Knockout Festival – POWERWOLF, HAMMERFALL, DORO, SINNER Live In Germany!
December 20, 2017, a month ago
2017 marks the tenth installment of the Knockout Festival and this year, it was sold out! The Schwarzwaldhalle is almost too beautiful to hold a heavy metal concert, the hardwood floors, throughout, already buffed slippery, even before drinks were spilt. The dining area, improved since first moving Knockout to the venue, four years ago, is now larger than the actual concert venue. Some fans donned black Santa caps, the white fur trim emblazoned with "Heavy Xmas" or "Metal Xmas".
Promptly at 5 PM, Sinner took the stage, for an all too brief half hour set. The ghost of Phil Lynott resides within many of the ‘80s anthems aired tonight (the Thin Lizzy singer/bassist a personal hero to Mat Sinner). Only the title track from this year's Tequila Suicide was from the modern era, although Sinner (the man and the band) has recently re-recorded many of the old song, originally on Noise Records. Paradoxically, given the current title, an onstage bar (behind which a pair of backing singers were situated) prominently displayed a bottle of Jack Daniels and a Jagermiester ice chest. It is Germany, after all. Kicking off with "Born To Rock", the blond and goateed namesake was center stage, in a black dress coat. To his right, spiky haired guitarist Tom Naumann, much like he is, in Primal Fear, which they both are part of, more frequently. "Bad Girls" is a clap-along/sing-along success. Perhaps it's just Naumann's carefree self, but got the impression these songs are much easier to play than the Primal stuff. In fact, during a solo in "Born To Rock", handled by the other guitarist, Tom and Mat visit the makeshift/onstage bar. Said tune ends with a storm of strobes and simultaneous launch of four smoke plumes, across the front of the stage. Next up, one for the ladies, according to Mr. Sinner, who began "Knife In My Heart" virtually a cappella, as he directed traffic center stage: cuing the crowd when to clap, sing-along, adulate. A cover seemed out-of-place in such a short set, but Billy Idol's "Rebel Yell" is a well-known party anthem (even to those that aren't aware of the Sinner version) and as first band on, it WAS their task to get the people in the mood. Last up, "Germany Rocks". An anglophile (and native speaker), it's embarrassing that in order to combat the pervasive bias (in the ‘80s) that Matt Sinner would have to pen a flag waver like "Germany Rocks" when Deutschland not only (single-handedly) kept the music afloat, through the Nineties, but is now widely regarded as THE unabashed champions/home of heavy metal! Sascha Krebs, one of those behind the bar (who also joins Mat's annual Rock Meets Classic cavalcade), came to the front of the stage for the finale. Smart move getting Sinner on first, as their longevity has garnered a large audience, who might otherwise have partied outside, or remained with the food vendors.
Xandria have had a wild ride the last couple of months, what with singer Dianne van Giersbergen announcing her rather acrimonious departure. Had seen the band previously, including the '13 stateside gig at ProgPower, as well as a pair of gigs on the 70,000 Tons cruise. While adequate, never really struck me as anything to rival those in the crowded female-fronted operatic power metal field, although Dianne (something of a china doll look), always had a smile on her face and sold it, the best she could. Enter Aeva Maurelle (from like-minded Aeverium), apparently on board just so Xandria could fill out a string of 14 late fall/winter dates. This was her final performance. First thing I thought, upon viewing her entrance onstage, was "Somebody get this girl a meal," as her wrists and ankles looked emaciated. Next thought was, "Get this girl some sun." While many Northern Europeans have a light complexion, especially in the colder months, she made Casper the Ghost look tan! Her voice was why people were there and given the circumstances and material, was probably dealt a losing hand from the start, although a purple lit "Come With Me" stuck out as a winner. When she headbanged, her ponytail bounced about her face.
Not the first time catching Kissin' Dynamite either, but after a failed attempt at ditching the glam image, the Swabian metallers have released the strong Generation Goodbye, with a couple of aural digs at their millennial brethren. The setlist was a fun mix of old & new, anchored by the Braun brothers: both eye candy for the numerous ladies in the crowd. There's more than a little Axl Rose in blond frontman Hannes, sliding across the stage, while beefy, shirtless guitarist Ande plays in front of an oversized mock-up of three smoking sticks of dynamite, atop twin Marshall stacks that flash the band logo, in multiple colors. The titular chorus of "Money, Sex & Power" is a popular early sing-along. The high energy youngsters bound all over the stage during "Running Free". Following "Love Me, Hate Me", it was time for "She Came She Saw". Is it appropriate that during the same, inflated condoms were tossed around, in the crowd? "Hashtag Your Life", video single and a title that adorns tour shirts, was popular too, before Hannes decked out in red robe, grabbed a scepter for "I Will Be King". Fast paced action, in the ‘80s Sunset Strip tradition, for a new generation.
Doro continued her tribute to her days in Warlock, most notably the Triumph & Agony album, with four of the biggest numbers off that disc included tonight. As always, ably aided by Metal Tigger, aka bouncy bassist Nick Douglas. "Raise Your Fist In The Air", as an opener, was a bit of a surprise (typically going with a more vintage cut), but one of two from her last (all new) studio effort. Has it been five years already? What followed was like a greatest hits package, the diminutive blond connecting with her crowd throughout: "I Rule The Ruins", "Burning The Witches", "Fight For Rock" and "East Meets West". A red lit "Night Of The Warlock" (crowd request honored in NYC, last September) preceded "Fur Immer". Lit in purple, augmented by Doro's patented hair flip, unlike other tracks, there's plenty of cell phone cameras. Despite our location, the crowd sung in English. Luca Princiotta trading his guitar, for keyboards (one of the two sets of ivories, opposite sides of mainstay drummer Johnny Dee). "We Are The Metalheads" sees Luca, Nick and guitarist Bas Maas (whipping his hair) center stage, bathed in blue. Not really a Doro song, but in Germany, still makes sense. The stage goes completely green, as white searchlights sweep the stage, for "Revenge", driven by Dee's double bass drumming. For less than a headlining set, maybe it's time to retire her take on Judas Priest's "Breaking The Law". Honestly not that trilled when the Brits still trot it out! Her time ends with spirited "All We Are", the adoring crowd clapping and singing until its conclusion.
Also ran into Hammerfall in NYC this year, as well as Bang Your Head (although that was a special guest filled performance) and much like both those nights, founder Oscar Dronjak made wardrobe changes throughout the night: beginning in stage outfit, through t-shirts toe ending bare chested. The guitarist wields an instrument meant to look like the hammer mascot Hector is in possession of, on many of the album covers. "Riders Of The Storm" sets the galloping pace. Joacim Cans is in fine voice, increasingly active on the large stage and joking with the audience. A green/yellow "Any Means Necessary" gives way to speedy "Renegade", flashing to the impulses. More pulsating lights for "Dethrone And Defy", which sees Pontus Norgren holding his guitar vertically. "Let The Hammer Fall" is an old school blast, prior to their so-called "Medley To The Brave", which features snippets of assorted Glory To The Brave tracks, including "Stone Cold", which sees Dronjak headbanging madly, before moving center stage, to meet Norgren. The dual guitar instrumental heading into a bit of "The Dragon Lies Bleeding" and "The Metal Age". Shame we don't get more (ie full length versions). The encore again offers "Hammer High" and the robust closer "Hearts On Fire".
Having stolen some of Powerwolf's longer established anti-religion thunder (shame on the Germans for remaining solely in Europe) Ghost has proven there's a big market of catchy material that pokes fingers at the Church. In the last six years, they've released a trio of live albums, as many box sets and studio discs, all a mix of liturgical sounds and Latin verbosity, with Sabaton flare for infectious rhythms. With band in priestly vestment, scores of fans in corpse-painted mimicry, a backdrop and stage set to resemble a fog enshrouded stone monastery/fortress and a pair of gold eagles (wings spread) behind which keyboardist Falk Maria Schlegel can alternately perch, the production is first rate, in keeping with their status as a legitimate festival headliner. Make no mistake, around the continent, Powerwolf now top, or are near the top of most bills, even without having set foot in North America. With a new album pushed off to 2018, the live tracklisting is now well established fan favorites, opening with blinding light show accompanied "Blessed & Possessed". The Greywolf brothers on guitars, opposite sides of the stage, try to one-up each other, pulling faces, electric fans blowing their hair. Periodically (between tracks or when he has nothing to do during play), the keyboardist runs to the front of the stage and interacts with the fans, antics probably left over from Attila Dorn's earliest days in Powerwolf. The Romanian only recently grew in onstage confidence, stalking the stage in a deliberate, horror movie hunch, so now there's a multiple bodied tornado of activity for practically every song. The lyrics are a combination of vampire tales and irreligious fervor, including "Amen & Attack" and "Let There Be Night", but the best moments are left towards the end, like the (ahem) rousing "Resurrection By Erection" (before you die, need to hear a crowd shout the titular chorus, in unison!), "Sanctified With Dynamite" and "We Drink Your Blood". Hopefully one day soon, audiences on this side of the Atlantic will get to witness this spectacle.
Of course you could also attend the Knockout Festival in person. BraveWords plans to return in 2018.
More from the festival here.