The Foundry Concert Club
I’ve been trying to get to Hollowfest since its inception in 2015. The festival was founded by Sleepy Hollow main man Steve Stegg and the first couple took place in his home state of Delaware. For one reason or another I wasn’t able to attend either of them. For the third rendition, Steve decided to change things up and set it up in the outskirts of Cleveland. Between the closer location and some of the lineup that was announced, I knew it was time to finally see what this festival had to offer.
Quick Note - First off, I have to give Kit Ekman a ton of credit for what he does. His reviews are rather in-depth complete with set lists and lots of great detail. I am not going to even try to compare with what he puts forth, but I am going to focus on my own perspective of the incredible showcase that was the Pure Steel Hollowfest 2017.
Friday, October 20th
We made the trek from Northern Wisconsin to the outskirts of Cleveland easily enough. We left extremely early in the morning to zip through Chicago at its quietest time and were able to check in early and get in a quick power nap. Other than some catnaps in the car I was up for about thirty hours at that point, so I wasn’t exactly wide awake and ready for two days of headbanging but I knew adrenalin would be my friend. Anyway, we made our way to the Foundry and saw a small crowd mingling by the door, so we went and took our place in line. Within a matter of minutes, we met up with Sonic Asylum Radio’s Metal Maiden Vicki who was the emcee of the weekend festivities (by the way she is an incredible DJ and puts on a great show every week at SAR). I’ve known her for years but never met her in person as she is a New Yorker and far from my own dairyland home, so this was our first opportunity to say hello in person. Shortly after that Juan Ricardo quickly made his presence known with a warm welcome and hooked me up with a pass for the weekend. One thing I have to say about Juan is he was everywhere all weekend long. I don’t know what secret source of energy he was tapping into but the guy was helping out everywhere he was needed and when he wasn’t doing that he was in the crowd, banging his head, checking out bands, and being a consummate host. Oh yeah, he also closed out each night with an energetic performance on stage as well. He was the energizer rabbit in headbanging metalhead form. It was also great to see the familiar handsome face of Geoffrey McGraw of Axemaster show up a few minutes later as well.
Before I start the band by band commentary, I just wanted to mention the club a bit. First and foremost, the layout is pretty basic and very open, making it pretty easy to see the stage from all vantage points (except for a few spots along the bar). The stage was decent sized with enough room for a five-piece to still maneuver around without tripping on each other. Halloween even had a fair amount of room for their props as well. The club wasn’t really very big, but it was big enough for the size of draw the Fest had (it was an okay sized crowd but with the stacked lineup it should have been a bit bigger). The overall sound was a bit better on the second day it seems but that may be to the lack of sleep I had in the days leading up to the fest. The only real negative I had about the club I will get into later on in the review, for now let’s get to the bands.
RadiatriX – The opening band for night one succeeded to get the weekend off to a great start. I had heard some good things about these youngsters and was curious to see what the hype was about. I knew they played a style of high energy thrash (something they are not shy to tell you), but I had no idea just how energetic and talented they would be. The sonic attack was a perfect opener for the festival and immediately set the bar for the other bands to follow. They wore their influences on their sleeves (for example their spirited rendition of Master Of Puppets) and they don’t try to be something they’re not. These guys are definitely a band to keep an eye on going forward and well worth checking out live if you get the opportunity. They are now a permanent fixture on my radar.
Fears Garden – Before I get into Fears Garden, let me give you a bit of backstory. I saw Vatican about six months earlier in the year at the NYDM Spring Bash in Milwaukee. They sounded stellar and were one of my favorite takeaways from that festival. They then released a killer album which I thoroughly enjoyed. Unfortunately, the band has had a falling out and some of the members of Vatican are now part of Fears Garden. I admit I was a bit distracted for part of their set while being introduced to a couple of people, so I wasn’t able to give them my full attention, unfortunately. They had a good overall sound and showed some moments of great promise. They seemed to lack a bit of direction though, which is not unusual considering their relative newness with the lineup. They are veteran musicians and once they really find their footing and tighten things up they could well be on their way.
Lower 13 – This was the second time I have had the privilege of seeing Lower 13, having seen them initially several years back at the final Warriors Of Metalfest. They play their own style of metal. They carved so many different influences and merged them together to make their own sound. I won’t say that I am a huge fan of everything they do as some of it is a bit outside of my normal comfort zone. As the show went on, they began to sound tighter and the music was a bit more consistent and there were some definite moments of brilliance. I see a bigger level of musical maturity since the last time I saw them and I really believe the potential is there for them to truly be something special.
Vatican – Just two bands after Fears Garden, it was time for the all-new Vatican to take the stage. Just like his former bandmates, Vince Vatican had to pick up the pieces after the fallout and put them back together again. With apologies to Vince, I am honestly not quite sure that he found all the right pieces yet. The rhythm section did a decent enough job, but the vocalist didn’t seem to really fit with the Vatican feel. I know they haven’t worked together long and maybe they will gel after some more time together, but to me his stage mannerisms and vocal nuances kept disconnecting me from the material, it just didn’t go with the vibe. I know Vince has the musical chops to turn things around as proven by the show I saw earlier in the year as well as the very strong album release they just had. I will be keeping my eyes on them as they forge forward.
Vermithrax – Vermithrax is another band that I last saw at Warriors Of Metalfest several years ago and I have to say they sounded very good back then, but nothing to how they sounded in Cleveland. They succeeded in bringing the energy level back up with their speedy and inspired performance. Much like Lower 13 earlier, Vermithrax seem to have matured nicely as a band, and have stepped up their game. I understand that they are getting close to finishing up their debut full length effort, something I have been personally looking forward to. Keep an eye out for this!
Legion - One of the primary reasons I made the trek to Cleveland was the opportunity to check out Legion. After hearing their excellent album War Beast and having the opportunity to interview the band awhile back, I was curious to see what they would sound like live. Their singer was unable to make the show, so they were borrowing the services of Bobby Leatherlungs Lucas from Attacker for the show. I had a feeling that Leatherlungs would be a great choice for Legion’s sound and I have to say he nailed it. Granted he had to use lyric sheets but for a late fill-in that is to be expected. The overall vibe from the Legion performance was a relaxed and casual atmosphere amongst friends, which pretty much sums up what a festival is to me anyway. On all counts Legion and guest Legionnaire, Bobby Lucas, brought everything I expected them to and so much more.
Wretch - Closing night one’s festivities was another band that recently released a great record in Wretch, with their latest release The Hunt. If you notice a trend here, Pure Steel Records has been on fire with some very talented bands from the US and abroad. I must apologize to Juan Ricardo and company as my sleep deprived self was really fading at this point and I didn’t make it all the way through their set. I have to say though that the part I did hear was fantastic and I really wish they would have been a bit earlier in the day so I could have enjoyed them more thoroughly. Ricardo’s voice was nothing short of sonic razorblades cutting through the air. Being the last band on one of these festivals is always a tough proposition on these jam-packed shows, particularly when it comes to old, weary fogies such as myself. Wretch is still on my radar and I really hope to see them again soon on a timeslot that I can give them their much-deserved full attention.
Saturday, October 21st
Before heading out to the show, we took the day to check out some of the record stores in the Western Cleveland area. I found some decent scores and ended the day with a much lighter wallet. After a stop at Angelo’s Pizza, which was recommended by a local Clevelander (and rightly so!) we headed back to the hotel for a bit of rest while we could. While at the hotel, we ran into a special surprise. The band Halloween were just checking in and I was finally able to meet George Neai, someone who I knew well online after several interviews and back and forth shenanigans online. It was one of my big highlights of the entire trip to finally meet him and his wonderful wife Shelly. One of the best takeaways of these festivals is the friends you make along the way.
Sleeplord – When I first saw this band on the bill I really didn’t know what to expect. The name made me think of some sort of doom or stoner band and I thought that was an odd choice to kick off day two. Boy was I wrong about them. Sleeplord ended up being a true sleeper hit (sorry) and much like RadiatriX the day before, they really helped kick the show off to a high level (a level which would continue for most of the day. Unfortunately they never really set up their merchandise but I was introduced to vocalist Ted Anderson who went out and grabbed a CD for me. On a sidenote I highly recomment the CD as it is fantastic.
Wrath Icon – Geoffrey McGraw of Axemaster recommended this band to me and introduced me to Michael Gallagher the day before. After such high praise I was looking forward to seeing their performance. They did not disappoint! They did a fantastic job of keeping the party going and were a solid follow up behind Sleeplord. The sound seemed a bit off In the first couple of tracks, but it was quickly sorted out. The crowd seemed to be very much into Wrath Icon and rightly so. It was quickly apparent that the young lions were here to play with the early bands on both nights really doing a great job to put their names on the underground map.
Ironflame – Ironflame is essentially a one-man project by former Dofka (among others) vocalist Andrew D’Cagna. I had only heard a couple of tracks going into the festival and was very curious to see how it would come over live. Once I realized that their live band was rounded out by past and present members of Dofka (including Jim Dofka himself), I shouldn’t have been concerned. They delivered another fantastic set of classic power metal and did their album proud! The onslaught continued on Day Two which was really starting to turn into something special.
Reverence – Some people call Reverence a super group as it features a lineup of some pretty heavy hitters in the metal scene, but I really hate that label to be honest. To me, super groups are fly by night promotional hoopla and that isn’t Reverence at all. Reverence are a premiere group that are vastly underrated and as far as I am concerned (and many others as well I’m sure), they should be headlining tours and criss crossing the country with their incredible musical talent. This is my second time seeing them (and first in several years) and each time they downright amaze me with their sound. It comes over crisp with a strong mix of blend and melody. Tonight was no exception and they once again brought a headlining performance into their mid fest spot. Day two is just one hit after another at this point. Seriously, why weren’t they later on the show?
Axemaster – Honestly, Axemaster was one of the reasons I came to this fest. I last saw them play a few years ago at Ragnarokkr and at the time, vocalist Geoffrey McGraw was a pretty recent addition to the band, with only one recorded track with his vocals. The guys did a solid job and I formed a solid friendship with them that continues to this day. Now they have two full length albums with McGraw’s vocals married nicely to the great songwriting from founder and lead axeman Joe Sims. The second album (entitled Crawling Chaos) doesn’t come out until next month, but the bulk of the tunes are made up from the new disc. Fortunately I got a promo copy ahead of time and I knew the songs were very good and that Axemaster has just written their best album yet in their storied career, so I eagerly anticipated hearing the new tunes live. The band was tight and the new stuff really delivered. The album is full of instant classics and they pretty much nailed each of my favorites. A nice highlight was seeing Brian Thomas and Lisa Hurt from Halloween share vocal duties with Geoffrey McGraw on the track Bravado. Axemaster’s performance (and the ability to hang out with a true friend), made the trip to Cleveland worth it alone.
Destructor – Initially Destructor was supposed to play Friday night and Dave and Matt’s other band, Vulgar Devils was supposed to play today, but from what I understand they were missing one of their members so the schedule had to get tweaked a bit. I was rather disappointed as Vulgar Devils brings something a little different to the mix and I was very curious to see how they would fare. Anyway, Destructor is a band I have been fortunate to see perform several times over the last couple of years and they have always delivered a very good in your face set each and every time. Again tonight was no exception, though I was a bit drained from the Axemaster performance and after so many great bands in a row I kind of lost a bit of steam going into this one so I wasn’t able to enjoy it as often as I could. Dave’s vocals just slayed as usual and the band proved to be on point. I look forward to seeing them again soon. I totally forgot to check out their merch table but I did snag a copy of Forever In Leather in vinyl at a local record shop earlier in the day. Destructor is a local franchise in the Cleveland area and if you ever see them on the bill, you would do yourself a disservice if you didn’t check them out!
Sleepy Hollow - Much like Vatican, Sleepy Hollow is coming off a significant lineup change following the release of a very strong new album. The challenge that lay before founder and lead guitarist Steve Stegg and company is the fact that due to time and distance, the band never had a chance to practice before the gig. Now I commend them for giving it a shot whereas many a wilting flower or prima donna would just walk away. Credit where credit is due they gave it a shot. Was there a few flubs, sure. Was there a lot of nervous tension, sure. But most of the band worked through it as the professionals they were and made the most of it. The new tunes they played sounded pretty good overall and it shows a lot of promise for the future. One thing that didn’t do them any favors was not in their control. They were unfortunately stuck playing during the tail end of Game 7 of the ALCS between the Astros and the Yankees and the concert club decided to keep the tvs on during the show, which I think is disrespectful to the bands that came all the way to play. I know many clubs the tvs go off when the bands perform, but not that night and much of the attention was on the game and not on the band. This led to some unfortunate frustration from part of the band and I will leave it at that. Steve Stegg did an admirable job of keeping his composure and professionalism during the challenging period, and the band did try to push through it and continue the show. I’m sure they are going to be able to move forward from here and continue to keep Sleepy Hollow blazing along on their path.
Halloween – For me, Halloween was always a bucket list band to see live, ever since I got my grimy hands on a copy of Don’t Metal With Evil a long time ago. Ever since then this cult band was heavily on my radar. Over the last several years I struck up a friendship with founding bassist George Neal online and new that eventually I would be able to see them. It took a bit longer than I wanted but the day finally arrived. I was not disappointed. They had a nice setup onstage with a bunch of props (I’m sure this paled in comparison to what they were planning the following week in their hometown of Detroit), and a backdrop logo with a sinister moving pumpkin. The addition of the uber-talented Lisa Hurt brought the music to a new dimension and the new kid on the block sounded very good on guitar. George Neal must’ve gone through a day’s pay in guitar pics and Brian Thomas delivered note after note with a voice that doesn’t seem to age. As a special treat, Geoffrey McGraw returned the favor and joined Halloween on stage for a very fun rendition of Terrortory. I had high hopes going into Halloween and came away very satisfied. I know this won’t be my last time seeing these guys and I look forward to the next time I do!
Sunless Sky – Once again Juan Ricardo’s razor-sharp vocals closed out the festivities with some excellent power-infused metal, this time with the Sunless Sky boys. I do feel bad that both times he performed it was at the tail end of the night when the crowds were wandering off like rats on a sinking ship, yet the ship was far from sinking as Sunless Sky sounded great from what I heard. Of course, with everyone leaving I was distracted with my own farewells to friends old and new and missed part of their set. Hopefully the next time around SS (and Wretch for that matter) will get a better spot in the lineup and be able to showcase exactly what they can do!
Sunday morning we began the long drive home (after a couple more hours of record shopping) and though I was worn out (I am getting too old for this lol), and though there were a few bumps in the weekend, the trip was well worth it and I thoroughly enjoyed the festival. Great music, great friends and a great time overall. I want to thank Steve Stegg and Juan Ricardo for making me feel welcome and give a huge shout out to everyone for busting their hump to make this festival happen. If you can clear your calendar next year for Hollowfest IV, I would suggest you make the effort to check it out!
- Mark Vander Zanden (True Metal Lives)