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.:Concert Reviews:.

15/04/2007 – Alcatraz Concerts meets Club Klunen (Eeklo, Belgium)

On Sunday the 15th of April the Belgian community of Eeklo was part of an earthquake, caused by a couple of Thrash (or Thrash-influenced) bands. This mini-festival, as you could call it, was the result of an organisational symbiosis between Alcatraz Concerts (website) and Club Klunen(website). Together they managed to get the following bands to play in CC De Herbakker:

THE DIFFERENCE - www.the-difference.be
SANITY'S RAGE - www.sanitysrage.com
AFTER ALL - www.afterall.be
DESTRUCTOR - www.myspace.com/maximumdestructor
LAAZ ROCKIT - www.laazrockit.com


On that list there were - before I decided to go to Eeklo - two bands I knew. Well, whose music I knew, and that's THE DIFFERENCE (review) and AFTER ALL (review). AFTER ALL is Thrash from my region and have released very nice material on their last two albums. THE DIFFERENCE is more a mix of Doom, Progressive and Heavy, but since they are from around Eeklo it's pretty obvious to have them on the list as well.

So let's start with the overview of Sunday's afternoon. Everything took place in the polyvalent room of CC De Herbakker, situated in a peaceful area, but close enough to the grand place/market. It was however pretty strange to see so few people, like only locals knew something was going on. Well, there were like 2 Dutch people as well, and some from other regions, but the majority came from Eeklo or around. Most of them also coming to chill and just enjoy the music.

Inside you could really move around freely as the majority was reluctant to be close to the stage and thus they observed it all from a certain distance. Once DESTRUCTOR's and LAAZ ROCKIT's time was drawing nearer, more and more people entered the building and left not that much room between them and the stage.

But it all started at around 16h, with THE DIFFERENCE. I liked their last work "Lost In Mass Confusion", which has relatively long songs and you can't dismiss them after a short listen. This band has a lot of potential and makes great music. On CD it sounded quite good, live idem dito. Vocalist Gerd is like a beast on stage - his looks also help ;-) - and has a great, rough voice, which can be compared a bit with that of VANISHING POINT's Silvio Massaro. Musically everything was top notch and even the new guitarist seemed well-integrated.

Because of the long songs, you also want enough variation to keep your attention focussed on the band. But alas, after a good portion of THE DIFFERENCE, I thought it would be good to step outside for some fresh air. And that's one 'negative' aspect: it was pretty warm in the CC. Opening a window? Which ones? Opening a door? And then have local people complain about the volume? ;-) But I'm nitpicking.

So, while THE DIFFERENCE is one of those battling underground bands who have to do it all themselves, pay it all themselves, etc... they certainly are worth checking out live and I am really looking forward to the follow-up to "Lost In Mass Confusion". On a sidenote: the band didn't have any merchandise with them. Either the album is sold out or they forgot or ...

Playlist:

The Eternal (not sure about this one)
The Mirror
Child Of The Flames
The Darkest Of All Times
Naked And Fragile
Blood Is The Life
Dying In Vain

THE DIFFERENCE


Up next was the second Belgian band and this time it was a real Thrash band: SANITY'S RAGE. This young five-piece has so far recorded one EP, "The Rage Of One" (2006), and I'm still about to check it out... when I find it. In the meantime, there's the small audioplayer on their website.

SANITY'S RAGE is a very young band and you could also see this by its members. Musically it's Thrash, o yes sir, and references to EXODUS, TESTAMENT, DESTRUCTION and the likes are not misplaced. Without question I have to say that guitarists Kenny Claes and Tim De Bruyne (hah, one of my many namesakes ;-)) did a really fine job. Both have the talent and skills to go far over time. Perhaps one of them is the new Gary Holt, although time will tell. I sure hope they will go on playing for many years to come to ensure the stock of high-quality musicians in Belgium, hahaha.

Since I didn't know the band before, I also don't know the order of the setlist and/or if they played anything else. The material sounded good to very good, particulary when playing a little faster. But they will have to work on their skills, especially vocalist Kenny Molly. Just a little advice, nothing personal ;-): try taking some lessons to avoid screwing up your voice after some years. And perhaps the accent, but that's again nitpicking from my part. Still, it's stuff that can improve after many trials-and-errors and considering the band has many years ahead of them, this shouldn't form much of a problem. Live they are good, but they need more songs to increase public interest and add enough variation to their setlist.

Playlist, I think, and in no specific order:

Apocalypse
Feeding the Fire
The Rage of One
The Crumbling Halls of Sanity

SANITY'S RAGE


Time for some more matured Thrash after our young starters: AFTER ALL from Bruges, who last year released their latest opus "This Violent Decline", for which two big names in the business were hired: Fredrik Nordström for the mix and Tue Madsen for the mastering. The result was of course outstanding. The band has also played a whole load of gigs, supporting bigger names too and although I missed all of them, I was very eager to see them this time. My happiness knew no limits. :-)

Logically most of the songs came from their last two albums, "This Violent Decline" (2006) and "The Vermin Breed" (2005), but two older songs couldn't be left out: "The Shadow Wall" from the "Mercury Rising" album (2002) and "Visionary Thoughts" from the "Transcendent" album (1997).

Starting off with "Frozen Skin", the band immediately set the pace, although there were some very small sound problems that were fixed quite rapidly. This did however add some hilarity to the event: Vocalist Piet announcing one song (I can't remember which), and Christophe shouting "Godverdomme!", because his guitar equipment apparently didn't do anything. It's mainly hilarious because the guys are from West-Flanders and I find their accent very funny (no disrespect meant, on the contrary), although I'm from there as well, be it much lower, close to the border with France.

Singing along (what I knew) and tapping your foot/feet happened automatically, at least with me. :-) The whole setlist was fucking great and AFTER ALL gave the crowd quite a boost. This is a band that deserves all the attention they can get and I'm proud there are still great bands in Belgium and more specifically from West-Flanders (lots of others are from Antwerp or further).

AFTER ALL did have merchandise and especially the CDs caught my attention, so I bought 2005's "The Vermin Breed". The previous releases were there as well, but since those sound - apparently - a bit different than the last two albums, I didn't buy them. Perhaps I might go for them later, when I've had the chance to listen to some stuff.

To spice things up a little more - although their uptempo material satifies more than enough - the band played the ANHRAX classic "Metal Thrashing Mad". Not a bad rendition, but the original is (again) better. All in all, AFTER ALL are a MUST to see live and very much recommended. They're great guys, play great Metal and give themselves more than 100%.

Playlist:

Frozen Skin
Violent Decline (Drawn To The Devil)
The Shadow Wall
To Haunt You
Ruins Of Bones
Blackest Moon
Visionary Thoughts
Unnamed Sorrow
Sacraments For The Damned
Metal Thrashing Mad (ANTHRAX cover)
Forgotten

AFTER ALL


After AFTER ALL the time had come for the two American veteran bands to hit the stage and show the crowd that the oldies still have it. DESTRUCTOR was first. Totally unknown to me, also because this band hasn't been that active on the recording front. One album or so in the '80s, a couple of demos and now recently a new EP called "Storm Of Steel".

I had also planned an interview with Michael Coons, LAAZ ROCKIT's vocalist, so I didn't have much time to check out DESTRUCTOR. Thrash is also what they play, but somehow their material couldn't turn me on, so to speak. Perhaps the older generation would/will find more pleasure in those songs, but I thought it was too much of the same, despite being old school. It was however nice to see another old band perform and I respect them for still keeping the flame burning, but musically they'll need to tweak their songs a bit more to be on my list.

DESTRUCTOR


Last but certainly not least, oh no sir: LAAZ ROCKIT. I quickly checked some basic info on the band, seeing they have released five albums, one live album and recently a DVD ("Live Untold" in 2006) - which I bought during their performance for the very small price of 10 EUR. On this DVD you can see the band on various live performances and digging up stories from the past, telling about their experiences, the history, etc... Very nice introduction for someone new to the band, like me.

LAAZ ROCKIT have thus been very active in the '80s, as one of the many Bay Area Thrash bands. But they too suffered from the classic line-up changes, even split in the early '90s, but reunited with the classic line-up in 2005 to do some shows. Vic Agnello (drums) left the band also quite recently - God knows why - and was replaced by a 25-year old amazing guy. A great drummer for sure, playing every song like he has been in the band since the beginning. Somehow it's funny seeing him surrounded by 40-year olds. ;-) All respect for them, because despite having played at Germany's Keep It True festival the day before - and afterwards travelling 600 km to Eeklo - they played like no other and showed they can kick anyone's ass.

Before the gig I had a little interview with vocalist Michael Coons (this will be online very soon), who was very sympathetic, answered very detailed and quite simply was a joy to talk to. After the gig I also talked shortly to the other guys in the band (Phil, Aaron and Willy) and all of them are really down-to-earth men.

Since I wasn't allowed by Michael to write one bad word about the band or their performance - no, seriously, we had a very good understanding and I don't know anything bad to say about such a great band. They played their classics (I hope the setlist below is correct) with such power and energy (bass player Willy simply is an animal on stage, going on and on; Phil and Aaron delivering great guitar work and Michael shouting it out like he has always done) that I was left breathless. . Lots of people in the crowd sang/cheered along and there was one person who - whenever he could - grabbed the mic and sang the words in Michael's place. Great to see there still are such devoted fans.

Over the coming months, the band's first four records will be (remastered and) re-released. Why these four? Because they featured the classic line-up of Michael Coons, Phil Kettner, Aaron Jellum, Willy Lange and Vic Agnello. Needless to say I'm going to buy them. The first, "City's Gonna Burn", will be available on May 14. These re-releases are a must for any fan of decent '80s Thrash, Bay Area Thrash and anyone who planned on buying LAAZ ROCKIT's albums, but couldn't until now. I really hope these guys come back really soon - next year will be fine, as I have to get the albums first. ;-)

Setlist:

Forced to Fight
Bad Blood
Shot to Hell
Prelude
Chasin' Charlie
Mirror To Madness
Say Goodbye
Leave (GACK) (was on the list, but not played)
Last Breath
Spared From The Fire
Fire In The Hole
Euroshima
City's Gonna Burn
Backbreaker (was on the list, but not played)
Leatherface

LAAZ ROCKIT


Sunday, April 15 2007, is a day I will remember for a long time as I saw great bands. (Almost) full-on Thrash, to-the-bone, and a splendid atmosphere. I was actually very tired the days after that, as I had to get up at 6 a.m. to get to work, so weekends are always very welcome to relax. ;-) LAAZ ROCKIT fulfilled the expectations, AFTER ALL did too. I guess every band did so, but one more than the other. With this final paragraph I would like to thank Filip from Alcatraz Concerts for the pass, the great chats and what not, Club Klunen for (together with Alcatraz Concerts) organising this event and bringing great names to Belgium (yes, the driver gets much kudos here ;-)), Mike from Hard Life Promotion for arranging the interview with Michael Coons and sharing some stories from the past, and last, but certainly not least - didn't I say this before? - Michael Coons himself for answering my questions in depth. Cheers to you all!



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10/03/2007 – MASTERPLAN/SAXON (Borgerhout, Belgium)

The gig of Saturday March 10 was already planned months in advance for me. Saxon coming to Belgium AND headlining = a gig you cannot afford to miss. It would be my second time seeing them live. First time was back in 2005, at the Schwung festival in Roeselare (Belgium), which is like 30 minutes from where I live. They didn't headline then, but the power and grandeur with which they brought their songs really stunned me. I Only had one or two albums of them at that time, but I made a promise to complete my collection. Anno 2006 that promise was fulfilled, except for the pop album "Destiny". No need to buy something you're going to listen to anyway.

Special guest for this tour is MASTEPRLAN, who also released a new album this year and with a new line-up. Since I hadn't seem them with Jorn and Uli still in the band, I could not skip this chance. The third band was only announced a couple of weeks before the gig: Dutch hardrockers MENNEN would fill that first spot. MENNEN is the band I know the least of, except that their studio albums are 'alright', but their live album "Freakalive" was actually a solid album and encouraged me to go see them.

The gig was - duh! - sold out. what do you expect, when you've got mighty SAXON on the bill? Before heading towards Borgerhout I had a short e-mail conversation with Theo from Rock Inc. and he told me MENNEN wouldn't play due to technical problems with the production. Ok, that still left two great bands.

Doors opening at 19h00, first band to start at 20h00. MASTERPLAN has so far released three albums and their newest one "MK II", came out on the 23rd of February. Again going to Finland for the mix and mastering, but this time Roland Grapow himself took care of the production. The previous two albums were done by the watchful eye of Andy Sneap. The result is good to very good and the songs are inline with the others. In fact, it's a mix of the previous two albums. But! you don't have Jorn Lande on vocals. Instead, Roland appealed to (now ex-)RIOT vocalist Mike DiMeo, who can be considered as a lighter version of Jorn. Mike Terrana might not be as technical as Uli, on drums, but he sure knows what drumming is.

So MASTERPLAN as first band, playing only a good 45 minutes and a very diverse setlist. Since this is the first - or one of the first few - gigs with this new line-up it's normal that are still some little problems. But MASTERPLAN's performance wasn't really recommendable. I mean, they were good, of course, but major sound problems made it quite mediocre. Mike's drumwork was flawless, but the biggest issues were: 1) Roland's guitar that sounded too strong and therefore interfering with Axel's keyboards, and 2) Mike DiMeo. On the album he sounds quite good, live on the other hand... oh my God. Ok, a little exaggeration here, but seriously, I think he was the weakest link that Saturday. The older songs sounded nothing like the originals and even the new work didn't come out strong enough. Or in other words: Mike live =/= Mike in the studio.

Naturally that leaves you as a fan quite disappointed, although the crowd did cheer a lot. I for one am very critical, not only for album reviews, but also when seeing the bands live. Even a wrong snare drumsound can ruin it for me. My first impression of a live MASTERPLAN was average. I'm going to give them the benefit of doubt and I hope the next time I see them, they will sound as they should.

Playlist:

* Spirit Never Die
* Enlighten Me
* Take Me Over
* Crystal Night
* Lost And Gone
* Soulburn
* drumsolo
* Back For My Life
* Kind Hearted Life
* Keeps Me Burning
* Masterplan

MASTERPLAN
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Up next then - after a long break - came the NWOBHM legends SAXON. Only a few days before the concert they released their 17th album: "The Inner Sanctum". Nigel Glockler is back on the drums and you could say the old SAXON spirit has returned as well.

In order to make the guys have a sporty stage performance, there were some small ramps attached to the platform where Nigel's drumkit stood. This was used a lot by mainly bassist Nibbs, who was very active that evening and very enthusiastic about playing the new material. Biff occasionally looked for this higher position, but guitarists Doug and Paul preferred to keep their two feet on the stage, although Paul was quite lonely in his corner and at certain times came out of it to join Doug in the spotlights.

If you look at the setlist and keeping in mind Biff wanted to play as much new songs as possible, you can be sure we were spoiled with the six songs off "The Inner Sanctum". They played the best songs, but I thought "Need For Speed" also would do extremely well live. Oh well, perhaps another time. The songs they did play were already more than good enough for a super evening.

SAXON's extensive discography usually allows them to play their classics and a SAXON-show without the classics isn't really a SAXON-show, but this time the band also put the focus on more recent material with songs from "Metalhead", "Killing Ground" and "Lionheart". And although not much played, even stuff from "Dogs Of War" was added to the playlist.

Also very nice after the normal setlist, the British Metal veterans added lots of extra material like a medley of a couple of '80s songs. Afterwards Biff asked which song to play next. "Crusader" and "Wheels Of Steel" were named the most and Biff couldn't conclude anything else but "We'll play 'em both, then.". And so it happened. :-) Pure fucking Metal pleasure. After a short break they came back for "Motorcyle Man" and the relatively hard-to-digest (at least after a first listen) "Atila The Hun", which sounds actually very good live.

Biff and the boys had lots of fun and I have a lot of admiration for what they're still doing, after all those year, still keeping the spirit of Heavy Metal alive. You've got IRON MAIDEN, JUDAS PRIEST and what no, but for me SAXON still remains a highly underestimated band. If you have the opportuinity to see them live - and best in a venue, not on a festival - GO FOR IT! SAXON for the world. \m/

Playlist:

* Intro
* State Of Grace
* Let Me Feel Your Power
* If I Was You
* Killing Ground
* Great White Buffalo
* Requiem (We Will Remember)
* Witchfynder General
* Travellers In Time
* Forever Free
* Red Star Falling
* To Hell And Back Again
* I've Got To Rock (To Stay Alive)
* Power And The Glory
* Princess Of The Night
* Medley (in this order): Dallas 1PM, 747 (Strangers In The Night), The Bands Played On, Denim And Leather
* Crusader
* Wheels Of Steel
* Ashes To Ashes (note: I'm not sure if it was at this point that they played it, but it was definitely towards the end)
* Motorcycle Man
* Atila The Hun

SAXON
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Concerts 2007

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MASTERPLAN/SAXON -
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THE DIFFERENCE/
SANITY'S RAGE/
AFTER ALL/
DESTRUCTOR/
LAAZ ROCKIT -
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