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A decade of decibels; Scott Lee presides over the 10th New England Metal and Hardcore Festival at the Palladium.

Byline: Scott McLennan

COLUMN: SCOTT MCLENNAN

Eleven years ago, Scott Lee traveled with Mass. metal maven Shadows Fall to a music festival held annually in the Midwest. From cold greetings to shabby performance accommodations, to stage hands looking for bribes to move gear, Lee and Shadows Fall left that fest less than impressed.

The only positive thing out of the experience was that the seed was planted for The New England Metal and Hardcore Festival.

"We were driving back and I was complaining about the whole experience and (Shadows Fall guitarist) Matt Bachand said, `You should do a festival,'" Lee recalled.

Lee, a seasoned band manager, nightclub promoter and heavy-metal pulse-taker, brought the idea to the MassConcerts team, which had been rekindling the music scene at the Palladium in Worcester.

The first Metalfest held in 1999 ran three days and featured Manowar, Morbid Angel, a young Cave In, and an actual wedding ceremony conducted during the set by Gwar. When the bride was fed to Gwar's on-stage meat grinder, the crowd's cheers validated a hunch: Metal fans deserve an event that understands their tastes beyond music.

"Metalfest isn't just about the bands," Lee said during a recent interview. Standing outside of the theater that will once again bring Metalfest to Worcester this weekend, the big man many know as Ogre went on: "It's the whole aura of the event. It's the Palladium. It's this street. It's the sausage vendor. You take Metalfest out of the Palladium, you ruin Metalfest."

And he knows that first hand, having one year tried to copy the event in New Jersey only to return home muttering, "Won't do that again."

The 10th annual New England Metal and Hardcore Festival begins Friday, as Dave Mustaine' Gigantour partners with the homegrown festival. The multi-band package created by the Megadeth front man was supposed to be in Worcester on another date, but all agreed it made sense to bring the metal together. So on Friday, the Gigantour lineup of Megadeth, In Flames, Children of Bodom, Job For a Cowboy and High on Fire take to the Palladium stage starting at 5:30 p.m. All of the Gigantour bands except Megadeth are veterans of the New England fest.

The festival then opens to longer programs on Saturday and Sunday, with two stages of action scheduled for each of those days. Dimmu Borgir, Shadows Fall, Behemoth, Overkill and The Acacia Strain are among the main stage draws on Saturday, while Municipal Waste, Soilent Green and Disfear stand out among the 14 acts on the smaller upstairs stage.

The main stage on Sunday features Ministry, Meshuggah, Divine Heresy, Ensiferum, Vanna and A Life Once Lost, while Shai Hulud and Full Blown Chaos will be explosive cappers playing the small stage. Schedules for all three days are online at www.metalandhardcorefestival.com.

The music starts at noon on Saturday and Sunday, running past midnight both nights. Tickets are $129 for a three-day pass, $85 for a two-day Saturday-Sunday pass, $47.50 for Friday only, and $45 per day for single-day tickets to the shows Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are available online at www.ticket.com and by calling (800) 477-6849. Tickets are also sold at Strawberries and FYE stores.

Lee shares credit for the success of Metalfest with the Palladium and MassConcert staffs. He explained how the fest has been careful to maintain its environment, sometimes rejecting offers from bands that would mean moving the festival to a larger staging ground. Knowing its audience, Metalfest has preferred unearthing bands that become the buzz rather than chasing down acts already getting its offers to play Ozzfest.

In the process, Metalfest has developed a reputation for being THE place to go to see what bands will be coming on strong and shaping the sound of metal. Metalfest's track record is impressive, having served as a significant launching pad for Lamb of God, God Forbid, Opeth, Lacuna Coil and DragonForce. The festival has had celebrated reunions (Overcast) and balanced rising stars of extreme music with veterans of thrash. In the process, Metalfest has treated fans and bands alike with a level of intelligence and respect one is more apt to find at the finer jazz and folk festivals.

Lee contends that metal is not strictly the purview of kids who look like they model themselves after Beavis and Butt-Head.

"Beavis and Butt-Head did more to hurt the credibility of heavy music. They made it more of a joke. But the truth is you see all kinds of people into metal. There are doctors and lawyers who love extreme music," Lee said. "Those people come here because it is a friendly atmosphere."

Bands also dig the vibe. The spring scheduling of Metalfest has led many groups to adjust touring schedules accordingly around the event.

"One year we flew in just for that show," said Meshuggah's Marten Hagstrom, referring to the band's heralded 2001 appearance at Metalfest.

That show was a harbinger of things to come as the mathematically precise Swedes were gearing up to release a new album.

This time, Meshuggah is coming to Metalfest with its new record in hand. "ObZen" is the brilliant new offering from Meshuggah and further solidifies this group's role as metal's forward, albeit aggressive, thinkers.

"ObZen" is the merger of Meshuggah's technically challenging side and cathartic concert persona. The band seem less self-conscious about the intricacy of the material and more willing to let a groove grab hold of the listener, as is the case with the instantly catchy "Bleed."

"I think every album is a reaction to the album made previous to it," Hagstrom said. Meshuggah's 2005 gem "Catch Thirty Three" showcased the dynamic guitar work and time-bending arrangement skills in the band. So on "ObZen," the band looked for songs that were more accessible yet of the same technical caliber as the rest of the Meshuggah catalog.

Though Meshuggah is touring the country with Ministry, Hagstrom can count on a fair assessment of the new material from the Metalfest crowd.

Last year the young Arizona band Job For a Cowboy broke from the pack at Metalfest and staged a memorable performance, which is not so easy when dozens of loud, brash bands are spread across two to three full days of music.

"Metalfest is the best opportunity for a band," said Bobby Thompson of Job For a Cowboy. "They bring the older bands to new kids and new bands to older fans."

Job For a Cowboy, the young death-metal troupe from Arizona, used Metalfest to dispel the image of being a fleeting, trendy band heated up more by MySpace traffic than brutal tunes. JFAC proved its mettle, so to speak.

And for European bands, Metalfest is as comforting as the Statute of Liberty, with the event taking in the goth, the death, the epic, the speed and the gore.

"We played in Worcester on every U.S. tour and NEHMHC several times," Daniel Svensson of Swedish band In Flames wrote in an e-mail. "The Palladium is like our second home and it feels great to come back. The Worcester show is definitely one of the highlights during our tours."

Metalfest is clearly not designed to appeal to everyone, but for those with a taste for the musically macabre, this dark festival truly is a highlight for all involved.

Scott McLennan can be reached at tgmusic1@yahoo.com.

New England Metal and Hardcore Festival

When: 5:30 p.m. Friday; noon Saturday and Sunday

Where: The Palladium, 261 Main St., Worcester

How much: $129 to $45, depending on number of days attending

ART: PHOTO

CUTLINE: "Metalfest isn't just about the bands," Scott Lee said. "It's the whole aura of the event. It's the Palladium. It's this street. It's the sausage vendor. You take Metalfest out of the Palladium, you ruin Metalfest."

PHOTOG: T&G Photo/DAN GOULD
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Title Annotation:ETC.
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Apr 20, 2008
Words:1309
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