M3 ROCK FESTIVAL 2022 (DAY THREE) CONCERT REVIEW – PART 1 OF 2
Date: Sunday, May 8, 2022
Venue: Merriweather Post Pavilion
Location: Columbia, Maryland, USA
Event: M3 Rock Festival
Reviewer: Jeff Onorato
Photos: Christopher Carroll ROCK Photography
YouTube videos: Yarg Metal (Burning Witches), Adam Hechler (Leatherwolf, The Quireboys), Jim Powers (XYZ)
After the dismal weather that loomed overhead in the days prior, I kept a vigilant eye on the meteorological predictions for Sunday before venturing over to the pavilion for this, the FINAL day of M3 2022. It’s always a blast that seemingly goes by in the blink of an eye every single year! It appeared that we were finally out of the woods, with Sunday expected to be somewhat of an improvement with lesser chance of precipitation and more seasonal temperatures. That was music to my ears for what would be the swan song to an otherwise outstanding weekend of great music and catching up with old friends. Looking back on the musical performances that we experienced on Friday and Saturday had me chomping at the bit to see what was in store for us on Day Three. Admittedly, the final act in the trifecta was probably the one that had the least curb appeal to me on paper, only to see my preconceptions squelched by something old, something new and something… borrowed?
New to me, but high on the list of bands that I was interested in a greater initiation to were Burning Witches, who appeared in support of their most recent release The Witch of the North (Nuclear Blast). All the way from Switzerland, the band was on U.S. soil for a tour in support of their current LP, which was released almost one year ago. Taking the stage to the celestial sounds of a monk choir peacefully chanting over an acoustic guitar passage, I mistakenly thought “Oh, this is nice. Maybe they’re going to dial it back a bit for this show”. I knew better. Tearing into the opening riff of “Executed”, new guitarist Larissa Ernst (who replaced Sonia Nusselder in 2020) ripped us open like a soup can as she was quickly backed by a percussive onslaught of the drums and syllabled shouts found within the song’s chorus. Holy Hell. I guess I didn’t need those two cups of coffee after all. The Burning Witches were a wake up call that I’m not sure Merriweather was ready for and I mean that in a good way. Incorporating strong elements of power metal into their larger-than-life, epic sound, Burning Witches had me entranced by the concentrated force of their material and lyrical content – which is laden with themes of both fantasy and the macabre.
“Wings of Steel” opened to the fever-pitched screams of lead vocalist Laura Guldemond which kept the speedball rolling right along. She unleashed a piercing, banshee-like wail that sounded just as menacing as it does on the record. Headbanging from the edge of the stage just above onlookers in the front row of the audience, her voice was as relentless and unwavering live as it is on The Witch of the North. Guldemond joined the band in 2019, replacing lead singer Seraina Telli who left to concentrate on her Dead Venus project. “Flight of The Valkyries” followed and slowed things down for just a bit with that slow, melancholy guitar intro and tempo that give way to a thrashy blast-beat and Maiden styled chorus. If this track from their newest album doesn’t get your blood pumping, surely nothing will. Hats off to drummer Lala Frischknecht, for the fury that she kicked up from the skins throughout Burning Witches’ entire show. The rhythmic frenzy was scientifically synchronized with bassist Jeanine Grob, who like Frischknecht, is an original member of the band’s line-up.
“Hexenhammer” was the moment in their thirty-minute onslaught that I’d say was the most accessible to those that were unfamiliar with the band. It’s a song that’s more on the melodic side of the spectrum for the Witches and the crowd really seemed into it when I briefly looked around to survey their response. The members of Burning Witches are unabashed in their passion for metal, and I love that about them. They cover the Savatage classic “Hall of The Mountain King” on The Witch of the North and I hoped that it would turn up in their performance at M3, but alas, it wasn’t included in their condensed six-song performance. Burning Witches were potentially underappreciated going on so early in the day, but undoubtedly garnered some new fans and generated a big buzz. For the early birds that did arrive by 12:25, it was hard to look away from what they did.
It’s with indecision that I say that their venomous bravura was improperly paired against the other more melodic hard rock bands that played throughout the day. However, there were surely some ticketholders that enjoyed the onslaught that Burning Witches unleashed (me being one of them). Ultimately, their sound is a very potent surge that’s far more geared to metal audiences. But at the end of the day, any exposure is good exposure I suppose. I could see Burning Witches doing very well and being an ideal fit on a Testament, Doro or Judas Priest tour. Speaking of Doro, their stylistic similarities had me wondering if their band name was derived from that very first Warlock album Burning The Witches. Not outside the realm of possibility, I suppose, given that both acts are from the same region of Europe. Don’t let their beauty fool you. Burning Witches are a vision brewed in brutality. Beware this Circle of Five!
Burning Witches’ setlist:
02. Wings of Steel
03. Flight of The Valkyries
05. Black Widow
06. Burning Witches
Burning Witches performing “Hexenhammer” live at the M3 Rock Festival on May 8, 2022:
Huntington Beach, California’s Leatherwolf are best known for being one of the first bands of the early 80’s to incorporate the patented triple-axe attack into their sound. Their classic metal riffs, majestic vocals and pounding rhythms are a large part of the band’s appeal and it’s a sound that was picked up on and replicated by other bands countless times in the decade that followed. As is the case with most other names that have been afloat for 40 plus years, they’ve undergone a laundry list of line-up changes in that time, with the most notable being the recent addition of vocalist Keith Adamiak in 2019. Led by original drummer Dean Roberts, it’s a new era from the pack that helped to somewhat easy the transition in musical styles as the day progressed along. Make no mistake, Leatherwolf very much continued on the course set before them by Burning Witches – heavy, spirited and aggressive. But with a heightened attention to melody lines and heavy grooves, the band’s classic metal sound bridged a gaping divide between their neighbors in the first and third Sunday afternoon timeslots. Looking back, I don’t know how else we would have gone from Burning Witches into The Quireboys, which are musically like night and day.
Seats were beginning to fill up in mass as the band took the stage, opening with “Behind The Gun” from World Asylum. The new class sounded sinister with seamless attention to the details of the tablature as longtime guitarist Rob Math, who took the center stage often, unleashed scorching exhibitions of aptitude as the band whiplashed and windmilled behind him. He wasn’t alone in his marveling talents. Proudly sporting a black leather vest with a white wolf crest stitched onto the back, Adamiak’s vocals were powerful with subtle qualities that I would compare to Jon Oliva and Rob Halford, and particularly on “Street Ready”, from their album of the same name. Featuring a wicked groove and high-pitched screams, the song was a crowd pleaser within Leatherwolf’s set and well responded to. Watching them play, it isn’t hard to see how main man Dean Roberts came to be known as the “drum machine”, as he’s commonly referred to by fans. Personifying the spirit of the original band, Roberts performed dynamically with passion and a coordination that the other members thrived on and built upon. That was typified on “Gypsies And Thieves”, which begins with a basic drum and bass pattern that escalates into a full-on eruption only to later give way to a bluesy solo at the midway point in the song. This was one of many songs featured in the set from Leatherwolf’s self-titled album, with Street Ready representing another small percentage of the material. I was pleasantly surprised by this iteration of the band, which now features players that most likely weren’t even alive yet when Leatherwolf’s debut album rabidly clawed their name onto the scene.
01. Behind The Gun
03. Street Ready
04. Gypsies And Thieves
05. Rule The Night
07. The Calling
Leatherwolf performing “Thunder” live at the M3 Rock Festival on May 8, 2022:
England’s infamous The Quireboys announced their split from original frontman Spike mere weeks before the M3 Rock Festival which, for me as a fan, could not have been more disappointing or come at a worse time. Allow me to explain. The Quireboys don’t really tour the U.S. on a regular basis, so I was looking forward to finally seeing them and hearing all those gems from their landmark album A Bit of What You Fancy performed live. This brilliant recording celebrated its 30th year anniversary not long ago which was commemorated by a re-release featuring mostly faithful renditions of the originals with an update and minor refresh here and there. When I heard the news of the shake up, I thought for sure that without Spike’s smokey, whiskey-soaked vocals (in my mind, essential to their sound) this would be little more than the fulfillment of a contractual obligation by the organization. You know, a “cash grab”. That’s not from a cynical point of view, but you do the math.
I’m also the first to readily admit when I’m wrong about something. As is often the case in life, there are two sides to every story and I try to always be mindful of that fact and that we, as fans, don’t always have the big picture or know what really goes on behind the curtain. That philosophy served me well in this case. As 1:50 pm rolled around, I headed down to the corral with my fingers crossed in the hopes that what I was about to see would cure me of any preconceived notions that I had. From their 2008 album Homewreckers And Heartbreakers, “I Love This Dirty Town” showed no sign of defeat from the gypsy caravan. Funky and not without that authentic, honky-tonk rhythm and blues smog that The Quireboys permeate oh so well, original guitarist Guy Griffin tackled lead vocals assuredly and with what was astoundingly only a minute variance from their acrimoniously departed mouthpiece.
But did my eyes deceive me? Looking cool and laidback on the sidelines was none other than Chip Z’Nuff, on loan from Enuff Z’Nuff and covering bass guitar duties in the band! Plucking away on his bass as if he’d been in the band since day one, It was one of those rare collaborations in rock n’ roll that I’m proud to say that I witnessed. In a cruel twist of irony, Chip Z’Nuff was faced with the very same predicament that The Quireboys are in a few years back only to arrive at a similar outcome. “Misled” was the first of many moments that allowed keyboardist Keith Weir to really shine, with the sound of his fingers dancing across the ivories accenting what was the band’s first revisit to its debut record. That illuminating organ sound was also prevalent on “Gracie B” from their EP of the same name. Unlike some of the artists that appeared at M3 this year, The Quireboys opted to play songs spanning their entire career over selections centered around one album. That could be for a variety of reasons or just that they wanted diversity in their show.
Raising both hands into the air, Guy Griffin readied the crowd for their next number by stating “This is for the love of rock n’ roll. This is why we’re all here. It’s about fighting for rock n’ roll”. Fittingly, the song “This Is Rock N’ Roll” ensued with a sizzling slide-guitar intro by Paul Guerin as he wailed away on his Les Paul. It was just as urgent and rousing today as it is on the recorded version. They capped things off with “7 O’clock”. Their rambunctious, Stones-y first single that, despite being released so long ago, still sounds reveling today. When I walked into Merriweather on Sunday morning, I was expecting The Quireboys show to consist of professionally executed versions of classics by talented musicians that ultimately just sounded like cover versions without Spike’s raspy bellows. And visually – yes, I could have done with just a bit more energy from the band. But apples to apples, they don’t normally perform at 2:00 in the afternoon. Audibly, The Quireboys still have it and show no sign of slowing down any time soon.
The Quireboys’ setlist:
01. I Love This Dirty Town
03. Gracie B
04. There She Goes Again
05. This Is Rock N’ Roll
07. Turn Away
08. 7 O’Clock
The Quireboys performing “7 O’Clock” live at the M3 Rock Festival on May 8, 2022:
Not long before the start of the M3 Rock Festival, it was announced by the XYZ camp that original bassist Pat Fontaine and drummer Joey Shapiro would be unable to appear at the show due to undisclosed reasons. As it turned out, guitarist Tony Marcus was also mysteriously absent from XYZ’s line-up during their performance. I’d assume that replacement players were sought out with great expedience to avoid the band having to cancel their appearance, but when I first read that there was an issue with not one, but two of the long-time band members, I had very serious doubts that XYZ would be able to fulfill the date given the relatively short notice of the shake up. I was just waiting for the news of their cancellation to drop – and hoping that it didn’t. It was then that original drummer Paul Monroe, wunderkind guitarist Jacob Mann and bassist Ian Smith entered the picture. They stepped up to the plate to not only fill in – but crack a homerun right out of the park.
XYZ’s show was a short one that I would’ve liked to have seen much more of. “Maggie” saw their engine firing on all cylinders and proved that Terry Ilous still has those powerhouse pipes that he’s so well known for. He has a broad range that blasts off from a sultry, smoother register up to an earth scorching scream like a rocket to the moon. Before breaking into the racing “Take What You Can”, Ilous recanted that “I guess I’ve been a performer for about 40 years” and jokingly followed that “Makes me 26”. He went on to say that “No matter the size of the crowd or the stage, I give it all to you every time”. That point was driven on the next song that followed, with the frontman belting out the song from the very depths of his soul.
“Take What You Can” is possibly one of XYZ’s heaviest songs and it’s always fun to hear that one live, especially when it’s performed with such conviction. Newcomers Ian Hill and Jacob Mann were both well-rehearsed and gave the songs the level of finesse and expertise that’s required of them to sound polished and potent. However, the true chemistry onstage was the one exchanged between Ilous and drummer Paul Monroe. It was an affirmation of the magic that the original members had given that this gig marked something like 30 years since he’s performed with the band. That lapse in time wasn’t the least bit detectable, and Monroe hasn’t lost a step in his knowledge of the songs. Before the ballad “What Keeps Me Loving You”, Terry joked that the song was written “about my very first wife”, to the amusement of a chuckling audience that took a few moments to register his modest attempts at comedy. XYZ had a bare-bones, very basic backline behind them but were there to let the music do the talking and did just that.
I’d say that the only area that was to their detriment was in the background vocal department. There were a few choruses that would’ve been more rounded-out and robust within the respective songs if the sound had more weight from the backing vocals. Ilous might have been mindful of that misstep and as a result brought a woman by the name of “Gia” out on stage to assist in harmonizing. She even went so far as to join the singer at his microphone center stage to fill in the gaps. It was then that another friend of the band joined them on stage, this time to more questionable results. Running around the stage like a crazed fan, the young man that joined the band onstage to sing along to the band’s two final songs was too uncollected and unchoreographed. I could appreciate his excitement level, but it was a bit too goofy for an act of this magnitude and unfortunately clouded XYZ’s impact near the home stretch. Not my cup of tea. Nonetheless, “Face Down In the Gutter” was every bit the snake bite that fans know and love, and without hesitation the crown-jewel of the show that was capped off with “Inside Out”. As a returnee from the 2019 festival, Terry Ilous knows that the show must go on and thankfully went to great lengths to make sure that it did. XYZ continue to do what they do very well and it’s easy to see why they have retained a very strong core following as the years have progressed.
02. Come On N’ Love Me
03. Take What You Can
04. What Keeps Me Loving You
05. Don’t Say No
06. Face Down In the Gutter
07. Inside Out
XYZ performing “Don’t Say No”, “Face Down In the Gutter” and “Inside Out” live at the M3 Rock Festival on May 8, 2022: