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South Jersey Expo Center; Pennsauken, NJ; 03/10/00

Reviewed by Christopher J. Kelter

The success of the long-running Milwaukee Metalfests has led to the promoter staging similar events across the U.S. (LA, Texas in addition to Milwaukee and New Jersey). The second annual March Metal Meltdown attracted a large number of fans from all over the Eastern seaboard - it was a communal event as much as it was a musical event. The venue for March Metal Meltdown II was switched from Asbury Park, NJ to Pennsauken, NJ; the event was also expanded from three to four stages.

The South Jersey Expo Center was a spacious place to hold the event - all four stages were under one roof and getting from one stage to another was quite easy. However, two of the stages were in one room and this was a little inconvenient for the ears as two bands were often competing for the fans attention. There were distractions galore: some good (vendors, tattoo artists), some bad (wrestling), and some in the middle (porn stars signing autographs) while plenty of music and t-shirt vendors offered their wares.

The first band I attempted to watch, entirely out of curiosity due to their name, was Bad Luck 13 Riot Extravaganza; the name alone was foreboding of things to come. Watching this chaotic mess of a band lasted about two minutes before the band started setting fire to things and jumping from ladders onto flaming tables. This sequence of drunken-blindfolded-lumberjack-with-a-chainsaw events led to the fire alarms being set off and the fire department being called to the venue. All performances were shut down for about an hour - this would have dire consequences for the rest of the evening.

Maudlin On The Well came highly recommended to me by an acquaintance I met before the concert started. Maudlin On The Well are the first band that can even begin to approach the eclectic nature of Forty Days Longing. Maudlin On The Well utilize three guitarists, two vocalists (the bass player sings, too, for a total of three unique voices), bass, keyboards, drums, and trumpet (!!) for one hell of a sound. Certainly a band worth listening to!

Over the last year or so I'd read a lot of press coverage of November's Doom and I finally had to see for myself what the fuss was about. Well, I was blown away! Melding doom and quasi-thrash into a potent blend of melancholic music, November's Doom is a band that should be heard by more people than it already has.

Today was a day for second chances, too. I'd seen Rain Fell Within in late '99 when they played a show opening for The Gathering - at the time I wasn't too impressed. However, first impressions can be rectified with second impressions. Rain Fell Within have added a second vocalist and have lowered the high pitched operatic vocals to more tolerable levels. Rain Fell Within are a band improving as time goes on.

Somnus, hailing from Cleveland, bridge black metal and doom metal genres into a very pleasing, glistening sound. Many loyal fans were in attendance and it would not surprise me to hear that Somnus make their presence known in the metal community in the years to come.

I simply couldn't pass up the opportunity to see Spirit Caravan again. I found it odd that a stoner rock band would make it on the bill of a metalfest, but diversity isn't a bad thing. Besides, the sheer talent of Spirit Caravan should be convincing enough to any fan of music. Even though the crowd was small, Wino and his two fellow band mates put on a spirited set that let everyone know where metal all got started - the '70s heyday of Black Sabbath.

One of the more highly anticipated sets of the evening belonged to Massachusetts's Shadows Fall. This band may just make a name for themselves as the first American melodic death metal to compete with the European masters of the genre (In Flames, Soilwork, Dark Tranquility).

I know I watched the God Forbid set, but I remember precious little of it. I remember thinking to myself that God Forbid sounded a bit more groove-oriented than anything that I had heard or expected to hear. Not every band can make a solid impression and surely this is a pitfall of seeing so many acts in a short time.

Turmoil attracted a fairly large crowd which caught me a bit off guard. Anyway, Turmoil are enough to make any metalhead become a fan of hardcore with their heavy groove that perfectly keeps hardcore's sensibilities while jazzing it up a bit with metal-like grooves and rhythms.

To add an additional international flavor to the show I decided to catch Mexico's The Chasm. The Chasm is pure brutal hatred in a black metal style that has begun to attract many fans. While I was not particularly impressed here, there's no doubt the legion of fans in attendance garnered The Chasm's performance as a highlight of their weekend.

I wanted to see Malignancy because of the reverence they have in the growing rebirth of classic death metal. And yes, I know that there is some attraction in seeing Mortician's guitarist Roger Beauregard as the drummer in Malignancy, but the bands are worlds apart. Malignancy are exactly what I expected: no nonsense old school death metal for the masses.

San Francisco-area metal bashers Skinlab took the stage with their aggressive songs and colossal attitude. I thought Steev was a little sloppy in his vocal delivery, but he more than made up for that with his combative singing. Snake and Scott ripped the speakers with abandon as their guitar attack was crisp and clean. Skinlab shook things up by doing a Brujeria cover and a new song that will hopefully find a home on their next release. Skinlab are definitely on my list to see live again.

Finland's Impaled Nazarene, in advance press for the event, warned everyone that they were going to bring "total hell" to the March Metal Meltdown and they didn't disappoint. Impaled Nazarene's brand of nuclear metal with Satanic overtones is a bit much at first, but the band's unrelenting approach has won many fans over the years. Impaled Nazarene played songs from their new release "Nihil" as well as others from their extensive catalog. This was a highly anticipated set for many in the crowd and given the crowd's reaction I think the fans went home happy.

Without a doubt the legendary S.O.D. was the band everyone wanted to see. S.O.D., playing another show in their extended "reunion" tour, was the most popular set of the evening by far. S.O.D.'s old school hardcore and politically incorrect sense of humor made for a boisterous mix. S.O.D. delivered an hour-long set that thrilled everyone. A good old-fashion mosh pit was indicative of the fans' positive reactions. Scott Ian, Charlie Bentante, Dan Lilker, and Billy Milano make a formidable team!

Sentenced, the most anticipated act of the evening for me, hit the stage in short order with must have been the fastest set change-over that I've ever witnessed. As the time was running late the band began to plow through songs with ferocity. Remember how I said the hour delay due to the fire alarms would have dire consequences? Well, Sentenced was shut-down after only four songs (had something to do with curfew or union rules, I'm not sure which)! Can you believe it!? Sentenced had traveled all the way from Finland for their first American appearance ever. The band had a devious look in their eyes that they would keep playing no matter what, but alas the venue had shut the power off to the equipment rendering their instruments mute.

Sentenced were none too pleased with this turn of events; Ville Laihala and the rest of the band left the stage very disappointed. The crowd was quick to voice their displeasure. Dedicated fans have waited for years for Sentenced to come to the United States and this is what happens? Quite frankly I'm shocked a riot didn't ensue, but I must give credit to the fans who didn't resort to violence or other extreme measures to express their disappointment. But, you know what? I'll take four songs of Sentenced any day over nothing at all. Here's a little plea to Sentenced from this humble reviewer - please come back soon!

Quite a few bands had joked throughout the evening about the poor quality of food and I passed it off as mere stage banter to rile up the audience. Well, the last laugh was on me. I woke up the next day with a minor case of food poisoning and missed the second day of the Metalfest! Argh! Seeing bands like Witchery, In Extremo, Testament, Cephalic Carnage, Hate Eternal, Origin, and Virgin Steele will have to wait another day.

I highly recommend attending any metalfest; support the scene! 

Just don't eat the food.

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Copyright 2000 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.
Revised: 23 Aug 2016 22:57:15 -0400.