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(Live Review) MILWAUKEE METALFEST 2024 - Night Three


The Beard & Little Johnny


Greetings friend’s fans and followers, it is the Beard and Little Johnny as we report from day three at Milwaukee Metalfest. For those keeping track it will be show #31 and bands #121-128. Today we are taking a Little Johnny fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants approach and just letting the day happen.


We started out with a pregame meal at a Milwaukee staple for burgers and Bloody Mary’s ... Sobelmans. The Beard had a bloody cheesehead (which is a fully garnished Bloody Mary with sausage, shrimp, olive, pickle, cheese, and celery plus three wedges of deep-fried cheese.), then added in a Sobelman’s burger with bacon, cheese, grilled onions, and jalapeños. Clearly consuming enough food for 24-hours. Little Johnny skipped the Bloody Mary, (calling it an old man drink), but downed a double hangover burger with fries and an IPA. That entire meal was still cheaper than two beers apiece at the festival.


Once we got to the Rave, for the Beard, it was off to a meet and greet with Lacuna Coil. After being turned down for marriage by Doro Pesch Friday, the Beard took a swing at Coils lead singer Christina Scabbia. Beautiful woman, super cool and very friendly (as were her bandmates.)


When the Beard said they should be headlining tonight, the drummer said quietly to Scabbia, “He’s not wrong.” Alas, some signatures and a picture were all I got, but when I mentioned a gig in 1999 (when I first saw Lacuna Coil play opening for Novembers Doom & Moonspell), Scabbia brightened and said, “Wow, THAT was our first tour of the States. You HAVE been a fan since the beginning. Thank you so much.” For the picture, Christina genuinely looked happy to be next to me in it, so the Beard is calling that a win. (Ed: Strike two!!!!)


Next, it was to the stages where we decided to begin the day with the west coast melodic death metal act Upon Stone.



Johnny liked that they were death metal and the Beard focused on the term melodic. Playing under dark blue lights which made pictures tough, Upon Stone did have less brutality and more melody than some death bands, but it was like adding one cracker to a bowl of five alarm chili. It was still VERY much death metal with the “melody” aspect mostly heard in the transitions between songs.


Small pits this early in the day, but a few were still game even after two intense days and nights. The crowd was light, (maybe fifty), but the band played hard, which I appreciate. My main complaint was they should have had more light. They were death metal, not atmospheric black metal, so light is their friend, not an evil creation of a despotic deity which must be crushed and reviled. (Channeling my inner Glenn Barton.) Still, Upon Stone was a good opener for day three. 78/100.



Next up, Little Johnny, knowing we did not have a set plan asked, “Well Beard will it be “It Dies Today” or “Bleed From Within?” That is a tough choice little dude, both are metalcore. Let’s try the Scottish band upstairs. So, we headed to the main stage for Bleed from Within.

Part metalcore, part death but also featuring some melodic structures as well, singer Scott Kennedy (not exactly a generational Scottish name) had a thick Scottish accent when he was speaking between numbers (or doing clean vocals), but once he went growl it was indistinguishable. Once again though, Bleed from Within was not bad for the hardcore style.

Little Johnny, (still searching for a replacement for his beloved lost cap) was in the mosh pit with a guy wearing a Rooster head mask. “NO NO NO…you can NOT buy a Rooster head mask."


Back to Bleed from Within, I would have given these guys high 70’s but since they are Scottish, the Beard will support the home country so 81/100 it is.



Johnny said he wanted to hang upstairs for Atheist with the moshing Rooster-headed guy. Somehow this cannot end well, but I left them to their own devices and the Beard headed back down to the small room for San Jose’s death grind act Exhumed.


Exhumed does not mince around. With ten full length releases since 1998’s Gore Metal and supporting their latest double live album Vomit from the Vault Exhumed was fast, followed by faster with a side salad of speed. Guttural vocals and rapid, (or maybe rabid), drumming summed up this whole set.


In a way Exhumed became almost hypnotizing in its own unrelenting frenzy. Like deciding to stick your own tongue in a fan. A crazy concept certainly but some of us have thought about it. Exhumed also had a stage show with decapitations and execution so there is an extra nod to the Alice Cooper horror movie aspect giving fans something to watch while Exhumed churned out Slayer-like guitar riffs. Taking it all into account, I am going 86/100 because I also got a show with my grind.



I did cut out a few minutes early to try and check out Alluvial from Atlanta (in the small room), but about three hundred other people must have had the same idea because you could not get in that room. So, instead I headed upstairs to the main room to try and get a spot for Death To All.


Upstairs I was able to catch the last few songs by Kelly Shaefer’s Florida death act Atheist.

Shaefer has been a part of the band since 1987, but everyone else had less than two years in. Songs were death, but with some prog or technical playing interspersed.


Atheist benefited from slotting because their style was so different from Exhumed. Since I caught less than half the set though, I tried to rely on Little Johnny for the full report. He said, “Me & the Mosh-Rooster marched in the pits Beard. That old guy singer was ranting about stuff and the music was fast.” “Thanks, little dude, good that I can always count on you for the details. I can NOT believe our boss likes you best.” Based on the five songs I caught, I will say 78/100. (Ed: He likes roosters, Beard. Roosters!)




The next band up was something many fans had come out this year to see. Death To All which operates as a tribute to the original band Death, which dissolved in 2001 following the passing of the group’s founder and lead singer, Chuck Schuldiner.

The backbone of Death to All comprised original Death members drummer Gene Hoglan (Dark Angel), bassist Steve DiGiorgio (Testament), and guitarist Bobby Koelble (Death), joined by singer/guitarist Max Phelps (Exist, Cynic).


Since it was never my preferred musical style, of course I had never seen Death (who enjoy the title of sentimental favorite among fans as starting the death metal genre.) So, this will be as close to a bucket list as I can get in seeing the original incarnation.


For a style I do not care for, these guys were solid. I was able to sit and enjoy the set while the crowd below churned and spun, and the Death veterans thundered on. As a set, it was entertaining, but as it was not my style of music, I could not tell just how good it was other than it had strong crowd response. From the side stage I counted at least thirty-seven crowd surfers caught by security. Kudos to them since for an hour the crowd was essentially throwing 200-pound humans at them to catch. Try catching thirty-seven sacks of cement with waving limbs. Security has earned their money this weekend.


Because it was 75% actual Death band members, they played an hour, did all of Scream Bloody Gore and the crowd was hot, I will go against my own personal feelings and award 85/100 for one of the seminal bands in the genre.


Directly after the set ended, about 80% of the room emptied immediately to catch I Am Morbid downstairs, while the remaining 20% crushed the stage front securing their spots for Italy’s Lacuna Coil.

A twenty-five-year veteran of touring, Lacuna Coil was already performing the style of music Evanescence would become Uber famous for back in the late 1990’s. Mixing alternative with goth and metal and dropping in the symphonic voice of Kristina Scabbia, one of the best female vocalists out there in metal. In the Beard's opinion, Lacuna Coil is to their style what Exodus is to the thrash style. This band should be giants in their genre, but others are instead.


The Beard first saw Lacuna Coil at a postage-stamp sized club in Aurora Illinois. It was their first trip to America. Unleashed Memories had just dropped on the U.S., and Lacuna Coil were the 20-minute openers to November’s Doom and Moonspell. After hearing twenty minutes of Scabbia’s voice, I had absolutely zero doubt Lacuna Coil would surpass those other bands and I have been their fan ever since.


As the years passed, Lacuna Coil got darker with both their music and their stage show. Last year I mused that this might be because the world itself was a darker stranger place and the band was simply a reflection of both it and (to a further extent), us the audience.


Right out of the gate, despite the Eagles Club and its poor sound that flummoxed bands all weekend, Scabbia’s voice soared over and through the ballroom permeating everything. Scabbia has long been on my Mount Rushmore of female vocalists, and on this big stage with all the lights and effects Lacuna Coil were displayed properly. This is a band that deserved the big stage.


Andrea Ferro, as he has since the beginning, sang the deep parts of each song perfectly matching Scabbia’s angelic voice. Honestly, I would probably give Scabbia 100/100 just to sing for me because I think she is that good, but I knew I must review the set as a whole and it did lag a couple times. On the other hand, their total time of 45 minutes flew by. (Both things can be true at once.) So, I am docking for too long a story to introduce one of the songs, and a couple instances where they seemed to speed through seminal numbers like “Swamped”, otherwise, given this was Lacuna Coil's last American show this year they just about perfectly nailed it. 92 for the band. 100 for Scabbia’s vocals. 96/100 total. A great, great set.



Next up, were Sweden’s death/prog act Avatar.

I did not know anything about Avatar despite the fact they had been around for over two decades and have already released nine full length albums. Johannes Ekerstrom, (the singer), was dressed like a member of cirque de soli and sounded like Marilyn Manson with a better voice and a much higher range.


Avatar produced a visually impressive stage shows and excellent musicianship. These guys were ultra polished, and the crowd both knew their songs and loudly sang along with them. Coming on the heels of Lacuna Coil, Avatar was impressive. The band had great synchronization, (once again European bands seem to do this better than the American acts for some reason.) and the music was layered. It went through stages, levels, and moods. How is it I have never heard of these guys before?


Avatar was the surprise of the festival for me, and I absolutely need to get some of their music and better acquaint myself with this act. Once again, although day three looked weak on paper, it gave me two of the fest’s best sets. I am matching my grade for Lacuna Coil and going 96/100 for Avatar.


On the one hand Lacuna Coil is a longtime love competing against icon status, (meaning I know how good you “can” be, now get up there and do it), vs Avatar who competed against a blank slate, (as I knew nothing about them beforehand), and it was a fantastic first time seeing them. Little Johnny wants to go wardrobe shopping now. In a perverse way, I actually DO want to see him out in the pits dressed like Eckerstrom. No way “that” doesn’t end in entertaining video footage.



Last up tonight and ending the weekend festival was Russian deathcore-by-way-of Florida (of course), Slaughter to Prevail.


I am prepared to give it a chance, but I think deathcore may have a tough sell with me after these last two acts. The Beard may have to allow the crowd to decide their grade, but I am a professional and I will finish the job. But first I shall get a drink and end the fest with a double and a half Bulleit rye on the rocks. Thank you bartender who liked cash not credit.


Slaughter to Prevail were a five-piece band. Singer, Aleksandr “Terrible” Shikola dressed in shorts, tennis shoes, and a gold mask. The rest of the band likewise wore these types of glittery masks. It was like a Taylor Swift fan had decorated the nameless ghouls from Ghost.


The music was fine with me for that style, but after how great the last two bands were, the style itself was a letdown. Meanwhile I am trying to find Johnny in the crowd and hoping he hasn’t already obtained a sparkly gold mask. After the third song Shikola’s mask came off and now shirtless and clad only in his shorts and tennis shoes he looked like every muscle bound Russian bad guy who ends up fighting Jason Bourne, Ethan Hunt, or Bryan Mills.


The crowd had a good response and a fairly active pit. The music incorporated elements of synth along with the deathcore and guttural barking from Shikola. With the “over the top” loud bass, this felt like “house music” in some East end badass club where they serve a lot of Vodka. I guess one could say I was not into Slaughter to Prevail and therefore I can only hand them a 75/100.


The fest, however, was to allow me one more worthwhile experience. During Slaughter to Prevail, the Beard had taken a far side seat. (These were generally open on the balcony since that far to the side one got limited stage view.) Next to me was a father and his “daughter” (I am guessing). The dad and I conversed briefly. The usual stuff, who had you seen today and what did you think? Looking over his shoulder, I noticed the daughter (who was probably in her mid-teens), wore a large set of headphones and rocked back and forth regularly to no real music.


After a bit I realized that she was likely special needs in some manner. Occasionally when she would glance in my direction I would smile, and she would shyly look away and sometimes begin rocking again but eventually would look back at me. I am the Metal Santa after all. As I did not know her story and didn’t feel it was my place to ask, I did not.


During the set, she watched the band members moving about the stage and I could see her kind of getting into the music. Like most of us, she had on a black concert T-shirt and some silver jewelry. Had I not noticed the behavior, I would have never had a second thought. Instead, I thought how cool it was that her dad (who was definitely a metal fan based on our conversation), was both including her in a shared interest and watching over her like any good parent.


I was caught up in writing some notes a few songs before the end of the set when I felt him tap my arm. Looking over at them, he indicated they were leaving, and he gestured towards his daughter. She was looking at me and smiling. I held out my fist for the “bump” and she smiled bigger, stepped forward and tapped fists with me. Her dad also smiled, bid me goodnight and off they went.


I tell the story simply to reiterate that although occasionally metal gets a bad rep with its brutal styles and genres, its “people” are the same as everyone else. Real lives, with real problems and issues to deal with. In Metal music we ARE a community, and we support and care for our own. If a person goes down in the pit, we separate and pick them back up, if someone needs help we offer it and of all the genres, I believe metal is best at not judging. We accept anyone so long as you love the music and want to be a part of it.


That is not to say we don’t have assmonkeys and dickheads, of course we do. Every group does, but despite bands with names like Slaughter to Prevail, Skinless, Deicide, Devourment & Death to All, despite crazy pits and wild crowds like the one from Municipal Waste, Metal is a brother/sisterhood, and we support our own, protect our own and embrace our own.


Even in my now late fifties, the Beard is proud as hell to have been a part of this group for over forty years. Festivals and shows are like a family reunion I actually “want” to be going to. So, to anyone who visits our site, reads our columns, watches our videos, or just goes to the shows, you are brothers and sisters of the greatest club out there. We ARE the Metal family!


This brings the 2024 Milwaukee Metalfest to a close. With thirty-two bands covered, the Beard had an exciting time, and Little Johnny said it was his favorite festival this year. Now, with little rest, we will be back home tomorrow and covering another show the day after. The metal bus rolls ever onwards, and the reviews never stop although starting in June we will only be appearing once a week on The Mighty Decibel (as we grow our non-metal column also running once a week.)


Remember to keep up with The Mighty Decibel for the metal reviews (as well as other great shows and articles), follow us on TikTok at thebeard0728 or #thebeardandlittlejohnny for all the videos. There are now over fifty videos posted just on this fest alone and hundreds more from the year. Finally, friend and follow Mark McQueen on Facebook for the non-metal stuff.


Until the metal bus rolls again and the Beard right along with his “looking for a brand-new cap” sidekick the inimitable Little Johnny hit the next show, this is us saying...

 Stay Heavy & Horns Up!!!

1 Comment

Mark McQueen
Mark McQueen
Jun 19

Good Review. those guys deserve a raise, and a new cap for Johnny.

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