Review: Milwaukee Metalfest ’24

Milwaukee Metalfest Review (and awkward travel log)

By Theron Moore

I decided a year ago (2023) that I’d make it a point to hit Milwaukee Metalfest (MMF) in 2024. In fact, that decision led me to buy tickets to Blades Of Steel last year and 2 Minutes To Tulsa back in March. To date, I haven’t seen a bad fest yet and this year’s Milwaukee Metalfest was epic and monumental, in a lot of ways.

FRIDAY, MAY 17, 9:30AM

Pre-Metalfest

Awkward Travel Log

Friday was a fun day leading up to the event. I spent the morning with my wife trekking around Milwaukee seeing the sites (including Lake Michigan) and visiting iconic music venues such as The Pabst Theatre, Club Garibaldis, and The X-Ray Arcade. What’s local to some is “exotic” to others so, we’ll let it go at…,

We even tracked down the address of apartment #213, 924 North 25th Street, the former home to serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. The apartment and building have long since been gone, the location is now a vacant, grassy lot. It’s like what you’d find if you went to Madison (Wisconsin) to see the former site of club/bar O’Cayz Corral.

I honestly expected to see a lot of people stopping to gawk at it like me, but my wife and I were it. We were the lone tourists for the, well, probably the day. Props to my wife for being a good sport about all of this. If it isn’t apparent, seeing all these locales was a total nerd out for this writer.

Below: The empty lot where Dahmer’s apartment building was located.

FRIDAY, MAY 17, 2:20pm

Milwaukee Metalfest

Two hours later, it was time to hit The Rave / Eagles Ballroom. Normally I’d be panicking about traffic congestion and getting to the venue on time, but Milwaukee was surprisingly easy to get around in and the traffic was akin to what I’m used to in Albuquerque. In fact, in some respects, it was better.  

Let me add this: I liked Milwaukee much better than Albuquerque where I’ve lived since the latter half of the 90’s. I also felt that way about Tulsa when I was there a few months back too. Tulsa’s a pretty cool, cosmopolitan town with a healthy arts and music scene. Maybe it’s time to move away from the Duke City. Time will tell but I doubt it.

If you’ve never been to The Rave / Eagles Ballroom, it’s a behemoth of a building, not to mention a historic landmark that’s been around forever. You enter at street level, wind through a vacant space, and end up in merch central. This room is huge, and its jam packed with nothing but vendors hawking their wares ranging from records and CDs to t-shirts and everything in between. In the back of the room is a meet and greet space for bands and fans. When I left Saturday night to head back to the hotel, I spotted Jeff Beccera from Possessed meeting fans there. I was jealous, I really wanted to meet him. He’s a cool, down to Earth type guy who genuinely loves meeting his fans. Plus, he’s fucking Possessed, man, a true legend!

Once you figure out how to navigate and leave this room, you walk up a short flight of stairs leading to The Rave Bar, aka, “Dunable Guitars / Martyrstore.net stage.” It’s a small space with a killer bar (go figure, right?) which might accommodate a 100 or so people. Near The Rave Bar was a much larger room, “The Century Media Stage,” which was better equipped to accommodate several hundred rabid metal fans (or more) on a much bigger stage.

And right around the corner were the – wait for it – “STAIRS OF DEATH!” which led to the second floor where you’d find – Yep, you guessed it – the “STAIRS OF DOOM!” leading to the third level of The Rave where the grand ballroom was located.

The second floor housed a vendor or two and a larger bar. I think this one had chairs to sit down on, which for me would become a necessity throughout both days. The grand ballroom is a huge, cavernous space capable of accommodating a few thousand fans. The ballroom itself is a spectacular sight with its wood floors and classic art deco architecture. As you might guess, there’s a ton of bars and even a balcony for VIP access. This was deemed the “Indiemerchstore.com” stage.

The first band I caught were black metallers Uada on the Century Media stage. I knew of them but hadn’t listened to them prior to seeing them here. They were intense and mysterious, and heavy AF. They won me over as a fan. Now remember, there’s three stages loaded with bands playing at the same time (or staggered times), so I leave Uada to catch what I can of Lords Of The Trident (LOTT) on the Indiemerchstore.com stage (third floor). I hate those stairs, they’re not my friend.

It’s my first-time seeing LOTT live and damn are they impressive. The stage they’re playing on is huge, and they command it like old pros. Just for clarification, this is the venue bands like Korn and Queensryche play when they pass through Milwaukee and get booked at The Rave.

The crowd is into their exuberant brand of power metal and I’m really digging what I see and hear from these guys, however, because of time constraints – which is a huge detractor with MMF – I leave Lords Of The Trident and head down the stairs of “doom and death” to get to the Century Media Stage on the first floor to see Bewitcher rock some vicious blackened thrash to a very receptive audience.

After maybe 5-7 minutes, it’s back up to the third floor to see Night Demon, a band I’ve been a fan of for a while but hadn’t truly appreciated them until seeing ‘em at MMF. Night Demon plays a melodic style of European influenced power metal which floored me, they were that good! I rank them right up there with Jag Panzer as one of the best bands working this genre of music. Totally impressed with ‘em. I’m making it a point to catch them live the next time I can.  

It’s back down the stairs to the first floor to catch my bucket list band, the truly incredible Nunslaughter, who deliver a live show beyond anything I ever expected, they were great beyond great. And the show was topped off with an appearance by the dancing “nun” towards the end of their gig, yea!

By now the heat and humidity level inside the venue is at fever pitch. We’re all hot, we’re all sweating, and we’re a collective stinky human stew inside The Rave. I periodically stop to grab a beer and a shot, both of which were waaaaaay overpriced but it’s MMF and screw it, I’m going for it. Next up, I catch a little bit of Profanatica at the Century Media Stage before heading upstairs to catch nearly all of Eternal Champion’s gig. Profanatica didn’t make much of an impression on me with their black-ish/death-ish set but I really got into Eternal Champion, another solid power metal band up on the third floor in the big ballroom. Their set was heavy, amazing, and had that unique hint of European metal to their music you can’t go wrong with. I’m keeping an eye on this band going forward.

The ballroom’s filling up in anticipation of Overkill who are next, so I make the tough decision to forgo seeing Incantation on the first floor and stake out my spot close to the stage, and I’m thankful I did. I’m a longtime Overkill fan going all the way back to 1986 and seeing them live / in person was another bucket list moment for me. Check that one off! By now the crowd is huge and getting bigger and when the band hits the stage, they remind me why I’ve been a fan so long. They are masters of their art. The place goes wild, and the band rips it up!

When you talk about the godfathers of speed/thrash, Overkill stands side by side with Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax.  Their set at MMF was a blistering frenzy of greatest hits and pounding metal and I’m glad I stayed for the whole thing even though I missed Doro’s set, unfortunately. In the end though, it was worth it.

I rounded out Friday night with Symphony X in the big ballroom following Overkill’s set and Hammerfall at the Century Media Stage on the first floor. Both bands were thoroughly impressive with Hammerfall being over the top incredible. For me personally, Hammerfall defines what the spirit of metal is all about. They had the look, the sound, and banged out a set for the ages.

That was Friday night. I didn’t stick around for later bands opting instead to leave and get something to eat before spending what was left of the evening with my wife in the big bad city of Milwaukee. Day one was good, no regrets. The cost of booze, both stairs of “doom” and “death,” and multiple stages with staggered band times, were the negatives of the fest overall.  

SATURDAY, MAY 18

          It’s 9am. I wake up achy and exhausted. Marching up and down the stairs at The Rave / Eagles Ballroom took its toll on my lower back and legs. I jokingly refer to it as “cardio for metalheads.” I get to the venue close to 3pm, I catch part of Embryonic Autopsy at The Rave Bar – who are raging it out – and head to the big ballroom on the third floor. I grab a shot and a beer and hit stage left (my left) to catch the Skinless set. I’m propped up against the barrier, maybe 10 feet from the band. Bring it on!

I’ve always been curious about Skinless. Prior to MMF, I was familiar with their record, ‘Trample The Weak, Hurdle The Dead,’ but seeing them live was unlike anything I think I’ve ever witnessed with a death metal band. They were the definition of “FIRE.”

Their energy and enthusiasm were off the hook infectious, and their live show was among the best I saw over the course of Friday and Saturday. Seeing Skinless live was like standing next to a thousand cannons going off simultaneously, that’s how loud and heavy they were. I don’t take this lightly when I describe their performance as brutal, vicious, and tight in a surgically precise way, but the best part of their set – aside from the music – was that they didn’t look like they were having fun, THEY WERE HAVING FUN rocking out onstage with each other and digging the fan reaction they were getting which bounced back on all of us watching them.

<Enter the crowd surfers>

I’m sure there was crowd surfing before the Skinless set, I just hadn’t noticed it until being that up close and personal with ‘em, and man was it intense! Props to Rave security for not overreacting and going after fans aggressively for doing this. The crew practiced what I called, “catch and release.” Come to think of it, I never saw security being overly zealous with any fans nor did I see any fights between anyone.

I stuck around after Skinless to watch Terrorizer for about ten minutes. I think, if I’m not mistaken, the lineup included Pete Sandoval and David Vincent. The lead singer stalked the stage like a caged animal with a look in his eyes that screamed “murder!” while the band churned out a vicious brand of death-grind behind him. It was just a pure wall of crunch.

A somewhat fatigued me headed back down the stairs to see Death To All crank out some cool Death classics. If you’re not familiar, Death To All is comprised of former members of the band Death who deliver a greatest hits set and often perform a Death record in full. They were a fun band to watch, and man were they good. I really hope Death To All continues doing what they do into the future and hope even more they write and record some original songs as well.

And it’s back up to the third floor to the ballroom to catch Municipal Waste. Another beer, another shot, and I’m ready to go up front, stage left again (my stage left) up against the barrier. After what seemed like an eternity, the Wasters hit the stage and tore it apart! If the Skinless set was heavy-crazy, Municipal Waste took that energy level to brand-new heights of insanity. Crowd surfing, crowd surfing, crowd surfing!!! And a plastic garbage can got moshed up and crowd surfed too! Not only are these guys the best at what they do with crossover speed/thrash, they’re absolute masters at how to work a stage and work a crowd.

I hated these staggered band times, especially if a band went on late which screwed up set times for bands on all three stages moving forward after. I left Municipal Waste after 10 minutes (or so) to catch two bucket list bands for me: Possessed and Deicide, both on the Century Media Stage, both playing back-to-back sets. Apparently so did everyone else!

I discovered Possessed in 1986 after buying their ‘Seven Churches’ record. The sound on that album blew me away and kind of helped open the door for me regarding extreme music (black, death, etc.). The same holds true for Deicide whom I was a fan of prior to the release of their first record, which is both one of the greatest death metal albums of all time. Deicide is no stranger to MMF having played it for the first time in 1992 with peers Obituary, Cannibal Corpse, Cancer, Brutal Truth and Malevolent Creation among others.

Both Possessed and Deicide are godfathers and trailblazers in their respective genres and it’s not an over exaggeration to label them icons and legends, it’s stating fact. To see both live, FINALLY, I was beyond excited for. I had a front seat in the balcony overlooking the stage and by god I wasn’t moving for any reason. My line of vision was better than what I expected.

Possessed took the stage to set up their rigs and soundcheck and even before they played, they OWNED the stage and audience. Founder/singer Jeff Becerra finally made his way front and center, and at this point the crowd went crazy with not even a single note yet to be played!

Possessed performed to a near capacity audience pitting and crowd surfing like there was no tomorrow. The band was relentless sporting a “take no prisoners” approach. Just when you think they were winding down towards the end of their set they ramped it up and got even more aggressive. The wilder the crowd was, the more intense and deadly Possessed got.

They looked and sounded epic. And correct me if I’m wrong but I think I saw Athenar from the band Midnight in the middle of the crowd towards the end of Possessed’s set, crowd surfing a couple times as well! I wasn’t surprised since the drummer for Possessed was wearing a Midnight shirt which probably wasn’t a coincidence.

Founder/singer Jeff Becerra had a smile on his face the entirety of the band’s performance. Possessed had this onstage charisma – not to mention look – of pure metal. They exuded it and struck a very intimidating presence jamming out the loudest, rawest, death-thrash mankind will ever know. Their set was pure devastation.

Next up was Deicide. Possessed broke down their stage while Deicide members casually strolled to their respective spots and sound checked. I spotted Glen Benton behind a wall of speakers doing prep work – his stage left. Asheim is already sitting behind his drum kit, ready to roll. There’s no pomp and circumstance, just a band doing what they do best: Getting ready to destroy both stage and audience as soon as they get the green light. Deicide was prepared, they were consummate pros, and it showed.

Soon enough the band gathered ‘round and launched into their set unleashing total mayhem onstage and in the audience. Benton sounded great and the two new guitarists were spot on shredders of the highest order. Deicide has never sounded better. Benton’s voice was in top form and by all rights should be registered as a deadly weapon anywhere they play. The acrobatics he does with it live, is astounding.

Midway through the Deicide gig, I notice there’s two shows going on simultaneously. The first is the band, and their set demonstrates why they are / always have been, the reigning kings of blasphemous death metal. The second is the audience who are moshing and circle pitting at a level of intensity I don’t think I’ve witnessed before. The aggression level is amped up high, the crowd is into Deicide’s show, and the surfing is almost non-stop, at least that’s what it felt like watching it.

Benton is unphased, he sees the carnage going on, he likes it. The look in his eyes says it all, “I want more!” The crowd appeases him. The band plays harder, heavier, while the fans bring “the crazy” up to the front of the stage. This is the Deicide show I’ve been waiting for. By the time the gig was over, I was blown away and exhausted, and I was sitting in the balcony for their performance!

I caught a little bit of Testament’s show and called it a night. I saw what I came to see and had a great time. I finally made it back to Milwaukee after a 30+ year absence, saw the town, made it to Culver’s for a Pork Tenderloin sandwich, and survived the legendary Milwaukee Metalfest. Total success. Next stop: Labor Day weekend in Madison for Blades Of Steel. That’ll mark four metal festivals in a 365-day calendar year for me. Horns up!

For more photos and videos go to Instagram and look for ‘themightycosmicmonolith’

Author: Theron Moore

Theron Moore Biography: Moore’s first writing gig was SLAM Magazine (Stateline Area Magazine, Northern IL / Southern WI) in 1989. A year later he launched the zine, Louder Than God followed by For Those About To Rock and The Saint Vitus Press & Poetry Review (print). Moore has contributed poetry to Red Fez, The Saint Vitus Press & Poetry Review, Poetry Motel, Poesy Magazine, Tree Killer Ink, and Criminal Class Review. He’s contributed interviews, movie, news, and music reviews to Yahoo, horrornews.net, Wormwood Chronicles (2015 to the present), The Sludgelord, Metal Forces, and New Noise Magazine (2017 to present).