By Elizabeth Watts
(Complete with marks out of ten!)
Having failed to get any sleep at all, I arrived at Cambridge bus station at 2.50am on Wednesday morning feeling tired... The True Metal Warriors who were going to make their annual pilgrimage turned up; this year we were me, Baz, Emma, Oli, Keith, Ian, Siobhan, Ben. Baz was, as last year, only partially vertical.
By 4am we were at Stansted. This year there was a much lower proportion of metalheads on the flight than last year. On the plus side, Ryanair didn't manage to lose anyone's bags (or an aeroplane) this year, so the airport bus left on time and we were at Hamburg Hauptbahnhof by 11am by which time Baz was starting to feel a little more sober and therefore immediately bought some beer. Spotting our wristbands, several first time festival goers came over for help buying tickets and instructions on how to get back to the airport on Sunday. Even some German guy came over and asked for help. After which most of us went to buy some food, and I went off on a much more important quest to find some vodka.
We caught a nice, air conditioned intercity direct to Itzehoe (later discovered that you're supposed to pay extra to travel on these, but no one checked our ticket so we got away with it.) and then had to stand up on a very overcrowded very hot FestivalShuttleBus. I made it more bearable by drinking about 1/3 bottle of vodka during the trip. Perhaps that's why my tent got put up crooked.
The campsite where we camped last year was not available this year, being assigned to prebooked parties of fifty or more. This new system rather spoiled the atmosphere in the camp site, as it meant that the large groups with their own marquees who partied all night and had their own soundsystem were all in one area and hence the rest of the campsite was rather quiet.
We had had some idea of meeting Jimmer and the Nottingham crowd who were supposed to have arrived on Tuesday night, but they weren't there. It later transpired that this was because one of the wheels had fallen off their bus somewhere outside Hamburg, causing them a delay. We did however meet up with 2 Irish friends of Keith's who camped with us.
Entertainment on the first evening was provided by the brass band of the local Fire Brigade. No, I'm not making it up. They set up in the beer garden and started playing German drinking songs. Hundreds of pissed Germans stood on tables, sang, danced the conga. A few periodically started little moshpits or headbanged. However rowdy British people get in pubs, the Germans clearly have them beaten hands down. We ate bigroastPig'sLegs and saurkraut and then headed off to the MetalDisco tent for an hour or so, where among other things, they played a metal version of the German national anthem. Hmm, brass band concerts and Haydn.
I went to bed in reasonable time and not as pissed as I might have been, but most of the rest of the group carried on partying. Hence at about 1am I was woken up by shouting, and then by one of Keith's friends called Dermott who had obviously carried on putting away beer for some time, unzipping my tent and starting to climb in. "Why are you in here?" he asked, on seeing me, to which I not unnaturally replied "Because this is my tent". After a few tries he got the idea and went away. Since his own tent was only next door to mine, and a totally different colour, shape and size (not to mention having slogans painted on it in bright blue paint) I assumed he'd gone into it. But no. 2 hours later a voice yelled 'Dermott, that's still the wrong tent' and he was back. Shortly afterwards he tried a third time. After that he vanished. Next morning he work up in a ditch on the other side of the campsite, so obviously he get lost looking for his tent and never made it back.
Thursday morning we intended to go to the supermarket, but as the temperature was about 85 degrees and the day very sunny, I changed my mind and decided to sit in the campsite drinking beer instead. To facilitate this I bought a very nice mead horn and belt holder for it, which I unfortunately managed to lose while drunk on the last night of the festival.
The first band was on at 6pm. Circle II Circle are the new project of Savatage's ex singer and sound not that different from Savatage, one third trad metal and 2 thirds power metal in sound. They weren't outstanding but they were a pleasant enough opening to the festival. (7)
Next up were Annihilator, who were disappointingly standard thrash fare, and as Ian pointed out, their new singer is crap. (6). However, the next band were a band called Victory, who apparently made it very big in Germany in the 1980s, but never cracked the British or American markets. Why is a mystery (unless because their singer clearly thinks he can sing English comprehensively, but can't). They were the first really nice surprise of the festival, being an excellent hard/rock trad metal band in the 80s style with extremely strong songs.(10).
Next up was the surprise guest, Saxon, who was about as well kept a surprise as Metallica was at Download. They played 3 songs, Motorcycle Man, Princess of the Night and Denim and Leather. They'll be headlining next year (which means I'll be too pissed to see them if past form is anything to go by) (10, as always)
Running Wild closed the proceedings for the first night. They clearly have a number of dedicated fans; several of these were wearing pirate outfits, sometimes complete with parrots or wooden legs. Their sound is a lot less power metal than I had imagined from the one album I've got, they sound a lot more the way you would expect a band founded in the early 80s and named after a Judas Priest song to sound. (8)
Friday would have been a wonderful day, except that it was TOO DAMN HOT. Although I laid off the alcohol all day I became pretty damn ill with sunstroke and had to go to bed feeling like shit at 9.30, and so missed In Flames and Twisted Sister, two of the bands I most wanted to see.
First band of the day was The Quill on the Party Stage. These guys are a 70s retro stoner outfit who want to be Led Zeppelin in their rocker moments quite badly. They do the whole vocalist and guitarist duelling thing like Zep (and at one point guitarist and drummer duelling), with slow, long drawn out solos. The songs themselves have the mind numbing quality of good stoner. (8)
I rejoined the other members of the party at the main stage where we met a drunk Austrian who dared Baz to drink suncream. Baz, who was not sober, accepted the dare. For the record, we have discovered that suncream is a powerful emetic. This surpassed Ian eating cigarettes for a dare the previous night by a considerable margin.
Extreme Noise Terror played a good set, but days when it's too hot to slamdance are not the best for listening to grindcore. Oli wasn't impressed and claimed that they were well named as they were extremely noisy and extremely terrible, but then he was also muttering about what he could do to avoid having to listen to Slayer, so perhaps this kind of thing isn't his cup of tea. (8)
Oli and I headed over to the Party Stage to check out a power metal band we'd never heard of called Seventh One. Unfortunately they were having considerable technical problems, especially with feedback from the bass, and eventually this became so bad that they had to cut their set short by 10 minutes. What I heard through the drone of feedback seemed to be fast paced power metal in the Hammerfall vein. (5)
The next band on the main stage was advertised as being Diamond Head, but what appeared was a composite band of Diamond Head and Tygers of Pan Tang, which in fact performed on 5 Diamond Head songs (the obvious ones) and Tygers stuff for the rest of the hour long set. This meant they didn't play any ballads this time. It also partly made up for the Tygers cancelling their London show earlier this year without telling anyone in advance. Their material is much stronger live than on record, mostly because of the awful 80s major-label production on all except the first. (9)
I left just before 'Am I Evil' to check out a band called the V8 Wankers who were playing in the WET stage. This stage is in a marquee, and was therefore like a sauna in this weather. This band mostly played a kind of trad metal cross thrash, with some AC/DC type riffing, but weren't nearly as bad as their name suggests. (7)
Dark Age are a band who used to be a grindcore band, but now claim on their website to have been influenced by stoner. What this means in practice is an interesting band whose rhythm section still play as if they were playing grindcore, but with a slow paced guitar and vocal part. The result was not as much like modern black metal as it sounds, and was damn good. (9)
Psychopunch (back in the sauna tent) play something that sounds like an even mix of early thrash, Motörhead and hair metal. Imagine Testament covering Motley Crue. (7)
I headed back to the main stage to hear Freedom Call, a power metal band who I've heard twice before and really like. Unfortunately a few minutes later I passed out from sunstroke and missed most of their performance. Then I headed over to the party stage to find out what a bunch of Germans called Lotto King Karl played, and hey presto, collapsed again, but only for a few minutes this time. Their music is very much influenced by the sort of traditional German drinking song the brass band were playing on Wednesday night, with a poppy, danceable feel, and went over quite well with the assembled Germans (6).
Primal Fear played a blinder of a set, including all their obvious hits (though I wish they'd play 'Living for metal' since a song that cheesy just has to be heard) They covered 'Metal Gods' however, to the delight of the crowd. (10) Afterwards I went to check out a band called Symphorce, but finding them to be crap after a couple of songs, I went to hear Die Apokalyptischen Reiter instead. They went over a lot better here in Germany than they did at the Astoria when I heard them supporting Testament in April. They play power metal flavoured thrash flavoured death flavoured stuff, and are jolly good.(7)
Rotting Christ were on in the WET tent, but unfortunately the place was completely packed with bodies and I couldn't get in. I tried standing near the doorway, but Gamma Ray were playing so loud on the main stage that I couldn't hear properly. However what I did hear sounded absolutely brilliant, as if it deserved a 9 or 10. Too ill to continue, I headed off to bed.
Saturday started off overcast, so I drank a beaker of vodka for breakfast, and then started the day off with Holy Moses, a German thrash band from the 1980s who were a last minute replacement for the absent Sinister. They are very much in the vein of the German big three, especially Kreator, and well up to their standards. Another very pleasant surprise (9). Graveworm, over on the Party Stage were meanwhile playing pleasant but rather standard melodic black metal.(6).
Thyrfing were the next pleasant surprise of the day. Described as Viking metal, they were like a slower, more Germanic Skyclad (9). Next I went to listen to Twisted Tower Dire, an American band who play 80s retro trad metal which sounds like Saxon or early Priest. They have an excellent 80s style screamer fronting the band, and are apparently quite popular on the continent where old school metal is still appreciated.(9)
Malevolent Creation were next on the main stage and were as good as ever (9), then came a power metal band called Metallium. Metallium have written 3 concept albums. These albums concern a man who was chosen by the Gods of Metal to convert all mankind to become true metal warriors. Those who heed the call go to a land ruled by metal when they die. Their music sounds much as you would imagine from the subject matter; mostly fast energetic power metal in the Hammerfall vein, with occasional mid paced, Maiden type singalong choruses. Lots of people had told me they were dire, but in fact they were damned good (or was that the mead?) They produced a female singer for the last 3 songs (including a cover of Rock and Roll) whose identity I am ignorant of, but the Germans seemed to recognise her.(8)
Evidence One were another surprise discovery. They play 80s style hard rock rather like UFO or Van Halen without the solos. They have another excellent 80s style scremy singer. (9) I just caught Carpathian Forest's last song; they sounded surprisingly upbeat for a band who still wear corpsepaint and all those studs. I did get to see their singer throw up all over the microphone, however. That'll teach him to eat festival burgers.
Back in the WET stage, a band called Bai Bang from Sweden were playing to about 6 people. This was a pity, as they weren't bad at all; they sounded like a heavier version of Motley Crue or Hanoi Rocks, very sleazy and glammy with a danceable beat and a very 80s sound. There seems to be a lot of this stuff coming out of Scandinavia. (8)
Masterplan, a kind of power metal supergroup were next on the main stage. They will be playing at Bloodstock this year. I know when I am going to do my shopping at Bloodstock this year. (3)
Cryptic Wintermoon were plagued with sound problems, especially bass feedback and a keyboard that was inaudible at times. Two soundmen read the manual for the mixing desk in full view of the audience and looked worried, while the band struggled on. As far as I can tell they are a damned good melodic black metal band. Probably (8)
Soilwork have been praised as comparable to In Flames, and given that I had missed in Flames I had high hopes of them, but they were not outstanding. They re rather more melodic that In Flames. During their set I mostly talked to 2 Germans who were as pissed as I was about Saxon. (5)
Ancient Rites were on the sound-plagued WET stage, but managed rather better than Cryptic Wintermoon had. They are true old school black metal, blasting continuously, very brutal; they make you remember how good early black metal could be, the kind where melody was secondary to the noise. (8)
Rage are a fast paced, quite hard German power metal band that have been going forever. They're not as good live as on record, and they played a truly crap drum solo. I wasn't as impressed as I was expecting to be (6)
Kataklysm played a blinding set of fast, brutal death metal. There was a vast amount of headbanging, and so impressive were they that a member of the Red Cross who was supposed to be looking after the crowd was noted crowdsurfing. Three times. So good were they in fact, that although I intended to leave half way through and catch half of Dark Funeral's set, I didn't manage to drag myself away.
About this time, my memory becomes rather hazy. This can probably be attributed to mead. I'm not a fan of Stratovarius, so I listened to most of Darkane's rather good thrash/death set (8), went shopping for a bit, and then went to listen to Nile. Now I've never heard Nile before (don't ask how) and from all that was said about them I was expecting something truly special. But they seemed to me to be fairly standard Swedish Death metal, and I was seriously underwhelmed (6) [Nile? Swedish? You what? - Jimmer.] (Then again, it's well known that Swedish death is something I never much liked). [*THWACK!* - Jimmer.] So after a few songs I decided to go and listen to veteran power metal band Sinner, who I liked better, but still wasn't fascinated by (7).
Now, I remember bits of Slayer's set, but I also remember wandering around being distracted by stalls and shopping, and periodically forgetting they were playing and falling over now and then and also spilling mead all over myself quite a lot. This is obviously sacrilege and I suggest the committee be mandated to burn me along with Jimmer. Bugger, I can't believe I got so drunk I forgot to listen to Slayer.
I then listened to Vader. And you know what. I can't remember a thing about it, except that they underwhelmed me too and they sounded like every Swedish style death metal band I've ever heard to me, but for all I could tell by that stage they might have been playing Poison or even the Spice Girls.
And then I must have somehow got back to my tent.
On the Sunday morning we were pleased to discover that the problems of previous years with the shuttlebuses had been sorted out, and they were now arriving every 10 minutes and all stopping in the same place, so that something like a queue formed, instead of a free for all. As a result we were in Hamburg by midday, which wasn't necessarily a good thing as out bus wasn't till 7.45pm. So we went for lunch and then sat in a bus station for 6 hours. Which was boring.
The plane back was 90 percent metallers, and as a result the flight was punctuated by shouts of 'Timmy!', people singing, people throwing horns and the sound of dozens of people opening beer cans. We were really lucky with the bus back as it arrived in the bus station at the same time we did, although there was a slight delay at the Trumpington P+R when the driver discovered 5 Italians who had got on in Brighton under the impression the bus would take them to London Victoria and had to put them on the London coach.