By Baz Jones
Got to the campsite at about 5pm, but spent ages trying to put up Will's monster tent. Unfortunately this meant that we missed Metalium's set. I don't know what they are like but from what I could hear they sounded like pretty basic power metal. Some Germans were enthusing about them later on.
The first band I got down to see were Ancient Rites, just after they started their set. I'm quite a big Ancient Rites fan and they didn't disappoint me at all. For those of you who don't know, they are one of the few big name black metal bands from the early Nineties who are not from Norway (they're Dutch). They played 40 minutes of very tight, melodic black metal and Gunther's voice was in fine form, particularly on the clean passages. The new stuff sounds amazing and I'm going to have to buy the new album as soon as I get home, but the stand-out tracks were undoubtedly the 'Fatherland' material, particularly the title track and 'Mother Europe'. Will left early, claiming they were generic, but he's a heretic.
Devin Townsend was up next and a lot of people on the trip seemed to think his was the best performance of the festival. I didn't catch him last week, so he pretty much blew me away with the Strapping Young Lad material. I'm not familiar with his other projects, and for me, with the exception of the Physicist track, it wasn't a patch on 'All Hail The New Flesh', 'Oh My Fucking God', 'SYL' or 'Detox', all of which absolutely SHREDDED. Gene Hoglan has to be one of the most amazing drummers I have ever seen (Hellhammer being a notable exception) and Devin himself is clearly quite quite mad. I'm just amazed they can carry such complicated music off live and still be so tight. Fucking hell.
I know I'm in a very small minority here, but for me Destruction were the band of the festival, no questions asked. They're one of my legends, like Slayer, Venom, Frost or Possessed and they played an absolutely blinding set, despite Schmier looking really quite old. It's a good job he didn't sound it. Playing songs from almost all of their records (including the fucking DEMO!), every song was awesome - 'The Mad Butcher', 'Bestial Invasion', 'Tears of Blood', 'Life Without Sense', 'The Butcher Strikes Back'... on top of this they managed to fit in an Exploited cover ('Fuck the USA' - the only thing that stopped the silly bastards at the front waving their huge Dropkick Murphys flag. How very punk rock.) and a newie from their upcoming album, 'The Antichrist' ('Melt to the Cross'). It was obviously all very Eighties (the amount of leather on stage was phenomenal and I'm surprised Schmier could still stand under all those bullets), but they made a hell of a racket for a three piece. Ignore everyone else - Destruction were amazing, they are still miles better than almost everyone else on the bill and True Thrash Metal lives on.
'Unfortunately' I managed to miss Rose Tattoo, although from the campsite it seemed that they simply played one (bad) AC/DC riff for an hour. Me and Andy went back to the tent to catch Nevermore; again, I'm not that familiar with their stuff, but was pretty impressed - they play heavy power metal, not very far removed from recent Iced Earth, and seemed to be putting a lot of energy into it. They were certainly very slick and very professional, but it got a bit boring after about half an hour, so I wandered off to find some food just as they were threatening to play some doom metal. I did hear them break into the 'South of Heaven' riff later on though. A band that I'd like to hear more on record before I write them off. At this point I went to bed, and so missed the headliners (an AC/DC tribute band called Action in DC), but they sounded pretty good from the tent. Better than Rose Tattoo anyway.
Got up early in time to see Pist.On opening up the main stage. Never been much of a fan of them on record, but they were actually quite good when they got going. To be honest I thought they'd split up, but clearly not. I didn't watch all of it, but I was quite pleasantly surprised that they had improved a lot since I last saw them. Kill II This were on next and sucked badly. Badly played, uncharismatic nu-metal bollocks. Maybe they'd look better in a club, but they looked totally out of their depth on the big stage and were frankly embarassingly bad. Next!
Unleashed! I think I've only ever met one other Unleashed fan out there, but they must have brought their hardcore fanatics with them because the pit was insane. Unleashed are a Swedish band who play pretty simplistic death / thrash metal with somewhat dodgy lyrics ("My warriors fly to me... death metal victory!"), but I love 'em. I guess it's just the really honest attitude, but I can forgive the cheesy echo effects on the vocals and Johnny not being able to remember which albums his songs come from (hey, they have been going for 15 years!). As far as I'm concerned, they played a really cool set and I left the tent with a big grin on my face. The best stuff was probably the later stuff off Victory and Warrior, but they even got an encore (they closed with 'Before the Creation of Time' and 'Execute Them All'). I think they converted Iain and Will as well, so maybe it's not just me after all.
Jay had been raving about Farmer Boys, and I remember they had a pretty cool video on Headbangers Ball a few years ago, but I'm sorry, today they were shite. Most of it sounded like dull lifeless nu-metal, although the singer's voice was good and the keyboard effects were nice when you could hear them. Oh well, maybe they're better on record? Next band up on the Black Stage were Orphanage. They weren't bad in a kind of inoffensive gothic metal sort of way. Not terribly original or charismatic, but pretty enjoyable all the same. They were followed by Primal Fear on the main stage - classic German power metallers, who desperately want to be Judas Priest. I was expecting to hate them, but they turned out to be a lot of fun and after a few beers their total lack of originality didn't really seem to matter that much. They certainly seemed to play with a lot of enthusiasm, and you knew what the words to the chorus were going to be before they'd even finished the first one. I'd never buy their records but I could probably be persuaded to see them live again.
After chilling out in front of Primal Fear, I was thoroughly woken up by The Haunted. Will had been saying all weekend how he thinks the Haunted are shit now (!) but that wasn't the impression I came away with. They rattled through a mixture of songs from their two albums, displaying just what talented musicians they all are. Marco Aro isn't quite the frontman that Peter Dolving was and has turned into quite a fat bastard but kept up considerable intensity for the whole 40 minutes they were on stage, whilst the rest of the band laid waste to the expectant audience. The songs themselves cannot be faulted - 'In Vein', 'Undead', 'Bury Your Dead', the closing 'Hate Song' etc. etc. - my only complaint (and this applies to the Black Stage for the whole day) was that the sound wasn't quite as loud as the day before and so some of the impact was lost. Still, a top class performance by an awesome band. What are they doing so low down the bill?
Savatage were up next on the main stage, but I've always despised their wanky prog metal so went to get some lunch. What I could hear didn't inspire me at all - they've been going long enough that you'd expect some stage presence, but they were just dull. I managed to get to see the last 2/3 of Macabre's set - a bunch of dangerously obsessed men playing sick old school death metal. They were extremely funny, not least of all because of the frontman's red pyjamas. I only know their older material, but on the basis of this performance, I think 'Dahmer' is another album to add to my shopping list. When the fuck did Macabre learn to play?! Are there no standards any more? Oh well, it's nice to see the old school still at it.
Motörhead's bus broke down, so they swapped places on the bill with Megadeth on the main stage. I have a bit of a confession to make. I've never really liked Megadeth that much. My opinion of them wasn't helped by the first half hour of their set - 'In My Darkest Hour' was good, but the newer material is really weak by comparison and Dave's voice is shot; you'd think he'd hit a correct note by accident every so often, which makes his feat even more impressive. However, about half way through, something weird happened - Megadeth suddenly turned into a good band. Once they started cranking out the old classics, they seemed to get a new lease on life and ended up looking pretty damn good. I've gone home and dusted off 'Rust In Peace' and 'So Far, So Good, So What', just to remind myself how good they used to be. I guess whatever drugs they'd taken must have kicked in half way through the set. Whatever. A pleasant surprise.
Six Feet Under were pretty immense as well, although I got murdered in the pit. Chris Barnes is still an awesome frontman and the material is just so mosh friendly. Thankfully they steered clear of the dodgy covers they've been peddling recently and stuck to their classic Obituary-styled stomping ground. We got stuff from all their albums (I remember 'War Is Coming', 'Victims of the Paranoid' and closer 'Revenge of the Zombie' being particularly good) and I almost managed to sprain my neck before Motörhead came on. How fucking loud were Motörhead? When they finally got there, they were about the first band on the main stage to get people moving. I'd never seen them live before, but I'd love to see them in a club. Lemmy has grown his moustache back (hooray!) and still shows no signs of getting old and is still as abusive as ever. The set list was split evenly between new stuff and the obvious classics, so we got 'We Are Motörhead' and the Pistols cover ('God Save The Queen') off the new album, along with 'Ramones', plus the obvious likes of 'Ace of Spades' and 'Overkill'. Only complaint - no 'Orgasmatron'. Oh well, they still looked younger than Megadeth. Awesome.
I didn't actually see Within Temptation as I was sat outside in the sun but my initial impression was that they sounded like Celine Dion with guitars. They turned out to be really good and I'm going to have to get some of their stuff. After that were Cradle Of Filth. I'd never seen Cradle before either and was really looking forward to it. They were up against it from the start though - playing in daylight before an almost completely apathetic crowd and being given a crap sound and limited stage show because of the festival conditions. They looked very fetching with their matching dyed red hair, and the set list was almost faultless - 'Ebony Dressed for Sunset', 'The Forest Whispers My Name', 'Cthulu Dawn', 'From The Cradle To Enslave', 'Cruelty Brought Thee Orchids', 'Queen of Winter, Throned', 'A Gothic Romance', 'Her Ghost in the Fog' and probably some others I've forgotten, but somehow they didn't really seem to gel - Dani was in typical spoilt brat mode and kept stalking off to shout at the sound men and trashed the keyboards before the end of the set; the guys on stilts looked ridiculous and the dancing girls were just tacky. Although the playing was excellent throughout (Adrian and Robin are amazing), it all looked a bit unprofessional, and although I'm a huge Cradle fan, today was not their day.
The situation was massively improved by Marduk who closed the bill on the second stage. To those who don't know, Marduk absolutely KILL - both live and on record. They are one of those bands you either love or hate; it'd be pretty hard to have no strong feelings towards them. The only band to come close to rivalling Destruction, in terms of sheer Swedish brutality they pissed all over the death metal bands further down the bill. They played stuff from most of their releases over their prolific career from 'Still Fucking Dead' to 'Jesus Christ Sodomized' (off new album 'La Grande Danse Macabre'). Vocalist Legion just oozes stage presence, whilst the rest of the band mostly kept their head down to maintain an almost ludicrous intensity throughout the entire set. My favourite bit was probably 'Beyond The Grace of God' off 'Heaven Shall Burn', but watching the crowd fighting over Legion's spiky wrist band at the end was pretty funny. I'm ticking off the black metal legends I'm yet to see, and I'm very pleased to say that none of them have disappointed me yet. Marduk rule, and the packed marquee seems to suggest in this particular case there might be some people who agree with me...
After the double barrel of Marduk and Cradle, I was quite prepared to go and lie down somewhere with some beers and just listen to Judas Priest, but as soon as they came on and I realised that I did actually know everything they were playing I had to go up and watch. Despite the crowd being curiously muted, Priest put on an extremely good, if predictable show. I suppose they've got to the point in their career when there's quite a challenge to balance their new stuff with the classics they just CAN'T leave out. The new material was actually limited to 'Bloodstained' and a new number, 'One on One' (new album, 'Demolition' out soon), and hence most of the set was filled with what you'd expect - 'You've Got Another Thing Coming', 'Heading Out to the Highway', 'Living After Midnight', 'The Hellion / Electric Eye', 'Breaking the Law', 'Hell Bent For Leather', 'Green Manalishi', 'Painkiller', 'A Touch of Evil' etc. though they should really consider dropping 'Diamonds and Rust', as it was abominable. The stage show was pretty special though - Tim's glittery coat was very glittery and we got lots of cool lighting, risers at the end blah blah blah. Point to Tim Owens: your name is Tim, not Ripper. And 'The Ripper' is actually that good a song, so that could possibly go as well (they could play 'Screaming For Vengeance' or something instead?). Whatever. Basically, they were a good way to finish off the festival and we all went off looking pretty chuffed.
Big thanks to Andy for organising the trip and driving us over there. I'll see you all at Wacken!