Headbangers Open Air 2010 - Garden Party With Plenty Of Mad Hatters

August 15, 2010, 8 years ago

by Mark Gromen

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Held the week before Wacken (the world's largest consistently held metal concert) from July 29th - 31st in Brande-Hörnerkirchen, Germany, gives Headbangers Open Air a unique position and entertains many an early arriving foreigner. Unfortunately, many of the reasons I planned to attend (apart from spanning the Bang Your Head to Wacken gap) were rendered useless, du to cancellations: WOLF, JAG PANZER, ICON and Texas buddies ASKA were all casualties before it started. The only (on paper) worthwhile replacement being GRAND MAGUS, who I'd already witnessed. At less than 3000 people, HOA is for the diehards, most raised on the plethora of 80s bands that never quite made it. The grey haired crowd is adorned in faded/worn/torn denim, coated in band patches. Of course there's also the spandex, latex and form fitting pleather (on box sexes) option, which ain't always pretty, given the median age had to be in the upper 30s! If you're not driving, it's best to camp since HOA (like many European festivals) is in the middle of nowhere and unlike Wacken there are not enough people to warrant a legitimate (constant) taxi service.

Thursday, the show starts at 5pm, as opposed to the next two day, both of which kick off at 1pm. Spain's STEEL HORSE, a high pitched (as would be many throughout the weekend) foursome hat proudly wore all the clichés (headband, black and white striped straight leg jeans, spandex). Oddly, originals like 'Night Terrors', 'Wings Of Time' and 'Line Of Fire' were delivered with less conviction than their Iron Maiden cover, but then they've probably been playing Harry's bunch longer. The band ran beyond their allotted time, no sweat, as yet another cancellation left a hole in the schedule.

GRAND MAGUS began a bit earlier, to help vacate the time gap. Fresh from the massive BYH stage, the small roofed shed confines of HOA could barely contain the Swedes big sound. Afforded a lengthier set, 'Like The Oar Strikes The Water' and 'Silver Into Steel' were augmented by a few extras from Hammer Of The North, including 'At Midnight They'll Get Wise', 'I, The Jury' and the title cut. There was also 'Wolf's Return' and a closing 'Iron Will'. Too bad North American distribution (signed to Roadrunner overseas) has yet to be determined, as they're becoming something special, which the world needs to see/hear.

Longtime Cleveland friends SHOK PARIS (I tour managed for Steel & Starlight) were the lone "exclusive" of day one, a majority solely there check them out (even though they'd play three regional club dates afterwards). The first three songs were in the same running order as they appear on the just reissued Go For The Throat, which was played in its entirety in Bremen a few nights later, for the first time outside of Ohio. Singer Vic Hicks joked 'Tokyo Rose' was aired for the first time in 30 years, well not quite. 'Take You Away', a new song from a forthcoming full length (the planned EP for HOA never materialized and has been scrapped, in favor of said CD) was well received, as was the clap along intro to 'Hot On Your Heels'. Hicks tried to deflect any negative connotation surrounding the title 'American Dream' as the 10pm twilight finally enabled the stage lighting to have an impact. The trio of 'Go For The Throat', 'Go Down Fighting' and 'You Can Ride But Don't Hide' was a rousing closer, the strongest point of the day. They'd return for an encore/cover of fellow Auburn Records artist Wretch's 'Make This Garden Burn', a track specifically penned for the latter’s HOA appearance and has since been adopted by the organization, the phrase plastered on official merchandise.

It was left to DESTRUCTION to follow and round out the evening with an "old school" thrash catalog. Regardless, this unique set, squeezed between a variety of "regular" shows throughout Europe, came off well, despite only one practice. Apart from the stage and a couple of lights affixed to the vendor tables, it was pitch black and chilly, despite being late July. Smoke filled the stage, pulsating blue and red lights backlit Schmier and Mike Sifringer, but their faces were indistinguishable. 'Curse The Gods' and 'Butcher Strikes Back' were through before the bassist addressed the crowd, who ultimately (surprisingly) opted for the frontman to conduct his speaking in English! 'The Antichrist', 'Eternal Ban' saw Schmier work his way across the stage, stopping at each of the three mic positions. A chugging 'Live Without Sense' and 'Cracked Brain' (great chord progression that precedes the titular chorus) machine gunned from the speakers. 'Reject Emotions', 'Invincible Force' and ‘Thrash Til Death' followed, the later dedicated to the recently deceased moderator of the Destruction online forum. 'Tormentor', 'Unconscious Ruins' and `Bestial Invasion' rounded out the proper set, even though Schmier complained he was having difficulty speaking English this late. "What about Danish, or Italian," he mocked. They returned for a two song encore, capped by 'Mad Butcher' and Schmier wishing aloud that he could stay for the rest of the show, to see Culprit and Tygers Of Pan Tang.

Friday

More youngsters were present, but still massively outnumbered by the older set. Is it July, or April? It's a day for long sleeves, if not leather jackets, at noon! Two weeks earlier, they were medi-vacing people off the trains for heat related dehydration. JAMESON RAID is proof rock keeps you young, as the original line-up are back together for the first time in 30 years. The Brits were part of the Metal For Muthas II album, which means the singer and bassist are sixty, if they're a day (refused to answer my post-gig inquiry: “That's the one question you can't ask!”) Strange seeing your granddad headbang, shimmy or play air guitar, but they went through all the motions, even the bassist in vintage military regalia. Mixed into the “oldies” 'Hard Lines', 'Getting Hotter', 'Titanic' and the crowd sung 'Seven Days' finale, was a newbie ('Psychopath') where Terry Dark donned a Phantom Of The Opera half mask. Here's wishing them long life, professional and otherwise.

STORMZONE flew in from Ireland as last minute filler, as apparently Texans (ASKA) remember the Alamo, but not booking reservations in time. The Irish lacked a definitive image; with flashy lead guitarist a disciple of the Bret Michaels school of bandanna wear, a dreadlocked second guitarist, short, spiky haired bassist, bald drummer and a frontman who looked like the cross of Lips (Anvil) and Iron Maiden's Steve Harris. 'Face My Demon', drum begun 'the Chosen One', 'Secret Gateway' and 'The World Of Sorrow' proved adequate, but as the titles imply, rather generic.

Saw ROXXCALIBUR, the NWOBHM tribute act, twice within two weeks. Their choice of covers includes the likes of Cloven Hoof, Witchfinder General and the 'See You In Hell' (Grim Reaper) finale. Despite bringing up their old singer for a couple of tunes and more obscure tracks, once is enough.

TYGERS OF PAN TANG were always one of my favorite Brit acts, after only Maiden, Saxon And Motörhead. Apparently lots felt the same, as they garnered a large crowd early and probably should have appeared much later in the evening. Great to see guitarist Rob Weir is still involved and headbanging like a man half his age. Weir looked like an aged southern rocker, or maybe country legend Kenny Rogers. He also added backing vocals, including the use of a squawk box. For a while, the material alternated between new and classics like 'Spellbound', 'Suzie Smiled (which despite not listening to for almost thirty years, the lyrics came rushing back), 'Slave To Freedom', 'Raised On Rock', 'Wildcat', 'Euthanasia' and the concluding 'Gangland'. Even with the slightly (Italian) accented lead vocals, this was a pleasant personal nostalgia trip.

Chi-town's AMULANCE (not “Ambulance”) offered tracks from their album, Ep and The rage Within demo, including said title cut. At times the singer strayed into John Cyriis (Agent Steel) range, others verged on speed metal. 'At Your Grave' and the technically begun 'I Am The Alpha One' were sandwiched around a drum solo. Why come all that way and not maximize the exposure of your music? Actually, they did play beyond their allotted time and the remainder of the day was off schedule (unheard of in Germany), despite attempts to correct it.

STORMWARRIOR, being “locals” were rushed on and off stage, try as the stage manager might to get back on track. The band will play the States as part of ProgPower USA, in September. With their infectious power metal, it's easy to see how/why Kai Hansen (Gamma Ray) became involved. A German band singing hymns of praise to Scandic gods, in English. Bassist Yenz Leonhardt moonlights in Iron Savior and Savage Circus. Opening with a storming 'Heading Northe', fists punched the sky. They aired a five song 'the Axeley' (Axe Wielder medley) as well as 'Valhalla' and 'Odin Warriors'. Little time between songs, some segued into the next, even before the medley. Fast, uncomplicated and fun, perfect for a festival. Get ready Atlanta!

A hooded Druid strolled onstage, ranted/chanted a bit (aka 'Memories'), revealed his face to be MEKONG DELTA singer as he's joined by the rest of the band. A career spanning set, the quixotic, technical (and rarely heard outside Germany) outfit is best when varying between soft, melodic passages and the more aggressive. They ran through 'Heartbeat', 'King With Broken Crown', 'Immortal Hate', 'The Hut Of Baba Yaga', 'Heroes Grief', 'Transgressor' (off my favorite, Dances Of Death), 'Sphere Eclipse' and the instrumental, 'Intermezzo'. Afterwards, briefly spoke with bassist Ralph Hubert, the only original member, and expressed my excitement in finally being able to witness this longstanding guilty pleasure.

ANGEL DUST bears no resemblance to the band from the '80s. In fact, apart from Dirk Thurisch (vocals) and Bernd Aufermann (guitar), they sound nothing like the band that recorded Bleed and probably shouldn't have been on the bill (certainly not so prominently). 'Nightmare' was as old-school as the Angels got, Thurisch playing cheerleader, vainly attempting to get a small crowd energized (even asking the drunks to jump!?), but to no avail. 'Last Forever', 'Freedom Awaits', 'Bleed', 'Never', the 'I Need You' ballad (with singer on second guitar) and a new song, 'Living Ain't Fantasy' (lyrics not yet committed to memory, pasted on sheets taped behind the monitors) were all presented. Real shame, all around, as the band was visibly disappointed by the lack of response.

DEMON had the biggest crowd of the night and apart from the 'Helluva Night' encore, played the same set as the BYH pre-show. This was more of their crowd, eating up the opening 'Night Of The Demon', 'Standing On The Edge' and 'Don't Break The Circle'.

Leather clad cult warriors CULPRIT played a fiery set, including the bassist setting his instrument ablaze! However, with two solos (drum/guitar), as well as a cover, wasn't the best use of time, although most didn't seem to mind, as they got to hear an opening 'Guilty As Charged', 'Steel To Blood', 'Fight Back', 'Players' and 'Ice In The Back', amongst others.

Saturday

Didn't view many of the early bands as essentially, so arrived in time to see the thrashing, proto-death metal of New Jersey's BLOODFEAST. A different style to most HOA acts, there still was a lot of interest in this heavier, more aggressive outfit, ie. They were ready to 'Kill For Pleasure'. The sing along to 'Dropping like Flies' was all the more poignant, given the propensity of the winged pests invading the garden (a few thousand unwashed people and full porta-potties will do that). 'Face Fate', 'Vampire' and 'The Evil' also pummeled those who dared approach the stage.

After a “will they or won't they” drama played out over three days, OMEN did show up, after a lengthy flight and multiple leg train journey north, from Frankfurt. Kenny Powell, with his beard and mutton chops which meet in the back of the head and rise to become a thin mohawk, led his troops through a long (begun early, ran late) set that included all the classics: 'Die By The Blade' (Scott Clute sporting appropriately shaped bass), 'Dragon's Breath', 'Ruby Eyes Of the Serpent', 'Into The Arena' (fan favorite), 'Teeth Of The Hydra', 'Battle Cry', 'Death Rider', 'The Axeman' and 'Warning Of Danger', plus a newbie, 'Blood In The Water', Sometimes humor doesn't translate, as frontman George Call (also of the missing ASKA, as is drummer Danny White) asked, “How many devil worshipers do we have here tonight? Christians? Muslims? Buddhists?” Minimal reaction to all, leading into 'Last Rites'. It was the only (unintentional) misstep.

ANVIL CHORUS suffered from heavy rain chasing many to their tents or otherwise dry surroundings. Despite just one official release (just last year) this 80s band had plenty of fans, eager to hear the likes of 'Deadly Weapons' and 'Man-Made Machine'. I don't know which is more amazing, RAVEN frontman Jon Gallagher still being able to hit that off kilter wail or possessing the same red, thirty year old, been through Hell bass. I thought he was Geordie, not Scottish! Both worked just fine this night. Whenever you get this trio on stage, you have a hard time getting them to leave, as this is the third consecutive show where they played what THEY want, regardless of the schedule/time constraints. Brother/guitarist Mark still wears the baseball catcher shin guards, ala Athletic Rock day. Many of the songs came from that era as well. Beginning with 'take Control' and ending with 'Crash Bang Wallop' (both titles euphemisms for their set), we also heard 'All For One', 'Live At The Inferno', 'Mind Over Metal', 'Speed Of The Reflex' and 'Break The Chains', with snippets of 'Symptom Of The Universe' and 'Summertime Blues' thrown in.

Been ages since I'd seen SOLITUDE AETURNUS and since then, Rob Lowe has gone on to front Candlemass, White haired and alabaster skin, dressed in black, he made for a strikingly spooky image, especially when rolling his eyes into the back of his skull. Their dreary doom might be better served if not the next to last act on a three day event, as the audience's energy level waned. Not the Omen bassist (a frequent visitor to the Relentless Energy drink tent backstage), who jumped on stage and hopped around with his fellow Texans. 'Destiny Falls To Ruin' and the encore, 'Opaque Divinity' were the lone inclusions from the legendary pair of Roadrunner releases, also airing '9Th Day: Awakening', 'Mental Pictures', 'Days Of Prayer' and 'Waiting For The Light'.

David DeFeis is rock n roll, already dressed in stage attire, shirt unbuttoned to his navel, he arrived backstage with an entourage of women and a bottle of wine tucked away for later. VIRGIN STEELE were the final night's headliner, a bit of a double edged sword, given that some want the party to continue, others already spent or their favorites since past, find other activities of more interest. Each Steele show is virgin, in that the setlist is different from the previous one, virtually unheard of in this pre-packaged day and age. Unfortunately, the closing of the Autobahn, for overnight weekend repairs, and needing an escort through the back roads of Northern Germany, meant we had to leave early in the band’s set, which was plagued by some technical issues, but didn’t preclude them from offering the likes of ‘Don't Say Goodbye’, ‘Ride On The Wings Of The Night’, ‘We Rule The Night’ and ‘Defiance’

HOA is a fun time, especially for the uber-fan. Just come ready to party!


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