Germany has given the world many of its Yuletide traditions and while it was actually warmer in European than the Eastern seaboard of the USA, when I left, Knockout Festival is fast becoming a loving present during a season that's typically devoid of concerts/tours. Situated at the Europahalle, an indoor arena/sporting complex that holds just under 10,000, the annual Knockout Festival in Karlsruhe brings together crowd pleasing headliners for one evening, beginning at 5pm (although the frisky can actually enter the building at 3!) and lasting more than eight hours. All acts were afforded the full stage and lighting, with each successive band set augmented by 10 minutes, with DORO getting 70minutes and the SABATON finale, one and a half hours.
This year, organizers made sure photographers had ample room at the front of the stage, although the success of the event has seen a significant growth in the number of media outlets vying for coverage, a nice “problem” with which to deal. Local glammed out youngsters KISSIN' DYNAMITE were up first, although they've toned down the appearance since last time we met, opting for more of a dirty glamster image, particularly frontman, Hannes Braun, who now cottons to be MICHAEL MONROE, as opposed to Jim Gillette (NITRO), at least in the high piled hair stakes. He was bare-chested beneath a leather jacket, his chest tattoo plainly visible between the lapels. No one can say Swabians don't have balls, naming a song 'Welcome To the Jungle', already one of the best known/beloved GnR tracks. Braun sauntered onstage, flipping a baton and spent much of the next thirty minutes kicking and running around the massive stage, getting the sizable early audience energized and participating. Guitarist Ande Braun was shirtless two songs in, while six-string partner Jim Müller took a tide atop a roadie's shoulders, ala Angus Young (AC/DC). 'Sex Is War', 'I Will Be King' were early favorites, along with the title track for Money, Sex & Power, a backdrop sporting the album artwork hung behind them. Lots of crowd sing-alongs and lively show kept everyone entertained.
No easy feat, with those in attendance heavily skewed towards middle aged. That said, PINK CREAM 69 should have been playing to their fanbase, but he cardinal rule of festivals is pick your strongest material, as there's a certain segment of the crowd who doesn't know/doesn't like you. Festivals are a different gig than your own headlining show. Slotted between the young upstarts and animated, costumed Finns who would follow, definitely didn't help, as a chorus of whistles (European equivalent of booing) could be heard between songs. 'Twister' kicked things off in the right fashion, bassist/renown producer Dennis Ward getting all funky, when not adding backing vocals. Out front, blond singer David Readman, in black head-to-toe, offered a bluesy swagger. 'Special', off the most recent Ceremonial, saw the band in blue, almost glow-in-the-dark florescent black light. Later, the 80s JOURNEY-ish 'Wasted Years', from said platter, was also aired. 'Living My Life For You' saw the band in yellow and orange, as Readman worked from side to side, playing off the others, but it was almost anti-climactic, after a DYNAMITE performance.
Not even 7pm and those who pre-gamed in the parking lot are staggering (at best), if not literally dropping like flies. Pacing, gentlemen, pacing! Gene Simmons (KISS) might have monster heads on his boots, but Mr. Lordi has faces on his knees! Despite the cumbersome get-ups, including monstrous moon boots, LORDI worked all portions of the stage. Much of the set was lit in photographic unfriendly purple hues. Regardless, they raged through audience sung ditties, like 'Who's Your Daddy', 'Would You Love A Monsterman', 'Blood Red Sandman' and 'Hard Rock Hallelujah', the song which won them the 2006 Eurovision song contest (televised international event). For 'Chainsaw Buffet', which Mr. Lordi claimed had never been performed live, they brought out a female, seated her at a dining table and offered her various human body parts (including a head). Eventually she was axed by the bestial singer and as she crawls across the floor, he produces an oversized, smoking rotary saw. It didn't turn into GWAR, but the props ensued, with a smoking skull held aloft and later the hulking monster donned a red St. Nicholas/Santa cape and white beard, tossing goodies into the crowd from his pack. During 'Devil Is A Loser', Mr. Lordi's dormant bat wings magically open, the ugly caterpillar having morphed into an ugly butterfly. There's a motif there, I think.
Really can't adequately describe SALTATIO MORTIS. They and better known outfits/like-minded countrymen IN EXTREMO and CORVUS CORAX play German language medieval pomp/pop on a plumber's nightmare of plungers, valves and oversized pipes. Within the eight players onstage are a pair of pipers, a upright piano, a hurdy-gurdy player and conventional rock instrumentalists. Mortis frontman is straight from the pages of late 70s New Wave, pink streaked hair, shirtless beneath a sea captain's ensemble, the rest immaculately attired in frilly shirts and vests. Unlike the aforementioned contemporaries, tonight they stuck to less fanfare, middle-of-the-road tempos that neglect the pageantry inherent within this unique scene. Strobes and smoke don't enliven the tepid song selection, but for the last song, the frontman, now shirtless, dives into the crowd and allows himself to be ritually passed around (belly down) as he continues to sing. Nice trick! The crowd gives them an a cappella sendoff. As 8:30 approached, the corridors that rim the Europahalle became increasing clogged with trudging bodies, towards the ballroom, outdoor (thank God) smoking area and/or the ubiquitous beer/alcohol stalls, resembling something from a George Romero film.
For DORO, it's the first night of a string of seven (in eight nights). What was supposed to be a wind-up to her 30th anniversary will continue into 2014, due to logistical problems. That (at this time) still includes plans for a NYC live celebration, next September. Although the Metal Queen is not technically topping the bill this evening, afterward, many head for the exits anyhow. 'Earthshaker Rock' and 'I Rule The Ruins' get everyone moving. Charging right into the crowd, Ms. Pesch has the audience sing into the mic for the chorus of 'Burning The Witches'. Under orange lights, drummer Johnny Dee stands atop his kit for the intro to 'Night Of The Warlock'. 'Raise Your Fist In the Air' gives guitarist Bas Maas a chance to show off. Under pink/purple lights and a clap-along, it's 'Fur Immer', the first slow-down in a rapid fire 30+ minutes. 'Burn It Up' isn't the first time Doro moves into the wings, beyond the scope of the flood lights, eager to meet every inch (cm?) of her crowd. Speaking in her native tongue, she introduces newbie 'Revenge' as old school, which this green and blue lit headbanger definitely is. Next is 'Breaking The Law'. Why? Sort of a Joan Baez version of a JUDAS PRIEST song (as opposed to 'Diamonds And Rust') that eventually gets into gear, but in the limited time frame here, would have preferred another original. Biggest sing-along of the night goes to 'All We Are', with bassist Nick Douglas finally stationary long enough to stand center stage with Maas. They all leave the blackened stage temporarily, only to return for a raging bass/drum driven 'Hellbound', Douglas jump-hopping about. 'Love Me In Black' seems an odd note on which to end, being a more pedestrian number, but perhaps the time overruns that had been creeping along and threatened a 1AM curfew had to be placated. Always good to see/hear DORO.
Following DORO, most of the Moms & Dads vacated the front barrier to their children, for SABATON. Relative newcomers, to Ms. Pesch's longevity, the Swedes have played their dues, logging countless touring miles and they've only just started to make inroads in North America, although a pair of trans-continental treks are in the cards for 2014. The band is massive in Germany and getting bigger. The stage was bare, apart from the band members and new drummer Hannes van Dahl's (ex-EVERGREY) kit: no amp, etc. This marks the fourth drummer I've seen play behind Sabaton, in just over two years! Pre-show, the guy carrying a crate of beer, doling a couple to each musician's spot, is hailed with chants of “Noch Ein Bier” and the band is still in their dressing room. That chant, perpetually directed at singer Joakim Brodén plays a role in each German gig, but takes on even larger proportions tonight.
'Ghost Division' is a rousing opener, the mirror sunglass wearing and Mohawk coiffed Brodén running around the stage, stooping into muscle builder pose-downs. Next is 'Panzerkampf' sort of odd hearing these WWII era tales of Germany's defeat, in such surroundings, but it's all about fun, no menace. Early on, the singer downs a beer, although it will not be his last, onstage. 'White Death' follows and when completed, the audience starts humming the intro to 'Swedish Pagans'. Brodén hears the call and half mockingly asks the crowd, “That's not on our playlist, but if we let you pick the next song, will you let us decide what to play for the rest of the show?” This is obviously not a band that's tethered to a setlist and can't think on their feet. All of which endears them to the crowd, even more. The call to drink a beer continues to increase, the singer asking, “Why does everything have to be beer with you?”
'Uprising' finishes and the chant continues, Brodén ad libbing, “Maybe we should call a song 'Noch Eine Bier' on the next album (cue huge applause). Here's a song with German lyrics, let's change them around to 'Noch Ein Bier.” So, at least for tonight, 'Gott Mit Uns' becomes 'Noch Eine Bier', the titular chorus replaced by the ubiquitous chant, from both sides of the stage! When the song ended, guitarist Thobbe Englund suddenly announces he must go to the bathroom (“all that talk about beer”). Chided that he's part of a live show does nothing to dissuade him, leaving his guitar to the singer. As the crowd cheers his slinging the axe over his shoulder, Brodén coyly states “You don't want to hear me play guitar,” as he fumbled through the rudimentary 'Smoke On The Water', to gracious applause, before launching into a note perfect 'Seek & Destroy' from METALLICA. Cue huge ovation. Englund returns quickly, announcing his urination in a bottle, to save time. Brodén, “Did you piss in a bottle? Dummkopf!” and it's back to the concert.
'Cliffs Of Gallipoli' gives way to 'Attero Dominatus', which sees the singer kicking other guitarist Chris Rörland in the butt, before leaving the stage. The singer announced, time for you to learn some Swedish.” He teaches everyone how to say noch ein bier in his native language, before deadpanning, “Now you know 50% of the Swedish language!” To learn the rest, they do 'Poltava', from Carolus Rex, followed by the title track, albeit in English. To show off the new drummer's chops, complaining that only the original guy could do so, it was the lightning fast 'Screaming Eagles', which saw the singer alone stage left, while the other three huddled stage right. Back on his soapbox, the singer advises on drinking too much, as the chants continue, “It's fucking shit if you travel to a festival and the band is hung over or drunk.” Not exactly the perfect intro for 40:1, although the ratio probably has some unintended alcoholic consequences for a few in the house (or at least close to it).
After a short exit, the pre-recorded, spoken dialogue to 'The Art Of War' is cued up and the encore is off and running, racing againt the clock, now pushing 1AM. In rapid succession, 'Primo Victoria' and the fun-loving 'Metal Crue' close out another SABATON success, as well as Knockout Festival 2013. The band will hang out with the German fan club, this being the last concert before SABATON begin recording their next album. Others will continue the revelry at Unverschamt, a converted subterranean subway stop turned metal bar, just outside the main train station. Regardless, most will return to Karlsruhe for next year's installment of the Knockout Festival. Join the party.
More photos from Knockout Festival 2013 can be seen here