Last year, Hatebreed frontman Jamey Jasta purchased the rights to what had become the storied Milwaukee Metal Fest. Regarded as the biggest and longest-running metal festival in the US, Milwaukee Metal Fest is set to make it’s return Memorial Day weekend.
Milwaukee Metal Fest was long known for boasting a mammoth roster of extreme metal’s most iconic bands, but also fostering new talent, cutting a massive cross section of metal for their lineup.
That influence and forward thinking atmosphere resonated with Jasta in a big way. Ever the advocate for the underground, Jasta purchased the rights to the festival with his sights not only on the headliners of today, but cultivating who will become the headliners of tomorrow.
We sat down and talked with Jasta to discuss his personal connection to the festival, what this year will hold and where he sees the festival going moving forward.
Looking back on his own story with the festival, Jasta took us back to the early 90’s. “I had a news stand that was on the bus route on the way to my 8th and 9th grade classes,” he reminisced. “The summer before the 9th grade I would go there and look at all the magazines and as metal started to become really popular, mostly death metal, I would want to look at the ones with the crazy logos and the scarier album covers and the guy would say 'Hey! It’s not a library. Either buy it or get the fuck out of here.'”
“I liked hardcore and punk at the time too and they would have those national magazines like Maximum Rock & Roll. But as I gravitated more towards metal and death metal, I would see reviews for Milwaukee Metal Fest and Metal Mania and the different bands that would go there. I always wanted to see Cannibal Corpse, Napalm Death, Death, and Cancer and a lot of those bands that never really came to my area.”
“It was either in ‘92 or ‘93 during Campaign For Musical Destruction that I got to see Brutal Truth, Cathedral, Carcass and Napalm Death and at that point I thought 'It would be a dream to go out there with my friends. Pack us all in a car and go out there.'”
“I went out there for a show with my old band and talked to some of the locals and they were like 'Yeah you have to come out here for Milwaukee Metal Fest. It’s nuts!' and at that time, being in my late teens, I thought 'Ok this is a goal I have to set.'”
“And then I started Hatebreed and we got there in ‘98. I think we got paid $50 or $100 and we drove all the way out there and it was amazing! We saw Mayhem backstage and I think that was their first show in the US. They were putting pigs heads on spikes and our roadie Big Mike (Rest in Peace) he was like 'Would I be real black metal if I went and licked the pigs head?' We told him not to do that. But he went over there and tried to grab one of the pig heads and they were trying to stop him, but he started licking it and they were like 'No! No! You could get really sick!' And we were like 'Dude! What are you doing!?' But he was fine.”
“But going from reading about it in magazines in ‘91 or ‘92 to going out there and playing a show with my old band in ‘93 or ‘94 to getting to play it with Hatebreed, I had seen it in Metal Maniacs, I believe Terrorizer also did a writeup about Milwaukee Metal Fest, so it was a dream come true to finally get to play it. And then we played it one more time after that, but then all our friends' bands started to play it. And then came the downfall of the fest, which we will document in the documentary.”
Anyone familiar with the festival knows that Milwaukee Metal Fest is known for bringing together not just different genres, but different generations of bands. Jasta not only has the clear intention of restoring the fest to its highest point, but of creating a “tastemaker” festival of sorts, where fans can rest assured, they will see something new and exciting on the lineup.
“It’s something we’ve had extensive talks about in our meetings,” he stated. “Right now, I feel like bands like Gatecreeper, Undeath and Frozen Soul and a lot of the local and regional talent like Casket Robbery, Macabre and Repentance that in 5 or 10 years time could be the next headliners. That is something we really need to do right now in metal. We need a changing of the guard. Not because our headliners aren’t great as they are, just because as they get older and age out, like we’ve seen with some of the classic metal bands, that’s going to keep happening. We need to make sure that the headliners of 5, 10 or 20 years from now are getting the support they need. It’s about cultivating that, curating the right lineup, and also giving them a good set time and a good stage time and a good crowd to play in front of.”
“This is the first year back, though, so we are keeping our expectations low. I’ll be happy if we have 5-6000 people, which we are trending in a good direction for. I expected this to be an uphill battle because it's been so long since the fest has been around, but so far it’s looking good. And I was thrilled that we got those bands in that category of new and upcoming bands.”
“And then bands like Angelus Apatrida, who I just did a guest spot on their record like 10 minutes ago, but they’re coming over from Spain. And, I don’t know what you want to call it, the 3rd wave, the 4th wave of thrash, we are wanting to cultivate that and create an environment for that to thrive, because we have those classic bands like Dark Angel, Anthrax and Suicidal Tendencies. So we want the next Dark Angel, the next Anthrax, the next Suicidal.”
When it comes to reaching younger generations with heavy music, variety is key. Jasta employed this on the 20 Years of Perseverance tour in 2022, and now he is bringing that mentality to Milwaukee.
“I see how the subgenres are drawing different crowds.,” he elaborates. “Hatebreed just took out three very different bands: Gatecreeper, Bodysnatcher, and Dying Wish. They all had very different audiences. It’s cool because, if you look at some of the hardcore festivals, they just lean hardcore or they just lean metallic hardcore. And if you look at some of the death metal or black metal fests, they stick to that, and that’s fine. I know those fests work that way and that’s great, but you wouldn’t see Dying Wish on a straight death metal festival or even Bodysnatcher.
You heard him folks - GET THERE EARLY!
This year’s Milwaukee Metal Fest isn’t just about 2023, or even 2024, Jasta has his eyes set far into the future, building upon the festival’s legacy and who he thinks will be the headliners of tomorrow. As for who those band’s are, he shared some of his favorites from the bill.
“Not to take away from any of the other bands, but I’ve been seeing the momentum and the reaction and the shirts around, but Frozen Soul, Undeath, Gatecreeper who just ripped it on the whole Hatebreed tour, but also Sanguisugabogg and Bodysnatcher. Definitely those five, but there are so many! Sometimes I forget! That happens when you have 75 bands.”
“And 430 bands submitted. So we are looking at a lot of those bands that we couldn’t get to, we are trying to get some of those confirmed for 2024. We’ve hit the threshold of tickets that we’re definitely going to commit to 2024. And there are new records coming out from bands like Creeping Death who we would like to get for next year and bands like Jesus Piece.”
“So we are thinking about it in the long term and hoping we can help in any way we can. Because that’s what it’s all about. If Slayer didn’t put the ladder down for us, if Slipknot didn’t put the ladder down for us, if Entombed didn’t put the ladder down for us, I don’t know where we would be. I try to think about that as much as I can when I hear these bands and get that feeling like when I first heard Entombed, or I first heard Death, Agnostic Front or Cro-Mags.”
“But we’ll see. There’s always that band that I call the “people’s headliner.” That band that just comes on and blows it up and sometimes they’re in the middle of the day.”
For those who have been fortunate enough to travel, there is a marked difference between the American Festivals and the European ones. Not just based in size, but also approach. Milwaukee Metal Fest is shaping up to be one of the most “European” style festivals the states has ever seen.
“I think the festivals that we do have, have done a great job and have created an amazing legacy,” Jasta mused. “Like Maryland Deathfest is always amazing, the lineup is always incredible, but they wouldn’t have, say, the deathcore bands. They wouldn’t have Whitechapel, Suicide Silence or even Terror or Dying Wish, where we would. We are different in that way. Like how Wacken would have Hatebreed and Terror on one stage and then a little down the way they’d have something like Hammerfall, Powerwolf or Nightwish and we would too at Milwaukee Metal Fest.”
“If we didn’t have some of the visa challenges, we probably would have gotten more classic metal on this show. We are in talks with a lot of those bands for 2024.”
“I like how some of these festivals have done these exclusive plays. Like Hell’s Heroes where you have Tom G. Warrior doing a Hellhammer set and it's a special exclusive set. That would be fun to do as well, especially with all these anniversaries coming up. Like we have Crowbar doing the 30th anniversary of Crowbar, self-titled. Lamb of God is doing the 20th anniversary of As The Palaces Burn, so they’re doing a special set.”
“And I want to bring back the live recordings of Milwaukee Metal Fest. That was something I always collected, I would always get those comped CD’s with the live tracks. I have one with Malevolent Creation and Cancer and some other bands on there. So we are going to record some band’s sets and we’re probably going to do some “Live At Milwaukee Metal Fest” albums or a compilation, which I think would be really cool.”
“It's fun because you can hear the crowd, you can hear the stage banter, so hopefully we can create a tradition of that. I always liked collecting those. And I found out about bands from those CD’s.”
“So we have a compilation coming out May 26th and it has a new Rose Funeral track and Demon Scar is on there, Mantra of Morta, Squidhammer who is from Wisconsin is on there. There are a bunch of the smaller bands on there so hopefully people pick it up and hear the new Jasta track or the new Kirk Windstein solo track and hear some of the new bands as well.”
“Try to get there early and see all the bands,” Jasta advises. “There’s reentry until 6pm, which I’m really happy we were able to get. If you’re going to come in for the meet and greets, do it soon. You can go to martyrstore.net for the meet and greets, but a bunch of them are already selling out. And come to the pre-party, I’m going to be doing Slayer songs with Paul Bostaph, but we’ll also do some Jasta songs and some Hatebreed songs.”
Diverting from Milwaukee Metal Fest for just a second, you should know what is coming next. We’ve heard his favorite memories and his favorite picks from the festival lineup, but what is Jamey Jasta’s favorite dinosaur?
“My nephew is getting into dinosaurs now,” he beamed. “He turns 2 in July and he’s just now picking up the different ones, but I think it’s gotta be a stegosaurus. It’s a pretty hard dinosaur. It can’t get eaten from the back, it can’t get bitten\ because it’s got that protection. It has those spikes, that’s pretty metal. I could see if you took those spikes and put them on your arm, you could be in Goatwhore or something, haha!”
Milwaukee Metal Fest takes place May 26th, 27th, and 28th at The Rave/Eagles club. The three-day event will be headlined by Lamb of God, Anthrax, Biohazard, Machine Head, Suicidal Tendencies and Dark Angel, with additional appearances from Napalm Death, Dying Fetus, Crowbar, Fear Factory, Obituary, the Black Dahlia Murder and, of course, tons of younger bands — Undeath, Fuming Mouth, Sanguisugabogg, Imperial Triumphant and more. Festival passes are available HERE.
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