Summer Breeze 2016 – Metal Makes Me Feel Fine!

August 24, 2016, a year ago

Mark Gromen with "Metal" Tim Henderson

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Although BraveWords has spent more than 15 years attending various multi-day festivals throughout Europe, this was our initial foray to Summer Breeze, lured by the thrill of something new, a southern locale and recommendations that THIS is the festival most Germans consider the best. While there might be bigger, or better known entities, the four stages, of different sizes, offer August attendees a variety of heavy styles, of which only about ¼ are covered here. The site is situated almost equidistant between Nuremberg and Stuttgart, in the farmlands about 5 km from the ancient walled city of Dinkelsbühl, which was spared Allied invasion/bombing in WWII and thus the original architecture and cobblestone streets are a year-round tourist attraction. For those unwilling to camp onsite, organizers make sure there's a free shuttle service, to/from Dinkelsbühl, which also allows campers to purchase food/drinks from local supermarkets, as often as they see fit.

Dropped at the front gate, one proceeds through the first of two checkpoints, which allows access to the camping area. At many festivals, this is a scene hidden from spectators, the sea of multicolored accommodations and people playing games, shouting good-naturally at by-passers and creating any sort of spectacle that might get them noticed (costumes, public displays of nudity, even a mass rendition of metalheads doing the Macarena!). Atop the paved drive, is a second checkpoint to the actual festival. In light of recent world events (but especially in Bavaria), a quick bag check was mandatory. The grounds are a sea of activity, although on Wednesday, only the large tented T stage and the minuscule Camel stage featured any live performances. Crowded, but never feeling claustrophobic, some of the food/merchandise vendors were also off-limits that first day, as the main stage was still under construction. Doing a brisk business, foods from any/all nationalities are available, including Vegan, Indian, Asian, Italian, assorted German meat products (including a fabulous multi-spit pig/chicken roast), even so-called American fare (hamburgers, pulled pork, barbecue). You're never too far from a beer/cocktails stand. Two varieties of beer, on draft: pils and hefeweizen (3.5 Euro, plus an addition 2, for deposit/reimbursed upon return of the plastic cup). Hard liquor prices vary, starting at 5 Euro. 

WEDNESDAY - Day 1

Beautiful sunshine called for tank tops (although by nightfall, one could see their breath!), so seemed strange to take refuge at the T stage (named in remembrance of late Summer Breeze honcho Michael Trengert), beneath a circus sized tent. Alas, that's where Almanac was scheduled, the new project from ex-Rage guitarist, Victor Smolski, along with a trio of known vocalists: Andy B. Franck (Brainstorm), David Readman (Pink Cream 69/Voodoo Circle) and Jeanette Marchewka, whom the guitarist lifted from Rage's collaborations with the Lingua Mortis Orchestra. Everyone was dressed in old military style vestments, although by the third song, Andy (who was teasing me about what kind of photos were allowed, even before he went onstage) had discarded his ornate wardrobe. Inside the tent were four beer stations, as well as a mixed drinks only station, so some never left! Opening with title track “Tsar”, there was a constant shuffling of the onstage personnel, typically two singers at once. The yellow & red lit “Self-Blinded Eyes” was followed by “Hands Are Tied”, begun with Smolski center stage. Although it's his outfit, apart from guitar solos, he's rarely the center of attention. Apart from the closing cover, “Empty Hollow”, by Smolski's former employer, this was enjoyable symphonic power metal, albeit with plenty of piped in instrumental tracks.

No such influx of technology with retro sounding Belgian thrashers, Evil Invaders, a personal guilty pleasure, once the line-up was announced. The cigarette sponsored Camel stage (surrounded by two booths, with viewing balconies) is akin to a club show, although those who amass a large enough following for organizers to notice, will be asked back to play one of the bigger venues. A proving ground, if you like. The Invaders ran through their speed metal mix regardless if anyone was interested.  While all too infrequently stationary, in front of the mic, an electric fan blew mutton-chop, one-name frontman Joe's hair in wild formations (nice Shok Paris patch on the jeans too!). Otherwise, he and the rest of the band dodged one another, as they moved around the confined space, ripping through the appropriately entitled “Fast, Loud And Rude”, “Driving Fast” and debut EP's “Victim Of Sacrifice”. It was all over too quickly, but relish the opportunity to have witnessed them live.


 
Not interested in the parade of black, death, punk and dual sex vocals metalcore, a couple of hours of schmoozing and investigating both the VIP area (journalists, industry types) and Artist World (performers and select guests: including BraveWords), before Lost Society, whom I saw in Helsinki, prior to Tuska, a month earlier. Strange to see them on a massive stage, after the Tavastia club show. A mosh pit and plenty of barricade crashers enjoy the 45 minute set (seven songs and pointless drum solo, four from the current Braindead CD). Lots of jump splits from frontman/guitarist Samy Elbanna during “Hollow Eyes”, pin-wheeling hair and fists thrust aloft, both sides of the barricade. 

Odd to see Grand Magus singer/guitarist JB in cut-off tee, with his trademark Flying V, but minus mirrored sunglasses, an evening in the tent didn't require such. The set was really a tale of two halves. Apart from the “I, Jury” opener, the initial portion stuck to the last two albums, including “Varangian”, the lone offering from Sword Songs. Bassist Fox stood virtually still, head down as yellow lights swept the massive stage for “Ravens Guide Our Way”. The latter half included the fan sung string of “Triumph And Power”, “Like The Oar Strikes the Water”, always epic “Iron Will” and concluding “Hammer Of The North”. When will that hammer arrive on North American shores? 

Half past midnight seems a suitable time for a Vader nightcap. In the dark, the glaring stage lights set up a blinding effect, making bodies and barricades in the crowd invisible. Maybe it's the late hour, then again possibly the language barrier, but there's little time for vocal pleasantries, as the Poles lay waste to the tented stage with “Go To Hell”, “Triumph Of Death”, old school “Sothis” and “Helleluyah (God Is Dead)” parting shot.  

Other Wednesday notables: Mantar, Agnostic Front

More from Day 1 here.

THURSDAY - Day 2

Only an unexpected (and intense) hour long rainstorm will (briefly) dampen another fine day of metal and beer in Germany! First must see of the afternoon is Exodus, christening our involvement with the jumbo main stage. Still seems strange to see the Bay Area institution without guitarist Gary Holt, who would appear the next day, with Slayer. Steve “Zetro” Souza seems to have dropped a few pounds since last saw him (or at least found a better fitting shirt, one that didn't see his belly hang out the bottom) as he rumbled from side to side of the massive stage. “Blood In, Blood Out” up early, followed by “And Then There Were None”, the crowd singing the “whoa”. “Deranged” sees the guitarist’s feedback, with Zetro hanging by the Marshall stacks. The singer applauds the Germans for knowing their thrash, then says they're going to “keep it old school today”, leading into the band's signature tune. True to his word, we'll also get “A Lesson In violence”, “Bonded By Blood” (complete with pre-recorded intro) and set closing “Strike Of The Beast”. Following “Exodus”, Souza claims they go from the oldest disc (debut) to the newest, for “Body Harvest”. Nice to see “Toxic Waltz” isn't saved for the finale. Back in the artist area, you can barely hear the main stage volume, especially in conversation.

Both of us granted stage access, Metal Tim head to the crow’s nest, an observation platform above the main stage, while I perch on the photographer’s riser, dodging the hand-pulled, manned video camera on rails, as At The Gates storms onstage. 

Sweden’s death metal legends continue to support their latest triumph At War With Reality and the set was peppered with gems from the album including “Death And The Labyrinth”, “Heroes And Tombs”, the crushing ”The Book Of Sand (The Abomination)" and closing epic of melancholic genius “The Night Eternal”. The brothers Björler (Anders and Jonas) and Martin Larsson owned the stage with their extreme flowing, speedy melodies while the crowd thrashed happily. Meanwhile, frontman Tomas Lindberg pounced around the stage and held the crowd in the palm of his hand while the Slaughter Of The Soul staples ravaged the crowd and formed the obligatory pit via “Under a Serpent Sun”, “Blinded by Fear” and of course the glorious title track!

Leaving the Swedish legends in good hands, following the initial trio, I head to the Camel stage for Stallion, a traditional metal loving outfit from southern Germany, complete with spandex, studs and wild hair. Their set overlaps with At The Gates. The overactive smoke machine seems to be something of a glitch on this stage, as scribe Carl Begai claimed it nearly obliterated High Fighter from view, earlier in the day. Not quite that ubiquitous for Stallion, but still quite thick, during the opening “Killing Time”. Highlights included title cut “Rise And Ride”, as well as “Canadian Steele”. 

First and only screw-up of the weekend, sees me camped out at the Pain Stage, instead of the T stage. As a result, I miss the anticipated and concurrently appearing Tribulation for (to my horror) Asking Alexandria. Impossible to make the other photo pit, squeeze off a couple of photos of the Brits. Not really lemonade from lemons, but the best of an (admittedly self-inflicted) bad lot. Plenty of time to amend, before Entombed AD, whose chain smoking leader LG Petrov had been exclusively interviewed by Metal Tim, earlier in the day. Unfortunately, Fear Factory were on simultaneously. 

As per our chat with Bloodbath on 70000 Tons Of Metal, Entombed’s Left Hand Path gave Blakkheim and Renkse the reason to live and breath Swedish death metal majesty! And to meet the man behind the mic, second-to-none when it comes to charisma and passion for the music, L.G. Petrov with bottle of vodka close to hand. Stay tuned for a lengthy interview! BraveWords was honoured to witness Entombed A.D. from the stage (!) as they crushed new material like “Midas In Reverse” and “The Winner Has Lost”, a startling comeback for the band! Latter-era Entombed such as “Wolverine Blues”, “Stranger Aeons” appeased greatly, but the crowd wanted to hear what put the band on the map in 1991 and what kick-started a scene overall! So the likes of “Revel in Flesh”, “Left Hand Path” and the brutal final “Supposed to Rot” was the extreme of the extreme! And despite the fact that L.G remains as the only original - although most of his mates have been in the band longer than the first incarnation - Entombed 2016, A.D. or not, are still a viable entity in the death metal scene. 

There were more firemen, in full regalia, lining the Sabaton stage than festival workers and/or crew. For what transpired, I can see why. Wow! While the Swedes write about wartime, this was a visual adaptation, a conflagration aided by a dozen fire cannons, plenty of fireworks and explosions. Of the 17 songs, only six were minus any firepower and two of those still had explosions of some kind. Situated in the middle of the stage was drummer Hannes Van Dahl atop a dual laser cannon tank (not the same conventional gunned model that shipped to Canada, for a one-off at Heavy Montreal). The heat generated by the skyward flames was intimidating, especially so close to the front.

As always, “Ghost Division” kicks things off, with an explosion and smoke bombs. “Far From The Fame” is a bit of a surprise, especially up second and devoid of even a firecracker. Ditto the native tongue rendition of “Livstid I Krieg”, considering our locale. Feel like a smoke jumper for “Carolus Rex” just a ridiculous firestorm (check out videos online). The “noch ein bier” chant starts almost immediately, armored flak jacket wearing frontman Joakim Brodén laughing at the constant taunting to drink a beer (Hell, Sabaton even held a Deutsche festival entitled Noch Ein Bier, last year). The Swedish pagans (in addition to that tune) aired a pair from The Last Stand CD, which would be officially released the next day (although the Nuclear Blast tent was selling it early and sold out): “Shiroyama” and “Lost Battalion”, which fans had heard via Internet posts. “Resist And Bite” saw at least a dozen fiery plumes and was followed by the surprising return of “Cliffs Of Gallipoli” (minus any onstage keyboard player).

About 30 minutes in Sabaton, under the tent, Abbath kicked off. So high tailing it through the darkness and in the stage lit induced blindness, nearly trampling a poor seated soul, made it to the T stage photo pit in time to hear the Immortal classic “In My Kingdom Cold”. The set added a couple others from his former outfit, including “Tyrants” and the set concluding “All Shall Fall”, plus “Warriors” from his short-lived supergroup, I. Sadly, the fire-breathing was but a mere whimpered compared to what continued on the main stage. Returned to Sabaton, in time to witness, amongst others, the aforementioned “Lost Battalion” (which was also on the setlist in Montreal), as well as a punishingly speedy “Night Witches”. Sabaton (minus the fiery touches) will be on tour, in North America, as the opening act for Trivium, come Sept/Oct.

In typical Spinal Tap hyperbole, “how can you top that?” Well, tonight, the answer is, you can't. So despite there being a few more late night performances, we listened to Testament (whom I'd seen at two festivals in the last month), from the suddenly quiet artist backstage, as we awaited our shuttle home.

Other Thursday notables: High Fighter, Omnium Gatherum, Cattle Decapitation, Equilibrium, Airbourne, Fear Factory, Swallow The Sun

More from Day 2 here.

FRIDAY - Day 3

Beginning a European tour, with their Summer Breeze debut, Queensrÿche offered a definitive festival set, offering predominately hits (remember, at a large gathering like this, some are fans, but most either casually know the biggest songs, or nothing at all, so don't plug the newest release). Up close, it was evident frontman Todd LaTorre was displaying his fandom of Testament (who he met the night before), sporting a pair of black sweatbands, with the Bay Area thrashers' logo, on each wrist. Nice to see “Operation Mindcrime” second, rather than held for effect. Instead, it was one or two from each of the first four releases, debut EP included (“Queen Of The Reich”). Michael Wilton (guitar, watch for interview, online soon) is afforded all of stage left, alone, the rest shoehorned into the other half. Despite the overcast, LaTorre donned dark sunglasses prior to “Empire”. Highlights included rousing “Best I Can”, “Take Hold Of The Flame” and “Eyes Of A Stranger” set ender.

In the artist area, pre-teens were playing hide & seek, oblivious to the stars around them, ducking under a foosball table, behind the bar, etc. Almost from the opening strains of “Yesterday Is Dead And Gone”, a sea of bodies beach themselves on the no man's land beyond the barricade, throughout the Arch Enemy performance. Say what you want about blue haired (with green tips) singer Alyssa White-Gluz, but she controls the stage masterfully, with some bigwigs by her side (guitar tandem Mike Amott/Jeff Loomis and bassist Sharlee D'Angelo). Plenty of fire to accompany already incendiary hymns like “Ravenous”, “My Apocalypse” and concluding “Nemesis”. Notable absence, “We Will Rise”, but it is a festival gig, not a headlining show, limited to an hour.

Sixth time seeing Carcass, since April, in three countries and four festivals (as well as a pair of US tours). Told of my seeming obsession, beforehand, bassist/frontman Jeff Walker jokingly countered, “No refunds!” None wanted, nor warranted, although the setlist hasn't wavered. Doesn't seem like his humor translated to the crowd though, falling on deaf ears. Plenty of smoke and strobes filled the big stage, as King of the bell bottom jeans, Bill Steer, churns out wicked riffs, one after the other. Walker is semi-tethered to the mic, a wind machine disheveling his stringy black mane. A career retrospective offering old school “Reek Of Putrefaction”, the more “refined” Carcass material, like closer “Heartwork” and “Blackstar”, plus ”Captive Bolt Pistol” and “A Congealed Clot Of Blood” off the most recent Surgical Steel disc. Can't believe they're making another North American tour, so if (somehow), you haven't seen them yet, check it out. I'll probably be there.

Like Carcass, have been fortunate enough to see Slayer three times since April, thus turned the reviewing reins (or is it Reigns?) over to uber-fan Metal Tim.

We it’s no secret that BraveWords has had an obvious bias towards Slayer, but the thrash legends truly put on a top-notch show at Summer Breeze, with an incredible mix of new and old, featuring no less than three Show No Mercy classics like the staples “The Antichrist” and “Black Magic, but the rarely heard “Fight ’Til Death”! With the intro of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck”, the crowd began chanting ‘Slayer, Slayer, Slayer’ in unison with Angus Young and Co.! That led immediately into the “Repentless” intro and the thrash frenzy commenced. The parade of Seasons In The Abyss (“Born Of Fire”, “War Ensemble” and “Seasons…”), South Of Heaven (“Mandatory Suicide”, “South…”) and Reign In Blood (“Postmortem”, “Raining Blood”) classics followed. But Kerry King and Gary Holt are taking this brotherhood bond to another level as they easily shred away these enduring Slayer riffs. Meanwhile Tom Araya appears to be in a better place in terms of comfort and fan interaction. And that flowing mane made a few circular motions despite his neck issues! “Angel Of Death” ended the show, quite fitting as always, given the territory and the atrocities that occurred during World War II.

After shooting a few Slayer pics, headed over to the tent, to catch a glimpse of Unleashed, who were on concurrently. Also one of Tim's faves, wanted to be able to cover the Swedes, at least a little bit. Center stage, foot on monitor, frontman/bassist Johnny Hedlund cuts an imposing figure, fronting the Viking obsessed death metallers for 25+ years now. “This Is Our World Now” is up early, on a stage bathed in reds, yellow and green. “To Asgard We Fly” is always welcome to these ears, as well as “Hammer Battalion” finale. Even a drum repair issue can't derail this juggernaut. Still crazy after all these years. Time for me to tap out, but Metal Tim parties long into the night, with Gary Holt and Kerry King.

Other Friday notables: Dying Fetus, Soilwork, Obscura, Mastodon, Moonsorrow, Satyricon, In The Woods

More from Day 3 here.

SATURDAY - Day 4

Today is forecast to be a complete washout, so fortune and surprise greet a cloudy, but dry mid-day, as Korpiklaani bring their metal hillbilly polka to the main stage. While they do offer a couple of slow-to-mid tempo songs, the reason they're part of the line-up is to intensify the party mood. The crowd claps along, from the intro tape. Despite their nationality, this is the embodiment of a Chinese fire drill, four musicians and singer zig-zagging between one another, playing infectious anthems that gets the huge crowd singing, dancing or crowd surfing (Finnish lyrics nix any sing-alongs, although the occasional English words are recited by everyone). Nearly impossible to stay idle, once the rhythms leave the accordion, fiddle, guitar, etc. Bearded bassist Jarkko Aaltonen would appear to be a lost member of Oak Ride Boys, playing barefoot throughout. At one point, the audience assembles a circle pit hootenanny, at the behest of dreadlocked frontman Jonne Järvelä. A trio of drinking songs (long their calling card) close the show (although sadly, “Happy Little Boozer” is not among them: “Wooden Pints”, “Vodka” and the German appropriate “Beer Beer”.

Under the Disneyland After Dark banner that's forbidden outside Europe, D.A.D. (as we know them over here) take the small Pain stage. Visually, they would appear to be in four different bands: top hat wearing guitarist Jacob Binzer, his formally attired brother Jesper (vocals/guitar), clear Lucite, two-string bassist Stig Pedersen, in Prussian military uniform and Laust Sonne, behind a minimalist five-piece drum kit. “Siamese Twins” is an early crowd favorite and for “Overmuch” Jesper gets off the stage and sings from the barricade. “Girl Nation” is another energetic ditty, but it's a long wait till closing one-two punch of “Jihad” and “Sleeping My Day Away”.

Little while later, Pain take the stage named for them, producer/Hypocrisy frontman/guitarist Peter Tagtgren in untied straight jacket. Might be a different disguise, but still the same old Peter, as witnessed backstage. For the “Same Old Song” opener, plenty (too much?) smoke and strobes greet the band, who have had a couple of hits in Europe that have failed to translate to North America. That said, there are plans for a foray onto this continent, in 2017. The industrial/techno laced, guitar driven material retains an infectious beat, on tracks like “Suicide machine” and more aggressive “Nailed To The Ground”. In the VIP area, they're watching the Olympic soccer finals on a laptop.

The passive aggressive neighboring farmer (who doesn't like the presence of a music festival) waits until the last day, when the wind is right, to spread fresh, pungent manure on his fields, that wafts over to (and gives new meaning to) Summer Breeze. The predicted rain finally materializes, teaming for a couple of hours. Luckily I was already ensconced under the tent stage, where screamo pioneers Napalm Death were the first of a British Isles triple play. Had just seen them in Montreal, but here Barney Greenway had the opportunity to try to win thousands more converts to his socio-political viewpoint. Between covers like a hardcore flavored Nirvana, for “Conform” (by Seige) and “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” (Dead Kennedys), there a historical commentary/ retrospective, with plenty of food for thought. Claiming to “bring the tone down,” in Barney's words, the gloomy, slow begun “Dear Slum Landlord”, is dedicated to “people trapped in slum housing, through no fault of their own. “Scum” sees the frontman is his familiar spasmodic motions, somewhere between shadow boxing and running in place. “Suffer The Children” is about religious intolerance, while “Hierarchies” challenges ones “place” in the world. Towards the conclusion, Greenway thanks the crowd for “Sticking around and enduring a bunch of old nasty noise.” To that end, before the departing “Adversarial/ Copulating Snakes”, the guitars squelch and feedback like something out of a Godzilla movie.

Outside the tent, a monsoon style rain continued to fall, as the half hour change-over eventually brings My Dying Bride onstage. Fittingly atmospheric, darkly lit, with swirls of white lights, Aaron Stainthorpe wears a white dress shirt and red tie, hands marked with henna designs as they open with the mighty “Your River”. Little in the way of communication, apart from a between song “thank you”, he does begin the 10+ minute “She Is The Dark” finale by mockingly referring to it as “romantic. If you are here with your lover, or someone you'd like to be your lover, turn to them and sing these fetching words.” The deep blue and purple lit “Feel The Misery” sees the crowd headbanging. During the yellow/red, keyboard augmented “The Cry Of Mankind” he genuflects, rolls around on the floor, feigns pain. For “To Shiver In Empty Halls” he'll kneel between, then lay upon the wedge monitors at the edge of the stage. Beautifully staged and impactful. 

Month ago, witnessed Primordial in the bright midday sun of Helsinki. This, however, was much more appropriate. Approaching midnight, a rain induced chill in the air and the tent obscuring light even further, apart from what shone above the stage. The torrent of weather subsided, those that weren't watching Katatonia began to fill the T-stage. Warming up backstage, AA Nemtheanga acknowledged my presence, as I took my place in the photo pit. “Where Greater Man Have Fallen” is a rousing opener, setting the mood for what will follow. The corpse-painted, rag-tag attired frontman wielding the mic stand like a blackthorn stick (Irish weaponry), seeking non-believers. Musically, “No Grave Deep Enough” offers telltale hints as to the band's origins, what with a bit of jig (not so) buried in its construction. “Babel's Tower” and “As Rome Burns” race by, the end of the festival (as I see it) too quickly approaching and fittingly concluded with “Empire Falls”. The Summer Breeze behemoth having succumbed to the clock and calendar, but with the knowledge that it will reconvene in a year's time. Hope to see you at Summer Breeze 2017: August 16-19. For more information on the festival, head to this location.

Other Saturday notables: Unearth, Skálmöld, Steel Panther, Blue Pills, Parkway Drive, Katatonia

More from Day 4 here.

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