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America remains the largest market for extreme metal music in the world. However, the vast majority of the country remains relatively devoid of metal--or musical culture period. I grew up in a musical desert in northern Ohio, many miles from what people would call an “A” or “B” market. No bands relevant to my interests booked shows near me. I had no reason to like anything that was not mass-marketed.

Ogrefest II, in 2007, changed that. I knew the lineup was supposed to be good--my best friend stole a car to see the first edition of the fest the previous year (he brought it back in one piece). What I didn’t know, was that artists with no major label support, with no budget, could be more engaging and stimulating than the mass-appeal music that I had access to beforehand. These are the sort of bands that we feature on Invisible Oranges.

Held every year at Mac’s Bar in Lansing, Michigan, Ogrefest was a 12-hour showcase of bands with no deference to subgenre or scene politics. Every band got exactly 15 minutes to set up and a half hour to play, period. Bands often shared members, but nobody played favorites. If something went wrong and it meant that a scene favorite like Genocya or even fest organizer David Peterman’s band Satyrasis had to skip their set, then they skipped their set. The headliners were shown no more respect or significance than the opening band. It was well-run, and on the whole, every band had something to offer. A bad Ogrefest set was usually better than the average local opener I see today in Seattle. If I ever book an Invisible Oranges fest (and the thought has crossed my mind many times) I would follow the Ogrefest template.

In that sense, by design, Ogrefest was a pure expression of reverence to metal as a performance art--sometimes literally. Almost yearly Peterman booked at least one band whose merits rested more on entertainment value and absurdist spectacle than tunefulness. Hell, sometimes that set was the highlight of the night. EG: Maggot Twat.

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That balance of reverence and entertainment value earned the fest a small but vociferous local fanbase. People came to Ogrefest early (2 pm) and often stayed from the first bands to the last.

This year's Ogrefest was the last iteration of the festival. I’ll miss it. Here’s the fest, band-by-band.

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Drink their Blood

Burly dudes with modern looking guitars walked onto the stage wearing contemporary hi-fi metal tee shirts and I thought I knew what to expect: Deathcore. Nope! Drink Their Blood play sophisticated technical and progressive death metal the kind you’d expect to come out of Norway. That may just be the saxophone solos talking. These guys have more talent than Kalamazoo, Michigan, deserves, trust me. One band in and the first curveball was thrown.

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Hordes

Noisy like an outboard motor being lowered into filthy water over and over again, Hordes aimed for a specific sound and hit it well so long as their gear was working which, sadly, it was not for some of the time.

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Croatone

Guitarist Edward Emmerich was wearing a Dangers shirt. Maybe that means nothing to you, but to me it meant technically proficient and really nasty hardcore, which is exactly what the band served up, albeit instrumentally. Call Ben Weinman, Croatone have Party Smasher Inc. Signee written all over them.

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Blind Haven

Death doom ought never skimp on the blues. My ideal permutation of the genre is pretty much Black Sabbath’s Volume IV but with pissed off screaming instead of the Ozzman. Blind Haven build from that blessed blueprint.

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Centenary

This requires some backstory. Perhaps the longest running and most beloved Ogrefest band was Genocya, who played something like a mix of Edge of Sanity and Obituary. Their death metal solved equations and dragged knuckles at the same time. A tough balance to strike. That band is now over. Beloved members Jim Albrecht (bass) and Matt Cunningham (guitar) now play in Centenary, and I’ve gotta say . . . upgrade. There’s bias: this project plays HM-2 Swedish death metal worship and that style is my comfort food. High pitched snarls and a focus on metal over hardcore set their sound apart from other, earlier American adherents like Black Breath and Trap Them.

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Farting Corpse

Recall the aforementioned ‘performance art’ band that crops up at every Ogrefest? See Farting Corpse in all their blast-beats-plus-Kaos Pad ‘glory.’ My friend and IO contributor Jason Gilbert had a ball with them. Me, I stepped outside. Here’s hoping the Daniel Radcliffe film is better.

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Pan

These Ogrefest vets have fine-tuned their proggy seven-string guitar doom into something very unique. If they lived closer to the coasts, they’d probably be swept up in the nascent New Wave of American Doom Metal (™) that’s been floating around alongside Spirit Adrift, Crypt Sermon and Kehmmis, though Pan is far and away the most prog-inflected of them all.

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Failed

Mike Erdody from Acid Witch, Temple of Void and formerly Borrowed Time does no wrong. His Am Rep-style noise act Failed played their entire upcoming album in full from start to finish. They also talked a load of shit about employment. I agree. Fuck a job. Send them Bernie Sanders memes.

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Voyag3r

I’ve only got one toe into the whole synth soundtrack revival scene. For people already swimming in the deep end, Voyag3r (pronounced Voyager three--get it, they’re a trio) will be of interest. Lukewarm feelings toward the style aside, the power trio played with charisma and a bottomless low end. I found myself carried away and especially charmed by their brief rendition of Pink Floyd’ “Comfortably Numb.” Voyag3r went over so well that the crowd demanded more music, resulting in the first and only encore of the night (and, to my knowledge the second encore ever in Ogrefest history, after a live rendition of “Living After Midnight” by Sauron in 2009)

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Cavalcade

Another longtime fest veteran group, Cavalcade bend genres, plain and simple. Sometimes they sound like peak Isis with Ihsahn on vocals, other times like At the Gates. Their set, complete with light show, felt like a grand sendoff to the fest. They drew the largest crowd by a margin, and played the absolute best I’ve ever seen them. At that time events came to a climax. This set was the moment that all the momentum of the fest’s decade-long history came to a head. One rarely experiences sets like that. It was a pleasure to witness.

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Past Tense

See Past Tense and witness their spot-on recreation of classic and thrashy traditional metal. This sort of music is experiencing a mini resurgence with Razor and Exciter touring again, and Grim Reaper just having played the states. Past Tense don’t have the history of those bands, but they have the sound and the songs to box with them. Don’t judge a digital drum kit by its absurdly small kick pads: all the people who left after Cavalcade missed out.

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Dead Hour Noise

Featuring members of Croatone and pulling their own young fanbase, Dead Hour Noise played misanthropic hardcore to a small but energetic audience. They sounded like a shoe in for Throatruiner records provided their amps were bigger. I enjoyed myself. That said, the whole snotty hardcore frontman bit was passé when I was a teenager. There’s no reason to keep it up in 2016.

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Steely Dad

This is how my favorite fests ended, not with an amplified bang, but with a bunch of musicians playing acoustic hair metal covers. Whatever. At two in the morning teetering between intoxication and hangover, a crooning rendition of “One in a Million” by Guns N' Roses did sort of hit the spot. This set felt like a family gathering, a big in joke shared by people who bought deeply into the Ogrefest experience.

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