Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath. These bands, in one form or another, are considered traditional metal bands. Despite their popularity through the years, the classic style of metal they play has often been an unpopular one in the United States. Chicago’s Ragnarokkr Metal Apocalypse festival, first started in 2011, has tried to bring this brand of music to the people. Despite a rough and tumble four years the quality of bands and an increase of the genre’s interest has led to the festival’s first sell-out this past April, which has resulted in an early announcement of bands for the 2015 iteration. The first group of bands include the headliner Warlord, along with power metal band Attacker, Puerto Rican doomsters Dantesco and local thrash act Aftermath.
When it comes to the underground U.S. metal scene, Warlord is often a name that is discussed. Ironically, despite their location, Warlord has yet to play on U.S. soil for decades — until now. Their brand of metal is a combination of traditional metal, juxtaposed to an epic power metal sound. While Warlord has put in a few releases through the decades, it is their initial EP, Deliver Us, that is considered to be one of the finest pieces in classic U.S. metal.
The unfortunate thing for Warlord is that despite their resurgence onto the classic metal scene with their 2013 full length release The Holy Empire, the band has had a rough history. They have broken up on three different occasions. They also have featured an ever-changing lineup, aside from the core of guitarist William J. Tsamis and legendary drummer Mark Zonder.
Fortunately, Warlord has attempted to increase their clout, with not only a new album but by performing overseas, highlighted by their showing at Germany’s Keep It True festival in 2013. As a result many U.S. metal fans have been hoping to see Warlord. Thanks to the Ragnarokkr Metal Apocalypse, they will make many stateside fans happy with this exclusive performance that possibly could be their only appearance in the States for quite some time, if ever again.
Attacker is a U.S. power metal band that started in the mid-80s, constructing a formula of speedy guitars in conjunction with a mix of gritty and soaring vocals, a trademark of the style. Unfortunately, despite a duo of classics in Battle at Helm’s Deep and The Second Coming, the band flew mostly under the radar. Much like Warlord, this band took a long hiatus when the band split in 1989. Fortunately, they reconvened at the turn of the century when band mainstays, guitarist Pat Marinelli and drummer Mike Sabatini, returned to the fold along with original vocalist Bob Mitchell and bassist Lou Ciarlo. It did not last long as both Mitchell and Ciarlo left, continuing the trend of a revolving door of band musicians.
That said, Attacker put together two albums, Soul Taker and The Unknown, before a seven-year gap that resulted in last year’s highly acclaimed Giants of Canaan. This album featured Bobby “Leather Lungs” Lucas on vocals, Jon Hanemann on bass, and Mike Benetatos on the second guitar, along with the two original members. With the advent of the Internet, Attacker has become a highly sought-after band. With this new album, a complete lineup, and a legion of metal fans eager to see them decades later, Attacker is focused on putting on a face-melting performance at the 2015 festival.
Doom metal is arguably one of the oldest subgenres as it was created by the forefathers of metal, Black Sabbath. It has been refined by bands such as Candlemass and Solitude Aeturnus decades later. Dantesco, a band from Puerto Rico, has helped keep this epic genre alive. Led by vocalist Erico “La Bestia” Morales, the band is known for its epic compositions and intense live performances. Unlike many of the other bands on the Raganarokkr roster, Dantesco has kept it consistent with a mostly unchanged lineup since 2004, asides from various drummers.
As a result, Dantesco has put together a solid discography, despite only being around for a decade. They have four full lengths that are sung in English and Spanish, which separates them from most bands. For those who are fans of metal done in that epic traditional style, Dantesco should not be missed at Ragnarokkr Metal Apocalypse.
A common staple of the Ragnarokkr Metal Apocalypse festival is to have local Chicago-area bands play the fest. Bands such as Damien Thorne, Slauter Xstroyes, Wrath, Paradoxx, Amulance and even 2013’s co-headliner, Tyrant’s Reign, are all examples of this. In fact, many of these bands were underground successes that were reformed just to play the fest. Next year promises much of the same with a rumored grouping of reunited Chicago bands, starting with the technical thrash band Aftermath.
This band put together a 10-year history starting in 1986, with various circulating demos including Killing the Future, Words That Echo Fear, and Roadrunner. They also released their only full length Eyes of Tomorrow in 1994. Their brand of thrash features musicians with virtuosic chops that combines speedy guitars and technical, melodic precision. Those having an itch for thrash will not be disappointed with the return of Aftermath.
With many more bands to be announced, Chicago’s premier traditional metal fest has shown its willingness to grow its brand. In 2015, Ragnarokkr Metal Apocalypse promises a fest that improves upon its previous incarnations, between exclusive performances and a well-rounded roster of bands that will be announced in the upcoming months. For now these first four bands have plenty to excite the true metal fan.
By Simon Mounsey