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Festival Review - Michigan Metal Fest 2022

During the Summer of 2021, I went on a long camping trip where it rained from the Wednesday I arrived all the way to the Sunday night before I left. So when the forecast for Michigan Metal Fest 2022 called for rainstorms all day, you can believe that I wasn’t fazed one bit.

After multiple postponements due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Michigan Metal Fest finally returned to the gorgeous Leila Arboretum on Saturday, August 13.

The lineup was largely the same as it was when it was initially announced in early 2020 with minimal changes, all while offering a wide collection of bands across the metal genre.

“We had a couple changeups, a few for personal reasons unrelated, but for the most part we kept a hold of the whole lineup,” Co-Owner and Curator of Michigan Metal Fest Steve Maple said in an interview.

Since the festival was postponed twice, it would be unreasonable to think that the lineup would be exactly the same.

“We really weren’t trying to, honestly,” Maple added. “We kept a few of the bands because we wanted to still put them on, but for the most part after that much time off, we really just looked at this as a new start.”

Nevertheless, there were a lot of names I didn’t recognize this year, so I decided to do the opposite of what I would normally do, and NOT listen to most of them ahead of time. I wanted to get a full-on first impression in the best way possible, and the only way to do that was to go in with as little information as possible.

Whereas the previous three installments of the festival were marked by extreme heat and humidity, the fourth installment was characterized by rain, lightning and mud. Nevertheless, the wild and fun atmosphere shone through.

Upon arrival early that afternoon, there was some light sprinkling going on, but nothing too crazy yet. The gray sky stood in stark contrast to the shocking green of the Leila Arboretum, creating an almost dreamlike overtone, especially with the elaborate sculptures across the grounds.

Even though I wasn’t bothered by the prospect of rain, I still brought an umbrella and a poncho just in case. After all, there’s no sense in spending the day completely soggy if you don’t have to.

There have been some changes to the festival layout since 2019. Instead of having two stages with two different rotating slots on each one, a third stage (Fountain Stage) had been added where the main stage would normally be, and the main stage itself had been moved further back into a part of the Arboretum I’d never seen.

It was at this new main stage where I saw my first performance of the day, the tail end of the North Carolina-based act The Coursing.

Although their Facebook page describes them as being “Nu-Metalcore,” I liken their sound to being more “blackened deathcore.” The breakdowns and other characteristics of deathcore were present, but the guitar tone and other effects had that much more “dissonant” sound of black metal.

The orchestral sound effects were also reminiscent of symphonic black metal bands like Dimmu Borgir.

I didn’t get to see the whole show, but I enjoyed what I saw. Lead singer Dillon Sheets, sporting corpse paint, even jumped down to the rail and got up close and personal with the fans during the last couple songs, which is always a nice touch.

After this, I hung out at the press booth for a bit and watched the Michigan-based Final Confession for a time. The group contains members from Sterling Heights, Muskegon and Lansing.

Their sound reminded me of Killswitch Engage and related acts in the mid-2000’s, but the dueling vocals of harsh singer Collin Huston and guitarist/singer Kaity Walstad sounded fresh.

The band names acts like Ice Nine Kills and Famous Last words as some of their influences, according to singer Collin Huston.

“I am actually brand new to the band, I’ve only been in the band for almost a year now,” Huston said in an interview after the festival. “Kaity, our guitarist and clean vocalist, she’s been at it for ten years. Final Confession is her band, she built it from the ground up. There’s been a few lineup changes, but she’s the original member of Final Confession.”

Huston had never been in a band before, but a mutual friend pointed him in the direction of Final Confession when they were in need of a new harsh singer.

“Needless to say, I got the position of vocalist, and it’s been smooth sailing ever since,” Huston said. “Before I joined Final Confession, I found it fun to just scream in the car, and I just happened to be good at it. I feel extremely blessed to have the opportunity to join Final Confession, these guys have made me feel at home. I can’t thank them enough and I feel excited to grow with these people and see where music takes us.”

When it comes to Michigan Metal Fest, Huston said the day will be one he’ll remember for the rest of his life, and it was only his third show with the band.

“Heading out there, the weather was definitely not appealing,” Huston recalled. “But I just remember finding the bandmates, helping get set up behind the stage, the excitement building up, the nerves. I felt so sick I wanted to throw up, but it was one of the most amazing feelings. Being onstage and looking out and seeing all the people and smiling faces, the anticipation building from the crowd, meeting all these cool people at our merch table, getting to sign T-shirts and CD’s, taking pictures with people, it was just amazing. It takes words away from you.”

Their performance also ended up being one of the last performances with their drummer Kody. A few days after the festival, the band posted an announcement saying that they had parted ways and are now searching for a replacement. So with that in mind, it was one of those “just in time” opportunities.

In the meantime, the band has a fill-in drummer for upcoming shows.

Soon after, I decided to go check out what was happening at the Dirtbag Clothing stage, which has historically been the second stage for Michigan Metal Fest, as well as the main stage for the Leila Arboretum in general.

A set by the Detroit-based rock band Influence was already underway. The band describes themselves as progressive grunge, and their sound ranges from hard rock to almost Southern blues rock at times. Some parts reminded me of bands like Smile Empty Soul, but heavier.

Their latest release, the Conspiracy EP, even features a guest appearance from Suburban Noize Records’ own Dropout Kings, which was surprising in the sense that I hadn’t heard about it sooner.

This would be the one and only performance I would see at the Dirtbag Stage, as the weather would soon become bad enough to halt the event, and the stage would eventually be shut down for the day.

(As I’m writing this, I’m listening to the Influence song “The Rain,” which seems appropriate).

But the skies still hadn’t opened up completely yet, leaving enough time to catch a performance by Ohio-based metal band The Convalescence.

The band has performed at Michigan Metal Fest multiple times, but in my opinion, this was their most memorable to date. The stop at Michigan Metal Fest was part of their “Undead Swarm” tour, named after their newest single released this year.

I already wrote earlier about the gray skies contrasted against the green venue, but the band took the green to the next level. Their stage banners for the new single, plus an almost exclusively green choice of stage lights, and even green LED lights inside the bass drum created pure eye candy.

Combine that with corpse paint, the light rain and their symphonic deathcore sound, and the incredible atmosphere could not be denied.

There were also plenty of theatrics in place similar to what you would see at a GWAR concert, meaning liberal uses of fake blood and body parts.

In 2019, I made the mistake of wearing a white shirt and caught a few sprays of fake blood while taking photos. Knowing what to expect this time, I knew better than to get close once the fake body parts started getting thrown into the audience. People were catching arms and hearts and holding them up like trophies.

As for the fake blood, the last time I saw this band, they were simply using water bottles with holes poked in the lids. But this time, members of The Coursing came out armed with entire futuristic squirt guns full of fake blood. Needless to say, I took several steps back toward the rear of the crowd, but it was quite a sight!

During their final song, they finished off with one last breakdown before the skies finally opened up and the rain came in full force. Normally this wouldn’t be an issue, but as I was standing in line for a pulled pork sandwich, lightning began to flash.

Suddenly, I felt very nervous about holding an umbrella.

The bad weather finally resulted in a temporary shutdown around 3:30 p.m., putting all performances on hold for the time being.

Not knowing what else to do, I took shelter at the press tent and awaited further developments.

Although re-entry was previously forbidden, staff decided to allow it so patrons could take shelter in their vehicles. But the shutdown didn’t last very long - just after 4 p.m., the music started back up again, and the rain would continue off and on for the rest of the day.

Unfortunately, the Dirtbag Stage would have no further sets on that stage for the rest of the day.

As a result, multiple bands didn’t get to play, and a planned Body Suspension by House of Razorblades would not surface.

“It was a hell of a day, it was a scary day,” Steve Maple recalled. “It really threatened us a lot. There were a lot of points where I thought we weren’t gonna be able to keep going, and I never really imagined that scenario, so that was really hard. We did have to shut the stages down, and [the Dirtbag Stage] was supposed to shut down at 7:30 and we had to close it down because the [audio mixing] board went into safety mode. So there was nothing we could do about it, that stage shut down. We have a few bands that we have to have some make-up dates to make things right with them. With the other stages, we thought we were gonna have to shut them down too. It just kind of kept coming out of nowhere to where we were able to keep it going.”

And it wasn’t just the bands on the Dirtbag Stage that would be affected. The Miami-based experimental group I Set My Friends on Fire would end up canceling their show on the main stage due to the bad weather.

However, they have since announced that they are working on booking a make-up show, so any disappointed fans should keep an eye on their socials for when that happens.

In the midst of the rain, I found myself back at the main stage around 4:30 p.m. for the Chicago-based death metal band Embryonic Autopsy, who were actually playing their first-ever concert.

A good portion of bands that have performed at Michigan Metal Fest over the years fall somewhere into the “core” genres, so it was really nice to stumble into some old school death metal. According to their Facebook page, the goal is to “bring back 90’s old school brutal death metal.”

Their debut album from this year, Prophecies of the Conjoined, does just that. It offers a serving of Sci-Fi themed death metal, as well as guest appearances from metal heavyweights like Terrance Hobbs (Suffocation).

With song titles like “Cannibalized by Octuplets” and “Cauterized Womb Impalement,” the band definitely brought that old-school flavor to Michigan Metal Fest.

The band features Tim King on vocals, who was the singer for a band called Oppressor that was active in the 90’s.

But I didn’t know ANY of this before seeing them, so it was a completely new experience for me. And I can tell you in no uncertain terms, death metal hits WAY differently in the rain.

“You guys are brave for coming here in the storm,” King told the crowd. “Thanks for coming to see some real classic death metal.”

The aforementioned “Cannibalized by Octuplets” was the standout track during this set, and I found out later that the studio version features a guest appearance from Doc Coyle of the band God Forbid.

In terms of music, this ended up being my favorite set of the day. I’ll be looking forward to what comes next for this group, but either way, I can say that I was one of the lucky few who saw their first-ever concert, and it was at Michigan Metal Fest 2022.

Maple would later tell me that even he was unaware it was their first concert until the band posted about it right before their set.

Meanwhile at the Fountain Stage, bands were back on track, albeit slightly behind schedule, but every band scheduled on that stage was still able to perform. The closeout act for the Fountain was Kalamazoo’s Last Sleep, a self-described Metalcore/Djent band.

The band formed in late 2017, according to leasinger Ethan Laymon.

“I actually was not originally in the band, they needed somebody who could sing, and my former band had just broken up earlier that year,” Laymon said in an interview. “Bert [Saldana], our bassist, sent me a message on Facebook, and I had an audition three days later. Since then, Bert and our guitarist Logan [Stephenson] had left, and that was right before COVID, but they’re actually back in the band now and we’ve spent a lot of time writing.”

They were one of the returning acts from the last installment of Michigan Metal Fest, writing ahead of time that they couldn’t be more excited to be back. A crowd of dedicated fans had gathered around the stage, all of which were rocking hard for the band on the soaked stage.

“We got there at about 10:30 a.m. and it had already started raining,” Laymon said. “That part was terrible and it was pretty chilly, but from our experience this year, and looking at everything behind the scenes, I know Steve Maple and his team tried really hard to make it as good of a day as they could with what the weather was doing to us.”

In a strange turn of events, the storm delay actually worked to the benefit of Last Sleep, as it gave them time to correct a critical error.

“Logan forgot his laptop at home and we kind of needed that for our set,” Laymon said. “We were scrambling, it was like an hour before our set time when we found out, and Derek [McIntyre, drummer] was running around the festival grounds trying to find Bert, who drove us, and right after they left, the festival stopped. So our stage got behind by a good hour and a half, and we got really lucky. Our laptop has all of our secondary guitar sounds, we only have one guitar player, so we definitely needed that to even make our set possible. We have not actually come up with a way to run our set without that, it would have failed.”

Weather delays and equipment issues aside, Laymon said the day was a blast for the band.

“That was our first time playing a show in a year and a half, and it was also our first show with our original lineup back in the band,” Laymon said. “Bert didn’t tell us until after the set he was staying, we thought it was just a one-off thing, but I think that day reinvigorated a lot of things for us.”

Following their first show back, the band plans to keep going full steam ahead.

“It is really nice to be back after the last two and a half years of stress from the pandemic, and all of us seem to be going all in at the Last Sleep camp,” Laymon said. “Beyond that, Last Sleep is focusing on writing because pretty much all the material we wrote during the pandemic is null and void with the lineup change. We’re ready to get back into it, and we’re excited to be back.”

Next, I returned to the main stage to wrap up some unfinished business.

In 2019, one band I wanted to see was Filth, a band from North Carolina which has been described as “downtempo deathcore.”

Due to last-minute schedule changes, I somehow missed them completely that year. Even with the weather screwing everything up this year, I wasn’t gonna let that happen again if I could help it.

It was definitely worth waiting for, and I’m glad I was finally able to settle the score. The only word I can use to describe their set is “powerful” - the vocals from Dustin Mitchell shook me to my very core (no pun intended).

In contrast to the harsh music Filth spewed forth, the crowd was having light-hearted fun. At one point, the mosh pit gave way to a large game of “Ring Around the Rosie,” which had me laughing pretty hard. Just as it was my first time seeing Filth, it was also my first time seeing a mosh pit take a turn like this.

But if you think that sounds weird, you wouldn’t believe the antics of the next two acts.

Next up on the main stage was what I considered to

be one of two “wild cards” on the lineup - the Nu-Metal band Tallah, based out of Pennsylvania.

This was one of the names that I was looking forward to ahead of time, wanting to experience first-hand what a new Nu-Metal (Nu-Nu-Metal?) band in 2022 could sound like. The only thing I learned about them beforehand is that they had done shows with Code Orange in the past, which was good enough for me.

Once the band took the stage, I knew we were in for something else before the first note was even played.

Lead singer Justin Bonitz was wearing a blood-stained hospital gown with rabbit ears, while turntablist Alizé "Mewzen" Rodriguez was dressed as a psychotic mime.

This, coupled with the extremely thick smell of fog machines in the air, made me feel right at home. I spent four years working in a haunted house seasonally, and it made me think, “Oh yeah, I’m gonna enjoy this.”

My instinct was correct, as Tallah ended up being one of my other favorite highlights of the day.

I could try to explain their sound, but I really can’t do it any better than their label, Earache Records, has already done on their official website. Here’s an excerpt:

“Formed with a singular and unifying mission of revamping the much-loved sound of popular nu-metal sensations of the early 2000s, Tallah draw influence from the likes of Slipknot, Korn and Linkin Park while simultaneously fusing it with a modernised, hardcore edge as displayed by current sensations Code Orange, Vein, Candy and Fire From The Gods.”

Indeed, the slamming guitars were accentuated by crystal-clear turntable scratching, making them one of the most unique acts of the day, and unlike anything I’d seen in a long time.

The performance itself was completely off the wall - the band members were jumping all around like the inmates of an insane asylum. But at the same time they legitimately looked like they were having fun. There were big smiles from the members and you couldn’t help but crack up with them. Even the police officers patrolling the area could be seen laughing at the onstage madness.

I would later find out that the band was co-founded by drummer Max Portnoy, who is the son of the legendary drummer Mike Portnoy (formerly of Dream Theater). It was a surprise to me, but a welcome one at that.

For this next part of the review, I’d like to note that the following performance by Green Jelly could almost be its own separate article, and I really must confess myself ignorant to several things regarding the band.

First of all, I didn’t know that even though the name is spelled “Jelly,” the band name is still pronounced like “Jello.” I knew there was a lawsuit regarding the name at one point, but was unaware that they kept the pronunciation.

Of course I knew their infamous song “Three Little Pigs” and had seen the claymation music video, but hadn’t delved much further into their works.

I also didn’t know that Green Jelly is mostly just the work of one man, lead singer Bill Manspeaker, and that hundreds of members have been in and out of the band over the years.

Apparently, Manspeaker just travels from place to place and hires local musicians for each show.

“It’s like a network that they have,” Maple explained. “When we announced they were playing Michigan Metal Fest, a couple comments I saw were ‘Oh, I didn’t know we were playing!’, and it was just people that lived around Michigan, the closest people to that show.”

So really, I might as well have known nothing about Green Jelly. To that end, I had no idea that the live show was such a SPECTACLE. So much so that I’m not sure I can properly do it justice in words alone, but I’m gonna try.

If Tallah brought the haunted house vibes with their antics, Green Jelly took it a few steps further.

Before the show started, audience members were invited to go backstage to participate in the show. Those who obliged were dressed up in all kinds of weird costumes, dubbed “punk rock puppets” by Manspeaker.

Manspeaker himself was dressed in a Wal-Mart employee vest, but quickly ditched this and several other garments on top of the stage canopy.

Large inflatable decorations that looked like the kind you get at Halloween City were now adorning the stage, including a giant jack-o-lantern and a grim reaper.

There was also a ridiculous amount of band members on stage, all dressed in their own costumes. They all had weird names like “Hammy Sagar” and other puns like that. Among them was a lady wearing an organ bodysuit, a guy wearing corpsepaint playing a stand-up bass, a bass player dressed in pirate-like garb and more.

Maple would tell me there were about 35 members at this stop; I’d lost track after ten.

While everyone was getting ready, Manspeaker kept the crowd entertained with his over-the-top stage presence, setting up a chair to stand on one of the main amplifiers.

“We only have two good songs,” Manspeaker exclaimed among other things.

I thought he was kidding and there would be more than that, and when they opened with Three Little Pigs, I figured they were just getting that one out of the way early.

But it turns out the entire show was built around these two songs - Three Little Pigs and a Flintstones-themed comedy cover of Anarchy in the U.K. by the Sex Pistols. (There may have been a third one in there, but I could be wrong).

The aforementioned “punk rock puppets” joined all these bizarre characters onstage, and some fans were even given large puppets on sticks to carry around through the crowd (including Justin Symbol from the band The God Bombs, who I ran into).

Manspeaker got the crowd going with a chant of “Green Jelly (Jello) Sucks!” before finally coming into full swing with “Three Little Pigs.”

Another confession - I was AMAZED by what I was seeing. The notes in my phone literally say “craziest shit ever - Green Jelly being Green Jelly.”

Band members would leave the stage and play out in the crowd, punk rock puppets were moshing in the middle, and a previously unseen guy was making sparks shoot all over the place with a saw.

Ultimately, this would end up being my favorite set of the day. Not for the music itself, but for the pure showmanship that was impossible not to love. How many times can you say you’ve seen a concert where the audience became active participants? It was almost like the heavy metal equivalent of watching the Rocky Horror Picture Show with a live audience.

I can’t think of a single other metal show where I’ve been so ENTERTAINED through the whole thing - my stomach was hurting from laughter by the end of it. It seems that Manspeaker has taken the notion of being a one-hit wonder band and completely turned it on its head, which is actually pretty smart in my opinion.

Attempting to further explain this would only result in me repeating myself.

All I can say is that if Green Jelly is playing a show anywhere near you, I would highly encourage readers to consider going. It would be well worth the price of admission to witness this spectacle, and if they ever come around to Michigan again, I’ll be first in line.

“Those guys were a riot, and we knew they were gonna be,” Maple said. “I have certain things that I want for this festival; a lot of it has to do with what metalheads in general want, what we want at a festival that’s not like everything else. But then on top of that, I reach out sometimes and grab a hold of things that I want. That’s something I was really happy to have there because they were iconic when I was growing up. They dominated MTV with that [Three Little Pigs] music video. They made it obvious that’s what they were doing, they’re here as ‘the worst band in the world,’ and you’re gonna enjoy it for a half hour,” Maple said.

On a personal note, when it comes to my writing, I normally try to just let my own words paint a picture of whatever I’m reviewing. But in this case, I’ll make an exception. Any readers who want to get a better idea of what I saw can watch a video of the performance at this link.

Following the craziness of Green Jelly, I found myself exhausted from the day and made the tough decision to head out early. But even with the bad weather and the cancellation of some bands, I was still in very high spirits.

I was later told that during Attila, the mosh pit gave way into a large mud wrestling pit. I haven’t been in one of those since Dirt Fest 2012, but I’m sure those who joined in had the time of their lives.

It just goes to show that when storms interrupt your day, the real question is whether you had fun or not. And that I did - even with rain and lightning causing a brief derailment, I can safely say that I still had a blast at Michigan Metal Fest 2022.

“Honestly at about 5:00, I’m walking around looking at everyone thinking, ‘what are they doing, what are they still doing here? Why are these people here?’ And it’s because they only get this one day a year,” Maple said.

I have previously written that as far as Metal events go in Michigan, there aren’t really any big-name festivals left besides touring ones that come through occasionally, like Knotfest.

With that in mind, Maple and company have carved out a niche market over the last few years, which he greatly relishes.

“As an adult, I have two kids, that’s my favorite feeling, is forging them into full adults who understand how to navigate through their emotions, finances and relationships,” Maple said. “But besides that, it’s the best feeling on the planet. It’s so good that I came back to it after a few years completely out of practice, having to go through hell to get this running again. It’s the best feeling to know that we made something for people that others are afraid to make at that caliber. And we not only did it to our best ability, but we hit this niche that no one knew we needed, and it’s wonderful.”

With that being said, there is always room for improvement, and Maple and the rest of the staff are already looking at how to do better in the future, such as with infrastructure and communication.

“One thing I want to point out is that I now have about a 20-person committee as compared to the two or three people that worked on this before,” Maple said. “The first thing we did was have a meeting two weeks after the event, and all we talked about was ways to improve. Anything we would normally talk about, we put everything aside and just 100 percent said, what can we do to make that event better? We have a lot in place, we’ve created subcommittees based on this. We’ll have multiple social media reps on the site next year, and they’ll be doing live updates with each band that happens and with each weather update and things like that.”

As for makeup shows, there are already plans in place with more to follow.

“Every band that wasn’t able to play, we’ve been working with all of them, and everybody who’s worked with us on it has been really happy with what we’ve come up with,” Maple explained. “We have FWAR, it’s an awesome GWAR tribute band that was gonna play. They will be performing at the Music Factory in Battle Creek for Halloween with a couple other bands on October 29. That’ll be a makeup show for them.”

Further events are in the works, but are under wraps for now.

“There’s a couple other bands that weren’t able to play, and we have them coming up a little bit beyond that,” Maple said. “We’ll announce a lot more details about that one soon, but we have to have it all composed first.”

Closing Thoughts (Maple) -

At the end of the interview with Maple, I gave him the floor to add anything he wished for closing thoughts.

“I think basically this year, I just went into it really not knowing what to expect. With it being not only a comeback year, but it’s this whole reset button that we had to push on it. It was really hard to know what we were coming into, and to have a good year even though all of that rain happened. We had a lot of support from new people, new sponsors, new vendors and new fans. It was like this outpouring of new life breathed into this thing.

I know it’s residual, it’s been waiting to get pumped back in, but I didn’t know that at the time. I was just a guy sitting over here running this landscaping company for the last few years. To have so many people jump in and start steering for me, taking over all these different divisions, it’s just amazing to me.

It’s unbelievable to go through this and come back to it feeling like it’s so much bigger than what it was before. That was not the feeling I expected to have, even though everyone told me it was gonna be like that. That really verified what we have here.”

My Final Thoughts -

All in all, I feel that even with the bad weather considered, it really did end up being a best-case scenario.

For the music, I think my strategy of not reading too much into the lineup paid off. I experienced a day full of surprises and discovered a ton of great new music in the process, whether it was death metal, comedy metal or Modern Nu-Metal. I would encourage readers to try this strategy at least once - going in blind can actually make the experience better.

And because of the weather, I couldn’t help but think back to that camping trip where it rained the whole time. Someone had remarked that the trips that don’t go according to plan, for weather-related reasons or otherwise, tend to be the most memorable.

I think the same is true about concerts and events.

Years after Mayhem Fest 2008, I still remember it crystal clear due to the rain and the mudslide during Mastodon. And as previously mentioned, I vividly remember Dirt Fest 2012 thanks to the rainy weather which later saw a mud wrestling pit during Clutch.

It might seem like a paradox, but by virtue of the bad weather, I can already tell that the day of August 13, 2022 will live on in my mind as one of the funnest days of the year, as well as of the most memorable events I’ll attend for years to come.

Here’s to the return of Michigan Metal Fest, and many more!

[PS - Hopefully this will be the last time I write about something coming back after being canceled due to COVID-19.]

Further Reading -


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