One of the most well organized and musically diverse festivals to hit the States, Furnacefest held its third annual show at the notoriously haunted Sloss Furnaces venue in the historical city of Birmingham, Alabama. The line-up included headlining acts such as In Flames, Hatebreed, Zao, Further Seems Forever, and even party-hardy boy Andrew W.K. Consisting of two stages with bands performing as early as 10AM, the three-day event proved to be exciting, unbearably hot and humid, -- and surely an experience than all in attendance will remember for years to come. Kudos go out to the various bands who decided to undercut the booth inside selling bottled water for $2.50 a pop - these enterprising young bands were selling the same water outside for a mere $1.00 each! Congratulations must go out to promoter Chad Johnson and the entire Furnacefest staff for a dynamic show that appears to have been a massive success! With over 100 bands playing, we managed to see a good amount of them. Attempts will now be made to sort through the beautiful chaos and review some of the groups that made Furnacefest a remarkable, almost celebratory occasion.

DAY ONE -- AUGUST 1, 2002


One bad thing about the side stage was that the audience was in direct, overbearing sunlight and could find themselves suffering from heatstroke by the time their favorite band was finished. All this and there were trains going by several times a day. Other than these minor nuisances, some of the most promising young acts were to be found rockin away in this area of the park. One such band was Mortal Treason from Hartselle, Alabama. Having been together for about a year, Mortal Treason features the membership of two champion BMX bikers (Bruce Crisman and Seth Kimbrough) and a whole lot of metallic hardcore. Vocalist Kimbrough exudes a great deal of stage presence and charisma, stating that, "Every time we play, we play for God." Yes kiddies, a lot of the bands here at the fest are Christian, so if you are not too fond of that, better skip about half this article. Kicking off the day at the ungodly hour of 10AM (8AM L.A. time), Mortal Treason brought the early arrivers to their feet with songs such as Fear Of Myself, Slay The Goat, and Turn Around. Crisman supplied the dynamic low end on bass while Josh Jarrett delivered a mighty guitar assault. Driving it home with fiendish glee was drummer Chase Nickens. I am not sure how much time these guys put into their band, with two of them constantly hitting the BMX circuit and Crisman residing all the way on the opposite Coast in Oregon - but there is really something unique and inspiring about the music Mortal Treason spews forth. Needless to say, Furnacefest 2002 was off to a great start!


On tour for a good deal of the summer, Moneybags Grams stopped by Furnacefest to play an inspired set of tunes. Based out of New York, fans of The Cure should really do what they must to seek these guys out. Vocalist Justin Mann sounds almost like a dead ringer for Robert Smith, but he and the band bring enough of an edge to the music to fend off accusations of being merely Cure-clones. The ideas and aggressiveness Moneybags Gram displayed throughout their rigorous set easily place the band into a their own distinctive style of emo-rock. For those of you who want highly driven alternative music with a gloriously underground feel, be sure to gets your paws on their six song EP! And be sure to support them whenever they meander into your neck of the woods.


"Did you forget to eat your Wheaties today?" the terrifying vocalist Dacey asked an late morning, bleary-eyed crowd at the Main Stage. Taking place inside the hollowed out main building at the Sloss warehouse, it became sweltering in the venue, with occasional breezes blowing through like a great sigh of relief. Still Breathing from Oklahoma were clearly responsible for some of the late morning heat. Best described as the hardcore cousin to the mighty Arch Enemy, Still Breathing perform like tomorrow is not an option. Dacey is all over the stage like a young woman possessed, assaulting the audience with a barrage of unearthly screams that would put most hardcore guy vocalists (and Linda Blair) to shame. Even in spite of the many technical difficulties, the band managed to put together an impressive set. Dacey even spoke to the audience about "giving up your ideas of hatred" and embracing the many differences found within humanity. With intelligent lyrics, a fiery vocalist and superb musicianship all around, Still Breathing are destined to blow away the hardcore competition. Their album September is available from Solid State Records.


Back to the side stage, where it was time for some emo-rock from the former grunge capitol of the world. Time To Fly hail from Seattle and drove quite a ways to play the Furnacefest - 52 hours straight according to their website. Their set was amazing - the songs were catchy and memorable - the type of stuff that Vagrant and Drive-Thru usually sign. Many of the tunes performed were from their just released CD entitled Birth Work Death available on Rocketstar Recordings. Even though it was way too hot at this point, Time To Fly drew a crowd who really seemed to enjoy their infectious music. Expect to hear way more from Time To Fly, as it's pretty obvious the band does not mind touring across the country to present to the masses what their music is all about (no matter what the weather is like or how far they must travel).


After visiting many of the vendor booths outside the venue, it was time to go back inside and check out some more music. And like a swift kick in the head, Curl Up And Die took over the main stage and filled the venue with their ferocious hardcore melodies. Coming from the vast desert playground known as Las Vegas a.k.a. Sin City, Curl Up And Die's music is grinding and super intensive. Vocalist Mike Minnick is all over the stage, screaming his lungs out while the band tears up the place with a barrage of tremendous sound. Their Revelation album Unfortunately We Are Not Robots is an awesome piece of sonic terror, and live these guys sound even more startling. It's amazing to see just how much energy a band can muster up even in spite of hellish heat and sweat drenching humidity. Those who want a devastating musical experience that they'll never forget should find their way out to the next Curl Up And Die show. This is true hardcore Armageddon!


Although the Furnacefest was packed to the brim with hardcore bands, Codeseven could not be counted among them. While this North Carolina outfit was indeed once of the hardcore variety, their music has made an adventurous, highly unpredictable turn as of late. Calling themselves a sort of experimental rock, their latest album The Rescue is soothing and hypnotic, yet could shake the listener to their senses with the more intensive passages. The question was: Could Codeseven pull off their compelling new sound live? The answer: Hell yeah! The audience in the main stage area was paying close attention, and hardly a sound was made as Codeseven played songs exclusively from the new CD. Even with the sweeping new style the band maintains, there is still a lot of aggression that threatens to overtake the quieter moments. Jeff Jenkins has a fantastic voice, his singing filled with urgency and passion - one almost may perceive Jenkins as a time bomb just waiting to explode right in front of your unsuspecting face. The music is captivating, combining a Pink Floyd sound with a thoroughly modern emo approach. Codeseven challenge musical conventions and succeed wildly with their aural tapestries. If you haven't already done so, snag a copy of The Rescue, as it's one of the best CD's to come out this year. And after you commit the disc to memory, be sure to check out what Codeseven can do with these songs live.


Of course Haste should play the Furnacefest - the band is from Birmingham, Alabama and they are definitely hardcore. These guys have been known to be dangerous (not mention accident prone), their live shows almost always producing some kind of injury to at least one hapless band member. Seemingly refreshed after incessant touring, Haste was in top form, delivering quite a few new songs. You get two manic vocalists for the price of one, and a whole lot of explosive aggressiveness within the music. All this, and a wild hometown mosh pit too! Haste currently has two albums out on Century Media and they are well on their way to recording a third. It was great to witness the band in action once again - especially on their turf.


Speaking of turf, it is so cool to go all the way across the country and see bands from Orange County spreading the news about our local scene. The first time I saw Taken, they were opening for Arch Enemy - a mismatch if there ever was one. Much more at home with the hardcore crowd, Taken surely won some new fans with their energetic performance. Vocalist Raymond Harkins may look like a harmless frat boy, but when the music comes thundering through, dementia clearly sets in. Harkins thrashes about all over the stage and even drools as he screams the lyrics. The entire band plays with a strong sense of conviction and urgency that easily matches the intensity level of a Dillinger Escape Plan or Hatebreed. With two releases under the belts and wild stage shows, I'm surprised that this band hasn't just taken off into the stratosphere! With Taken performing at the fest, it's good to see California hardcore so well represented.


Even though it was getting later and the sun was beginning to descend, it was still hotter than hell at the main stage area. The entire area was packed with people, and it was time for even more hardcore music. Shai-Hulud from Miami was up next, and the mosh pit ignited! Joined mid-set by Tom Sheehan from Most Precious Blood, the band played with a strong sense of urgency. Shai-Hulud easily made new fans and showed why they are one of the most respected hardcore bands around.


Well, if you are a fan of hardcore and weren't in Alabama on August 1st, then it sucks to be you. Because immediately after Shai-Hulud, Stretch Arm Strong stormed the main stage and the mosh pit raged on into oblivion. Many crowd favorites were played including Means To An End, All We've Lost, and Second Chances plus a fantastic new song called Devil Shoots Devil. Another band with a great reputation in the hardcore circles, Stretch Arm Strong's staggering musical performance and positive messages are needed in this age of dark cynicism.


It is generally agreed upon that In Flames took way too long to set up. Any other band would have had their set cancelled. And they were placing full bottles of beer all over the stage - gasp! Any other band at Furnacefest would have gotten their hardcore asses thrown out of the park. But as most of you know in the metal community, In Flames isn't just any other band. The stage was surrounded by headbangers when In Flames finally showed up, and when they finally played, it was In Flames in all their heavy metal glory headlining Night One of Furnacefest 2002!

Coming all the way from Gothenburg, Sweden, In Flames are about to go on the road with the infamous Slayer - this was their first stop before the tour. Opening with the anthem-like Bullet Ride, the band proceeding on to great songs such as Only For The Weak and Pinball Map. With all the controversy surrounding what the new album is going to sound like, In Flames gave the crowd a preview with a tune called Cloud Connected. Featuring a techno keyboard beat in the background and intricate, rhythmic melodies, it's one of the most adventurous songs In Flames has ever composed. All the band members were dressed in white and suspiciously looked like doctors (with long-ass hair of course), but this may have something to do with the concept of their forthcoming album. On the verge of breaking into the States big time, it was still quite a surprise to see a traditional metal band like In Flames performing at Furnacefest. What other festival in the States would you see such musical diversity? I left the Fest that night wide-awake, thoroughly excited by the tremendous In Flames set and the many other bands I had become acquainted with throughout the afternoon. And there would be two more blissful days of this…


Furnacefest 2002 -- Day 2: More reviews featuring Andrew W.K., Squad 5-0, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Blindside, God Forbid, and more...
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