With a change in the weather forecast for this day a cooler temperature was welcomed as the ten minute drizzle on the walk down was the only rain we had contrary to the reports and some deluging that took place elsewhere at other mainland European festivals I heard. As ever the 10:15AM start was too much for some as my hardened resolve arrived to catchy Embryo from Italy that had Fleshgod Apocalypse’s drummer in their ranks. Tight and bristling with technicality the guys played their name sake song to a healthy bunch of people either just arrived for the day or hadn’t slept it seemed. Thoroughly professional the engagement with the audience was excellent as they blasted into “No God Slave” and even garnered a mini pit. Merch check was in order now as Embryo got the day off to a cracking start so picked up one of their shirts and a mug. German power metallers Evertale were next and I was keen to see them play a symphonic powered set of pompous but enjoyable tunes. However the band came across as formulaic and were restricted due to not having a separate vocalist, Matthias (guitarist) preferring to handle the vocals himself which dulled the energy massively despite the songs being adroitly written and expertly played as on “The Dragon’s Lair”. As a band in their formative years I would strongly suggest they employ a proper singer to add momentum to their songs and garner far more activity from the crowd. Also the drummer was from Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody and must have been a last minute stand in as he was reading from a book as he played which created a stifled drum sound where technicality was overshadowed by plain workman like precision.
The next trio of acts had me filled with downright excitement as whilst two I had seen before one I had not but absolutely love their music on record. Up first however were speed/thrash metal titans Evil Invaders who pulled out the performance of the weekend with their heads down thrash as they bounced around the stage as though a pack of rabid wolves was snapping at their heels. With a suitably ominous intro the band blazed into “Fast, Loud And Rude” with as much subtlety as a spiked baseball bat to the nether regions. They were mesmerising from the first second to the last as scorching twin leads and breathtaking hair acrobatics equivalent to a tornado emanated from their performance. “Driving Fast” was next with its supersonic riff and lightning dynamics, as the crowd obviously weren’t familiar with the band as no pit had erupted but as they played like Pavlov’s dog the riffing bells that scorched out of their guitars was enough for a salivating throng to amass and thrash with the best of them as two guys catalysed some action. The title track of their last “Pulses Of Pleasure” tore most people a new one whether they wanted it or not as the bands unrelenting headbanging was coupled to sizzling lead breaks. As smoke seemed to emanate from the stage it looked as though the guitar was smoking on “Stairway To Insanity”. A bass line paved the way for “Victims Of Sacrifice” as the drummer played like a maniac at all times. Their set was far too short for my liking as the burning embers of scorched riffing echoed through the crowd leaving the next band an impossible job to surpass them.
Icelandic retro rockers The Vintage Caravan has more or less gone under the radar since their self titled debut but were quickly picked up by Nuclear Blast and has seen their popularity increase enormously with various shows and touring commitments. Possibly the most non-metal band of the weekend the boys from Iceland cut a cool look on stage. No intro needed the band went straight into “Last Day Of Light” from their recent opus “Arrival”. The tune was laid back summer retro fuzz as the serene break was nimbly played. Noticeably Oskar looked to be struggling with his voice for the set and occasionally his voice was lost in the mix but that didn’t detract from their performance which was as energetic as always. Announcing this was the first time the band had played in the Czech republic was greeted with a cheer as they played “Babylon”. Watching the crowd you could see people a little puzzled but open eared as they embraced the 70s styled rockers wholeheartedly as Oskar shredded like a beast. Telling the audience they were going to play a long song I thought was brave but it was a great move as it allowed each guy to showcase his talents to a very appreciative audience on “Kings Voyage”. The bass work was especially fantastic on this song as an impromptu clap took place by the crowd. Shrouding their set in a 70s aura was awesome allowing people to chill out and absorb the band’s music without too much activity despite a few tech problems before playing “Midnight Meditation”. Complex song structures aside the band has a knack of writing infectious tunes laced with ambition as on “Expand Your Mind” which was very Deep Purple like from the 70s. No sooner had they started than it was over and I personally would have preferred another 15 minutes.
Canadian newbie speed metallers Skull Fist were next and I was filled with excitement like a silly teenager at seeing them. Regular checks at the merch area had been undertaken by myself and shooter as I desperately wanted a shirt by them. With a hand gesture from the shooter signalling they had about four shirts I headed to the merch place and bagged every shirt possible including one the shooter was going to buy in haste to be greedy but he didn’t mind as he bought their vinyl instead. The merch area was a scrum for this band as many tried to get shirts with limited sizes but I am happy I got four including one that wasn’t displayed so a result for me. “Danger Zone” from the Top Gun film was used as their intro as the retro speedsters decked in sprayed on jeans and hi-tec trainers opened with “Sign Of The Warrior”. Quite how the drummer managed not to get arm ache with his cymbals about four feet above him is beyond me. Unfortunately the vocal mix was rather low and it seemed that he was struggling to hit the notes occasionally as “Ride The Beast” was next. As the tune got going playing tightened up tremendously and allowed the full force of the speed metal shredding to be fully realised. Watching the band were the Evil Invaders guys who had nothing to fear performance wise as whilst Skull Fist were very good they were no match for the battering Belgians. Synchronised headbanging was a must and I’d have been critical if they hadn’t displayed it as “Get Fisted” was dedicated to the ladies present, nice eh! Slowing down a tad for “Commit To Rock” the bands confidence exuded from the stage in droves as their set had tenets of glam during “Mean Street Rider” complete with drum solo as all three guitarists took up position at the front for some great headbanging choreography. Covering “Angel Witch” was a surprise and if I’m honest I’d have preferred another one of their own tunes as they’re fabulous rousing tunes, but the crowd enjoyed it especially participation for the chorus section. I screamed yes when the opening riff to “You’re Gonna Pay” started as the twin lead assault was enough to splinter the seat I was sat on with its classic 80s Priest hooks accompanied by horns raised aloft by the crowd pumping the sky. With one guitarist sat atop the other’s shoulders in true Angus style the bands set came to an end and whilst I did expect more from the Canadians I was not disappointed and glad I bought four shirts.
Possibly the only true death metal band of the weekend Swedish troops Unleashed pulled off a fantastic set of thundering deathliness as they proudly showcased the bands 20 plus year history. Shouting “Welcome Warriors” Johnny was the epitome of death metal grotesquery, finesse was void as “Destruction (Of The Race Of Man)” rumbled in to existence. Initially the blast snare was completely lost in the mix but it gelled better later in the set. My previous incursions with the band live have left me a little flat but here they rekindled my love for their unfettered death violence on “The Longships Are Coming” complete with cracking lead breaks. With very little banter in the 50 minute set “Where Is Your God Now?” was next and followed in juggernaut fashion by “If They Had Eyes” a slower more punishing tune that was as dense as a black hole. “Winterland” got the vote as best song of their set for me as the heavier angle was continued like sonic magma crushing all as the tune was disembowelling as though being vomited from the core of the earth itself. As a fan of the band for a very long time, probably longer than most people at the festival have been alive I awaited an old tune which came as “To Asgard We Fly”, a stalwart favourite of the bands set I did wonder why the guys hadn’t ventured onto the concrete platform to stand nearer the crowd as Johnny drank from his Viking horn and saluted the crowd, na zdraví! “Hammer Battalion” was next and increased the pace substantially and bordered controlled pandemonium at times as they closed with “Death Metal Victory” and continued their path to self immolating destruction in the speed stakes. Asking the crowd to scream the title was completely obeyed as “Death Metal Victory” ended a set of tectonic shifting power.
German band Refuge I knew was fronted by Peter ‘Peavy’ Wagner from Rage but what I didn’t know was that the he accompanied by the two remaining members of the classic Rage line up that started with the “Perfect Man” album and saw Chris Efthimiadis (drums) and Manni Schmidt (guitar) completing the trio of veteran musicians. The crowd was treated to a set of Rage classics that I have not heard live possibly ever and started with “Firestorm”. Peavy’s voice was immaculate, his tone was unique and here he had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand as he easily pulled off the high end vocal acrobatics. “Solitary Man” was next and if this was what I was to get I was going to be in ecstasy for 60 minutes. The impetus was fantastic as the riffs arrived in cavalcades of the utmost addiction as “Nevermore” followed. It felt a little dream hearing these songs as the audience lapped up the music from start to finish creating a nostalgia trip of epic proportions for yours truly. As a trio they were incomparable, effortless vocals flowed with unblemished guitar riffs and superb lead breaks alongside a stomping drum sound throughout. With material being played from 1988 to 1993’s “The Missing Link” Peavy introduced the band members to great ovation before launching into “Enough Is Enough”. Every tune was a certifiable classic as a wondrous bass line introduced “Shame On You” and as I watched the band having fun there was a relaxation yet professionalism about the set that was not matched by anyone over the weekend as “Baby I’m Your Nightmare” was played, slower in style the tune was a good contrast in the set before playing the ever favourite “Don’t Fear The Winter” complete with plenty of audience participation. This song will forever be etched into the annals of heavy metal as they closed their set with their namesake song “Refuge” taken from “The Missing Link” release. Breathtaking, exhilarating, goose pimply, tearful this set had the lot for me as I scurried to get a shirt pronto.
After the nostalgia of Refuge it was up to international conglomerate Amaranthe to add some polish to the proceedings and blow away the cobwebs of metal antiquity for something far more melodic and soft to the ear. I had listened to the band briefly before coming to the fest and my shooter convinced me they would be OK as I had my doubts as to their suitability to the festival. Suitable they were as the young crowd embraced their cosmetic metal wholeheartedly as I sat grumpily criticising everything about them. Opening with an intro that sounded like some woman selling time share accommodation on the Costa Del Sol they opened with “Digital World”. To my amazement there were three vocalists, safety in numbers I guess, who pranced and flounced around the stage like a catwalk. As majority of one not liking this band, people were dancing away to their electronic cotton pseudo metal that is really pop music as “Trinity” came next. Admittedly the band was powered by self-assurance and audience friendly choral breaks that were quite sickly to me but devoured by the crowd like a sugar addiction. Closing my eyes and listening to the band I understood the attraction, but this was lazy metal for those that prefer radio friendly lyrics and like to jiggle the mid riff fat around a bit. I always feel cheated when bands have a heavily laden keyboard sound but no actual musician as its strikes as being lazy or fearful of the consequences as “Invincible” was accompanied by my pet hate of jumping up and down; this is not a children’s inflatable castle party! The number of people watching this band was astounding and struck a chord with the modern metal fans in attendance preferring to jump and down than risk injury in a mosh pit. Likened to the more Scuzz like bands such as Of Mice And Men where image is more important than songs the band came across as manufactured, a conspiracy to rid people of cash whilst listening to music masquerading as metal but I saw through that disguise when “Massive Addiction” was played. Elize loved herself, constantly preening herself and sweeping her hair back she epitomised the falsity of the band she fronts and needs to take a lesson from Charlotte from Delain on how to look cool, act cool and sing brilliantly. Announcing that it was good to be in the Czech republic by one of the male troglodyte vocalists was accepted graciously by the crowd as he said it was great to have good food instead of hamburgers whilst on tour in the USA. Stage banter rule, do not slag off a country you have just played and expect them not to know about it. As the audience was propelled to fever pitch by this point they went into “Afterlife” and was followed by “Electroheart” and “Leave Everything Behind”. By now my tolerance for the band had created a bile like taste in my throat as the yawning ballad “Amarathine” was played. Cringing, Elize got the audience to sing happy birthday to someone in the band whose birthday it was on the day before “Call Out My Name” returned the set to more upbeat stuff. At this point vocalist Jake asked for the girl who had been headbanging for the entire weekend to be brought up on stage complete with her inflatable guitar, though I suspect the band thought she was doing it for them not realising she was a lean mean headbanging machine for every single band that played. I hope she got some nice trinkets from the band as she was rightly cheered by the whole place. A pause ensued and at first I thought there were tech problems as the bassist started talking to crowd and messing about a little. No the pause was so that Elize could change her clothes and that was the last straw for me as that whole rock star attitude can fuck off alongside all the other superficial shit infecting metal these days. She didn’t even come back with a beer in her hand!
After requiring liquid resuscitation due to Amaranthe, I threw up a little in my mouth as I typed their name, Eluveitie was next and I was hoping for a revelatory performance from the Swiss act. With instruments galore on stage the intro told a short story before they jigged into action with “King”. The hurdy gurdy was in fine form and added a depth to the sound I had not heard on previous encounters with the band, probably because I was a bit drunk I guess. With eight band members the stage looked like a shopping mall as each vied for position but expertly so as some teething issues were soothed by the time it got to “From Darkness” I think it was called. The mix of harsh and clean vocals married exceptionally well offering textural aspects to the songs which veered from full metal encounters to soporific folkiness that only required a battered old woolly jumper full of holes to feel the part. Between song talking was good, giving insight to their antics but not milking it as the flautist triggered a bouncing beat that I didn’t recognise unfortunately. More chat about missing equipment, the bagpipes namely, as at this point the gender opposite vocals were clashing and cancelling each other out in the mix as “Omnos” was played that I enjoyed a lot, mainly because it was heavier. “Call Of The Mountains” was next and Anna (vocals, hurdy gurdy) asked if we wanted it sung in English or German. German it was as she laid down a remarkable vocal line that was unique and uplifting as she took centre stage. With considerable talent she switched to English as well at one point as Chrigel said it meant a lot to be at the festival as they played the Celtically inspired “Brictom”. My shooter lambasted me for missing their best song “A Rose For Epona”, I was at the toilet as a circle pit was created as a test for the security it was stated. Adding injections of pace bolstered the drive of their songs creating plenty of contrasts. “Alesia” was a fantastic and moving song, beautifully sang the vocals were emotive and steeped in reverent sadness. “Inis Mona” was the penultimate song as tributes to the crowd were given saying that the band wouldn’t be here without them, very modest indeed as they ended their enthralling set with “Havoc”.
And so Metal Fest 2015 had reached its finale with the last headliner Accept due to send off the crowd to the sounds of pure heavy metal. With wall of Marshalls styled back line an intro piece served to announce the band as they were greeted like heroes as they hit the stage and launched into “Stampede”. As revitalised and hungry as I’ve seen the band the twin axe masters gave a masterclass in guitar work as they followed it with “Stalingrad”. Surprisingly early in the set was “London Leatherboys” with its distinctive bass line and riff as the audience started sang it chorus. As the original Teutonic metal outfit Accept forged the path that many power and speed metal bands use today and none more so fitting than “Restless And Wild” a release that is over 30 years old and still sounds outstanding. Every guitar pose imaginable was choreographed as we all sang our hearts out during the chorus as pink light doused the stage. Mark (vocals) shouted good evening as a pause came in the set but continued with “Dying Breed”. The contrast between older and newer material was seamless each song sitting snugly next to anything in the bands discography as riffs and leads flowed like sonic wine from the stage in flawless fashion. Fluctuations in tempo enabled great apices to be achieved when “Shadow Soldiers” was unveiled. The dynamics balance perfectly for maximum momentum and impact as they time warped back to “Losers And Winners”. “Midnight Mover” was the most commercial song played, I never tire of hearing it, the chorus and melody are truly infectious as red spotlights blazed down on the band members to create a hellish sight at times. Older established fans often crave a bands older material but with Accept it doesn’t matter as their new material is equally good shown by cementing “No Shelter” between “Midnight Mover” and “Princess Of The Dawn”. As the guitarist and bassist stood at the front trading hooks with huge smiles on their faces this was heavy metal, this is what it’s all about. “Princess” was magnificent and instantly acknowledged by the crowd. Its iconic riff was thrust from the PA with gusto enabled admirably by 7000 backing vocalists. Speeding things up with “Pandemic” it felt they were building to something and inevitably the shredding on that tune lead to the intro tones of “Fast As A Shark”, another song I never get bored off, it is the archetypal speed metal riff that has been cloned thousands of times over the decades. Ending the main part of the set the tune was tremendous but something was still missing, ah yes the undeniable tones of “Metal Heart” with some of the best lead guitar work you’ll ever hear in your life. Classically inspired the tune is emotional and a classic as Wolf taunted the crowd with its opening licks before imperially expanding to the full composition. With goose pimples crawling my skin I felt every note of the lead as it breathed over the adoring crowd. Initially I thought Accept would get a smaller crowd than the other headliners but not a chance the place was packed with air guitarists front to back in total homage as they quickly went into “Teutonic Terror”, a speedy tune and very unexpected leaving the band with just one song to play. Yes of course it was “Balls To The Wall” as every larynx as in full voice to chant back at the band who left the stage in total triumph.
As a festival the Czech Metal Fest is fantastic, low key (for the time being anyway), massive assortment of bands, cheap beer, food (if you eat that is), plenty of merch and an amphitheatre setting that was perfect in every respect. I will be attending next year for certain and would like to thank the organisers for allowing professional cameras into the arena so my friend could shoot to his heart’s content, and for the meticulous organisation from start to finish. Děkuji moji přátelé and I hope I got that correct.
Words: MARTIN HARRIS
Photos: ANDY POUNTNEY