Bang Your Head Festival!!! 2016 - Are You Metal Enough For The Three Day Challenge?!

July 20, 2016, a year ago

Mark Gromen

gallery heavy metal bang your head festival

Actually four, if you count the opening, warm-up show, on Wednesday. Over the course of the weekend, almost 50 bands, no more than a half dozen without a pedigree that didn't stretch back at least 20 years, if not three or four decades! Stylistically and the fact most perform on a single stage (thus no overlaps), Bang Your Head remains my favorite European festival. On paper, the selection of Pro-Pain, for a vintage leaning metal festival (especially on this opening evening), would seem odd, but longstanding frontman Gary Meskil toured his nearly 25 year career. A crowd long in the tooth, short on the hairline ate it up. Initially, it was hard to get into the staccato riffing, especially when calling for a pit, but the bounce and strobe effects made up for it. Later, there was smoke, cut by cooper and purple lights during “In For The Kill” and concluding “Make War (Not Love)”. 

Next up was Rage (not Refuge), frontman/bassist Peavy Wagner being the lone constant between the two trios. Fittingly, “Days Of December” was lit in green & red (Xmas). “Until I Die” saw multi-color lights sweep the stage as Wagner got some vocal assistance from guitarist Marcos Rodriguez. Naturally, all interactions with the crowd were in Deutsche. The 3x2 Marshall stacks looked imposing. The fog shrouded “My Way” gave way to the likes of “Back In Time”, “Spirits Of The Night” and the ubiquitous “Don't Fear The Winter”. The band are always shown a lot of love, an outstanding part of the German festival family. I know this line-up hasn't been together very long, but a protracted turn at “Sweet Home Alabama” (yes, Skynyrd!) seemed truly out of place, before saving face with a snippet of Dio's “Holy Diver”. 

Only been a couple of months (April) since Overkill performed the debut and Horrorscope (in their entirety) exclusively here in German. Band has done much since, so little surprise that five tracks from Feel The Fire and a pair off the other formed the backbone of the set. “Amorist” set the table, quickly followed by “Rotten To The Core” before “Electric Rattlesnake” was lit in blue and Over Kill green. Blue and reds highlight “Hello From The Gutter” and Bobby 'Blitz' Ellsworth is smart enough to stay out of the way as ski cap wearing Dave Linsk shreds. Orange and cooper set the mood for “Feel The Fire”. Almost perpetual strobes for “Blood And Iron”. Derek Tailer is shirtless as blue hued Blitz talks to the crowd, prior to yellow illuminated “Coma”. The signature track is sung, almost start to finish, by the crowd. However, the real interaction occurs in the concluding “Elimination/Fuck You”. Just after midnight, the band and fans united in a good-natured, one finger salute. They don't care what you say!

Like the main festival, patrons have to buy “bons” (tokens), no cash changing hands with each drink/food purchase. Like the main festival, patrons have to buy “bons” (tokens), no cash changing hands with each drink/food purchase. Went backstage to talk with the Jersey Boys as Sodom took the stage. Missed the first part of the German thrashers set, but did get to hear a few classics, like the back-to-back “Saw Is the Law/Outbreak Of Evil” and later, “Agent Orange”. Unlike the dual shows on 70,000 Tons Of Metal, where the audience was decidedly more diverse, this “hometown” gig sacrificed some of the '80s material, in favor of more recent releases. With three full days on tap (roughly a dozen hours or music, each) headed out, to file photo gallery and get some sleep.

DAY 1

First band of the day Stallion, greets the crowd at a much more reasonable 11:30 am. Years past, the show started a little earlier. Many had already cracked open their first (?) beer, or perhaps they just never stopped from the night before. Truthfully, 45 minutes is probably too long for just one full-length and a couple of Eps. While definitely in my musical wheelhouse, always found the music to be a little loose and one-named singer Pauly a bit on the “acquired taste” side. Live proved to be no different, with a sloppy set that relied more on attitude than technical precision. The singer wore a pair of bands recalling the WW II Japanese battle flag. I'm no fashionista, but should have been designed with the sun in the crotch and rays radiating out from their, as opposed to two spiraling out. one from each knee. Cowboy boot wearing guitarist Axxl (not a misprint) had “Drink Em All” on his Flying V. “Wild Stallions” was up early, along with “Watch Out” and the recorded voiceover begun title track, “Rise And Ride”. A subtle, twin guitar introduced “The Devil Never Sleeps” came on the tail of “Stigmatized”, with “Canadian Steele” rounding out the day. Band are local to the area, so understand their participation, but a bit more live seasoning seems warranted before such a prestigious stage. 

Have not kept up with the Cali based, Triple Guitar Attack aka Leatherwolf over the years. In fact, guess the only time I see them is at BYH. Michael Olivieri delivered the opening “Spiter” solely as vocalist, before strapping on the six-string, for the remainder of the show, although at times, it was slung across his back. He made more than a few ventures onto the gangplank that comes close to the crowd, the rest of the band staying put, on the main stage.“Rise Or Fall”, fan favorite “Street Ready” and “Wicked Ways” were up next. Sort of wandered the grounds, looking at merch booth, grabbing a beer and talking to others, all while keeping an ear to the proceedings. Reconnected towards the end of the set, with concluding duo of “Thunder” and “The Calling”.

Wouldn't call myself a Babylon A.D. fan, although their CD did find its way into my collection, at some point. Still, couldn't tell you the last time I listened to it (25+ years ago, maybe?). I was in the minority, as the band apparently never made it to Europe, so there was much interest. Singer Derek Davis looked like the late pro wrestler Randy 'Macho Man' Savage, opening with (appropriately enough) “Back In Babylon” off the '89 eponymous debut. For “Hammer Swings Down”. Davis removed his jacket. “Shot O' Love” and “Bad Blood” preceded “Maryanne” (which proved much heavier than their usual heyday fare). Surprised myself, in that I hadn't heard “Bang Goes The Bell” in more than two decades, yet was able to identify it within a few notes. Don't know the wisdom of airing the ballad “So Savage The Heart” to a metal festival, but it wouldn't be the only questionable call. Learned that “The Kid Goes Wild” was a big hit overseas (thanks to the RoboCop II soundtrack), thus they left it for last. The bass player was running all over stage, as Davis told the crowd, “You'll be able to get in your bathing suits, later, I guarantee it”. He asked if the crowd liked Michael Schenker (in Germany? Dumb question) and they ended their time onstage with UFO's “Lights Out”, Davis visibly taking sips from a silver hip flask and whisking CDs into the audience, but did long starving fans really want a cover, in lieu of a Babylon AD original?

Not the first time witnessing female-fronted power metallers Battle Beast. Looking like a cross between one-time Plasmatics frontwoman Wendy O. Williams and John Waters' cinematic creation Divine, singer Noora Louhimo charged right out onto the catwalk, where she spent much of the afternoon, as the Finns kicked off with 'Let It Roar”. The rest of the band struggles for attention, given the gregarious, blue-lipstick, mouth agape centerpiece. There are six people onstage and five of them are mobile, scurrying around like ants after overturning a rock, or cockroaches, once a light is turned on. “I Want The World...And Everything In It” aptly sees even Janne Björkroth, the keytar player, roaming onto the walkway. A bouncy “Out On The Streets” sees Louhimo in cheerleader mode, jumping, ordering hands up. Mockingly, they ask what the crowd are (approvingly) chanting, “Judas Priest?” Somehow the name Battle Beast becomes three protracted syllables. Following “Touch In The Night”, the singer announces there will be one last song, the crowd sighs and she says, “Pathetic, I know.” “Out Of Control” sees  Björkroth beat the guitarist, in the ass, with a drumstick, before the axeman returns the favor, with his foot. All clear as day, on the centrally located walkway.

The Dead Daisies, when looking at the festival roster, was a name that went over my head. In fact, even contemplated skipping their set entirely, as some of my cohorts did, to visit a local restaurant for super-size schnitzel. In reality, this is the conglomerate fronted by John Corabi (looking like a disheveled Steven Tyler), with former Whitesnake guitarist Doug Aldrich and perpetually tan Thin Lizzy/Black Star Riders bassist Marco Mendoza. However, this was mostly a covers band, beginning with Ale Harvey's “Midnight Moses” before adding Free's “All Right Now”, CCR's “Fortunate Son” and Beatles “Helter Skelter”. With Aldrich bounding all over, in bell bottom flares and a splay legged Mendozza straddling his bass, we also heard title track from the Make Some Noise CD (a mid-tempo, KISS sounding hard rocker), the '70s stomp of newbie “Long Way To Go” and a bluesy, countrified southern rocker, “Lock & Load”. Here, the sum of the parts is greater than the total.

Dragonforce, the band that started the speed and insane stage movement craze were touting their greatest hits collection. To that end, there was “My Spirit Will Go On”, up second. Guitarist Sam Totman was chewing gum throughout and sampling whatever was in the paper cups located at the numerous mic stands lining the front of the stage. Vadim Pruzhanov, in backwards baseball cap and checkered long sleeve skater chic, strapped on a keytar, to visit the runway. “Heroes Of Our Time” sees him back behind his bank of keyboards, but still doing jump splits. Wildly trading licks, Totman good -naturedly makes disparaging hand gestures during Herman Li's time in the spotlight. The lengthy 'Wings Of Liberty” begins as if a ballad, before taking off. 

Regardless of vocalist carousel Candlemass have been on throughout their career, there was always the constant at bass, mastermind Leif Edling. Well not in Balingen. The affable four-stringer missing in action. As such, the band appeared freer  to try “different” songs, with Mat Leven at the helm. Even though tethered (no cordless mic), he made frequent forays to the catwalk. Leftie Lars Johansson nearly had half the stage to himself, from the opening strains of “Mirror, Mirror”, through “The Dying Illusion” and “Cry From The Crypt”. Some riffs are chunky, these are massive slabs! Leven often dropped to his knees, or sang from a crouch. Around the time of “At The Gallows End”, the heavens erupted, unleashing a torrent of rain that had be threatening all day. Luckily, the VIP area is still withing earshot of the music and could hear old school gems, like “Crystal Ball” and “Solitude”, so it wasn't a complete washout. 

They took out the squeegees, to wipe the stage of water, prior to Carcass going on. The promoter likes to include at least one “extreme” act (and over the years, with the addition of the hall next door, which hosts 4-5 bands a day, that quotient has increased, as Unleashed & Grave also appeared). Jeff Walker was the only one who was wireless, so he made a few trips down onto the gangplank, playfully snarling at the crowd, along the way. That's precisely where he began the evening. “Know you fuckers don't have hair any more,” he taunted, “but you can still bang your head. Don't worry, I'll be joining you (in baldness) soon.” Whether “Incarnate Solvent Abuse”, “Captive Bolt Pistol” or pieces of “Exhume to Consume”, much of it went over most of the crowd's collective heads, although more “melodic” bits, like “Black Star” and/or “Heartwork” seemed to get a few heads bobbing along. 

Slayer. They sort of saunter onstage, then launch, almost nonchalant, into "Repentless", the album artwork behind them. Tom Araya must be feeling better, as he was very animated, not headbanging (against doctor's orders), but his body getting into a groove and making the trip down to the edge of the gangway, bass in hand, to meet his fans. Kerry King, seemingly forever crouched over his guitar, was pretty much in his own world, pumping away, like an unmanned locomotive. “Hate Worldwide” is red lit, Gary Holt writhes spasmodically, more than someone in the electric chair. “War Ensemble” offers green lights and constant smoke, almost as perpetual and unrelenting as Holt's motions! Punctuated by strobes, both guitarists are on the same side, for the first time, Holt's. “When The Stillness Comes” sees King alone, under cooper spotlights, until purple beckons the return of the band. Middle of the set sees a treasure chest of oldies, including: “Mandatory Suicide”, “Die By The Sword” and “The Antichrist”, before the big closing. Appropriately crimson bathed stage, filled with smoke for “Raining Blood”. About half way through, they switch to icy blue, which afforded Araya enough visibility in the dark to venture once more onto the catwalk. The concluding “Angel Of Death” sees them switch backdrops once again, from the sword encircled war eagle logo to the take-off on Heineken beer label that honors late guitarist Jeff Hanneman. What a nightcap.

Additional photos from Day 1.

DAY2

Shaped up to be THE day. If anything defines Night Demon's drive, it's the fact they went on five minutes early, eager to play as many songs as possible for the fans. “I saw all these people were already there,” frontman/bassist Jarvis Leatherby told me afterwards, “so why not just play?” Throughout their 45 minutes, witnessed the number of hands raised, cheering fans grow deeper into the crowd. When they first came on, there was a vociferous, tight knit gathering close to the stage, which grew bigger as the scheduled 11:30 set progressed. “Ritual”, “Full Speed Ahead” and a punky “Ancient Evil” winning new converts almost immediately. Like a broken bobblehead, Leatherby headbangs almost non-stop, on the stage or on the catwalk, leaning against guitarist Armand John Anthony. As the only two mobile of the trio (cemented by Dusty Squires, on drums), they did their best to make the show lively, Leatherby having to return to the mic every so often. During the taped organ intro, the stage was empty to start “Curse Of the Damned”, where someone finally found the smoke machine on button. Heading the fist thrusting from the edge of the walkway, Jarvis got the crowd to add the titular chorus for “Heavy Metal Heat”, which led to the sounds of a coyote, baying at the moon. Cue “Howling Man”. The nitro paced “Screams In the Night” is not your typical single, then there's the macabre recorded voiceover to begin “The Chalice”, where mascot Rocky wanders onstage with namesake drinking vessel. Racing against the clock, they thank the crowd, but still proceed to sneak in a speedy rendition of Golden Earring's “Radar Love” (most of audience now singing along), before closing with their signature tune, right on the allotted time. A day after BYH, the band were Stateside, ready to begin a new tour, supporting Carcass. Get there early and check em out.

Freedom Call have been around for a while, yet have lacked that identifiable song/album. Opening with an upbeat, Helloween-ish “Union Of the Strong”, the four guys, all decked in matching black outfits delivered a happy, power metal sound that verged on schlager. At any given time, on German television there's probably two channels with sappy, sing-along melodies being aired, hundreds of silver haired senior citizens in some beer hall, clapping to the music. That's schlager. The band's signature tune was up early. All the raps/banter were in German, then suddenly an English song title, like “Hammer Of The Gods”. Odd.

Manilla Road has always been built around the screaming guitar of Mark Shelton. As if to test that theory, they opened with “Flaming Metal Systems”. Shelton also adds vocals, often beginning a song, as he did with “The Riddle master”. According to onstage announcement,this marked the 16th anniversary of the band (ie Shelton) playing their first European show, which also happened to be BYH. Other highlights included “Death By The Hammer”, “Necropolis” and the “Heavy Metal To The World” finale, complete with speedy, double bass drumming.

Outside of the Far East (or maybe a surprise Cali warm-up show) been damn near impossible to see Impellitteri, the outfit featuring Chris, the surnamed guitar whiz, with Rob Rock on vocals. Impellitteri, the man, sort of looks like the bastard love child of actors William Dafoe and Steve Buscemi. Boy can he play! “The King Is Rising” was the opening salvo, followed by an even more frenetic “Speed Demon”. That was really the tempo most came to see/hear, but the band sampled throughout his career, including “Warrior” (a track Rock has recorded in his own outfit: he claimed it was originally intended for the '87 Impellitteri Ep, but didn't get around to recording it until the Answer To The Master CD). Chris was pulling lots of facial expressions, even rolling his eyes at how difficult certain note structures were arranged. “We Own The Night”, like the rest saw the guitarist tethered to the main stage by plug-in chord, while Rock was free to visit the walkway. During the between song lulls, Chris ripped off noticeable riffs from established artists, like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Van Halen, to entertain the crowd. “Stand In Line” originally sung by Graham Bonnet (ex-Rainbow/MSG/Alcatrazz) saw Rock holding the mic overhead those at the edge of the walkway. A thrashy “Wicked Maiden” is punctuated by the singer's opening scream, as well as flourish of “Heaven & Hell” to celebrate Ronnie James Dio's birthday, which had been a few days earlier. "There's also "Lost In The Rain", before ending with one of promoter Horst's favorites, "Answer To The Master".

Sacred Reich were making a return engagement to Balingen, Phil Rind (bass/vocals) obviously in good spirits despite some onstage difficulties. “The American Way” and “Free” started the show, Rind taking time in between to give props to Impellitteri. “I was watching that guy play. Man, singer must have to ass left, 'cause he was singing it off!” He also went to on to discuss his visible weight gain since the late '80s heyday. “I look at pictures of myself at 18 and think wow. But my wife still sees it, she calls me Mr. Sexy.” Alluding to the global situation, Rind asked everyone to “turn to your neighbor and give them a hug, before you get into the pit and try to fuck each other up.” Nice intro for “Love...Hate”. Siren blare, heralding their cover of “War Pigs”, then “Ignorance” and the tale of misspent youth, “Who's to Blame”. However, Rind stops the song, about the second verse, claiming he screwed it up (second time in a week, as something similar happened, on a different track, at the Graspop fest, in Belgium). “I'm going to have to fire myself,” he quips. With not enough time to re-start, they move on to “Independent”, dedicated to legendary German metal writer Goetz Kühnemund, before ending with a crowd aided “Surf Nicaragua”. Scary how poignant some of the lyrics are, almost 30 years later.

My small complaint about the recent stretch of Metal Church dates in North America was the lack of David Wayne material. OK, know they were thrilled to have Mike Howe back, after 25 years, but the initial pair of MC records contain some killer material. With more time to work up a set, the band fully intact (no Chris Caffery guesting on guitar, Rick Van Zandt's eye surgery successful) and the demanding European faithful, hoped Balingen would see a little more width in the setlist. Maybe it's being greedy, but it was essentially a shorter version, the same songs, including “Beyond The Black” off the debut. Still no “Ton Of Bricks” and dropping “No Friend Of Mine” from Hanging In the Balance. Howe raced all over the stage, literally sprinting from one side to the other. During the “fake Healer” opener, he seemed genuinely shocked at the size of the ovation. Arms outstretched, he would jump up and down. “Start The Fire” sees guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof and bassist Steve Unger bouncing, letting the fans handle the chorus. On the end of the gangplank for “Gods Of Second Chance”, Howe plays to the crowd, bug-eyed, as the vein in his neck bulges. “Date With Poverty” again sees the assemblage provide the titular chorus. After a pair of newbies, the place went ape shit for “Beyond The Black”, noticeably not one of Howe's strongest moments. They started “Badlands” with the singer offstage, but it was all hands on deck for “The Human Factor” finale. Now if we can just work up a couple of extras before 70,000 Tons, where they'll have to do two sets...

Seems strange, waiting forever to see Annihilator in North America again, for the first time, since the debut, yet witnessing them three times in six months, either on the high seas or in Germany. Small world, getting smaller. Jeff Waters is back to handling vocals and guitar in the fourpiece. Truth be told, ducked into the hall to shoot a couple pictures and hear “Bloodsuckers” and “Tear Your Fuckin Heart Out” from Tigertailz, right in the middle of the Canucks' set. Waters moved about the stage, offering his variation of Chuck Berry's duck walk, always managing to make it back to the mic, in time for the next verse. “King Of The Kill” sets the mood, backed by the likes of “No Way Out”, “Set The World On Fire” and “WTYD” aka “Welcome To Your Death”, the latter with Waters spinning in circles. During the ensuing guitar change, he joking refers to his homeland as “a very hostile and racist country.” he also recounts how Testament took the band out on their very first tour. Ironically, that same Bay Area act was up next. Still supporting after all these years,eh? “Never Neverland” is followed by “Alison Hell”, Waters instructing the crowd to “sing in that high pitched whine,” as he might not be able to hit those high notes, past puberty, when it was recorded. Too funny! 

Had just seen Testament two weeks earlier, in Helsinki, so knew what to expect. This time I camped on Alex Skolnick's side of the stage, last time having shot predominately from Eric Peterson's. The band is really humming on all cylinder's these days, lobbing aural grenades in the form of an opening “Over The Wall”, Chuck Billy stalking the stage, air guitaring on his mic, to be followed up, non-stop by “Rise Up” and “The Preacher”. The Chief is a big man and his voice bellows with every inch of his frame. The aforementioned guitar tandem briefly visit the catwalk, a location the hulking singer will spend much of the set, flicking his tongue at the crowd, as he “strums” away, in unison to the sonic assault taking place behind him. He teases the crowd for an even greater reaction, coaxing, “I thought this was Bang Your Head?” “More Than Meets The Eye” sees the singer on Gene Hoglan's drum riser and he begins “Practice What You Preach” perched on catwalk. It's around 8pm and the stage lighting is finally beginning to take effect, even though it's still sunlit. Billy gives the German crowd props, saying “For 30 years you've been kicking our ass. Now and forever.” A good portion of green/blue lit “The New Order” is sung from the gangplank, where he's joined by Skolnick, who plays from his knees, at one point. Throughout the show, think his guitar is more often vertical, than horizontal. The two guitarists take turns trading solo spots, individually, on the walkway, during “Dark Roots Of The Earth”. If it's possible to incite a riot with a song intro, “Into The Pit” is my choice: referencing the legendary Bay Area club, Ruthie's Inn. “DNR”, the indigenous people dedicated “Native Blood” and old school “Disciples Of The Watch” all precede “The Formation Of Damnation” closer. Sure our paths will cross again soon. We old timers just keep going to/playing concerts.

This big extravaganza is not the Twisted Sister I know. In fact, the closest I've come to that glorious bar band of old was the Old Bridge Super Storm Sandy benefit in '13. In a room holding just a few hundred, an all engines roaring set that harkened to yesteryear. Which is why I was so glad to see “You Can't Stop Rock N Roll”, "SMF" and their (albeit extended) version of “I Know It's Only Rock N Roll (But I Like It)” included in this farewell swing. More than any other song(s) in the set, it epitomizes the ferocious nature the band can possess. Now imagine that intensity, start-to-finish. See what I remember? So through such myopic vision,it was time to check out the 40 & Fuck It swansong, but not for the last time, as I already have plans to see it again, at another outdoor venue, in New Jersey. Plenty of pyro throughout the show, beginning with an explosion (literally) on the “What Your Don't Know” opener. This was their fourth time as headliners at BYH, the most of nay group. Dee Snider started in a long coat, but his constant motion (amount of energy, for a man his age is remarkable, especially noticeable in juxtaposition to the others, who virtually remained stationary, apart from Eddie Ojeda, who looked to finally be making a name for himself, with multiple solo forays to the walkway) soon worked up a sweat, so it was just a shirtless vest, from then on. Mark Mendoza chased around crew who appeared onstage, for whatever reason and Jay Jay French was almost stoic, either taking it all in, or shellshocked the long run would soon be over. Essentially a greatest hits package that's changed little over the years, “The Kids Are Back” is followed by eight repeatedly firing flame cannons. After a red lit Dee leaves, the remaining trio camp at the top of the stairs. The crowd claps along to the blue/green “Destroyer”, Snider, at one point, sharing a mic with the bassist. Highlighted in yellow, “You Can't Stop Rock n Roll” sees Ojeda on the gangplank to start, then the other guitarist finally gets a turn, crouching and thrusting his crotch as he plays. They end with he and Snider back-to-back, with the prophetically untrue sentiment, “You can't stop Twisted Sister either,” but apparently you (or in this case, THEY can stop, by retiring). Although afforded almost two hours, they go on late and the initial half of the show (eight songs) clicks by. The final 4 songs, with breaks, crew thanks/introductions, obligatory stretching, lasts 35 minutes. Proper set ends with “Only Rock n Roll”, everyone but drummer Mike Portnoy on the gangplank and Dee ragging about not knocking anyone off the platform (ala Steven Tyler). They don't keep multiple audience sung refrains “We're Not Gonna Take It” until the encores. That's left to eerie aqua lit“Come Out And Play” (title track from the album that did them in, first time around), “Under the Blade” and participation laden, kaleidoscope colored  “SMF”. Snider was at his jovial and sarcastic witted best, at one point, after asking to down the lights, to see the crowd at the back, asking “There are people back there, right?” Some were already surmising how long it will be until Snider is back in Balingen, playing Twisted Sister classics as a solo artist (as he did in '01, prior to the reunion). Time will tell.

Additional photos from Day 2.

DAY 3

While most have probably never heard of Sweden's Black Trip, I've enjoyed both of their CDs and in all honesty, while thousands were fixated at the top of the daily bill, Black Trip were one of my three most anticipated bands at BYH, along with Impellitteri and the always fun Night Demon. Arriving on the grounds around 11am, the band is onstage, soundchecking/practicing. Half hour later, it's show time. A soft opening, as the intro music fades, singer Joseph Tholl (also guitarist for Enforcer) asks Balingen if they're “ready for some heavy rock.” Commencing with "Die With Me", the same cut that opens Shadowline, the sophomore effort. “Danger” brings their Thin Lizzy influence to the fore. Not sure how often they've played out, but the vocals were a little rough. A little boogie, in the form of “Berlin Model 32” was followed by the Shadowline title track. Although both guitarists were plugged into amps, they ventured as far off stage as the cord would allow. There's “Subvisual Sleep” and until the outburst, a jangly, ethereal “The Storm” is almost progressive. “Radar” sees bassist Johan Bergebäck (ex-Necrophobic/Nifelheim) living out every child's dream, rocking out in front of the mirror, although this time he was alone, on the edge of the walkway (staring at thousands) and loving it. The finale, a high energy “The Perfect Dream Of A Perfect Death” doesn't appear on any album (just a single released by Sweden Rock magazine!), thus doubtful I'll ever hear it on these shores. Black Trip, remember that name.

Never would have thought, in January 1984, after playing a mid-day Coffeebreak Concert in Cleveland, Ohio that 32 years after chatting with guitarist Kelly Johnson, at the bar of the notorious Swingos Hotel, that I'd still be taking photos of Girlschool and frontwoman/maintsay Kim McAuliffe. Once again, it was an afternoon gig, albeit outdoors and to a ton more people. Ironically, a week before BYH, was in Oslo when a friend suggested we try this one bar that, "plays some good music." Walk in and before we order have already heard Girlschool's "C'mon Let's Go" (later we'd also heard Omen "The Axeman" and Cirth Ungol "Frost & Fire" Wow!) In Balingen, the ladies opened and closed with oldies, in between, striving to prove they're more than a nostalgia act. Flashback starts with “Demolition Boys”, with “C'mon Let's Go” hipping at its heels. Taking it down a notch, both in terms of rhetoric and McAuliffe's nasal shriek, there's “The Hunter”. She can't venture too far from the mic, what with many of the songs being a mere three minutes, so she lets guitarist Jackie Chambers to do most of the up-close interaction with the fans. Heavier than anything typically Girly, they opt for “I Spy”, the track originally featuring Ronnie James Dio on vocals (from the Legacy album).In a similar vein, both musically and as a tribute, “Take It Like A Band”. Dedicated to Lemmy, who had a big early 80s role in legitimizing Girlschool, the song is very balls out Motorhead-ish. Wasn't expecting “Future Flash”, which preceded “Kick It Down” leading into the big finish: “Can't Do That”, “Race With The Devil” (always loved the primitive speed metal quality of the guitars) and “Emergency” finale, which sees all three stringed players on the plank simultaneously.

Like Testament yesterday, Delain and I are on the festival circuit, having made acquaintances two weeks prior, in Helsinki. This time they have new (unshipped?) scrims either side the stage and there's no tent to block out the blazing sun as Charolette Wessels performs in a white '70s shag coat.  However, it is essentially the same set, opening with “Suckerpunch”. Noticeable synchronized head bobs from the two guitarists on “Get The Devil Out Of Me”, then Wessels is on the riser that houses both drums and keyboards, during “Army Of Dolls”. From the yet unreleased Moonbathers, they previewed “Glory & The Scum”. The heavy to start “Here Come The Vultures” soon settles into more familiar Delain territory, like the bouncy “We Are The Others”. The day is over with aptly entitled “Not Enough”.

Been a few years since I saw Tankard, who are a perfect, German festival entity. Hard to believe their Teutonic thrash brethren, or any of the Big 8 Americans (from either coast, with the exception of possibly Anthrax) would conjure up such a loose, fun/goofy party atmosphere. “Zombie Attack” kicks things off, rotund frontman Gerre criss-crossing the stage, in constant motion. How much beer does a guy have to drink, to keep such a prodigious belly (falling out the bottom of his shirt and even more visible when he pulls shirt over the heads of photographers and/or crew) yet still exert such physical labor? “The Morning After” and “Rapid Fire” follow. During the latter, some throws a blue bra onstage, which Gerre wears like an Olympic medal, for the remainder of the song. Around the same time, Horst, the promoter, has a pair of circular tables brought onstage, along with two mini-fridges stocked with beer. Performing, Gerre seems immune to the proceedings and even reject (defers?) the offer to join Horst and the BYH crew, standing, watching, drinking. “Metal to Metal” sees inflated condoms being volleyballed around the crowd. Funeral organ beckons “R.I. B. (Rest In Beer)” as the celebration continues. Not an everyday occurrence, but in the summer months, wefeweizen in hand, the perfect scenario. 

Mark Kendall's (guitar) version of Great White, was up next, with former XYZ singer Terry Ilous. Sorry, couldn't get past Ilous' look, Ponch, from 70s TV show CHIPs (Erik Estrada): blow dry look and leather biker pants. Kendall, dark '80s shades and platinum hair now gone, wore a porkpie hat. OK, he still has the sunglasses. You can take the band out of Cali, but can't take Cali out of the band. “desert Moon” was featured early, Ilous spending much of the hour on the gangway, the rest of the band relegated to the main stage.  Little bit of boogie with “Lady Red Light” and later, slow, bluesy “House Of Broken Love” let couples in the audience (yes Virginia, there are women at BYH) grind on one another. Speaking of pair, you frequently see tandems of cops not only strolling through the crowd (no attitude), but watching the performers with interest, from (and surrounded by) the audience. Speaking of which, the crowd played a large part in singing “Rock Me”, just ahead of set closer “Once Bitten, Twice Shy”.

Have become good friends with Grave Digger over the last decade, thanks to my frequent trips overseas and there trips to North America, beginning with my invitation to play the BW&BK 6-Pack Weekend. Little did I know what effect all that would have, as played out in Balingen. With the re-recording of old songs (plus Noise putting out a compilation of long unavailable tracks), there was a decidedly old school look about singer Chris Boltendahl, in black/white striped spandex (at his age?). Which matched the pattern on Axel Ritt's guitar. “Headbanging Man” was up first, anthem for the weekend! Having done their own 80s retro headlining shows last December, the set hopscotched through the 90s and more recent output, including “The Round Table”, “The Dark Of The Sun” and “Ballad Of A Hangman”. While all the banter was in German, it was obvious that Boltendahl humorously belittled the crowd for inferior responses (something he tried with varying success on the last tour over here). Bassist Jens Becker started the fist thrusting “Season Of the Witch” and everyone got into singing “Excalibur”. 6 coffins, stood erect on the stage, half either side of drummer Stefan Arnold. “Wedding Day” was unexpected. No partying afterwards, as Chris had to get back home, his kid had a soccer tournament the next day. High octane “Tattooed Rider” kept the momentum going, before the Scottish flavored “Highland Farewell/Rebellion”, which seemed to bring the set to a close. Standing at the edge of walkway, the singer spotted me, 30+ meters away. In English, he broadcast, “Mark, should we play one more?” Not wanting to incite the wrath of ten thousand or more Germans, I gave him a thumbs up. Cue “Heavy Metal Breakdown”. While the song has long been their finale, never could have predicted that ending. Wow!

Bit of a dilemma as to who to watch next, as never truly a fan of either Uriah Heep nor Tyketto. In the glorious BYH tradition, decided to check out part of BOTH shows. Tyketto were playing the 25th anniversary of their Don't Come Easy album (sequenced backwards), plus a few extras thrown in. Singer Danny Vaughn joked he was five, when it was recorded. Mick Box (guitar) is the lone original survivor in Heep, but “new guys” like Bernie Shaw (vocals) and keyboardist Phil Lanzon have been there more than three decades! As “The Law” demonstrated,they're still issuing new music. “One Minute” saw people doing a makeshift line dance. Did get to hear “Look At Yourself” though.

The premise is unbeatable, Udo Dirkschneider playing only Accept songs (for the last time). Who wouldn't want to see that? So the U.D.O. moniker is temporarily shelved, so the singer can roll out the hits (and a few deeper cuts, though no “Winter Dreams” as he does headlining). North America will get its chance, early in the new year. Initially (during photographers' allotted time) Udo made a concerted effort to remain with the band, staying off the gangway, posing with the entire troupe. “Starlight” was a rousing start, everyone in camo, head-to-toe. “London Leatherboys” is backed with “Midnight Mover”, the Little General finally working the whole stage, including the wings. Strobes greet “Breaker”, well lit behind the band. The crowd claps along and sings most of “Princess Of the Dawn”, the stage illuminated in the same shade of red utilized for merch, the front just his head, the back a jumble of Accept song titles,some played here, others reserved for tour. An abbreviated “Restless & Wild” segues into “Son Of A Bitch”. “Metal Heart” sees the fans sing the guitar solo chords. Udo actually “sings” the intro for “Fast As A Shark”, no record scratching. North American fans will be surprised that “Balls To The Wall” was not the last song, that was reserved for red lit “Burning”. How cutting aggro was that, when released in '81? Check online headlining setlists. Can't wait!

Thought there'd be some defections, following Dirkschneider, what with it being the last German band, almost the end of the festival and Iced Earth is a regular touring act, with nothing new to plug. Boy was I wrong. Packed house for Jon Schaffer's crew (last main stage band for BYH 2016. Crematory would follow, in the hall). The band is in the midst of recording a new album, so much of the focus was on the 20th anniversary of Dark Saga (six selections) and the most recent CD, Plagues Of Babylon (three). During the opening trio: “Dark Saga”, “Plagues Of Babylon” and “Democide”, singer Stu Block makes only the rare appearance on the gangplank. Aggressive, Schaffer stands legs splayed, snarl on his face as he rips off leads for red lit “Vengeance Is Mine” and “Burning Times” duo. Block hit the high pitched scream to open “V”, lights alternating between yellow and red. Good to see “Pure Evil” still in the mix. Despite his reputation as a hard ass, Schaffer took the mic, to speak about Horst the promoter and how fair he's been to his band throughout the years. Four double Marshall stacks, either side of the drummer, green lights and smoke “I Died For You”. Ducked into the hall, to see a couple Unleashed songs, including “Legal rapes”, Johnny Hedlund telling everyone to take care of women. The Swedish frontman claiming “Udo is where this stuff started,” then dedicated “To Asgard We Fly” to Lemmy. Back outside, at a certain point, even the amplified music is drown out by conversation. Got back to hear the end of Iced Earth's “Damien”, which led to purple hued “Slave To The Dark”, block doing his best cheerleader to keep the crowd engaged. “My Own Savior” rounded out the proper set, but the BYH faithful knew the end (curfew) was near, so they anticipated a quick return for a three song encore, followed the obligatory fireworks display, which not only celebrates the end of the festival, but lets the townspeople know things will soon return to normal.

Additional photos from Day 3.

BYH 2017 will happen July 13th-15th, with a warm-up show on Wednesday. Make plans now to join us!

 

Featured Audio

ROBB FINLAYSON - "Winter's Apprentice" (Independent)

ROBB FINLAYSON - "Winter's Apprentice" (Independent)

Featured Video

ABHORDIUM Premiers "Obsidian Chamber"

ABHORDIUM Premiers "Obsidian Chamber"

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