Bang Your Head!!! 2018 - Hungry Like A Powerwolf!
July 21, 2018, a month ago
A year ago, rumors circulated that 2018 was supposed to be reduced to just a two-day event, but things spun out of control and advance dates were published. All to be straightened out in 2019, right? Well, imagine our surprise when this year's festival program teased a trio of dates for '19, as well as cryptic warning that this year was "an end of an era." Seem incongruous. Given his heartfelt onstage speech, the final night of the festival, the organizer feels he can't/won't compete with the mega-formats: Wacken, Rockfest Barcelona, Hellfest, etc. nor the prices which top flight headliners demand, during the lucrative summer season. Beginning life as a single day, indoors, back in 1996, this boutique fest, generally catering to fans of traditional metal/hard rock, with an occasional dabbling of thrash/black/death metal has been an open air event for twenty years now. Given the reality of last year's projection, not all rumors come true, so regardless, BraveWords looks forward to making a return to Balingen, for a twentieth consecutive year, to take in Bang Your Head, whatever format it takes. Why? Read on to see what happens on an annual basis.
The semi-final match of the World Cup precluded my international entourage (two Americans, a Norwegian and a transplanted Brazilian, now living in Sweden) from attending the warm-up show, on Wednesday evening. First time it's been missed since bringing the nighttime kick-off to the Volksbankmesse, an indoor arena, right next to the festival grounds. So Thursday began early, with the all-girl Swiss band, Burning Witches. Familiar with their Schmier (Destruction) produced eponymous debut, the twin guitar fivesome acquitted themselves well, musically, even if not accustomed to such a large stage. That said, a cackling crone filled the air, as the femme fatales entered to "Metal Demon". The pixie of a lead singer, Seraina Telli is the most comfortable metalhead in the band, going right out to the crowd, via the walkway that juts into the audience. "We Eat Your Children" is followed by "Creator Of Hell", where she adopts a more guttural growl. For the speedy "Creatures Of The Night" original, it's more a shrill Battle Beast inspired vocal. High energy, just one ballad ("Save Me"), about halfway through the set, then picks up the pace for "Black Widow". Won a lot of fans with their impressive take on Dio's "Holy Diver", the two guitarists trading leads. Ending with their signature tune, the crowd was screaming for one more, which is what you want, as a young, opening band.
Conversely, didn't know that much about melodic AOR/hard rock of Sweden based Eclipse (having missed last year's performance, in the adjoining hall), although had been subjected to a steady diet of their latest on the seven hour commutes to and from Norway Rock, the week before, courtesy of my driver. Buzz cut singer Erik Mårtensson wore a leather jacket, the band name embroidered on the back as he repeatedly ran across the stage during "Never Look Back" and onto the catwalk. After "Wake Me Up" he removed the jacket and added a second guitar to "Jaded". They played through the standard backline, four double stacked Marshall cabinets and two bass bins, either side the drummer. There's almost Celtic strains to acoustic tinged "Battlegrounds", the crowd singing the "whoa whoa". "Downfall Of Eden" was also aired.
Alestorm need to be seen, to be disbelieved. A proudly anti-politically correct, oft drunken bunch who are out to have fun and hopefully a few others do too. Ultimately, it's about self-indulgence, much like the pirates, whose lore these Scots sing about. Keytar player/vocalist Chris Bowes is the chief culprit, in band emblazoned kilt, flip-flops and a t-shirt about a gay dolphin, there's rainbow backdrop and bunting featuring a one-legged duck head emerging from a banana peel. Go figure! Oh, forgot to mention the giant, inflatable rubber duck, situated between the drums and keyboards. Festival set offers a few off the latest release (synth disco "Mexico" and their namesake, where Bowes kicks up high enough to, thankfully, reveal to us photogs, he doesn't follow kilt wearing tradition), but more heavily relies on early material, opening with "Keelhauled". The premise of "Sunk'n Norwegian", according to its creator, is about "drinking beer and shoving pizza up ones arsehole". Yum! Later, his stage banter included, "Do you like slow songs? Of course you do. Fuck you, we'll play it anyway. It's about a witch, with really big boobies," cue "Nancy The Tavern Wench". Might not be a better festival song than speedy "Drink", with a refrain of "We are here to drink your beer", when they unleash the oversize rubber duckie, who tumbles and bobbles atop the crowd, a wayward crowd surfer. Beyond the title, coarse language "Fucked With An Anchor" closes the show and will be interested to see the reaction at ProgPower USA, a sometimes finicky crowd.
By contrast, Exodus came on and took no prisoners. Still no definitive line-up, but care not, Gary Holt's ultimate return (once Slayer commitments are finished) can only increase the lethal quotient. Only a passing nod to current recordings, in the form of "Blood In, Blood Out", then right back to yesteryear for the remainder of the show. Steve Souza remembered Balingen 2014 being his first gig, after reuniting with the band. Lots of stage fog, even in the daylight, for "Deliver Us To Evil", Zetro practically stalking the stage, with occasional forays onto the catwalk, jutting into the crowd. "And then There Were None" followed, but not sure how many Europeans (given the USA political climate) were interested in a star spangled Exodus logo, with a play on Trump's motto, "Making Thrash Great Again" printed on the back. "Parasite" returned to the set, after a long absence, as Souza explained that they were currently on the 29th of 31 Euro gigs, eleven of which were in Germany. "Lesson In Violence", ubiquitous "Toxic Waltz" and "Strike Of The Beast" put a capper on how to play a festival. Hits, delivered hard and fast!
Yet another stylistic change, as Amorphis took the stage. Esa Holopainen wore a Rush 2112 shirt and was great to see returning bassist Olli-Peka Laine with other mainstay guitarist Tomi Koivusaari once more. The focal point of the band, since his inclusion, remains the maniac behind the mic (nice guy off stage), but boy does Tomi Joutsen bring it. "Against Widows" elicits a huge roar, and not just from the frontman's pipes. Back-to-back, old school charm, with "The Castaway", which gradually slows to a crawl, Esa giving his wah wah pedal a workout. "Daughter Of Hate" plugged the new album, with pre-recorded voiceovers popping up, before ending with what is now a regular closer, "House Of Sleep."
It was not well publicized beforehand, but banners inside the hall dedicated it as the "AJ Pero stage", for the late Twisted Sister drummer. One of the rare moments inside, as the action mostly overlaps the main attractions outside, but had to snap a few photos of Refuge (ie. the "old" Rage guys) who aired five songs off the stellar Solitary Man release. Check it out!
German legends up against one another, Peavy Wagner (Rage/Refuge) and Doro Pesch, sporting a white Motorhead tee. The songs are all standards, it's the full force delivery and commitment that makes 'em fresh, each time you hear her. "Earthshaker Rock" sees all guns blazing, from jump. "I Rule The Ruins" and "Burning The Witches" also killer, Doro spending much of the time on the catwalk, as near to her fans as possible and on the latter, gets the crowd to engage in a left vs. right challenge, singing the titular chorus. "Raise Your Fist" sees obedient countrymen following suit. "East Meets West" follows "True As Steel", each Johnny Dee drum beat punctuated by double arm thrusts by Ms. Pesch. Dee uses the hi-hat to count-off, "Fur Immer" as bassist Nick Douglas opts for keyboards on the German language classic. On the catwalk, Doro is on one knee, mic towards the crowd, while Bas Maas solos away, at the top of the stairs. Not to be out done, it's Luca Princiotta's birthday, so a candle lit cake is brought onstage and the fans sing to the guitarist. Back to the music, Doro headbangs alone to bottom end driven "Hellbound". Between songs, there's chants of "Doro! Doro!" There's just enough fog onstage to make the flashing lights begin to be noticed on newbie "All For Metal".A quick hitting "Burn It Up" comes before "Breaking The Law" (although I'd still prefer an original to the Judas Priest cover). What seemed to be the "All We Are" finale, with guesting Sabina Classen (Holy Moses), left time for Doro to take "requests," ultimately settling on "Metal Tango". Here's hoping our next interaction will see more of the excellent Forever Warriors album amongst an always strong repertoire.
"The Final Countdown"? But there's so much more to Europe, as proven over 95 minutes, as the evening's headliner. Although the noise has to stop at 11PM, to not disrupt the nearby town, the music continues in the hall until at least 2AM. Singer Joey Tempest might not have the permed 80s hair, but still has the smile, and partnered with guitarist John Norum, makes a formidable duo. "Walk The Earth" is up early, but those still hanging out, which is a considerable number, want to hear the oldies, especially those like red lit, symphonic "Scream Of Anger" and "Wasted Time" which predate that infamous album. While altered for The Final Countdown, "Rock The Night" sees the singer pumping fists overhead and swinging the mic stand, as Norum is spotlighted, in white. Throughout the show, Tempest repeatedly plays with the stand, while the guitarist remains pretty much in the same place, stage left. At one point, Tempest jests, "You're looking good, but not as good as us". Ballad "Carrie", drum solo "Ready Or Not", "Cherokee" and ultimately, THAT song, round out the classic material. Tomorrow is destined to be a great day, top to bottom.
More photos from Day 1 here.
Friday, July 13th
Now know how a teenage Casanova must feel at his high school reunion: needing to spend time with all the exes, so they don't feel neglected, or that there's some ill will, yet also maintain time with the current date/spouse, lest they too get upset. There were no less than seven bands, either collectively, or individual members, whom I knew, backstage. That's even before Destruction was there, taking promo photos with (re)new drummer Randy Black. Hobnobbing dance card full, there was also the matters onstage.
The earliest bands, each day, are typically newer entities. They are often more driven, knowing the stakes, willing to take chances, to make an impact. Once upon a time (first two albums) Alpha Tiger seemed poised for great things. Then it all came unraveled: line-up changes, loss of a definitive image (orange tiger stripes, ala Stryper) and worst of all, a stylistic change to polished commercial radio rock. They used an introductory instrumental jam as a makeshift line check, then Benjamin Jaino (singer) came onstage in a ratty, sleeveless Iron Maiden tee, looking like he'd just mowed his lawn. "Lady Liberty" is sort of the transitional point, between old and new, unfortunately leaning too much towards the latter.
By contrast, Striker were (if you'll pardon the pun) an unleashed tiger. A Canadian invasion force, from the opening crash of "Former Glory", everyone literally charged onto the gangplank. A caged-up bar band, suddenly given a large amount of room, on an outdoor stage, the Canucks ate it up, constantly moving on and off (catwalk) the stage. Witness "Born To Lose". Prior to "Lethal Force", leather jacketed singer Dan Cleary throws down a challenge, "Can you bang your head?" Cue synchronized stage movements and four part vocal harmonies. Cleary told a story about being in the audience, a decade ago, hoping one day to play the festival. "Too Late" sees both guitarists descend the stairs and square off against one another on the walkway. A speedy, more aggro "Out For Blood" gives way to as yet unreleased "Heart Of Lies" (off forthcoming Play To Win). Lots of whammy bar action and group reverse windmills on "Full Speed Or No Speed", while "Fight For Your Life" finale begins with twin leads on the catwalk. The sing-along ends with all four again at the end of the walkway, nearest the adoring fans, guitars overhead as the crowd roars its approval.
UK based Monument invested a lot of time in money in the stage set: four scrims with their distinctive M positioned in front of the wall of Marshalls and a giant mock-up of the album artwork, as a backdrop. Musically, there's much Iron Maiden worship in the Londoners' music and Peter Ellis not only borrows some Bruce Dickinson onstage raps, but has the same wayward left hand motions as his idol. "The Chalice" has a similar "Wasted Years" poppy Maidenism. Ellis asked, "Anyone drinking tonight? Where's your pint? Most people ARE drinking! Good lads and ladies." Interesting segue to "Fatal Attack", about Jack The Ripper. Energetic bunch about the stage, until the singer, who changed from color coordinated red & black biker jacket, to leather vest, quips, "Next song has absolutely no lyrics, so I'm gonna fuck off and my mates are going to play you 'Olympus'." If you're not a stickler for originality, Monument are an enjoyable ride, particularly live.
From early in the morning, there were plenty of Night Demon t-shirts in the crowd, of varying designs. The Californians played BYH last year and have been plugging away in Europe, which appears to be paying off. Tough for two men to patrol a giant stage, but Jarvis Leatherby (bass/vocals) and guitarist Armand John Anthony more than hold their own. In fact, afterwards, both give separate accounts of feeling like their shoes were melting into the deck, during the heat of the day. "Welcome To The Night" opener is followed by "Full Speed Ahead", the trio's mantra this an every day. See drummer Dusty Squires is now also miked. A recorded intro and slower tempo, "The Howling Man" gives everyone a chance to get a cold drink and catch their breath, Double bass driven "Dawn Rider" gives way to ironic (for today) "Heavy Metal Heat". There's a more brooding "Stranger In The Room" and thrashy, crowd approved "Screams In The Night" before mascot Rocky makes his ghastly appearance on "The Chalice". The skeletal mascot potions a mic stand at the edge of the catwalk, where both Leatherby and Anthony deliver a goosebump moment, surprise rendition of the Scorpions' "In Trance", audience quick to pick up on what's happening and sing along to the mid-paced anthem. "Black Widow" and a storming signature track close things out, the band drenched in sweat, but loving the chanted accolades. The next day, the promoter would mention them onstage, by name, during his recap of the festival. Remember, the double-live album will be out August 10th.
Tough act to follow, but Jag Panzer have the repertoire to pull it off. Breaking in yet another guitarist, founder Mark Briody took a more dominant role, more vehement and energetic than in recent years. Harry "The Tyrant" Conklin sported shoulder length two-tone (dark/gray) hair and was his usual demonstrative self, onstage. "Chain Of Command" is a favorite sing-along. Burly, bearded drummer Rikard Stjernquist looking like mountain man Grizzly Adams. "Harder Than Steel"goes right into the violin introduction of "Black". "Iron Eagle" sees Harry simulating a two handed chopping of wood, when not hopping in place, his back to the crowd. During "Shadow Thief", the Tyrant lays his head against Briody's shoulder. Amazing that he can still sustain those high vocal notes. "Can I hear you yell Warfare," asks the singer. Later, I kid Harry that's probably not the best word to get thousands of Germans to agree upon! We share a laugh. In "Generally Hostile" Briody disappears from the stage. He's in the photo pit and a short (unescorted) jaunt through the audience, as Conklin lays prone on the catwalk, extending the mic across the pit, as far as he can, so the fans down front can sing the chorus. Nothing like classic Jag Panzer.
CoreLeoni is a project, with Rainbow/Lords Of Black singer Ronnie Romero and Gotthard guitarist Leo Leoni, who smartly entered (given the moniker) to the Godfather theme. High energy hard rock, not a million miles away from either of the duo's individual projects. Used most of their set to meet & greet the aforementioned parade of old friends who had started to appear, backstage.
One of those was former Immortal frontman/guitarist Abbath, already in corpsepaint. "Hello, Mr. Knuckles" came the hoarse greeting, a play on his usual, "Mr. Bravewords." Onstage, his four piece band was nearly obliterated by fog. He stayed almost tethered to the mic, for the first three songs, when photographers were around and ventured off the spot, once they were gone, about the time of "Warriors" from his one-off album with I. More than a few Immortal tunes also in the set, like "Tyrants", "Nebular Ravens Winter" and "One By One". At the end of this majestic movie music, Abbath walks to the end of the gangplank, gives the clenched forearm Manowar salute and hoists his guitar triumphantly overhead.
It's been more than two years since Overkill recorded the just released Overhausen live disc, that night playing the debut and Horrorscope in their entirety. Since then, a large segment of those albums has remained in the live set ("Rotten To The Core"), regardless of which side the Atlantic you see them. "Mean Green Killing Machine" opener and "Goddamn Trouble" are the lone nods to the most recent studio disc, the rest a career retrospective of fans favorites. Blitz sings "Hello" and the rest add "From The Gutter". Speaking of vocal accompaniment, "In Union We Stand" is belted out by tens of thousands, an amazing response. Fog fills the stage for "Coma" and later, "Goddamn Trouble", Derek Tailer skanking around in circles, stage right. Crowd surfing and mini-mosh pits erupt for old school "There's No Tomorrow". Blitz intros "Elimination" with "two to the body, one to the jaw". It's followed, as usual, by "Fuck You", but tonight, it's not destined to be the final number. No, digging way back, there's the cover of the Cleveland punks, the Dead Boys' "Sonic Reducer", a tip of the cap to the German diehards (can't imagine them playing this Stateside, outside of maybe NYC or an NJ club date), before a quick, middle finger waggling reprise and they're out the door. New album, Feb. 2019. Can't wait!
Accept, for the second time in a week! However, this would be an almost completely different set, filled with relative obscurities, at the expense of one of my all-time favorites. "Restless and Wild" was NOT part of the set. Afterwards, Chris Williams said it was the first time in about a decade that the old standard was dropped from the running list. So, minus a personal favorite, how could this still be a great Accept show, well bring on the surprises. "Die By The Sword" is a kicking opener, but right away, something's different (as had been rumored backstage all day, biz insiders saying even their crew had no idea what was to come), "Pandemic" sees the longstanding duo of Wolf Hoffamn (guitar) and bassist Peter Baltes center stage, followed by "Starlight". Wow! In between the previously aired Rise Of Chaos material Koolaid" and "Analog Man" (still think singer Mark Tornillo lives for the "old school son of a bitch" lyric) the home country crowd was treated to an unprecedented run of blue lit "No Regrets", "Slaves To Metal" and "Hellfire". Hoffman enjoyed moving between proper stage and the catwalk, as did the active Tornillo. "TV Wars" sees the singer on the right, followed by the Peter & the Wolf tandem out front during "Princess Of The Dawn" sing-along. Purple lit "Up To The Limit see Hoffman and guitar partner Uwe Lulis center stage. When Baltes joins, for some half turn, synchronized stage moves, the singer is actually seated on the steps. "Ahead Of The Pack" is followed by green lit speedster "Objection Overruled". Interesting (unusual) to see where "Metal Heart" showed up, neither a closer, nor part of the encore. Tornillo is sandwiched between the two elder statesmen bookends during "Teutonic Terror". Strobe laden "Fast As A Shark" begins with only the Americans onstage, the stringed Germans running on, just as the pre-recorded Tyrolean playback ends. Fog erupts from the trapezoid puzzle pieces littered about, the two guitarists on the riser, center stage. "Demon's Night" would have been an ample finish, but no, a few oldies remain. After the ubiquitous, but usually final "Balls To The Wall", there were nearly thrashing takes on "I'm A Rebel" and "Burning". Now, even without one of my go-to Accept songs, have to admit, that's a festival set!
Musical nightcap, Primal Fear, airing just the pre-release single "Hounds Of Justice", off the forthcoming Apocalypse. Indoors, the lighting was amazing and smaller stage had the feel of a packed club show. Just a few feet away, in the backstage area, behind the arena, people were still talking about what they'd witnessed by Accept, wishing them well and saying goodbyes to the other touring bands. Still, stuck my head in long enough to catch "Running In The Dust", "Nuclear Fire" and later, re-entering to see the green lights sweeping across the stage, for "Fighting The Darkness", in person, before hearing the remainder outdoors, amongst all the late night hullabaloo.
More photos from Day 2 here.
Saturday, July 14th
Morning came quick, after the late night. With Marco Bachle (bass) on the catwalk, sounding like buzzing bees, "The Swarm" kicked off Evertale's technology plagued nightmare of a set. Upon announcing "Chapter 666 (We Are The Hammer)" there was only silence. Apparently one of the may tapes malfunctioned (nearly every track finished with a pre-recorded outro/coda, not performed by the band). At one point the bassist's backing vocals became lead as Mattias Graf had issues with his guitar, leaving the stage repeatedly and only catching up to lead vocals in the final verse of "As Tarsis Falls". The Blind Guardian obsessed outfit had better luck with "In The Sign Of The Valiant Warrior" and "Firestorm".
For about three hours, Balingen was transformed and transported back to early 80s UK, with a string of NWOBHM artists: Cloven Hoof, Tygers Of Pan Tang and Girlschool. The first two have but one original member left and while all opted to play a good share of vintage tracks, stylistically, not all the newer cuts are truthful to their legacy. Bassist Lee Payne struggled with the heat, nearly passing out onstage and cutting the Cloven Hoof set short by at least one song. Half of traditional Texas metallers Aska are currently within the ranks of the UK based band: George Call (vox) and Danny White (drums). No make-up or fancy dress (originally the four members depicted earth, fire, air and water), but since reforming in 2006, lone constant Payne has recorded new material every three or four years, most recently, last year's Who Mourns For the Morning Star? Show starts with "Inquisitor", despite a blazing sun, Call wears a white leather jacket, atop a second jacket and black tee shirt. Heat doesn't faze Texans, I guess. He would strip off the layers, moving forward. A softer, emotive "Song Of Orpheus" is a great showcase for Call's voice (guy is sought by many recording projects), reminiscent of an Aska tune. The first of two off the eponymous '84 Neat debut, their signature tune gives way to the speedy "Time To Burn", begun with a Call wail. The singer and guitarist spend a good portion of their time on the catwalk, the rest content, to try to hide form the heat/sun remaining onstage. "Highlander" gives way to heavy riffing "Nova Battlestar", bits of Star Wars' "Imperial March" stomp within. Ironically, during the closing "Reach For The Sky" a glider circled high overhead. After a post-gig cool down, that included plenty of shade and packed in ice, Payne and the rest of the guys were happy and talking about how fun the gig had been . Glad everyone was safe. A North American tour kicks off in September.
Robb Weir remains the only Tyger, even though original vocalist Jess Cox was also in the house, overseeing Cloven Hoof. Sadly, no onstage reunion though. Slow out of the gate, ie newer material, it was three songs in before we got "Gangland". Over the last decade or so the older inclusions have remained pretty consistent. Of the two guitars, Weir handles rhythm, not lead. he ditched the colorful mirrored shades and moved about the stage. "Euthanasia" and "Slave To Freedom" bookend another pair of non-vintage tracks. After "Raised On Rock", there's a built in clap-along to "Don't You Know". The syncopated "Suzie Smiled" and "Hellbound" are the final originals in the set. For some reason, the Tygers thought it a good idea to offer back-to-back covers, first "Tush" and then their poorly received rendition of "Love Position #9." As a set closer? Ugh.
Girlschool are no stranger to Balingen and offered a heavy dose of classics, with just the odd newer piece. Again, the set was virtually identical to two years ago. "Demolition" and "C'mon Let's Go" set the table, right away. Initially, Kim McAuliffe's mic was too high (over her head), a Spinal Tap moment as she struggled, in vain, to lower it to a more appropriate height. "The Hunter" is followed by "Hit & Run", then "I Spy" which Dio sang on and Tony Iommi helped with, but can we dispense with the cheap applause by invoking Ronnie's name? It's been more than 8 years. More comedy, when Kim referenced the heat and suggested the next time they play in swim suits (or swim costumes, as she called them). Cue objections from her bandmates! "Take It Like A Band" was dedicated to Motorhead (she wore a Lemmy t-shirt), which even has a familiar punked-up feel. There's nothing more than the title lyric to "Never Say Never", but it's three part harmony for "Screaming Blue Murder". Back to school, old school, that is, for "Future Flash", Jackie Chambers (guitar) and Enid Williams (bass) out on the gangplank, then the gradually quickening "Kick It Down". Williams handles lead vocals for "Watch Your Step". The closing trio is golden: "Yeah Right", speedy "Race With The Devil" and Williams sung "Emergency" finale. Only for the post-gig photo did McAuliffe venture off the stage, a pronounced limp noticeable backstage. These "girls" (now grandmother aged) still bring it!
Protracted intro for Primordial, as animated frontman Nemtheanga kneels, prayers, meditates and incites on the catwalk, even before the "Nail Their Tongues" opener is completed. Fans down front recited the familiar opening monologue. The corpsepainted singer (broken noose around his neck) uses the mic stand as a prop and is really the lone focal point, the other (non-make up wearing) musicians content to stay in place. About half the set came from this year's Exile Amongst The Ruins. The likes of "As Rome Burns" and "Empire falls" closer are exercises in dynamics, from mere whispers to death metal bombastics. Must say, loses some of the vibe, in bright sunlight (as opposed to nighttime, or dimly lit club), but the music and presentation are powerful enough to overcome this inconvenience.
Back to the 80s, thanks to Loudness and guitar master Akira Takasaki. Three songs in, it was perhaps their best known song, to Westerners, "Crazy Nights". When each tune was completed, singer Minoru Niihara said "Domo arigato. Thank you very much." On stage left, Takasaki widdled away on the fretboard and threatened to break the whammy bar off his neon green axe. "Like Hell" was also up early. There were four from the excellent Rise To Glory, released at the beginning of the year, but it was the pre-MTV stuff that brought the biggest responses: "In The Mirror" and "Crazy Doctor". Wonder is Akira ever plays a song exactly the same way twice, the way he wrings the guitar neck. Magical. Ended with "SDI", which since it's late 80s introduction has been covered a few times by other bands.
Was aware Pretty Maids were playing Future World in its entirety, although it won't be sequentially. Truth be told, have already heard all but one or two, from the Danes, over the years. Seen the band at various fests and they've played Balingen at least a half a dozen times (they were awarded a plaque, after the gig). Strong material, although still prefer its predecessor. Was wondering how they'd fill 90 minute slot, what with a vinyl era classic, but starting almost 15 minutes took care of at least part of that dilemma. Said title track started the show, backed by "We Came To Rock". Ronnie Atkins looked tan & fit, no lasting effects of his fall, this Spring. Clap-along for the turned up keyboards of "Love Games". Not hard to see the influence/success of Europe's "Final Countdown", released a year earlier. Atkins is on the gangplank, getting the crowd to punch the air and asks for vocal help on mellow, acoustic begun "Yellow Rain" follow-up. Ronnie drops his voice every time the titular phrase rolls around, substituted by the suddenly packed infield.
The repetitive Psycho meets Tubular Bells keyboard notes open "Loud & Proud", a headbanging, easy sing-along. More singing, in the oft aired "Rodeo". Atkins prefaced each track with a little commentary, sometimes just how frequently it has appeared in the live set. Lively "Needles In The Dark" gave way to momentum killing "Eye Of The Storm" ballad, one of those unnecessary, outside a completist playback. Album over, all leave the stage, only to be recalled by pre-recorded litany of US presidential denials: "Mother Of All Lies". Stage lighting begins to take affect, despite the sun,although it has significantly cooled by 8:30 in the evening. "Kingmaker" and "Bull's Eye" are heavier than anything off Future World, but NEVER will be anywhere near as revered. The saccharine "Little Drops Of Heaven" cleanses the palette for "Pandemonium". Clock says time for one more and it's "Back To Back", with stage strobes galore as the crowd yells the titular chorus. Somehow, the tightly controlled time clock is rolled back, to (thankfully) allow "Red, Hot & Heavy" as the encore. Yes!
OK, so lots of pre-fest online scuttlebutt about the lack of headliners, and specifically, how a relatively new, homegrown entity, like Powerwolf didn't deserve the status, nor outdoor finale slot. Don't know how to say "Put up, or shut up" in Deutsch, but man did the vampiric/werewolves, in religious trappings bring their A game (and incendiaries)! Visually stunning, two-tier stage, with three sided backdrop (that was changed half way though), but the amount of pyrotechnics (somewhere between fellow power metallers Sabaton and countrymen Rammstein) was amazing. Upon leaving the photopit, after just a couple songs, passed by the promoter, who could only managed a shellshocked, "Wow!"
For an hour and a half, they kept a huge audience enthralled, with music, visuals, comedy and participation. Had originally thought that many of the old heads (look back, at who played earlier today) would have high tailed it to the campgrounds, for a party, or opted for Visigoth, unfortunately scheduled opposite this mighty spectacle. Nope,they not only stood their ground, but from the sights and sounds, thoroughly enjoyed themselves, along with one of the biggest crowds in recent years. Rivaling the Twisted Sister finale, kid you not!
Under a backdrop of the Sacrament Of Sin artwork and side panels looking like valued paintings, eight flame cannons repeatedly fired during opening "Blessed & Possessed". The drums and keyboards were on the second level, separated by an altar, attainable from two staircases. Two favorites, virtually back-to-back, "Resurrection By Erection" and red lit "Amen & Attack", with alternating firing cannons. When not on keys, which isn't every track, Falk Maria Schlegel is a bit like a medieval jester (or cheerleader), running down to the main deck, to pump-up, or torment the two Greywolf guitar brothers. Now a confident frontman (speaking in German) Attila Dorn spent much of his time out on the catwalk.
New single, the ghost sounding "Demons Are A Girl's Best Friend" has four across the top tier, just Attila down below. The headbanging guitar pair enjoy being on the upper level, then charging down opposite staircases and perch atop shadowboxes, across the stage from one another. "Dead Boys Don't Cry" sees Schlegel again out of his double eagle adorned keyboard loft, waving a giant flag, with PW insignia. Saw the band twice in the last year, had no idea they could ramp up the stage show and commitment so much, in so little time. For "Let There Be Night", robed, torch carrying monks lit the staircases, a trio of pits across the front of the stage, so that Attila can perform atop the flaming altar.
Guess what the primary lighting color is for "All We Need Is Blood"? Red, punctuated by a blitzkrieg of strobes. "Fire & Forgive" is deep blue to start, a dozen flames (eight up front, four on upper level) explode again and again. Attila walks on, double packing Elon Musk approved flame throwers, one strapped to each arm. He looks like one of those crazy characters in the Schwarzenegger Running Man film, simultaneously blasting away, as he sings! "Werewolves Of Armenia" features a sing-along and another backdrop change, now multiple gallows, on a hillside. highland pipes herald "Incense And Iron", off the as yet unreleased disc. Still treated like an old friend.
"Sanctified By Dynamite" looks like the 4th Of July, with flames, instead of fireworks, but just as intense. More pyro for "We Drink Your Blood", as Attila genuflects to the crowd, at the edge of the walkway. Amongst chants of "Power-vulf, Power-vulf", the monks return, to ignite the stage again. Liturgical organ and one final firestorm, with plenty of Latin lyrics, including a rousing chorus, "Hey, hey, wolves don't pray" for "Lupus Dei". Hopefully somewhere this spectacle will be filmed. Powerwolf have arrived!
Never know what you'll witness at Bang Your Head!!!. Plan to join in the fun, in 2019.
More photos from Day 3 here.