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My Favorite Metal Fest: Ogrefest 2014 Pt. 1

Cavalcade performing live at Ogrefest 2014

All of the Maryland Deathfest 2015 band announcements are fine and good, but truth be told, my favorite metal fest isn’t held in a parking lot in Baltimore, it’s in a dive bar in Michigan. For the past eight years, Mac’s Bar, an East Lansing institution has hosted Ogrefest, a who’s-who exhibition of the finest metal bands in Michigan. I go every year. While relatively few (though not all) of Ogrefest’s veterans are likely to get any national or international recognition, the fest always hosts bands with the chops and songwriting to deserve wider recognition.

The metal world’s attention is not distributed equally, as a cursory look at Metal Archives will prove. Even relatively small labels seem statistically more likely to sign a band from a previously proved regional scene, though I don’t have the time or the math skills to confirm this.

Despite a few notable signees—Repulsion and The Black Dahlia Murder—Michigan remains a relatively unproven scene. Still, Ogrefest is the thermometer of Michigan’s metal underground. The most high profile contemporary metal band from Michigan, Battlecross, are Ogrefest veterans. Acid Witch, MDF veterans, once played Ogrefest right after Chris Black’s High Spirits (in fact much of Black’s Planet Metal roster is culled from the Ogrefest family). One of Cosmo Lee’s more blogged-about bands, Dead Sea, played the year before. One of Ogrefest’s recurring players, Dagon (now defunct) released an album called Terraphobic which made waves in some circles of the metal underground.

This will be the first of a two-part look at this year’s Ogrefest. Expect the second round next week.

— Words and photos by Joseph Schafer

I arrived at Ogrefest 2014 a touch late, missing a few opening bands, most notably Southfield’s black metal two-piece Dark Winter, who attendees spoke highly of for hours after their set ended.

Carp Lake’s Pan were a few songs into their set by the time I made my way past old friends and the door, but by the looks of things they’d made a few fans. Ten years ago, Pan might have inked a deal with Southern Lord records. Their brand of stoner doom is indebted to progressive metal—check out the dynamic changes and hypnotic interludes in this pro-shot footage of their song “Civilization and the Old Way” at Ogrefest (see if you can spot yours truly in the crowd, slamming Short’s Brewery’s wonderful Soft Parade). Lee Dorrian, if you’re listening, they are within your purview.

Pretty soon we’re going to run out of bands named after villains in Godzilla movies. First Gigan, and now Detroit’s Hedorah, who at least fit their smog monster namesake, playing a nasty brand of sludge. This three-piece has become an institution of late, opening for numerous acts making their way through the city. Their brand of blackened sludge seems reminiscent of some recent Chicago bands like Lord Mantis or Indian—not surprising, since the Ogrefest crowd has deep ties to the Chicago scene. Their grind influence comes through, with with short songs and screechy vocals. While I like that sound, Hedorah’s never quite been my cup of murk. Still, fans of Eyehategod will probably find much to like in them.

The band which I guess readers will be most familiar with—Grand Rapids’ Ifing—didn’t play Ogrefest per se. As an interlude, the band was on hand while speakers played their debut album Against This Weald in advance of its release. Drummer Tim Wicklund told me the group hadn’t quite worked out how to play their music live, but were looking into doing so for next year’s Ogrefest. Ifing has deep ties to the Lansing scene, featuring ex-members of now defunct (and excellent) progressive black/death trio Through The Mist, who were the closest thing to Opeth that America has produced in both style and quality until Cormorant came along. Michigan’s western shore has become a studio black metal hotbed, though not one as prolific as the pacific northwest. That might soon change if groups as excellent as Ifing catch on.

Detroit’s Traitor hit the stage as the sun began to set. Last Rites editor Jordan Campbell called blackened hardcore the sound du jour of 2014—I wonder what that says about Traitor, who temper the crust bit of the equation with a little metalcore reminiscent of early Darkest Hour. Against all odds, it works. For my money, I love their vicious and melodic approach—members of Traitors also did time in a brilliant but short-lived group called Mourning Wolf, and what worked in that context still works here. Frontman Nick Holland is both talented and charismatic. His turn on mic, at turns confessional and adversarial, really raised the adrenaline levels in Mac’s. Traitor marked the end of crossed-arms time and the beginning of mosh time. Their 2012 Shadowheart EP deserves a revisit (it’s free)—especially the song “Starless.”

Lansing’s Cavalcade are genuine weirdos. In a scene full of bands rushing to sound like other bands, these guys aren’t really classifiable. They’re the only progressive sludge band I’m aware of that doesn’t just sound like a Mastodon ripoff, probably because their approach keeps plenty of the hardcore that informs sludge intact. Various members of the band play saxophone, melodica, and power tools on their records, though live they play like a standard metal band. Their connections to other groups, and to Ogrefest, are numerous. Vocalist Sean Peters is also in D-beat band Wastelander, whose drummer tours with High Spirits. Bassist Craig Horky is a celebrated Michigan poster artist, and has illustrated every Ogrefest poster and shirt. Guitarist Brad Van Staveren will curate Ogrefest next year and going forward. The whole band has nebulous connections to Phil Anselmo’s Housecore label.

Thus concludes part one of our Ogrefest coverage. Expect more great Michigan bands next week.

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