The Rave/Eagles Club is an acclaimed live entertainment complex located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and is a one-of-a-kind spot to catch a heavy metal show. The multi-stage and multi-floor building has a fascinating history and many music groups consider playing there a “rite of passage” as performers. The Milwaukee Metal Fest was launched in 1987 by music enthusiast and promoter Jack Koshick, which became one of the most renowned festivals for the heavy genres in the 1990s and early 2000s. All the greats from Slayer to Meshuggah to the Misfits were all part of the impressive lineups throughout the years until it shut down in 2004. After being absent for nearly twenty years, the fest has been brought back to life by Hatebreed‘s Jamey Jasta. He bought the rights in 2022 and put together a fest to take place on Memorial Day weekend at The Rave with some of the scene’s biggest bands.
Festivities began with a pre-party from “Jasta and Friends”. The celebration included performances from many greats including Tim “Ripper” Owens, Paul Bostaph, and Jasta himself. Then the big day finally arrived. The doors opened in the early afternoon on Friday and many fans were already in line waiting to get in. The three-day long fest started off with Age of the Fallen on the smallest stage, the Rave Bar stage, sponsored by Martysotre.net. Five minutes later, Squidhammer kicked off their set on the medium-sized stage, the Rave Hall stage, sponsored by Indiemarchsotre.com. The first band on the big Kahuna Eagles Ballroom stage sponsored by Knotfest.com, was the multi-genre six-piece Allegaeon. Excited attendees stood close to the front row on the twenty-five thousand square foot original wooden dance floor. The bright, spring sun beamed through the cathedral-like windows. It was a bit odd to digest such a crafted and colossal act as Allegaeon in the afternoon but the cheering crowd didn’t seem to mind partying so early in the day. The engaged group effortlessly grooved to their own aggression and their strong chemistry with returned original vocalist Ezra Haynes was felt. The first day certainly started off with a bang.
The complex has four stories making it the festival of stairs. Merch was in the basement, the first floor hosts two stages, the third a bar, and the fourth holds the main ballroom. It was like playing Pokemon as everyone jaunted up and down stairs trying to catch ‘em all. There was a small courtyard where one could escape the indoors, if needed. There was a variety of food trucks and enough ashtrays to accommodate a small country. It is a grandiose building, yet it doesn’t have the space that an outdoor festival does. After a long day of witnessing so many amazing acts one started to feel a bit claustrophobic being in a room all day, but the freedom to leave helped.
Later in the afternoon, Khemmis was up on the medium-sized stage. The Colorado group flung into their set with high energy. They moved, spun, and jumped about as their guitar’s genial galloping guided them. They just wrapped up their month-long headlining US tour and they played a tight, well-oiled set full of their varied discography. Fans sang loudly along with Phil Pendergast on ‘Isolation’ and ‘A Conversation with Death’. The day had some very theatrical acts including Impaler, Midnight, and Imperial Triumphant. With masks and makeup, they carried out evil themes with sinister and experimental sounds. The New Orleans Metal scene was well represented with Goatwhore, Corrosion of Conformity, and Crowbar. Each one sizzled with syrupy sludge goodness. The venomous virtuosity, bellowing vocals, and seething speed from Goatwhore made the main ballroom shake. COC lit everything up with their groove magic and cunning showmanship. Crowbar’s delightful depth and dirt left everyone satisfied. They were in a jubilant mood because they were celebrating the 30th anniversary of the band’s self-titled LP.
Other highlights from the main stage were Warbringer, Dying Fetus, and Dark Angel. Each one came out chomping at the bit and erupted into their performances with power and elation. Warbringer flung hair and flew spit as they danced about to their thrashy themes. Dying Fetus triumphantly thundered out their classic Death Metal sound and tickled everyone with their savagery. Gene Hoglan’s massive and monstrous drum work carried the roaring raucous of Dark Angel effortlessly.
More highlights included Vio-lence, Napalm Death, and Novembers Doom. Observing such masters of their craft was a marvel. The evening ended with East Coast’s Biohazard. Jasta came out to introduce them and his excitement to announce that the band was playing with their original lineup was evident. The room ruptured with delight as the newly-reunited players jammed for the first time in over a decade. These Hardcore/Rapcore pioneers explosively unleashed their fury with fortitude and force. Seeing these guys together again felt natural as they clearly fed off of each other’s intensity and blared forth their inventive combos of metal, hip-hop, and punk. They played many fan favorites including ‘Down for Life’, ‘Shades of Grey’, and ‘Punishment’. It was a superhuman set and an awe-inspiring show to end the first day of the fest.
Nothing but blue skies showed as the second day of the fest began. The doors opened in the early afternoon and it was a bit quieter than the day before. Folks needed time to nurse their hangovers. Yet things got started smoothly and day two began with a bang as horror-themed groups like MRSA and Macabre conquered their respective stages. Plus, Misery Index, Vermillion, and Blood Incantation busted out their classic Death Metal sentiments with lively determination. Many more steps were climbed as everyone raced between the three stages to catch all the bands. It was another very stacked lineup and nearly every performance overlapped each other. Some highlights from the early evening sets included West Coast act Terror, up-and-coming Fantasy metal phenomenon Frozen Soul, and old school Thrash experts Jungle Rot.
There was a balanced mix of veterans and wee babes playing. Slipknot’s Sid Wilson-approved act Swollen Teeth spiced things up on the Rave Bar stage while well-versed metallers Fear Factory jammed out two floors above them. The most emotional moment of the day was when The Black Dahlia Murder played. As the beloved band ruptured into their relentless, technical roaring that rips, the absence of late frontman Trevor Strnad was deeply felt. Founding guitarist and the only man who could possibly fill the role as vocalist, Brian Eschbach told the crowd to say Trevor’s name. The room enthusiastically chanted ‘Trevor’ as loud as they could and many eyes brimmed with tears as we all remembered one of heavy metal’s heroes. Brian declared everything was for that man. Then they continued in their set playing classics like ‘Everything Went Black’ and ‘Nightbringers’.
Death Metal champions Immolation packed out the Rave Hall during their uncompromisingly bombarding set. Right as they wrapped up, Shadow’s Fall dominated the ballroom stage. Frontman Brian Fair’s dread swept the floor as he shimmied about and teased the audience that new music might happen. One of the most seasoned groups present, Raven, performed with an audacious flare and a surprising amount of buoyancy. Obituary closed down the Rave Hall that evening and it was the most crowded for any set on that stage. Their severe sentiments and radical redneck roars blared unapologetically and the onlookers soaked up their swampy sound with gratitude.
The headliners of the evening, Suicidal Tendencies and Anthrax packed out the Eagles Ballroom. The multi-genre legends that are ST brought a rare kind of fury to the stage. Between each hard-hitting number, there were long breaks for dialogue. Founding member Mike Muir would make a great motivational poster with all his life advice and encouragement. Iconic pieces like ‘You Can’t Bring Me Down’, ‘I Shot the Devil’, and ‘Cyco Vision’ were each played with a spirit and stamina full of a furious mirth. Thrash titans Anthrax concluded the Saturday festivities. These genre innovators play with an exultation and gaiety that is contagious so it spread to everyone in the audience till the whole venue was jumping along with the band. The room danced to the hits like ‘Madhouse’ and ‘Indians’. The icing on the cake was having Robb Flynn from Machine Head come out and play ‘I Am The Law’ with them. Seeing the charming camaraderie, tireless antics, and powerful playing made it a set to remember.
Some may be daunted by attending a three-day-long festival. Yet metalheads are a dedicated bunch and many still showed up when doors opened Sunday afternoon. Chicago act Repentance rowdied things up as the first ones of the day on the ballroom stage. Others like Dead by Wednesday and Casket Robbery got everyone refueled with excitement with their energetic sets. Some highlights from the Rave Bar were multi-genre bangers Hath, the go-getting Fuming Mouth, and the glamorous Thrown into Exile. Hath’s progressive, blackened sound is riddled with fine-tuned harmonies permeated with intrigue. Their heartfelt, technical, and bombastic sound was too big for the small stage. Fuming Mouth gripped the audience with hearty conviction and raw, straightforward moxie. They stood out from the many other Death Metal acts of the weekend because of Mark Whelan’s hairy-raising and versatile vocals. Thrown Into Exile’s provokingly thoughtful melodies meshed perfectly with their spirited speeds. They recently welcomed back their founding vocalist Evan Seidlitz who added an extra layer of colorful heft to the band’s already substantial sound. Some of the most enthusiastic crowds gathered in that small bar room and made it a stifling, yet merry environment. Everyone was dripping wet from the heat when Unearth took on the tiny stage. The room could not contain their masterful Metalcore sound. They were a perfect choice to close out the Rave Bar.
More Sunday highlights were Death Metal heavyweights Broken Hope, the savage Vended, and After the Burial. Some Rave Hall performer favorites included Body Snatcher and Gatecreeper. The young, Floridan four-piece Body Snatcher raised eyebrows with their extreme set. Onlookers were pleasantly surprised by the ravenous Deathcore band that came out so heavy and hungry. Gatecreeper is a seriously sinister act with thick riffs full of fury and stormy severity. The Halo Effect, the only true Melodic Death Metal outfit of the entire festival, was a breath of fresh air when they broke into song on the ballroom stage. This supergroup includes Dark Tranquility’s frontman Mikael Stanne and former In Flames members. These Melodeath masters cunningly contrived their craft with astute lyrics, hauntingly noteworthy harmonies, and sophisticated bottom ends. Mikeal’s showmanship warmed hearts with his genuine smile and as his zesty vocals soared with ease.
Everyone trekked up the four flights of stairs to attend the mighty Machine Head’s set. The stage spewed smoke and the lights strobed as these Heavy Metal masters broke into ‘Imperium.’ Robb’s vocals seethed with a vengeful force and the band struck with rage-filled momentum. The attendees were given a treat when festival owner Jamey Jasta joined the guys for ‘Davidian’. Many marveled at the proficiency of the performance and some yelled for an encore as this Californian quartet wrapped up their set of eight songs. The final act of the fest was the acclaimed Lamb of God. They performed something special for their 20th anniversary of the seminal album, As the Palaces Burn, and played most of the numbers off that record. The crowded ballroom cheered and became instantly enraptured when the furiousness of ‘Memento Morti’ broke over the room. Beach balls bounced through the air and the guitars of Mark Morton and Willie Adler hammered out their masterpieces like, ‘Now You’ve Got Something to Die For’, ‘Vigil’, and ‘Redneck’. The drama and heaviness executed by each engaged member was felt in the massive room. Even those in the back row could feel the provoking indignation and potent passion this act has cultivated so well throughout their multiple-decade career. The grooves, banshee vocals, and explosive bass are just a few of the many reasons why these guys are renowned pioneers of the New Wave of American Heavy Metal. Such a perfect choice to close out the mighty Milwaukee Metal Fest.
It was a magical weekend filled with a multitude of diverse, compelling, and talented acts. To catch such a variety of musicians under one roof was a special experience. There were many band acquaintances reunited, some even jamming together, and many attendees made new friends proving that metal really does bring people together. Let’s hope the Milwaukee Metal Fest continues to do just that for many more years to come.
WORDS BY RAGIN ROSIE