Sweden Rock Festival 2012 Part Two: June 8th and June 9th
|Event:||Sweden Rock Festival 2012|
|Written by:||Valentin B|
Welcome to part two of the festival report! These next two days provided some of the biggest surprises (both positive and negative) of the whole festival.
Who needs coffee when the best show of the festival thus far is going on right before your eyes?
To add to the awesomeness, their backdrop appears to be a version of The Godfather book cover.
It's no secret that Russel Allen and Mike Portnoy are hailed as superstars by the prog audience. When you combine them with a bassist who actually knows what the bass is for and a guitarist that can solo like few others can, you get the tough guy heavy metal band Adrenaline Mob. I'm pretty sure this is just a coincidence, but the title of their latest album, Omertá, approximately means "is it worth it?" in Romanian, and I can tell you from now that yes, Adrenaline Mob is fucking worth it. The circumstances almost could not have been worse, playing at noon with an overcast sky with 12 degrees and even some wind and rain on their first European show ever. Yet they delivered as a real supergroup ought to. They style themselves as a kind of mafia clan with Russel Allen, "The voice of a thousand angels", according to one of the fans in the front, being the Don of the family. This was no one-man show though, Portnoy had the opportunity to show off some of his skills and the guitarist can run with the likes of Michael Romeo or Michael Schenker for the title of this festival's best guitar player. His extended solo on one of the songs apparently fried the brain of an audience member, whose slack jawed face made for a few hilarious seconds on the stage screen. The last song they did was the massive "Undaunted" and an unexpected cover of "The Mob Rules" by Black Sabbath. When I realized that the crowd is singing along to a band's hits during their first ever gig outside of the USA, I knew I wasn't alone in thinking that was the best show of the whole festival up to that point.
Right after came the British band Black Spiders. The groovy stonery hard rock music this band plays is absolutely infectious and made everyone forget about the wind, cold and rain by jumping around and singing along. Total festival music for the amateur singers and professional headbangers among us. Fuck you, Black Spiders, and this one horse town!
From the new, it was time to go back to the old dinosaur rock...
It was during Michael Schenker's Temple of Rock that the weather got even worse. Still, that's no excuse not to check out this touring supergroup which consists of Dougie White (vox) and Wayne Findley (keyboard, guitar) of MSG fame and three former members of Scorpions: Francis Buchholz on bass, Herman Rarebell on drums and of course Schenker delivering the goods on guitar. This was more a cover show than anything else focusing on songs from Schenker's impressive catalog including Scorpions, UFO, and MSG songs. The surprise came in the form of some Scorpions songs borrowed from Schenker's big brother, on which White's thick Scottish accent is nowhere to be heard. The star of the concert was obviously Michael, who can still play guitar solos way beyond the capabilities of almost anyone else out there.
..And where there's dinosaurs, there has to be "Godzilla"!
Blue Oyster Cult provided the surprise of the day amid increasingly awful weather: they opened the show with nothing else but the epic main title song from the TV show Game of Thrones! What GoT has to do with Cult I have absolutely no idea, but it sure was awesome. Then the show started; the band is obviously past their youth and don't move around too much anymore but the entertaining stage banter showed that they were happy to be there and be given around 90 minutes to fiddle around in. Unfortunately, this is when the weather reached its ugly peak with heavy rain and wind which made enjoying the show difficult. I had to take a back seat (literally go to the back and take a seat somewhere) because my jacket(s) was already soaked and very heavy from all the water. Still, these guys can rock out those 70s classics like few still do, and they even have the talent to make a song about acquiring drugs as a sentimental ballad with amazing guitar work ("Then Came the Last Days of May"). The thousand-or-so people that stayed near the stage until they were finished definitely get my respect for their musical taste and also for their resistance to cold (or choice of rain poncho).
Time for one of those special additions to the festival's line-up, a band that has risen from the ashes of their vocalist's demise.
The guy himself apparently thinks he's a phoenix.
Gotthard was a band that was down and out until a few months ago. In November 2011 they got a new singer (the old one, who was brilliant, died in a motorcycle crash some years ago) and now they're back to kick some more ass. This was their first big festival after the reunion and you could see the new singer was a bit awestruck with the huge crowd and great response they were receiving. Giving a 90-minute slot to a band that had not played a big stage in quite some time is a bit risky, but these guys completely owned the stage and even the poppy new song "Starlight" sounded great and had me singing along and moving around in an attempt to shake the cold off. And it worked! After the encore they wrapped things up with the emotional "Anytime Anywhere" and the dirty heavy rocker "I Don't Mind". This band is back like a phoenix all set on kicking ass.
The day continued with a mix of rock and old school heavy metal, it was time to go back to 1987 (again).
The Darkness was the day's supplier of British quirk. Completely in sync with their musical attitude, the sun finally shone down on the festival area for the first time during the whole day and provided an incredibly welcome break. Thus, more and more people gathered to shake their ass and sing along (or at least try to sing along in the case of guys) to this modern glam rock band that has had quite some ups and downs in the past decade. This was definitely also an ego trip of a show with the frontman running around the whole stage with his moustache, big hair and bright-colored tattoos. Quirky, bouncy music for the more lighthearted among us, perfect to just forget about the elements I had endured until that point.
...Aaaand back for some more dinosaur metal!
Motörhead might never really surprise anyone, but this time around they got a few new props such as a metal "Bomber" for the song "Bomber", and some special guests on stage (Whitfield Crane from Ugly Kid Joe and Andy LaRocque from King Diamond). It's great to see that Lemmy is not trying to just play the same show every other night and the band actually makes an effort to try new things. This slightly underwhelming show provided a good warm-up for the most anticipated concert of the day and one of the fest's headliners.
I'm talking of course about Twisted Sister. It might just be that Dee Snider is the best frontman metal has ever seen. His charm and personality on stage reminds you of some other rock gods many of whome are not with us anymore like Jagger, Freddie Mercury, or Elvis, only Twisted Sister never was one of those "huge" bands. They were always the underdog, but they just wouldn't be themselves without having some powerful force like society or mainstream music pushing them into a corner to rebel against.
Put Snider in charge of getting the crowd worked up and add Twisted Sister's immense choruses, and you get an army of braindead zombies with just one purpose in life: to scream along, go completely nuts and repeat every single sound Snider commands them to repeat. The frontman to end all frontmen was on fire throughout the whole show: he crawled on stage, jumped around like a kid with ADHD, and of course there were the funny moments: pasta-eaters were verbally brutalized, some dude skyping the concert in the backstage was "fuck you'd" by tens of thousands of people on his command, and even God himself was flipped off for the weather that we had to endure on this especially Novemberish day. That being said, the music sounded like nothing else, and included all the essential songs, and even some surprises like "The Sleeping Giant" off of Love is for Suckers, an album which almost never sees light of day. Sweden Rock was the site of the band's first reunion show in 2003, and Snider took the time to mention how special they felt about the festival and how much it means for them to play there, and offered the only rest of the whole show in the form of the sing-along ballad "The Price". The whole performance I can only describe as a heavy metal frenzy which I will not forget too soon. Best show of the whole festival and definitely one for the history books.
This day is probably the most contrasting of all: amazing shows and atmosphere, but ruined for some by the obscene weather. Sweden Rock prides itself on presenting rare gems and the first and last shows of the day drove this point home in great style.
The last day of the festival started with a clear sky and warm sun which could not be more welcome. Sunday noon's service was held by none other than the theatrical Brits of Hell. This band is all about theatrical shows and dense, riff-saturated heavy metal, and even managed to sneak through some interactive moments in which the first row got a close-up look at the vocalist's crown of thorns and red contact lenses. Theatre is a big part of the experience that the band offers, and the witches' dialogue from "Macbeth" was done superbly. The drama and awe of this kind of show needs to be experienced first-hand, and you could feel a certain cold and apocalyptic atmosphere during songs like "Plague and Fyre" and "The Devil's Deadly Weapon". The setlist nearly consisted of the band's sole album to date, and got the day going in the right direction. Hear me, wretched sinners, Hell is on the rise!
On this warm and sunny afternoon, it was time again to go back to a time of ridiculous stage costumes and songs about makin' sweet love.
This guy apparently has grown out of the ridiculous stage costumes phase.
Bad Company is one of those classics of the classics, who played this one-off concert in their original lineup, with the exception of Boz Burrell, whose only excuse is that he is dead. Aside from their homeland the United Kingdom, the last time they ever played in Europe was 37 years ago, which means that half the people present were not even alive when they last did it. The audience was surprisingly large and warm for such a long absence. The sound was airy and quite heavy for a band straight out of the 70's, and everything on stage was absolutely vintage, from the instruments, to the classic "Bad Co." logo on the drum and a real piano. Paul Rodgers, like the Chuck Norris of rock that he is, hailed as "The Voice" and rightly so, managed to sneak in a few moments of proficiency on guitar, harmonica and piano too. This might have well been the last show they ever do in Sweden (or Europe for that matter) but made for a mesmerizing 90 minutes of some of the best classic rock music ever made, straight from the rock daddies themselves.
Did I mention piano in that last paragraph? Well, there's this certain band that puts it to good use...
Symphony X is another one of those names you don't usually see at festivals. Their 90-minute time slot was used in full, and the first 18 of these used solely for the opening duo of songs from the brilliant Iconoclast. With music this difficult to play, you could expect a bit of an alienation between band and audience as they concentrate on getting all the notes right. This is not the case with Symphony X: despite the hugely complex compositions, communication within the band and with the audience does not suffer one bit. At the center of the stage was, yet again, Russell Allen, who was in charge of talking to the audience, and got everyone jumping and screaming along after applying a few lessons probably learned from Dee Snider's show yesterday. From badass grooves to epic choruses to mindblowing guitar and keyboard soloing, this show had it all, and during the emotional ballad "When All is Lost" I am not ashamed to say that tears crept up behind my sunglasses. A complete show, the star of which, as put by Allen himself, was Michael Romeo, who is easily one of the best guitarists to have ever played metal. His combination of tapping and sweeping on "Eve of Seduction" has to be witnessed to be believed, and left me with the same slack-jawed look on my face as the Adrenaline Mob fan of the day before. The kings of progressive metal definitely deserved their place as one of the main acts of this festival and showed that they can kick ass with both instrument and attitude.
This show might just have taken its toll on my legs from all the jumping, but then again this next band was even more tired than I was.
Family friendly hard rock with The Extremely Realistic Lynyrd Skynyrd Tribute Band! This is not to detract from the quality of the songs performed, which cannot be contested, but the real Lynyrd Skynyrd went down along with the plane that was carrying it back in 1977. That's right, when you were singing along to them during your last roadtrip, almost everyone you hear on that recording died during that plane crash when the band was at their peak. Now that that is established, this performance was completely two-sided: on one hand you have a tired, overweight "Howdy Y'all" vocalist that barely moves around and can barely hit some of the notes his big brother used to, and then you have the guitars, one of which is still handled by Gary Rossington, the last original member still in the band. These were spectacular and provided much of the emotion that the dull vocals sorely lacked and songs like "That Smell" and "Simple Man" were handled beautifully. I was not convinced fully though, so I decided to check out…
Sacred Reich seemingly are set on playing every European festival there is this summer. Contrasting the "Alabama Dad" image of Lynyrd Skynyrd's vocalist is the "Arizona Dad" image of Sacred Reich's Phil Rind, obese but still energetic and smiling. Songs like "The American Way" or "Surf Nicaragua" or even the emotionally charged "Who's To Blame" are thrash metal classics and have aged well. This amazingly tight and powerful show provided a much needed energy boost.
Up next was one of the festival's biggest highlights and definitely an unexpected surprise when they announced it. Corpsepaint, badass heavy metal, insane shrieking, songs about candles, graves and grandma? It can only be...
Lights, Camera, Horror!
King Diamond's long awaited return to the stage finally took place at Sweden Rock Festival. Everything that makes King Diamond unique was there: the horror, the crushing riffs, the tongue-in-cheek camp and those banshee screams. The King's voice has made a full recovery and his notorious high notes were completely piercing and his low register rough and demented. The stage setup was immense and appropriately satanic and morbid, with pentagrams, inverted crosses, coffins, cemetery gates and even some mist creeping down on the stairs. This provided a very thick atmosphere that was only complemented by the actress, who portrayed a whole host of characters; even the roadies were dressed as grave diggers. As this was obviously a special occasion, they brought up some very special guests who were at the King's side during the 80's such as both of Mercyful Fate's guitarists, Mikkey Dee who played with Motörhead just the day before, and fellow Dane Michael Poulsen of Volbeat fame. The performance had already stretched on to almost the full time slot, and the King came out, thanked the audience yet again for an amazing response, and the band left the audience in awe "at the bottom of the stairs" with the epic closing track of Abigail, "Black Horsemen". The audience stayed on though, as if waiting for another encore even after the time slot was over, the show was so mesmerizing that people simply could not get enough and kept on chanting until the roadies started dismantling the stage and there was no more hope for another encore. This band is an inspiration, a force to be reckoned with, and this incredible show proved that not even old age, crippling back problems, 6 years of almost total absence from the music scene, a fading voice or even goddamn heart surgery can keep you from fighting for your dreams. My hat goes off to the band King Diamond and the incredible vocalist at the helm.
It would be pretty hard to still be excited about any band after this be-all end-all performance, right? well...
Mötley Crüe is a band that I've seen deliver in the past, and so I was reasonably excited to see what they would bring on stage as the absolute headliners of the whole festival. The difference between the first time I saw them and this time was the following: at Wacken 2010 they had a one-hour slot playing just before Iron Maiden. They probably thought that the metal crowd would not worship them straight away, so they made an effort to not screw things up and delivered an ass-kicking show. Here, on the other hand, it seemed like the whole festival gathered up just for them. Everyone was waiting for them to take the stage and worship them through whatever songs they played or how well they did. What happened was, considering their collective egos, quite expected: they flat out sucked. A band of this scale and popularity simply cannot have a vocalist get up on stage so drunk that he cannot talk (let alone sing) properly anymore. The stripper girl they brought on stage articulated every single word of the chorus to "Wild Side", while the disgusting drunk driver known as Vince Neil was reduced to sounding like a sleepy cat. An overweight sleepy cat who can't sing for shit, with a drinking problem and a dangerously high opinion of himself. It's been said before by much better vocalists than I, but I could have gotten up on that stage and done a much better job at singing those classic 80's sleaze rock hits.
Speaking of sleaze rock, this festival must be the biggest gathering of glam rock fans I've ever seen, and most of them were there for Motley, and cheered them on even through their stunning fiasco of a concert. The cherry on top was yet to come though: during the song "Saints of Los Angeles", the backing vocals on the chorus start sounding a bit too "perfect", and at the end of the song, the veil is lifted: while still hearing the chorus, Sixx and Mars move away from the microphone. Sixx and Mars were lip-synching the chorus to that song! In my books this is one of the worst offenses you can possibly do while on stage. Straight afterwards, Neil shows up on stage accompanied by two of his stripper girls again. So this band in which describing the vocals as utter shit would be a compliment, who use lip-synching and shit on the expectations of 30,000 ticket-paying fans still have the arrogance to go "look what kind of pussy I'm getting"? If it was any other band, they would be neck-deep in rotten tomatoes by this time. Just by me being there watching them, I realized that I am actually supporting them and feeding into their insane arrogance. After a never-ending series of Romanian obscenities and braving the sea of people all the way to the back, I made my way to the concert site of the very last band that played at the festival.
It was up to the by-far most brutal band of the whole festival to put a smile back on my face. Cannibal Corpse are one of those bands that are consistently good in concert but don't surprise the listener a lot. Corpsegrinder was not as talkative or as brutal as he usually is, but still managed to blurt out those deep, crushing growls and headbang faster than anyone in the audience could. The rest of the band was not far behind, and you could see the audience were a bit tired due to the late hour and the previous 5 days of partying, but the moshpit was still decent in size and they even had the benefit of some disappointed Mötley Crüe fans who stayed behind to watch. This show was everything Crue was not: brutal yet inconspicuous, loud, heavy, fast, precise, intimate, with relatively little communication between band and audience, but then again the music is what matters in the end. Unlike the sea of disinterested people standing around for Crue, the audience to Cannibal Corpse was much more active and this concert provided a satisfying closure to the festival. The last two songs that were heard throughout the festival area were the legendary duo of "Hammer Smashed Face" and death metal's very own stadium anthem, "Stripped, Raped and Strangled". Thank you, Cannibal Corpse, for putting a smile back on my freezing and rained-upon face.
Thus ends Sweden Rock Festival 2012. There are many reasons to return, among them the amazing selection of classic rock acts, the incredibly friendly Swedes, the slightly intimate atmosphere that a festival with only 30,000 people can have. A certain MS colleague mentioned that this can be classified as a 50/50 rock and metal festival, and after analyzing the running order this holds true. At almost any given time during days 2, 3, and 4, there was a rock or not-so-heavy metal playing on one stage while metal was blasting out from another. Depending on your tastes you can have either a family-friendly 70s nostalgia festival, or a 4-day marathon of heavy metal and some well-known extreme bands. This is most evident in the clashes between the bands that closed each day of the fest: the headliners on the Festival Stage and the bands playing on the small Zeppelin stage: Soundgarden or Dark Funeral? Twisted Sister or Katatonia? Mötley Crüe or Cannibal Corpse?
This conspicuous and "big" festival certainly has its flaws too: just as Sweden in general, the prices are prohibitive for most of the rest of the world and the location right by the Baltic Sea makes appallingly bad weather a very real prospect even during the supposed "summer". Tastes are subjective, and I will not get into the fact that underground extreme metal bands, and "-core" bands, are almost completely lacking here or are given bad time slots on the tiny Rockklassiker stage. If that's your thing, or you can't stand the cold, then this is probably not your kind of festival.
Modern day festival, mean mean bands!
Still, this was an amazing experience and due to the fact that few people visit from outside Sweden, Denmark, or Norway, this provides an excellent opportunity to interact with the Scandinavians and watch some of those bands that rarely visit places outside that part of the world. Or rarely ever play live for that matter, and if they play classic rock or metal and are reasonably well-known, you can sure bet they've been on Sweden Rock Festival's running order. Rush is the first addition to next year's festival and the hilarious South Park intro to a stunning live version of "Tom Sawyer" amused many when shown on the Festival Stage screens. I'm pretty sure this festival will provide a great outlet for these musical geniuses to show their work to the world. If everything works out well, there's at least one rocker from southeastern Europe that will journey there again to experience this cold and rainy classic rock and metal ball in 2013, too.
Previous days' festival report: Sweden Rock Festival Part One: June 6th and 7th.
Thank you to the MS Staff for help in the development of this two-part article.
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