Hardcore to the core
Annual Metalfest brings dozens of bands, a variety of styles, and supporters from across several age groups to Worcester
Mike Baronas manages a newspaper office. Mark Goslin is a mailman. Matt Smith works for a publisher of educational materials. A couple of the guys are raising kids. They are all articulate, like to write, and flash a sharp wit.
The three also happen to be huge metal heads. And when we say they like heavy metal, we’re not talking about Korn, Disturbed, or other stuff you may hear on the radio. We mean the sort of music Celtic Frost or Behemoth makes: deeply dark and relentlessly aggressive.
But as they took in a recent set by the Polish metal band Vader, the three explained that they’ve never outgrown a taste for metal, because the genre has never grown stale.
“I’m always looking for the next extreme thing,’’ Baronas said.
Generally he doesn’t have to wait long for some new band to up the ante, or for one of the veterans to push its own boundaries.
Yet as alienating as purebred metal may seem, the genre has fostered a multigenerational musical community.
“You find that fans like the scene and not just individual bands,’’ said Brian Slagel, founder and head of Metal Blade Records. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years and seen how this scene built itself in a way you don’t see happening with other kinds of music. It’s fascinating how everyone helps each other out.’’
A shared sense of history also plays a part in the genre’s endurance. “New bands are very open about their influences, which gets their fans gravitating toward some of the older bands,’’ Slagel said. “And the kids seem really into the history and keep going back to the older releases.’’
So consider the 12th annual New England Metal & Hardcore Festival happening this weekend at the Palladium in Worcester to be both master class and town common. More than 50 bands will play the two stages of the festival proper Friday and Saturday. The lineup will present both veterans such as Cannibal Corpse, a group that has spent the past 22 years grinding out horrific tales set to punishing arrangements, and buzz bands such as Periphery, a prog-metal act that just put out its first album.
Metalfest, as the event has come to be known, is as much cultural event as musical one, similar to the ways the folk and jazz festivals in Newport, R.I., are both bellwethers and barometers for their respective scenes. The headliner at Metalfest on Friday, for example, is Mastodon, a Grammy-nominated band that seven years ago was being nurtured on Metalfest’s smaller second stage.
In just about any other context, word that the band Disembodied is back in action would be met with quizzical looks, but at Metalfest this registers as a big deal. Disembodied formed in Minnesota, put out a couple of albums in the mid-’90s, and broke up. Yet the band’s fusion of hardcore punk with heavy metal set up the metal-core scene that ultimately grew popular. The band reconvened last year after being interviewed for a book about the hardcore scene and plans to release an album later this year.
“Obviously, a big show like this makes sense for us to play,’’ said Disembodied bassist Tara Johnson, noting how strange it has been to see a mix of 30-somethings and teens showing up and singing every word to the old songs. “We became bigger after we broke up.’’
The merger of metal — with its penchant for guitar solos and dramatic underpinnings — and hardcore — notable for its strident attitude and tumultuous sound — is just one variation of extreme music. Metal’s beginnings in the sludgy rock of Black Sabbath seem downright passive compared to offshoots known as thrash, speed, death, black, and grind. Fans seem willing to tolerate it all.
“People are opening their minds,’’ said Tommy Rogers of the band Between the Buried and Me.
He should know. Between the Buried and Me doesn’t easily fit any metal mold. Its music features layers of melody and brutality orchestrated in such a way as to keep listeners both entertained and off balance. “We take aggression and have fun with it,’’ Rogers said.
Scott Lee, who founded the festival with MassConcerts, is both diehard metal fan and respected impresario whose Metalfest showcase at this year’s South by Southwest music conference drew 2,500 attendees.
“Metal is like classical music,’’ Lee said. “It’s got a high level of musicianship and the songs have a lot of emotion. Some appreciate it, but it’s not for everybody.’’