Any fan of Heavy Metal at least in the Chicago area remembers the Ragnarokkr festival that brought metalheads from all over together for a weekend of fun and great music. Unfortunately before I was able to attend one, the festival for this year was cancelled. However, one of the founders Bob Byrne resurrected the festival as Legions Of Metal which occurred on May 19th through the 20th and had a pre party on the 18th as well. Featuring many great bands which I will talk about soon enough, the festival was an amazing and tremendous come back for Chicago. Here is a taste of that experience…
May 18th: The Pre Party
On beautiful thursday may 18th, The official Legions Of Metal pre party began with Headliners NWOBHM legends Raven, Chicago cult metal act Amulance, Lethal Shock and Beast Warrior starting at 7pm. I was able to come down for the early roof top party where Reggies was spinning many classic records and everyone for the festival slowly gathered and had a few drinks. Eventually after doing some drinking and record searching (found the second Vardis record for cheap) the doors finally opened for the show. This day was set up more for a typical Reggies show with it being a lot later in the day and more unknown local acts playing.
The first band of the weekend, Beast Warrior had a more Power metal mixed with almost death metal songwriting. They were quite good in terms of songwriting and technicality with the vocals being varied from soaring highs to more growling which unfortunately isn’t really my style so I wasn’t as interested but I definitely can say that this band has chops and are very mature with how they approach playing live.
These guys I had never heard of but when they hit the stage, holy hell. Usually as most people know, opening bands don’t really get me going that much unless I really know the material or am generally a big fan of them. But these guys as soon as they kicked off their set, I was very surprised. I knew guitarist Steve Beaudette was in Satan’s Hallow so I can see where some of the amazing talent comes from in this band. Their mix of Venom/Motorhead kind of playing with these very intricate fast solo’s was done very well. The early 80’s blackened thrash metal style is a style that has always been a favorite of mine and these guys pulled it off well. They played mainly songs of their 2016 release “Evil Aggressor” and even pulled off a cover of Accept’s “Fast As A Shark” nearly perfectly (and with one guitarist that is a huge feat). Overall, these guys were one of the biggest surprises to me of the whole weekend and the main fest hadn’t even started yet!
Seeing these guys finally was a real treat because Amulance are a Chicago band that you can only see once in a great while and what a great show they put on. They played a good mix of their classic old tunes with some recent ones as well. The band was extremely tight and had great showmanship especially with their bass player and singer Rick Baez being up front and I really have to say his vocals were very on point hitting high notes all the way through! They had a very solid and fun old school metal set.
Finally Raven graced the stage showing why they do it better than most young bands out there today. This was my first time seeing the band after missing them so much so this was a long time coming for me. The band kicked off the set with “Destroy All Monsters” off their newest album “Extermination” and then leading into a ton of great classics. Songs from “All For One” to the insane “Crash Bang Wallop” had the crowd on their feet the whole time with John and Mark Gallagher running circles around each other showing how they are still the kings of “Athletic Rock”. Unfortunately long time drummer Joe Hasslevander had some medical issues and couldn’t make it on tour so the band had drummer Jimmy Mess of the group Tattooed Millionares play drums and for having four hours (yes only four hours) of rehearsal he did a fantastic job, there were some very small slips toward the end of the set but that was really when the band was doing an almost improv jam of ACDC, Doors and other tunes finally finishing the night with an energy charged cover of “Born To Be Wild”. Overall, the band played very solid with very high energy all throughout and played nearly all their classic tunes. Unfortunately I was so invested in the set that I got no pictures or video.
So overall, the pre party was spectacular with some great surprises and some good expectations for the start of the weekend!
LEGIONS DAY ONE
After such a great start on Thursday night, it was time to make my way back downtown Friday afternoon to gear up for the first official day of the festival. After getting a nice buffet before the show, it was time to head to the main stage through the main hall (which had fuck tons of merch, always a good sign) for the first band of the day!
Seax are a traditional speed metal group that were the first up on the official fests bill. The band I have to say were very on point, in terms of an opener were very intense and the audience which was pretty decent for this early, perhaps about fifty people. Their vocalist even ran into the audience and started a small moshpit which was pretty shocking (I even got involved for a short point). The band played very tightly especially during the solo trade offs in some of their songs. Seax were definitely a band that started off the day with a thrashing bang.
Knightmare are one of the many North Carolina groups on the bill this year and were the openers on the second stage for the weekend. The band also has ties with one of the biggest bands on the festival, Cerebus. Guitarist Reid Rogers pulled double duty this weekend in both bands and judging by Knightmares performance, they did great. Their sound was very solid catchy and original US Power Metal while having a great stage presence as well with the band showing that they had really good chemistry. I am really excited for more new music from these guys and hope they return to Chicago once again.
The second band on the mainstage, Lady Beast take a very traditional metal approach with some NWOBHM sounding influences especially in their guitar work. This is another perfect example of a band that can carry their live set all the way through without ever trudging, they kept me interested throughout and so much I bought their EP afterwards, definitely check them out! You won’t be disappointed.
One of my biggest “must sees” of the weekend was Substratum who have a sound similar to Lady Beasts but with a bit more hard rock/vintage grit in the sound. They definitely exceeded my expectations really getting the crowd going and literally kicked ass. No literally, some college douchebag walked in at this point and got on stage and generally acted like an asshole before he was “gently” escorted out of the venue. It didn’t affect the bands performance at all though they remained very professional which was great. Unfortunately I didn’t catch any good enough pictures of the band but listen to their full length from last year and you definitely will hear how powerful they are!
These guys have been a local underground favorite in Chicago for years. Slauter have been around since the mid 80’s and how they have not been mentioned in the ranks of Queensryche or Dream Theater is beyond me as their sound really hits the nail on the head with what “Progressive Metal” is about. They are a band you watch for their skill and skill they definitely have. Definitely one of the more intricate sounding bands on the fest as they are completely original in their sound and i am happy I finally got to see them.
Next up as I bolted over to the side stage was Avalon Steel. These guys were another trio, however unlike most of the traditional 80’s style metal groups I had seen so far, these guys pulled more from the 70’s with a sound akin to groups like Ashbury with almost a doom vibe to them. I really like the guitarists sound it was really vintage. I appreciated the change up a bit but unfortunately I didnt catch much of these guys set but check them out if you dig that proto-metal sound.
After I caught the rest of Avalon Steel’s set, it was time for the almighty and rarely seen Brocas Helm. I’m not sure the last time these guys played Chicago but from what ive heard it has been quite sometime. Now this is a band that definitely established a cult following with only three albums of Power metal with hints of speed metal and spinal tapish lyrical content. The band overall went over fantastic live opening with the eternal classic “Black death” with the legendary James Schumacher swinging his bass right in my face. His bass tone is insane fuzziness and combined with Bob Wrights very tight playing works just so well, they really bounce off each other. I was really happy that they played a lot of songs off of “Defender Of The Crown” which is my favorite album from them and even surprised the crowd with a cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Emerald”. Overall these guys really sold me and makes me with they would come back to Chicago more often!
Finally the time had come for the legendary Heavy Metal group from Belgium Killer to hit the stage. Killer were definitely one of my highlights for the weekend as this was their first ever US show in history as well. What was even cooler was the band was joined by original bassist/vocalist “Spooky” for the first time in years. The band hit the stage with a tune off their second album entitled “Blinded” and literally I could not believe what I was seeing. I absolutely loved how energetic and animated Spooky was on stage while original guitarist Paul “Shorty” Van Camp commanded the crows with his razor sharp guitar playing. The band ripped through so many classics in their discography including the Overkill-like “Shockwave” and even playing most of the “Wall Of Sound” album which was a dream come true considering it is my favorite album from them. They even rounded out the end of their set with a super energetic version of Motorhead’s “Ace Of Spades”. Like I said, easily one of the highlights of the weekend and it was great to see history in Heavy Metal be made!
History made right here, glad to see someone had footage!
Ross The Boss
Finally to round out the Friday night was ex Manowar guitarist Ross The Boss with his new solo band consisting of Rhino(Manowar) on drums, Marc Lopes on vocals and Mike Lepond of Symphony X! The set was comprised entirely of Manowar songs that Ross had played on and wow did this band manage to recreate the sound of the those records. Opening with the epic “Blood Of The Kings” the band came out in full force and the audience gave it their all in terms of participation through epic tracks like “Battle Hymn” and “Hail and Kill”. One of my favorite moments was when the band began “Fighting The World” and me and my buddy Robert started the chanting “Fight Fight!” with the whole room joining in shortly after! I do wish they played more off of “Fighting The World” as it is my favorite Manowar album but the setlist was solid nonetheless! Also I have to add that Ross’ guitar tone is easily one of the best I’ve ever heard live it cuts through perfectly. Overall, They were definitely good headliners to end the night and gave the audience an epic closing to an epic first day.
Overall, the first day set my expectations high for Saturday. with this many good bands and twice that the next day, I was curious how it would stack up. Even though I missed both Rival and Hessler, I still felt satisfied that I saw a great amount bands new and old and some performances I definitely won’t forget for a long long time. After finally coming down from my partying ways, I made my way back to the house for a quick three hour nap to wake up Saturday morning for round two!
Legions Day 2
As a hungover me woke up Saturday morning, I made my way out back to Reggies with coffee in hand and was ready to dish out another day of pure heavy metal. I came a bit more prepared today and bought all my merch early before the bands hit the stage so I was lucky enough to catch a bit from everybody this time!
The first band of the day was the three piece Steel Aggressor playing their brand of US power metal. While I thought their set was pretty decent, I feel like the soloing in their songs could use a bit more work. Everyone played tightly don’t get me wrong but I feel like their sound is still maturing and that I see some good things for this band in the future!
Next up on the stage was in my opinion, one of the premiere US bands in most recent years, Walpyrgus. The bands extremely catchy hook filled and melodic structured songs were a treat to hear live and the band packs a punch in terms of their live performance. You can see that every member was really into it and I always like that, it definitely gives a good atmosphere to the show. The band swung through a number of their most well known songs including one of my favorites “We Are the Wolves” which I was stoked that their EP was on sale because I’ve been wanting it forever. Overall these guys definitely were a highlight so early in the day and I would love to see them again. Sidenote: They also played a kickass version of Mercyful Fate’s “Doomed By The Living Dead” which was a real treat.
Next up on the mainstage was North Carolina’s Vanlade and another group I was very excited to see. These guys bring the 80’s metal style hard in both looks and sound. One thing I loved during their performance was that there was so much fog that you could barely see their drummer behind the yellow lights, it just gave an 80’s club kind of vibe. In terms of their performance, they were amazing blowing through a good set of some of their best tunes. Vanlade i feel definitely made a lot of new fans after their performance.
A small tidbit of Vanlade’s performance
First up on the sidestage for the day was the leather clad Sacred Leather. Honestly, I want to say these guys were the loudest band of the weekend for me anyways. Their sound was just so razor sharp it cut from the front to the back. The band also did great with their Judas Priest-esque style of playing. The crowd definitely was there in full force for these guys too as the side stage was pretty packed. The band ended with fan favorite “Prowling Sinner” and left a good impression on me as another group that I would love to see play more in Chicago!
As I rushed back to the mainstage, I managed to catch the second half of Ironflame’s set. Damn these guys smoked with a very solid US power metal sound and good hooks throughout their songs as well. I was quite impressed as I unfortunately had not heard them until now. They definitely made a new fan out of me. Definitely if you are a fan of US metal, check these guys out.
A small tease of Ironflame’s performance
Ice sword were up next on the second stage and I gotta say these guys don’t screw around. They really go for the throat in terms of playing Heavy Metal to it’s epic extremes. From the vocalist also playing a key tar to the band being just all out insane onstage. They have a very viking/fantasy vibe that I really dig and they really bring it to fruition in their songs. Overall, they were definitely one of my top five bands on the side stage this year!
One of the most epic moments of Ice Swords set
Devil In Disguise
Finally, it was time to see Devil In Disguise rip it up in front of an audience! If you read my article about their rehearsal last month, then think of this as that times ten. The band were on fire and the audience really ate it up as well. I was only able to catch the first half of the set but seeing them rip through my favorite Glacier songs was great. I was so happy that these guys did so well and were one of the best bands of the weekend also. I really hope they keep going and make new music with that classic Glacier sound as well. Also thank you to Glacier Mike for letting me use the awesome photos!
My biggest highlight on the second stage this weekend had to easily go to Carriage. Ever since I heard these guys I have been crazy for their sound and also their theatrics. The group brought light up coffins, a podium with skulls that had fog flood from it and fog machines that shot from the monitors. The band was in top shape and their sound cut through perfectly. Vocalist Robbie Rainey was the clear leader of the band taking hold headbanging around stage and drinking blood from a skull. The music definitely backed up the theatrics as well with a lot of awesome dual guitar work and softer passages in songs that worked very well live. Even through a technical difficult which left their show at a stand still for a few minutes, they didn’t lose one piece of the audience. If they ever get to play the fest again they easily could be a main stage act. They are also the nicest guys ever and it’ll always be something I can’t deny. I believe they are working on a full length album this year and if you ever see their name, check it out you won’t be disappointed.
Carriage showing that the future of Heavy Metal is in good hands
Syrus were playing back over on the mainstage dishing up their brand of San Antonio Texas Metal. The band was in top form and a rare experience for Chicago to see them play a lot of great pure Heavy Metal. I remember they went over great with the crowd and I’m hoping they come back here. I didn’t catch the beginning of their set but I caught the last half and they absolutely slayed. Also, pick up their newest album “Tales Of War” as well!
Another highlight of the weekend was another trio known as Legendry. The band really have this raw unpolished sound which if you listened to their album “Mists of Time” you can clearly see that it works well and gives them a very unique sound. I really enjoyed watching them play and carry themselves quite well live. They have a lot of talent and even played some songs from their upcoming album as well which was pretty exciting. Another group that if you love that vintage early 80’s epic heavy metal, you’ll love Legendry.
Legendry killing on the sidestage
Finally the time had come for Cerebus to grace the stage in over twenty years. Standing in the audience I was as excited as ever. Finally the band walked onto the stage running right into “Too Late To Pray” performing it nearly flawlessly. The biggest highlight was the band performing “Distant Eyes” which is my favorite track off the “Too Late To Pray” album. Scott Board, what can I say. His voice was untouched performing all the high notes with ease. The band played nearly the whole “Too Late To Pray” album even playing rare cut “She Burns” and even did a kickass cover of Saxon’s “Motorcycle Man” to round off their set. This was the best set of the weekend for me and im still in shock they I finally have gotten to witness the might that is Cerebus!
A dream come true right here
The final band on the second stage for the day was Helion Prime and they were another group that definitely have major chops. They have very tight intricate songs with some of the strongest vocals all weekend. Unfortunately one bad mic became a bother but eventually was fixed. I didn’t catch their whole set but from what I saw I enjoyed and was happy to see them rip it up. Check out their newest single “Remnants of Stars” below!
Finally the final two main stage groups were upon us. Diamond Head I was fortunate to see last time they were here and it was honestly one of the greatest shows I had ever been to as Brian Tatler is and forever will be one of my major idols. However, this time I stayed back as the fatigue from three straight days was beginning to come over me. I decided to sit back and observe the band and the sound for them was spot on. They had a slightly different setlist than the last time which was nice but still kept alot of classics in. It was great to see the band again and I felt they should have been the final headliners as I felt “Am I Evil” would have been a perfect song for the fest to go out with a bang.
Diamond Head…NWOBHM legends
Armored Saint were the final band to play for the weekend and I caught about half of their set but I’ve never been the biggest Armored Saint fan I’ll confess. I do appreciate the talent these guys have and the power they pack live. However, they just always were that band that never pushed me over the edge I am not sure why It just never did it for me. I took this time to finally catch up with all my friends new and old since I had been running around all day trying to catch a lot of the other bands. It is just one of those things where the whole day is worth it than just staying for the headliners. I appreciate Armored Saint for what they brought to the game and put on a great show. I guess at this point it started to feel like just another weekend show at reggies because everyone I know that was there for the fest were outside talking drinking and having a good time. However, I still consider this a good end to three days of good pure heavy metal.
Overall, after I said all my goodbyes to everyone, slugged on home and layed down, I woke up the next day feeling like I was on cloud 9. I had so much fun across all three days and met so many great people and have so many stories that I’ll always remember. Legions Of Metal was a success and it seems it is here to stay as well. What we will see next year I am not sure but I know it’s gonna be bigger and better! Thanks to Bob Byrne once again you have given me so many opportunities since this fest has come to life and I can’t say thank you enough. Also thank you for Shane Merril and the fantastic crew at Reggies continuing to let this happen and to keep Heavy Metal around. The fans the bands and everyone involved, See you all there next year!