Operating from the vaunted underground metal stronghold of Chicago, Metal Threat had been building up steam with a series of memorable weekend festivals and one-offs with well-curated lineups and impressive headliners. After a hiatus, promoter Paul Dunski amazed everyone by announcing a massively expanded version of the festival for 2023. The lineup featured a score of international acts, many of whom had never appeared in America, and two stages to ensure maximum density and non-stop metal madness. While a handful of bands inevitably cancelled, Metal Threat delivered four days of amazing one-in-a-lifetime live experiences. A 2024 edition has already been announced, so if you missed this year and want to know why attending should be your priority, check out the list below.

This Chicagoan act is a relatively newer unit, with their debut EP appearing on Dark Descent Records just last year. You wouldn’t know it from seeing them live, however. These guys understand death metal the way it was intended, with no frills or gimmicks to distract from a pummelling assault.

As one of the notable early entries from the infamous Vancouver scene, Witches Hammer has an impressive pedigree with guitarist Marco Banco also appearing in Blasphemy for their famed debut, Fallen Angel of Doom. Banco and founding vocalist Rayy Crude resurrected the band with a revived lineup and have since released two albums on Nuclear War Now Productions. As a live entity, they absolutely delivered the goods with a lethal concoction of speed, thrash, and black metal that pummelled the room almost as violently as the muscular Mr. Banco pummels his guitar. It’s a genuine thrill to see bands return to the fray while virtually frozen in time, but as you’ll see, this is what made Metal Threat such a special experience.

Here’s another up and coming newer death metal act, this time from Detroit. They’ve actually been around since 2008, but their great recent EP and full length seem to have everyone paying closer attention. Churning blackened death metal with a Vedic theme is definitely uncommon, and Perversion keeps it interesting with hints of Beherit and Blasphemy mingled with the traditional American conventions.

Do these guys even need an introduction? As one of the overlords of the Chicago metal movement, this venerable trio delivers burly takes on Celtic Frost‘s signature sound and drags it to the tenth level of death metal Hell. They are heavier than gravity on Jupiter, and they only play special events these days. So the next time you see them on a line up, don’t screw around!

These Greek heavy hitters are another rarely-seen treat on these shores. Blistering Immolation worship with an additional of layer of athleticism and darkness all its own makes DC a mandatory watch. I could wax philosophic about their sound, but it’s simpler to say they beat our skulls in!

The iron horse of American death metal, California’s Sadistic Intent always takes the stage in leather, spikes, and evil. Their performance in the Brauer House club venue was standing-room only, to the point where I couldn’t even get in to see them, and my band fucking played right before them! Their sets are always bulletproof, and you really can’t ever see them enough. Metal Threat was lucky, indeed.

Not Sabaton, you idiots, but the band featuring Lord Sabathan, the original frontman of Belgian black metal fiends Enthroned. The crowd was treated to a collection of note-perfect tracks from the classic days of his former outfit, and Lord Sabathan himself was in fine form as his harrowing shrieks transported the room right back to 1993. The consensus was that this was absolutely one of the best sets in an already amazing lineup. Hope you caught it!

This Swedish black metal entry is one of the innovators of the famed “Gothenberg sound” that propelled Dissection to prominence, but their take remains more obscure and mystical. Frontman Nisse Karlen is a singular frontman with a flair for the dramatic and bizarre, and he leads a troop of adept players into a dark journey showcasing the band’s debut Far Away From the Sun. This was actually the band’s third appearance in the US in as many years, but don’t make the mistake of taking them for granted. Their performance at Metal Threat was one for the books!

Featuring two-thirds of Order From Chaos, Ares Kingdom is a durable, vicious, and admittedly underrated act that always puts on a great show. After seeing them in mostly smaller venues over time, it was a treat to experience a set on a larger stage with a big sound. This set up is part of what made Metal Threat such a memorable fest, and Ares Kingdom made the most of it with their bare-knuckled brand of blackened death authority.

Yet another rarity for an American fest, this Norwegian blackthrash act will always be in the shadow of their forebears, Aura Noir. Nevertheless, they manage to maintain their own identity with a relentless attack and a fascinating deployment of Hellenic mythos as their lyrical theme. They beat the shit out of their set with virtually no let up, and got the crowd ready to remain rowdy for the rest of the evening.

One of my personal favoUrites of the whole fest was this German trio, which is notably a follow up band to the great Necros Christos. Mastermind Malte Gericke wasn’t about to repeat himself, however, and Sijjin is instead a ripping tribute to the early efforts of bands like Morbid Angel. The songs are crushing and muscular, and ace guitarist Ekaitz Garmendia peels off solos like Richard Brunelle reborn. They’re also remarkably powerful as a three-piece, which is never an easy thing to pull off in a live setting. Sijjin is one of the darkest, brutal, and compelling bands out there right now, and their debut in Chicago left everyone utterly flattened.

There’s nothing more gratifying than seeing a band with no specific expectations, and then to be completely blown away by their performance. That was Messiah in a nutshell. This Swiss quintet made their American debut at Metal Threat with a massive array of death thrash played on an epic scale. Guitarist RB Broggi‘s bombastic application of a violin bow was almost a show of its own. For a band that has a very rarefied reputation in North America, Messiah left everyone wondering how we managed to make it this far without them on our
concert circuit.

One of the all-time greats of extreme metal was a late addition to the fest, but it’s hard to imagine Metal Threat 2023 without them. They were fucking lethal in their heyday, and even now their music, content, and execution is definitely a no-go zone for the safe space generation. Nasty Ronnie remains a consummate showman with enough charisma to command the room and enough brutality to drop a television on his face and split his head open. No, really! He does that every time! Many attendees were seeing this spectacle for the first time
ever (yours truly, included), and Ronnie and the boys did not disappoint. It’s speed metal mania with outlaw wrestling presentation! You had to be there!

You have to love Impaled Nazarene (really, you do, it’s actually mandatory). This band has been and still is one of the most crazed entries in the annals of the underground, and they were operating at full force with a frenzied set of classic tracks. Frontman Mika Luttinen screamed like a banshee over bestial black metal anthems while keeping a middle finger firmly thrust into the face of cancel culture, and the crowd remained completely bananas the entire time. Ugra-Karma, indeed!

Being the final band on a massive festival can sometimes be a thankless job, but these black thrash pioneers were up to the challenge and brought the event to a crushing close.

The trick with Aura Noir is that it’s a band comprised of top-flight musicians who are actually playing below their abilities, which makes for an effortless and visceral performance. The room kept moving right up to the very end, with Apollyon‘s ugly howl raging over toothsome riffs aplenty. This wasn’t the band’s first appearance in the States, but it’s not like they show up here all the time, either. It was a perfect way to close a perfect fest. See you next year!

Thanks to everyone on Youtube who posted live content, particularly TR Guillen Photography, whose posts made up a large portion of this article.