Ghost Cult was honored to chat with musician and artist Jacob Bannon of Converge, Wear Your Wounds, and his new band Umbra Vitae. That group just released their debut album, Shadow of Life, (read our review here), a brutal, OSDM flavored album created by Jacob and a group of master musicians and friends such as Mike McKenzie (The Red Chord, WYW) and Sean Martin (Twitching Tongues, ex Hatebreed, WYW) Greg Weeks (The Red Chord, Labor Hex) and Jon Rice (Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Job For A Cowboy). In a frank discussion with our editor Keefy, Jacob discussed the impact coronavirus has had on the music world and more specifically his bands and his label Deathwish Inc., what are the Death Metal inspirations of the group, how Umbra Vitae came together, how this is a full band and not side-project, the poem that inspired the band name and the entire album, an update on new Converge and WYW music, and much more. Jacob is working to stay focused and creative during the pandemic to keep his bands and Deathwish Inc. alive in all of this and if you can, please support his music, art activities at these links.
Converge is one of the lucky Hardcore/Punk bands that has seen notable success over the years. Though they have flirted with the metal genre on some of their albums like The Poacher Diaries(Relapse Records) and You Fail Me (Epitaph Records), frontman Jason Bannon has been itching to make something heavier. This veteran vocalist loves his celebrated children Converge and Wear Your Wounds, but is now really exposing his heart for ferocity with his new Death Metal project, Umbra Vitae. Along with some other experienced and eager members, Bannon has just released the band’s debut LP, Shadows of Life on his own label, Deathwish Inc.
New Death Metal supergroup Umbra Vitae brings together guitarists Sean Martin (Twitching Tongues, Ex-Hatebreed) and Mike Mckenzie (The Red Chord, Stomach Earth), bassist Greg Weeks (The Red Chord) and drummer Jon Rice (Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats, Ex-Job For A Cowboy). The name comes from a poem by Georg Heym, first published in 1912. Umbra Vitae’s debut album, Shadow Of Life, will be released on May 1 via Bannon’s own Deathwish Inc. label. Check out the first single, ‘Return To Zero’!
I tend to feel spoiled living in Massachusetts. Why spoiled? Because it’s very easy for me to sit back, enjoy a Miller High Life, and put my elitist hat on when it comes to extreme music. Just look at our track record. The dirty water state has given us bands like SS Decontrol, Sam Black Church, Agoraphobic Nosebleed, Converge, Shadows Fall and The Red Chord. We’ve had it pretty good.
But unfortunately with such a strong pedigree comes the risk of complacency. It’s easy to rest on those laurels because we assume that the old guard we be there forever. All it takes is watching the latest deathcore clone or third-rate djent band posturing as progressive metal at the Palladium for me to realize that “The Bay State’s” reputation can be tarnished. We cannot soil our history with guitar backing tracks and shitty neck tattoos.
While it is always best to air on the side of caution, I dare say that the future of Massachusetts metal is safe and sound. We have young bands like Pathogenic, My Missing Half, The Summoned and George Orwell the Musical to fly the flag. Joining that vanguard of New England brutality is Carnivora with The Vision EP.
I was fortunate enough to have as guests on my radio show, Stress Factor, in 2013 when they were promoting their first LP, Eternal. The shred was strong on that début offering and I wasn’t the only one impressed as they embarked on a seamlessly never-ending string of regional shows and battles of the bands.
Less than two years later and with appearances on the 2014s Summer Slaughter Tour and Mayhem Festival, the gentlemen from Danvers have returned with an even sharper collection of songs. While everyone has stepped up their game, it’s the guitar tandem of Cody Michaud and Mike Meehan that take center stage on tracks like ‘A Vision in Red’ and ‘Razors & Rust.’ So much so that if given time to further develop they’ll be hanging with great Massachusetts guitar tag teams like Ken Susi and Buz McGrath of Unearth or Shadows Fall’s Matt Bachand (who manages Carnivora) and Jon Donais.
So no need to worry. I say that the future is ours.
Day 3 of The New England Metal And Hardcore Fest drew to a close with a lot of diehards in attendance, but a little less of the fanfare of the previous two days. When you go to a music festival or any show really, typically you are familiar with the bands that you go to see. But just like tape trading was back in the 80s, and downloading a decade ago, a music festival is a great place for music discovery, checking out new bands, and getting outside your comfort zone for fun. A lot of this happened today.
By day three of anything, a comic-convention or a destination music festival, people are spun out a little from the last few days of action. Industry folks, (most of) the photographers and the vendors were a lot more relaxed on day 3 with the lighter crowd. I chatted with Matt Bachand (Shadows Fall/Act of Defiance) about his new venture, Manshark Entertainment. It was cool catching up with him and other people from the scene I usually see at these things. At the same time you have to give it to the staff of a venue that has seen an endless stream of people come in and go out in a weekend, metal fans from all walks, and still have them keep their shit together, and do a great job. I gotta give it up to the staff of the Palladium for the work they put in keeping everything moving and everyone safe.
Exalt, by Meg Loyal Photography
Sunday is traditionally the “hardcore” day at NEMHCF and the the early bands brought that vibe. There were some killer early performances on Sunday from the likes of the more hardcore bands such as Oath, Living Laser, and Ghost X Ship, the nu-metal stylee-o of Gift Giver, and the phenomenal performance of Lorna Shore. They had their own crew of fans repping New Jersey in the house and I even saw some WSOU shirts on a few people that got me open! Also of note was a killer showing from New York’s Brick By Brick, now fronted by Ray Mazzola (Full Blown Chaos), for a sick set of ignorant (in the best way possible) hardcore and metal. Their set truly was a moshfest!
Brick By Brick, by Meg Loyal Photography
Later in the day following excellent performances from Sworn In, Vanna, The Color Morale and Cruel Hand on the small stage, Motionless in White took the stage as the final band of the weekend. Putting on a show that an amazing visual spectacle, stellar goth rock showmanship, the band owned the night. Their fans, many I met whom waited all day and checked out all of the bands before them, fell rewarded by a captivating show. The fans sang every word, jumped up and down when Chris Motionless said to jump, and generally yelled fuck you at all the appropriate moments, two middle fingers to the sky. It was a fitting close to a fun weekend. See ya next year Metalfest!
Day two at Metalfest is usually more like a marathon than a sprint. It’s about going hard or going home, but also taking care of yourself too. You gotta stay hydrated when you’re hot and sweaty, take a breather from time to time, and not eat like crap the entire weekend. I made sure to fill up on some terrific energy boosting organic juice at the Paris of the 80’s Cafe next to The Palladium. Because juicing is metal!
Saturday is also where I spent a little more time with the upstairs bands. While the main-stage has more of the metal bands that I favor, the upstairs is for real warriors. Hardcore is still loveless to the mainstream. Nobody plays this style of music for riches and fame. So there will be violence in the pit, there will be glorious pile-ons, sweaty hands grabbing the mic, and there will be shout-a-long choruses. Catching acts such as No Zodiac, Disgrace, Gods Hate, and the mighty Wisdom In Chains, you can see the past meet the future of music, and the fans who care deeply about these bands.
Shattered Sun, by Meg Loyal Photography
The first main-stage band I caught on Saturday was Texas-bred Shattered Sun. While they are opening the Dark Roots of Thrash II tour for tonight’s final acts, at Metalfest they hit the stage at about 2:30 PM. They whipped the early crowd into a frenzy with their modern take on neo-thrash. As I was jamming out, I look over to my left and there was GaryHolt (Exodus/Slayer) giving his seal of approval, banging his head.
The main-stage was so good this year, it was hard to peel away for some grub. Worcester (or Woostah if you are local wildlife) certainly has some decent food options, including the stellar Kenmore Diner within walking distance to the venue. I’d love to see some food trucks participate in future years, considering how many awesome ones we have locally.
After catching parts of good sets from Thy Will Be Done and The Agonist, it was time for some more death metal. We haven’t had much classic death bands of late here, so it was cool to see Incantation and Vital Remains on the bill. While the later band is immensely popular here, Incantation ruled supreme. Lots of people were seeing this great band for the first time today and they slayed.
Nails, by Meg Loyal Photography
The most talked about band before metalfest the last two years has been Nails. Their set last year may never be topped for intensity. Moving down to the main-stage, the entire floor did not devolve into a violent pit of epic proportions as I predicted. However, there was one large circle pit in the middle and some rough stuff up front, but for the most part people were able to enjoy the band and not die, which was good. Nails crushed it hard. That new album cannot come fast enough for me.
Nuclear Assault may be going into retirement, but not before hitting the road and ripping us a new one. They sounded fresh as ever, especially John Connolly’s chirping high screams. I’m looking forward to their new EP in June.
Exodus, by Meg Loyal Photography
Exodus is another band that has gone through some changes. With a recent album, Blood In Blood Out (Nuclear Blast) and a returning Steve “Zetro” Souza on vocals, the band sounded tight. I was happy with the set list, which included some of their more recent stuff, and of course classics like ‘Toxic Waltz’ and ‘Strike of the Beast’. Props to security for handling all the crowdsurfers and moshers without the usual nonsense I see at other venues.
Testament, by Meg Loyal Photography
Testament closed things out in style with a stage set right out of Iron Maiden’s playbook. And why not? Testament is one of those legacy (pun intended) thrash acts. They had a huge production with creative lights, billows of smoke, and the crazy bursting strobe lights that were a little overpowering frankly. Although they had a slightly over-loud sound mix, the band was incredible as they played only their first two albums, plus ‘Practice What You Preach’. With all of their talents, Testament is like The Avengers, and they are thrash metal’s mightiest heroes.
It was a celebratory mood as I waltzed into The Palladium for another go-around of “Metalfest”. My 10th time attending and 17th overall in the history of the fest proved to be one of the most fun I can remember. Sure festivals can be grueling, all weekend affairs, logistical nightmares and just exhausting. But it’s also like a family reunion in which you hate almost nobody. Lastly, I was lucky to work with Meg Loyal of Meg Loyal Photography all weekend, providing the awesome shots of the bands all weekend for Ghost Cult.
The venue was swelling with people when I arrived, and I was glad to see support for early first day acts such as Begat The Nephilim, Lody Kong, Downpour (featuring Shadows Fall, Unearth and Seemless guys), The Atlas Moth, and Fit For An Autopsy. I usually do a loop of the venue right when I get in. Checking out the vendors, meeting old friends and making some new ones, it’s always a blast.
Within The Ruins, by Meg Loyal Photography
Finally getting down to the main stage floor, Jamey Jasta’s solo JASTA set was just ending. Being a Connecticut guy and a Palladium regular, the place was packed and seemed to end the set on a high note. Checking out the merch tables in between bands, it was cool to see sponsors such as Tama and Ibanez offering cool contests anyone could win. I caught some of Within The Ruins’ set and they were killer, as a bunch of bro dudes punched each other silly in the pit. Settling in at the main stage to watch the rest of day one was a tough choice. I love Overcast and Code Orange, but they played opposite COC Blind, which I could not miss. Playing hits off of Blind, this entity of Corrosion of Conformity includes singer Karl Agell (King Hitter), drummer Reed Mullen, and guitarist Scott Little (King Hitter, Leadfoot) among others was in great form and the audience seemed to enjoy the cuts much deeper than ‘Vote With A Bullet’.
Death Angel, by Meg Loyal Photography
Next up were thrashers Death Angel. It seemed like they might be more at home on the Saturday bill with their Bay Area brethren, but they killed anyway. Playing a short set of mostly recent tracks, they nearly stole the show on day one. Following them was Cavalera Conspiracy. A long changeover seemed to stall the momentum, but there was a lot of excitement to see Max and Igor play together once again. I spent a lot of time focusing on Igor, since watching him play is a treat for me. The set leaned heavy on the “hits” of CC, as well as choice Sepulutra jams and a Nailbomb song featuring Richie Cavalera on vocals.
Cavalera Conspiracy, by Meg Loyal Photography
The Red Chord, by Meg Loyal Photography
The Red Chord was next and I was pumped up to see them, since I missed the band in their last few comeback shows. They played a set heavy on their masterwork album Clients (Metal Blade) and one new song. Again, the deathcore brings out the crazy pit ninjas en masse. Guy Kozowyk was in great form, as the was the entire band who has been missed much.
Between The buried and Me, by Meg Loyal Photography
Closing out the night was Between the Buried And Me. While I really appreciate the North Carolinian prog metallers, (who gave a neat shout out to COC), I have never been a rabid fan. On this night they played the best set I have ever heard from them. They had a sweet production of video screens, smoke and lighting. Not only was their choice of songs slick, but their pacing and patience as a band has really risen up to the level of the veterans that they are. For an added bonus just for the Metalfest crowd, the band closed with a cover of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. Except for Paul Waggoner playing the iconic piano parts on guitar (of course), the band became Queen, with Tommy Rogers transforming into Freddy Mercury; immaculate right down to his stage moves, voice, and half a mic-stand. The entire venue was singing and some people were crying too. It was an unforgettable end to Day 1.
Between The Buried and Me, by Meg Loyal Photography
Between The Buried and Me, by Meg Loyal Photography
Today marks the start of New England Metal And Hardcore Festival XVII (that’s #17 for you Roman Numeral deniers among you), which is the unofficial start of spring in the northeast USA. That and the fact there is still some snow on the ground. Ready to thaw out and rock with some amazing bands, this years NEMHF promises to be one of the most diverse bills in its history, according to co-founder and talent booker Scott Lee. Held over three days this weekend on two stages, the fest is a must attend event I nth region which offers something for every heavy music fan’s taste.
Friday is headlined by Between the Buried and Me, which is sure to pack the venue as they usually do. Re-activated Boston mashers The Red Chord are in the spot right before BTBAM, highlighting the depth of this night. Other top billings for Friday go out to Cavalera Conspiracy, veteran thrashers Death Angel, COC BLIND, Code Orange, Overcast, Jamey Jasta solo, The Atlas Moth, Fit For An Autopsy and Within The Ruins.
Day 2 has the all out attack of the “Dark Roots of Thrash Tour” with headliners Testament playing an old-school set, and Exodus in tow making for circle pit heaven. Also from that tour is opener Shattered Sun playing much earlier than usual. Following Exodus is the final New England appearance of Nuclear Assault who are soon to retire. Another excellent band you should not miss is Nails, graduating to the main stage after last years’ bloody pit up at the small stage slot upstairs. Other Saturday bands of note include the recently added Turnstile, death metal overlords Incantation and Vital Remains, Rivers of Nihil, The Agonist and popular locals (from nearby Rhode Island) Thy Will Be Done.
Sunday is always the hardcore centric day, but this year has the added bonus of being led by Motionless In White. The band has worked their way up from nothing with relentless touring and recording, and looks poised for bigger things. A cavalcade of hardcore bands follows MIW such as The Color Morale, Vanna, Death Before Dishonor, Cruel Hand, Lionheart, Sworn In, Brick By Brick as well as Lorna Shore and Last Ten Seconds of Life.
Ghost Cult will be bringing you the review from the weekend full of action, so check back here next week.
Spring is in the air and that means music festivals all over the world. One such festival we always attend is the New England Metal And Hardcore Festival, held at the Worcester Palladium in Massachusetts. We caught up with festival co-founder and talent booker Scott Lee to get his take on the 17th edition of the festival, taking place this weekend.
We started off by asking Scott about this year’s line-up:
“It’s great! We have a lot of diversity this year. Friday where you have Between the Buried and Me, The Red Chord Cavalera Conspiracy, Corrosion of Conformity (BLIND), and Within the Ruins, that day is stellar. Testament, Exodus, Nuclear Assault’s final new england appearance, so proud to have that. Nails is really exciting! Sunday has Motionless In White. People gave me a little crap for that, which is funny to me. They are just as much a metal band, with hardcore roots as anybody else. Just because they wear makeup and the type of label they are one, whatever. They are a metal band. They have done metal tours. They did Mayhem and other metal tours too. They are an awesome band. And they wear make up. So did Kiss. So do The Misfits. So does Dimmu Borgir. Who cares? The lineup is super stellar. Code Orange headlining upstairs on Saturday. Overcast… and there might be a surprise for Saturday for the hardcore world.” (Editor’s note: now revealed to be Turnstile).
Scott also discussed the significance of having two legendary Boston metal and hardcore stalwarts on the bill together in Overcast and the recently reactivated guys in The Red Cord:
“Oh they came up together you know? They came up at the same time, in the same vein. Same kind of New England thing. You wouldn’t be surprised to see a split 7” from the two of them. Actually that would be really cool! There are all kinds of genres this year, it’s a really good mix. It really is an all-star lineup . I am not going to be like “it’s better than last year” or “its better than the year before”. I hope people see what we are doing here and getting excited about it. There are not too many times you will see Nails and Testament on the same bill, on the same day.
Scott Lee, photo by Jeremy Saffer
Returning to the fest for a second straight year, Nails put on one of the most intensely violent shows ever at last’s year’s fest. We vouched for being terrified at the level of aggression the band coaxed out of the rabid fans in the pit. Just complete bedlam. This year they are on the main stage, and Scott shared his thoughts on the band:
“Being terrified is part of the game, my friend. I went and saw them at This Is Hardcore and it was amazing to me. That band is no joke! It’s great how they are true to their craft. They are really great people too. They write really great music. If you haven’t heard this band, you need to check them out. They are the real McCoy.”
On the complaints on a yearly basis about certain bands, and certain types of bands on the bill which he helps bring together:
“It’s called the New England Metal and Hardcore Festival. It’s bringing metal and hardcore tied into together with the entire scene like this: everything everyone here has ever done. It is not called the New England Death Fest. It’s not called the New England Hardcore Fest. It’s not the New England Metal Fest. It has a long name so everyone abbreviates it to NEMHF. With these bands, it doesn’t matter. The majority of these bands are fans of the music of the other bands too. If you are close-minded, I can’t argue with every single person about this that or the other the thing. This is what the scene is meant to be, open-minded. That’s what it’s supposed to be, for me doing this. We are not putting Black Veil Brides on, we put on Motionless In White. Motionless In White is a metal band. The whole kit and kabboodle on the situation is this: if you have enough time to ridicule, then you should go get another hobby.”