By Elizabeth "Bonzo" Watts and a bit by me
In spite of some very sticky traffic on the M1 just south of Derby, we
arrived at the Derby Assembly rooms in plenty of time and were able to hear
all the bands (except those of us who shall be nameless who fucked off to
the pub, clearly preferring beer to metal...)
The venue consisted of a big hall (basically the True Metal Stage) and a smaller venue with a nominal capacity of only 500 (I have no idea what the organisers would have done if they'd sold all 3000 tickets) which served as the Black Metal Stage. Between them was a foyer stuffed with stalls selling jewellery, CDs and all the usual tat, plus a stall at which Powerplay magazine were selling back issues (bought 10 of them and am happy). I also purchased a T-shirt with the legend 'Kerrap! Ignoring real British metal every Wednesday'. And an impressively spiky bracelet. Baz predictably bought about 50 CDs.
My haul consisted of: "Doomed" - the 3-CD stoner/doom compilation that's harder to find than a living Spurs fan in the North Bank Stand; Destruction - "All Hell Breaks Loose"; Sleep - "Sleep's Holy Mountain"; Sodom - "In The Name Of Evil / Obsessed By Cruelty"; Autopsy - "Acts Of The Unspeakable" (3 quid from the bargain bin); a dirt-cheap Peaceville sampler tape.
The only slight problem was that although there were about 1500 metallers in
the place, the venue had clearly thought.. 'only going to need 3 bar staff
in the afternoon as people don't buy much booze' at 1pm'. Beer queue bad.
And yes, there were a lot of people who had come from Italy, Scandinavia, etc. to hear these bands in a small venue. And yes, about 20 per cent of the audience were wearing Wacken T shirts.
The organisers had put all the modern sounding bands on first, so proceedings were kicked off by Infobia, a local band to judge from their accents, with a frontman who delivers comic patter between numbers. They sound rather as if they would like to be Skinlab, and although their standard of performance was high they weren't one of the high points of the day.
Over in the main hall, Biomechanical played a very fast, very technical set with a lot of riffs in each song and frequent changes of time; technically, they were bloody impressive, but they didn't rock me, so after 3 songs I went out to inspect the CDs, tacky jeweler and to find the bar.
Think part Slayer, part Machine Head, bits of Fear Factory, the merest hint of nu-metal, and a singer who's a cross between Rob Halford, Bruce Dickinson and whatshisface from Iced Earth. Interesting...
Twelvepointhead were a much better example of modern metal. They were extremely heavy, possibly have listened to a bit too much Slipknot at times (they had a tendency to copy one or two effects from them especially during quieter passages) but bloody good and not too derivative overall. One to look out for if you're not put off by nu-metal derived rhythms.
Twelvepointhead: nu-metal name, nu-metal sound, bassist who holds his bass way too high. Arse.
The main stage then played host to Freedom Call. I heard these guys supporting Hammerfall in London a year or two ago and was impressed then, but just how impressed I had forgotten. Even Jimmer admitted that he had remained in the room during their entire set, and for Jimmer not to walk out of a power metal band they have to be good.
Really? Emma & Colette found me in the middle of the set and we spent the rest of it ripping the piss out of "Warriors" and that track that sounds like "The Final Countdown"... I'll admit I stayed in there, but purely as an endurance test.
I was amazed to find that I
could remember several of the songs from one hearing 18 months ago, always a
sign of good material. A lot of power metal lacks good songwriting, but not
these guys. They are probably one of the half dozen best power metal bands
around at the moment.
Due to the main stage running late and the second stage running early, I missed Enemymaker888 entirely...
Bad move, staying in to see Freedom Call, as this lot were a lot better judging by the 1½ tracks I heard. Straight down the middle of the road metal with a Thin Lizzy cover... and an appearance on a soundtrack that might be promising.
...so there was a delay in the bar before
Balance of Power appeared on the main stage. Balance of Power were the
second of today's power metal bands, and definitely one of the better ones
I've heard, without being outstanding. I was only able to hear 4 of their
songs, as the late running of the main stage (fortunately rectified by the
next band) meant that to stay would have meant missing Elvenking on the
second stage entirely.
Elvenking only played 6 songs, having only had their current singer (Martin Walkier preaching pagan propaganda) for a week. My late arrival meant I only heard 3 of them. I wish I had heard more of them, as they were bloody excellent, and I promise I will never speak ill of Skyclad etc again.
Should point out here that Elvenking played six Skyclad tracks, not their own. Still, to learn the tracks & play them near-perfect after one week and a single half-hour rehearsal is impressive. And according to Baz, their own stuff isn't a million miles away from Skyclad either...
They also had the biggest crowd on the second stage of the day.
Bzzt! That honour went to RTTS - the Walkyier effect at work again.
Threshold played next on the main stage. In spite of Baz's dire predictions,
they weren't actively bad, making a rather progressive, mid-paced power
metal flavoured noise, but they certainly didn't keep me once Primordial
stated playing on the second stage a few songs into their set.
Primordial were exceedingly impressive, so much so that I even missed the first 10 minutes of Diamond Head for them, being I too absorbed to notice the time. They came over as rather more melodic than I remember from their recordings...time to go and fish them out and have another listen.
Proof that corpse paint doesn't necessarily equal yapping-dog shrieking à la Dani Muck. Top banana.
I am probably not the best qualified person to judge whether Diamond Head were good or not. Most of you know about my NWOBHM fixation, and I was much too overawed by the fact that I was hearing Diamond Head from the front row to judge them objectively. Although they are by no means the original band (down to 2 original members now?), they still have an awful lot of stage presence, and there are frontmen half that age with less energy and enthusiasm. They played quite a lot of the obvious stuff, much of it (like 'Lightning to the Nations' for example) in very different arrangements from the album versions. Admittedly, I've heard Metallica obsessed schoolboys play the intro to 'Am I Evil' better, but it didn't seem to matter that there were mistakes, because there was so much energy and enthusiasm. They also played a few of their poppier, balladier numbers, but they managed to pull them off OK.
To me they came across as a band who would have been completely dead and buried if Lar$ UlRich didn't keep name-dropping them. They're a very average band with - if you'll all excuse the pun - a few gems, in the shape of "The Prince", "Am I Evil", "Helpless" (which didn't get played), and (just about) "It's Electric", though that last one's a bit cheesy for my liking. The other tracks were either a tad forgettable or right and royally annoying - I wasn't expecting a ballad followed by two tracks in succession that sounded like Bon Jovi and Def Leppard respectively... I left early without bothering to wait for "Am I Evil", figuring my time was better spent watching Bal-Sagoth.
Passing through the foyer in a hurry, because Bal Sagoth had already started playing. I saw esteemed committee member Oli Wade VOLUNTARILY NOT GOING TO HEAR THEM. I must add an item to the agenda immediately, castigating Oli Wade for this inexcusable behaviour.
Too right! Oli's mind has been polluted with too much widdly-diddly-biddly-squiddly cack.
Overwhelmingly good band number 4 of the day were Bal Sagoth. They played a very wide range of material, from pretty much the whole of their career. Question, though; why the backwards baseball caps?
They're not 100% serious. That's why. But more serious that Macabre or Lawnmower Deth.
Now I have to admit that I never really got Gamma Ray (or Helloween, for that matter) and having heard them live, I'm still underwhelmed.
Ye gods - a squiddly band that Bonzo doesn't like. Well now I've seen everything.
Underwhelmed enough, in fact to walk out after 3 songs. Yes, they are
technically skillful and so on. But power metal really does need hooks and
memorable tunes, plus am indefinable emotional effect which makes you want
to sing about brave warriors and above all makes you suspend disbelief about
the subject matter. Yes, it also needs skillful playing and a good soloist,
which Gamma Ray have. But like at least half the power metal bands at
Wacken, Gamma Ray don't have the emotional impact to make it work.
Sabbat (the British one) headlined the second stage. Now Sabbat can make you suspend disbelief. Sabbat can dress up in silly clothes and makeup and wave a sword and a sheep's skull and it looks not at all silly.
That "sheep's skull" is called Arthur!
Sabbat's music is so overwhelmingly good that they could pull off just about anything.
Track listing (from what I can remember):
A Cautionary Tale, Hosanna In Excelsis, I For An Eye, The Clerical
Conspiracy, Advent Of Insanity, Do Dark Horses Dream Of Nightmares, The Best
Of Enemies, Behind The Crooked Cross, For Those Who Died, The Church
For anyone who wants to buy any Sabbat stuff, History of a Time To Come is still available, Dreamweaver isn't. Though Ebay Deutschland (www.ebay.de for the computationally challenged) has (HAD!!) Dreamweaver available on LP (current price 1 Euro, but only one day left, so get your bids in...) or both of them in a double-vinyl set.
Sabbat are chiefly responsible for my very stiff neck this morning (Freedom Call need to take the blame too).. And they have a new guitarist, whose hair suggests that he comes from the planet Peladon (ObDrWhoreference there). Oli Wade was not seen again during this set. It's possible he was hiding at the back, but I have my suspicions.
Unforgivable, if he wasn't...
In spite of Baz's best attempts to induce me to miss them again like I
missed them at Wacken (this time by inciting me to listen to 'true metal' on
the car stereo in the car park) I headed off to Blind Guardian. During their
set I was rather distracted by a very drunk Italian whose idea of trying to
pick me up appeared to consist of prodding me in the leg with one of
Sabbat's drumsticks which he'd caught. He then poured his beer over me
because he was too drunk to hold it. This turned out to be a blessing, if
rather sticky, as he wandered off to the bar in search of more and I was
able to escape. hearing one of their sets (almost) complete doesn't much
change the opinion I formed during the quiet bits of Sabbat's set at Wacken;
they are competent, they are worth listening to, but they are never going to
be one of my favourite bands.
And so home, rather encumbered by the fact that Jimmer had so fried his brain headbanging that he couldn't even find the way out of the car park, and kept making random wrong turnings in Derby for no discernable reason whatsoever. And missed the M1.
Though it doesn't help having a drunk schoolteacher ranting in my ear every few minutes while I'm trying to find my way out of a city I've never been to before in the dark, and go back to Cambridge a different way to where I'd usually go...
Highlights of the day: Twelvepointhead, Freedom Call, Diamond Head, Bal Sagoth, Sabbat and the fact that of the 11 bands I heard, 9 of them I'd never heard before (or 10 if you count Blind Guardian who I heard in the distance at Wacken)
High point of the day: Every last nanosecond of RTTS. Devastating Thrash
Surprise of the day: Elvenking.
Disappointment of the day: Diamond Head.
Arseholes of the day: the fascist security.
Lowpoint of the day: Threshold's wanky prog rock. I heard it coming through the door.