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Hell & Heaven Metal Fest 2022 Full Recap: Great Performances But An Organizational Catastrophe

The performances were great. The festival… not so much.

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Heavy metal is a dish best served in large quantities over a period of several days in a smorgasbord fashion, or at least that is the philosophy of the Hell & Heaven Open Air Metal Fest promoters in the bustling city of Toluca, Mexico. Though the location itself boasts a population of roughly one million strong, there was a healthy influx of tourists pouring in to witness an insane amount of heavy metal and hard rock artists over the festival's three days. Sadly, Hell & Heaven Metal Fest honored its name in more than one way, with a positive side comprised by the performances of the bands involved, and an opposite – flip of the coin – side, where endless organizational shortcomings turned the experience behind the curtains for band-members and crew into a “royal” nightmare.

Metal Injection had a full team on-site as media partners of the event, and we experienced first-hand both scenarios. Therefore, if you want to know about the Heaven keep on reading, whereas if you’d prefer to jump to the Hell part, just keep scrolling

Heaven: The Bands

Due to some unforeseen organizational difficulties that prevented press and photographers from accessing the press pit in the early afternoon, our coverage commenced at roughly 4pm on Friday, December 2 at the Heaven Stage with the debut Mexican set of Canadian alternative metal sensations Spiritbox. The band cycled through a short 40-minute set of fan favorites and provided an early taste of the eclectic experience that would unfold throughout the rest of the day. Suffice it to say, the crowd response was favorable as Spiritbox frontwoman Courtney LaPlante swiftly transitioned through a different outfit for each installment of their eight-song set, while the rest of the band proved to be a highly animated presence on stage.

Not long after over on the Hell Stage, neo-classical shred icon and master showman Yngwie Malmsteen would bring his virtuoso repertoire to a raucous crowd. Though supported by a highly competent troupe of backing musicians, it proved a veritable one-man show as he cycled seamlessly through signature classics like "Rising Force," "Far Beyond The Sun" and "Blackstar," alongside some select offerings from his latest album Parabellum. Vocal duties would be split between the shred icon himself and keyboardist Nick Marino, a fitting eventuality given they were the most active virtuosic presences on each song, with the latter nailing the more difficult vocal lines from Rising Force's glory days while Malmsteen's raucous and soulful baritone proved a formidable foil on the newer material included.

As the light in the sky faded around 6pm, the event turned toward melodic death metal powerhouse Arch Enemy tearing it up on the Heaven Stage. Vocalist Alyssa White-Gluz shouted away with the fierceness of the goddess of the amazons Artemis, while the twin axe-assault of Michael Amott and Jeff Loomis shook the stage to its core. Standout offerings included several entries off their latest album Deceivers and a harrowing rendition of their classic 2001 anthem "Ravenous." One would be remiss not to note the truly bombastic performance by the rhythm section via bassist Sharlee D'Angelo and drummer Daniel Erlandsson, particularly on towering anthems like "Sunset Over the Empire" and older entry "Nemesis," which also saw Alyssa effortlessly emulating the raw power and energy of her predecessor Angela Gossow.

Meanwhile back on the Hell Stage, symphonic metal titans Epica showed off visual splendor that was all but unrivaled. Heavy usage of pyrotechnics, multicolored lights, and a colossal screen behind showing passing footage would further amplify an exemplary exercise in quality performances rivaling the quality of their studio material and raising the bar in terms of crowd work. Between the lofty and serene operatic display put forth by Simone Simons and the thrashing riff work and beastly harsh vocal counterpoint provided by band mastermind Mark Jansen, a perfect synchronicity of opposites would be established that solidified their status as one of the best live acts in the business today in the eyes of all in attendance.

As the night progressed, the theatrical character of the festival would turn from the majestic to the dark and surreal. Manning the Heaven Stage at around 8pm was Rammstein frontman and purveyor of industrial oddities Till Lindemann, who brought his solo musical renditions in full force. Decked out in red paint and stage clothing, and accompanied by his troupe of musicians donning similarly extravagant and strange attire, Lindemann blurred the lines between the beautiful and the bizarre in every respect. Nevertheless, between the animated and often suggestive movements of the band to the heavy yet pop-leaning grooves of "Skills In Pills," "Fat," "Golden Shower" and a number of selections in German with risqué/absurd messages, the crowd was hooked.

Meanwhile over on the True Metal stage, Swedish masters Marduk rained evil upon the huddled masses as they blared out frenzied, blasting odes of darkness while sporting their signature blend of corpse-paint and monochromatic clothing. The tone was one of sheer horror between the droning chants of the band's name from the crowd and the blinding light show as they bombarded the audience with militarized 2nd wave black metal staples like "Those of The Unlight" and "The Hangman Of Prague." It was often difficult to comprehend the maddened ravings of vocalist Mortuus, and the blurring volleys of riff work and machine gun paced drumming seemed to fly by at the speed of light, but a massive impression was left by the time they had finished pummeling that crowd.

As the night drew to its eventual conclusion, hard choices would be made by every spectator as to which headliners they would choose to top off this riveting first round. For this photographer and a healthy share of the crowd, the classic Teutonic route would be taken, starting with a bombastic showing by '80s metal icon Doro Pesch and her touring band at around 9pm on the Hell Stage. Accompanied by Brazilian-American virtuoso guitarist Bill Hudson of Circle II Circle and NorthTale, along with newly recruited touring bassist Stefan Herkenhoff, she demonstrated yet again to all in attendance what the '80s heavy metal concept of crowd work is all about and solidifying her status as the de facto Queen of Metal. Pesch brought down the house with rousing renditions of classic concert staples "I Rule The Ruins," "Burning The Witches" and signature power ballad "Fur Immer." The only question that lingered in the minds of those whom witnessed the spectacle was just how this seasoned metal heroine was still rocking the vocal quality that put her on the map during Warlock's original run in the mid-80s.

History was made at the Heaven Stage when the first ever show of the Pantera tribute (or celebration, pick your noun of choice) featuring original members Phil Anselmo and Rex Brown started rolling out in front of the eyes of a completely packed field. You can check our exclusive coverage of that performance alone here.

Continuing the German conquest of the Foro Pegaso, elder statesmen of the former Teutonic empire Scorpions brought the fire to the Hell Stage at around 11:30pm. It would be a banner year summed up in a single set for these titans of rock, with the band having been awarded the keys of the city of Toluca by local officials in a brief press conference prior to the show. Scorpions would largely be a recap of the same brilliant assortment of songs they presented to the masses during their headlining gig across the US earlier in the year, serenading the audience with an assortment of '80s staples and newer entries to demonstrate that even in their old age they were still rocking with the best of them. Vocalist Klaus Meine was a picture of passion and exuberance as he threw his heart and soul into classic bangers like "The Zoo," "Bad Boys Running Wild," and "Big City Nights," while delivering incredible emotional to more exposed ballads in "Send Me An Angel" and "Wind Of Change." Of course guitarists Rudolf Schenker and Mattias Jabs brought their hearty chops to every hard rocking anthem, the pinnacle of which would be the bombastic encore performances of "No One Like You" and "Rock You Like A Hurricane."

The second day of festivities would prove no less of a high-impact affair, featuring a highly diverse collection of veteran acts of equally impressive caliber. Leading the pack on the Hell Stage would be North Carolina sludge pioneers and trustees of hardcore political discontent Corrosion Of Conformity. The band was a marvel of qualitative precision, and the recent changeover from Jon Green to their current kit man Jason Patterson (whom already had a stint with them during the mid-2000s) would witness a performance that wanted for nothing. Standout performances included a nasty rendition of 2005 doom-drenched banger "Paranoid Opioid" and a grimy performance of mid-90s Sabbath-inspired instrumental "Bottom Feeder," but these pros were never off their game for the entire 30 minutes they rode the stage.

Immediately afterward on the Heaven Stage a very different spectacle would unfold courtesy of one of Sweden's more fun-loving acts and industrial mainstays Pain. Their happy-go-lucky antics on stage would go over famously with the crowd, be it their singer sporting a highly elaborate outfit that he would end up jettisoning after the first couple songs, a sudden stop halfway through their punchy anthem "End Of The Line" under duress sound issues – the beginning of many technical hiccups – or their performance of recent smash hit "Call Me" that featured video of Sabaton vocalist Joakim Broden performing his parts with a perfectly synced rest of the band. Audience connection and interaction were second nature to this outfit, with all the players maintaining a dynamic stage presence with constant head-banging and plenty of fun faces.

The Hell Stage would then be commandeered by Latin nü-metal proponents and Ill Niño, whose act would reinforce their reputation as current darlings of the festival circuit. Between the members of Ill Niño's solid command of Spanish, which proved a valuable asset as they worked the predominantly Mexican crowd, and the highly polished and animated performances of fan favorites "Mascara" and "What Comes Around," the band crushed it. Though the highlight would be an extended drum jam that would coincide with the mid-point of their set, fully exploiting their uniquely expansive arrangement and bringing further stylistic variety to the table.

Next on the agenda to trade blows from the Heaven Stage would be German metalcore titans Heaven Shall Burn, and theirs' would be an exercise in sheer sonic force that would all but leave a crater in the venue. From the first moment of fury-driven anthem and opening number "Hunters Will Be Hunted," they would pummel the audience with one banger after another with the ferocity of a runaway freight train. Drummer Christian Bass would send sonic booms to the ears of all in attendance with the power of his kick drum alone, while the twin guitar assault of Maik Weichert and Alexander Dietz would bolster an already massive auditory foundation and provide lots of infectious dueling harmonies while vocalist Marcus Bischoff stretched the harshness boundaries of the human voice on standout performances of "Voice Of The Voiceless" and "Black Tears."

Not long after back on the Hell Stage, Canadian metal trustees Kittie would bring the same fire and pizzazz that they took to Blue Ridge Festival back in September, featuring much of the same numbers. Lead by the charismatic stage presence and excitable character of vocalist and guitarist Morgan Lander, they would elicit a favorable crowd response with a healthy collection of catchy, minimalist installments of mayhem that would recall the old days of Korn combined with some fleeting elements of the grunge acts like L7 and Hole. Noteworthy moments would include a dynamic rendition of their single "Brackish" and a punchy, down-tuned crusher "Charlotte," where a sea of banging heads were lead along by a thunderous drum performance from Mercedes Lander and equal rhythmics by returned bassist Ivana "Ivy" Vujic.

Things would then proceed to take on an ironically ominous tone back at the Heaven Stage at nightfall when Polish blackened death metal pioneers and disciples of the occult Behemoth came to the fore. Press would be confined to the soundboard area for photography from that moment on, making for a more distant perspective relative to much of the crowd. Adorned with zombie-like makeup and black robes like something out of a dark druid's ritual, front man Nergal and his fold of unholy priests turned instrumentalists struck a truly diabolical tone with such chaotic odes as "The Deathless Sun," "Conquer All," and "Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel" as the pinnacle of a consistently frenetic set, spearheaded by blast-happy drumming and virtuosic guitar solos to a truly ecstatic crowd response.

Over at the largely hard rock dominated Modelo stage a heavier tone would be struck with the entry of Jersey-born punk meets metal maniacs Doyle. It has long been noted that there has been at least a tangential relationship between these two often ideologically disparate genres, but what would transpire would be a marriage made in both hell and heaven that would make the likes of Discharge and Misfits proud. Decked out in getups that blur the lines between classic early 80s hardcore attire and something out of the latest Mad Max film, gritty shouter and front man Alex Story and his three maniacal partners in crime would raise the figurative roof with such metal-infused fits of sonic battery as the Black Flag meets "Children Of The Grave" banger anthem "Abominator," the riff happy shuffling machine "Virgin Sacrifice" and the harrowing sludge factory with an infectious edge "Valley Of Shadows," among a bunch of other ground-pounding numbers.

Unfortunately, the spirit of this massive celebration of sound and fury would hit some sizable speed bumps back on the Heaven Stage during Florida mainstay metallers Trivium's evening set. Technical problems would hamper the band through much of their performance, with Matt Heafy's vocals being inaudible since their opening thrasher "In the Court of The Dragon." These would be followed by a series of audio issues with the guitars and vocals scattered about the rest of their set. For his part, Heafy proved apt at playing off these unforeseen hiccups, addressing the crowd in Spanish that the issues were being dealt with and later quipping that the universe was doing everything in its power for the show to fail. Still, the quartet soldiered on and did well in maintaining communication with the audience, and brought things to a brilliantly climactic conclusion with their live staple "In Waves." We later found out that the whereabouts of the band's entire truck, with all their gear – including monitor boards, soundboard and drum-kit – were unknown.

Topping off the second day of this triple dose of metallic majesty would be British heavy metal legends themselves Judas Priest, and true to their title from one of their signature early '80s hits as The Metal Gods, they hit it out of the park. Opting for a different song selection than that of their 50 Years tour, the ratio of latter-day modern metal crushers to vintage metallic gold was fairly balanced, and there were even a few unexpected ones like their mid-80s quasi-commercial banger "Turbo Lover." Vocalist Rob Halford was a pinnacle of execution and poise, bringing truly spellbinding takes on classics "Painkiller" and "Screaming For Vengeance," while banger offerings like "Electric Eye," "You've Got Another Thing Coming" and a tribute to recently fallen star Christine McVie in the form of a heartfelt cover of Fleetwood Mac's "The Green Manalishi" stood out as highlight moments of a show-stealing extravaganza.

The third and final day of the Hell & Heaven Metal Fest would prove a troubled conclusion to things. Up to now, the festival had been quite strong from a performance standpoint but was inundated by organizational problems that affected media, crew, and band members, resulting in recurring technical tribulations for multiple acts. Earlier in the afternoon Los Angeles groove metal darlings Butcher Babies kicked things off from the Hell stage with a combination of treats for the ears, despite both their main mics being inaudible for the first song and a half. Aggression-steeped thrashers with extremely harsh vocal performances such as "Igniter," "Monsters Ball," the horror-tinged crusher "Gravemaker" and their signature cover of Napoleon XIV's "They're Coming To Take Me Away" were the order of the hour.

Theatricality would take the lead back on the Heaven Stage when Swedish melodic death metal turned nü-metal impresarios Avatar made their presence known to the masses in Toluca. While the performance was heavily adorned with fetching imagery, the band served-up a highly involved musical repertoire that featured plenty of virtuosic maneuvers as they cycled through live staples like "Colossus" and "Smells Like A Freakshow." Of course, Avatar also tore things up with a pair of newly minted bangers from their upcoming album Dance Devil Dance despite some – yet again – technical issues popping up here and there to hinder the flow of their set. Suffice it to say, the crowd all but cried out "You had us at top hat, cane and maniacal facial expressions" as they cheered the set on and repeatedly chanted their name.

A bit later on the Heaven Stage, Christian nü-metal veterans and San Diego natives P.O.D. took the reins. Sparing little in the heaviness department despite the generally upbeat and optimistic lyrical message, they turned in a rock solid performance and had the crowd roaring as loudly as any of the darker acts that had preceded them. Truth be told, crowd attendance was roughly at its peak as the infectious grooves of hip-hop infused opener "Boom" rang out, as P.O.D. made it a point of being as animated on stage as possible to inspire similar activity in the pit below. Other highlight performances commanding raised fists, jumping bodies and good times being had by all included energy-infused takes on classic staples of this band's past like "Rock The Party (Off The Hook)" and "Soundboy Killa."

Then it was Stryper's turn over on the Hell Stage, of all places. Not only would audio problems cause them to stop for about five minutes right into the midst of their third number "More Than a Man," but the lighting would feel particularly off during the preceding two songs, hindering the press in the photo pit from getting any good shots of the band. Nevertheless, and true to their status as elite masters of the stage, they recovered quickly and won over the crowd through a combination of maximum effort and brilliant showmanship, with the closing duo of classic bangers "Soldiers Under Command" and "To Hell with The Devil." Every member was in top form, with Michael Sweet's lofty, Dennis DeYoung-like voice continuing to sound youthful and exuberant.

Big 4 mainstays Anthrax would mirror the aforementioned tech-calamity from the Heaven Stage, and revisited the same dire situation Trivium went through the prior day, to the frustration of the audience. Sound issues would render the otherwise animated and flamboyant Joey Belladonna's voice imperceptible to the crowd for their opening renditions of "I Can't Turn You Loose" and "Among The Living," but afterwards the lion's share of their remaining set would proceed to raise the concept of ruining spines to an art form. High octane crushers from their seminal 80s catalog such as "Madhouse," "Metal Thrashing Mad," "Caught In A Mosh" and the more mid-paced early 90s earth-shaker "Keep It In The Family" were all brilliantly delivered to a crowd that couldn't find a single excuse to stay still, and things ended on a truly explosive note with a banner performance of "Indians," complete with Belladonna sporting his signature native headdress as he roamed the stage.

Then Danish metal pioneers and occult-steeped wizards of the old ways Mercyful Fate rode the Hell Stage with fire and fury beneath the pitch-black sky. True to their commitment to theatricality going along with their highly kinetic and impact-based brand of heavy metal, they were a visual spectacle that few could ever hope to rival, complete with helmsman and banshee wailer King Diamond donning a crimson robe with an elaborate crown of thorns upon his painted head. Their set would be a bit shorter compared to the collection of 80s classics that came with their crackerjack performance in Georgia a few weeks back, but would follow the same thematic scheme with classic entries "The Oath," "A Dangerous Meeting" and "Satan's Fall" ruling the roost, though their new song "The Jackal of Salzburg" brought in a comparable strong audience response.

The second to last band to headline this massive festival, and the last one to rock the Heaven Stage would be Megadeth. Though they would not be the closers this evening, it could be argued that they would bring the evening to its zenith and delivered their show to the largest crowd. Standing room only would still fall short of describing how packed things were as this virtuoso thrash metal quartet proceeded to pound and crush their way through a marathon 13-song set. Dave Mustaine would be in top form, possessing greater vocal power compared to his prior showing in Denver and also appearing far more energetic on stage despite his recent bout with cancer and decades of wear and tear on the road. Each entry would see Dave, Kiko, Dirk, and James firing on all cylinders though the usual suspects in "Hanger 18," "Peace Sells," "Symphony of Destruction," and "Holy Wars." It was a triumph in every respect, and as Dave repeatedly thanked the crowd and remarked on how Mexico was among their favorite places to play. The only downside was that it had to end.

Theatrical high-jinks and visual splendor would be the final order of the evening via the Hell Stage as late-night closers and headliners Kiss chimed in with their last performance in Mexico. It would largely be a reprise of their prior performances this year with a heavy emphasis on fancy pyrotechnics, blaring stage lights, and nothing but one infectious sing-along opportunity after another. In total there would be 16 classic entries to grace the air as the crowd roared on, with some of the standout moments being the opening shuffle of "Detroit Rock City," the heavy-ended beasts "War Machine" and "God Of Thunder," and the ultra-catchy ode "Black Diamond." Special note should be made of Tommy Thayer's highly impressive guitar solo just following a solid rendition of "Cold Gin," showcasing that this otherwise pop/rock phenomenon does possess a virtuosic side. Most of the crowd work would fall to the superstar himself Paul Stanley, whom frequently weaved in Spanish phrases and salutations – like "Cómo están cabrones," and "Kiss quiere a México" – while revving things up between numbers, a master showman to the end.

Hell: The Festival

The following portion digs into just what went down behind the curtains. The deplorable number of shortfalls, "invisible" for most, turned the event into an undesirable and frustrating experience for bands, crew-members, and our own staff on site.

For the sake of clarity I've divided this roundup by subject, making it easier to follow for anyone interested. We rarely speak ill of things in the metal multiverse, but this time around we feel it is important to share the details.

The Transportation Nightmare

The festival was held in the town of Toluca, Mexico. There was absolutely no infrastructure in place to handle the thousands of attendees that would descend over the somewhat remote location, and the promoters evidently hadn't put much thought into the true scale of this three-day celebration. Such lack of planning turned traffic, and the task of getting in and coming out of the festival grounds, into a mission of military proportions. The shuttles – those that supposedly would take care of timely transport of bands and crew in and out – were nonexistent, and trying to get an Uber would require waiting at least 1 hour. We're told many band members resorted to walking a few miles away to grab a local cab in an effort to make it back to hotels. And that's just one example of the many transportation complaints we've heard.

The Improper Treatment to Bands & Crew Members

You'd think that for an event where music is the main dish, musicians would be treated with the utmost care and respect. However, we've been told by numerous bands that the catering was yet another fiasco, with hot food only being reserved for headliners, and obtaining meal tickets took hours and a fight to get. The artists' wristbands changed every day, as they also did for press and media, and the festival camp did not want bands and crew members to stay and enjoy the show outside of their slot. It's also worth mentioning that the weather was around 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and there was not a single heater on-site. Good luck if you didn’t bring enough layers to keep you warm before hitting the stage.

The Technical Incompetence 

In our review of the performances, we described time and time again how many of the sets were hindered or even cut short by tech issues, as well as the amateurishness of those handling them. Some bands took to social media to air their grievances and criticize the event, as you can read in statements from Cradle of Filth, Pain, Trivium.

The Press/Media Ordeal

While it is true that press had a dedicated tent where refreshments were served regularly and bathrooms were available, and that area was generally kept clean  and had running water, there was no Wi-Fi service whatsoever and cellular reception was imaginary. This made it impossible to do any real-time media updates for the festival. You'd think that for an event expecting thousands of attendees, someone would have thought that would be somewhat of a need. But there is more.

The major issue wherein media was concerned, which undoubtedly – and unfortunately – impacted our own coverage in a very negative way, was an unbelievable over-approval of media publications; an approach that rendered the photo pits massively overcrowded with upwards of 80 souls at any given time, to the point that moving around was virtually unmanageable. To make things even worse, many of those allowed to enter the photo pit were carrying video cameras in several configurations, from professional equipment attached to tripods to totally amateur devices. Some were simply filming the show on their phones and taking selfies, while others were just having a good time and doing no work other than getting in the way.

The excess of media personnel was so ridiculous that when exiting the photo pit after the first three songs (and in some cases kicked out after only two songs without any explanation), a line would form immediately at the only point where media could access the two main stages. This occurred even when the band playing would still be on stage for another hour. If you chose not to stand in line, you would not be able to enter when it was time for the next act, as the line would be so long. Even if you did make it through, you'd be cornered among dozens of others with no possibility of even reaching close to the front of the stage. Such a situation severely hindered our chances to document anything happening on the other three stages on the festival grounds, as we had no choice other than to stay put in the waiting line if we wanted to get a shot of the main performers.

The obnoxious over-approval protocol brought forth by those responsible for media coordination at the festival also brought another displeasing consequence: some bands would witness insane situations happening with the press and would prohibit any media being in the pit. This meant photographers were directed to the "soundboard" section, which in reality was a six-feet gap between the "preferred" and the "general attendance" areas in front of each stage, each of them fenced out with barricades to prevent access from one to the other. Standing there (if you were lucky to be amongst the first 20 in the waiting line) gave birth to an unexpected and at times even dangerous situation; for the first three songs we were effectively blocking the view of all the fans that waited for hours under the sun and piled up against the general admission barricade behind us. And some did not take that lightly. What started with yells and insults, on some occasions, ended in photographers (myself included) splashed with water, beer, and even pelted with small rocks. Yes, you read that correctly. And the security personnel, standing around us to make sure we exited immediately after the allotted time, took zero action to calm things down.

The Shady Wristbands Practices

There was no way to use cash or credit cards at the festival grounds. Instead, you’d “charge” your wristband with any amount of Mexican pesos in any of the several locations intended for that task inside Foro Pegaso. You could pay for anything you wanted with the vendors by scanning it and deducting the money from it. That, in principle, is a common practice, and we've seen it working well in many US and European festivals. When charging your wristband, they would assess a fee of 25 Mexican pesos for the service. Okay, let’s chalk this one up as a "comes with the territory" type of fee.

However, if after the event you had a remaining amount of money in your wristband (and let’s face it, who can properly predict how much you are going to spend in booze or merch?) you'd be assessed a second 30 Mexican pesos fee for "administrative purposes" to refund you the money… that had not been disclosed upfront.

This is all in addition to failed promises the festival had made to Metal Injection, who had a full staff on site, as mentioned earlier. While Metal Injection head Frank Godla, holds his own reservation with ever attending or working with the festival again, this critical review is not intended to be biased because of this debacle.

In conclusion, Hell and Heaven Metal Fest boasted a lineup that had us salivating for a high caliber metal feast, and the bands were certainly the best part, but the recurrent manifestation of the above-described inadequacies made the event truly honor the first word of its name, and in spades. Let's hope they learn from all the mistakes, and perhaps subsequent editions will be promoted by a different team, making them a better planned and prepared affair that can turn the bad taste of this 2022 edition into little more than a bad memory.

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