Yes, all brothers and sisters of metal, but this year's festival was overrun, backstage and in the VIP area, by pre-teens and tots, most thankfully donning hard plastic ear protection, but running around and generally oblivious to the bits of rock stardom just feet away. Guess the Germans are already prepping the next generation of festival organizers, promoters and business insiders! REBELLIOUS SPIRIT, a bunch of youngsters signed to SPV, discovered that party anthems are a tough sell at 10am on Saturday morning, the couple hundred in front of the stage nursing healthy hangovers, while trying to minimize the effects of another blistering sun. Even a cover of MOTLEY CRÜE's 'Wildside' didn't enliven the early risers, some already with beer in hand (or maybe they never put it down).
One of the reasons I wanted to go (OK, I've been an annual attendee for more than a dozen years), was to see ALPHA TIGER, the type of metal Germany turns out in spades: traditional, face paced, high pitched vocal. Their sophomore effort Beneath The Surface has not left my stereo, despite Century Media opting for no physical product in North America (digital download only). The bumble bee attire (yellow/orange/black) might too much for some, but these youngsters, playing their most prestigious gig to date (although a Wacken slot awaits), just went for it, emotion and attitude overcoming the few glitches. Opening the same way as the album, intro into 'The Alliance', first thing that was evident was singer Stephan Dietrich could actually reproduce the high notes live, while running around the stage. The twin leads of 'From Outre Space' were synchronized and I give the singer and band props for trying the almost a cappella begun 'Waiting For A Sign', Dietrich finally losing the studded, black leather metal vest to the heat. Dirk Frei's rumbling bass kicked off the speedy title track. They dipped back to the 2011 Man Or Machine debut just twice, 'Against The Time' and set closing 'Black Star Pariah', where Peter Langforth brought out a Japanese war flag emblazoned guitar, the red star burst clashing with the color scheme. Long on music, short on lyrics, there were times the big stage inexperience showed, but the crowd gave them full support, singing along to the familiar "whoa whoa" chants. Can't wait to see them again, in just a few short weeks.
"Welcome To Hell," far from it: beautiful weather, cold beer and great music. However, it was time for HELL, the resurrected NWOBHM era band that is only now making a noise. Producer Andy Sneap on guitar, one of the corpse-painted legions, but the mainstay of this theatrical troupe is crown of thorns/red contact lens wearing singer David Bower, who employs one of those single bar headband (cleverly disguised beneath the halo of thorns) microphones (ala RAVEN's John Gallagher). Opening with 'Let Battle Commence', Bower, shirtless beneath his coat, cavorted on his knees, on the catwalk. With cinematic flare, liturgical pipe organs, the likes of 'On Earth As It Is In Hell' and the closing 'The Quest' did their best to create an atmosphere that was made all the more difficult on a sun-filled morning. Bower even referenced the point, saying, "They say only mad dogs and Englishmen play in the mid-day sun. We are the Englishmen..." Not sure I like your inference, sir. Definitely a band better suited to an indoor, evening gig, although this is the fourth time I've seen them, and all but one have been outdoor festival types. Go figure.
Speaking of England, countrymen Kevin Heybourne and ANGEL WITCH (which now includes ex-CARCASS guitarist Bill Steer) were up next, running through a healthy dose of their classic, '80 eponymous debut. With Heybourne tethered to the mic stand, the rest tried to make up for the statuesque poses. The frontman wore sunglasses, not used to the sun, either as a Brit, nor from years in dingy clubs. None of that mattered though, because once the fuzztone guitars were unleashed, it was a nostalgic ride through one of the great heavy metal albums. Opening with 'Atlantis', it was on to 'White Witch' (as it is on album). 'Sorcerers' came later, as did 'Angel Of Death' (how many bands have a song in their catalog with that title?) and, of course, the closing signature tune, where everyone sang along. Good stuff.
I didn't know MORGANA LEFAY were still around and singer Charles Rytkonen almost admitted as much from the stage, offering, "Where have we been for the last six or seven years? I don't know." He still possess a vocal intonation of early Jon Oliva (SAVATAGE) and musically, there was a hint of gritty, staccato PANTERA guitars mixed with the 'Tage. The Swedes were definitely happy to be playing live though. 'Rooms Of Sleep' and 'Master Of The Masquerade' were up early, as the headband wearing singer lurked from side-to-side, hunched over the monitors. 'Hollow' was recognized by even the most casual fan, before switching gears to the mid-tempo plod of 'In The Court Of The Crimson King' (another overly used title). Had actually run into Warrel Dane (NEVERMORE) the night before, in the VIP area. He let me know SANCTUARY would be performing a couple of songs from their forthcoming Century Media release, Year The Sun Died. So I banked the information, with intent to check out Saturday's show. Dane showed up onstage in camouflaged hunting hat, matching long sleeve shirt and today's seemingly requisite sunglasses. With Jim Sheppard on bass and Lenny Rutledge's screaming guitar licks, they kicked off with 'Taste Revenge', the band sounded good and seemed (finally) in good spirits, although they had to split almost immediately after the gig, for another in Prague. 'Seasons Of Destruction' was backed with 'Die For My Sins', Rutledge a striking contrast between his blond hair and bright green guitar. 'Battle Angels' saw Dane briefly wander onto the catwalk, but generally he seemed to avoid the sunlight. 'Frozen', the first new number aired, storms at the beginning, before a brief downshift and ultimately closing with a final, high pitched scream. The viability of introducing new material to a festival crowd (not all of whom are familiar with your works anyway) is debatable, but given the Seattlites only had two platters to chose from, understandable. Bass introduces the second newbie (possibly entitled 'Time Waits For No Man'), but it's really a showcase for a pair of shredding guitars. Could do without the JEFFERSON AIRPLANE 'White Rabbit' cover though.
There's not a lot you can do with a trio, on such a massive stage, especially if one (as is this case in RAGE, with bassist/singer Peavey Wagner) needs to constantly be around the mic. Good thing the Germans have a guitar wizard like Victor Smolski! All over the place, album-wise, the set included a funky, groove oriented begun 'Drop Dead', a pummeling '', 'Refuge', the spontaneously crowd sung 'Higher Than The Sky', 'Feel My Pain' (off the new 21 CD) and ultimately returning for an encore of 'Soundchaser', a finale that saw Smolski alone on the catwalk, churning out riff after riff. AT THE GATES were today's nod to death/black metal, organizers adopting at least one "heavier" act into the rotation a few years back. Yesterday was ENTOMBED, today it was the Björler brothers' turn. Those that didn't find anything to their liking could go inside and listen to RAVEN. Shame about the overlap. Fronted by legend Tomas Lindberg (today representing death metal big time, in ASPHYX tee and ENTOMBED toque, not that he needed warmth), AT THE GATES began with 'Slaughter Of The Soul' and tore through a retrospective of their brief recording career (since resurrected). 'The Swarm' and 'Terminal Spirit Disease' were delivered consecutively. Lindberg dedicator SLAYER's 'Captor Of Sin' to departed guitarist Jeff Hanneman. The short, subtle introduced (almost instrumental harp tones) 'Windows' followed. While the band attempted to augment the crushing music with strobes, the daylight hours curtailed any effect. The came back for an encore than included 'Blinded by Fear' and the closing 'Kingdom Gone'.
So, time for ICED EARTH, a day away from going into the studio (in Germany) to record their Jon Schaffer produced Plagues Of Babylon. Utilizing the intro from Dystopia, as well as the recently issued live record, there was smoke and a band in matching faded denim and leather outfits, three guys to one side of the stage and Schaffer, by himself. After the opening 'Dystopia', it was right into 'Dark Saga', Stu Block jumping from the drum riser. A longtime fan/friend of the band, this set really showed how far Block has come since that initial US tour (and he could still use some work on the between song banter with crowd), confident and really the lone visual point of view throughout. It's been a few years since the BYH ground were so full, maybe the last time ACCEPT headlined, but most were already in place for the IE show. Following 'Pure Evil' was Block's first break, not long, as they'd started about five minute late, due to a fault drum sound. Whether or not that affected the setlist, I don't know (especially since anything off Night Of The Stormrider was absent), but it relied heavily (1/3 of running order) on the last studio platter. In many ways, the song selection was similar to the initial disc of Live In Ancient Kourion, albeit jumbled. 'Tolling bells announced 'Burning Times', then 'I Died For You', where giant balloons (one red, another blue) bounded throughout the crowd.When they exploded, releasing some confetti type substance, Block joked the crowd had "a dandruff problem." Fog and lighting onstage were beginning to make an impression, although still light at 8pm. For 'V', the singer donned a Guy Fawkes mask, then on to 'A Question Of Heaven' and 'Anthem'. Could have ditched the bombastic drumming, flashing strobe accompanied 'Boiling Point' (especially in light of the "missing" material), but 'Watching Over Me' was sung by a choir of many thousands, before ending with crowd clapping in time, spontaneously. It was announced there would be one last song, which is always the closing signature tune. This met with some whistles and booing, which Block acknowledged (not liking to be booed). However, whether planned or given a reprieve, they did return for 'The Hunter', making it a little more palatable for the faithful. Europe won't have to wait long, as they band return for a fall tour, supporting VOLBEAT and kick off their headlining run, in January, 2014.
And then there was one. Well, actually, there was some indoor entertainment (CREMATORY) after the festival headliner ACCEPT, but for all intents and purposes, the Teutonic Terrors were THE end, for most, the rightful kings. This is the tenth time I've seen the band since reformation, and apart from that magical night in NYC, where they played forever, this was the best setlist. With two killer albums featuring the new frontman, it's only makes sense that some of that vintage stuff gets moved around (Either that, or have a three hour show!). Glad to see my written suggestions that 'Hung Drawn & Quartered' not only be included, but kick things off, has finally come to fruition. This speedsters set the mood, only to be continued by 'Hellfire', 'Restless & Wild' (up so early, but given the context, worked so well) and yellow/red lit 'Losers & Winner'. Don't think I could have handpicked a better starting three or four! Perfect for a festival setting, where people just want to hear the hits. There were 24 guitar cabinets onstage, six double stacks either side of the drummer. At times there was so much fog onstage you could barely see the performers. Peter Baltes (bass) was all over the stage, the two guitarists: Wolf Hoffmann and Herman Frank keeping to their respective sides. After 3+ years, Mark Tornillo finally feels comfortable enough in his roll as singer/frontman to interact with the two main cogs, Baltes and Hoffmann. There were plenty of smiles, laughs and jokes taking place between the members, obviously happy with the current state of things. Frank got a rare moment in the spotlight (literally) during 'Losers & Winners' playing his guitar vertically, center stage, next to his six-string partner. Appropriately cloaked in red lights, 'Stalingrad' was the first (somewhat) slower moment, before Stefan Schwarzmann's double bass drumming heralded 'Breaker', with Tornillo between Peter & (the) Wolf, the trio front and center in blue lights and a lightning storm of strobes. Eventually, they're joined by Frank, as well, four on the floor! The yellow and green shone 'Shadow Soldiers' is dedicates to military people around the globe, as Hoffmann adds backing vocals and turns the song into a guitar showcase without soloing. They all lock into that classic chugging riff, for 'Bucket Full Of Hate', Baltes charges around ,releasing some of the stored energy (having taken a backseat on the last song). Towards the end, the guitarist is once again alone, grinding out the riffs, only to be joined by the bassist, as the song ends abruptly. Each song is met with deafening applause/shouts. Smoke fills the blue bathed stage, as Tornillo gets the crowd to clap along, into the bluesy thump of 'Bulletproof', Wolf and Peter out front on the catwalk, jamming. Into a red lit 'Pandemic', Baltes' floppy perm still headbanging away. With a 30+ foot guitar chord reaching the front of the gangplank, Wolf begins the trademark notes for 'Princess Of The Dawn'. The spotlights at teh top of the lighting truss illuminate the crowd, who are singing every word. Hoffmann leads them in singing the guitar notes, "whoa whoa" replacing his strings. 'Up To The Limit' sees green lights dominate. The guitar/bass trio synchronized movements and head shakes take center stage, as the singer works side-to-side. The proper set ending 'Fast As A Shark' commences with a cannonade of thunderous drums. At its conclusion the stage goes black, crowd demanding more. Which they get, in the way of 'Metal Heart', complete with repeated, a cappella "whoa, whoa' sections, 'Teutonic Terror' and the requisite 'Balls To The Wall'. It's the only part of the night that feels a little safe/predictable. As always, BYH ends with a fireworks display, as much to notify the townspeople of Balingen that the show is over, as anything else. For those of us that came to Bang Your Head, there's been plenty of firepower onstage all weekend, most magnificently, the just witnessed ACCEPT.
Check out a Bang Your Head! report from day one here
The 2014 edition of BYH! will take place July 11th and 12th. Make plans to attend. More information at Bang-your-head.de
More photos from BYH! day two can be seen here