Sunday November 9th 2008 / 013, Tilburg, Holland
As I already stated at the end of my review of the first edition last year : Mario’s Metal Meeting is a worthy addition to the (ever-expanding) European metal festival calendar. The maiden edition managed to convince me for the most part, and one look at this year’s line-up indicated that things would turn out even better, even though I had seen all 5 bands live at least two times before already. In fact, three European bands teamed up with two American acts on this occasion.
It was to be my fourth encounter with Germany’s COURAGEOUS since 2001. And as it is, the band seems to have become sort of the personal European support band to VICIOUS RUMORS in recent years. As you may remember, I’m not familiar with any of COURAGEOUS’ releases, and that’s simply because I never enjoyed the band live. I can’t really say why though; most likely they are a bit too modern for my ears. Some say the band is reminiscent of NEVERMORE (a band that I do enjoy!) but I simply can’t see the similarities. Call me stupid … Fortunately the band only had a 30’ set today, in which they crammed 5 originals and one cover. Out of those originals The System Has Failed (2006) sounded the best, in my humble opinion. The rest ranged from 1998 (Listen) over 2004 (Trapped) up until 2006 (Hollow Creation). And even a new tune (Congenital Defect) was included. As for the cover song : it was THE BEATLES’ Yellow Submarine once again … I kinda feel sorry for this band, being around for over a decade now, but I simply don’t enjoy their material. Nothing personal though, as they turned out to be really nice guys after the show.
ARCTIC FLAME hails from New Jersey and I had seen them live twice before, in November 2006 (Keep It True 7 festival) and May 2007 (Swordbrothers 5 festival). Compared to that 2007 show, the band had a new guitarist once again : Uruguay-born Sebastian Garcia replaced Steve Demalion. And knowing that ARCTIC FLAME is a quintet by nature, this was the first time they made it over to Europe as such. The second guitarist being Jason Perez, who filled in for Rod Mariani. Once again Rod wasn’t able to come along, although he is still considered to be a member of the band. Strange? Maybe next time, Rod? At least we got to see the band in full quintet force, which made sure the band came across as a more complete entity, compared to previous shows. ARCTIC FLAME’s debut Primeval Aggressor dates back to 2006 already, and a follow-up (Declaration) has been recorded in the meantime. And although it was set for release on Germany’s Pure Steel Records in September already, it has yet to see the light of day. And that’s somewhat unfortunate, evenmoreso since the band decided to dedicate the majority of today’s set (5 out of 8 songs) to Declaration. Songs that hardly anybody was already familiar with, indeed. In fact, it’s very hard to judge a band live when they play plenty of songs that you’re unfamiliar with, simply because you have no point of reference. Anyhow, I vaguely remembered Lord Of The Wasteland and Desert Moon from that May 2007 show, but Disciples Of The Flame, Unknown God and Hammer Down were all completely new to my ears. That’s not to say that they didn’t sound promising, but I’ll have to hear them on CD first, in order to being able to appreciate them to the fullest. Suffice it to say that the band hasn’t drastically changed styles, so it’s still very much in the traditional, pure U.S. metal vein. Green Lady (Of The Hill), Steel Angels and Kingdom Of Illusion represented the known songs on this occasion. Needless to say those went down best, but in general ARCTIC FLAME’s performance was convincing once again. Apart from the stage presence perhaps, which is something that could (should!) be worked on. Let’s hope this band will return to these shores once Declaration will be released!
England’s SHADOWKEEP has been around for almost a decade (° 1999). Many line-up changes ago (in the spring of 2000, to be exact) I got to see the band live twice. From that period in time only guitarists Nicki Robson and Chris Allen are still part of the band’s nowadays constellation. On April 1st 2005 I witnessed SHADOWKEEP headline the Keep It True 4 festival warm-up show. While the bassist from that era (native American Stony Grantham) is still part of the line-up today, then vocalist Ronnie Stixx has since been replaced by ex TYGERS OF PAN TANG singer (and former ANGEL WITCH bassist!) Richie Wicks. The newest additions to the band are keyboard player Scot Collins and new drummer Omar Hayes. In an optimistic mood the band had compiled an 11-song setlist, with the first 8 being culled of the upcoming, yet to be released new CD, The Hourglass Effect. Optimistic in a sense that the band had only 50’ at their disposal, and as a result they had to cut their set short by three songs. And thus people missed out on oldies such as Dark Tower, A Distant Paradox and Beware The Signs tonight. And the audience got stuck with 8 songs that hardly anyone knew already. Thanks to the kind people at Melissa Records, who had sent me an advance copy of said CD, I was at least familiar with those new tunes, but the majority of those in attendance certainly weren’t. Not that it really mattered, as it turned out that The Hourglass Effect is a really strong release. Still in the good old melodic power metal vein, but slightly more progressive these days perhaps. Highlights being Shadowkeep, Incisor (reminding me of a cross between DOUBLE DIAMOND and BLITZKRIEG, as a matter of fact), Riot On Earth and As The Hourglass Falls. The band’s performance left nothing to be desired, but I guess people were really into hearing some of those older, familiar tunes as well. Just a case of miscalculation, I’m afraid …
Sweden’s WOLF is a band that I had seen three times before as well. And if memory serves me well, they always had a different line-up on those occasions. It wasn’t to be otherwise today, as compared to their appearance at the Headbangers Open Air 10 festival (July 2007) only vocalist/guitarist Niklas “Viper” Stalvind and guitarist Johannes “Axeman” Losbäck were still around. New additions being bassist Anders “Tornado” Modd and drummer Richard “Raptor” Holmgren. But in the end all of these line-up changes never seem to hurt the band, as they always bring on a well-balanced and above all very energetic performance. It was no different tonight … The only ‘negative’ thing that I could think of is the fact that there is a tendency to always incorporate the same songs, such as Steelwinged Savage Reaper, The Bite, I Will Kill Again, Genocide, Black Wing Rider and Evil Star. Don’t Get me wrong : they’re all killer in my opinion, but I would like to see the band ‘rotate songs’ a bit more, especially considering that they have four full CD’s to pick from. Besides, the band had already recorded CD # 5 (entitled Ravenous, and set for release on February 23rd 2009) prior to this show, yet they didn’t perform any new songs. Strange? Which is not to say that WOLF’s anthology performance (which also included the likes of Electric Raga, Children Of The Black Flame, Wolf’s Blood, Venom and In The Shadow Of Steel) didn’t convince me as it was, on the contrary. These guys have never let me down so far, it’s just that I’m too demanding, I’m afraid …
I’ve lost count of how many times I had seen today’s headliners VICIOUS RUMORS live in the past already (okay, today marked # 13, ever since 1988). And in plenty of different line-up’s too. This is becoming to sound familiar, isn’t it? Anyhow, compared to the line-up that I witnessed four days in a row last year, two changes had occured : vocalist James Rivera had been replaced by Ronnie Stixx (DIVINE RUINS, ex SHADOWKEEP) and guitarist Kiyoshi Morgan came in favour of Thaen Rasmussen. With no new release available (although pre-production for a new studio CD had already started) this gig (part of the short European “Hellraiser” tour) could easily be regarded as an extra show in support of 2006’s Warball release. Which they took advantage of by playing the likes of Mr. Miracle, Dying Every Day (which wasn’t even on the setlist to begin with) and a medley of Warball and Sonic Rebellion. The rest, as usual, was made up of old classics from their first four releases : Soldiers Of The Night (1), Digital Dictator (4), Vicious Rumors (5) and Welcome To The Ball (3). As for the special set that had been announced in advance, including songs that had not been performed in over 14 years : the only two I can think of were Ship Of Fools and The Crest. All the others were already part of the various sets that I witnessed last year … Then again, I don’t want to sound too negative, as VICIOUS RUMORS’ set as it was well and truly managed to convince the audience, including myself. It’s with pleasure that I can announce that vocalist Ronnie fits in perfectly with the band. Better than James Rivera did anyhow. Not that James is a bad vocalist, it’s just that his voice is so typical that there will always be parallels to his own bands. Furthermore it must’ve been rather strange for Ronnie to be on this stage for the second year in a row, after last year’s performance with DIVINE RUINS. Besides, he was able to hook up with his former band SHADOWKEEP as well. Anyhow, new guitarist Kiyoshi made an excellent impression too, and the band as a whole delivered a quality 75’ set. Unfortunately no new songs were played tonight, but I’m sure that we’ll see plenty more from VICIOUS RUMORS once the new CD will have been released.
In conclusion I’d like to say that this second edition of Mario’s Metal Meeting was once again a worthwhile experience, with all five bands giving it their best shot. Of course the crowd turnout could’ve been better this time as well, but on the other hand it adds to the cosyness of a festival like this. Maybe switching the festival from Sunday to Saturday next year might attract a larger crowd? I know I’ve suggested this last time already, and most likely I’m just splitting hairs again, but can you blame me for trying? No matter what day of the week, most likely we’ll be on the frontline of MMM 3 in 2009 anyhow!