Summer Breeze 2017 – Backstage Mysteries & Live Performances

August 25, 2017, 3 months ago

Mark Gromen

gallery heavy metal summer breeze

There will be dozens of photo galleries/reviews of the four day celebration for Summer Breeze's 20th Anniversary, and there will be some of that herein, as well, but a word of warning right from the start. Whatever may come across as boastful (or, conversely, complaining) is not intended as such, but just the observations of someone who has experienced more than 50 European festivals.

Most fans would “kill” to be backstage, heads filled with bewildering visions of drunk/drugged-out carnal depravities. In fact, saw more Bacchanalia and nudity in the crowd than the business-like atmosphere behind the well-guarded gates. Even though graciously authorized to be there, one must remember this is still the artists' “home”, thus no interrupting their discussions/meals. Even with relationships that go back decades, no barging into dressing rooms with request for autographs/selfies. Personally did plenty of glad handing and had short conversations with select journalists, label reps and musicians over the course of four days. Shared a short moment, often with beer in hand, with Schmier, Mille, Doro (why are German artists known by just one name?), all of Overkill and Night Demon, Esa Holopainen, Chris Amott, Ralf Scheepers, Johan Hegg and Janne Wirman. BraveWords head honcho “Metal” Tim Henderson, who did a handful of interviews on the premises, introduced me to countless others (including a strong contingent of Canadian artists), even hanging with Obituary, as they had an impromptu BBQ outside their tour bus.

Speaking of night liners, those homes away from home while on tour, rain and/or excessive heat keeps many a band onboard (as opposed to the converted steel shipping containers that serve as backstage dressing rooms). Rather than an inter-band free-for-all, the artist encampment see most musicos keep to themselves (or with their own band) rather than interact with similar minded artists. Not that they go out of their way to avoid their friends/competitors, but with the plethora of electronic diversions and creature comforts, like air conditioning, many spend most of their downtime on the bus. Then again, during European festival season, many of them have already been on the same bill, a couple of times. With about 14 hours of music scheduled each day, not everyone is backstage at the same time. Some bands need to leave, soon after performing, in order to make the next show. Others come in a day ahead of time and kick back.

A shuttle will drive the musicians to/from their bus or dressing room, to the stage. There's a tented bar and dining area, artists provided with a digital card enabling limited freebies, from either. The most impressive structure however, is the heated, running water/flush toilets that have an automated entrance. Like the original Star Trek series, upon approaching, they glide open with a “swish” sound. In the middle of what is otherwise a farm field, amazing technology.

Overall, a rather tame scene, but still plenty to do. Unwittingly Metal Tim and I seemingly annually engage in a bizarre, self-imposed version of a Survivor type competition, where it seems necessary to ingest gallons of beer, walk miles around the grounds, then deprive oneself of sleep and food. Of the four days on site, three of them we ate nothing or only a single piece of fruit (Tim) or a Bavarian bretzel (soft pretzel, me). Crazy, but so many priorities, yet limited time! The odd foreign band, playing Summer Breeze as an exclusive, is allowed to hang out backstage each day (which makes for some drunken prattle, day after day), but generally, the things to be seen/heard and discussed happen onstage, so let's focus on what most come to Summer Breeze for, live music.

WEDNESDAY
The nearest town to Summer Breeze is picturesque Dinkelsbuhl, spared Allied bombing in WWII (which demonstrates how far away from ANYTHING this festival is located), the original architecture and cobblestone streets a tourist destination in itself. The nearest train station (Ellwangen) is a half hour cab ride. However, there are shuttle buses from both locations, right to the front gates of the campground. The one from Dinkelsbuhl serves as a supply line for the campers, regularly heading into town for food/beer, etc. Since the 20 minute ride is free, it's very popular. Boarding the bus, across the street from the Edeka supermarket, a circuitous route leaves us off in front of security. Despite the recent terror attacks, there's not a noticeable changes from last year. Bags are surveyed and police are visible on the grounds, but that's a constant at any Euro fest.

By Wednesday, not everyone has arrived yet and not every vendor is open. While not labeled a warm-up show, there's only performances on two stages: the smallest Camel cigarette sponsored, club-sized stage and the T stage. This year, organizers wisely decided to combine the two largest venues into a single stage (now christened Summer Breeze), which includes a turntable design that facilitates construction of the next band's set-up, while another is playing. Once Band #1 is finished, push a button and the electronic turntable rotates 180 degrees (like the revolving bookcase in Abbot & Costello or Young Frankenstein movies: “Put the candle back!”) revealing a ready stage for Band #2, while the crew deconstructs Band #1 and readies for Band #3. German efficiency. That arena, adorned with winged gargoyles and spewed bursts of fire, is never part of Wednesday.

The T-stage was the main portal today, for a couple of reasons. Namely, the line-up was not announced beforehand, as it was an evening dedicated to former managing partner, Michael Trengert (the T, in T Stage), who succumbed to cancer years ago. On this, the 20th Anniversary, organizers opted to showcase bands who Tengert liked, aided and championed. However, first there was the matter of this rising band from Ventura, California, over on the Camel stage, aka Night Demon.

The hard working trio are perpetually on the road (recently awarded the Accept winter tour in Europe, with rumors of bigger names, to follow) and delivered a greatest hits package, rounded off with a cover of Iron Maiden's “Wasted Years”. Maiden, at a festival, where most are seeing/hearing you for the first time, is a winning proposition. Jarvis, Dusty and Armand all wore matching pendants, the new symbol first seen in the “Welcome To The Night” video. Only after that vid-track, “Full Speed Ahead”, Hallowed Ground” and “Ritual” did they get a breather, and that was just the prerecorded intro to “The Howling Man”. Current vinyl single (and separate T-shirt design) “Black Widow” sees Armand tapping/hammering on the fretboard. “Screams In The Night” has a lone strobe blinking away, in late afternoon sunlight, seemingly more apt to fail than bassist/singer Jarvis Leatherby's perpetual headbang. Another respite, as the eerie organ music presages the arrival of Rocky, the hooded/robed mascot brandishing “The Chalice” namesake. More converts won!

Rest of the evening was spend between artist encampment and the T-stage, made possible by a dusty loop of hard pan (not really paved) roads that, even when wet, make for solid footing. After sticking my head in, to hear a couple of songs from Vomitory, it was In Extremo who (like Amon Amrth, would play a separate gig, the following evening) next piqued my interest. Long a fan of this uniquely Teutonic sound, going back to their '99 Verehrt Und Angespien release and US appearance at the March Metal Meltdown, the next year. A pair of pipers, hurdy gurdy player and traditional electrified rock instruments play an eclectic, albeit spirited mix of bouncy medieval folk, in the Germanic tongue. Tonight, they basically played in street clothes, as opposed to their outlandish costumes and visual effects. There are similar sounding bands in the country, but this is the one to check out first. Due to conversations backstage, missed another chance to see Powerwolf, but then we'll reconvene in December.

Amon Amarth head Viking, Johan Hegg had earlier in the day tipped me off that today's set would be “All the stuff we don't usually play”, while the next day's set would be the typical tour/festival material. Made sure to see the initial offering, beginning with “Twilight Of The Thunder God”, the stage, as on last North American trek, featured a dragon headed longboat, stairs either side, allowing burly Hegg or guitarists to climb on/off the stationary sailing platform, at will. The sky now blackened, the stage lighting looked like a war zone, crisscrossing tracer fire, blitzkrieg of strobes and hefty amounts of stage fog/smoke. Predominately culled from two of my favorite AA albums: Oden (four tracks) and Twilight (four songs), this was truly a set to remember. “With Oden On Our Side” and green tinted “Valhalla Awaits Me” were up soon after, everything visible, close-up, courtesy of the jumbotron to the side of the stage. Nothing from the current album, nor, believe it or not, Deceiver Of The Gods. Old school all the way. Blue hued “Gods Of War Arise” sees Hegg in the bow of the boat, as plumes of fog invade from either side. Good to hear “Fate Of Norms”, back in the set, even if just for one night, ditto “Live For The Kill”. No “Death In Fire” tonight (reserved for tomorrow), but closing duties reserved for “Victorious March”, which often appeared next-to-last anyway, back in the early days. Know lots of pro-shot video (courtesy of Rockpalast) has already been made available online. Have to think this one was archived, for future paid release. Definitely worth it!

Unbelievably, all the T-stage bands were kept under wraps until people arrived in Dinkelsbuhl. Some only found out upon buying the one Euro program, which gives a short profile of each group. Final band of the night, although there'd be post-game revelry (raiding the band's beer cooler, before being in the last vehicle out of the backstage area, production locked up and gone home!) was Destruction. Certainly the high point of the weekend for Schmier, who the next night tripped over a black guide wire holding down an awning, only to dislocate his shoulder! Much like the Swedes who preceded them onstage, this was a smoky strobe-lit event, Schmier moving between the trio of mics lined across the stage, as Mike Sifringer showcased wailing guitar, the two occasional meeting center stage. After an opening “Curse The Gods”, multiple flame cannons threatened to scorch the shed's roof, during “Nailed To The Cross”. Heard both “Butchers” as well, with Schmier's punctuating yelps on “Mad Butcher”. Other than “Dethroned” and “Second To None”, both off last year's Under Attack, it was The Antichrist album or earlier, including “Total Desaster”. Sort of surprised they didn't do more off Infernal Overkill, (“Antichrist” and set closing “Bestial Invasion”) as the album just received a 13 page retrospective from their countrymen at Deaf Forever magazine. Busy day, and we're just getting started.

Day 1 photos.

THURSDAY
Although there were to be twice as many acts performing today, the first real must-see band of the day was Obituary, with whom we'd hung out the night before, as the Floridians had arrived a day early. Tim went onstage, to shoot behind the band, as I manned the photo pit, which is virtually at eye level with the onstage talent (only have to dodge a human pulled trolley, with camera-woman shooting video for the video screens either side of the Summer Breeze stage. Extremely long haired singer, John Tardy paced in circles during much of “Turned Inside Out”, frequently venturing back to his brother Donald, on drums. Bearded madman/guitarist Trevor Peres shook his sizable mane (dwarfed only by Tardy's) controlling stage right. “Chopped In Half” was aired early, followed by “Visions In My head”. From the eponymous album from earlier this year, “Sentence Day” and “A Lesson In Vengeance” appeared back-to-back, just like on record, albeit with a bit more brutality. Showing the reach of the Internet, concluded with new, non-album track, “No”, which appeared as a flexi-disc in a US magazine. So how did so many overseas fans hear it? Isn't technology wonderful?

Polish death metallers Decapitated were on their way to North America, so you might have already seen them live by the time this is online. Singer Rafal Piotrowski sports ankle length dreadlocks and founder/guitarist Waclaw “Vogg” Kieltyka looks so unassuming. Don't let images fool you, as he's the creative force behind the new Anticult, barely a month old when playing Dinkelsbuhl, but Decap opened with “Deathvaluation” anyway, followed by “Kill The Cult”, as it does on the CD. Half the album comprised half the live set today. Medusa would be proud of the action in the frontman's hair, strands flying wildly as he snapped his neck back n forth. During “Day 69” there was so much smoke, not only were the band obscured, but from afar, it looked like the stage was on fire! Oldest cut offered was “Spheres Of Madness”, about the same age (15) as many in the audience. There's a large contingent of younger fans in the approximately 40,000 Summer Breeze attendees and while we certainly don't all see the scene in the same way, they're the future of a successful festival longevity.

Moonspell was on tap for a special acoustic show in the unofficial (heavily restricted admittance) campsite stage, but it overlapped with Devin Townsend on the main stage and (as a Canadian entity) BraveWords was the first international metal publication to put his face on the cover, guess where allegiances lay? With his Jeffrey Tambor meets Elmer Fudd looks, dressed in black, makes an unlikely “rock star” as he so eloquently put it, upon taking the stage, “Hey all you ugly bastards. We're sexually repressed Canadians, gonna play prog metal for you and make your afternoon incredibly awkward” He rips on himself, the audience and conventional metal attitudes. During the “Rejoice” opener he wisecracked, “All my typical heavy metal banter and crowd participation bullshit, whoever does it the cheesiest, gets a t-shirt. Psyche, fuck-you!” All the while, he makes facial contortions that would be lost beyond the first couple of rows, if not for the giant monitors. It's kooky and people eat it up. Later, (unfortunately) after most of the photographers have left the pit, he brings out his secret weapon, ex-Gathering/current Vuur chanteuse Anneke van Giersbergen.

Not knowing, prior to arriving on site, that I'd see both, a day earlier, on the more intimate T-stage, had originally planned to see In Extremo (1000th career gig) and Amon Amarth (employing the helmet stage set-up, instead of the longboat, for their second show, which featured a Doro guest appearance), thus it turned out Megadeth were the final band to review, a 90 minute headlining set (just like the last North America tour), although could still hear portions of other sets, hanging back at artist central. Utilizing technology, there's something on the video wall behind the band, even before they take the stage, what with the opening animated sequence constructing the Megadeth logo. For the elder statesmen of thrash (aka Big 4), who do (or in the case of Slayer's Tom Araya, must) stay stationary, the visual emphasis is a plus. “Hangar 18” is a stirring opener. CO2 spurts are launched vertically during “The Threat Is Real”, with violent images onscreen. Old school pairing “Wake Up Dead” segues seamlessly into blue/green lit “In My Darkest Hour”. The strobes keep time/accentuate the drums on “Sweating Bullets”, which ends with unlit stage. Kiko Loureiro is alone, his electric guitar slung over his shoulder, a pole mounted acoustic in front of him, for his solo that ultimately leads into “Conquer Or Die”. Mid-section of the show bogs down a bit, concentrating on the mid-late 90s material, before coming around for a glorious final run: lightning and spirling vortex overhead as band chug through “Tornado Of Souls” (Loureiro taking the lead), crowd sung “Peace Sells”, geo-political images interspersed with orchestra for “Symphony Of Destruction and military actions depicted onscreen as Dave Mustaine introduces the “Holy Wars (Punishment Due)” finale, capping Day 2.

Day 2 photos.

FRIDAY
No pun intended, but nothing puts a damper on a festival like rain. Sure, there's a small contingent, so far gone that they enjoy stomping, sloshing, even diving into the mud, at the expense of all around them. Although the sun was blazing, from the moment we stepped foot on the grounds, just passed the security entrance, a loudspeaker was blaring a warning of impending doom. In English & Deutsche, the speaker explained the threat of bad weather, instructing what to do and where to go, should an evacuation become necessary. Happy days! As a precaution, banners, posters and protective sheeting were removed, least they become airborne projectiles. Fans, VIPs and artists all duck for shaded cover all afternoon (present sun worshiping metalhead excepted). Such was the backdrop, as black clouds rolled in on a persistent, ever cooling breeze. Caught the last half hour of Sonata Arctica, Tony Kakko in red tee and ripped jeans and fog billowed from the main stage. They were just one of many Suomi acts scheduled (dubbed Finnish Friday), alongside Battle Beast, Amorphis, Wintersun, Children of Bodom and Shiraz Lane.

Epica brought the heat, courtesy of multiple fire cannons, repeated and often, throughout their set. Beginning with fire dominated “Edge Of The Blade”, Simone Simons is one of the most beautiful women in music, so when I say her silver, reflective eye shadow and heavy make-up recalled Marilyn Manson, that's not a good look. Founder/guitarist Mark Jansen seemed in good spirits, injecting his death metal voice in opposition to Simons' trilling operatics. Interesting stage set-up, with tier either side of the drummer and keyboards on wheels, so they could alternate position, from left to right tier, for different songs. But make no mistake Simone is the calling card, visually and aurally. “The Essence Of Silence” sees Simmons leave her center stage S-shaped mic stand to united with Jansen. The latter half seemed to emphasize the heavier material, ultimately ending with mammoth title track from Consign To Oblivion, complete with their variation on the Wall Of Death. Who said female fronted power metal is soft?

Trekked the quarter of a mile to T-stage, set to see Crowbar and the return of bassist “Sexy T” aka Todd Strange. As the band fiddled around with an impromptu line check, prior to their 6:15 start time, drops began to fall from the sky. My apologies to the NOLA guys, as electronics don't like water, so keeping my camera safe became the priority. For most of the next four hours, the deluge fell, knocking the temperature by at least 20 degrees, then sunset. Thankfully we had an invitation from the promoter, for a sit-down, 3-course catered meal, by a German TV chef, during a portion of the storm. That meant we would have missed COB anyway (besides, they'll be in North America soon) and the weather cooperated (albeit significantly colder, i.e. long sleeves/hoodies), in time to see Kreator.

Hard to believe, given the unflinching conviction, but Mille Petrozza has crafted his outfit into a certified headliner, this being the third different festival (and multiple times at some) witnessing Kreator at the top of the bill: Wacken, Bang Your Head, now Summer Breeze. Impressive. Like the aforementioned American thrash contemporaries, the Germans have opted for visual accompaniment to their brutal assault. Rather than a single video wall, instead, they've incorporated smaller panels (made to look like stained glass windows), within a desecrated temple, with toppled crucifix. These are best utilized in “Fallen Brother”, when one headshot of departed metalheads: Dio, Lemmy, Dimebag, Bon Scott, Chuck Schuldiner, etc. materializes in each pane. From photographic point of view, the reds and deep blue/purple are less than optimal, as Petrozza stands center stage, screaming up into an overhead mic, ala Lemmy. Almost from word go, the crowd is a churning swirl of madness, even without the calls for circle pits. Simple, but effective, the bouncy call and response rhythm of “Phobia”. The Ramones would have killed for a similar riff. Ditto “People Of the Lie”. Petrozza rarely addresses the throng and short prerecorded bits give the guys onstage a brief rest. Rare green lights and smoke eruption to begin “Gods Of Violence”, where he later put down his guitar and picked up a C02 spewing machine gun, spraying it around the stage.

At one point, crept across the muddy infield, at times like skating on ice, to check out a few songs from Germany's traditional minded Gloryful, on the Camel stage, before returning to heavier sounds. Good to see blue lit “Enemy Of God” still in the set. A double shot of new album, blazing “World War Now” and another infectious gem “Hail To The Hordes” (with grim cartoon images in the aforementioned windows) precedes the expected old school finale: “extreme Aggression”, “Violent Revolution (OK, from the reformation, but signaled Kreator was back) and strobe frenzied “Pleasure To Kill” finale. Even without “Flag Of Hate” (perhaps now is not the right time?), a major triumph!

Day 3 photos

SATURDAY
We left a cold, wet quagmire, so envisioning the worst, there was no reason to go running back to the field, Saturday. Actually, Primal Fear were a main attraction, but almost impossible to get there in time, from out of town. Otherwise, little of interest, until Overkill, late in the running order. Arriving on site, lo and behold, not only was the moisture gone, but the surface had completely drained. Unlike the rut strewn walkways at other fests, could barely tell any difference than either of the first two days, when there was no precipitation. Rain or shine is not much of a threat, at Summer Breeze!

Waiting for Overkill to go on, witnessed one of the strangest displays. Unlike In Extremo, which I “get”, here was Knorkator, another German language band, lead singer was shirtless, in pink latex hot pants. Their fanbase was massive, as wave upon wave of crowd surfers (at times, several lines, a half dozen deep) breached the barricade, like the Allies at Normandy. Most were in some sort of costume and under 20 years old. In relative minutes, saw people dressed as Batman, a cow, panda (complete with mascot style head). When the New Jersey thrashers eventually took the Summer Breeze stage (for the first time in their career), beneath a Grinding Wheel artwork backdrop, it was top gear right away, leading with “Mean Green Killing Machine”. The false ending for “Rotten To The Core” was met by slowly spewing CO2 eruptions across the front of the stage. Three Marshall Stacks for Dave Linsk, a matching trio of Engels for Derek Tailer, either side of new drummer Jason Bittner (ex-Shadows Fall). Plenty of smoke for “Hello From The Gutter”, while audience sung “In Union We Stand” sees Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth with left foot atop the front wedge monitor. “I Hate” was a bit of a surprise, as was “Electro-Violence”. “Elimination” and bassist DD Verni begun “Fuck You” close things out, as usual, however both are complete, separate songs, with a bit of banter in between. I don't care what you say, Overkill always deliver.

Know there's been a lot of changes in the Dark Tranquillity camp over the last few years, but still surprised to see Chris Amott (ex-Arch Enemy/Armageddon) on guitar. Later confirmed he's been in the band for a year, but live shows only since March. Mainstay/singer Michael Stanne ran to the barricade, to sing with the fans, during the opening “Force Of Hand”. The setlist tended to fluctuate between stuff off last year's Atoma (or its Construct predecessor) and Dark Chestnuts, like “The Lesser Faith”, “Treason Wall”, about critical thinking, and “Monochromatic Stains”. However Stanne's comment, “We know metal crowds, trust me. This might be the best gathering of metalheads we've ever seen,” rings a little inconsiderate. Regardless, he had the crowd's support, especially on the “Misery's Crown” finale, where Stanne not only returned to the barricade, but crowd surfed, while singing. Nice.

Rare chance to see Asphyx (whom Tim interviewed, pre-show), the Dutch offering a mix of old (going back to the debut, with “Vermin” and “The Rack” title cut), as well as newbie “Wardroid”. After many like-minded outfits, well-traveled frontman Martin van Drueen seems to thriving herein. The stage was dark, or red for most of the pummeling.

Tiamat were the crowning glory on a great weekend. Sure, there were other bands after them and Korn (yes, THAT band) were on the main stage simultaneously, but for me (in part because of low expectations and ultimately, what I heard), nothing better. A huge fans of the Swedes' early ‘90s platters, last saw Johan Edlund and Tiamat at Rock Machina, in Spain, back in 2002, when he was playing a different style. Do my ears deceive me? Opening strains of “Wildhoney” spill from the speakers, as the cowboy hat wearing frontman/guitarist strolls to the mic, a stand with a book of lyrics, by his side. The staccato, baritone monotone delivery is not for everyone, but it perfectly fits these atmospheric death/doom classics. Unannounced (at least to my sensibilities), proceeded to play that classic album, in its entirety, start to finish, adding “The Sleeping Beauty” as an encore. Wow! For “Gaia” Edlund returned wearing ablack, floor length duster and was joined by former members, including current Dark Tranquillity bassist Anders Iwers (still in same stage clothes from earlier). Amazing.

Day 4 photos.

Tickets are already on sale for 2018, when Summer Breeze will reconvene August 15th-18th. Hope to see you there.

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