Bang Your Head Festival – Into Every Festival Life, A Little Rain Must Fall
July 17, 2019, a month ago
Have spent the last two decades traveling to Balingen, a small, non-descript town in southern Germany, where the church in the center square dates to 1443. The answer, the Bang Your Head festival, a multi-day event that caters to traditional metal, but over the years, has spiced things up with a handful of more extreme acts. For a time, there was only a single, outdoor stage, but there's a smaller set-up in the adjoining hall that starts up in the afternoon and allows the organization to skirt the 11 PM noise curfew imposed by the townspeople. This was the third and final stop on my 2019 summer concert tour that took in similar events in Norway and Crete. Salmon, beer and rock & roll, at each juncture!
As is the custom, dating back to when the neighboring (and now defunct) motorcycle club house sit, there's a warm-up show the night before (traditionally to give the early arriving campers something constructive to do). A separate admission price, everything happens in the aforementioned hall. As openers Endlevel vainly attempt to get a mosh pit going, and while I've seen probably thousands (and encountered a few) can't help but notice the similarities (early on) between polka, or even square dancing, until the violence ensues. First band of note was War Kings, an outfit that had heretofore escaped my interest. No longer, based on the strong visual representation. The stage was resplendent with a dozen draped banners, looking suspiciously like the Danish flag. Onstage, each of the members was costumed in a different get-up: guitarist in Crusader tunic and chain mail, albeit with toothy skull mask. The lead singer recalled He Man cartoon nemesis, Skeletor, fur, cape and all. The bearded bassist was a horned goat (Pan?). The assemblage recalled the glories of Rome, even if it was their pagan deities. Signed to Napalm, they offer a speedy brand of power metal, quickly devoured by the hundreds in attendance.
The room is packed for Grave Digger, (later learned) Chris Boltendahl was suffering from a virus, but made no excuses onstage. Despite a recent spate of excellent albums, a major portion of the 14 song set was culled from the mid-era of their reformation. "Fear Of The Living Dead" got things moving quickly, punctuated by four front of the stage, sparkler cones shooting sparks skyward. A more subdued, "The Clans Will Rise Again" was followed by red/yellow lit "Lionheart". Another shower of sparklers on purple/blue illuminated "Lawbreaker". Prior to "The Bruce", the skeletal Reaper mascot crosses the stage, flying the Scottish flag. Tonight, Boltendahl came prepared, donning his own patch-laden "battle jacket' rather than (temporarily) appropriating one from a willing audience member. The tune gives shirtless Axel Ritt his first real chance for a guitar solo, as the singer repeatedly yells, "I am the Bruce". More pyro (sparklers) and chartreuse/green lights greet "Dark Of The Sun". While I wouldn't consider it an essential inclusion in the extensive Grave Digger catalog (next year Boltendahl celebrates 40 years, since the start of the band, and maybe some North American dates!), a large section of the (younger?) fanbase disagrees, shouting the titular chorus back at Chris. Green bathed "The Curse Of Jaques" is met with plenty of backing vocals, courtesy of those in the hall. Jens Becker (bass) starts "Season Of The Witch" under green lights, the silver haired singer working both sides of the stage. A bagpipe toting Reaper appears during "Highland Farewell", where the fans sing "oh, oh", thrusting fists aloft. "Circle Of Witches" gives way to always dramatic "Excalibur", both singer and crowd giving their all on the (oddly pronounced) chorus: X-cali-boar. More fiery sprinkles for "Rebellion", which ends the proper set, but the band is back for "Healed By Metal', with plenty of additional voices, plus fists overhead. As always, the night ends with "Heavy Metal Breakdown", Boltendahl plays air guitar, as he and Ritt crisscross the stage. A complete sing-along, in reality, the assembly handles almost all the lyrics, exclusively. Grave Digger in Germany: nothing like it!
Still Battle Beast to go, but after red lit "Straight To The Heart" and a few others pumped up by disco/dance soundtrack, decided three full days (each with eight or nine bands outside, five more inside, some overlaps, running from 11:30 AM until after midnight) were more important and cut my loses.
Ironically, since last year, a tinnitus clinic popped up across the street from my longtime hotel, in Balingen! Good old fashioned Teutonic metal for breakfast. Well, at least brunch, with Stormwarrior. First surprise is longtime bass player/backing vocalist Yenz Leonhardt has returned, having seen the band a year or so ago, when the lanky gent with bizarre shaped four-string was absent. Beginning with "Sons Of Steele" (there is often an extra/final E, in Stormwarrior lexicon), it was full steam ahead into "The Axewielder", also off the eponymous '02 debut, where the two guitarists came together (stage left) for twin leads. Later, mainstay guitarist/singer Lars Ramcke also offered "Defenders Of Metal" and set closing "Iron Prayers", off said disc. A moody "Lindisfarne" was a change of pace from the hard charging supporting cast. By the time of "Heading Northe", the weather was headed south, a sprinkle turning steadier. No matter, they finished what they'd set out to do, get fans excited about the remainder of the festival.
Sorcerer is like Candlemass-Lite. Nope, there's nothing lightweight about the Swedes' delivery, although the upstarts certainly possess a musical heritage, similar to the longer running and better known countrymen: booming bass, a change in dynamics that alters from the nearly acoustic, to bludgeoning doom. Throw in an occasional bit of speed and you can see the comparison. While the band began in '88, there was a long period of inactivity, until the 2010 reactivation. Only bassist Johnny Hagel and the man with the soaring pipes, Anders Engberg remain. Still, sort of odd having both bands as part of the same fest, albeit two days apart. "Sirens" begins, the bottom end shaking resonance immediately evident. North America has a chance to see the band when they play ProgPower USA, in Atlanta, this September. Audrey Horne (from Norway) are a bit difficult to describe and some might say their polished hard rock sound isn't metal. However it is played by metal veterans, most notably Ice Dale (aka Arve Isdal), who has recorded/performed with Enslaved and Immortal offshoots: I and Demonaz. Maybe all you need to know is that they took the stage to the theme from the Muppet Show! Enough said. Singer Toschie was dressed like a soccer referee, in shorts and knee high socks. The Thin Lizzy-ish "Blackout" was up early. By "Pretty Little Sunshine", the singer was prancing and strutting on the gangplank that juts into the crowd. Periodically, he would down an airline-size bottle of liquor and other times, distribute one to fans down front. There's an infectious pomp to "Straight Into Your Grave", the sing along section including a cappella audience response. "Waiting For The Night" was also a fan favorite.
Been a few years since last encountered Brainstorm live. Boy have they become a tight outfit! With the artwork from the current Midnight Ghost hung as a backdrop and specific images (wolf, menacing clown, etc.) superimposed on scrims, both sides of the stage, it looked like a headlining gig. The guys all wore matching, white button-down dress shirts, the band logo and personalized surname, on the back. From the first notes of "Devil's Eye" frontman Andy B. Franck took command. Know how some people can twirl a pencil/pen, balanced on their wrist, with the twist of thumb and index finger? Well Franck does something similar with his wireless mic, spinning it, in-hand, as he moves about the stage. Always powerful "Worlds Are Comin' Through" is backed with longtime favorite "Shiva's Tears". A pair of newbies follow, "Revealing The Darkness" and historical epic "Jeanne Boulet (1764)". On the latter, the blue haired title character joins the band onstage. Although motionless, an electrical fan billows the floppy arms of her blouse. For the initial, pre-recorded keyboard intro to "All Those Words", it's four across the front of the stage goading the crowd to raise their voices, with an unaccompanied "oh, oh" chant. During the song, Franck moves onto the catwalk, singing from a crouch. The music-less audience participation that began the song also finishes it, as they jump into "The Pyre". Can't wait to see it again next month at Summer Breeze!
Night Flight Orchestra, the much ballyhooed alter-ego of Soilwork frontman Bjorn "Speed" Strid, strolled onstage sipping from wine glasses. The backing female duo (dressed as vintage airline stewardesses) did the royal wave (vertical turn of the wrist) and throughout the show, did a half-turn shimmy. Strid was in a white Miami Vice leisure suit, with gold lame lapels, sunglasses and a beret. The music, be it "Living For The Nighttime", the falsetto packed "Midnight Flyer" or "Satellite", is somewhere between Steely Dan and Survivor inspired ‘80s film scores. Prior to "Gemini", the singer inadvertently offered one of the funniest things heard at this year's festival: "Do you want to dance, Bang Your Head?" A little goes a long way with this novelty diversion. Speaking of diversions, a quick dip into the hall to check on the blackened Keep Of Kalessin, but couldn't stay, more pressing issues elsewhere. Due to Hardcore Superstar having travel issues, Dream Evil got to play the main stage, instead of the hall, an upgrade for them. Everyone, including spiky haired frontman Niklas Isfeldt and dreadlocked, mirror shades wearing guitarist Markus Fristedt had smudges of warpaint around the eyes. "Immortal" kicked off an energetic, career retrospective. "Crusader's Anthem" began with the singer, bassist and producer-turned-founder Fredrik Nordström on the gangway. "Save Us" was a surprise, Isfeldt claiming it had "not been played in 15 (or more) years. Last time was in Tokyo." So a real rarity. "Made Of Metal" and "Children Of The Night" held down the middle of the set, before concluding, as always, with "The Book Of Heavy Metal", here a sing-along version. Whether intended or not.
Time for the night's main attraction, the Michael Schenker Fest, the guitarist and a host of his past/present singers. It began quite strangely, the axe man taking to the mic to give condolences to friends Paul Raymond (UFO) and ex-bandmate Ted McKenna (drums), then list out his accolades, including the bands he's been in/created and music he's known for (but by his words, has never been acknowledged, nor paid for). He proceeds to sing the Scorpions' classic ballad "Holiday", along with the crowd. Next is the usual end-of-set "Doctor Doctor", but wisely incorporating the trio of MSG vocalists: Gary Barden, Graham Bonnet and Robin McAuley. As last time out, each takes a verse and in some cases they trade off, ultimately all of them having a spin, solo and in unison. Great move for the photographers, limited to just the first three songs. But next is the "Into The Arena" instrumental. So much for sharing the spotlight! As on the last tour (and indeed, here in Balingen, two year ago), beginning with Barden, each of the former singers is afforded one or two songs from his original go-round with Schenker, plus a contribution from the growing Schenker Fest catalog. Sadly, cowboy attired Barden's voice is the weakest link. "Are You Ready" is passable as Schenker plays, walking in circles, almost as much as Scott Ian (Anthrax). However, by "Attack Of The Mad Axeman", Gary's joined (saved) by McAuley. Bonnet is amazingly strong, especially for someone 71 years old and as the younger statesman, McAuley seemingly hasn't lost anything. Later Doogie White (not yet 60) would appear onstage, the strongest voice of the bunch. Each instrumental is used as an intermezzo to cleanse the palate from one voice to the next. Never really a fan of "Dancer", but Graham acquits himself well on "Night Moods" and Robin does likewise on the faster moving "Save Yourself". It ends in one big, everybody on the stage party, legendary UFO material the focus. Did duck out for a while, midway through, to catch some of Venom Inc, in the hall. Demolition Man, snarl on face, bottle of Jack Daniels in hand, as he took the stage. Mantas, onstage, guitar plugged in, before his bandmates were even visible, was itching to go. He unleashed a flurry of noises and squelches. Not as cacophonous as the old days, but a well-intended racket nevertheless. "Rip Ride" was the only old-school Venom of the initial five aired, but from then on out, it was back to the ‘80s.
Saw Vision Of Atlantis, twice, on 70,000 Tons, so their 11 PM starting time held no interest this evening.
Woke to rain, the bane of every festival goer. It's one thing to get caught in a rainstorm, yet another to begin the day in a consistent heavenly downpour, knowing it's not in the forecast to stop anytime in the next ten hours. Welcome to the second day of BYH Open Air! Although the concert is housed on a hard, blacktop surface, the prospect of hours of inclement weather is never thrilling. Donning rain gear, it was off to catch legendary Dutch metallers Picture. Hell, these guys have at least a decade on me, so if they can do it, I can endure a little discomfort. Good move as the weather took a fortuitous reprieve, one that had us periodically diving for cover, but never prevented me from shooting photos of any band I wanted, nor being kept from seeing at least a portion of those on my must-see list. Case in point: the old school heavy metal of Picture, accent playfully on the "old". Headband wearing frontman Ronald van Prooien came dressed for the occasion, a wide shoulder, and floor length leather duster. Later revealed, underneath was a gold accented, black t-shirt that matched the festival's color scheme (as did his black shoes, adorned with gold rings). Opening with "You're All Alone", these geezers were anything but, a throng not only awaiting their appearance, but ready to sing along too. "Message From Hell" came next, the guys switching sides, playing off one another and van Prooien not afraid to venture down the runway, stopping inches from an adoring crowd. It segued into "Night Hunter". Between the likes of Nighttiger", "Eternal Dark" and "Heavy Metal Ears", they did slip in just one new one, "Line Of Life" off this year's Wings CD. Ended with boogie woogie "Lady Lightning", where the singer introduces each individual member and gets the crowd to repeatedly chant "Picture". Come the true end, he delivers the previously taped-to-monitors setlist to a fan, down front. Class act, all the way around. Glad to have finally seen them live and told them so backstage.
Noticed the stage manager had taken to blowing a whistle when a band's allotted time was up, technicians descending from the wings, to remove the first band's gear and set up the next. Enforcer was a band I was eager to see, but with some trepidation amongst my enthusiasm. I have loved and supported the band since the Diamonds album. However, had some issues with the new (overly) polished Zenith and was concerned how much of that material would appear in the live set (or this fall’s headlining tour of North America?). Thankfully my fears were allayed (at least temporarily), as after the less than inspiring "Die For The Devil" kick-off, only two other new tracks were included. The rest was quintessential, speed metal Enforcer! After the current single, there's only one direction they could go (up!) and "Searching For You" quickly rights the ship. The yelping, high pitched vocal "Undying Evil" sees the two guitarist’s together, stage right, before Olof Wikstrand takes a brief foray onto the jet way. "From Beyond" begins with twin leads, into a rollicking mid-paced, easy sing-along, comprised almost exclusively of the titular lyrics. The final newbie "Zenith Of The Black Sun" is a slow, fist thruster. Throughout the show, there's lots of side-by-side, twin guitar leads/interplay and vertically held instruments. Hypersonic "Live For The Night" (think rough, early Motley Crue, ala "Livewire" meets "Red Hot") sees the players switch positions. "Mesmerized By Fire" ends with a Jonathan Nordwall guitar solo (he of the ‘70s porno mustache), into "Scream Of The Savage". "Take Me Out Of This Nightmare", "Destroyer" and closing "Midnight Vice" end on a high note (pun intended). Not sure about all the prerecorded intros, whether there were issues, but going forward, they should can/curtail their usage, if they can't be strung together in a more effective way, as it detracted from an otherwise killer performance. See you in the States, guys!
Saw only a small part of Beast In Black, having seen them a year ago at Norway Rock. Anton Kabanen (blond guitarist) created the band after his ouster from Battle Beast, which he also founded. Since then, he has added former U.D.O. string bender Kasperi Heikkinen (black haired guitarist). Plenty of guitar-wizardry on display, topped by stratospheric male vocals, but if you're not paying attention, could swear (at times) Noora Louhimo is singing. Stuck around for "Cry Out For A Hero" opener up until their signature tune. From here, things went a little wonky, thanks to Mother Nature. Under a banner of the two kneeling, facing skeletons, Cirith Ungol (a band I've listened to since the '80 debut, Tim Baker's unique vocals setting them apart) began with "Atom Smasher". Like many in the crowd, this was my first time seeing them live and if you weren't a fan originally, there's probably not a lot to convert you now. Sorry if that sounds old school, "you had to be there" elitist. It’s not meant to be. Jarvis Leatherby (manager and Night Demon head honcho) on bass. "I'm Alive" sees Baker walk in and out of frame and as the set progresses he gets more animated and (apparently) connected to the show. By "Join The Legion", probably as close to a sing-along as they've got in the repertoire, Baker has warmed to the task at hand. It begins teeming rain, the kind of precipitation it was forecast to have been doing all day, but had avoided, until now. For "Blood & Iron", the singer loses his coat and ventures off the stage, into the rain. His final sustained note is killer. For a while, thought it was to be the last I'd hear, as the stage manager sent everyone (even the VIPs watching beside the stage) to shelter, cancelling the show (at least for now). Guess the only time some diehards head inside is when the storm threatens to dilute their beer: radler naturelle! Thankfully, the burst of water finished quickly and Cirith Ungol were allowed to continue, scraping the schedule. The quirky rhythms of "Frost & Fire" led to the wicked guitar riff that characterizes "Master Of The Pit". Tim got more emphatic, pumping his arms and moving about, for "King Of The Dead". Unfortunately, had to miss "Paradise Lost", in prepping for Evergrey, the out of sync scheduling caused by the rainy intermission.
Gothenburg pals Evergrey and Dark Tranquillity were on tour together, sharing crew and the same backline. So when the two had to play simultaneously, you can imagine the problems (as Tom Englund alluded to, onstage). "Guitar change!" as tech scrambles out the back of the hall and runs over to the main stage, outdoors. Well, not quite, as they worked something out. The recurrent, regular pulse of sonar beeps, to introduce a red lit "The Silent Arc", as the band aggressively headbangs. It goes into the more belabored (and blue bathed) "Weightless", Rikard Zander's keys being the transition, as Englund and Henrik Danhage change guitars. Tom offers "Prost!" as the purple lit melancholy of "Distance" ensues. "Leave It Behind Us" sees the fans clap along. The spoken word introduction to "A Touch Of Blessing" only heightens the anticipation of what's to come (one of their finest composition). The "King Of Errors" finale sounds so big, in this little room. Those in North America, who will have an opportunity to see the short run of dates (late August, through early September) are in for something special. But you probably already knew that!
While Krokus were not the official headliners, there was much anticipation as 1) They are BYH returnees, so people know what to expect, 2) The German/Swiss border isn't THAT far from Balingen and 3) They are in the waning days of their retirement tour, meaning it was one of the last chances to see the band, in Europe. And yet, after hearing "Headhunter" and "Long Stick Goes Boom" opted for relative newcomer, Attic. Did come back, to hear "Easy Rocker" and see them bounce giant orange balloons off the heads in the crowd, during "Heatstrokes", as thunder and lightning threatened another shutdown (A friend working BYH told me there were four additional moments when they nearly pulled the plug Friday, but luckily, just the aforementioned incident). Besides, it's a good bet I'll see Krokus in the States, before they say "goodbye" (although I certainly hope they make some alterations before then: Bob Dylan and Neil Young covers, in a farewell set?), but what are the chances of seeing Attic. Who are they, you ask? One of the most exciting young outfits, channeling classic Mercyful Fate sound (driving guitars, falsetto-to-bass vocals, etc. Seriously, people compare it to a lost demo) on their Sanctimonious disc, a concept album no less. Visually, the make-up of singer Meister Cagliostro also recalls King Diamond. On a small label (Ván Records), with little overseas distribution, or promotion, Attic are virtually unknown in North America. So with a rare appearance at a reasonable hour (because of their image, many festival promoters schedule them in the wee hours of the morning, well after midnight), for me, it was truly one of the must-see acts of the entire weekend.
An 8 PM start, in the hall, was "prime time," or so the guys told me. Wood church railing forms a barricade on the left and right sides of the stage, the center open for an altar (fronting the drum riser) adorned with two short candelabras, skulls, assorted potions. A four-foot tall candelabra stands at each end of the stage. All are lit. Scrims appear as stained glass windows. A heavy shroud of fog is thick in the air, adding to the dramatic gothic atmosphere. An intro of liturgical organ sets the mood, as the band launch into the Sanctimonious title track. Each of the members has some level of blackened eyes, with the centerpiece being a shirtless, but waistcoat wearing, Cagliostro, inverted crosses and assorted necklaces draped around his neck. The energy level is high, on both sides of the barricade as they've developed a rabid following, in the underground. Four CO2 bombs explode across the stage during "The Invocation". Following "Join The Coven", a darkened stage, illuminated solely by the candles, heralds the return of the organ that began the show ("A Quest For Blood"), which introduces "The Hound Of Heaven". In the natural course of events, the two guitars and bass maneuver from one side of the stage to the other, Cagliostro, the bizarre maestro of this unholy alliance, directs with his flamboyant hand motions and facial expressions (although in that thickness can anyone really see them?). "The Headless Horseman" ends the proper set, but they return for an encore: a surprising (given what transpired) cover of Judas Priest's "The Hammer And The Anvil". Check these guys out, now!
While Steel Panther drew the ire of some (complaints were numerous, the next day, about long, drawn out, supposedly comedic raps between songs and not enough music) Exhorder laid a beating on those gathered in the hall. Kyle Thomas lurching about the stage, as he shouted out the lyrics, while original guitarist, the stogie smoking Vinnie LaBella, blasted vintage material, until ending with "My Time", from the forthcoming Nuclear Blast album, Mourn The Southern Skies (due in September).
When the running order was announced, Saturday was, in my opinion, the best line-up, top to bottom. It began with a double blast of young Scandinavian talent, Screamer and RAM. Had not previously seen Screamer, but was familiar with some of their work. Another creative intro tape, this time the Looney Tunes theme, right into "Demon Rider". In that first song, everyone had a turn, center stage, although only singer Andreas Wikström ventured onto the walkway (others would, later). All were in black vests, with white t-shirt (even the drummer), although Wikström opted for black-on-black motif. The high energy quintet switched sides of the stage frequently, using any of the three mic positions, as they go. The smooth ‘70s hard rock of "Lady Of The Night" was up early. The twin guitarists often appeared together, top of the stairs, offering dual leads. Introducing "Monte Carlo Nights", the singer explained, "We were on tour and got lost. I won't go into details, but we wrote this song." Began "Ride On" facing their amps, with backs to the crowd. Hunched over, as the guitarists were, from the audience, it looked like the line-up at a row of urinals! "On My Way" was followed by "Phoenix", a bit of Paul Stanley inflection creeping into the vocals. At one point, Wikström announced, "For those that might have missed it, we're Screamer." Meanwhile, there's a backdrop behind him, proclaiming the name in seven foot letters! Played the title track from the forthcoming (October) release, Highway Of Heroes. Fun stuff, hopefully the new disc will help increase their profile overseas.
If Screamer are akin to Thin Lizzy, then countrymen RAM are the counterpart of Judas Priest, in image and sound. "Return Of The Iron Tyrant" sets the mood, for what came next, straight ahead, twin guitar heavy metal. The clickety-clack Priest-ish speed of "Flame Of The Tyrants" is undeniable. These guys certainly write a lot of songs about oppression (tyrants, "The Usurper", "Machine Invaders). In that vein, Oscar Carlquist preceded the mid-tempo pounder "Gulug" with, "This is not a Sunday picnic. It's a heavy metal concert, which is about blood, sweat and steel. Bang your head or I'll have to punish you with the gloves of steel. This song is about freedom, the most important thing in the world." In addition to those already listed, "Sudden Impact" made just that, the Swedes exiting conquering heroes.
Don't really see cosplay at BYH (spotted one lone Spiderman), but did notice a trend of (younger) fans carrying a stuffed animal. Whatever. Saw Flotsam & Jetsam on their North American tour, back in May, so after cursory investigation, prioritizes final day hob knobbing with arriving bands and hanging with European friends who I wouldn't see for at least six months, if not another year. "Desecrator”, with Eric AK on the gangway, as the guitarists stayed onstage, was followed by "Iron Maiden", greeted like an old friend by the sun drenched faithful. A storming version of "Hammerhead" and "I Live You Die" were woven into a set that alternated between yesteryear and today.
Joey Vera told me Armored Saint had just been in Europe a couple of months ago and as such, decided to give BYH something different. I'll say. Kicking off with "Raising Fear" (and not forsaking the old classics), the bassist was skanking around the stage, and John Bush headed straight "into" the crowd, on the catwalk. Guy might look like Elmer Fudd, but he still sings like a motherfucker! Maybe it was the lack of German bands (natives get tired of seeing homegrowns and favor overseas/American acts. Just the opposite on these shores!) or just a nice day, but the crowd was already bigger than at any time yesterday (excluding the headliner). "Can You Deliver" was up second, followed by "Creepy Feelings" (which I'd nearly forgotten about). Bush and Vera leave the stage, as Jeff Duncan clangs out the intro to a green lit "Last Train Home". Personally, there was some poignancy in the title, given the fest was wrapping up. Next, Bush said, "We haven't played this since '87. Yes, we're old. Off Raising Fear...'Underdog'". Lots of amazed looks back and forth in the crowd. Bush was on Gonzo's drum riser and Vera was out front on the gangway. When finished, "more deep cuts", as the singer prefaced "For The Sake Of Heaviness". Bush asks the crowd if they want to sing some more (not everyone familiar with what has just transpired). So as Duncan lays down a jet aircraft sounding intro, cue "Reign Of Fire". "Win Hands Down" breaks a streak of old school material, but only temporarily. The bassist begins "Nervous Man" on the catwalk and when concluded, Bush rhetorically asks, "Do you want one more? (cheers) Do you want five more (more cheers). OK, here's one more" and they conclude with "March Of The Saint", sung, in part, by the crowd. For its hits, plus deep cuts, probably the gig of the weekend, followed closely by Attic and Enforcer.
Great to see Candlemass bassist/founder Leif Edling back onstage, having had some health issues that prevented participation over the last couple of years. After the gig, he would literally take the shirt off my back, seeking a replacement for his 15 year old BraveWords jersey! First time witnessing C-mass with original singer Johan Längqvist. Not a whole lot of changes to the setlist, regardless of singer, over the years, especially in a festival setting, where people want to hear the hits. "Well Of Souls" to open, with bearded and hat topped Edling (looking very artsy) stationed at his usual stage right post, while Längqvist immediately got acquainted with the stage front fans, taking one of many journeys down the catwalk. He spent much time there. Come "Mirror Mirror", in the photo pit, the bass was pummeling against your chest. The Swedes opt for just one Door Of Doom track, "Astorolus - The Great Octopus", before heading back to "Bewitched". Might not be much of stage show, but quality constructs like "Dark Of The Veils Of Death" and "A Sorcerer's Pledge" bear a mesmerizing presence all their own. The usual "Solitude" finale wraps things up, but (backstage) Leif claims there will be North American dates, this October. Stay tuned!
Metal Church had quite the tough act to follow, a pair of contemporaries, who just laid down a boatload of classics. Vanderhoof, Howe and company were up to the task, with a ton of great songs themselves and Howe's willingness to jump, crawl and emote across the stage, as a chorus of fans help out (not that he needs any aid). Kurdt Vanderhoof might be the lone original left, but he's content to stay in the (figurative) shadows and allow Howe, and to a lesser extent, bassist Steve Unger roam freely. "Damned If You Do" opener is followed by "Needle And Suture", the singer vividly enacting the latter by feigning an injection, into his neck. The pair, since the reunion, out of the way, it's time for "Badlands". As the founding guitarist makes a rare foray to center stage, Howe bounces around, as the crowd sings along. Alone on the catwalk, Unger starts "Gods Of Second Chance". A robust "Start The Fire" is backed with "Watch The Children Pray", a step down in intensity, but come the chorus, Howe offers a guide vocal for all those that are unsure of the lyrics (are there any in this crowd? not many, judging from the rousing rendition). "Beyond The Black" and finally "Fake Healer' (again audience handling much of the chorus) alternate with two newer cuts. Days after BYH, Metal Church announced family health issues precluded them from appearing in Canada, including Heavy Montreal, which is shame, as the band is firing on all cylinders right now. Get well soon.
From here on out, there were no priorities, in my world, just brief investigation, beginning with Skid Row. Never a huge fan, even in the glory years, but have seen them with each singer. That being said, former Dragonforce/Tank (God was he miscast there) singer ZP Theart does a very good job. From the opening "Slave To The Grind", through similarly aggressive "Sweet Little Sister”, to the "18 And Life" ballad, his voice could handle it all. The setlist leaned on the heavier side of things (good thing, being a Euro metal show). Kicked back and had a weizen as they were onstage, listening to "Piece Of Me", cover of the Ramones "Psycho Therapy", "Monkey Business" and fan sung "Youth Gone Wild" finale. Know fans are hoping for a Seb Bach reunion, but if you felt Solinger and short-lived Harnell were disappointing, try the current line-up. Tribulation have been darlings of the underground press, almost since their inception. This was my first opportunity to check out "the buzz". Well, the band had no interest in being photographed (despite the make-up and elaborate costumes), covering the stage in fog (and heavy scent of incense), a lack of lights (purple or less) and frontman washed out under backlight of whites. Guess there's some Goth chic to that mentality. Anyway, it was only a couple songs before the incense triggered my allergies, seeking fresh(er) air. Besides, the headliner was about to begin.
Might be in the minority, but when it comes to Tobias Sammet, prefer him fronting Edguy, to the star-studded cavalcade of Avantasia (which I've seen, in parts, on four different occasions now). That said, the stage looked like a scene from animated A Nightmare Before Christmas, oddly shaped black trees and structures. Saw Geoff Tate and Bob Catley, backstage, earlier in the day, but used my final hour(s) in Balingen to be with friends, which is also a huge part of the festival experience. Can't wait to do it all again, next year.
Plans are already afoot for BYH 2020. Some bands have been announced. The dates are July 16th-18th. Make plans now, especially if you've never been to a European festival before. More information at this location.