Germany's Bang Your Head! Festival – Warm-Up & Day 1: Metal Icons Abound!

July 17, 2013, 4 years ago

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By Mark Gromen

With just one stage, this outdoor concert offers more than 13 hours of music on both Friday and Saturday, which should be enough metal for anyone, but as the cliché says, “Anything worth doing is worth overdoing” (or is that just America's mantra?), so organizers get around the city of Balingen's 11pm noise ordinance by offering a few bands indoors, until 2am. Sleep or beer? In Germany, regardless of the option (food, toilet, girlfriend), the correct answer always seems to be, “I'll have another beer!”

Thursday's warm-up concert, featuring five bands, for an additional 32 Euro ticket, is another excuse to get together, listen to music and, you know, drink a few beers. After SNAKE SKIN RODEO, basically the main stage production crew, with instruments, it was time for MAIDEN UNITED. Turns out, they are not only an a cappella, acoustic and electric piano cover band (why not, metal's been done with symphonic instruments, harp, banjo, etc.), but feature a pair of prominent musicians within the fold: THRESHOLD singer Damian Wilson and Ruud Jolie (guitar WITHIN TEMPTATION). Wilson still ran around, trying to get people to clap along, but opening with 'Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son' was almost the death knell of objectivity. A jazzy, lounge act approach, as one die hard observed, “We get to watch this and CANDLEMASS comes on after midnight?” Truth be told, as the beer began to flow, the audience was a little more cooperative, but probably would have been better served to have them close, following the Swedes, especially since the next morning begins at 10am! Suffice to say, Maiden for the old folks home: anemic versions that Mom, Dad or Grandparents might approve of, is not the kick-off to a multi-day metal fest.

The first two TOKYO BLADE albums are still widely praised, for their NWOBHM similarities to early MAIDEN (do I sense a theme here tonight?). Unfortunately, after opening with 'Death On Main Street', the bonus track from their '83 debut (aka Midnight Rendezvous, a year later), only 'If Heaven Is Hell' and 'Meanstreak' were offered, either late in the set, or in the encore. By contrast more than half of Night Of The Blade', including 'Lightning Strikes' 'Attack Attack' and the title cut, were in the 13 song set. Original guitarist Andy Boulton looks more Native American than British rocker these days, but no worry, still cranks out the same music. VICIOUS RUMORS brought along two singers, the late Carl Albert's son, Kevin (reprising a performance at Keep It True, a few years earlier), who sang most of the songs, and Brian Allen, who missed out on the recent European tour (replaced by James Rivera) as he took care of family matters. Celebrating the 25th anniversary of Digital Dictator, it was a career spanning retrospective, beginning with that title track and followed (as they were on vinyl) by 'Minute To Kill' and 'Towns On Fire'. 'Worlds & Machines' and 'The Crest' would come later. Mainstay Geoff Thorpe has never looked healthier and seemed in good spirits, on and off stage, despite yet a couple more line-up changes. The young, head shaved , goatee and MEGADETH t-shirted Albert is definitely an American, raised on the Phil Anselmo school of frontman presence/attitude, seemingly obvious to the opportunity presented him. Oh, but that voice. Under purple lights, 'Lady Took A Chance', with its twin guitar intro, was dedicated to Horst, the BYH promoter/owner, while 'Down To The Temple' was lit in aqua. 'Hellraiser' and 'Soldiers Of The Night' were included, the later seeing the strippers who had been gyrating on a platform near the bar, storm the stage (no one held THEM back!). Hopefully the planned domestic run, this Fall, will go ahead as planned.

Well beyond witching hour, CANDLEMASS, now sporting Mats Leven on vocals, finally took the stage. Although 'Bewitched' and 'Dark Reflections' were up early, it was not a classic C-mass set, skipping all the Rob Lowe era albums, apart from the newest/final (weakest?) Psalms For The Dead, and playing four from said platter; the opening 'Prophet', 'Waterwitch', 'Black As Time' and the title cut. Every time they'd get the momentum flowing, like 'Under The Oak' backed with 'At The Gallows End' and rare 'Darkness In Paradise', one of those newer tracks brought things back to earth. Thankfully they were out-numbered by the “hits” The band seemed more animated than recent performances witnessed, especially left handed guitarist Lass Johansson. As always, bassist CANDLEMASS overlord Leif Edling, soul-patch intact, watched over everything, mouthing the lyrics that most in the crowd were singing aloud. The longstanding closing duo, 'Crystal Ball' and 'Solitude' are amongst the best finale pair in metal. Long live the Swedes.

Friday, July 12th

Fresh from signing a contract with Metal Blade's European division, ARTILLERY were onstage before 11am, a bit of an affront to such a legendary act, but then, they were playing back home in Denmark the next day, thus the morning thrash serenade. Even for thrash, these elder statesmen looked like they'd just rolled out of bed, thrown on clothes and went to the stage. Breaking in yet another vocalist, Michael Dahl (high pitched yelps a bit odd in thrash these days), diminutive, backwards cap wearing guitarist Michael Stützer dropped to his knees during '10,000 Devils'. Otherwise, Dahl was the focal point of the action, headbanging, playing air guitar and moving around the stage. 'Khomaniac' was a surprise (from By Inheritance), but given the Islamic troubles in their Danish homeland, it's probably as relevant now as two decades ago, when written. In a rare, spry moment, bassist Peter Thorslund joined the guitarist on the catwalk that juts into the crowd. Like fine wine, getting better with age!

Last year, fellow Swedes CRASHDÏET provided an anorexic live show, something CRAZY LIXX was determined to rectifying, thereby saving some grace for new school glam/sleaze. The first of three countrymen in a row, LIXX kicked off with plenty of smoke covering the stage, even on a breezy day. Despite the heat, guitarist Andy Dawson kept his leather jacket on throughout. A brief section of sing-along covers included snippets of 'Cum On Feel The Noize' (SLADE/QUIET RIOT) and 'We're Not Gonna Take It' (TWISTED SISTER). 'Want It', followed by 'Rock And A Hard Place', was punctuated by a dedication to a fan for his birthday (even pointed out from the stage, nice touch): 'Road To Babylon'. The “whoa whoa” chorus in '21 'Til I Die' saw all four non-drumming members adding vocals (usually just a pair of backing vox). First single 'Heroes Are Forever' gave way to the 'My Medicine' finale, a rocking set by any account.

DREAM EVIL are not really a live band, apart from the odd festival show, and it shows. An outlet for producer Fredrik Nordström, they offer a rather stoic performance and from the start of 'Immortal', Niklas Isfeldt's mic wasn't turned on! Short hair, or none at all and knee length shorts, not really “the look” for a band who rivals MANOWAR in the use of “metal” in their titles/lyrics. The recorded intro announced 'In Flames You Burn', followed by the occasion appropriate 'Bang Your Head', to much rejoicing. 'Made Of Metal' was aggressive, moreso than 'United', before ending with 'Book Of Heavy Metal', the crowd joining the fun, singing along to the chorus. H.E.A.T. are hotly tipped Swedish youngsters. The single guitar fivesome were the first band of the weekend to utilize keyboards. The crowd suddenly became populated by younger females, which also drew the odd long, gray-haired, beer-belly, 50-something, without a shirt, but wearing snakeskin print pants! Got to love Germany. Musically, not really my thing (second generation EUROPE?) they impressed on 'Living On The Run'.

By this time, there was already a large banner proclaiming AXEL RUDI PELL, a 30th anniversary concert, for next year at BYH, as well a STEELER (Germany) reunion and the band MORE, featuring producer Chris Tsangarides. Time for MASTERPLAN, unveiling their new Novum Initium CD. First chance to see them with Rick Altzi (ex-THUNDERSTONE) on vocals. A mellow, progressive set, including 'Spirit Never Dies', 'Lost And Gone', 'Time To Be King' and the tinkling ivories and backbeat of newbie, 'Keep The Dream Alive'. As I head backstage, I meet up with the just arriving STRATOVARIUS. While I'd talked with bassist Lauri Porra a few weeks earlier, at Tuska, I'd missed old friend/singer Timo Kotipelto. Today, he jokingly greeted me with, “And it was such a nice festival too...” Nice to see you again Sofa King! Out front, it was time for ENTOMBED. Only after a trio of rapid-fire songs did guitarist Alex Hellid step out from behind the microphone. The delivery was almost seamless, pretty much straight through, LG Petrov offering little interaction with the crowd. His English ain't the best and it was really the only option today, although prior to tossing a full water bottle to the crowd, he toyed; “wasser? Or bier?” No matter, just plow back into the bulldozer approach of 'Like This With The Devil', 'Damn Deal Done, 'I For An Eye' (a mini-pit breaking out near the barricade') and obligatory 'Left Hand Path'.

PRETTY MAIDS know how to entertain a festival and pulled off a damn near perfect set (at least for these aged ears). Ken Hammer (guitar), in white cowboy hat, red canvas Keds/Chuck T sneakers stood in stark contrast to the all-in-black, shirt open to the navel singer, Ronnie Atkins, who worked all sides of the stage and the gangplank leading from the stage. Even ARTILLERY were in the photo pit, to get a close-up of their countrymen. 'Needles In The Dark', a sing-along 'Rodeo' and a sea of hands clapping overhead for 'I.N.V.U.' was just a teaser. Turning red in the broiling sun, Atkins started 'Yellow Rain' on the catwalk, the first act to really make that territory their own, and after 'Little Drops Of Heaven' it was a classic triple shot to end the day, 'Future World', 'Back To Back', the singer in a wide stance, legs splayed one in front of the other and concluding 'Red, Hot & Heavy' (perhaps the code words for PRETTY MAIDS today, well at least their singer). They took their bows as MONTY PYTHON's 'Sit On My Face' blared triumphantly over the PA system.

STRATOVARIUS played the same set as TUSKA, mixing in a few new tracks, like 'Halcyon Days', the 'Abandon' opener and 'Dragons' alongside speedy, double bass drumming led anthems like 'Speed Of Light', 'Black Diamond' and 'Hunting High And Low' closer. Kotipelto lost his ill-fitting stretch denim suit coat early on. In the nice weather (not much warmer than Helsinki though), he didn't need it anyhow. From the stage, he rated the audience participation for the finale, “pretty good,” before finally bidding them good-bye with “Danke schön!” As a photographer, LORDI are interesting to shoot, but musically, it's a catchy gimmick. Which only leaves SAXON.

Now the Brits have headlined the Messe in Balingen many times before. This time they added some flame throwers and torrents of pressurized carbon dioxide for visual spectacle, but the music needed no such enhancement. Opening with the title track from their most recent Sacrifice CD, Biff Byford constantly paced the stage (to a degree heretofore unseen, especially on such a massive expanse), like some gray haired wizard in search of his magic wand, book of spells or crystal ball. So much so, it was difficult to get more than glimpse through the camera view finder. Soon it was onto the classics. You know some of what's coming, just when. Scanning the sea of humanity in the twilight, it's hard to believe that this is the same band that can fit into BB Kings in NYC! 30th anniversary reminder for 'Power And the Glory' is met by shouts (are we really getting that old?), as both guitarists and bassist are out on the catwalk, close to the crowd. Punctuated by the aforementioned flames, 'Heavy Metal Thunder' see bassist Nibbs Carter pinwheeling his head like some defective bobble-head doll. 'I've Got To Rock (To Stay Alive)' sees a red fog float in, white spotlights on the band. 'To Hell And Back Again' sees four fire cannons repeated pulsate behind bespectacled, ball cap wearing guitarist Paul Quinn. Blue/aqua lighting accompanies 'Night Of The Wolf', as well as horizontally shooting flames, launched behind Carter and other guitarist Doug Scarratt. Alone, in a yellow spotlight, Quinn begins 'Conquistador', which leads into Nigel Glockler drum solo, the old boy raised to the heavens (ala Peter Criss, in the old KISS days), lights across the backline spelling out his first and last names. As the stage is bathed in purple, six CO2 canisters, of waning strength, herald 'the Eagle Has Landed', as Byford is spotlit in an almost angelic aura of white. 'And The Bands Played On' is always welcome, going back to the SAXON's earliest days (many a fans' too), while 'Motorcycle Man', complete with Biff's piercing whistles, shows no signs of letting up. He prefaced 'Dallas 1PM' by saying, “Don't think we played this one for you here (meaning @ BYH).” The stage a deep blue for that one. '747 (Strangers In The Night', the tale of a near tragic flight, took on even more significance, in light of recent news events. During the crowd response portion for 'Wheels Of Steel', Byford challenged the throng, saying, “We were in Sweden last Saturday, I think... this one's for Bang Your Head,” imploring them to sing the titular phrase even louder, one final time. Returning for an encore, it was more well loved material, from the booming pre-recorded echo/intro to 'Crusader', 'Strong Arm Of The Law' and 'Denim And Leather (cue more singing), before sending everyone into the night (some to bed, most to a post-gig party, either in town, or back at the campground, and some stuck around for a 1am start by ONSLAUGHT, in the adjoining hall) with 'Princess Of The Night'. What a show!

More photos from the BYH warm-up show can be seen here.

More photos from the BYH day 1 can be seen here.

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