TONS OF ROCK 2024 - 10th Anniversary, With Bright Future Ahead!

July 7, 2024, 2 weeks ago

By Mark Gromen

gallery heavy metal tons of rock

Have seen what is Norway's largest annual rock/metal event grow by leaps & bounds in the post-pandemic period. Over the four days (Wednesday through Saturday), an estimated 150,000 visitors frequent Ekebergsletta, to witness 53 bands, covering all aspects of the scene: from classic black metal, indigenous to the area, through longstanding mainstream rock/metal outfits to the experimental fringe, blending in electronic/rap. Literally, something for everyone who likes a guitar in the music (and even a few bands who don't really use the six-string). 

As the festival describes its amenities: "The numbers speak for themselves: 425 toilets, 500 urinals, 700 garbage cans with various environmental sortings, 5 water stations, 400 meters of bar counter, Craft (beer) tent with 14 microbreweries, mead, cider, vineyard, frozen drinks, taptails, mocktails and 2 non-alcoholic bars, 28 amazing food vendors, offering gluten-free, vegan, sushi, plant-based, local and .. moose bab on the menu, as well as corporate sponsorship with Domino's Pizza and Monster energy drink. (We have our) own Barcade stage (for stand-up comedy and interviews/speeches), art tent, shopping street, post office..." There's a Ferris wheel, old school pinball/video arcade, you want it? Tons Of Rock has it! 

The organizers were greeted with the first warm, dry stretch of the season (even if the temperatures were only in the 70s), which facilitated many locals going topless, in search of that eternal sun burn/tan. The three stages, of varying size, are arranged in a circular pattern, so a trip to the bathroom, food court, bar or music stage is always conveniently "on the way." A veritable international smorgasbord of eats: Thai, Indian, Mexican, Greek and UK style fish & chips, amongst the traditional fare. Even in ridiculously expensive Norway, the food/drink items were not THAT out of line with their North American counterparts: examples - $5 sausage, $12 burger.  A side of fries will set you back $5. A slice of Domino's pizza was $9, but the whole pie was less than $40. Want a pre-poured shot? That's $8. Plastic cup of Hansa beer (few ounces short of a pint) was about $11, plus a $2 deposit on the cup (cuts down on littering), in the tent, craft beers were $15, although half sizes were also available. Non-alcoholic beer was $8, while soda was $5. Mojito cost $14 and wine was $12 a glass, or $60 for the bottle. 

DAY 1
Although sun is shining brightly (and some natives are already seeking shelter, therein), the first stop is under the tent, for some Brazilian thrash, courtesy of the ladies in Nervosa, although my time will be abbreviated (stuck around long enough to "Death!" and "Kill The Silence"), as Saxon start while Nervosa are still onstage. There's some overlap between the stages (about 15 minutes), but the two biggest, outdoor venues (Moonlight, the smallest, is under a giant circus tent), are never in competition against one another. Still, there may be times one has to leave a site before the band is done, in order to navigate the herds of humanity moving simultaneously and still make the start of your next favorite. Sometimes not, which are moments for basking in the sun, conversations with friends, eats/drinks, calls of nature, checking out merch/shopping, etc. In some locations (those just vacated by the audience), lines queue up 20 to 30 deep to refill their beers, while on the opposite side of the grounds, it's practically empty. A little walk is worth it.

Initial time seeing Saxon without Paul Quinn. They opened with newbie "Hell, Fire And Damnation", playing the main, so-called Scream stage, which today featured a ringed runway, into the crowd, that Metallica would use to house its Snakepit fans. Biff Byford, in long black coat, despite the warmth, made quick use of the ramp, venturing close to the crowd as soon as "Motorcycle Man". Augmented by his piercing, two-finger whistle, the singer was joined on the outcropping by all, except guitarist Doug Scarratt and (obviously) drummer Nigel Glockler. There's a groove to "Madame Guillotine", but even the older volunteers serving beer, got into "Heavy Metal Thunder."

Periodically, Biff flips a bottle of water to those in the front row, as "Crusader" sees newboy/Diamond Head stringbender Brian Tatler take the solo. Afterwards, the frontman offers the crowd a choice of songs (meant to be decided by their reaction), between "Strong Arm Of The Way" and "Dallas 1PM". Both met with lukewarm responses, so with a chuckle, the self-effacing veteran added, "Apparently big songs, here in Norway!" Cue the former. It's fists aloft for "Denim & Leather" as bassist Nibbs Carter and Scarratt headbang ferociously. A few fans toss their patch adorned battle jackets onstage. The singer collects and distributes, as he, Nibbs and Doug wear the donations as they play "Wheels Of Steel". Not sure if/how the fans get their prized possessions back. Saxon end with "Princess Of The Night". Still great!

Today, the Vampire area also sports a gangplank into the crowd. Mammoth WVH are hard rock, at best. Bearded Wolfie (Van Halen, son of the late guitar great, Eddie), in cut-off shorts, stays in the center, tethered to the mic, while the others are up on the risers, at the lip of the stage, or out on the jet way. Plenty of stage fog for opening "You're To Blame", but by "Like A Pastime", had seen/heard enough. On to greener pastures. For most of the year, the area is home to numerous soccer fields that overlook downtown Oslo. Scenic spot.

Someone on the Tons Of Rock board really likes Europe, as the Swedes make a return engagement, after just last year away. Opening "On Broken Wings" sees tanned Joey Tempest, with green scarf around his neck (in this weather?), flipping the solid white mic stand, as to his left guitarist John Norum jumps atop a riser, then plays from a crouch. On "Rock The Night", through charades, the singer eggs on Norum to play faster. Emotive follow-up "Walk The Earth" does just the opposite. "Scream Of Anger" is an unexpected deep cut, to these North American ears. Nice! A synth/piano workout, accompanied by a smoky stage, greets "Sign Of The Times". Between songs, Tempest speaks in his native tongue, which almost all Norwegians understand.

The synth heavy pop of "Hold Your Head Up" was not their best footing, which is followed by the full blown ballad, "Carrie". Apart from Norum (who kept to his dominion), all moved about the stage. John did switch between a wood finished Flying V and the requisite Swedish cream color Strat. The singer strapped on a guitar of his own, for the upbeat "Ready Or Not". Tempest flips that mono-colored mic stand, end-over-end, during "Cherokee", but the clarion call of those keyboard notes sees otherwise disinterested folks sprint across the infield, to get a glimpse of the band, whip out their mobile/cell phone and sing along to set closing "The Final Countdown".

Sakis Tolis (singer/guitarist for Rotting Christ) was in a playful mood, getting right in the face of the photographers, shouting and throwing the horns, during the red/strobe lit, set beginning "666". The tent was packed, actually the contents spilling beyond the circus Big Top. Whoever drew the short straw, for security in the pit, got quite the workout, with endless sea of crowd surfers. The party continues, as green lights and spoken voiceover introduce triumphant "Demonon Vrosis". The rhythms belie the ferocity of the Greeks' moniker. Some clap, other punch the air, some combine the two, along with "hey hey", or sing the lyrics. It's three shaking heads of hair, across the stage, to open the hypnotic "Like Father, Like Son". More of the same, during "Dies Irae", the blue illumination shattered by a barrage of white strobes.

Make no mistake, THE band that the majority of the people had come to see, was Metallica. Some are old-timers, others, families with toddlers to pre-teens donning over-ear protective headphone, all laid out a blanket and awaited Lars & Co. Rest assured, this is NOT the Kill ‘Em All era crowd! That being said, following the "Ecstasy Of Gold" intro (from Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Western, The Good, The Bad & The Ugly), it was straight into old school "Whiplash". Robert Trujillo (bass) was out on the ringed walkway, from word go. It's been seven years since last seeing the guys, who I initially saw open for Twisted Sister, back in December '83 (Fountain Casino, NJ), and in the intervening years have spent more time with the crop of rising bands, rather than the likes of Hardwired and 72 Seasons. As such, the middle section of this show bogged down, bookended by the early/underground material and concluding, MTV success era hits.

Kirk Hammett also likes to wander, to the wings and back again. The Jumbotrons, either side of the stage rigging, give close-ups of singer/guitarist James Hetfield and founder/drummer Lars Ulrich. Those screens display simulcast/live black & white clips during "Creeping Death". Triple shot of classics has "For The Bell Tolls", with Papa Het venturing far afield, down the same left wing previously visited by Kirk. The line, "It's the last time you will" cues eruptions of flames, heat that can be felt, more than 100 meters away! Hammett's fleet fingered solo ends anti-climatically (just stops), but the first couple of notes from a crowd sung "Enter Sandman" signal a level of recognition that the early chestnuts didn't receive. Shows where the audience's allegiance lies (unlike a certain, aged reviewer). Nice they played all the '80s stuff early, so some of the old folks could head home, if they were so inclined.

Neither as compelling, or close to thrash, the current title cut and blue lit "If Darkness Had A Son" follow.  Interesting to see the old-timers' mass Exodus (ouch!) to the bathroom/bar during such newer tracks. Kirk and Robert, on the outer ring, near the crowd, offer an impromptu CC Cowboys' "Vill Vakker og Våt" (Wild Beautiful and Wet), with most of the crowd singing along to the surprising Norge tongue inclusion. "Fade To Black" brings everyone back into the fold, although the rendition has changed (jangling, acoustic, almost country opening, courtesy of Hetfield, on pole mounted second guitar). Hetfield recalls their second show ever, opening for Saxon and the irony of both still being on the same bill, decades later. Cue Brian Tatler's entrance, All give Tatler a hug and Hammett bows down to him. As the Brit squeezes out the first notes, everyone joins a three guitar rendition of his Diamond Head creation, "Am I Evil?" The trio of guitars set up shop, stage left, before Hetfield peels off and heads back to the mic. 

Hammett initiates "Nothing Else Matters", but soon James sidles up to him, as the crowd essentially takes command of the vocals. "Why don't you play heavy," Hetfield mimics his (online) critics. "You want heavy? Here it is..." Cue "Sad But True" continues the mid-paced vibe, working up to the big finale. The concluding trio, beginning with "Seek & Destroy" offer some of their best known works, as well as career highlights: the debut (with a couple dozen black/yellow inflatable oversize beach balls bouncing atop the massive crowd), mainstream success ("One") and fierce parting shot, the iconic "Master Of Puppets", their last great thrash album. And we still have three more days of this? Yes!!

DAY 2
Maynard, Mike Patton, Jonas Renkse and Mikael Akerfeldt were all scheduled today. Certainly going to be a more reclusive frontman sort of day, but more bands to cover, actually means seeing less of each one, needing to hop from stage to stage. Odd, seeing Doro play at 1 PM, but it got people into the festival early, on a Thursday.  A leather studded vest, and facing directly into the sun, bore no issues for the Metal Queen, kicking off with "I Rule The Ruins". Plenty of photo ops were afforded her guitarists Bas Maas and the well-traveled Bill Hudson (who would actually play with a different act, at this festival). Each jumped up on the center riser, with Ms. Pesch, together, or separate, into the "Burning The Witches" successor. Everyone, even mainstay drummer Johnny Dee, offer backing vocals throughout the set. The crowd claps along, at the onset of "Fight For Rock", likewise the assemblage punches the air for newbie "Time For Justice", which began a string of Conqueress material, broken only by "Raise Your Fist In The Air", which has the now shirtless Hudson soloing madly over the basic melody.

A storming "Fire In The Sky" begins with a cannonade of drums from the ageless Dee, who gets a double bass workout on the Maas showcase, "Revenge". Bas and Bill offering dueling headbangs, stage left. Flipping her hair forward, Doro implores the crowd to sing the titular phrase of "All We Are", from the second utterance of the oft repeated title. Although they end with high energy "Metal Racer", her pre-recorded duet with Rob Halford, on "Living After Midnight" pumps through the speakers. She is unwilling to leave her fans and attempts to get folks to sing along to the well-known Judas Priest cover, as her band around her continues to take a bow. Doro never wants to leave a crowd disappointed.

Far too many people (especially Stateside) only show up to see the bands they know/like. However, arriving onsite early provides an opportunity to investigate bands you might not otherwise see/hear. Case in point the dual sex vocal combo, Igorr, a strange mix of electronica, corpse-painted, black metal growls/screams and operatic female vocals. They even employed a sitar, at one point. On the main stage is Oslo Ess (phonetic spelling of the city's central railway station), a punky/ska combo, in their native language, that alternately plays harmonica, brass horns and saxophone.

Back to more traditional BraveWords appetites, up next was Katatonia. Couldn't have picked a less hospitable environs for the depressive Swedes: staring straight into a burning sun. Been ages since much of the fanbase had seen such intense sun, if ever. No wonder founder/fromtman Jonas Renkse came onstage in dark sunglasses, long sleeve black dress shirt and similarly colored jeans. This would stand in stark contrast to earlier this year, aboard the 70K Tons cruise, when you couldn't see him, nor the band, for most of the unlit, fog shrouded performance. Jonas spends much of the opening "Birds" wandering about, center stage, but in reality, he's checking the sound/mix in his wedge monitors. Ironically, by the livelier "Colossal Shade", which starts with an audience clap along, Renkse ditched the sunglasses. "Old Hearts Fall" begins practically a cappella, just sporadic notes but eventually all join the slowly meandering number. By the concluding "Atrium", sweat plastered his stringy hair to his face.

Back-to-back pairing (albeit on different stages) of depressive Swedes, Katatonia and Opeth (both under a blistering sun) was a stroke of genius (or insanity, take your pick). Those uninterested could find solace in numerous food/drink diversion, otherwise a couple of hours of sheer (musical) bliss. Fans selected Opeth's set today, mainman Mikael Akerfeldt feigned anger, complaining, "You only want to hear the old shit!" Not really (nothing from the trio of Nineties albums), just the most popular works: only five long songs, with lots of growls. His usual deadpan sense of human was lost to those who don't speak Swedish (as all communication transpired in such), but friends confirmed he was his sardonic best. He took the stage, looking like one of those Hollywood movie vampires, in shades, behind a green guitar and mockingly reacted to the sunlight as a spoken voiceover announced "The sun burns hot!" 

Classic entrance and then into "The Grand Conjuration". Opeth attempt to utilize a smoke machine, but to little regard, in this wind. One minute they sound like the cacophonous death metal, which began their career, the next, a Gordon Lightfoot folk song, often separated by just a few measures. The requisite Opeth staple "Demon Of The Fall" is up next, earlier than it typically appears, but no less stellar. Not much of a "show", as the musicians will occasional change places, but Mikael is a prisoner, center stage. He switches to a wood grain guitar for the rest of the show, beginning with "The Drapery Falls", then another short burst of audience participation, to commence "Heir Apparent". Akerfeldt would introduce the members of the band, saying "New kid on the block (for drummer Waltteri Väyrynen) and the main star, me!" The guitars, to kick off the mammoth, "Deliverance" set closer, sound like a swarm of bees. Overall, a rare, "short" dose of vintage Opeth. Glad to have witnessed it.

Never much of an Extreme fan, but like their ‘80s contemporaries, put a lot of energy into the live action, especially frontman Gary Cherone, a revertible aerobics instructor onstage. The singer came on, with dark, bug eye shades, with an X (made out of Band-Aids) over the left lens, for "It's A Monster". He jumped around, tossed the mic stand, was up on the drum riser, attempted to kick the bassist: energetic. One of the big hits, "Decadence Dance" was up second, with everyone, including guitarist Nuno Bettencourt, getting some facetime with the photographers, up front, with the Pornograffitti artwork as a backdrop.

For "Am I Ever Gonna Change", Cherone donned what he called a Norwegian hat, saying, "Cost like $7000 US, this place is expensive! How many are seeing Extreme for the first time? What took so long? We've been doing this for 38 years." Nuno's jangling, electrified acoustic begins "Hole Hearted". He'd bring the acoustic back for "Midnight Express", expressing his excitement about getting to play, while seated, then adding to a derogatory comment, "You're my age," points out a guy in the crowd. "At 58, sitting down is better than an orgasm." Stage right, he's perched, on a small drum stool. Cherone will pull up his own stool and the two do "More Than Words" as a duet. Nuno sort of apologizes playing it at a metal festival. True, it sort of saps the energy initially generated, which is kind of a microcosm for their career: initial interest in the hair metal explosion, submarined by their best known tune. When completed, they announced, "Fuck that sentimental shit. This was for our mamas." The guitarist gets a solo spotlight, utilizing part of Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight Of The Bumble Bee" and right into "Get The Funk Out".

While some on the bill prefer to avoid the limelight, and the glare/scrutiny that comes with it, W.A.S.P. founder Blackie Lawless has never been a shrinking violet. The band were a late replacement for Heart and while the singer/guitarist is still recovering from back/spine issues that saw him restricted to a stagefront seat, throughout, he did his best, offering up a set that culled a pair from each of the first two albums, three in a row, off The Crimson Idol and an unnecessary cover of The Who's "The Real Me". Really, in a short festival set, at the expense of "Animal" (I know, I know the internal conflict), another off the debut, or even an original from the sadly underrated Headless Children? At least they didn't cover "Easy Livin'", with Uriah Heep in the house, tomorrow, but I digress... 

"Blind In Texas" was first out of the gates, the promotional video played behind the band. Sort of brave/dangerous, having your 40 year younger self onscreen, especially when the focal point is, these days, immobile. "L.O.V.E. Machine" follows, Blackie sounded good, aided by back-up from the rest of the band, but none of the controversial lip-sync/playback issues were apparent. By the cover song, Opeth's Akerfeldt, along with his/Paradise Lost manager, Andy Farrow, snuck into the crowd, to watch a few songs. Introspective Blackie doesn't resonate with some (who want "Animal") all these years after The Idol and Headless Children. The concept album's title track, with its length jam, gives way to the revving of a chainsaw, for the more aggressive "Chainsaw Charlie (Murders In The New Morgue)", as the two guitars come together, in a rare moment of band unity/solidarity. You'd think, under Lawless' condition, you'd try to involve him more, despite his sedentary nature. 

The slower/ballad "Miss You" is not necessarily good party/festival fare, but then Blackie was vilified, for years, about playing the same songs ad infinitum. Can't win! So he changes "Wild Child". Claims he got the impromptu idea (never done before) on the plane over, offering it almost a cappella (just his guitar), for the first verse, then the band kicks in. "I Wanna Be Somebody" finale sees the audience split, side-to-side, in order to compete with a call & response of the titular phrase. It helps stretch the set to an hour, in a 70 minute time slot. Know the guy is ailing, but COULD have played one more classic.

As mentioned earlier, attending a festival gives you a chance to investigate. Case in point, Mr. Bungle, fronted by Faith No More madcap Mike Patton, who came onstage with his hair up, in French braid pigtails, like some Oktoberfest beer maid. Currently along for Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, are ex-Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo and "vacationing" Anthrax mainman/guitarist Scott Ian. It's as much about off kilter cover tunes as any coherent setlist. Until it comes around to the thrash that he's used to playing, can practically see Ian's eyes roll into the back of head, like when Patton squeezes a squeaking plastic pig toy, into the mic. Across the field, homespun black metallers Tsjuder are laying waste to the tented Moonlight stage, decked out in enough spikes and studs to open a hardware store.

DAY 3
The only day with a threat on rain in the forecast (that thankfully never materialized), but where yesterday was tank tops & shorts, a chilly wind saw many take cover in hoodies or jackets. Ouch! Began the day with a little bit of stoner/doom, courtesy of Orange Goblin, hulking frontman Ben Ward in Motörhead tee. As soon as he strolled onstage, went straight to the front (even before setting his microphone) and pumped up the fans, screaming for them to make noise. Then it was right into "Cemetery Rats". A thumping bass and haze of smoke greet "Scorpionica", but couldn't stay as long as wanted, as needed to cross the field and wait in the photography line for Uriah Heep on the big stage.

The Heep just exudes the thrill of being there and wanting to play. Age provides a unique perspective. It came across from the opening "Save Me Tonight". Long silver hair and matching, bushy mustache, guitarist Mick Box looks like a Muppet inspiration for the characters in Dr. Teeth's Electric Mayhem. With the band pushing 54 years in existence, Bernie Shaw is not the original singer, but there since '86 and knows how to handle a mic stand as a prop. The pedestrian "Rainbow Demon" had a Native American feel to it, while "Stealin' sparked instant recognition across an audience of all ages. Just to be like other bands, they opted for "Hurricane", off last year's release, the 25th, if you're counting.

Shaw asked if we wanted, "some old school heavy metal?" Running down the sub-genres, he continued, "In the ‘70s, there were no such pigeon-holes. Good music was just good music." Box, who heretofore had been kind of stagnant, comes alive, walks to the center of the stage, even bends down, as he play "Free & Easy", adding plenty of histrionics, before it concludes with a trip around the drum kit. Box announced "Gypsy" next (off the '71 debut), a real keyboard/Moog/electric piano workout. The lengthy "July Morning" opens with a heavy dose of feedback and wah wah pedal. The bouncy boogie of "Easy Livin'" snapped the crowd back into action, before ending, somewhat anticlimactically, with "Lady In Black". Good old rock ‘n’ roll, nothing like it.

Abbath has been touring quite a lot lately, but this was to be a special set, exclusively Immortal songs, in Norway. A backdrop of snow-capped mountain peaks and a pair of double headed battle axes (flanking the drums) was all he needed to set the mood. Plenty of fans in this crowd, as the guitarist/vocalist revisited his past, with fan favorites, as well as his personal picks, from across the years. "Sons Of Northern Darkness" sees the twin guitarists face-to-face. For most of their existence outside Norway, even giant gigs, like Wacken, people only heard these songs, with one guitar. Now, with two, the sound is fuller and even more vicious. 

This was not a quirky Abbath, although he did stop, midway, once or twice, just to clear his throat/let out a primal grunt (or something), but no tomfoolery (beyond some tongue waggling), not even a crab walk, treating the music with the respect it demands/ deserves. He even demonstrated some fretboard tapping technique, in "One By One", which ends with fireworks and a shower of sparklers. The melodic guitar section within "Tyrants" erupts into a spontaneous audience clap along, broken only by multiple explosions of compressed carbon dioxide spraying skyward. A constant stream of strobes adds little effect in the daylight. 

At the 35 minute mark, the stage goes "black", as everyone departs and the pre-recorded intro to "At The Heart Of Winter" is aired, until the band returns, to finish it off. The aforementioned battle axe props are set aflame. A third backdrop reveals the man's face, much like the artwork for his solo works. It's heads down aggro on "Withstand The Fall Of Time". Audience is eating this up, with the odd circle pit, a constant stream of crowd surfers and clapping to the melodies. These songs were made for mass acceptance/audience reaction, just a shame that never got the full scale chance, to be realized. Only this late in the show did Abbath ham it up to the live TV camera, down front. For "Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)" Abbath returns with an ornate headdress, looks like two sheep horns atop a Roman centurion helmet. An hour of great songs from the guy who punctured the glass ceiling of black metal seriousness! One of the best concerts of the festival, hands down.

The kid-pop of Turnstile should probably get ready for a cease & desist letter from Twisted Sister's legal team, utilizing a "similar" angular pink TS logo on their kick drum. Just saying... Under the tent, Bill Hudson played for the second time, in as many days (previously with Doro) as part of David Vincent's celebrating the 35th anniversary of Altars Of Madness, with his I Am Morbid. While Vincent mentioned the occasion, there was just a trio off said platter (and no "Chapel Of Ghouls"). "Visions From The Dark Side" is bathed in blue, with rapidly pulsating streaks of white light. "Show of hands, how many were NOT born when that album was released," inquires the frontman/bassist. Red lit "Pain Divine" offers a barked vocal, while David calls for a circle pit during "Maze Of Torment". The brutal "Dominate" is painted in blue/green streaks.

The night finished with Judas Priest. "Panic Attack" starts the fun, Rob Halford decked out in silver Jiffy Pop outfit. He lets the others get some of the attention, as he stays towards the back of the stage. Initially, drummer Scott Travis took his place, wearing a long sleeve, in the cool Norwegian air, but quickly worked up a sweat and was in his traditional sleeveless black tee. Still odd hearing ‘80s concert staple "You've Got Another Thing Comin’" so early in the set, but it creates the right mood, as Richie Faulkner really provides most of the action onstage. "Rapid Fire" is just good old school Priest, Halford patrolling back n forth across the lip of the stage.

Rob switches to a black motorcycle jacket, come pink lit "Breaking The Law" (another oldie re-positioned in the running order). "Riding On The Wind" gives way to crimson colored "Devil's Child". The singer, now sporting a semi-shimmering, knee length coat, is sandwiched between guitarist (producer) Andy Sneap and Faulkner. The Eagle is left alone for some pulling on the whammy bar, triumphantly hoisting his Flying V vertically aloft, gripping the fin with one hand. While simulated, digital flames accompany "Sinner", real fire is unleashed from atop the lighting tower/soundboard, midway in the crowd. Once again, Halford plays off Richie.

It's left to Richie alone, to face the crowd, for the synthesizer intro to "Turbo Lover". He does a sort of jumping jacks to get the crowd clapping along, as Rob re-emerges in a shiny gold tunic. No worries, as the crowd sings most of the choruses. Funny moment, Rob & Ian Hill (bass) swing their hips together, like old-timers dance night. Actually, it's a rare moment of inclusion for Hill (used to be married to Rob's sister). Normally, Ian is content to fend for himself, back near Travis' kit, stage left. The current title track sees Faulkner move the headstock left & right, like a redlining needle on the soundboard. "Victim Of Changes" sees impressive sustain on the high notes, from a man soon to be 73, and he even does a bit of headbanging. Faulkner, with vertically divergent black/white painted V and Sneap move near the center. As the pace slows, Halford returns in black, studded robe.

Prior to the appropriately tinted stage lighting for "Green Manalishi", Rob is alone, onstage, doing some vocal aping with the fans. During the song, he climbs atop Travis' riser. Scott's time to talk to the crowd sees him prod national rivalries, telling those gathered that they've played both Sweden and Finland (chorus of booing cascades towards the stage). Cue "Painkiller", with the singer now in a black leather duster, with fringe dangling from the sleeves. After "Electric Eye", Rob comes out (ahem) with a rainbow Pride rider's cap, and floor-length, patched denim jacket, atop a Harley motorcycle, for "Hellbent For Leather". Sneap takes the initial solo. Rob stands behind "the hog" for the entirety of "Hellbent" and the concluding "Living After Midnight", where both guitarists met, center stage, and sway in synchronized side-to-side movement. Priest! Priest! Priest...long may they continue to reign.

DAY 4
Last day already? Better make it count! The brothers Cavalera are playing tunes they wrote as teens in the earliest days of Sepultura, the band they founded and now, without Max and Igor, is ready to call it quits. Max is out front, behind the ribbon of bullets, attached to the mic stand. He looks like Hollywood casting's stereotypical disheveled, bearded, frizzy haired Pan-American dictator, but you should never underestimate the conviction, of either. By contrast, Igor is virtually invisible behind the drum kit, a pair of round sunglasses, short hair and neatly trimmed goatee, he looks like he belongs to a jazz/samba combo, more than a vital cog in thrash metal history. It's truly a family affair, with Max's son on bass.

The goal is now to reclaim the band's legacy, which began with the re-recording of those early discs and now playing them for a crowd (regardless of age) who missed it first time around, which is most outside Brazil, as the rest of the world truly only heard the word Sepultura after the band signed to Roadrunner for '89 release Beneath The Remains. Most of today's set predates said album, beginning with "Bestial Devastation". Max calls for a circle pit (often) for "Antichrist". Kids are running laps, going nowhere, like a hamster/gerbil in a wheel, for "Morbid Vision". An onscreen, video conflagration plays behind the foursome throughout, including "Septic Schizo". Powerful and fast is the name of the game here, 30 years of audio improvements and better players give those raw renditions new (listenable) life, case in point "Escape The Void". "Refuse/Resist" noticeably ups the ante, in terms of musicianship, while Igor's drums dominate a more pedestrian "Territory". Wind up with "Troops Of Doom". Now if we can just work in some of that classic Beneath The Remains and/or Arise stuff.

Kreator are something of contemporaries with the Cavaleras, both starting up around the same time, outside the usually media/music hotbeds of UK/USA. The main stage littered with hung and impaled effigies galore. An inflatable head of their unofficial mascot stands guard behind Ventor's kit. Speaking of the drummer, singer/guitarist Mille Petrozza had the Norwegian horde sing "Happy Birthday" to the drummer. While the set included some vintage numbers (also left out a couple: no "Flag Of Hate" nor "Extreme Aggressions"?) it was geared towards newer fans/material, including 40% released in the 2020s. 

"Hate Uber Alles" gets the ball rolling, shooting off some heated pyrotechnics. Usually indoor effects are wasted on a giant, open-air stadium, but German technology figured out how to repeatedly smother the stage in fog/smoke (obliterating any signs of life), even on a windy afternoon. First time was during "Phobia". Prior to blitzkrieg "Enemy Of God" (always a great inclusion), Mille got the crowd to partake in a wall of death. Frédéric Leclercq (bass, ex-Dragonforce) and Sami Yli-Sirniö (guitar) are together, stage left for "666 World Divided". In "Hordes Of Chaos", Petrozza moves off his central location, with a quick trip to the wings, but otherwise, he's tethered to the mic. Thundering drums, from the birthday boy, jumpstart "Hail To The Hordes". Proving it wasn't a fluke, the band disappear from view again, in a thick white shield of stage fog, for "Satan Is Real”. The concluding run of "Terrible Certainty", "Violent Revolution" (which sees the band vacate the stage, for the pre-recorded intro, but storm back on in time to play it live) and "Pleasure To Kill" (ending the show as it began, with plenty of fire) wipes away any misgivings about the setlist. The last two bands have given quite the "education" to early arriving ZZ Top fans!

Seen Avantasia and Tobias Sammett's revolving line-up of guest vocalists before, but this was quite an elaborate setting, especially for a non-headlining festival venue, complete with walkways, iron gates, a box for the keyboardist and three-piece choir, to say nothing of the quality musicians on display. Members of German power metallers Gamma Ray, Heaven's Gate and Edguy are the musical backbone. Backing singers include Seven Spires' Adrienne Cowan and Herbie Langhans, who has had stints with Firewind, Sinbreed and Voodoo Circle. After a fire laden, opening "Spectres", under a blue nighttime backdrop, Cowan came down from the choir to sing speedy "Reach Out For The Light" with Sammett, under a red tinged backdrop of a gothic cathedral, that recalls the monstrosity in Cologne/Köln. However, the most "rocking" number offered today was "Scarecrow", with Pretty Maids frontman Ronnie Atkins, who looked/sounded well, despite recent medical issues. Magnum frontman Bob Catley is always onboard, for violin accompanied "The Story Ain't Over". Following "Promised Land", Tobi introduced high pitched H.E.A.T. singer Kenny Leckremo, in full-on metal regalia, participating in Avantasia, for the first time. His assignment, "Dying For An Angel". He really threw himself into the role. 

At one point, Sammett joked, "We're pushed for time, so I'll not do much talking. You know (heavy dose of sarcasm) I'm not a man of many words anyway," as a Cheshire grin shone across his face. The man has never met a TV camera he doesn't like and during the "Farewell" duet with redhead Chiara Tricarico, he sang directly into the Jumbotron feed. Come "Lucifer", there was a devilish trick instore, as the grand piano wheeled onstage was not miced properly and although Sammett had every intention of singing the ballad, from the bench, it produced a "Spinal Tap moment," in his words. "Expensive prop, having a grand piano onstage, that DOESN'T work, but this fuck-up is a good reason to come back to Norway, to play the piano!" It's all vocal/musical hands on deck for the "Sign Of The Cross" finale. Sort of the speed-reading/Cliff Notes version of Avantasia, but it works.

Odd, ZZ Top on before Greta Van Fleet, but then maybe Billy Gibbons goes to bed early, or something. Sure everyone envisioned a parade of ‘80s MTV hits, but they'd have to wait awhile and learn some blues, from the old master. "Got Me Under Pressure" is a little understated, but sets off on the right foot. On that one only, the bassist had an OVERSIZE, like 12 string bass, of which maybe just two strings, either edge of the foot wide expanse of the fretboard, were humanly capable to operate. A lengthy blues jam, to cover Sam & Dave's "I Thank You", is followed by "Give Me All Your Lovin". Eyes closed, drummer Frank Beard looks half asleep (at the wheel) and the bassist could pass for Sweet Dreams era Tommy Chong.

 "I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide" last longer than the popular singles. Four stacks of orange/blue/white colored Megatone amps stand either side of Beard. Lot more slow tempo blues, then another cover, "Sixteen Tons", best known for the lyric, "Owe my soul to the company store." By now, Beard is alive, eyes wide open. Were the first 45 minutes just a soundcheck and now he's ready to rock? Gibbons plays a little slide guitar and then it's "Sharp Dressed Man", with a little Texas two-step between he and the bassist. Trades the solid body, for white furry/fluffy guitar (and matching bass). Cue "Legs". Most thought they were done, but for a three song encore, although "Brown Sugar" (not the Stones tune) certainly seemed out of place. Fun-loving "Tube Snake Boogie" (can you still say that in 2024?) and the bass rumbling "La Grange", one of the best driving songs, ever, close the show. Different, but glad to have had the chance to witness it.

The rest of Satyricon (including guest Anthrax bassist Frank Bello, who was inconspicuous, hair draped across his face, obscuring his identity) came onstage first. Then Satyr, in white leather vest with black rune/lettering. Free flowing mane and with goatee, he looked something like a dark haired version of late WWE wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper. He walks on, waving a black flag, emblazoned with an inverted white crucifix, as they opened with blue lit "To Your Brethren In the Dark": the backdrop covered with multiple blackbirds/ravens. 

Initially, he took a hand held mic and roamed about, but much of the night, the singer headbangs or stood behind his spiked vine/intestine mike stand. For those uninterested in crowd surfing, the rhythmic pummeling of "Diabolical Now" gives the large crowd a chance to yell back the two song chorus, as well as pogo in place. By "Walk The Path Of Sorrow" Satyr has changed to a black denim vest, atop leather jacket, featuring white Latin inscriptions and inverted cross. Additionally, the singer has a white finned guitar (not really a Flying V), singing and playing from the trademark mic stand, as white strobes rain down. Satyr would use a different axe, come "Fuel For Hatred" as he plays on the run, climbing on Frost's drum riser. When he addressed the crowd, as he did, prior to the closing "K.I.N.G.", it was (naturally) in Norwegian. He winds them up, as they clap, throw horns overhead and sing along, as Satyr moves about, headbanging, in a hurky-jerky motion. A different vibe than the old days, more modern, less underground.

There you have it, some of this year's highlights. The 2025 edition has already announced dates: June 25 - 28 and early bird tickets (without any artists confirmed) have gone on sale. Make plans now!

More Tons Of Rock 2024 coverage:
Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4

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