Sweden Rock Festival 2012 Part One: June 6th and June 7th
|Event:||Sweden Rock Festival 2012|
|Written by:||Valentin B|
North of here, north of there, north of Wacken, Roskilde, and pretty much everywhere, is where Scandinavia's biggest rock and metal-only festival takes place. Around 30,000 people descend upon the tiny seaside village of Norje Bro in southeastern Sweden in the first weekend of June every year. The key word to my being here is "uncompromising", with the ticket price (which is double that of Wacken's and Hellfest's when considering the camping ticket) and line-up being both stunning. This festival makes a point out of putting together the greats of the 70s and 80s and giving them extremely comfortable (read: long) time slots to do their shows. This is not to say that the latter decades are not represented, obviously. The varied line-up is definitely a strong point, from yesteryear's youth gone wild to posh 70s art rock to motherfucking Cannibal Corpse.
Such a varied line-up is sure to attract people of all sorts of backgrounds: from the uncharacteristically low-brow, young and too-drunk-to-stand-up Swedes to Norwegians who drove for 10+ hours and don their Norwegian-flag overalls to the corporates from around the world looking for an escape and somewhere to finally wear that pink spandex and get drunk out of their minds without people looking weird at them. Before you ask, no, I was not part of that latter demographic!
On to the actual shows! After a distinctively shit-weather start to the festival and an unfortunate experience with that Swedish demon known by the name of Snus, I was off to see the start of the festival with none other than the Swedish superstars of Sabaton.
Everything about this picture just screams "Sweden".
Sabaton were on only for 30 minutes and this was the first ever festival played with the new line-up, which sounds appropriately epic, and features some decent new vocals as well provided by one of the new guitarists. As this was Sweden's national day, the first thing they played was the Swedish National Anthem which resounded throughout the area, after which they jumped straight into the energetic "Ghost Division". Joakim Broden's enthusiasm is infectious and got an already favorable crowd going nuts by the end of the show, presenting even some new tracks from the fresh Carolus Rex. A brilliant but painfully short show that I will compare to someone giving you a piece of delicious cake, then taking it away while you are halfway through.
It was time to get heavy as hell shortly afterward. You know a band is loud when during the soundcheck you check to see if your earplugs fell out at some point because there's no way that guitar sounds that brutal and loud.
Fat bass sound and epic vocals included.
But then again Fear Factory is a band like no other: a Terminator-like spoken word intro that explodes with the epic main title from Dune, a minimal stage setup (even the amps were set aside), a frontman who does the moonwalk during solos, and every single heavy-as-bricks 16th notes riff played on guitar perfectly complemented by the bass drums of Mike Heller, the touring underdog hired to replace none other than Gene Hoglan. This masterful and enthusiastic performance was rewarded with the festival's first mosh pit. All 75 minutes were like a kick in the nuts that can awaken any real metalhead out there. As a closing note, even though this was already set to be one of the heaviest and loudest performances of the whole fest, both fans and band complained that 100 decibels is the limit, and in Sweden it's not legal to play music louder than that.
The Swedish death metal gods of Entombed were on after night fell. They took no prisoners. You could tell they were on home turf as damn near everyone was thrashing around and contributing to the heavy and dirty atmosphere. The show culminated with the absolute filth of a song that is "When in Sodom" which got everyone jumping and singing along and the obviously-drunk vocalist puking on stage shortly afterwards. Maybe even he could not stand so much grime. A very raw and crunching death metal joyride which ended with "Left Hand Path" and its hair-raising ending, on which the piano melody was played in full on guitar.
Edguy was the headliner of the first night. They provided everything you might expect from them: excellent sound, melodies to sing along to, part of Iron Maiden's classic "The Trooper" and of course Tobias's great jokes. Sweden apparently is a country very dear to the band; their first headlining tour was in Sweden, and as almost everyone knows by now, Tobias even ripped off a Swedish band for one of their biggest hits, as he likes to point out in every show. Thus, a special show... would have been a pretty great idea! That was a word-for-word quote from the man himself. You see, the problem with Edguy is that it's one of the best power metal bands ever, but when you look past the appearances is when the realization hits: Tobias's ego is a bottomless pit. Edguy is currently not a band that can rival The Rolling Stones or Queen in popularity, but when he jokes about Edguy being the best band in the world you can hear that he believes that in some way or another. If you are able to look past that (and it's not always easy to ignore someone who screams into the mic at 100 decibels), then Edguy is an amazing live band and that's all you need to know.
The warm-up day thus provided for a few excellent quality shows, Edguy being the stars of the day.
Time was now for the first band to play on the coveted Festival Stage!
Every girl's crazy 'bout a sharp dressed dad.
The sharp-dressed men of 10CC were in charge of starting the chilly second day, and presented their quirky 70s art rock to a warm audience. This band may very well have been the oldest of the whole line-up but they did not lack any enthusiasm and these hits, some of which approach 40 years in age, sounded perfect and provided a nice musical breakfast. As this band barely gets together anymore, they altered a lyric to probably their greatest hit "Dreadlock Holiday" to pay homage to the festival and created the catch-phrase of the day: "I don't like Sweden Rock Festival, I love it!"
Just like yesterday though, after some cheesy sing-along fun, it was time for another moment of bludgeoning heavy metal.
"Are you guys alive out there??"
Exodus came up next and the audience completely changed from crusty old guys in thick jackets to semi-drunk youths up for some good friendly violent standing around. Dukes probably expected the audience to be a bit wilder and thought 3 PM was a great time for moshing, which it isn't. The crowd was big but still sleepy, but then again Exodus is musical coffee anyways so at least by the encore ("The Toxic Waltz") the pit was of a decent size. The whole band was in top form, and even though there were some sound problems for the guitars, they were able to run a good wake-up show, just a bit underwhelming.
Steel Panther is one of the few bands out there who enjoy both mocking and playing a certain music genre. As glam is still an extremely popular genre in Sweden for some reason, the stage area became quite crowded for the first time today. In case you never heard of Steel Panther, their genre is 80's glam rock, with some classic heavy metal elements, like a humorous and heavier version of Mötley Crüe. Over the top is apparently the direction this band takes its humor to and the inter-song banter was no exception. Jokes about being closet gays, having long hair which compensates for other short things and thanking girls in the audience for sexual acts they had not even performed yet all abounded and sat incredibly well with the audience. It almost seems that the Swedish audience takes the band far more seriously than they ever expected. During the creatively titled Bon Jovi mock anthem "Party All Day" they also had some female audience members get up on stage and show their goods in the cool Swedish sun. A wildly misogynistic and extremely fun show, after which I finally realized just how much the Swedes (and especially the ones at this festival) love those old hairspray-spandex bands as the festival area almost completely emptied up afterwards.
It was time to, as Rob Dukes would put it, pussy out and get retro.
I have never seen so much moustache gathered in just one place.
The clock was set back to 1975 and the Swedish band Graveyard was up next. This band, although formed in the 2000s, is pretty much stuck in the 70s, from music to moustache to big hair. Their brilliant album Hisingen Blues received much praise and as they were on home ground the audience was quite eager. The performance was absolutely godly, the drummer being the star of the show, as he is basically a combination of Keith Moon's insanity and Jon Bonham's feel. Both those guys are dead, btw, so yeah, this band appears to be some kind of reincarnation of people who died (or used to play good music and sing well and are named Robert Plant) around 30 years ago, everything being considered.
As night was fast approaching, it was time for one of those classic heavy metal acts that Sweden Rock Festival is renowned for.
Heavy and groovy modern metal or 80s ball-grabbing scream-along? Why not both?
Sebastian Bach needs no introduction. Even Steel Panther were excited about this show and for no small reason: Skid Row songs were written to be played live, as evident in the first song, the kick to the balls which is "Slave to the Grind". This is not to detract from the quality groove heavy metal he released lately, but the whole magic of the show was singing along to classics like "Monkey Business", "I Remember You" and "18 and Life" which seemingly never get old. I was also hoping for them to play the most thoughtful and vocally difficult song Skid Row ever produced, "Quicksand Jesus", but just like Samson in the Bible, apparently Sebastian's strength lies in his hair. Back in the late 80s and early 90s, his hair could have been on every shampoo commercial imaginable, and he could hit those high notes like it was nothing. At this show however, his hair looked pretty greasy and weak, just like his voice, those high notes (and there were quite a few of them) sounded weak and forced, not sharp and powerful like on the classic first two Skid Row albums. This did not deter his enthusiasm and the whole band was obviously delighted to play the first festival of the summer, and Bach was running around and jumping like singers half his age would. Dee Snider made a guest appearance and sang with them to the Twisted Sister song "We're Not Gonna Take It" and of course that classic of the classics, "Youth Gone Wild", during which, you guessed it, everyone went wild. A great concert and one of the festival's highlights, the flawed vocal performance being pretty much the only thing holding the show back.
Soundgarden is not a name you would expect on a festival renowned for bringing classic rock acts to headline. This band had divided everyone from the moment they were announced, and on every poster they were advertised together with Mötley Crüe right at the top of the list. Their performance was, for me at least, a welcome break from the testosterone-driven metal of the rest of the day and provided for a, at times groovy, at times chilled, polished grunge rock show. The only incursions into other genres came with the poppy but brilliant "Live to Rise" from the movie The Avengers, and two of the encores, a furious version of "Jesus Christ Pose" and the epic "Beyond the Wheel". The vocals were, again, a bit weak, but then again Cornell's work on the early records of the band can make anyone sound sane. The audience was extremely small for a headlining band playing on one of the biggest stages in the world and the cold even drove off some of the curious onlookers. Still, the band gave an extremely professional performance, though obviously a bit affected by the lack of crowd support, and the whole festival being considered, they were the only headlining band that actually tried to use the whole 2 hours and 30 minutes provided to them in the running order. A superbly professional, but slightly out of place show.
To summarize, the second day of the fest was all about delivering professional shows that lacked that special something like excellent vocals or crowd participation or neither. Thankfully, the next days were an improvement in that respect.
Coming very soon: report on days 3 and 4 of Sweden Rock Festival, with bands such as Symphony X, King Diamond, Twisted Sister, Mötley Crüe, and many others!
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