Germany's Summer Breeze Festival 2022 - Welcome Home, Summer-tarium!
August 26, 2022, a month ago
Whether staying in a tent, on the converted airfield, or a hotel in the nearby town of Dinkelsbühl, our goals were all the same: reconvene with friends, have a drink/meal, share a laugh or two and see some bands. Cut-off for 33 months, it was great to once again set foot in the land of hefeweizen, where heavy metal is not looked at a sconce. May seem trivial, but not to someone who, from 2000-2019 visited Germany two or three times a year (sometimes more). Pandemic forced withdrawal certainly made the heart grow fonder. So with revitalized pep in my step and a spare N95 mask in pocket (still required on public transit, in some Deutsche states), boarded a flight (were said facial protection was mandatory) for Summer Breeze, the country's second largest, multi-day outdoor event and one with which we're thrilled to have a small partnership. Not only were the BraveWords team absent since '19, but this marked the first time we'd reconvened (anywhere!) since the start of 2020. Long time coming!
As the delayed 25th anniversary celebration, Summer Breeze offered an additional day, a Tuesday kick-off, which saw the same bands that played the first edition, onstage again. In the case of Voodoo Kiss, after a 23 year absence, their debut is just now being issued. So why had a few hundred people surrounded the tiny, backyard-style stage? Turns out festival kingpin Achim Ostertag was their drummer! He sat smiling, behind the kit, as the male/female singers (Gerrit P. Mutz, of Sacred Steel fame and German Voice contestant, Stefanie Stuber), ran through a batch of mellow to hard rockers. Most high profile attendees were absent from the temporary stage (erected in the campground), in fact, the organization were still setting-up the backstage area and artist encampment. Fun little kick-off for early arrivals, and might have been Achim's only carefree moment of the week, as from there on out, he was in charge.
In year's past, Wednesday was also not an official fest day. With entertainment solely in the evening, just a portion of the grounds and vendor booths were open, but the highlight was exclusively Nuclear Blast acts gracing the T-Stage. 2022 saw a few bands, including chain mail wearing, pyro adoring Feurschwanz (possessors of a #1 album, in Germany), play to an enthralled throng, as well as a late night appearance by Finnish humppa cowboys, Korpiklaani. BraveWords' eyes were trained on the aforementioned stage, as well as some backstage presentations and some of that bonding/reconnection, alluded to earlier.
First up, Exodus, with Black Dahlia Murder guitarist Brandon Ellis, subbing for Lee Altus. Fear not, opposite side of the stage was Gary Holt, in a "new" Kill The Kardashians t-shirt, sporting the original conjoined twins artwork from the debut. Good to have a brief catch-up with drummer Tom Hunting on his way to the tour bus. Looked thin/healthy and showed off his cancer surgery scarred abdomen, without anyone asking for such. Following the wailing sirens intro, "The Beatings Will Continue (Until Morale Improves)" opens, frontman Steve "Zetro" Souza works his way around the stage, throwing horns and blowing kisses. Old school "A Lesson In Violence" sees fans flailing away, on the opposite side of the barricade (crowd surfing, sometimes circle pit, others wall of death). Like some bizzaro conductor, pointing and barking instructions for greater feats of human interaction/mangled destruction, Zetro stalked the stage, unimpressed, imploring them onward. For "The Years Of Death And Dying", Holt switched to a blood splattered, fin tail guitar. More stage fog, for a short blast of "Deathamphetamine", although the, ahem, breeze quickly dissipates it. Then again, maybe it was the pin-wheeling hair from the new guy. Via an extended chugging riff, it segues into "Blacklist". The twin axeman, standing center stage, tease a few seconds of "Raining Blood" (Holt's ex-employer, Slayer), much to the delight of the still rabid crowd. Instead, they get "The Toxic Waltz" which many of them have been actively engaged in, since the show started. By closing "Strike Of The Beast", Holt had lost the black/patched vest, armed with wood carved axe, which he played vertically. Just 45 minutes, but boy was it a vicious, all-era covering event.
Little bit of time before Testament, but we came bearing gifts. As part of the Bands That Built BraveWords series, Metal Tim, Sephora and myself headed to the band's backstage dressing room/enclave to present them all with personalized hockey jerseys, pose for a couple of photos and Tim got a bit of merch signed. Attention to detail, bassist Steve Di Giorgio is impressed by the appropriate blank space within his surname. Onstage, the band was seamless. Similar to the North American tour, this spring, albeit short, it was newer stuff up early, the Lombardo era (ex-Slayer/ex-Suicidal Tendencies drummer has rejoined Testament) represented with The Gathering material (here, just super-heavy "D.N.R. (Do Not Resuscitate)") and then a concluding barrage of early favorites. After a few puffs of CO2 eruptions, "Rise Up" greets the audience, a ton of spotlights drown the stage. In fact, the white backlighting virtually obscure guitarist Alex Skolnick to photographers, during our three songs in the pit. The man-made volcanoes repeated belched forth (rose up?) smoke in front of the musicos. "When I was here last time, you promised you would practice what you preach," chided Chuck Billy. Cue the red/blue lit song of the same name (also augmented by upwardly spewing fog cannons as the singer toyed with a drumstick.) As Skolnick hit the center (of the three) risers, Billy asked for "horns in air," a sea of skyward prongs instantly arose. "WWIII" was dedicated to the "fucked up world we're living in." A hail of white strobes blaze as Skolnick and guitar partner Eric Peterson introduce "First Strike Is Deadly". Sort of appropriate, the initial salvo in the old school crescendo. Dedicated to the action that commenced almost the moment the music started, "Over The Wall" follows. Initially the blinding white barrage is focused on Peterson, then is split/shared with Alex, the stage, otherwise (dare I say) an Overkill shade of green. Billy bellows the titular phrase and you're almost compelled to obey. It ends with the two guitarists, together, shredding on the center riser. "Come on, get it going," yells the frontman, stirring an imaginary mixing bowl in front of him. Like an invisible voodoo doll, the crowd circle pits. In near darkness, "Alone In The Dark" begins subtly, but wait, who's that? There's an extra figure onstage: hockey jersey sporting Exodus singer, Zetro! Great that these two singers, with intertwined history are friendly enough to share the stage together and a fitting treat/send-off (each band member name-checked) for the Summer Breeze faithful.
Earlier in the day had introduced Paradise Lost fan/Sephora to my old touring buddies (our history going back to '95, when I joined them in the studio, then joined them throughout Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic). So we headed back to the T-stage (and later stood behind Gregor Mackintosh, as he played) for her maiden live PL performance. I'd seen them in late June in Oslo, where they played Draconian Times, in its entirety. Not tonight, this was a career retrospective, as they were prepping for the trip to Psycho Las Vegas and a couple of Cali club dates. Sure, there were bits of that classic album, but also other "hits" from that era, as well as their newer, return to heaviness. It all began with "Enchantment", the band taking to the blue bathed stage as the piano intro plays. Nick Holmes is in short sleeves, while bassist Steve Edmonson in full leather jacket get-up. The descending lights crisscross in multiple X formations. Stage left is guitarist Aaron Aedy, side opposite stringy dreadlocked southpaw Mackintosh. Fitting for Yorkshire men, there's plenty of fog about the place. "Blood And Chaos" even sees Greg do a bit of headbanging, while twisting out some wicked rhythms. Undeniably PL, it's almost poppy compared to the likes of Charles Manson narrative introduced "Forever Failure", which came next. Orangish-hues descend on gravel throat delivered "Eternal", Mackintosh's sing-song earworm winding its way into your subconscious with each Holmes verse. The singer gets the crowd to engage in a unified arm thrust. Backed with blue/green illuminated Depeche Mode-inspired "One Second", it provided the yin-yang within their songwriting. The song has been reworked a bit over the years and Holmes adlibs a line or two tonight, but "As I Die" has always been one of my favorites and unfortunately rarely heard Stateside anymore. Introduced in his understated British humor, Holmes deadpans, "Most of the songs do have negative titles. This is 'As I Die'. If you know it, sing along. If you don't...don't." The set is winding down, but conversely Paradise Lost are just picking up speed, quite literally, with white searchlights sweeping the deck on "The Last Time" and then the danceable punk (and at the time, controversial) "Say Just Words", before ultimately ending "Ghosts". Quality act (and great people), whatever and wherever they play.
More jersey ceremonies scheduled for Thursday, as well as an invite to the Captain's Dinner. Each day, the organization rewards a group of supporters, key workers, industry types (labels, media, merch dealers, etc.) and/or financial backers with a magnificent sit-down BBQ smorgasbord from some of the county's top chefs. Ample drinks, including wines paired for the entree choices (tender beef, succulent roast chicken and grilled salmon). There are potatoes, vegetables, mushroom caps stuffed with couscous and salads/vegan options (for those that are interested). Frequent trips to the buffet are encouraged. Some of the organizers host and the whole thing lasts a couple of hours. That means missing a few bands, a difficult choice, but one that is well worth missing longtime favorites Death Angel and Cannibal Corpse. Luckily both are North American, and thus can be seen by BraveWords more readily (in fact, I'd seen both within the last three months).
Under that backdrop, made sure to check out Beast In Black as soon as we entered the festival grounds. Yes, they opened for Nightwish's North American tour this spring, but this was a main stage gig (essentially headlining style). High energy power metal (almost as lofty as the skyscraping vocal register), this Beast was founded by guitarist Anton Kabanen (dressed in his best studded Judas Priest hand-me-downs), when ousted from Battle Beast and features former U.D.O. stringbender Kasperi Heikkinen (sporting day-glo green axe). Plenty of choreographed stage moves and high pitched singer Yannis Papadopoulos (he of sleeveless black sheath/dress). He dashes around the stage, while belting out tempo pumping anthems like "One Night In Tokyo" and their signature tune, punctuated by sustained, piercing notes. Strangely, it is Heikkinen who takes the center stage spotlight (from the opening "Blade Runner" onward), with founder Kabanen content to stay stage left.
After a fantastic meal, it was time to award Death Angel their BraveWords attire. Unlike yesterday, the Angels had no idea anything was forthcoming. No matter, as usually, they were very magnanimous, inviting us to hang/party at their dressing room/container. Once revealed (all but Rob Cavestany, who would receive his hours later, while he ate, alone, in the catering area) they were over the moon, completely touched and truly surprised. Apart from some amazing albums, that's why we like them: amicable folks.
The skies opened and while the plan was to take in Arch Enemy, but water and electronics don't mix. Saw them in April, as well as the livestream from Wacken, a week before. Speaking of which, Summer Breeze livestreamed a handful of acts each day, from the two (of four) biggest stages. So I opted to keep myself and camera dry, but Seph was determined to witness the firestorm. The flames could be seen across the field and she said the heat could be felt in the crowd. Know when standing in the photo pit (actually an eye-level riser, on the Summer Breeze main stage), it's an unexpected, slightly disconcerting hot blast. Seph was impressed by the technology involved in the pyrotechnics display, capable of shooting fiery streams diagonally, virtually horizontally, even in different colors: thrills not (yet) typical in North America.
Speaking of rain, most of Friday was a journalistic wash-out, as it came down, in buckets, turning the public areas into a mudfield. Backstage was navigable, thanks to the remnants of gravel/paved roads connecting the various venues. And, of course, the beer tent was dry (well, at least from the precipitation!). Spent some time with old Finnish friends, Amorphis. Tomi, Esa and Olli-Pekka were the support act on the aforementioned '95 PL tour of Europe. We've run into each other elsewhere in the world: their homeland, mine, other festivals, even the 70,000 Tons cruise. Always personable and more than willing to sign Tim's assorted pile of vinyl, CD longboxes and other long held memorabilia. Thanks guys, hope it's not too long till we meet again.
Wasn't until after 9 PM that there was a let-up, so went to check out Within Temptation. This was a more extensive set than witnessed two months earlier, at Tons Of Rock, although Sharon den Adel wore the same gold lamé outfit, complete with spiked tiara, for "The Reckoning". A giant Halloween (not surgical/N95) mask takes up the center of the stage. The opener was augmented by strobes, red lights and plenty of fog eruptions at various points around the stage. Surprised synth laden "Paradise (What About Us?)" was up next (having been buried mid-set, previously). Adel offered, "Shitty weather. No cares. We're finally here, after Corona, and I'm so happy to see you. Thank you for being here!" That attitude and the sing-along nature of the chorus DID get the devout, water-logged fans into the show. On the circular screens flanking the drummer, the visage of Tarja Turunen made several appearances (and her recorded vocals were added to the mix). Poppy "In The Middle Of The Night" kept the party going. Flames, heavy shroud of fog and deep blue hues to introduce "Stand My Ground". The simulated thunderstorm on the band's video screen was a bit unnecessary (although thankfully there was no thunder/lightning, in real life).
Sharon implores the attendees to sing along, throw the horns, both of which she does, in kind. "Purge" sees the singer work all parts of the flashing, smoke laden stage, but "Raise Your Banner" is the next BIG moment: swirling yellow and blue lighted pinwheels spin, then a flurry of white strobes and smoke (Sharon looking in the midst of a war torn, machine-gun fire fight). "This feels like Spinal Tap," joked den Adel, as the band experienced some technical issues, and had to ditch "Don't Pray For Me". Didn't initially know who the guest guitarist/vocalist was, for "Shed My Skin", but apparently he was from Annisokay, a German outfit the Dutch enjoy. Porcupine quills of white light and more fog for keyboard begun "Angels" and majestic "Ice Queen" finishes the proper set, which is where I bowed out.
Almost midnight before Amorphis took the stage, but some things are worth the wait. Few bands have been able to not only pull off the lead singer switch, but also stylistic alterations as successfully as have these Finns. Tomi Joutsen is a great frontman, possessing the look, voice and sound to pull off the old Relapse material, as well as making his own impact, with the likes of now permanent finale, "House Of Sleep" (as close to a universal "hit" as they've had). In addition to four off the new Halo release, including the opening 1-2 salvo of "Northwards" and "On The Dark Waters" (same positions as on the album), we're treated to a master class in the recent material. A pinwheel of crow skulls projected behind the band, as Joutsen whipped his mane to start the Hammond/Moog influenced "Into Hiding" (off Tales From The Thousand Lakes). Otherwise, only the ubiquitous "Black Winter Day" and "My Kantele" survive from the last millennium. Visually, the Johnny Cash t-shirt wearing, blonde, bearded guitarist, Esa Holopainen, still recalls a young Michael Schenker. Much of the set was bathed in deep blue and a video screen projected various images/movies, on each track. For "Amongst Stars", they utilized a black & white (or more like blue & white) version of the promotional video, complete with guest vocals/appearance by Anneke Van Giersbergen (VUUR/ex-The Gathering).
Dark Funeral were originally scheduled to close the final day of the festival, well after midnight. Due to airline schedule, had to switch positions with JBO and thus were onstage in sunlight, late Saturday afternoon. No problem, the Swedes still slayed, kicking off with "Unchain My Soul". Stage left, Lord Ahriman (guitar) was set for battle, with spiked gauntlet and gold, inverted cross stud decorated boots. In the center was screamer Heljarmadr, in leather, head-to-toe, plus protective scaled shoulder pads. Stage opposite, Chaq Mol (guitar) wore a necklace of tiny skulls. Not much in the way of visuals, especially located on the giant main stage, but that was made up for by the forceful delivery, including old school "Open The Gates". Prior to "Secrets Of The Black Arts", the pony-tailed singer asked "Summer Breeze, did you have a heavy night, last night," then requiring some crowd participation, praising the horned one.
First time seeing Primal Fear without co-founder/bassist/co-singer Mat Sinner, who, in the last couple of years, has been mysteriously absent (apart from a few cryptic online references to multiple surgeries and needing medical attention). Down-to-Earth, but always one to cultivate/embrace rock star chic, the courageous man, showed up, to see his band, some of whom he'd not seen in-person, in a long while. Ballsy, letting people see him, when he was not at his best. Music is a powerful motivator. Wishing you all the best, Mat. "Final Embrace" sees frontman Ralf Scheepers, muscles bugling through cut-off shirt (know what this guy was doing during the pandemic, pumping iron!) repeatedly wandering in circles, between the wedge monitors. It was as much to check the sound quality, as any stage antics. On his left Alex Beyrodt laid down lead guitar, even putting his foot up on the monitor. "Angel In Black" is up next, but when Scheepers introduces "Nuclear Fire", he sustains the emphasis on the final word/note. What a voice! Stage right, is spiked hair, lefty guitarist (and backing voice) Tom Naumann. "Metal Is Forever" took on a more important message when Sinner briefly joined his band mates, to add the titular chorus. It was a truly emotional moment that had tears welling up in everyone's eyes. In fact, afterwards, the band admitted to being teary eyed during "Running In The Dust". The fact it was unscripted and surprise to all, made it all the more poignant.
Blind Guardian frontman Hansi Kürsch was in fine form, jovial (unfortunately, all stage raps were in German) and animated. After "Into The Storm" opener, he said "Let's see what happens after nightfall." Cue song of the same name. Spirited "Welcome To Dying", where crowd repeatedly sang the chorus (if not the entirety of the lyrics) sees plenty of crowd surfing (cause or symptom?) including one intrepid individual "riding" a folding table! Security didn't want to catch the mud caked surfers, and as a group jokingly chanted for the barricade invaders to "go back." At this point, the band opted to perform Somewhere Far Beyond, in the original running order. Some of these tunes are staples of the live show anyway, others, truly rare gems.
"Time What Is Time" sees the vocalist conduct the audience with the mere movement of two fingers. Newly white haired guitarist Marcus Siepen (looking like a Harry Potter character) forcefully sings, even when not at the mic. Lead guitarist André Olbrich was also having fun, a smile crossing his face more than once. Fans clap along for the nearly a cappella intro to "Black Chamber". Aping the singer, a sea of fists punch the air for "The Quest For Tanelorn". It only lasts a few minutes, but one of the iconic, goosebumps/German festival moments is the acoustic guitar accompanied "The Bard Song - In The Forest": tens of thousands singing along, basically naked voices, little, to no music. Kürsch occasionally overrides the crowd, but he also stands, with mic pointed towards the throng, or with arms outstretched. With the mere flick of a finger skywards, the voices get louder. Don't usually get to hear the "other" version of the Bard Song, aka "The Hobbit", but since this was the entire album, the electrified counterpart followed.
Beneath blue/green light, the trio of Kürsch, Seipen and Olbrich were briefly position across the front of the stage. Pre-recorded military snare drum and bagpipes ("The Piper's Calling") give the singer a breather before lengthy title track finishes the history lesson. Following the album run-through, there was time for a couple of classics. While "Time Stands Still (At the Iron Hill)" may not qualify, speedy clap-along introduced "Mirror Mirror" and closing "Valhalla" certainly do, crowd singing throughout the last two. The yellow lit finale is very aggressive (many don't recall when Blind Guardian sounded like that). The crowd, realizing that when the song is complete, the evening with the Guardians is over, offers a couple a cappella minutes of the title, over and over again. Ultimately, the band give the audience an ovation. Amazing night!
Long-running British death grinders Benediction have seized the moment once again, supporting their first album of new material since 2008! With a few thousand on-lookers, the voracious band took over the T Stage and belted out a parade of classics and a good chunk of their latest album, Scriptures, which made it into the BravePicks 2020 at #16! Singer Dave Ingram absolutely owned the stage with his guttural gloom and doom, the metal masters - including original guitarists Darren Brookes and Peter Rewinsky - belted out
“Iterations of I”, “Scriptures in Scarlet”, “Progenitors of a New Paradigm” and “Stormcrow”, all from the latest. But the crowd feasted on “Unfound Mortality” and “Nightfear” (from 1993’s Transcend The Rubicon), “Foetus Noose” (from the brilliant Dark Is The Season EP) and the punishing “The Dreams You Dread” from 1995. Ingram was in a glorious mood holding his mic in one hand and a beer in the other! Later than evening he would be honored with his own personalized BraveWords jersey!
Second time seeing Hypocrisy, in as many months, although this was outdoors, in the dark, on a massive stage. Under the backdrop of a South American temple, a wall of Marshall amps, either side of the drum riser, wizardly looking mainman Peter Tägtgren may have white hair, but don't think he's mellowed with age! "Worship" sees the otherwise dark, and fog shrouded, stage periodically interrupted by a burst of strobes. "Summer Breeze, sing with me," barks the guitarist and the sneaky rhythmic, but guttural throated "Fire In The Sky" commences. Stage left is mainstay bassist Mikeal Hedlund, hair draped across his face, bobbing head seemingly on a pivot. Playing from a hunched crouch, Tägtgren (in black, knee-length lab coat) surveys all in the appropriately red/yellow enlightened "Adjusting The Sun". As the somewhat restrained strains (by contrast) of "Eraser" initially grind away, the croaking voiced frontman teases, "I can't hear you." When possible to see the band, beneath a thick layer of stage fog, they're illuminated in deep blue/greens, as the two guitarist (Tägtgren & Tomas Elofsson) briefly square off against one another, face-to-face. Lulled into a false sense of security? "Impotent God", under pulsating red/yellow strobes, delivers a grinding punch in the face. The onstage smokescreen, with pink/purple lights all but obscured Hypocrisy on newbie "Children Of The Gray", the two stringbenders again meeting center stage. Slamming "War-Path" followed and from there on out, it was vintage Hypocrisy, beginning with agonized (but "clean") vocals of "The Final Chapter". The synthesized, staccato riff of "Fractured Millennium" sees those down front waving arms overhead, even if they have to watch the jumbotron to literally "see" their smog enveloped heroes. Crazy scene. Apart from a lone green searchlight, the stage is pitch black as the radio chatter sets the stage for closing "Roswell 47".
Can't believe, after three year absence, it came and went so quickly. Join us, next year!
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