Festival Review: Tattoo the Earth Festival – An Underground Heavy Metal Reunion and the Old Guys Delivered

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By Scott McLennan

Despite all the fury, protest, angst and raw brutality of the music, Tattoo the Earth was a celebration of love.

Vocalist Joey Belladonna and guitarist Scott Ian of Anthrax at Tattoo the Earth. Photo: Sam McLennan.

For those outside the chain-link fences surrounding an asphalt field between the Palladium and the DCU Center in Worcester, Mass, the scene there last Saturday — in what is usually a parking lot — probably seemed intimidating.

To many outside the fence, the gathering must have looked like a bizarre, even alarming gathering: people dressed head to toe in black slamming into each other violently as bands played music so aggressively that it undoubtedly came across as the audio equivalent of a blur.

Inside the fence, it was a whole different story.

The Tattoo the Earth festival has brought together a titanic list of bands from underground heavy metal. And for all the fury, protest, angst and raw brutality of the music, the event was a celebration of love. Bands that had been out of the loop for years have returned to action. Musicians would often take time during their sets to praise the other bands performing that day. Fans showed up in droves, offering wildly enthusiastic responses to artists who rarely, if at all, appeared on popular music radars. And underground metal bands responded in kind, expressing their gratitude for the loyal dedication of their supporters.

Tattooing the Earth in many ways felt like a big celebratory reunion. Guy Kozowyk of The Red Chord said, “There are a lot of new bands keeping the scene alive. But today, it’s about the old bands. The crowd roared and continued to roar as Kozowyck checked off Overcast, Crowbar and At the Gates. These bands were on the 9am festival undercard – but no less influential or revered than the headlining acts later that night.

It was a moment that perfectly captured underground metal‘s lack of pretension (not to be confused with a lack of attitude). Well-organized metal festivals are usually like bacchanals that revel in the return of triumphant heroes.

The Red Chord in action at Tattoo the Earth Festival. Photo: Sam McLennan.

As a genre, underground metal is quite spacious: you get the melodic sound of dual-guitar thrash; the lean, monolithically crushing sound of hardcore; mash-up variations of metal and hardcore into metal-core, which itself has several sub-variants; stoner-rock mud; and complex technical metal.

Tattoo the Earth had it all, and as a musical community, fans are pretty open to supporting stylistic variety. But the groups that survive in this scene are those that develop a cult following. I can guarantee that every band playing Tattoo the Earth was somebody favorite band, ever.

The one-day festival takes place 20 years after Tattoo the Earth founder Scott Alderman first hosted an event under the Tattoo banner.

Alderman, who lives in Massachusetts, produced the groundbreaking Tattoo the Earth concert tour in 2000, which brought together underground metal bands and tattoo artists for a series of shows that encountered legal hassles, business issues and few nearly any other kind of problem you could imagine. . The producer chronicled the whole affair in the book caravan of painwhich came out earlier this year.

Independent concert promoter John Peters, whose MassConcerts has been a strong supporter of heavy metal, saw the book and contacted Alderman. Peters said he has booked metal legends Anthrax to play August 27 away from the Palladium in Worcester. Would Alderman have an interest in turning the day into a festival in its own right?

A member of the Tattoo the Earth festival crowd. Photo: Sam McLennan.

Alderman, who hadn’t produced a show in two decades, rose to the challenge and worked with the people behind the scenes who kept underground metal alive (like Massachusetts son Scott Lee, who is to metal what Bill Graham was at the 60s psychedelic rock scene in San Francisco).

Alderman and his team assembled a near-perfect lineup of bands that not only represented the variety of the genre, but also toasted the important role that Bay State and its metalheads have played in keeping the music going.

For starters, the site itself is somewhat hallowed among heavy metal fans. The Palladium hosted the New England Metal and Hardcore Festival, which for nearly 20 years fostered a sense of community and provided a platform for new artists and veterans alike.

Then there was the mass-centric lineup of performers. Within the Ruins, Overcast, The Red Chord and Hatebreed are all influential heavy bands born in Massachusetts and nurtured by the local music scene. Additionally, Anthrax’s lead guitarist for the past 10 years has been Jonathan Donais, who emerged from the Mass Metal scene as a member of Shadows Fall (to detail the family tree, Shadows Fall and current heavyweights of the metalcore Killswitch Engage are both from Couvert).

All of these historical details gave Tattoo the Earth 2022 a distinctive narrative, so to speak. It was a festival in the truest sense of the word – it was a purpose-built event, not a package designed to be replicated and delivered to multiple markets.

And, of course, the event welcomes tattoo artists. Their operations have settled inside the Palladium. The tattoo and tattoo art in general may have been kept separate from the outdoor action, but the attendees were inked nonetheless.

Overcast and singer Brian Fair wow the crowd. Photo: Sam McLennan.

Coming back to the music, and echoing Kozowyck’s sentiment stated above, the elders delivered. Headliners Anthrax, whose debut album was released in 1984, sounded as good as ever, playing an energetic set of career-defining material, such as the thrash anthems “Caught in a Mosh”, “Among the Living” and “Bring the Noise”. , “a Public Enemy song that he covered in collaboration with the band’s outspoken leader, Chuck D.

The Red Chord last released a record in 2009 and hadn’t played since 2015. But their manic, progressive approach to metal still sounded cutting-edge, with grooves, dissonances and technical precision working. in a wildly orchestrated way.

Overcast formed in 1991, a member of the local circuit that supported independent and experimental punk and metal bands. The band pioneered a fusion of heavy metal melody and the blunt force of hardcore punk, but Overcast broke up in 1998. It never achieved the acclaim and commercial success achieved by other bands. other bands (including those with Overcast members) who have followed this path. . As you often see in other musical genres, the artists who light the proverbial fuse are rarely the ones who explode in the public eye. But every few years, an occasion like this draws Overcast members back. At Tattoo the Earth, true to form, the band relentlessly churned through a half-hour set full of daredevil musical dynamics, performing a cache of songs that blended aggression and contemplation. Lanky, dreadlocked leader Brian Fair voiced the contradiction with pure conviction.

One of the defining traits of underground metal is the vocalist who can connect with the listener through any type of storm, whether performing on stage or in front. Hatebreed’s Jamey Jasta has become one of the revered for this skill, a reputation earned by his ability to drag everyone into his party’s brutal assault.

Terror and Bleeding Through, two LA-area bands that have been around since the early 2000s, couldn’t sound more different from each other. The former is a lean, straightforward hardcore band, the latter a purveyor of complex musical structures. But in their own way, they forged a similar bond with audiences with messages about accepting a stranger’s identity.

A listener to the Tattoo the Earth festival gets a tattoo. Photo: Sam McLennan.

Shortly after Bleeding Through’s Brandan Schieppati yelled, “You’re the ugliest crowd I’ve ever played in front of; don’t worry, we’re ugly too,” Terror’s Scott Vogel told the crowd gathered in front of him on the festival’s small side stage, “I’m not cool. I’m just a screwed up kid, like everyone here.

These bands can paint a bleak picture of the world, but they also offer relief valves for the pressure they build. In the case of Municipal Waste, twisted humor runs through the lyrics. Swedish death-metal band At the Gates (performing their genre-defining album Soul Slaughter in its entirety) and Spirit Adrift, the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist and thrash-metal enthusiast Nate Garrett, both infuse epic storytelling into their music.

Black Label Society, the band fronted by guitarist Zakk Wylde, was the only weak spot in the festival lineup. Wylde’s band, who toured with Anthrax, played the festival’s most conventional set, delivering legitimately heavy material. But Wylde’s songs were more useful than memorable. They don’t approach the catchiness of heavy metal classics from Judas Priest, Iron Maiden or Black Sabbath. It was the music that bridged the gap between metal and more traditional rock in the 70s and 80s. Yet Wylde is an established guitarist, long associated with Black Sabbath singer Ozzy Osbourne and his solo career. And there was no doubt that the Black Label Society attracted a huge fan base, judging by the number of people wearing the band’s badges. It was as if they all belonged to an outlaw motorcycle gang.

To tell the truth, Black Label Society would have stood out more in another context. Physically, Wylde looks like an actor in any Viking movie you’ve ever seen. He wears a kilt on stage and plays the guitar at lightning speed (sometimes with the ax behind his head). But on a day and night of masterful displays of rebellion, anti-social commentary, and blatant dismissals of the hypocrisies that polite society likes to conceal, Wylde and his gang have proven to be rather conventional.


Scott McLennan covered music for the Worcester Telegram and Gazette from 1993 to 2008. He then contributed music reviews and features to the boston globe, Journal of Providence, Portland Press Heraldand WGBH, as well as artistic fuse. He also ran the NE Metal blog to provide in-depth coverage of the region’s heavy metal scene.

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