New Jersey Metalfest - 2003 Day One
Metal Festival
Live Concerts

Release year: 2003
Reviewed by Jay

Keegan and I decided to take a break from the usual NYC weekend and along with our friend Morgan, we ventured to Asbury Park, NJ for the first New Jersey Metal and Hardcore Festival. This festival is organized by MassConcerts, the same people who have done the New England Metal and Hardcore Festival for the last five years. Since it’s not a Jack Koshick festival, expectations were high and as it turned out these were justified.

Upon arriving in Asbury Park, we noticed all of the crumbling buildings. This town had a heyday around 50 years ago. Today the boardwalk and all the associated buildings are in sorry states of repair with many caved-in roofs, collapsing buildings and porno theaters. If you ever doubted economically depressed areas this is one. Two blocks down the street from the legendary Stone Pony lay the venue for the weekend. The venue, The Asbury Park Convention Hall is built directly on top of the beach and is supported by stilts. It’s a massive place, easily double the size of the Palladium where NEMF was back in May. Upon entering, you are dropped in a hall where the second stage and band clothing booths are. Going through another hall takes you to the main stage. Both stages were nearly double the size of the NEMF stages. The main stage here had seating all around it. The upstairs portion of the venue was for all the merch, labels and any other sponsors who showed up to hock their wares. The biggest problem with this venue by far was the fact that it wasn't heated! We had to wear hoodies all weekend since this place was always freezing, especially at night.

We checked into our hotel (which was across the street), pregamed a little and ventured out to the venue. I knew this was the right hotel as I got into discussions with the MassConcerts photographers online for check in. Also overheard was someone making a collect call to Sweden. As we were walking out of the hotel, we passed Devin Townsend in the lobby. He had his hair tied back and was wearing glasses so we weren’t sure it was him at first but once we heard “about” in a Canadian accent, we were more than sure. The security team decided to open the doors about 30 minutes late so we missed Held Under. Held Under would be the first of 22 bands featured here who also made appearances at NEMF. Since nothing we were really interested in was playing, we decided to check out the merch at first. While not as expansive as NEMF, the prices at this fest were considerably lower ($2-3 per CD) and there was one vendor who wasn’t at NEMF that we were glad to see. None other than The End Records! Sadly, their prices weren’t nearly as good as their mail order is. Regardless, we did some small shopping but saved the bulk of purchases, as per norm, until day two. After dropping our stuff off at the hotel and recharging for a bit, it was time to hit the stages.

On the main stage, we saw Sinai Beach. They’re Californian metalcore band that wasn’t really all that great. Totally non-descript metalcore in the same vein as all the other bands. Lick Golden Sky on the second stage was equally crappy but they do get points for covering “Buried Dreams” by Carcass. Back to the main stage as November’s Doom was on. I had first heard them at NEMF and was not that impressed. The feeling was the same this time. They’re an Opeth clone but aren’t that interesting. In fact, they’re just downright boring and this cannot be stressed enough. Morgan dozed off for a few minutes during their set. We grabbed some seats and waited for The Black Dahlia Murder. I was familiar with their CD and eager to see them live since they cancelled the show I was supposed to see them at previously. Live, they were underwhelming. The singer couldn’t seem to differentiate his vocals from the hardcore vocals that we’d been hearing all day. They are much better recorded than live and sound nothing like At the Gates like some claim.

Next was the long awaited Hypocrisy featuring Peter Tagtgren. The first and last songs of their set were amazing. Really good melodic metal with hints of death. The middle of their set was much more brutal and kind of dragged as compared with the other songs they played. We were all super pumped up for Children of Bodom and they did not disappoint! One thing I can’t stand is people mispronouncing their name. It’s Bo-Dom. Not Boddom. Laiho dispelled all rumors when he said it correctly on stage. Their set was a good mix of all the albums. Janne Warman was the surprise for me. He is a true master of the keyboards and provides Bodom with their amazingly bombastic sound. Laiho’s stage antics were much more subdued that I had expected. This for us was the first standout performance of the festival and the true beginning. Setlist: Needled 24/7, Hate Me!, Chokehold, Every Time I Die, Silent Night, Bodom Night and Downfall.

Morgan was really eager to see Nevermore, which is one of his favorite bands. Luckily, they were on next. At this point, the main stage and second stages were both running 30 minutes behind schedule. The techs kept doing sound check after sound check on Nevermore’s equipment. Nevermore finally got on and we wondered what all that sound checking was for because they sounded like complete crap. This is a sharp contrast to NEMF, where they had an amazing standout performance, debuting six songs from Enemies of Reality and almost stealing the show from Opeth. Warrel Dane’s vocals were nearly impossible to hear for the whole set and the drums were louder than anything else. When Dane’s vocals worked, they were truly magnificent but we may have heard him for five minutes out of their half hour set. Their sound effects during and between songs were cool. These were mainly taken from movies like Se7en. Setlist: Narcosynthesis, Never Purify, Ambivalence, The River Dragon Has Come, and Enemies of Reality.

The real day one headliner for me was next in Dimmu Borgir. I had never seen them and was heavily anticipating this event. Their setup took even longer than Nevermore despite the fact that their banner and drums were already set up. The keyboard rig was draped so we couldn’t see what hardware was being used. While not as decked out in costumes as normal, Dimmu still had the requisite spikes on display. They opened up with In Death’s Embrace and it was all full speed ahead from there on. Shagrath sounds much better live than recorded and it was great to see Nick Barker hammer out those blastbeats live. Their sound, especially the keyboards was amazing and possibly the best-mixed sound of the night. Truly, a headlining performance if there was one. I can’t wait to see them in December at Lamours. Partial Setlist: In Death’s Embrace, Cataclysm Children, Progenies of the Great Apocalypse, Vredesbyrd, and Mourning Palace.

We’re going to catch flak for this but we left before Morbid Angel came on. We were tired and extremely hungry. We jetted back to the hotel for an hour to get some food and by the time we returned, their set was over. None of us are big Morbid Angel fans but people seemed to talk about that set all the time afterwards and we had a sinking feeling that we missed a crucial moment of the show. We did not miss Superjoint Ritual, a band we skipped out on at NEMF and should have skipped here. We didn’t miss much. First of all, Phil Anselmo was beyond trashed. Whatever he was on, he was barley lucid and speaking about as slow as humanly possible. His between song banter reached upwards of four minutes at times. They’re style of southern hardcore sounds like noise to me and none of us were really impressed at all. Anselmo managed to delay the main stage (which was already nearly 90 minutes behind schedule) by another fifteen minutes by getting his band back on stage for an encore after their set had ended and their crew was beginning to break down their stage setup.

While Danzig setup, we went to the second stage and caught a few minutes of Beyond the Embrace. We had seen them opening for Lacuna Coil over the summer and weren’t impressed then. They have three guitarists but that doesn’t seem to make a difference in the generic doom they play. Strapping Young Lad was next and they’re always fun to watch. Devin Townsend is quite animated on stage and is constantly berating the audience with insults. The room acoustics were not suited to their style of death metal assault but they were still totally intense and grinding. Townsend is crazy and his constant references to fellatio are quite humorous. Partial setlist: Relentless, Oh My Fucking God.

We missed several bands that we wanted to see along the course of the day but that is how things go at a festival. Among the bands missed were the Philly Math Metal group Dysrhythmia, The Devin Townsend Band, Symphony X and Devil Driver. Symphony X is the real tragedy here. They were supposed to headline but in the revised schedule, they got a 20-minute set in the middle of the day on the second stage, in their home state! That just seemed weird. However, we did run into and say hello to Russell Allen and Mike Lepond who were still lingering around the venue. Russell Allen even remembered me from when I interviewed him back in March and that was super cool. What further boggles the mind is how Devil Driver, a band fronted by former Coal Chamber singer Dez, got to headline the second stage. We missed their set but if Coal Chamber is an example, they probably blew.

Danzig is an artist that I had wanted to see for years but just never got around to doing it. Keegan is a much bigger Danzig fan than I and he was really anticipating this. Danzig was the perfect nightcap to a great day of pure metal. His repertoire was mostly from Danzig 2 and 3 with a few songs from 6. The quality of his voice is immense and his sound is just so unique that you know it’s unmistakably Danzig. During the set, I turned to my right and saw Juliya, the host of Uranium on Fuse going completely crazy during his set. He closed with "Mother" and we all had a blast on that song. Danzig ended and it was time to head back to the hotel and PARTY!

The hotel was overrun by metalheads and it wasn’t long until all of them were drunk, high or some combination of the two. By the end of the night, the metalheads had broken every ice machine in the hotel, leaving them as humming messes spraying water everywhere. We went to search for parties. There was one on our floor that sucked major ass so we left. Then we found another open room. It turned out this was the room that the band Mortician was staying in. All the guys in the room had passed out but funnier was that they had band shirts and CDs for sale in their room. We broke out of that quite fast as well. We went back to our room sort of dejected expecting a better party. Looking out our window, we saw people on the roof of the fourth floor. We shouted down to them and they told us to go to room 446, two floors below us. Sure enough, we did and were on the roof ourselves in no time. Morgan accidentally knocked over the chair that was holding the window open, trapping himself. We helped him out and then rigged the window open again.

We talked with many people there including a woman who worked for Relapse records and sported an awesome Opeth tattoo. She invited us to bitch about the Relapse bands we didn’t like including Mortician and Nile (stay tuned for more on both bands in the Day Two review). She showed us a room with lights on and told us that Juliya was staying there. This will be a brief exegesis, I know, but Juliya is at many of the shows in the NY area as a reporter and fan. It’s nice to see that a street-credible person actually hosts the show. I give Fuse credit for selecting a host that I can respect. She tried to get us to throw rocks at the window but that wasn’t going to happen. We incidentally tried to look for that room later without success. In talking to someone else, I knocked Hate Eternal. The party’s host turned around to me and said, “I know Erik Rutan.” I didn’t want to get killed or kicked out so I smoothing things out with our Polish NY metalhead host and in a few minutes, it was like nothing ever happened. About an hour later, we went back to our room and passed out. Day Two was only six hours away and we needed some rest because we had another twelve hours of metal coming up!

Killing Songs :
Jay quoted
Keegan quoted
Other albums by New Jersey Metalfest that we have reviewed:
New Jersey Metalfest - 2003 Day Two reviewed by Jay and quoted
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