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A Headbanger Happening

November to Dismember caters to truly hard-core metalheads by gathering nearly 100 underground groups for a Southland festival.


From the epic riffs of pioneers such as Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden to the catchy grind of glam-edged "hair bands" Motley Crue and Poison to the hard grooves of Korn and Metallica, the rock known as metal has taken on countless forms over the years.

But no matter how it has evolved, there has always been a steady flow of bands and fans who like it a little faster, a little darker and a lot less commercial.

Jack Koshick knows all about this devoted underbelly. The veteran concert promoter has been gathering the best from the underground metal scene at his popular Milwaukee Metal Fests for 15 years (and his Metal Meltdown events in New Jersey for the last few years). The events typically draw crowds of between 10,000 and 14,000 people.

And now he's introducing the mayhem to Southern California with November to Dismember, a festival at the National Orange Show Events Center in San Bernardino on Friday and Saturday.

"Some of these bands have never even been to the U.S.," says Koshick, who is also offering XPW wrestling matches at the festival. "Tristiana, the Sins of the Beloved and In the Woods have never been seen here, and Venom haven't been in North America in three years, plus we've got a solid Spanish contingent with bands from Mexico like Makina and Transmetal."

The "smorgasbord of metal," as Koshick calls it, includes nearly 100 bands, many with menacing monikers such as Dark Funeral, the Haunted, Hellion, Sadistic Intent, Impaled, Pessimist and Catastrophic.

These "death metal" and "black metal" rockers--distinguished by their ferocious guitars, morbid names, dark, often mystical lyrics and grim images--are well represented at November to Dismember, but other splinter genres are also present, including speed-metal (Japan's female trio Yellow Machinegun and Northern California favorites Testament), thrash metal (D.R.I.) and nu-metal (locals Prototype and Society 1).

"We're more on the progressive side," says Vince Levalois, singer for L.A.-based Prototype. "We're not as harsh as some of the other bands and we're more about instrumentation."

Festival Is Aimed at Hard-Core Heshers

While Levalois' group may be more accessible than some of the more threatening bands at N2D, he still sees the event as a gathering for a very specific group: the devoted hard-rock headbangers known as heshers.

"It's not for the general public," he says. "It's not going to bring this kind of music to the masses. Only an Ozzfest or a Monsters of Rock can do that."

Still, bands such as Testament, which has been around since the late '80s, have managed to garner a large fan base by playing these kinds of festivals around the globe, and they don't mind that you won't hear them on commercial radio or see them on MTV. "We've got a loyal underground following and that's the way we like it," says Eric Peterson, Testament's guitarist. "When metal gets too popular, it gets corny. That's what happened in the '80s."

But what about the music's dark nature, sonically and lyrically? Does this subculture still feel the heat that came its way in the wake of the Columbine slayings last year?

"The music is violent and tough, but most of the lyrics are just about real-life experiences," says Peterson, who emphasizes that the shows aren't as dangerous as many assume. "People watch each other's backs and it's like a community at these things."

D.R.I. vocalist Kurt Brecht agrees, "We play to both the punk rockers and the metalheads, and everyone gets along now. A few years ago it was more segregated."

"I've been doing this for 15 years without incident," notes promoter Koshick. "The metal community is about respect and freedom of choice--freedom to wear your hair as long as you want and freedom to express yourself."

And the dark themes? "I liken it to a horror movie," says Koshick. "A lot of it is tongue in cheek."

He calls November to Dismember "Woodstock with teeth," and if all goes as he expects, it may just prove that metal's bite is sharper and deeper than ever.

* November to Dismember, Friday at 4 p.m. and Saturday at noon at the National Orange Show Events Center, 689 S. E St., San Bernardino. $35 each day, $55 for two-day pass. (909) 888-6788.

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