Saturday April 10th 2004 / Tauberfrankenhalle, Lauda-Königshofen, Germany
Having enjoyed the maiden edition of the Keep It True festival last year tremendously, there was no chance that we were about to miss this second edition. As a matter of fact, we had acquired our tickets and booked our room way in advance already, as soon as we got to know the first announced bands.
Never change a winning team, as they say, and thus the festival was once again to be held at the Tauberfrankenhalle in Lauda-Königshofen. A good move, since this is an ideal place for an event like this : plenty of space, lots of parking space, even a small camping place this time around. Of course there was a huge Metal Market inside the hall again as well, in an attempt to get all of us true headbangers totally bankrupt. Due to this edition taking place in April, the temperatures inside the hall were way more enjoyable, compared to the heat from last July.
In fine tradition, this second edition was once again a combination of a few German bands (MAJESTY & WIZARD) and plenty of foreign bands, most of them playing in Germany for the first time, such as ATTACKER, CLOVEN HOOF, DARK QUARTERER, ELIXIR, HALLOWEEN, HOLY MARTYR and IRONSWORD. Of course BLITZKRIEG and MANILLA ROAD were no strangers to a German audience.
A new addition this year was to have a warm-up show the evening prior to the actual festival, including the likes of WOTAN, BATTLEROAR, BATTLE RAM and RITUAL STEEL. Not such a bad idea, but personally I would have opted for a two-day festival instead. But that was before I even knew there was going to be a third edition of Keep It True this coming November already ... Anyhow, click here to see a short review of the bands that performed during the The Dawn Of Battle warm-up show.
Click HERE to see 44 b/w pictures (including DARK QUARTERER, ELIXIR, ATTACKER, CLOVEN HOOF, BLITZKRIEG, HALLOWEEN & MANILLA ROAD) of the K.I.T. II festival!!!
Italy's HOLY MARTYR were elected to kick off the festival at 12.30 P.M. In reality they didn't start until 25 minutes later, a delay that never would be made up throughout the rest of the day. Anyway, the Mediterranean epic metallers started out with The Call To Arms, from their second indie CD, Hail To Hellas. Vocalist Alex Mereu was dressed as a Greek warrior, which was very appropriate. It was soon obvious that today's set would be a mixture of songs off of both their releases, as Under Siege from Hatred And Warlust was up next, followed by Defenders In The Name Of Hellas (2nd) and Son Of A King (1st). Although Alex claimed to suffer from some throat problems, that had hardly any effect on the band's overall performance. I knew in advance that the band wouldn't be playing Hatred Is My Strength today, instead they treated us to the all-destroying Warmonger. The ultra-versatile The Lion Of Sparta concluded HOLY MARTYR's 40' set in prime fashion. There were definitely more people watching HOLY MARTYR than last year's openers ETERNAL REIGN, and they were more appreciative as well. No wonder, since this was an excellent performance by a very promising band!
Up next were Portugal's IRONSWORD, a trio including former MOONSPELL guitarist Tann on guitar and vocals. The delay had augmented to some 33' by then, but since IRONSWORD didn't take full advantage of their alloted 45' minutes, since they only played for some 37', that didn't really make matters worse. Damn, I would've loved to have heard another song. And by the sounds of it, I wasn't the only one. Actually, this was IRONSWORD's first ever live show. Quite amazingly, since the band has been around for almost a decade already. They had their act well prepared though, and not surprisingly the emphasis today was on their selftitled debut, in form of such songs as March On, Legions, Into The Arena, Under The Flag Of Rome and closer Burning Metal. But there was also a preview of the upcoming new CD, Return Of The Warrior, by means of Brothers Of The Blade, Dragons Of The Sea and Nemedian Chronicles. Let's just hope that this convincing first ever gig will mark the beginning of more and even better things to come, starting with the release of Return Of The Warrior.
From a personal point of view, Italy's DARK QUARTERER were probably the band that I was least looking forward to today. A year ago I was only familiar with this band by name, so I made sure to buy copies of all of their releases that I could find : their 1987 selftitled debut (excellent), 1989's follow-up The Etruscan Prophecy (along the same lines but sort of ruined by inferior vocals) and 2002's comeback release, Violence, which is way more progressive. The only one I missed out on was 1995's War Tears. Not exactly an enormous legacy, bearing in mind that the band has been around for well over two decades! The current line-up has been around since 1997 and consists of original vocalist & bassist Gianni Nepi and drummer Paolo Ninci, plus 'young blood' in form of guitarist Francesco Sozzi. And they had a keyboard player as well. I can't say that I was completely familiar with the band's repertoire, and I definitely couldn't give you a rundown of the songs they performed, but I suspect that the emphasis was on Violence. Most of the songs were very progressive, a bit in the vein of RUSH at times, only not quite as excellent. The kind of music that you listen to back home on CD, rather than checking out live, since most of these bands are not capable of reproducing their studio sound adequately live. I feel that DARK QUARTERER were a bit out of league on this bill, and they didn't do much to impress me, although I enjoyed Gates Of Hell.
ELIXIR of course are one of those sadly overlooked N.W.O.B.H.M. bands. And, knowing that I'm a big fan of the N.W.O.B.H.M. in general, I was really looking forward to checking them out. Especially since I heard nothing but good comments after their performance in Greece, a couple of years ago. I wasn't familiar with the band's most recent release, 2002's The Idol, yet, but that didn't really matter, since the emphasis today was to be on the band's The Son Of Odin debut from 1986. Having said that, they did start with Moonlight, the final tune off The Idol. They then continued with a quartet of songs from their debut (Trial By Fire, Children Of Tomorrow, The Star Of Beshaan and Pandora's Box) before, much to my surprise, bringing on Shadows Of The Night from their Lethal Potion release. The band didn't exactly have a lot of stage presence, and the sound may well have been a bit inferior compared to the previous bands, yet ELIXIR delivered a solid and enjoyable set, totally along the lines of what the die-hard fans expected. They proceeded with The Son Of Odin and Deal With The Devil (off The Idol) before concluding their set with what is without doubt their most known, and best, song ever : Treachery (Ride Like The Wind). My impression was that a lot of people weren't really interested in ELIXIR, probably because they weren't familiar with them, but I enjoyed them. And I'm looking forward to their appearance at the Headbangers Open Air festival already.
Germany's WIZARD did fit in perfectly on this bill, knowing that their material is deeply rooted in the true metal vein. This Bocholt-based outfit has been around since 1989 and they've released five full-lengths to date. Although they failed to perform any songs from their first two releases on this occasion. They started with Hammer, Bow, Axe And Sword (from 1999's Bound By Metal) and had the crowd on their side right from the beginning. Iron War and Head Of The Deceiver from the latter's sametitled CD (2001) followed, and then it was time to promote their latest effort to date, 2003's Odin, by means of The Hall Of Odin, Betrayer and March Of The Einheriers. Their finale consisted of 'oldies' Dark Wings and Defenders Of Metal, and concluded a convincing set of Teutonic meets true metal in fine fashion.
One of the bands that I was really looking forward to see was New Jersey's ATTACKER. ATTACKER anno 2004 includes three original members : vocalist Bob Mitchell, guitarist Pat Marinelli and drummer Mike Sabatini. The nowadays line-up is rounded out by guitarist Mike Benetatos and bassist Felix Torres. This line-up also recorded the Soul Taker comeback CD, which was released earlier this year on Iron Glory Records. Besides being a top-notch vocalist, Bob is also able to 'manipulate' an audience, and nothing much could go wrong once the initial contact was made. As could be expected, this first ever European ATTACKER show consisted of material from all three of the band's releases, including only three songs from Soul Taker : The End, Sleepy Hollow and Tortured Existence. The remaining songs originated from Battle At Helms Deep (5) and The Second Coming (4). Be it Slayer's Blade, The Hermit, Kick Your Face, Disciple, (Call On) The Attacker or Emanon, Captive Of Babylon, Lords Of Thunder or the surprising Revelations Of Evil, they were all killer! ATTACKER's 55' set was loud, wild and heavy, and highly energetic too. The crowd was heavily into the band as well, and I'm sure that feeling was mutual. ATTACKER came, saw and conquered! The only thing I regret is that they didn't play one more song (Zero Hour?), since they didn't take full advantage of their 60' slot. Nevertheless, ATTACKER proved to be the first real highlight of the day!
CLOVEN HOOF is another N.W.O.B.H.M. band that has been inactive for a long period of time. And, just as was the case with ATTACKER, I was really looking forward to it. Although it wasn't the most pleasant thing to get up on stage after ATTACKER's overwhelmingly convincing set, CLOVEN HOOF managed just fine. However, their stage performance was all but energetic; maybe that's the result of not having played live for a long while? Their musical performance on the other hand did convince me. Half of the songs (5) originated from their second studio LP, Dominator, which was somehow surprising. As a matter of fact, the first four songs of their set were the first four songs off said release : Rising Up, Nova Battlestar, Reach For The Sky & Warrior Of The Wasteland, while Road Of Eagles was reserved for later on. They also played three songs (Jekyll And Hyde, Forgotten Heroes & Highlander) from their 1989 A Sultan's Ransom release. And unfortunately, and I know a lot of people will agree with me, they only played two songs from their selftitled debut : The Gates Of Gehenna and encore Return Of The Passover. Possibly due to this, the audience remained rather apathic during most of CLOVEN HOOF's performance, but I'd say that they delivered a convincing one hour set nevertheless, since all the songs sounded at least as good as they did one to two decades ago. All that we can do now is wait for the band's new CD, Absolute Power ... Corrupts Absolutely, which is set for a June 15th release.
Those that remember my review of the first Keep It True festival will be aware of the fact that I missed most of MAJESTY's set on that occasion. But I also mentioned that I would witness their entire set this time around, which is just what I did. Although we did grab some pommes and steak to eat as soon as the band started out; it was the ideal time to do so, since most people went upfront to see the local heroes, and thus there was hardly any queue at the food stand. MAJESTY were also the only band that used fireworks and explosions, and those did completely take me by surprise when I moved into the restricted area to take some pictures. What an unexpected bang! Like I've mentioned before, MAJESTY can hardly be described as original, but if you like this kind of MANOWAR influenced style, you're bound to have a ball when they play live, as they are very competent. The emphasis this evening was on Sword & Sorcery (titletrack, Fields Of War, Epic War, Metal To The Metalheads, ...) and their most recent CD, Reign In Glory, by means of the titletrack, Into The Stadiums and Heavy Metal Battlecry. Plus the obligatory opener Hail To Majesty and festival anthem Keep It True, both of which originated from the band's debut release. Needless to say that they went down extremely well with a serious amount of the audience, and there's nothing bad I can say either, apart from the lack of originality.
The initial idea was to have a SATAN reunion here, but thanks to a greedy manager that didn't work out in the end. Instead we were treated to some BLITZKRIEG. And Brian Ross had promised that they would play a couple of SATAN songs towards the end of their set. Anyhow, we had seen BLITZKRIEG last year at the Headbangers Open Air festival, and that was one helluva performance. Rest assured : today's set wasn't too bad either! The setlist was partly along the same lines as last year, with the emphasis on their most recent Absolute Power CD of course, which was represented by Dark City, Legion, Enchanted Tower, Metalizer and We'll Rock Together, during which RITUAL STEEL's vocalist Sascha Maurer came on stage and shared vocals with Brian. Not surprisingly they played The Wraith, I'm Not Insane and Nocturnal Vision again as well, but there was no sign of Yesterdays, The Mists Of Avalon, Feel The Pain or even Inferno this time. Instead we were treated to Unholy Trinity, and the obvious opener Armageddon, which was preceeded by Ragnarok. The only SATAN song that they performed was Blades Of Steel. They intended to do a couple more but due to having to replace their bassist at the last minute, that didn't happen. Which is sort of a weak excuse, as far as I'm concerned. Not that I really mind, because BLITZKRIEG's set was great anyway, even more so since Blades Of Steel was followed by the band's anthem. The crowd wanted an encore, which materialized in form of JUDAS PRIEST's Hell Bent For Leather. I would've preferred another BLITZKRIEG song, but hey, you can't win 'em all!
A lucky few had probably seen Detroit's shock rockers HALLOWEEN before, including myself. In order to achieve that I had to travel all the way to Kalamazoo, Michigan in 2001, to attend the first Classic Metal festival. HALLOWEEN's performance there & then was solid and convincing, but since there weren't too many people around the crowd participation wasn't exactly mindblowing. It was quite a different story here in Germany; after all, this was HALLOWEEN's first ever European show. Their set was a combination of stuff from all of their official releases, plus some lesser known material, such as a new song called Darkside Inside. Plus Black Skies from the Vicious demos and the more modern Rage, which is actually an ABANDON song. ABANDON being a side project of some of HALLOWEEN's members. The rest of the set consisted of all killer songs. In order to make you aware of how good a setlist they had prepared, here's a rundown of their set : Scared To Death, Halloween, Welcome, What A Nice Place, Crawl To The Altar, If I Die You Die, Fire Still Burns, Darkside Inside, Black Skies, Tales From The Crypt, The Thing That Creeps, Rage, Busted, Trick Or Treat and No One Gets Out. Those in the know will agree that this was a high-quality 65' set. The band's stageshow wasn't as big or exciting as in days of yore, but in stead they let the music do the talking. Of course pale-faced vocalist / skeleton man Brian Thomas was the main point of attraction, but the entire band delivered a quality performance, which was highly appreciated by most of the audience!
The undisputed headliners were of course MANILLA ROAD. They've been on a roll ever since their reunion gig at the Bang Your Head festival some five years ago, releasing two more CD's and playing some festivals, both in the U.S.A. and abroad ever since. The line-up had changed a bit again though. Sole original member, vocalist/guitarist Mark Shelton and vocalist Bryan Patrick were now rejoined by the latter's brother Harvey on bass and Scott Peters was replaced by a very young drummer, Cory Christner. And in order to please the fans the band's setlist was made up of material ranging from Crystal Logic up to Atlantis Rising. Just as if Spiral Castle was never even released ... Not that I'm complaining ... When you go and see a band with so many releases to chose songs from, chances are that one or other killer tune won't make the cut, but as far as I'm concerned there wasn't much to argue about on this occasion. Kicking off with a 40' delay at 1.22 A.M. , here's what we were treated to : Masque Of The Red Death, Death By The Hammer, Hammer Of The Witches, Witches Brew, The Riddle Master, Road Of Kings, Up From The Crypt, Dig Me No Grave, Resurrection, March Of The Gods, Flaming Metal System (!), Mystification, Necropolis & Dreams Of Eschaton. Around 2.44 A.M. (way after the 2.00 A.M. curfew) it was all over. I'm sure that the band wanted to go on, and the fans definitely were into that, but it was not to be. Excellent song selection, excellent sound, superb musicianship = top quality performance!
Conclusion : Just like the first editition, this follow-up was allround great. Great atmosphere, great bands, cool Metal Market, nice weather, ... Nothing to complain about. Well, a couple more drink stands, in order to reduce the way too long lines at certain times, would make our lives more enjoyable during future editions.
As far as the attendance goes, there were somewhere in between 1000 and 1100 people this time around, as opposed to 750 last year. A definite improvement there, and let's hope this continues for the better, as there's still room for more. From the upcoming third edition onwards Rock Hard will present the festival, so let's hope that it doesn't become too big too soon.
And just as a reminder : Keep It True III is set to take place at the same venue this coming November 6th 2004. The announced bands so far include : HELSTAR (U.S.A.), JAGUAR (U.K.), METAL INQUISITOR (Germany), ROTTWEILLER (U.S.A.), SACRED STEEL (Germany), TYRANT'S REIGN (U.S.A.) and WITCHFYNDE (U.K.). More bands to be announced soon. No doubt that we'll be there once again; wild horses couldn't drag us away!!!