If You Kill It, They Will Come: Full Terror Assault Fest Turns Five

Half a decade ago Full Terror Assault made a simple promise: Get your metalhead ass and a tent out to Cave in Rock, Illinois and you’ll be rewarded with two days of “pure brutality deep in the woods.” And, hoo-boy, did they deliver, stirring up legions of ravenous fans with lineups chock full of legends.

Now comes edition V, a wild four day open air pummeling beginning September 4 and featuring Exhorder, Kataklysm, M.O.D., Grave, Vio-lence, Jungle Rot, Krisiun, Skeletal Remains, Ringworm, and many, many others.

Decibel chatted with event organizer Shane Bottens about his realized dream of bringing a “European style Open Air Festival for extreme music fans right here in the USA.”

So over the span of a few short years, Full Terror Assault has really established itself as one of the premiere fests in the world — no small feat. I’m curious about the seed that became the mighty oak.

I have been in the underground scene for about twenty-five years. I am the singer of the Scumgrind band Waco Jesus — new CD out next year; shameless plug (laughs) — and I have always been a DIY guy, putting on local shows and smaller fests back in the day. Early on, bands like Sepultura, Napalm Death, Obituary, Deicide and Cannibal corpse got me into this style of music. It was also underground bands like Dying Fetus, Skinless, Internal Bleeding, Mortal Decay, and LIvidity that also played a big part in my interest of extreme music.

You ended up creating a fest, which suggests that live experiences have been important to you. Any in particular stand out?

Back in the Day the Milwaukee Metal Fest was incredible. I started going to this fest in 1992 and was hooked. That was the year they had it at the Mecca, I think. It was number five or six, but the line up was amazing! So many great memories of those weekends. I met so many amazing people — many of whom I’m still friends with today. Nowadays, there are a lot of other killer festivals out there like Maryland Death Fest and Las Vegas Death Fest. I also loved the Los Angeles Murderfest — that was always killer! I’m sure I’m forgetting a ton of festivals, but respect to all who are hosting any shows or other type of events in your area.

What was the foundation of Full Terror Fest? Was there a niche in the market you felt like wasn’t being served?

I have had the opportunity to travel and play a lot of festivals in Europe and those experiences were so cool. I always felt like the U.S. was missing that type of extreme, outdoor, open air, festival. Ya know — a true open air. Not like the big corporate, false advertising fests, which say they are a true open air, but really aren’t in my opinion. A true open air is something completely different. It is camping on-site and being part of a community for the weekend with your fellow metal heads. It isn’t meant to be an event where everyone goes back to their AC or heated hotel rooms at the end of the show. Ya know, it’s enduring the rain, the cold, the heat and the unexpected with your squad. A true open air experience is essentially heavy metal bootcamp, in the best way possible. Yup, sign me up!

Is there any meaning to the name of the fest beyond just being signaling in your face brutality?

When I first had the idea for the name, I wanted to make it a gore themed festival and I really wanted it to be closer to Halloween. The campgrounds are huge, like 120 acres, with plenty of really cool wooded areas for doing a super gory haunted trail or haunted house. I wanted to do crazy things that would be unlike anything else, but I just didn’t have the time or budget to really make it what I wanted it to be. So for now, that is on the back burner until a later time. So the name was really something to describe terror in the terms of brutal music but also terror in the sense of gore and Halloween.

I really do hope to make the horror and gore portion happen at some point. I think people would love it!

How, if at all, does the Midwest origins and setting effect the vibe and character of the fest?

I think being in the Midwest is pretty cool. If a band is only playing a couple of shows in the U.S. they usually stick to the coasts. Sometimes we do get lucky and they hit Chicago. Having this fest in the Midwest, give us the chance to be a central hub for bands to come through the midwest. We are isolated, in a gorgeous part of the state, with the Ohio river flowing directly next to our campground. Getting to us could be a slight trek, but once you make it to us, you will be able to set up camp and party for the rest of the time.

Not sure if this has to do with being in the Midwest, because they say we have the friendliest people…but it really does feel like everyone treats each other like family when they get to the fest. Also, John Gallagher from Raven compared the fest to Lord of the Flies, luckily we haven’t seen any signs of cannibalism…yet.

Man, I look at the lineup for that inaugural fest and it is…just fucking wild. Did the way the first Full Terror came together exceed your expectations? Did you feel vindicated in your vision?

The first year was brutal. Not only in terms of the line up’s brutality, but simply getting it booked and getting through it all. The first couple of years I did about 99.9% of everything and there was a lot of sleepless nights. No joke, it was a challenge and still is. Luckily I have an understanding wife and a lot of great friends that have been there since day one doing what ever they can. I have a particular friend, Azalee Cano, who I met year one of the fest. She came as an attendee, and wanted to be part of the madness, so she’s helping out now too. This fest really embodies the DIY/underground mentality and that is how it will always remain.

Looking back, I’m sure everyone was skeptical about what FTA was really gonna be like. I’m sure a lot of agents, bands, and fans we’re like, “Who is this idiot wanting to throw this open air fest in the woods, in Southern Illinois, in the middle of nowhere?” Being the new guy, a lot of agents were extremely skeptical, understandably so. But here we are 5 years later and have had some killer acts come through. I won’t feel vindicated until we can get 5k fans in attendance, and even then I don’t know if vindicated is how I will feel. Im generally happy, just never content. We always want to keep working towards being bigger and better than the year before and I think that is working for us so far.

Is it surreal at all to work with such seminal acts?

We have been able to book some of the bands that got me into metal in the first place, so that has definitely been a super cool motivator.

Why do you think this epic format works especially well with metal bands and fans?

I think it’s the vibe of the outdoor festival that brings out the craziness in fans and bands. I mean, I can’t remember ever seeing someone dressed up like a huge banana or a gigantic penis at an indoor event. It starts with the fans and the bands feed off that. It’s that experience that keeps people coming back to us, many buying passes before we even have a line up announced. We always say that once you come to FTA, we got you and you will be a lifer! Trust me!

How has Full Terror Assault evolved over the last few years? Has it gotten any easier logistically?

The soul of the event has stayed the same from the beginning and will never change, but Full Terror Assault has evolved in a lot of ways. I know on the back end we have become a lot more organized and more focused on how to achieve our bottom line. Our bottom line being: How do we make the best event possible with the resources we have. I know being five years in does help us feel less like freshmen entering high school, but we still don’t feel like seniors either. Still, every year we strive to be bigger, so it does get more difficult to book and execute our vision. Like I said before, we are always trying to raise the bar fo and figure out different ways to set our selves apart. So although we have evolved and picked up new party tricks along the way, new challenges will always come up.

I imagine it’s easier to attract top-tier talent now that you’ve built a full on institution. Yet you’re also great about bringing up and coming talent to the stage. How do you strike that balance and is it important to you to do so?

We have been lucky in getting some great big name bands to play and are really grateful. It’s not like these bands are playing Las Vegas or Los Angeles where you are in a city and can hang out and do some cool shit. You are in Southern Illinois and if you hear “Dueling Banjos”, you better run. It’s remote, and that isn’t for everyone, so it might be a harder sell at times. Specially, since we are still trying to prove ourselves and make it something really special. That is why it is really important for us to be a platform for up and coming artists, because a lot of the time the opportunity isn’t there for everybody. One of the coolest things for us is the amount of people that let us know that they have found so many new artists to listen to at Full Terror. I think this makes it more exciting for everyone involved, because you genuinely will hear bands you haven’t heard anywhere else yet. Integrating both, is also part of our approach of building up the fest slowly and growing every year.

Talk to me about this year’s lineup. What was the goal? And are there any particular highlights or evolutions for you?

The goal was to stay on budget. [Laughs] We wanted the five year anniversary to be the biggest and best year yet and I think we have done that. It was challenging but we were really fortunate to put such a killer lineup together. I mean, Max Cavalera is coming to the woods in Illinois. For me, thats huge! Another killer reason to come is that we have the only Midwest Vio-lence reunion show- I know they were on the top of Azalee’s booking bucket list. Then you have Billy Milano and M.O.D. doing a half M.O.D. half S.O.D. set with all those great tunes. Crisix from Spain will be making their debut appearance in the USA — keep an eye on these guys and remember FTA brought them here first! — Kataklysm, Grave from Sweden, Exhorder, Krisiun and the list goes on and on.

For those who haven’t been, what’s the atmosphere at Full Terror like? Is there a lot of metal militia camaraderie in the air?

Man, it’s such a cool vibe. Like I said before, everyone there feels like a family. I truly encourage everyone to not just take my word for it, come down and experience it for yourself. I mean, four days of camping BYOB and metal, what is there not to love about it!? You’re seeing killer bands and you don’t have to pay $13.75 for a tall boy and $10 for a cheeseburger. It’s heaven for metal heads. If you need a little more convincing, check out our five star reviews on Facebook.

One great thing about a diverse fest is that it’s almost certain to expose some to something new — perhaps even spark a passion. Is it gratifying to be a part of that great circle of metal?

I listen to all sorts of metal and would really like to make the fest even more diverse, but for now we are limited because of our budget. You look at a European festival like Hellfest that offers up so many different acts, we’d definitely like to be able to do something like that one day. I would love to see Steel Panther playing with Carcass at FTA… maybe one day. The thing I have noticed is that even hard core metal heads are pretty open minded and listen to all sorts of music, but it is really hard to find a hard core country fan or rock fan that listens to grindcore or black metal. I don’t think they exist. Which is why it is very cool to be able to cater to an audience with such an open mind.