, offer a thrashy, old school vibe. Caught the end of FORGOTTEN LEGACY, a clean vocal, traditional leaning outfit from Pennsy who have just a 5-song demo to their name, although two of those tracks can be heard on their MySpace.
Nashville based OBLIVION MYTH, who I’d seen in Marietta, GA last fall, have undergone some line-up changes, in anticipation of their second album, most notably, the recognizable frontman. They played in Chillicothe with a temporary singer and bassist, the two positions to be permanently filled, via auditions. Still, they ran through ‘War Child’, ‘Between Light And Shadow’, ‘Into The Mirror’ and their contribution to the ongoing Dio cavalcade, ‘Evil Eyes’.
Was looking forward to reconnecting with ZEPHANIAH, as previous experiences had proven this Fort Wayne outfit to be technical, Maiden inspired speed metal. This was the first show with a new, tattooed and bald vocalist, possessing a gruff shout, as well as piercing high register. However, much of what made them special (live) has disappeared. The intricate twin leads of ‘Antietam’ and ‘Barbarian’ are still there, both fretsters mugging to the crowd, yet the goofy, fun-loving antics (including the wizardry of playing two instruments simultaneously, often interlocked with another encircling band member) have been shelved, apparently in favor of being taken seriously. Perhaps it’s just down to the initial show with “new guy”. Shame, as the likes of ‘Last Samurai’, the gruff begun ‘Opening The Gates’ and ‘Quest For The Royal Crown’ all have a lyrical tongue-in-cheek quality already.
Exaggerated changeovers, a makeshift wet T-shirt contest and another solo shredding stint lost momentum. In existence since ’92, Frisco Bay area TAUNTED only got around to releasing a full-length in ’06. All five in head-to-toe black, offer a thrashy take, more akin to neighbors Vicious Rumors than Testament. The new Bleeding Black (’09) formed the backbone of the set, including ‘Blood Washed Skin’, ‘Old Man Gloom’, which was dedicated to RJD, and the more technical, Queensryche styled bridge of ‘The Floating Ghost’. For ‘Still Believe’, off the Zero debut, they called up Imagika singer Norm Skinner, for a duet.
Gazing skyward, as a seemingly impending (yet never materialized) lightning storm rumbled louder than the racket onstage, just that threat, as it approached 10pm, was enough to make some scatter, myself included. Returned to the grounds almost two hours later, just in time to catch the end of WIDOW’s set, the twin guitar foursome of traditional metallers from Raleigh, NC who just reissued their Midnight Strikes album (cheekily re-titled Midnight Strikes…Twice!). With fuzz tone guitar, they concluded with Dio’s ‘One Night In The City’. Another retro-feel act came next, Pittsburgh area hard rock (80s commercial glam w/o the theatrics, Dokken-ish, if you like), in the form of ICARUS WITCH, breaking in yet another line-up change. The single guitar quartet performed ‘Out For Blood’, ‘Queen Of Lies’ and ‘Black Candles’ with lots of hair flailing. Next was ‘Draw Down The Moon’, title track from their latest and the acoustic begun ‘Sky Is Falling’ was dedicated to RJD.
Warming up for Germany, long-running Texas traditional metallers ASKA returned to Chillicothe and covered all aspects of their career, opening with ‘Stalker’, but also airing Killshandra’, ‘Blood Of The Wolf’ (complete with audience howling) and ‘Leprosy’ from Nine Tongues (’97). Although no new tracks were aired (‘Harlot Of Eden’ is targeted for the upcoming release and currently available on their MySpace) they did hit the most recent platter, Absolute Power, with, ‘Longships’, ‘Invasion’ and the rarely heard ‘Her Ghost Remains’. ‘Crown Of Thorns’, ‘Valkyiers’ and ‘Angels Of War’, all off Avenger, were also included, late into the night/morning, ultimately finishing at 2:30am. The set included Accept style trio of headbanging, George Call even genuflecting between bassist/backing vocalist Keith Knight and guitarist Daryl Norton. They also did an impromptu rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ for Lea Alaee, wife of organizer/Farvahar Records owner Datis and served as master of ceremonies for the raffle drawing (signed guitar).
Despite the delay, CAGE gave a full show, Sean Peck in complete metal regalia. Winding through the Midwest, having hit Minneapolis and Chicago, then on to Cleveland (post-WOM), the San Diego metallers are working Science Of Annihilation while demoing a follow-up. Essentially the same set as witnessed in Georgia eight weeks earlier, the band did include one of the three demo tracks Peck has allowed BW&BK an early listen, ‘War Of The Undead’. Body building guitarist Dave Garcia and the new duo of youngsters acquitted themselves well throughout and Norm Leggio (ex-Psychotic Waltz) is a madman on drums. After the opening ‘Planet Crusher’, there was ‘Kill The Devil’ and ‘Hell Destroyer’ accented by syncopated movements. This band remains one of the most consistent American acts, onstage and in the studio.
Organizers/promoters Ryan Carroll, Datis and Lea Alaee have their hearts in the right place and as head of Farvahar Records, Datis has an amazing ability to track down quality acts, oft unknown outside their corner of America, as well as international acts (check out his signees, GALLOWS END). Two years running the new faces onstage at Warriors Of Metal have proven worthy of further investigation by big profile mags, websites and regional live shows. The camping option at WOM, as well as the BYOB privileges, are unique and need to be played up to prospective attendees. Naysayers, even in discussions with 494 Productions crew, will claim the event is unorganized and a few changes ARE necessary to avoid WOM becoming yet another footnote in the history of well conceived multi-day metal events that ultimately failed.
Time Schedule: Two years running, this has been the #1 complaint from fans and bands alike. Why publish one if you can’t keep to it? There’s no reason to start the headliner at 3am! Difficult decisions need to be made day-of-show. It’s OK to say “no” and you MUST cut the earlier bands set times once you fall behind. People pay to see OMEN, ASKA, CAGE, WIDOW, ICARUS WITCH, JACOB’S DREAM play full sets, not 40+ minutes by good, but unfamiliar artists which dominate each day. More than one VIP entrant, who paid $100 for a ticket plus food/drink package, spoke with me regarding the inevitable time cuts. A few also mentioned the price, over the standard $25 for two days, feeling the extras weren’t commensurate with the inflated VIP ticket.
The idea of inter-band entertainment is a good one, provided it doesn’t sap all the main stage resources to pull it off. This includes man power required to facilitate changeover (too many Event Staff standing around, watching, drinking, ogling wet t-shirt contest) and electricity constraints. Yeah, they’re volunteers, family and friends, but if they don’t have the technical skills to help produce a show, that’s not useful.
While the lightning and threat of rain delayed Saturday evening’s proceedings by an hour, contingency for bad weather (thus far unnecessary, but given an outdoor spring/summer festival, the “luck” WILL run out at some point) should be in place beforehand. Without any inclimate weather, the show runs tardy. A mild wind scattered the merch tent this year. Had even a short cloudburst opened up, the exposed power-chords, junction boxes, unprotected stage and PA would have nixed the strongest portion of Saturday’s running order. As it was, the entire grounds lost power around 3am, right before CAGE, for no reason.
Plans are afoot for WOM IV, so hopefully the wrinkles will be ironed out, as I’m sure the line-up will (once again) prove worthy.