SUMMER BREEZE OPEN AIR 2023 – Germany’s “Other” Metal Festival
August 28, 2023, a month ago
Of course there's more than two events throughout the country. In fact, practically every weekend, from June, to early September, there's multiple festivals throughout Europe (and one-offs the rest of the year). Everyone who knows Wacken, should also be familiar with Summer Breeze. A few weeks later, in the (generally) warmer/drier south, the "kleiner bruder" (little brother) takes place. It has many similarities, and even a few advantages over the behemoth in the North.
This year, at least a dozen bigger names played both festivals. Each takes place outside small towns: Dinkelsbuhl, is a historic, cobblestone street city (the area around the 1400s church escaped Allied bombing during WWII), a respite for the numerous Breeze campers (but also several hotels/guest houses exist, for the less intrepid. Several high end options currently under construction), with restaurants, grocery stores and pretty much any last minute need attendees forgot to pack.
A short, free, 10 minute bus ride links the festival grounds and Dinkelsbuhl. The town is not directly accessible, via train, but nearby stops (like Ellwangen) can be reached from Stuttgart, Nuremberg, Munich, even Frankfurt airports (then festival sponsored bus or pay-it-yourself cab fare). Limited to 45,000 fans (most of whom stay onsite, Tuesday through Sunday morning), campers are closer to the stages than Wacken. No 3+ mile hikes "home" at the end of the night. Likewise, with just four stages (massive main, slightly smaller T-stage and a pair of small platforms: Wera Tool Rebel & Ficken Party), fans can maneuver easily between the venues (regardless of weather) and not miss any of the action. Those interested in trying a major European festival should really investigate cutting their teeth on Summer Breeze. After 16 years at Wacken (initially smaller than the current Summer Breeze), the BraveWords team moved on, to Dinkelsbuhl and half a dozen fests later, we've never looked back!
While there are handful of bands on The Ficken Party stage, Tuesday evening, to keep the early campers entertained, the show really kicks off on Wednesday afternoon, with action in all four of the arenas. All this way and the first band of note is Canadian: Kataklysm, on the main stage. Tim took up residency onstage, behind the band, while I went on photographers' riser, built at the lip of the stage and puts us virtually eye-to-eye with the performers, a unique perspective, for such a big setting. Later, when bands would employ pyro (and boys were there a lot!), the photogs were relegated to ground level, next to the giant amps and interspersed between the army of security guards.
The slow growl of "Narcissist" soon gave way to all out mayhem. Almost immediately, frontman Maurizio Iacono yelled, "The pit is too small. Come on Deutschland!" Man, does he possess a powerful bellow. A trio of risers were situated across the stage and frequently saw Iacono, the crouching, splay-legged, pinwheeling haired bassist Stéph Barbe and/or headbanging, tongue-waggling guitarist JF Dagenais atop them. "At The End Of The World" was up early and although Goliath was released a week prior, only staccato "Bringer Of Vengeance" (how fitting a title!) was unleashed on the festival crowd. The better known "Soul Destroyer" gets the circle pit rotating almost as quickly as tires on the nearby Autobahn (well, not quite). Amidst a surge of crowd surfers, the prerecorded voiceovers in "Outsider" gives way to "As I Slither", where Iacono talks to his kids, via the livestream (who were supposedly watching at home). He also warned the security force they were about to get overwhelmed. Cue mass of bodies over the barricade. Day of activity, for all involved, ended with "The Black Sheep".
A little time to recover, before Epica took the same stage. Simone Simons adopting a new look, as the Dutch outfit employs plenty of pyrotechnics, throughout. A pair of steel constructed snake structures flank either side of the stage. Founder/guitarist/gruff vocalist Mark Jansen (stage right) plays alongside Simons, who moves about the stage. More fiery eruptions for "The Essence Of Silence". Even the keyboardist comes out front, utilizing a portable, semi-circle of keys (as seen in the "Abyss Of Time" video). The stage goes red (including the ruby eyes of the serpents) for the slower begun "Cry For The Moon". Repeated plumes of flame shoot skyward, the chorus "Forever and ever" appearing on the video wall behind the band, like a live lyric video. As usual, "Consign To Oblivion" closes the show.
Only twenty minutes between the start times for Megadeth and Soilwork, enough time to shoot a few songs of each, but not enough to watch a full show, by either. Much like elsewhere, this summer, Dave Mustaine came out swinging, initially hitting hard with "the hits," beginning with "Hangar 18". Dave rarely looked up, during the portion of the three songs where photographers are present, but the video screen made the entire stage look like a military radar/security center. The middle of the set (when I hightailed it to the T-stage, for a few Soilwork shots), it's lesser known material, including buzzsaw guitar begun newbie "Well Be Back", before ending much as it began, with classics: "Symphony Of Destruction", "Peace Sells" and a surprising dusting off of "Mechanix", before ending with "Holy Wars...The Punishment Due".
Meanwhile, on the other stage, Bjorn "Speed" Strid (decked out in leather vest, with feathery shoulders) led the Swedes through a career retrospective that highlighted some long absent (at least in North America) selections, like fog shrouded audience sing-along "Stabbing The Drama" (up second). It was night and the band opted for dark color lighting: blue/red. Sort of surprising since the show was to be filmed by German TV station Arte Concert. Stuck around long enough to hear aggro, yellow lit "The Chainheart Machine", before heading back to Megadeth.
There's really no reference point for In Extremo in the North American lexicon. Not quite folk, nor Renaissance Fair, but certainly Medieval, mixed with metal/rock instrumentation. The fact there are two pipers, playing ornate, overgrown five-foot sacbutts/bag pipes, marching around the stage as spiky cropped frontman, Micheal Robert Rhein leads everyone in a sing-along. Occasionally, Rhein will add acoustic guitar to the elaborate mix. "Vollmand" even sees one of the rotund, period costumed pipers opt for a harp, instead. Did I mention, all the lyric are in German? It's a big party atmosphere. Thankfully the melodies are mostly happy, upbeat rhythms. Quite a Teutonic way to end the first day!
There was a threat of afternoon rain (that would eventually develop), but it was a far better forecast than when packing for the trip, which claimed there'd be two full days of precipitation. So see what bands you can, before the anticipated thunder, lightning, hail, wind storm! Chris Boltendahl is one of the last European artists/friends that I'd not re-connected with, post-pandemic. So it was nice to meet again (see you on the boat!). Even before Grave Digger came on, their hooded namesake, a figure who has adorned many of their album covers, strolled onstage to rile up the crowd. Boom! The guys launch right into "Lawbreaker", accompanied by mists of compressed carbon dioxide. Boltendahl, in denim battle vest, festooned with old school band patched, and studded belt, he could pass for one of the crowd.
Shirtless, beneath a leather vest, hunched over, in the widest possible splay legged stance, "Hell Is My Purgatory" allows flashy guitarist Axel Ritt to demonstrate his fretboard tapping technique. Meanwhile, Chris runs into the extended wings of the massive stage, acknowledging the huge gathering. A Day Of The Dead, skull-faced special guest wanders around the stage, striking a cowbell, during "Dia de los Muertos". Setlist has been a bit different, but takes an unexpected turn, with the introduction of the slower, groove of "The House" (pretty sure I've never heard this one live), off the eponymous 2001 release. The crowd gets a chance to sing along, adding repeated "whoa, whoa", and, at the silver haired singer's goading, the word, "burning". Halfway through a 45 minute set and there's been nothing I'd consider classic Grave Digger. Odd, judging from the numerous Heavy Metal Breakdown and Witch hunter patches on the jackets of youngsters throughout the crowd.
Clouds brewing on the horizon, it is indeed an apt time for "Dark Of The Sun", which gets the tempo pumping again. Ritt stands, left foot on the wedge monitor. Stage opposite, rock steady bassist Jens Becker shows some emotion, mouthing the titular chorus. As it ends another trio of CO2 blasts obscure the guitarist. The locomotive chug of "Excalibur" is met with a returning short burst of stage fog. A rare moment as Becker and Ritt are together, center stage, Axel playing the axe, vertically, propped on his thigh. Yellow spotlights sweep a stage suddenly shrouded in fog, for "(Rebellion) The Clans Are Marching". Initially clapping along, the fans sing the first verse almost a cappella, with just drum accompaniment. Eventually the full band kicks in. The Grave Digger character reappears, feigning to play bagpipes. As he's done throughout, when not singing, Boltendahl (a grimace on his face), plays some mean air guitar. Regardless of age, everyone knows how the show will end, with "Heavy Metal Breakdown", one of the quintessential heavy metal anthems, today with tens of thousands backing vocals!
So which is better, 200+ performances on nine stages, amongst 85,000 people, or 130+ bands, on four stages, with 40,000 attendees? How many bands can you actually see? At huge fests, some bands go on before noon, others, 3 or 4 AM! Beforehand, most carefully map out the battle plan (which bands to see), but eating, sleeping, socializing, going to the bathroom, moving between stages, heat/rain, fatigue, all cuts into "viewing," not to mention the potential for overlaps. Sure, Fest A might have more bands you want to see, but with more stages, there's a better chance a couple of them will be on, opposite one another. With all the human traffic, some venues are closed, once they reach capacity and anyone whose been in the midst of a main stage throng, knows how difficult it is to quickly leave. For the biggest bands, they actually have to direct everyone, in one direction, lest bedlam occurs. Even with breaks scheduled between some showtimes, if you get on the wrong side of that mass of humanity, could be late/miss a band at a far off venue. No such issues at Summer Breeze, as the stages, especially the two biggest, are on a continuous arc, with plenty of maneuverable field between them.
The rain did come. Not as hard as predicted, in Dinkelsbuhl, but elsewhere in Germany, it flooded the Frankfurt airport: not just access to the terminal, but the actual runways! People couldn't get off the planes. Needless to say, travel was "delayed," including two members of Bloodbath, who were scheduled to play a little after midnight. Instead, show time got pushed back to 2:20 AM.
Back in Dinkelsbuhl (well, actually the Sinbronn outskirts), the show continued, otherwise, unabated. After the intro tape of Pat Travers' "Snortin; Whiskey" got both the crowd and Tardy brothers fired up, Obituary took to the T-stage. Initially all green lights, for instrumental "Redneck Stomp", with singer Donald Tardy, off, in the wings, awaiting his turn, Once unleashed, come "Sentence Day", he was a man possessed, stalking the stage. After icy blue hued "A Lesson In Violence", left the remainder of the review in Metal Tim's hands, as his perspective, for the entire set, was onstage, from behind the band!
We’ve never witnessed a mediocre Obituary live show. Never. And their Summer Breeze appearance was a death metal feast for all, as the Floridians crushed the T Stage with an all-encompassing setlist peeking at their entire career. While the Pat Travers classic “Snortin’ Whiskey” echoed through the crowd, the band kicked off with “Redneck Stomp”, “Sentence Day” and the totally addictive hit “Visions In My Head”, with frontman John Tardy’s vocal swath all consuming. He truly is the kingpin of death metal singers with his verbal flow and actions on stage. Brother Donald just attacks his drum kit as we greet by the Cause Of Death classics “Find The Arise”, Chopped In Half” and Turned Inside Out” sounding like perfection. We were greeted by the title track to their new album, Dying Of Everything, the brutal expose “War” and neck brace madness of newbie “Barely Alive”, which saw guitarists Trevor Peres and Ken Andrews duelling for their lives. Of course bass legend Terry Butler is the friendly giant keeping the freight train on its tracks, especially as the band close with the epic “Slowly We Rot”. Until death do us unite! Obituary just plain rule live.
Trivium were the day's headliner. The stage an array of Asian images, the multi-colored backdrop was decorated with snakes/dragons and various takes on Manga inspired symbols/characters. Not to be outdone, founder/frontman/guitarist Matt Heafy (no longer bald) wore a yellow jacket (with matching sneakers!) emblazoned with like-minded Eastern artwork. He was all smiles, jumping up on the stage-wide riser and exhorting the faithful. Onstage, his persona/antics seems to be WWE wrestling legend The Rock (aka Dwayne Johnson) mixed with Gene Simmons (especially the tongue maneuvers). Bassist, Paulo Gregoletto, recently recovered from emergency hernia surgery was onstage, but his bass was mounted on a stationary pole, so he didn't have to lug any of the weight. Thus Heafy's mobility was all the more important on the giant main stage.
If lighting rigs can experience tachycardia, then it happened during opening "In The Court Of The Dragon", a constant stroboscopic flashing. Wow. A gruffer voiced "Down From The Sky" (courtesy of other guitarist, Corey Beaulieu) gives the throng an impetus to pogo in place. Between songs, Heafy (who ditches the jacket after two songs) speaks to the crowd in pigeon Deutsch. The throng sings the introductory guitar harmonies to "The Sin And The Sentence". Between calls for circle pits, Heafy announced this was the 192th show of the tour and playing on national pride, challenged the crowd by announcing the best response, thus far, was in the Czech Republic. "Until The World Goes Cold" offers a moment of respite, as well as a chance for the crowd to sing along (and be heard). "Feast And Fire" ends with Heafy, Beaulieu and Gregoletto side-by-side, as four plumes of flame erupt from the top of the lighting truss. Admittedly not the biggest Trivium fan, at about the hour mark, had to tap out. Early start tomorrow.
While we missed Warmen's 11:30 AM show, where they debuted almost half of the Here For None album (released that same day). Afterwards, spoke with ex-Children Of Bodom keyboardist Janne Wirmen (longtime backbone of Warmen, along with his guitarist brother Antti). He admitted that seeing posters of Alexi Laiho, in the artist area was emotional. Others who miss that Finnish powerhouse would do well to investigate the new Warmen disc.
First order of business, was the Captain's Dinner, a thank you, from the organizers, to sponsors, like Brave Words. First class organization and an amazing spread of food and drinks. It is really us, who say, "Thank you!" After that, it was off to Legion Of The Damned. First up, their signature tune. Ominous spoken word intro greets "Cult Of The Dead". Blonde singer, Maurice Swinkels has hair draped across his face. First cut aired off the stellar Poison Chalice CD was "Beheading Of The Godhead". With its powerful swirl of guitars, much more tuneful than straight ahead death metal. Shame this band doesn't get more recognition.
On the main stage, time for Beyond The Black, an act who owe a debt to Within Temptation and/or Anette Olzon era Nightwish. Surprised by the amount of pyro employed, right from jump: repeated firings at 45 degree angles. "Is There Anybody Out There? (yes, quite a sea of fans) sees feather epaulet wearing Jennifer Haben began the day with a pair of illuminated poles, sort of florescent light bulbs, with ornate endcaps. The guitarists are a pair of opposites: bearded and hairy Chris Hermsdörfer (an electric fan billowing his locks) and clean shaven, Ed Sheeren look-alike Tobias Lodes. Riser, at the lip of the stage, runs the entire width and allows the diminutive Haben to tower over all. When not on the walkway, she works the stage, hunched over and pointing to adoring fans, many of whom sing along with her. Witness "Lost In Forever", gruff accents provided by Hermsdörfer. Bit too much Celtic/country jangle in "Reincarnation" for my German metal, but the heandbanging start to "Heart Of The Hurricane" is more like it. Guess it depends WHICH song they offer.
Amazing to have witnessed how Powerwolf climbed the ranks and is now, one of the biggest acts on the planet. Ironically, they just played their first gigs in North America, six months ago. Essentially the same setlist, but there's no comparing the magnitude of the presentations, particularly the copious use of pyro effects, outdoors. While the lyrics are delivered in English, all jokes/conversations with the audience (are naturally) in Deutsch. The stage resembles the rubble of a destroyed gothic church (broken crucifix, blackened stained glass windows, etc) and each member enters individually, escorted by a pair of hooded monks, each brandishing a torch. Once in place, singer Attila Dorn the last to arrive, it's straight into "Faster Than The Flame". Living up to its name, there are multiple bursts of fire: thin columns, as well as billowing mushroom clouds. That's just the beginning folks. When it ends, a short firework display explodes from atop the steel structure. A massive crowd has gathered at the foot of the main stage and stretches the entire length of the field. Most know/sing every lyric.
Dorn shakes the staple of the Catholic mass, the thurible (swinging incense burner), to start a bouncy, blue lit "Incense & Iron". The Greywolf brothers (on guitars) exchange sides of the stage, up and down on risers. From his keyboard loft, overhead, Falk Maria Schlegel, periodically runs to the main deck, equal part cheerleader and silent comedic foil (think Harpo Marx). Quick hitting "Army Of The Night" follows. The electronic backdrop changes (with almost every song), now a skeleton besides a blindfolded/handcuffed nun, prior to the poppy "Dancing With The Dead", which is launched with a confetti cannon snowing on those nearest the barricade. The clapping, in unison, is nearly deafening.
Everyone knows the four part, a cappella sing-along for "Armada Strigoi". A cool effect in a hall/stadium, resembling a soccer chant, but here, 30,000+ voices strong? Immense power. They roll out some sort of Mad Max contraption, a giant, flame-throwing pipe organ, for Falk, on the speedy "Amen & Attack". Elsewhere across the stage, it's a conflagration. As eight flame cannons repeatedly pulsate, the thin keyboardist plays on, like a doomed phantom in some Hammer Horror film. A mix of newer, more commercial material is time for a bathroom/beverage break, returning in time for a closing run of classics, beginning with the tongue-in-cheek, green tinted "Resurrection By Erection". Never lose that sense of humor guys! On the staircase behind the band, there's a motionless collection of masked nuns. An explosions of streamers is shot overhead, even getting entangled in the high def, mobile camera guide wires.
Guess what accompanies red hued "Fire And Forgive"? Yes, repeated blasts of heat. Practically another burst every time Dorn says the word "fire," which is quite often. Thankfully, the same life imitating art doesn't hold with "Sanctified By Dynamite", although there's still plenty of blinding strobes, pyro and sparklers. The large Powerwolf logo flag that Falk waves even has a sparkler on top. Old school "We Drink Your Blood" And "Werewolves Of Armenia" conclude this love fest, with no waning in intensity of the audience participation, nor frequency of fiery embellishments. Powerwolf, in a German open air environment is so special.
Would be a great way to end the night, but there was one more order of business: in the darkness of the T-stage: Abbath. The first three songs cover everything in a dense layer of smoke. The mainman ventures little, tethered to the mic, occasionally flickering his tongue. When he does move, he comes forward, the rest of the band content to cede center stage to the namesake artist. Speaking of which, a silver steel placard, with the word "Abbath", sits in front of the drum riser. "To War!" is a fitting opener, given his battles with ex-Immortal mates, as well as recent person demons. He snarls/croaks the lyrics. Throughout, the lights switch from orange, green, red and yellow, although typically in monochromatic shades, not combinations, maybe augmented by strobes. Following "Dream Cult", the stage temporarily goes dark, only to be re-illuminated for "Battalions" (from his first solo outing, under the moniker I).
However, it will not be the only nod to his past, in a set almost devoid of said history, as blue lit "One By One" (Immortal) gets an airing, later. Yellow hued "Hectate"offers a brief moment of jangly guitar subtlety, the dry ice fog even dissipating enough to (finally) realize that the man's visage (as it appears on the Dread Reaver cover) hangs from the back of the stage. During "Harvest Pyre" the man-made fog ceases, so that Abbath can emerge from a raven emblazoned scrim, with a flaming torch, for some fire-breathing. It's the first audible reaction from a rather sedate crowd. A long day in the sun is draining, certainly not death/black metal fandom's friend.
Can't believe there's just one day left.
While not outright overlaps, today's photographic responsibilities require early departures from one venue, to get to the other, in time, so few opportunities to watch a band's entire set. Upon arriving at the main stage, can't help but notice two jumbo 80s arcade machines. When Dragonforce begin, there's the two guitarists, Herman Li and Sam Totman, each atop one of the machines, elevated some 10-12 feet above the stage, an unseen staircase running up, behind each machine. The fact the Brits have been identified with games/gaming, for more than 15 years, makes the tie-in all the more fitting. The video screen behind them displays simulated game action during masturbatory, rapid fire "Highway To Oblivion" opener.
Marc Hudson initially wore shades (it was pushing 90+ degrees in the sunshine), but ditched them after the first song. Totman nearly took a spill, as the front riser wasn't anchored and wheeled out of place as he jumped on it. He played it off, all while still shredding. Nice save! "Fury Of The Storm" followed, with flames across the stage and soon it was time to move towards the T Stage, but could still hear the multitude of notes, as I walked.
Northern Europeans aren't used to these temperatures. In the scorching sun, the security guards have no shelter. So they build their own. Underneath the main stage, there's a series of hammocks. When they get a break, they can get off their feet, find a cold drink and a little shade. But what about the punters down front, camped out, for hours, at the rail? Careful what you wish for, as playful, but overzealous security have a pressurized fire hose on hand! As temperatures climb, they unleash torrents on unsuspecting victims. Like a real life video game, streams of water being the projectiles, they douse people at point blank range. Crowd surfers are an easy target, knocked off their path with a forceful spray. Purposeful "friendly fire," even some co-workers get a blast from behind. Hey, heat plays games on the mind.
Peavy Wagner is a legend, as Rage has been a part of the German metal scene since before most of the festival attendees were born (1986). The band is (temporarily?) back to a trio, with Jean Bormann as the sole guitarist. With such an extensive recording career, it's tough to satisfy everyone, in a mere 50 minute festival set. The bald, but gray, forked beard, bassist strolled onstage under cover of piped in classical music (the "Momento Vitae" overture) and then launched into "Resurrection Day", just as it appears on the album of the same name (their last full-length). Bormann's riffs introduce the more aggro, clickety-clack of "Solitary Man". Peavy seemingly warms to the task, moving forward, to the bank of wedge monitors, and "machine gunning" the crowd with his four string "weapon." Got a double shot off the Missing Link album (celebrating its 30th anniversary), "Nevermore" and "Refuge" (complete with a few bars of reggae (?). Too much middle of the road, progressive leaning stuff in the repertoire. Can't help but think they need another speedster, like "Don't Fear The Winter".
From one Teutonic institution to another, as Tankard followed Rage on the T-stage. For those that weren't interested in one of the German Big 4 (shame on you!) the option was Killswitch Engage, across the field, on the bigger stage. In comparisons with the US Big 4, Tankard are usually likened to Anthrax, the one that stands (stylistically, visually) apart from the other three. In terms of action onstage, the distinction is also apropos. Despite his size, frontman Gerre is a whirling dervish onstage, constantly in motion, side-to-side, even pirouetting as we goes, purposefully flashing his girth that often hangs from the bottom of his t-shirt and occasionally banging the live mic on his bare belly. His longtime (original) partner in crime is bassist Frank Thorwarth (who comes charging in, from the wings, on the first drum beats of "Rectifier"). Also a bundle of energy, jogging in place, or almost dancing, by the second track ("The Morning After"), he'd already jumped off stage and into the barricade/photo pit! Need more social commentary like "Ex-Fluencer". Investigate.
The self-proclaimed Kings Of Beer have been awfully sober thus far, with none of their material in praise of "bier." This being the same outfit I saw at a festival with a table and beer fridge onstage, to crack open a cold one, right in the middle of a performance! Gerre opens a can before the simplistic, repetitive "Rapid Fire". The hurky-jerky, old school "Chemical Invasion" and "Zombie Attack" come back-to-back, but the one everyone wants to hear is "Freibier", mostly for its message (free beer for all), but also because it's sung in their native tongue. The live setlist may not have changed much (at all?), but you don't hear anyone complaining. Hope the keg never runs dry!
Let's check in on some Decapitated. Rasta Piotrowski's braided hair is longer than ever, some strands are knee length. When he headbangs, it looks like a foreign organism has enveloped his face (Alien, anyone?). Founding guitarist Vogg, is to his right. In a fury of strobes and stage fog, the Poles unveil "Cancer Culture". When not bellowing his dense gurgle, the singer prompts the crowd and/or throws the horns. Green tinted (60s mind? No!) "Just A Cigarette" sees Vogg venture forward, from his safe place, straddle the wedge monitors and eventually displace the singer from center stage, for a brief solo break. There's a rhythmic groove to "Earth Scar", as the guitarist and bassist alternate sides of the stage. Impressive.
Second encounter with In Flames this summer (both onstage and backstage) and not able to see a complete show either time. Moody lighting and a massive audience, after nightfall. A lone acoustic guitar heralds their arrival and the crowd claps along, in anticipation. Keyboards and drums in the back, there's a riser the width of the stage, onwhich bearded, baseball cap wearing Anders Friden will spend much of the show, albeit in a hunched crouch. To his left, mainstay/original guitarist Bjorn Gelotte (in Def Leppard tee), smiling more than I've seen him in a long time. Side opposite is American stringbender Chris Broderick. As if they needed any prodding, "The Great Deceiver" announces it's open season on the barricade and the armada sets sail. "Pinball Map" sees Broderick venture to the farthest offstage extension of the wings and recalls how great In Flames can be, when they avoid the experimental missteps towards nu-metal and americanized metalcore. It is just the first "rewind" of the evening, as they'd later revisit a (unanticipated) string of late ‘90s material.
If there's a lull, between songs, the crowd rhythmically chants the band's name. Even this late in his career, Friden seems uneasy with such massive outpourings of adulation. Crimson lighting scheme for "Where The Dead Ships Dwell". Got goosebumps (again) when neon purple illuminated "Behind Space" kicked in! It has made periodic appearances in the last two decades, but rarely (since the Nineties) has it been backed with "another oldie" (as Anders proclaimed), "The Hive", where Gelotte replicates his guitar partner's journey to the extremities of the stage. The fun run continues with crowd adored, deep blue hued "Cloud Connected" and finally "Only For The Weak", with a sea of bodies bouncing vertically. Guys, please continue to acknowledge your past, especially when visiting North America.
Earlier in the day, Metal Tim had spent some quality time with Marduk chieftain/guitarist Morgan Håkansson. Watch for an interview, soon. Have seen the band on numerous festival bills, but in the photo pit, the lower end was like a repeated punch in the chest. Punishing! Don't want to say that organizers were anticipating "trouble," but two jeeps, packed with fire extinguishers, were parked backstage, right next to the stage and a handful of firemen watched, from the wings. While their concerns proved unwarranted, the Swedes did their best to set the stage alight, within legal parameters, with repeated fiery bursts across the lip of the stage, as well as behind the band. When not flames, the place was enveloped in stage fog. Indigo/red hues all but obscured the performers during "The Blond Beast" and "Viktoria" which were up early. Despite industry types like Metal Tim and myself already having heard Memento Mori (still a few weeks from release), singer Mortuus announced the ride cymbal heavy newbie "Blood Of The Funeral" anyway. Surprisingly, apart from a storm of white strobes, quick hitting "Baptism Of Fire" was absent its namesake. However, the concluding "Wolves", much like they began the show, offered a mini-conflagration onstage: alternating blasts from the half dozen flame cannon, as well as all in unison. Hot.
It wasn't planned that way, but Hammerfall turned out to be our last band of the festival: goodbyes, thank yous and socializing with friends and the Summer Breeze creative team, thereafter. Actually the fourth time seeing the Swedish Templars, in three months. Like many of the main stage acts this day, the show came complete with a pyro display, right from the blue lit "Brotherhood", where the two guitarists mounted risers, center stage, for a twin lead moment. Oscar Dronjak, in particular, seemed jacked up by the huge gathering. Under yellow lights, when not singing "Any Means Necessary", Joacim Cans headbangs. "The Metal Age", with synchronized stage moves, is the first of the so-called "old school" selections: the initial trio of albums afforded one track each ("Let The Hammer Fall" and title cut off Renegade). During the song, Cans swaps his black leather jacket for a white vest, with red stars.
The singer promises, "New songs, old shit, but no ballads." Cue the pre-recorded synthesized strings of mid-tempo galloping "Hammer Of Dawn", augmented live by repeated mushroom cloud eruptions of flame. Boom! An explosion, followed by shower of sparks, to introduce "Blood Bound", where the audience sings the majority of the lyrics, but especially the titular chorus. Still more fire, as Pontus Norgren (literally under spotlight) takes a solo on the extended stage wings. Green lights for "Renegade", the last truly fast number in the set. Perfect timing as a rain shower sends us running for cover: unsure how long it will last. From the backstage/artist area, can still hear Hammerfall, as well as see the gigantic plumes released from atop the stage. Although the precipitation was short lived, Brave Words was in the midst of the aforementioned "auf wiedersehen" tour, backstage.
Next year will the 25th edition. An initial round of big names have already been announced and tickets are on sale. Come join the fun!