As we were walking into the amphitheatre it was clear that this was going to be a swelteringly hot day, and with some gems on the line up it promised to be a good day.
Opening things were Poles Scream Maker, treading a fine line between power and heavy metal in fine style to the appreciation of a small but enthusiastic crowd against the barrier. All too quickly the final notes of ‘Liberty’ faded out and the crowd disappeared seeking refuge from the sun amongst the trees, or to be hosed down by the obliging festival staff!
Czech Locals Dark Gamballe were given a heroes welcome and proceeded to put out one of the most original performances of the weekend. After my pre-festival research I wasn’t quite sure what to expect – On their facebook page, the band list themselves as “rock-electro-crossover”, and as the dual percussionist six piece stomped over the stage that seemed a fairly accurate description. Their electro tinged groovy metal had the crowd moving from the outset, including one or two who were so drunk they could barely stand, which was no mean feat given that it wasn’t even midday! As the set moved on I found myself likening their sound to a cross between System of a Down and Rob Zombie, although this doesn’t tell the whole story, and if I’m honest, although I wasn’t really looking forward to their set, I found myself really enjoying it……
The crowd thinned significantly as the crew set things up for Jared James Nichols, which may have been due to the blistering sun rather than a reflection on popularity, especially as the crowd seemed to grow again as their set progressed. Jared James Nichols’ brand of guitar centric blues rock stood out like the proverbial sore thumb on the bill but diversity is one of the reasons this festival is so enjoyable, and relaxing in the sun, with cold beer, friends and guitar solos isn’t a bad way to pass an hour! Jared James Nichols and his entourage are currently on tour with today’s headliner, Zakk Wylde, and as they move through tracks such as ‘Haywire’ and Ted Nugent cover ‘Cat Scratch Fever’ it was apparent that they are a polished live act, although ultimately the act was a little bland for my tastes.
Sirenia were due on next, but while the stage was being set up it became apparent that this was not going to be the case. It transpired that due to family bereavement Ailyn was unable to perform at the festival and so the band cancelled, with hard rock act Reno Vega providing cover at the last minute. As a big fan of Sirenia I was disappointed and perhaps this coloured my enjoyment of Reno Vega – I found them to be competent musicians but overall uninspiring and so cut my losses and went to the Delain signing session.
Crematory arrived at Metalfest on the back of their thirteenth studio album ‘Monument’, which for me is one of their best. They were greeted by a big crowd who lapped up their gothic metal. Early airings were given to tracks such as ‘Misunderstood’ and ‘Tick Tack’ with Felix’s deep vocals contrasted by clean backing vocals. Sadly we were informed that the band were missing a guitarist who was in hospital, but that didn’t stop the remaining members tearing through the outstanding ‘Raven’s Calling’ before teasing the crowd with clichéd but effective banter asking the crowd whether they had forgotten to play a song and so on. Of course this led into the inevitable ‘Tears of Time’, which was simply magnificent.
Many bands would struggle to follow such a performance, but not so for Delain, who simply blew away every other band performing over the weekend with a stellar performance. Right from the opening salvo of newbie ‘Suckerpunch’, ‘Get the Devil Out of Me’ and ‘Army of Dolls’, it was clear that Delain were on form and had the large enthusiastic crowd in the palm of their hands. The energy levels both from the stage and the crowd were on another level, despite the sweltering heat (throughout which Charlotte kept on her large fur coat!). ‘Sleepwalker’s Dream’ came midset and was particularly magnificent. ‘Don’t Let Go’ and ‘The Gathering’ kept the momentum up and I found myself thinking that surely Delain must be headlining this festival next time they play. The aptly titled ‘Not Enough’, followed by a poignant (although I suspect the tragedy behind the song is not well known by the Czech crowd) ‘We Are The Others’. Delain are touring later this year including UK dates, and a special 10 year anniversary show in Amsterdam – I will be at these without doubt. This band are special and are rapidly (and deservedly) heading for the big time.
If possible, the crowd swelled even more for Stratovarius who many present felt should have headlined the day – Judging by the crowd size and reaction, it is hard to dispute that. They have been going since 1984 and by my reckoning have 16 studio albums under their collective Finnish power metal belt. It may be heresy to say this, but I have only a passing interest in and familiarity with the band – Not because there is anything wrong with them, just that they seem to have gone under my (mostly extreme metal) radar. Having said that, others in my group whose judgement I trust completely had been singing their praises in the lead up to the festival, so I grabbed a beer, sat back and relaxed with an open mind looking forward to their performance. Things opened with ‘My Eternal Dream’ which set the scene for the rest of the set with their over the top, but completely infectious, brand of power metal. The crowd clearly enjoyed things with fists pumping in unison, bouncing along and singing every single word. When they reached ‘Unbreakable’ I repositioned myself to the grassy banks at the back of the Amphitheatre content to relax, enjoy the ambience and tunes in comfort. Things built to a climax with ‘Hunted High and Low’, with the crowd being challenged to be louder that a “drunken Finnish crowd”, which I suspect they did.
Fellow Finns Lordi stormed the stage next with their shameless mixture of 1980s influenced heavy metal and completely over the top horror stage show and costumes. The set was packed with most of my personal favourites such as ‘Blood Red Sandman’, ‘My Heaven is your Hell’ (which I believe was being aired for the first time since 2010) and ‘Devil is a Loser’ which triggered a mass singalong. The biggest reaction was saved for the set finale of ‘Hard Rock Hallelujah’ (I guess I don’t need to mention a certain song contest…….), ‘Who’s Your Daddy?’ and ‘Would You Love a Monsterman’…….Unashamedly cheesy, totally clichéd, utterly ridiculous and completely brilliant. This was the perfect setting for Lordi and they went down an absolute storm. I believe they are touring the UK in November and I would strongly recommending checking them out if you get the chance.
And so to today’s headliner Zakk Wylde……Having been underwhelmed by their performance at Bloodstock I wasn’t particularly excited by the prospect of this show and judging by the mass exodus from the crowd I wasn’t alone. Arriving 20 minutes late on stage did nothing except further alienate neutrals in the crowd.
From the first chord it was obvious that Zakk Wylde is an exceptional guitarist, and as one guitar solo after another washed over the crowd one couldn’t help but be impressed, but very soon the gimmick wore thin and no amount of playing the guitar behind his head or with his chin/tongue/teeth (hard to tell which!) could keep my interest. Before long, the rambling guitar solos came across as self indulgent and my attention wandered to the point that we resorted to Czech liquer shots!
All in all, another great day and I couldn’t wait for day three……
(Review and photos Andy Pountney)