2015 is turning out to be my Euro trotting year with Norway’s Inferno already under my belt and Wacken Open Air later this year venturing to one of my favourite countries in Europe for an open air metal fest was an easy decision. As a cousin to Masters Of Rock held in July, the Czech Metal Fest is a relatively low key event as a record number of 7000 people attended over the three days with a huge range of genres playing and only black and grind missing from the bill. Awkward flight times meant arriving a day earlier and spending an evening in Prague sampling their brewed alcoholic delights (well it would be rude not to) and was the perfect aperitif for the forthcoming three days of frivolity. Arriving at the Prague’s train station early on day one along with a number of other revellers already inebriated at just after nine in the morning meant seeking sanctuary as it was carnage on the train but harmless enough. Train ticket was less than £3 for the 60 mile journey and the taxi to the hotel was smooth. Only thing to do was get ready so: obscure band shirt – check, beer money -check, back pack – check, beer money -check, sun cream -check, beer money – check, sun glasses – check, beer money – check, pads and pens – check, oh and I nearly forgot beer money – check. The downhill trek to the hotel was about 20 minutes, but took 30 coming back though as I’m old.
Arriving at the fest my pre-band strategy was implemented starting with exchanging tickets for wristbands and done in less than 30 seconds, bought a program for about 60 pence then quickly bought a fest shirt for about £9, checked for band merch then headed to the arena base to grab a beer that cost about 85 pence for 500ml, I’m not joking either, before catching the first band Warhawk who were already on stage. It was going to be a good weekend! Female fronted the Czech band had a modern sound with bold vocals that was familiar overall but started the day with high energy in the already sweltering sun shine and meant sun cream was utterly essential. Held in an amphitheatre next to the town’s zoo, this festival was perfect as only one stage was in operation and central to every amenity possible meaning you could decamp to one of the tiered seating benches and stay there for the day and avoid slogging it out to various stages.
Visions Of Atlantis had pulled out of the fest but were ably replaced by Austrian’s Serenity whose female fronted symphonic metal was thoroughly uplifting even though the sound was a little muddy due to the bass infestation. Exuding coolness the band looked to be enjoying themselves immensely in the scorching sunshine as they announced this was their first time at the festival to a good cheer. As polished as the band was the Austrian’s had plenty of gusto with tunes like “Heavenly Mission” and “Rust Of Coming Ages” that set the bar high for Finnish melodic death metallers Insomnium. Talented and highly accomplished musicians they were technically the most ambitious of the fest and damn fine headbangers on “The Killjoy” and “The Promethean Song”. Musically the guys revealed an epic quality that was wrapped around cataclysmic lead breaks and charismatic riffs that were appreciated by everyone as some 5% ABV was in order.
In today’s metal market Finnish band Battle Beast have cut a swath through the dead wood in power metal to become one of the hottest properties around as the intro to their set was like a calling card to gather at the front ready for their set which was glorious from start to finish. Noora’s vocal projection was immense as she worked the crowd on “Far Far Away”. One could argue that the bands Euro metal isn’t metal at all but tunes like “Madness” and “Out On The Streets” were infectiously catchy and perfect for festivals giving the crowd a huge serotonin fix as Judas Priest like poses were executed flawlessly. Rocketing through their 50 minute set “Touch Of The Night” and “Black Ninja” showcased a band that in the space of six months since I last saw them they have become white hot as their set closed with “Out Of Control” and a massive cheer from the audience and bagged a place in my best band of the festival knockout competition.
Grave Digger had a mammoth task to upstage Battle Beast and failed to do so. The stalwart Teutonic giants have been around for over 30 years (that I have followed since the start of their career) with Chris Boltendahl at the helm and his acquired vocal style. The band should have been a ball busting tribute to everything that heavy metal is, colossal riffs, chorus crescendos and lead breaks to melt steel but alas they fell like fallen warriors on a battlefield impaled by Battle Beast shrapnel. After a death march interpretation intro a grim reaper appeared on stage that set their show off with “Hell Funeral” and was pleased that the guitar was fully emphasised in the mix for a change. “Dark Of The Sun” was recognised by everyone and enabled the first audience sing back followed by “Season Of The Witch” from their latest release “Return Of The Reaper”. Older tunes gained the greatest adulation such as “Rebellion (The Clans Are Marching)” and of course “Heavy Metal Breakdown” which was massively elongated for the crowd vocal participation which wore me down as I would have preferred another song from one of their first three albums in the 80s or any album really.
With Grave Digger causing a slight lull in proceedings it was up to Overkill to eradicate the lethargy which they did with total and utter devastation. The intro was quickly wiped from memory as Blitz stormed on stage to unleash his vocal tirade on “Armorist” and catalysed the first pit of the day which was fraught with danger as the ground in front of the stage was loose stones, not that the thrashers cared one iota. “Hammerhead” followed and saw the aggression increase tenfold as the guys in the band rampaged the stage like thrashing fiends. Momentum was retained with “Electric Rattlesnake” with its savaging speed and breakneck riffing almost in the literal sense. A drum solo led into “In Union We Stand” as Blitz was in absolute top form teasing the crowd whose English may not have been the best but they understood the vocal maestro impeccably as he whipped them up further with “Rotten To The Core”. It seemed to me that Blitz had put on a little bit of weight as his energy was bountiful, revelling in the exaltation poured on the band by the fanatical Czech crowd. A little chat about being old school was uttered before hitting the maniacal masses front stage with “Hello From The Gutter”. As punchy lyrically as well as vocally Blitz expected the choral shout back and taunted the audience by saying ‘I can’t hear you, but I can smell you’. Closing their exhilarating set was, as ever, their cover of “Fuck You” as DD’s bass playing was electrifying, phenomenal and lashed together by the twin axe assailing to end a triumphant seismic set of thrash metal. As the set ended the chants continued for the band but their job was done, only thing to do was replenish beer stocks, cool down which the crowd did by courtesy of the local fire hose which doused the grateful throng.
With a performance equivalent to a headline slot by Overkill, Moonspell must have been dreading following the thrashers but with such a stark difference in style Fernando and his cohorts coolly breezed on stage with the sun now setting slightly creating a wonderful dulcet atmosphere as the intro to the bands set was followed silkily with “Breathe (Until We Are No More)” from the bands monumental new opus “Extinct”. The bands immaculate symphonics were breathtaking allowing the lupine hordes that had stalked the stage to bask in music saturated in Gothic nuances. A little bit of chat by Fernando about it being good to be back before flooding the crowd in sonorous velvet with “Extinct”. “Night Eternal” followed and contrasted by revealing the bands denser and foreboding style with double kick adding power to the tune from the fine PA system at this festival I have to say. Announcing that the band had been around for 23 years was greeted with a cheer and automatically had me pleading for an old song which we got but not from the debut or second release but from their iconic and unparalleled “Irreligious” album, the massive hit “Opium” sounded magnificent especially with the deep drawling and doleful vocal line. The latest single “The Last Of Us” was aired and played beautifully, the bands shifting dynamics and complex arrangements gave the audience a blanket of luscious sonic layering that continued throughout the set. “Wolfheart” is on its 20 year anniversary so of course a few songs were aired from it and whilst my favourite wasn’t played we were treated to a trio of tunes that started with “Vampiria” a gorgeous tune that carved deep gouges of emotion before telling the audience they were going to play one they had not played before from “Wolfheart” as my mind went through the tracks as the folk like intro to “Ataegina” was played and was the bonus song on the first digipack press of the album, and totally unexpected but was fantastic to hear live. Closing the trio was of course “Alma Mater” as by now dusk had set in and the sky had developed a blood red hue that was perfect when they closed with “Full Moon Madness” allowing that lupine horde to howl in delight as Fernando stood on the drum riser smashing the cymbals in unison with Miguel. Pure unadulterated orgasmic sonic ecstasy from start to finish.
So the first day was almost over but there was the small matter of the headliner and with the two bands prior to Arch Enemy already giving the crowd headline performances the greedy crowd was given another headline show by melodic Swedish death metal royalty and if I’m brutally honest I think they came off second best but with such different crowds gathering for Overkill and Moonspell before them the whole of the festival turnout for the Swedes now fronted by the colourful Alissa whose brightly coloured hair was seen darting around the stage once their “Khaos Overture” intro was over and they hit the audience with “Yesterday Is Dead And Gone”. The synchronised headbanging was awesome even if it was short-lived. The sound was phenomenal, each aspect of the band emphasised perfectly utilising excellent lighting effects to add texture to the bands set that hit the gas with “War Eternal”. “Ravenous” was instantly recognised and seemed to create an exponential increase in the sound which really was colossal for this song. With the stage being built upon the amphitheatres’ concrete platform there was sizeable gap between the band as the semi circular front was quite bare and whilst many bands ventured to the front there were no stage monitors there for the bands to hear each other. “My Apocalypse” was beastly and whilst detractors of the band say the band are not the same without Angela, conveniently forgetting that even she was not the original vocalist for the band, it is certain that Alissa is warming the hearts of the bands khaos legions with each and every performance as this band is centrally focused around the stratospheric guitar work of Michael Amott and of course recent addition Jeff Loomis whose duelling axework was unmatched over the weekend. The bands shredding histrionics were marvellous as Alissa told the crowd they were ‘pure fucking metal’ and blasted into “As The Pages Burn”. I did expect some pyros during the set which didn’t materialise for Arch Enemy or any other headliner over the weekend. Nonetheless Arch Enemy pushed the boundaries of guitar work to stultifying proportions as “We Will Rise” closed the main part of the set. Personally I was exhausted by this point due to 80 degree plus heat of the day but stuck about for the first encore which began with an intro as always before leading into “Never Forgive Never Forget”. With adrenaline waning and energy reserves on vapours; there’s only so much liquid refreshment I can take, a long 30 minute uphill walk was ahead of me. As day one ended I could hear the riffing to “Nemesis” penetrating the night air that was still extremely sultry even at 11PM. A magnificent day in every respect.
Words: MARTIN HARRIS
Photos: ANDY POUNTNEY