Review by PATRICK DE SLOOVER


METAL TO INFINITY


This was the third edition of the Alcatraz Metal Festival, and although the organization was planning to move to another and bigger location, the results of the poll decided that the people preferred the same venue, so ‘De Brielpoort’ was the place to be! This is perfect understandable, if you know this place. There is a lot of accommodation, there are enough parking lots in the nearby area, there is a huge bar at the side of the hall, and the stage and adventitious aids are just superb! Deinze is easy reachable from all sides of the country, so we took the trip that brought us in 30 minutes to Alcatraz Fest! Last year, we were able to see bands like Testament, Helstar, Agent Steel, Onslaught and headliner Saxon, while the bill of this year was reduced to lesser known bands for some.  The nowadays youth isn’t really familiar with acts like Lizzy Borden, Raven, Demonica and Pretty Maids, but the older headbangers were really glad that they had the chance to see them all once again!  Perhaps, that’s also the reason why the outcome was a bit disappointing.  At the end of the day, I heard rumors that there have been around 1200 people, but I have serious doubt.  Perhaps, the amount of beer that was served that day would fit for a normal crowd of 1200 people, but headbangers are used to excessive drinking… So, we leave this issue behind and hope that the organization can look back at a break-even event at least.    

A few weeks before the festival took place, there was an announcement that the running order was changed a little.  This resulted that LIZZY BORDEN had to open for a few hundred metalheads at noon.  Lizzy Borden’s band begun pretty heavy, and Lizzy walked the stage as Grim Reaper.  His face was covered and he was wearing a kind of monk’s habit. One thing was pretty clear from the first minutes: His voice is still outstanding! He has typical vocal chords that can go high and low, and when he shouted ‘SCREAM’, earwax was popping out of our ears!  His band played really solid, the sound was a little too loud, but perhaps this was the result of playing in a place that was packed for only 1/6.  Afterwards, I spoke with one of the guitarplayers, and he told me that this was only his third show in the Lizzy Borden Band.  Name of the guitarplayer was DC Alexander, and he played in the band Warrior (‘Fighting For The Earth’) before! This opening act was nice for the 40+ ages, but I guess that the stage act doesn’t entertain nowadays youth.   This was a typical American act with a bit too much of sing along, raise your hands, and overgrown attitude.  For example, wearing the American flag together with a young blonde in stars and stripes bikini, swinging with an axe while she’s doing a strip act (including covered nipples), and put some fake blood on the faces of those that stood on the first row. It was cool, but it was on the edge of kitsch anno 2010. The Lizzy Borden set ended with a tribute to ‘the man on the silver mountain: Ronnie James Dio’, so it was time again to sing along with “Long Live Rock’n Roll”, in my opinion a great song to end an average concert.  

 

So far, the first band on the main stage, but there was more to come!  Only 10 minutes later, the second (and smaller) stage opened on the first floor for only a limited amount of people. We’ll tell you something about the second stage at the end, as we personally focused on the main stage, so we could have a beer and some food in between the bands. The second act was RAVEN from England! This band was formed around 1975 in a place called Newcastle.  Brothers John and Mark Gallaghar teamed up with drummer Rob Hunter, and created a fuzz in the punk and NWOBHM circuit.  Their first single ‘Don’t Need Your Money, Honey’ got a lot of spins on a National radio show in Holland (Stampij with Hanneke Kappen)  and the road to success was open! Albums like ‘Rock Until You Drop’, ‘Wiped Out’ and ‘All For One’ can be considered as milestones in the history of British Heavy Metal.  Although Raven were a NWOBHM band and seen as highly influential to both speed and thrash metal they commonly referred to themselves as "Athletic Rock”, including sportswear outfits etc…  The band had to rush to get on time, as they played the Wacken Open Air Festival in Germany the day before.  They started the Alcatraz gig in a very own Raven style! High pitched vocals, a guitarplayer that is even more insane as 25 years ago, and the brothers John and Mark did what we all expected.  Unbelievable how Mark is able to get such a full sound with only one guitarplayer!  He’s asking a lot from his instrument, but what he did was sublime! Together with drummer Joe Hasselvander, the future looks bright for this band, that left England behind and lives already 26 years in the United States.  Their new album ‘Walk Through Fire’ was released in Japan and the U.S. last year, but is now available in Europe, and will entertain every Raven fan! The set from Raven was mind-blowing, breathtaking and original in every possible way!!  

 

For some, the band DEMONICA might be totally unknown, but things are about to change.  The members of this band are no rookies at all, because Hank Sherman from Mercyful Fate, Craig Locicero and Mark Hernandez (both Forbidden), and vocalist Klaus Hyr (seems to be a very popular person on the National TV in Denmark), are ready to conquer the world with their Euro/American thrash.  The Alcatraz gig was an exclusive European Festival show, so we wanted to check this band out, as their debut album ‘Demonstrous’ is an absolute must-have. Big was our surprise when we saw Hank Sherman walking the stage. He had the left wing of the stage to show his talent, but it looks like he’s a recluse and misanthrope person.  Wearing a winter jacket, a tea cosy and sunglasses conveys the impression that he’s afraid of people. Strange…  Anyway, the set was a real delight, the first crowd surfers appeared and it was really intense.  Songs like ‘Palace Of Glass’ and ‘Demon Class’ showed no mercy, while the hooks and breaks attacked at high speed.  During the gig, there were technical problems with the distortion pedal of Hank, so he tried to repair the bloody thing on stage.  At that moment, Craig Locicero was playing his part of the solo, but professional as he is, he took the second part with a smile.  This guy really knows how to play, so it was great to see him again, and we are looking forward to the upcoming gigs of Forbidden, the band that has his main priority.   

 

After this neck-breaker, it was time for another band from Denmark: The PRETTY MAIDS!  I remember that they played Forest National in Brussels as supporting act of Rainbow, but again, we have to go back +20 years.  I was anxious to see how they stood the test of time, although there was recently a new album release (‘Pandemonium’).  The commercial power hardrock, Heavy Metal of Pretty Maids was always a pleasure to listen to, but perhaps they would focus on the new material in stead of bringing a kind of ‘best of’ set.  Well, it was useless to worry, as they gave 200% of their abilities.  The Pretty Maids were Red, Hot And Heavy during the Alcatraz gig and believe it or not, I had the idea that they were the best band so far (yes, even better than Demonica, but again, that’s a personal impression). Anyway, the crowd was going crazy and enjoyed every song that Ronnie Atkins (vocals) and Ken Hammer (guitars) shot into the crowd! By the way, so far, every band had a really great sound and that’s praise worthy for the organization and the man behind the sound desk.  Also the light show was impressive and striking during the whole day!

  

In the meantime, the place was pretty packed, and a lot of young people prepared themselves to encounter MOONSPELL from Portugal.  Since their debut album ‘Wolfheart’, until their most recent release ‘Night Eternal’, the band succeeded in bringing great live shows, including a beamer that adds an extra atmosphere to the music of the band.  Frontman Fernando has a really impressive voice that goes extremely deep, but it contains a secret power and force that is needed to complete the songs.  The musicians of Moonspell were acting really heavy during the faster parts, and during the slower parts, they adapt their live presentation to the music.  Really great to see how it was all worked out!  The band had a great time on stage, and thanked all people in between almost every song.   They mentioned a lot of times ‘Belgium’ and ‘Alcatraz’, which resulted in a personal approach, and that was cool! Moonspell was a real pleasure to see and hear and I’m sure that the members enjoyed themselves as much as I did!  

 

 

For some people, this edition of Alcatraz was a deviation of the original idea of the festival.  In stead of focusing on Heavy Metal from years ago and thrash metal from the 80’s, they added some bands that are pretty new ánd hot nowadays.  EPICA can be considered as “a stranger in our midst”, as they don’t play H.M. nor Thrash from the eighties.  I understand that a festival is also busy in broaden their horizons, and I fully agree that this band was on the bill of this year’s Alcatraz edition.   Why not gather old and new? Why not introducing  talented new bands in between old goats? So, I was really pleased to see Simone Simons for the first time, and I must say, that she impressed me even more than ever expected.   This band is so cool, so heavy yet melodic and the stage act of all members is very eye catching.  At some moments, all  members were banging their head at extreme speed and simultaneous rotating movements. This was really awesome and again, the sound was so well balanced, that we were able to hear the fragile voice of Simone in between the skull crushing hooks and breaks.  Not easy if you hear them for the first time, but one thing is for sure: this band is gonna be hot within a few years.  And I bet that many of the critics will chant that they want to see Epica on the next edition of Alcatraz Festival!  

 

This year’s headliner was less weighty as Saxon last year, but KREATOR might be considered as one of the European Thrash metal pioneers.  Mille Petrozza (founding member, guitarplayer and vocals) is still able to play his metal at high speed, but I noticed that he’s not that kind and friendly as he used to be in the days of beginning.  Most bands did a meet and greet with the fans, but Kreator decided not to join that club. 

Anyway, let’s talk about their gig and music.   The stage looked really terrifying with a lot of ‘moving heads’ as light show, and the sound was open, vicious and mean!  The ‘Flag Of Hate’ was held high and the band played like they did never before.  I must say that I was impressed about the Kreator show, but at the same time, I noticed that a lot of people left the hall. Was there a last train to catch? Was the day too exhausting to stay another 45 minutes?  Fact is, only ‘die hard’ Kreator fans stayed and enjoyed the show, and we can conclude that we had a fantastic day with a lot of good music and good company.  We do hope that Alcatraz will continue in the future as they can be considered as trendsetters in the thrash and heavy metal scene. They prove that they dare to take a risk, but we only hope that this risk won’t have too many consequences… The organization, the facilities, the food, the drinks, the sound, the light… in one word: Respect!  

 

As we captured mainly the main stage bands, we squeaked the second stage as well, so here is a little impression.  The first band that played was POWERSTROKE from Belgium.  They released their debut album ‘Once We Were Kings’ recently, and the music that they bring is a mix of stoner, punk, hardcore and metal.  The trio can be compared with the likes of Pro-Pain meets Pantera, and the songs that I heard vague also made me think on Motorhead.

The second band EVIL SHEPHERD is also from Belgium, and it’s good that the organization of Alcatraz pays attention to local bands from our area. Despite this, I had to deny their gig, although I heard afterwards that this is a very promising act. Next time better dudes!

CIRRHA NIVA comes from Holland and released a very good album last year (For Moments Never Done). When I arrived to check their gig, they were playing a cover of Iron Maiden.  I wonder why they do this.  They had 40 minutes to present them to a huge crowd, so why the hell do you play a song from another band.  Pissed off, I left the second floor and went for a beer…

Next band was GUNSLINGER.  They seem to be pretty famous in and around Belgium.  I noticed their name on various flyers, and perhaps it’s because of the female drummer Cat and the living legend Alan Davey that they are so ‘hip’ nowadays.  The music of Gunslinger was a mix between Motorhead (vocals) and Hawkwind (music).  Of what I have heard that day, this must be cool band in a small pub or bar with dimmed lights and a lot of smoke at the ceiling. . .

Headliner on the second stage was EVILE from England.  Their metal, or better Thrash  was breathtaking.  Cool riffs, nice hooks, a good speed and thrash till death!!  Again, I wonder why they had so much to say in between the songs.  ‘Hi, we are Evil, do you know us? We played Wacken yesterday! I hope that you will like our gig and that you will remember us afterwards…blablablabla…)  Come on, what is the meaning of all this crap?? Just play your set, and don’t waste time with thank you once, twice, three times…  Their time was limited to 50 minutes, would I exaggerate that they played only 35 minutes because of this jabber and pathetic gibberish.  Anyway, when they played a song, they did it with full force, and I hope that time will tell if they improve or not…

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