Summer Breeze 2019 – Great Expectations…Fulfilled

August 27, 2019, 3 months ago

Mark Gromen with "Metal" Tim Henderson and Sephora Henderson

gallery heavy metal summer breeze

While individually big fans/supporters of southern Germany's largest metal festival, BraveWords also plays a small part in helping sustain interest in Summer Breeze. With something approaching 120 bands on display, over the course of the main event (and Wednesday bonus, exclusively for those that purchased a three-day ticket), there's truly something for every metallic taste. It would be impossible to accurately chronicle all that takes place across the trio of stages: Main, T and Wera Tool sponsored venue (not to mention a couple of smaller places, out in the campground), so we'll focus on those that have personal significance, past relevance to the mag/website and/or what was witnessed, live. Needless to say, in the scope of things, it's incomplete and may not include your favorite(s). Sorry.

For the first time in over 50 overseas concerts experiences, I was battling a blockage in my left ear, backstage conversations and onstage performances were relegated from stereo, to mono. No worries. This wasn't some dainty classical orchestration with a lot of soft subtleties! The last few years, Wednesday has been a Nuclear Blast showcase. While the food/merch vendors on the infield are open for business, about half the festival area, including the huge main stage (with its 15 minute set changes, thanks to a rotating turntable that facilitates setting up one band, while another plays and a third is being broken down/packed up) is closed off. The big name action takes place on the T-Stage, named for former Summer Breeze/Metal Blade honcho Michael Trengert, who passed away in '13. First notables were Death Angel, singer Mark Osegueda jumping off the drum riser to christen the extended weekend. “Thrown To The Wolves” opens, Rob Cavestany, stage right, in wide stance, seeming ready for combat, but armed only with guitar, content to churn out riff after riff. Everyone moves about the stage for “Claws In So Deep”. After a chugging build-up, again courtesy of the splay legged Cavestany, it's the old school “Voracious Souls”. Plenty of feet up on the stage-front wedge monitors, as they play, especially fellow guitarist Teddy Aguilar. Whether it's late arrivals or just recognition of newer material, the crowd surfers begin, in earnest, come “The Moth” and continues during the vicious “Dream Calls For Blood”. A teasing snippet of “The Ultra-Violence” (the only other classic, first three album track aired) segues into “The Pack” before title track from the new Humanicide closes an all too quick set. In the artists' village afterwards, the guys confirmed they'll be back on tour in North America this fall.

Speaking of backstage, prior to Soilwork, the BraveWords team caught up with Bjorn “Speed” Strid and discussed touring two bands simultaneously: this and The Night Flight Orchestra. The friendly frontman enjoys both, but on the rare occasion when he has to perform both, on the same day (as happened at a pair of festivals this summer), he worried about forgetting the lyrics. Old school favorite “Like The Average Stalker”, the oldest tune offered, was up second. Alongside “Stabbing The Drama” and a trio from this year's Verkligheten, demonstrate the Swedes are still in fine form. As is Hypocrisy, having run into Hedlund, Horgh and Tagtgren, separately, prior to the show.

It’s the second time in less than a year that BraveWords has witnessed the genius of these Swedish legends and the Summer Breeze faithful packed the T-Stage as the band paraded through their death-defying catalog with highlights including opener “Fractured Millennium”, “Carved Up”, “The Final Chapter” and the classic merger trio of “Pleasure of Molestation”, Osculum Obscenum” and “Penetralia”. Although there was no audio tidbit from their long-awaited new studio album due out early next year, Hypocrisy’s sonic escape is truly unparalleled as Tägtgren’s starring gaze, monumental riffs and lungs from hell permeated the vast farmlands just outside of Dinkelsbühl. Give the planet’s fascination with extraterrestrials, it’s no surprise that 1996’s Abducted still remains a fan favourite, so when the haunting voices from the Rendlesham Forest incident (1980 UFO sightings in Suffolk, UK) smash mightily into "Roswell 47" the frenzied finale begins. During purple lit “End Of Disclosure”, which mainman Peter Tagtgren coyly described as “from the new album” (even if it's six years old), the guitarist stomped across the stage, from right to left. Later, in a moment just not seen at festivals, a zealous fan somehow made it onstage, before he was hustled off by a stagehand. The Wednesday lineup was only accessible if they bought a pass for the full three days, so not everyone had this rare opportunity.

While Enslaved were still to play, and having seen them perform the entirety of Frost (back in April), went to discover what was happening on the smallest stage. Speaking of frost, with the sun down, the nighttime temperatures plummeted. People looked cold (if not miserable), especially the workers, who signed up/volunteered for the mid-August date, undoubtedly expecting some warmth. Instead they were bundled up, like was late November. First up, Cleveland, Ohio's Midnight. In virtual darkness, bullet belt slung over his shoulder, hooded bassist/frontman Athenar & Co. tore through favorites like “All Hail Hell”, “Evil Like A Knife” and “Satanic Royalty”. Commandor Vanik jump split and rolled around the stage as the trio gave, “the white trash something harder; death rock n roll.” Lastly, starting at half past midnight (ironic timing, given the running order) was my most eagerly anticipated band of the day: Evil Invaders. Can't wait for the live album/DVD, especially after seeing Joe (he of the angular mutton chops + sleeveless Feed Me Violence t-shirt) and the boys lay waste to the minuscule stage. Fog covered the band, most of the time, a dangerous proposition given the knife blade encrusted mic stands. In fact, during the intro tape, the logo, on the backing vocal stands, actually rotated into place, a slow moving, but still potentially lethal, circular motion cut (pun intended) by wielding daggers. “Pulses Of Pleasure” ended with a punctuation of compressed CO2 canisters erupting. Meanwhile “Mental Penitentiary” was accompanied by flashing lights galore. Speed metal as it should be!

Additional Day 1 photos here.

DAY 2

While there were other worthy acts, by consensus of the BraveWords team, Testament were the first must-see band of the day. Similar to the hits laden set witnessed five weeks earlier, in Norway, Chuck Billy and Co. name-checked a couple of recent title tracks to start/end (i.e. “Brotherhood Of The Snake” and “Formation Of Damnation”, respectively), but otherwise appeased the massive, main stage audience with back catalog gems. Top to bottom, there isn't a more world class talented outfit, what with Gene Hoglan behind the kit, bassist Steve DiGiorgio and Alex Skolnick's wizardry on guitar. Since his health scare, Chuck Billy seemingly gives it his all, every show, a bellowing roar from the gentle giant, especially on the likes of “D.N.R.” and “Low”. The refrain of “Practice What You Preach” sounds less a friendly suggestion than a direct command, when delivered by the Chief. The debut's “Over The Wall” (there were many a barricade crasher, during the set) and a trio off The New Order (including the title cut) keep the old-timers happy. Wish more legacy (pun intended) acts would do something similar, i.e. remember the old days and those who got you there. Soapbox moment concluded.

In Flames and Avantasia were the two biggest names of the day. Take your pick as to whom to call the headliner, as both dominated the top line of the roster poster and commemorative t-shirts, although a line below the likes of Parkway Drive and Bullet For My Valentine. I kid you not. As if my deaf ear wasn't enough of a hassle, inexplicably lost auto-focus on my camera lens, by Day 2. Luckily I grew up before digital photography and can focus/frame photos like there was just a precious roll of 36 exposures in my film camera. Thus I might not have as many shots as I wanted, but at least was still able to capture a gallery, each of the remaining days.

Ran into In Flames at Tons Of Rock, in Oslo, five weeks earlier. With only minor changes, this was the same running order. “Pinball Map”, one of the oldest selections, is up early. By red lit “Where The Dead Ship Dwells”, Anders Friden singing from a crouch, implores the sizable crowd (if you thought the Testament throng was massive, well guess again!) to “go wild.” Cue crowd surfing flotilla, as Bjorn Gelotte is spotlighted, with his white guitar. He and Chris Broderick (Megadeth, Jag Panzer, Nevermore) switch sides of the stage. Speaking of crowd surfers, never seen this spectacle before. After each main stage act, the security guards huddle around a collection of wallets/cellphones, as those dispossessed clamor/beg for return of their valuables. The guards do their best, looking for IDs, licenses, train passes, anything to identify the rightful owner, waiting anxiously against the rail. Occasionally there's a positive match, reuniting a fan with their lost possession. Note to kids: crowd surf only with what you can afford to lose! “Colony” was the lone bone tossed us old dogs, although “Cloud Connected” is still part of the evening, ultimately concluding (rather aptly) with “The End”.

From humble beginnings as a star studded guest project, Tobias Sammet has all but forgotten about Edguy in favor of the more sophisticated, prog leaning money maker called Avantasia. Mainstays Bob Catley (Magnum) and hoarse crooner Jorn Lande (who handles the bulk of the non-Tobi lyrics) are once again part of the fold, alongside Geoff Tate and Eric Martin (Mr. Big). Musician turned producer Sascha Paeth is on guitar and a three-piece choir (two female, one male) flush out each song. As I mentioned in my Bang Your Head review, a month back, the stage looks like a fanciful scene from Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas. “Book Of Shadows” is followed by “The Scarecrow”, the short sleeved Jorn displaying hearty Norwegian stock, will the rest shiver in jackets. Tate and Martin join Tobi on “Twisted Mind”, the creator retreating to a platform atop the drummer, as the other two take over. When he returns, Sammet directs the crowd to swing/sway arms overhead. Finally, it's all hands (voices?) on deck for the “Sign Of The Cross / The Seven Angels” finale.

During Avantasia, snuck off to catch a glimpse of Deicide, black metal being the antithesis of what was on the main stage. There's something apropos about Glen Benton penning a track called “Scars Of The Crucifix”, having branded himself with said icon. “When Satan Rules His World” was lit solely in deep crimson. Vocally, Benton not only employs the requisite guttural intonations, but a higher pitched, wild hillbilly yelp. For diehards, Deicide proceeded to turn that cross upside-down with a parade of blasphemies dating back to their self-titled debut. “Dead By Dawn” led the charge with “Once Upon the Cross”, “Dead But Dreaming”, “Serpents Of The Light” and “Sacrificial Suicide” nailing every fan to the cross with precision and power. Benton, the devil incarnate himself, is such a dominating figure on stage as he pounds his ESP and gurgles phrases from hell. The only nail in this coffin is the overlooked album The Stench Of Redemption (featuring the late Ralph Santola), as “Homage for Satan” was the only nugget performed. But Benton and Co. managed to brand everybody in the crowd with a blackened feast. Earlier in the day, Glen Benton was own personalized BraveWords hockey jersey. Ever see the devil himself smile? That's what the Floridian death metal legend looked like receiving his gift!

More photos from Day 2 here.

DAY 3
Airbourne came to play, with 6x6 Marshall stacks, either side of the drummer. Bare chested and wet haired frontman/guitarist Joel O'Keeffe had a hole in his black jeans, probably from the constantly bobbing left knee, as he played. Kicking off with “Ready To Rock” wasn't just a song, but a declaration of his intent, for the next 75 minutes. Joel certainly learned stage antics at the feet of fellow Aussie, Angus Young (AC/DC), from his skipping across the stage, jumping off drum riser and carefree, guitar playing demeanor. Truthfully all the music is cut from the same Down Under cloth. “Boneshaker” was another appropriate title, given the thumping bass and booty shaking rhythm. “Girls In Black” also hit a nerve, no nonsense songs about booze, women and rock (at least three tracks aired had the word “rock” in the title). Like me, if you've been disappointed by the last couple of AC/DC albums, might want to give the likes of “Raise The Flag” or raucous set ender “Runnin' Wild” (not a Judas Priest tune) a try. Fun, turn-it-up, three chord barroom boogie, party anthems suitable for any occasion.

Thought the staging for the Philadelphia-recorded King Diamond DVD was elaborate... Well this time around the master of macabre constructed a three tier mental ward (didn't know the forthcoming album was entitled The Institute, as I laid eyes on the set-up, in Dinkelsbuhl) in which to play. Tonight was the final concert of the European run. A hooded minion wheels King out of cell #9, on a stretcher, IV bag dangling above the laying, and seemingly comatose, patient. Left alone, he springs to life, as the rest of the band appears for “The Candle”. He throws the electric switch and picks up his crossbones mic off the wall. A backing female vocalist stays on the second tier, stage right, throughout. Six goblets of water descend the stage left staircase. King walks up to the top tier, holding his bone mic aloft and works his way back down the stairs, singing at each landing. Between songs, when someone in the audience mimics his trademark falsetto, he spins on his heels, points in the direction of the noise and licks his lips! Blue lit “Voodoo” has Jodi (who also plays Grandma) as an entranced victim. Andy LaRoque is alone, stage left (occasionally visited by the King), while guitar pal Mike Wead (who will be part of next year's Mercyful Fate dates, in place of Michael Denner) is on the opposite side. The crowd erupts as pallbearers carry a small white casket, emblazoned with “Abigail” across the side. The knife wielding frontman produces a doll from the tomb. Eventually King skewers the tyke. Cue “Arrival”.

Red lit “A Mansion In Darkness” (also off the Abigail album) follows. “Behind These Walls” sees a nun preparing a potion. “Halloween” is the first true sing-along, although the fans have pretty much known all the lyrics, thus far. That changes with “Masquerade Of Madness” a glimpse of the forthcoming album. During the pink/purple hued newbie, King escorts a girl from the hospital bed on the second floor, down the stairs and locks her away in cell #9. Upon completion, the stage goes dark, as the “Out Of The Asylum” narrative blasts from the speakers. When the lights go up, there's Grandma, in her chair, for “Welcome Home”. The make-up wearing singer pushes the geriatric’s wheelchair, eventually she rises and with the use of a cane ambles across the stage. For speedy, blue lit “The Invisible Guests” King lets the falsetto fly. “Sleepless Nights” is next. Unlike the last tour, there's no Mercyful Fate tracks on display, although blue lit “The Lake” is a bit of a rarity, off the debut. It sees a crucifix carrying nun chasted (pun intended) from the stage. Falsetto heavy “Burn” sees white dress wearing female on the second tier, vainly trying to extinguish the imaginary flames (although there is smoke) that will engulf her. King slowly ascends the staircase and after she disappears, he sings from where she once stood. Galloping “Black Horsemen” brings a magical night to a close. Even if it's exactly the same performance, can't wait to see the North American dates. What a show!

Parkway Drive, as the overall festival headliner, apparently waded through the crowd, with electric candlesticks, on their way to the stage. A dramatic entrance (for sure), but ate value time off the clock. With their lofty status, the stage manager simply let them run over their allotted time, rather than cut the power. They used fireworks and blew giant flames from the top of the stage supports. All the while, a crowd surfing invasion force, rivaling the D-Day beaches of Normandy, repeatedly swelled on the overwhelmed and overworked security guards. The guys in chartreuse shirts and safety vests earned their pay on that one, but did their job admirable and with little in the way of antagonism or rough handling you see at some shows. Hats off, for what had to be a frustrating and tiring evening.

Onstage, a half hour later than scheduled, no matter, still a sea of humanity awaiting HammerFall. Ominous voiceover and deep blue lights greet “Legion”, photographers kept from the pit until after an initial eruption of four flames, across the stage. Guess security forgot about the repeated plumes throughout the rest of the song, while we were there! On a two level stage, Oscar Dronjak and guitar partner Pontus Norgren offer backing vocals to Joacim Cans. “Hammer High”, in addition to a sing along, features Dronjak on a replica of Thor's hammer. While Cans ventures to the wings, there's three across the front; synchronized stage movements/headbanging from the stringed musicians. Fast hitting “Renegade” is lit in green, as the guitarists switch sides. Blue bathed “Riders Of The Storm' sees multiple CO2 canisters erupt, as the band pogo up and down. “True German heavy metal, from Sweden,” as Cans calls it. More synchro-moves. Sort of a lull, mid-concert, with less than stellar song selection. Mellow, mid-tempo “Blood Bound” was never one of my favorites, but stood out here, thanks in part to nearly acoustic intro, almost constant “steam” eruptions and white lights piercing a veil of red, as Norgren gives a string bending exhibition, center stage.

More multiple pyro bursts and twin leads on “Any Means Necessary”. Spotlit Dronjak gets things pumping again, with strobe laden “Hector's Hymn”. Proper set concludes with “Let The Hammer Fall”, the lone offering from either of the first two albums. Dronjak back on the hammer shaped axe, of course. The encore is pure cheese, as only HammerFall can get away with, beginning with “Templars Of Steel”. From the new Dominion album (released the day they played!), “(We Make) Sweden Rock” was written for the festival of the same name and “Hearts On Fire” was adopted by the Sweden's female Olympic curling team. The band opens for Sabaton, throughout North America, this fall.

So with time overruns pushing Emperor's 1AM start even later and an early start required on Saturday, we decided to forego the Norwegians playing Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk (plus a few others), which we'd seen at Heavy Montréal, last year. Boy that Captain's lunchtime BBQ better be worth it!

More Day 3 photos here.

DAY 4
So as a small cog in the big Summer Breeze machinery, BraveWords was invited to a BBQ, a bit of a “thank you” to all the labels, press, etc. who help make the festival a success. This year, it intervened with Brainstorm's show on the main stage. However, was able to photograph a bit, before getting the feedbag on. Like BYH, scrims both sides of the stage depicting the “nightmares” from the Midnight Ghost artwork. The album cover formed a backdrop, behind the guys, who were all in personalized, white dress shirts. From the opening “Devil's Eye”, Andy Franck worked both sides of the stage and was in fine form. The guitar tandem of Torsten Ihlenfeld and Milan Loncaric were much more active than the Balingen gig, last month. Odd, since “Toddy” was pulling double duty here, acting as taxi/shuttle dispatcher each day, including Saturday, when he played. “Worlds Are Coming Through”, greeted like an old friend by the early arrivals, was one of the highlights. “Revealing Darkness” gives way to “Jeanne Boulet (1764)”, with namesake represented onstage. Is that the dinner bell? Coming Jagger!

In all honesty, BraveWords, long running Dutch mag Aardschok and Nuclear Blast closed the lunch, some two hours later! Still plenty of time to regroup, before catching Burning Witches on the small Wera Tool stage. The Swiss ladies, with Dutchwoman Laura Guldemond now fronting the band, are managed by Destruction mainman, Schmier. The Swiss Misses didn't have much time, so just let the music do the talking, as fog enveloped the little shed by opening “Executed”. Surprised to hear “We Eat Your Children” in such a short set, but the raw sentiment fit. Electric fans billow their manes, as they play. “Hexenhammer” and “Black Widow” in rapid succession, with newbie “Wings Of Steel” (the one studio track onwhich Guldemon can be heard) go down well. Internet promotion works! They close with their signature tune. Line-up stabilized, expect to hear more good things from Burning Witches.

Soon after Grand Magus begin, the fog machine kicks in, in earnest. Big stakes, this upcoming North American tour (it being their first), as the Swedes are already well known and beloved overseas. Yet, despite nine albums (the last four on Nuclear Blast, so no distro issues) over a 20 year career, they're still an obscurity, on these shore. No good reason, as the Amon Amarth meets Candlemass structures, loaded with melody, should garner a bigger audience. The trio, fronted by guitarist JB Christoffersson unloaded “I, The Jury” first. With vocal responsibilities, JB was ensconced in his wedge monitor bunker, as bassist Fox (who adds backing vocals) ventured center stage, during the slow gallop of “Sword Of The Ocean”. The singer said, “Saturday. It's the last day of the festival. Are you still alive? Impressive! Not sure I would be.” “Steel Versus Steel” received a good hand, but the biggest ovations were reserved for the concluding run of oldies, including “Iron Will”, godly “Like The Oar Strikes The Water” and triumphant “Hammer Of The North” finale. Get to the show early and make these Vikings feel welcome, here in Vinland.

Apart from one change and one deletion, this was the same set Dimmu Borgir played on their exclusive North American run, a (one) year ago. Taking the stage at 11:30 PM, BraveWords had the place surrounded: Mark out front, in the photo pit, and Tim and Seph actually watching onstage! For the first two songs (“The Unveiling” and Interdimensional Summit”), the corpse-painted troop remains hooded. Shagrath, with his silver, studded mic stand, is mostly perched atop a shadowbox that constantly pours out smoke, obscuring him throughout. By “The Chosen Legacy”, they reveal themselves (like the bomb worshiping telepaths in Beneath The Planet Of The Apes): hoods off. There's tons of stage smoke, not just on Shaggy, as a powerful orchestration pours from the deep blue lit sextet onstage. Occasionally, bursts of compressed CO2 shoot skyward the blasts are increasingly powerful toward the finale. Fire blazes onstage on either side of the drum riser, and a firefighter is ready backstage, just in case. A mix of live and recorded voice-overs, “Gateways” sees the pair of bald guitarists headbang, side-by-side. Shagrath attempted to get the crowd singing along to their signature tune. Lighting temporarily adds some reds and purples to the otherwise icy blue hue. The epic “Progenies Of The Great Apocalypse” and “Mourning Palace” rounded off the bands 75-minute set. Onstage, we are instructed to cover our ears toward the end of "Mourning Palace” as bombs are exploded mere feet away for the finale. Dimmu  - and particularly Shaggy who was more mobile and animated than ever, was in fine form. Prior to the show we also had the honour of presenting the three mainstays - Silenoz, Galder and Shagrath - with their own personalized BraveWords hockey jerseys! A special we give to the “bands that built BraveWords” as it were.

Meanwhile, simultaneously, over on the T-Stage, Unleashed are doing their thing. Has it really been 30 years? Although there are 13 album to choose from (and festivals tend to be greatest hits affairs, if a band is smart about it), thankfully, Johnny Hedlund (bass/vocals) opted to include three tracks from last year's Hunt For The White Christ, which made my Best Of 2018 chart. Under lots of reds (opener “Book Of Lies' almost exclusively), blinding white spotlights and the occasion yellow light, Hedlund stands his ground (pun intended) and there's not a lot to see, just punishing Viking obsessed death metal emanating from the somewhat static foursome onstage. Personal highlights were a slow grinding “The Longships Are Coming” (with yellow lights sweeping the stage) and speedy bounce of “Hammer Battalion”. Hail!

So another metal pentathlon concludes: standing all day, walking from stage to stage (merch/vendor stalls, etc.), not eating enough, drinking way too much and sleep deprivation. Start training now, Summer Breeze 2020 will take place August 12th-15th. See you there?

Final day's carnage, in pictures here.

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