"That was the best concert I've seen in my life," plus-sized Candlemass frontman Messiah Marcolin announced as he took the Odeon stage at the first Brave Words and Bloody Knuckles Six Pack Weekend last June. Clad in his trademark black and red monk's robes and looking like an extra from the Name of the Rose weaned on Cheetos, Marcolin was already slathered with sweat, as if he'd gotten caught in a Gatorade commercial as he made his way through the crowd.
He'd actually been slamming drinks in the back of the club while watching Candlemass's American counterpart, Chicago "white-metal" throwbacks Trouble, deliver a set as epic as Marcolin's bar tab. Candlemass's own gig -- its first in America in a decade -- slowed time with granite-heavy doom that sounded like Sabbath's Paranoid played at 16 rpm.
"Thank God I got 'em here," festival organizer Mark Gromen chuckles today, noting that Candlemass hasn't survived the ensuing year. "It was the next-to-last show they ever played."
The band's climactic set ended two loud days of denim, Budweiser, and songs about dragons. The Six Pack Weekend went over so well (with the club at near-capacity both nights) that its organizers assumed it couldn't be topped.
"At one point in time, it was like, 'Okay, we did it, we can't top last year, so why try?'" recalls Gromen, a former Clevelander who's now a senior writer for the Toronto-based metal mag Brave Words & Bloody Knuckles. "But then we said, 'You know what, the word-of-mouth was so strong, everybody had such a great time -- it would be silly to stop here, regardless of how difficult it is to follow up the lineup from last year.' Once we got started, it was all about 'What's going to make it a little bit different from last year?'"
Diversity, for starters. This year's Six Pack roster runs the gamut from power metal to thrash, acoustic rock to death metal. Long-running German trad-metal quartet Grave Digger, a Wagner-obsessed bunch that gets Bics in the air with songs like "Headbanging Man" and "We Wanna Rock You," will play the first American gig of its 23-year career, as will its old-school countrymen in Brainstorm. Swedish goth-metal depressives Katatonia will perform -- in what is only their second U.S. show -- while northwestern Metallica contemporaries Metal Church are re-forming for the first time in years.
One of the most anticipated reunions comes from Cleveland's own Shok Paris, an Accept- and Scorpions-influenced classic-metal combo that was the first metal band from these parts to land a national record deal. Just two years ago, Shok Paris guitarist Ken Erb dismissed their reunion prospects in Deanna Adams's extensive history of the Northeast Ohio music scene, Rock 'n' Roll and the Cleveland Connection. "What's the point? You did it once," Erb says in the book. "I mean, you're not the same person 10 years later. You're not coming from the same place psychologically."
Maybe not, but with a number of websites keeping the band's name alive and an offer to play Germany's Bang Your Head Festival this summer in front of close to 10,000 people, this is a proper send-off for the band, which abruptly called it quits in 1989 after an ill-fated tour.
"It's not like it was toward the end, where we were trying to make it over that big hump and become big and famous and all that stuff," says Erb, who also plays with Cleveland metallers Zone 11. "Now we're just going to go out, we're going to have fun, we're going to play the old tunes, and hopefully people are going to enjoy it. It's great to see that there's still some appreciation for this kind of stuff."
As Shok Paris steps back under the lights this weekend, so does the label that discovered it: Cleveland's Auburn Records. Celebrating its 20th anniversary, Auburn will host a Thursday showcase featuring much of its pioneering '80s roster, including Destructor, Breaker, and Purgatory -- acts that garnered international recognition for the Cleveland metal scene, which remains strong two decades later.
"I feel we had a positive impact on helping establish the excellent worldwide reputation Cleveland has had for underground heavy metal all these years," says Auburn founder Bill Peters. "It brought attention not only to the bands I worked directly with, but to all the metal bands from the area. I thought the Auburn show could benefit the festival as a whole by generating some local interest for BW&BK and by giving the out-of-town people an opportunity to see some of the bands they've never had a chance to see before."
There will be plenty of other special events throughout the weekend, including another Cleveland showcase on Wednesday night, featuring bruising locals At Wit's End and Crypt Kicker, and acoustic performances by Ben Jackson and Midnight of the progressive-metal outfit Crimson Glory -- and on Saturday afternoon, Seven Witches' James Rivera and Jack Frost. Other bands lined up include Southwest speed-metal stalwarts Flotsam & Jetsam, U.K. fantasy-metal longhairs Shadowkeep, and busty siren Doro, who could twist Lita Ford's head right off her body if she so desired.
Then there's Germany's mighty Primal Fear, a band more masculine than mustaches. The band's galloping man metal is the background music for eating meat, fighting bears, and combing chest hair. And though anthems like "Metal Is Forever" and "In Metal" could induce hernias, Primal Fear delivers them with a smile.
"The guys are into having fun onstage, which is cool," Primal Fear drummer Randy Black says. "The guys are serious about doing a really good show and playing well, but we're not so serious that we can't have fun."
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