The author (Far Left) and his friends pose for a photo.
It’s no secret that Michigan has been largely tapped for metal festivals in the last few years. Ever since the demise of the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival (which has since announced a comeback), the disappearance of Dirt Fest, and to a lesser extent, the cancellation of Warped Tour, the Great Lakes State hasn’t seen a whole lot of metal festivals come through besides large-name touring artists.
On top of that, the three-day camping metal/EDM festival Carnival of Chaos was cancelled in 2019 as well, eliminating one of the only options Michigan metalheads had left.
It is for these reasons and more that the third-annual installment of Michigan Metal Fest in Battle Creek may have been the most important day of the year for metal fans.
Characterized by increased attendance, blisteringly hot weather, and a very diverse lineup, this installment saw MMF continue to make its mark as the must-see heavy metal destination of the summer.
What is truly remarkable about the festival is the way it both captures and emulates the feeling of being at some of the earlier-mentioned larger festivals while also presenting it as its own original grassroots project. It has both the large-scale headliners, such as close-out act Hatebreed this year, plus a selection of the best in local and regional metal bands. I’ve been saying this ever since the first installment in 2017, and the team behind MMF has only gotten better at curating the side stages.
Despite some technical difficulties with sound and scheduling, the staff was able to get things back on track. Sound issues were sporadic and did not detract from the overall experience.
As per the setup of previous years, there were four stages that were divided over two larger ones. While a band was performing on one side, the next band would be setting up on the other.
That Saturday, August 3rd, I arrived to the Leila Arboretum at almost exactly 2 PM, just in time to see Mount Pleasant, MI’s own speed metal band Nagazi. Fresh off a tour that was meant to lead up to Michigan Metal Fest, Nagazi was performing on the main stage of the festival for the first time.
Nagazi performed at the main stage and were one of the Michigan bands to play all three years in a row.
“It was an incredible day,” lead vocalist Joe Hafer said of the festival in an email interview. “You can tell that they are learning and improving every year. As with everything new, there will always be little kinks in the chain that can really screw up the schedule of a tightly planned event like this. And you can tell that extra measures were taken this year to keep things on schedule. 2019 ran like a well oiled machine.”
Nagazi was one of only a handful of bands to be invited back to play for the third year in a row.
“With there being a limited number of MI bands every year, to be asked back for a third consecutive year was truly an honor,” Hafer said. “There is an enormous amount of talent in this state, and we are fortunate to have an incredible fan base. I know we wouldn’t have been asked back if it weren’t for their continued support.”
In the days leading up to the festival, Nagazi had been posting on social media that they would not be talking much during their set to make room for more songs, having crafted out a perfect half-hour setlist.
“Set lengths are limited at these large events, and we planned every MMF set to be as seamless as possible,” Hafer said. “For most bands, these shows are most likely your biggest crowds, and often filled with many people who have never seen or heard of you. So this is an excellent opportunity to showcase yourself, and we want to show you as many songs as possible. We crammed in as much rocking metal as we could.”
In a day full of death metal and deathcore-type genres, it was interesting to start the day with something more in the vein of speedy thrash metal. It would provide only a taste of what would follow.
The next main stage band I saw was Dead Nerves, which is a metal band based out of Western Michigan. I definitely saw them perform at the last MMF installment, but couldn’t remember exactly what they sounded like.
Dead Nerves performing at the main stage.
Despite being a deathcore band, I liken their sound to being more “downtempo” deathcore - very slow and slamming beats are paired with odd time signatures and dueling guttural vocals to make a unique spin on the genre. Vocalist Tyler Rosema and drummer Michael Geluso both provide their own vocal styles into making one deeply primal sound.
Members of Dead Nerves were asked to be interviewed, but did not pan out due to schedule constraints.
Although things mostly ran smooth for the day, there were some noticeable sound problems at certain points. Unfortunately for me in this case, they first sprung up during the set of Gabriel and the Apocalypse, which is a band I was very excited to see that day.
Gabriel and the Apocalypse performing at the main stage.
I know for a fact that GATA are great live; I wrote as much about them in my review of a Lords of Acid concert that they opened for earlier that year. However, technical difficulties got the better of them this time.
“We had a couple sound issues, I’m not really sure what was going on with the main sound in a couple areas, but they ended up getting it fixed,” Next Level Entertainment owner and Co-Owner of Michigan Metal Fest Steve Maple said in an interview. “The vocals [during GATA], I don’t know what was going on, they were saying that there was something going on with the effects that they had brought with them. It was what it was I suppose, I can’t really speculate or point fingers.”
That isn’t to say that the theatrics and great stage presence wasn’t there - they were still up there rocking and moving the crowd, but after snapping some good photos, I had to exit the area quickly. The technical issues made the mix sound like high-pitched sandpaper in my ears, and even with earplugs in, it was very painful.
That’s a damn shame, so let’s hope for the better next time. However, I’d still recommend checking the band out if they’re ever in the area.
Also worth noting is that the band schedule was behind by about a half hour for part of the day. Luckily, Maple and the team were able to get things under control.
“We ended up getting back on track, but it was a bit of a Faux pas for a minute,” Maple said. “One of the things I did was pull myself out of a couple of jobs while I was there and focused more on production, so I was kind of on top of it on both sides making sure everything was good all day.”
Some scheduling changes were also due in part to some last-minute lineup changes.
“We ended up having to adjust the time slots, we had to make a couple changes before the show,” Maple said. “That was something that happened this year that hasn’t really happened before. We had to switch out like four bands because of whatever circumstances, my band being one of them because we broke up. It was kind of a lot of scrambling, but we ended up getting all the bands to match up on the shirts and everything.”
Because of these scheduling changes, I ended up having to miss the North Carolina-based band FILTH, which is another one I was looking forward to seeing. They weren’t on the main stage when they were supposed to be, and I have no idea where or when they ended up playing.
That being said, once the bands were back on schedule, there were no more issues that I noticed throughout the day. Overall, there were much fewer technical difficulties than there were last year.
The Breathing Process was one of the highlights of the side stage bands.
One cool thing that this festival provides is the opportunity to see metal bands that you’ve always HEARD of, but never actually looked into. On my end, one such band was The Breathing Process, a symphonic metal band from Pittsburgh. With very few preconceived notions, I was impressed with their performance - a symphonic-influenced set was a nice change of pace during the event.
Another highlight on the side stages was the Detroit-based metal band FORCES, which was one I had never heard of until this festival. The band certainly lives up to their name - they are a force to be reckoned with. It was kind of ironic that I would be burnt out and exhausted during such a powerful set, but the wear of the day plus the heat made it impossible for me to do anything other than observe from a distance while seated. But in any case, they were another treat to witness. Chalk up another one for the Motor City.
In a related matter, members of FORCES have since released a cover of a song by The Breathing Process.
The Convalescence performing at the main stage.
About mid-to-late afternoon, Ohio-based metal band The Convalescence took the main stage. I’ve seen them perform several times since 2015, and they get better each time. Their symphonic deathcore sound was accentuated by more theatrics than I’ve ever seen them use, and by that I mean there were whole bottles of fake blood being sprayed EVERYWHERE. Since I made a poor choice wearing a white shirt that day, I decided to refrain from getting in the photo pit for too long.
It should also be noted that at this point in the day, it was HOT. It was the kind of heat that feels like you’re swimming outside, and despite the fact that I was consciously saving energy for Blue Felix, I was beginning to feel very worn out.
Once they took the stage, I summoned up all that stored energy for another chaotic Blue Felix performance.