Milwaukee Metal Fest or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Moshpit
"I remember coming here with my son back in '98" he said with a smile, "And here we are again: me, my son, and my grandkids, still rockin'!" Returning for the first time in sixteen years, this seasoned headbanger and his family were just a few of the many who entered The Rave/Eagles Club, eager to relive the metal magic of the Milwaukee Metal Fest.
Over the course of three days and across three stages, nearly 80 bands ranging from hardcore and thrash to death metal, doom metal, grindcore, and metalcore took the city of Milwaukee by storm. Yet, in addition to the incredible lineup, it was the sense of community and togetherness that truly made the festival a success and a weekend of memories.
Returning to the father, now grandfather, on the barricades waiting for Machine Head, "I hope they keep doing this so one day I can come with my great grandkids and we'll all go crowd surfing together."
The Blackest Bazaar
Walking into the basement of the venue was like entering the heavy metal bazaar/flea market every thrasher dreams of. Harkening back to the days of Ozzfest, official festival merch stands were flanked by a wide range of independent shops and merchants from all across the country.
Upstairs outside of the second (Indie Merch Store dot Com) and third (Martyr Store dot Net) stages, and again on the second floor landing, even more booths and tables were set up. From rare patches and vintage shirts, to CDs, records, and jewelry, if it was heavy and/or metal, chances are, it was available.
"These are all originals, imports, and most are long out of production," said the owner of what was by far the largest selection of patches at the show. With so many unique choices, the number of "Wow!"s and "No way!"s that came from those looking to add to their battle vests were countless.
In between sets, fans could grab a beer from a number of bars, or head out the front doors fo the venue to the food truck food court for a meal. Whereas Ozzfest and similar outdoor events usually entailed finding a place to sit in the shade (which was often easier said than done), the venue provided a giant awning, tables, and chairs set up to comfortably enjoy a taco, burger, or barbecue sandwich.
The Crowd or: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Moshpit
There are few things as strong as the comradery among moshers. Those who step into the pit, no matter how big or strong they are, gives their trust to those around them. This goes double for crowd surfers since, as one can imagine, there's not much that can be done if you are dropped headfirst onto the hard floor.
Ironically noting that "it's been quiet on the barricades so far", the lone security guard who let that slip on the first day quickly had their hands full of incoming bodies. So many surfers came over the gates for Vended that photographers had to cut their time short for safety reasons. The Black Dahlia Murder held the record for the most surfers in one song: 37 for "On Stirring Seas of Salted Blood".
What the crowds at Milwaukee Metal Fest learned quickly was that, as intense as the music and pits got, everyone had each other's backs. Things that separate folks outside the walls didn't matter as all were welcome in the pit. During The Halo Effect's set, the most battle hardened metal fiend surely got a little misty eyed as the youngest of fans made their way over the barricades. It was quite literally the next generation of metal fanatics taking flight.
Even the bands made it clear that this was a safe space to get rowdy, such as Chad Green of Frozen Soul asking the crowd to have a good time but to take care of each other, and Trevor Phipps of Unearth reassuring a reluctant stage diver that "if you jump, your brothers and sisters will catch you!"
Scenes From the Frontlines
The resurrection of the Milwaukee Metal Fest served two purposes: first, it was revival of an event that first started in 1987 and introduced the world to some of greatest extreme bands of the day at a time when the scene was still mostly underground.
Second, it fulfilled a vision of metal legend.
In an early 2022 podcast, hardcore heavyweight Jamey Jasta (Hatebreed/Jasta/Kingdom of Sorrow) discussed with the late Trevor Strnad (The Black Dahlia Murder) how great it would be to bring the festival back. Speaking with Metal Injection last summer, Jasta said "I fantasized about bringing the fest back and even wanted Trevor to curate it with me."
While no official news has surfaced as of this writing regarding what to expect for next year, many fans spent the time in between sets making a wish list of bands they would love to see in 2024. Deicide, Behemoth, Meshuggah, the possibilities were as endless as the demand for another year of the festival.
And if there was any question as to why so much love and care went into the creation of the 2023 edition, Brian Eschbach, who moved from rhythm guitar to vocalist of The Black Dahlia Murder said it best during their set on Saturday: "This day, this whole festival is for Trevor; this is for our friend!"
The Black Dahlia Murder:
Lamb of God:
After the Burial:
"Yesterday, I was just a dad at home with my family, and this morning I jumped on a plane to come yell at you people. It never gets old, I love what I do!" ~ Anthony Notarmaso, After the Burial
"Before we play this last song, I wanna see the biggest circle pit that you can give me. Starting with you: Gorguts shirt guy, start running!!" ~ Chad Green, Frozen Soul
Shadows Fall :
"It means so much to us that you all didn't forget about us, and we hope to see you again soon, maybe right here on this same stage for next year's fest!" ~ Brian Fair, Shadows Fall
The Halo Effect:
"When we started doing this as teenagers in Sweden, no one wanted to play the heavy stuff we wanted to do. And now, thirty years later, we are here with you having a good time, and for that we are so thankful!" ~ Mikael Stanne, The Halo Effect
Dead to Fall:
Press and photo pass courtesy of Suspiria PR, extra special thanks to Katy Irizarry