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(Live Review) LEGIONS OF METAL (NIGHT TWO) - Chicago, 5/4/24


The Beard & Little Johnny

Greetings friends, fans, and followers. It is us once again. Your favorite reviewing duo the Beard & Little Johnny as we take in show #28 and bands #90-96 at Night two of Bob Byrnes Legions of Metal festival. On tap for coverage, Fer de lance, Midnight Vice, Mean Mistreater, Night Cobra, Stress Angel, Dawnbringer, Hirax, & Watch Tower. Little Johnny is hoping for a more varied style of metal than on night one.



First up was Chicago’s own prog/doom act Fer de Lance.



Fre de Lance has one full length release - 2022’s The Hyperborean. On a beautiful summer day like Saturday afternoon, Fre de Lance came out to only about fifty people this early in the day. They started a little doomy with prog elements before picking up the pace and adding more power metal to the mix. Mandy Martillo vocally still reminded me more of doom than anything else, but the drums and, therefore the tempo, often took off becoming faster and more aggressive. I think this band could fall under a few distinctive styles, but were not a hundred percent any one of them.


Doom, prog, power, trad. I admit I am not completely sure. Little Johnny just said, “They are too slow for me Beard.” Finally, their last number got into that proggy groove where they noodled about on what was otherwise a power metal tune. I was not moved to excitement. It is the day two opener so let’s call them 75/100.



We then got an unexpected break as apparently Tampa trad metal act Midnight Vice was a no show. No announcement as to why that was. This meant next up on main stage was going to be Mean Mistreater a brand-new metal band from Austin Texas who formed in 2023.

Fireball singer Janiece Gonzales fronted this five-piece act. The band’s music reflected a kind of Deep Purple (sans keyboards) Burn era sound. They were more “hard rock” than “heavy metal.” Now at this point I did not have much to compare them to yet, so the fast-paced tempo at least woke me back up. Little Johnny had wandered to the other stage during the unexpected break so we will see if or when he reemerges. In the meantime, I gave credit for Mean Mistreater’s energy as the club was still under half full.



Mean Mistreater looked, acted, and played like it was a full house and I appreciate that kind of effort. As their set rolled on there was some movement into a more metal sound, (kind of a heavier guitar laced Warlock type of thing.) Although Gonzales is no Doro Pesch (or as I like to imagine her the future Mrs. Beard). Now, truthfully I did enjoy Mean Mistreater's set, I just never fell in love with it, so I am giving it an 82/100.


Right around the end of the Mean Mistreater set, Little Johnny popped back in and asked who was up next on the main stage eliciting this quick and unfortunate exchange:

 “Night Cobra little dude.”

 “Oh yeah, I get that sometimes when I’m dreaming about babes. Does that still happen to you Beard or are you too old now?”

 “You know Johnny, I WAS wondering where you had gotten to. Now, I just want you to go back there.” At that point, the little asshat wandered away muttering “Man, old people are sure grumpy.”


Anyway, at today’s halfway point, we are staying in Texas with another act as Houston’s Night Cobra hit the stage behind 2022’s Dawn of the Serpent.

Like a cross between NWOBHM era Angelwitch and today’s Night Demon, Night Cobra came out to some spooky music and then laid into the metal. Bakka Larson resembled a spooky cult leader-like singer with his trench coat and wizard staff microphone, but his voice was merely in the okay, but not sterling, range. The band was driven along nicely though by the dual guitars of Brandon Barger and Bill Fool. Once again I enjoyed the look, the music and the whole package presentation, but was just not fully taken with the vocals.

I will say this in their favor, they wasted no time with idle chitchat. They had 40 minutes & they played 40 minutes. Two extra points for that. Two more points for the poses during the lead guitar solos (especially that Linda Blair Exorcist like back bend.) Maybe the guitarist actually was part cobra. Their act and commitment won the crowd over. So, despite my own personal misgivings, I respect the crowd response and am going 84/100.


Finally, some news on the missing Midnight Vice. They have arrived and will be slotted in a 10:20-10:45pm position on the second stage. After Hirax, but before headliners Watch Tower. It is cool that Bob Byrnes is still letting them play even in an abbreviated manner. I will say this, Bob wants “everyone” to get their money’s worth at his festival.


Fifth up today was the Little Johnny band of the fest. From Brooklyn New York, the blackened death metal of Stress Angel touring behind 2024’s Punished by Nemesis.

An East Coast band inspired by West Coast legends Possessed, this three-piece act was all Little Johnny. With Manny Sores handling both the death metal drumming and vocals on top of that, this guy absolutely made Little Johnny's top five list this weekend. Guitarist Nicolai Orifice was good, but seemed stagnant given all the posing Night Cobra had just done, but he still churned out some Bathory-style licks which I admit was cool to hear. Going back to old school.


Stress Angel mixed slow parts along with the manic paced parts throughout their songs ... and I always think that sounds better than just nonstop speed. Yin/Yang kind of thing. Although the crowd had filled up, there was little pitting despite the music calling for it. Maybe after twenty bands this weekend people were wearing down a bit. Johnny moshed though, and of course that inspired a few to circle with him. It was good to hear one set like this because this fest really had not had anyone like Stress Angel. That said, although blackened death fest might be a Little Johnny dream outing, the Beard has a shelf life on tolerance for this style and the Stress Angel set took care of that today. I am going 82/100.



In the sixth slot was one the Beard missed when he was down in Houston at Hells Hero’s, Dawnbringer.

A trad metal band with prog influences from Chicago, Dawnbringer have seven full length releases, the last being 2020’s Snakes. I told Little Johnny that Dawnbringer was the name of one of the six sacred swords of Arcane Ascension. That Dawnbringer was female, and that she was the sword corresponding to the element of light. He shook his head and said, “You didn’t date much in high school did you Beard?” “Why do I even talk to you little dude?”



Starting out with the song Dawnbringer, this band presented arty music dominated by the drumming. The guitar and vocals then lent a depth and picture to the whole. The tempo changes were arty and proggy, and that can quickly grow tiresome if taken to extreme, but I liked what Dawnbringer was doing with it. Little Johnny seemed unsure, but he was hanging in there checking it out. My only criticism was their appearance. The lead singer looked plain, blasé, kind of like Mark Zuckerberg was fronting a metal band.


The music was great. The production was impressive. That vocalist though just did not look like a metal lead singer. I did understand that this was a rarity, (Dawnbringer does not do many live sets) ... and I am glad I got to see them perform. So, because everything other than the look was great, I am cracking today’s first cold one for Dawnbringer and rating them 90/100. I am also heading to the merch table because their music probably benefits from repeated listening’s. (Ed: Nice to see that you don't judge a book by its cover, Beard.)



In the semi-headliner spot was California old school crossover thrash courtesy of Hirax, celebrating forty years.



If Hirax’s first three numbers didn’t blow the roof off Reggie’s, they at least cracked it. This old thrash warhorse has still got it. Katon De Pena looked old, but he still had a lot of energy. Younger members Neil Metcalf, Jose Gonzalez and Emillio Marquez blazed away on guitar and rhythm. One thing that was definitely happening was Hirax got the Reggie’s crowd moving. Johnny could not have been happier if I gave him a crate of St. Bernard puppies with IPA laden barrels around their necks.


The room was circling and so was the lad as Hirax pounded away delivering blastbeats and continuing to show today’s generation how crossover worked thirty years ago. This was a great old school set. At one point, an audience member gave De Pena some weed, and he took it, said “Thank you, but if we smoke this now, we will start to suck, so we’ll smoke that shit later!”  We are definitely at a metal show.


Now, Hirax did have some sloppy stuff production wise, (mainly in keeping time and following some semblance of a set list), but HEY it is thrash and De Pena is an OG guy, so I am letting it slide. Forty years in the thrash business cuts you some slack. Once again this was a thoroughly enjoyable set and worth an 89/100.



Finally, headlining the night was Texas Prog act Watchtower.

Now, the Beard caught Watchtower’s set in Houston back in March, so we will see if anything is different here in Chicago. Nope, progressive, and screechy. Pretty much “just” like in Houston. There was a big crowd response for it though. Got to respect the crowd. For me though Watchtower was like watching thrash/Dreamtheater. I can easily believe it when singer Jason McMaster said, “When we started this band in 1982, we wrote stuff that we thought would be fun to play. We didn’t ever anticipate still playing it forty years later.”



Most songs began, then took about a six-minute walkabout where one thousand notes got played by guitarist Ron Jarzombek, and then ended. McMaster referred to it as “Weird Metal,” and I think that sums it up nicely. The band is talented, genuine, and excited to be playing, but I would not buy any Watchtower music, or a ticket just to see them perform it. I will allot them 84/100 because the crowd was hot for their set.



This wrapped up the 2024 version of Legions of Metal. Thirteen bands over two days and an average ranking of 86/100. This made it one of the most successful festivals I have been to in recent years. Kudos to promoter Bob Byrnes for the bookings. The Beard will be attending at least three more festivals this year, but this one may be tough to beat. Byrnes friendly rival promoter Randy “no fun” Kastner has his work cut out this year with his annual Blades of Steel event in August.


So, now it is time to gather up Little Johnny and head back home. We will work on the reviews, so stay tuned to The Mighty Decibel for those, keep checking TikTok at thebeard0728 for all the videos, and be sure to follow MARK MCQUEEN on Facebook.


Until the metal bus rolls again, this is the Beard and Little Johnny saying ...

Stay Heavy & Horns Up!!!


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