Being asked to help judge a local band contest was a truly an honor. As one of four judges for this year’s Brat Fest 2018 Battle of the Bands, I was thrilled to help judge and support local musicians. Michael Alexander, the event organizer and Brat Fest Entertainment Director, shared his enthusiasm for local music, “I get an overwhelming amount of submissions for both Brat Fest and The Crystal Grand Theater each year…I think it’s important to create opportunity for talented local musicians whenever possible. Battle of the Bands gave me and a panel of judges a fresh look at 8 new bands and gives someone the great opportunity to play The Grand Stage at Brat Fest 2018.” Thanks in part to both to Alexander’s hard work and MC Teri Barr from Maximum Ink and 94.9 WOLX, the Battle of the Bands at the Annex was a huge success.
As judges, we struggled to narrow down the field. After 6 bands, we knew it was going to be a difficult choice. With simple fashion and faded metal t-shirts, SANCTUS took the stage. The moment the first guitar riff exploded through the speakers and smacked me right in my happy ears, I knew I had found my new favorite metal band. “Hellraiser”, the first song on the band’s set-list and first song on their debut CD, Do or Die, has a metal grind which sinks into your skin and moves your head with familiar licks of 80’s & 90’s metal. With its upbeat tempo, it gives way to a brilliant guitar solo from Andrew Schmidt. “When I was young, my Dad played the Load album by Metallica a lot. That album really got me into metal,” shared the 19-year-old, “I’ve been listening to bands like Disturbed and Guns N’ Roses since I was 11.”
Having formed in Sun Prairie, the young four-some met through various Craigslist adds. “It’s kind of funny,” laughs Andrew, “we both knew guys in bands that were looking for bass players. I hadn’t played bass, but I went out and bought a bass and new gear. When things didn’t work out with the guitar player, I took over as lead guitar.” Adds singer Dakota Tamminga, “I, too, was asked to play bass, but I had been in choir since I was in the 6th grade. I was teaching myself to play guitar on my brother’s guitar and the first song I ever learned to play was Metallica’s “Fade to Black”. Playing rhythm guitar and singing just came naturally, I was the only little boy in choir,” laughs Dakota.
The young and energetic metal-heads took only a moment to thank the crowd before rolling into the title track from their 6 song EP. With its stop & start rhythm guitar and strong vocals from Dakota Tamminga, Do or Die stops you dead in your tracks and sticks in your head. Days later, I was still humming the riff.
“Acceleration”, the 3rd song on the band’s CD, gives you that aggressive speed metal sound mixed with hi-octane fuel. The razorblade guitar cuts make way for Cole Sehr’s drums. “That’s a simple song,” shares guitarist Andrew, “but Cole pushes that song. It’s an “in-your-face” thrash-type song about living your life and Cole is giving it all from behind the kit.”
The EP extends a firm handshake with a snarky grin on “Hell Is Here”. It’s a mashed-up song which makes a brief tempo change only to lay down another rapturous riff with the closing. If this is the way SANCTUS introduces us to their version of Hell, then I’ll gladly take it. The young men don’t stray far from bands that us metal heads love, “I got my first rock album when I was 13,” recalls Dakota, “it was Master of Puppets and it grew from there, Megadeth, Motorhead and Iron Maiden for sure.”
The “why-the-f&#-haven’t-I-heard this-song-before”, Reckoning Day, does what every great metal song does. It brings all the classic and modern metal pieces together to assure you that this is something new and yet familiar. A mandatory growl is thrown in to remind you that this is an old-school metal song, but it also has the band’s unique sound infused in it.
SANCTUS closed out the show at the Annex with their CD’s last track “The Storm”. Like a true weather disturbance, you can feel it building. You wait patiently, feeling the riff rumble off in the horizon. Short of a tornado siren, “This Storm” will wreak havoc on your headphones. With its tight finish, you wouldn’t expect that the band had just landed their newest member. “Our bass player let us know at the last moment he had other obligations and that left us with only 10 days before the show,” recalled Dakota, “I worked with a guy who played bass, but he was a classic rock fan. He had gone to music school but hadn’t heard our CD. I gave Mark (Brown) our CD and told him that he needed to learn 4 songs in 6 days. He said that he would try. When we went to practice with Mark that same night, he had learned all our songs. He knew all the riffs, and we didn’t need to teach him any of the songs! There is something special about a guy with that much talent. We only practiced with him twice before the Annex show.”
With the layered guitars, perfectly timed bass, pounding drums and steely vocals, it was no surprise that SANCTUS won the 2018 Battle of the Bands. “To put in all the hard work in writing the songs and playing; I thought we should just go out and kick some ass and see what happens. You don’t expect to win, especially after seeing all the great bands perform that day. It was so unreal and super gratifying. It was really, really cool; we’re so happy,” exclaimed Dakota.
SANCTUS preforms at Brat Fest 2018 in Madison on Saturday, May 26th at 1:00 on the Ho-Chunk Gaming Main Stage.
CD: Do or Die