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.:Festival Reviews:.

19/12/2009 – FROSTROCK (Kuurne, Belgium)

The annual Frost Rock festival (website) took place in January this year and all was being arranged for 2010. But as this is a period for students to study for their exams, the organisation decided to move the festival to an earlier date, being 19th of December. The holidays then have just begun and people still have time to stick their noses into their books. Like in January the weather was cold, snow was all around, but mist was absent this time. Still, one had to be careful on the road to and from the venue.

As usual the bill consisted of Belgian and international bands. The booked bands promised a very fine evening, but as D-day came closer, Frost Rock was plagued with cancellations: GWYLLION (since still looking for a singer), MAGIC KINGDOM (replaced by IRON MASK, who then also cancelled shortly after) and last but not least, CARACH ANGREN, the Symphonic Black Metallers from The Netherlands. They were forced to withdraw because of the singer's illness and it was only the same day, the 19th, this news was announced. Replacement was found in AVOID. Other newly booked bands were ACHYRONTHIA and AFTER ALL. HOLLENTHON from Austria and HEIDEVOLK from The Netherlands completed the bill.

The doors opened at 14h30, ACHYRONTHIA had the honour to open the festival at 15h00. Upon arrival not that many Metalheads had entered the premises, but enough to set the tone for what would be a very nice evening. I was certainly looking forward to another AFTER ALL show, but even more to how HOLLENTHON and HEIDEVOLK would pull it off live.

Frostrock logo

ACHYRONTHIA (BE) - www.myspace.com/achyronthia
WAELCYRGE (BE) - www.myspace.com/klankult
AVOID (BE) - www.myspace.com/avoidmetal
PANCHRYSIA (BE) - www.myspace.com/panchrysia
AFTER ALL (BE) - www.myspace.com/afterallmetal
HOLLENTHON (AUT) - www.myspace.com/hollenthonofficial
HEIDEVOLK (NL) - www.myspace.com/officialheidevolk


ACHYRONTHIA was already playing when I arrived. The road were filled with cars and one had to be cautious not to slide and certainly be aware of every move the others made. This Melodic Metal band, playing something that lies between Power Metal and Melodic Death Metal, won the Wacken Metal Battle finale in 2007 and thus got to play at the famous Wacken Open Air festival that year. They were good, truth be told, but after that I never kept an eye on them, nor on their releases. I did see them last in September. Somehow, as good as they are, I don't feel any connection, so to speak. ACHYRONTHIA was formed in 1996, but took its time to make a demo, which was in 2002 ("Fountain Of Youth"). "Last Man Standing / Inner Storm" followed two years later and in 2006 the debut album came out: "The Final Crossing". In the meantime the follow-up, "Echoes Of Brutality", is ready to be released. The band is curently looking for a suited label. But back to last Saturday. The sound was good, the songs weregood, the atmosphere was good. It was all good and the band sure seemed to enjoy their time on stage. Solos, riffing, and a very active vocalist (who also sings in AVOID) made the picture complete.

Playlist:

Operation Overlord
Phantoms Of The North
World On Fire
Sign Of The Jackal
Without Warning
Victory Or Death

ACHYRONTHIA


WAPENSPRAAK & DRINKGELAG were next. Only, there was a different name on the schedule: WAELCYRGE. That didn't ring a bell at all, but it seems this is the band's new name. Thinking with all these cancellation another one was added to the list, this change logically confused me. Many months ago I checked out what I think was the last/latest release of WAPENSPRAAK & DRINKGELAG. The band is said to play Black Metal, though with a Thrash influence. Or is it the other way around? Either way, that release sounded rough/raw and although I like such a sound, depending on the genre, I wasn't particularly convinced to take that album with me. But it was only a matter of time before I would get to see the band live, since they had featured on several posters in the area. No WAPENSPRAAK & DRINKGELAG, but WAELCYRGE took to the stage. Same band, new name and the musical direction also remained the same. Covered with facial paint, especially the vocalist, this band produced a brutal assault of Blackened Thrash Metal. Personally I found it quite good. Another surprise was seeing D.K. Skeletor (Koen Vanassche) on bass. He also plays in the Thrash Metal band GAE BOLGA, whose EP I reviewed earlier this year. No shortage of enthusiasm here either. Or better, new name, new found enthusiasm. ;-) But as is common with extreme Metal, it has to stop at some point and in my (humble) opinion, there was a bit too much of the same. I don't know whether the setlist/piece of paper I took a picture of is what the guys played, as I didn't fid any confirmation on those titles. Hence no playlist.

Playlist:

??

WAELCYRGE


At this point the Dutch Black Metal band CARACH ANGREN would hit the stage, but due to the singer being sick, AVOID were called in a last instant to fall in. A sad happening, since i was looking forward to see this Dutch band at work, especially since their last album was very good. The Belgian part of the festival thus continued. AVOID is a young band and features ACHYRONTHIA's vocalist Jokke Ponette on vocals and guitar. The band was formed in 2003, made a demo ("Forest Of Sorrow") in 2006 and could release their debut full-length the year after: "Into Languish and Decay". Metal-Archives.com labels their music as Black/Death/Thrash Metal. Sure, there are influences from these genres, but basically, AVOID has a lot more Metalcore than any band that does combine Black, Death and Thrash. Vocals were a mix of screams and clean singing. If I have to remain neutral, I have to admit that this band, too, put on a good show. The crowd really loved them. One proof was that some pumped-up girls in the front threw (spat?) some liquids into my direction, due to me standing in their view. Well, I was there shooting pics for this report. Many fellow photographers were doing the same, taking pics. Respect is far to seek these days, it seems. Fandom is very much present here as well, but at gigs one is to take many things into account and not behave selfishly. Anyway, the neutral me saw a good band. The subjective me heard a few good things, but overall was happy better material was to be played afterwards. One more example of how loved this band is: moshing and a wall of death. I don't know whether the setlist/piece of paper I took a picture of is what the guys played, as I didn't fid any confirmation on those titles. Hence no playlist.

Playlist:

??

AVOID


After the Metalcore, time for some more Black Metal with PANCHRYSIA. Corpse paint, of course, and an old school drumkit. Despite being in white, it contains two big bass drums and four big toms on top of them. Very nice to see it stand out in comparison with the more simple kit of the other bands. Anyway, PANCHRYSIA offered quite a horrific, creepy (well, if you've been long enough into Metal, such things don't scare anymore) and diabolical performance. Harsh, shrieking vocals, typical Black Metal guitarwork and blasting drumming. This was quite a trip to the depths of hell. The name PANCHRYSIA was not unknown to me, but their music was, though I knew not to expect Power Metal, for example. But power was part of the set, indeed. Pure Black Metal it was not, as the band implemented intros, interludes, adding a theatrical touch to their compositions. Truth be told, I liked what I heard. As two thirds of the setlist were done, I was wondering if they were playing a new song or still carrying on with a previous one. Yep, monotony also set in. I can appreciate their songs very much, but even more so when something else is played now and then (e.g. Progressive Metal, Power Metal, Doom Metal, ...). Other than that, no real complaints.

Playlist:

Intro 1
To Loftiest Heights
Motiruri Te Salutant
Intro 2
Tu Coh
Intro 3
With Dragon Wings
Angst
Brave Black Lookid (?)
Intro 4
Cult Driven
Intro 5
Phantom Asylum
Into Cryptic ... (?)
Infection

PANCHRYSIA


AFTER ALL replaced two bands: MAGIC KINGDOM and IRON MASK. Even if I was looking forward to see (mainly) MAGIC KINGDOM, I didn't feel sad to see that the best Thrash band in Belgium would "thrash" the place, so to speak. Plus, their presence offered a more pure addition to the bill. As usual with these guys, quality is assured. I saw them last in September and there as well they offered the crowd a great time. AFTER ALL does not disappoint live! Hell, even on CD they show who's king, at least in Belgium. And with that, we come to the impression that this band deserves much more recognition on an international scale. But national as well. How many times do you see a poster with AFTER ALL headlining? Or maybe the lads are happy with a lower position? Either way, I didn't pay much attention to the crowd at Frostrock, since I was having a wonderful time myself (singing along with "My Own Sacrifice", "Frozen Skin", "Devastation Done", ...) while these Thrashers did what they do best. Even the TESTAMENT cover of "Into The Pit" was well-done rendition. But somehow I believe everyone, or most, were enjoying the show, too. Earlier this year "Cult Of Sin" was brought out and I had the pleasure of reviewing it some months ago. Logically most songs were taken from that release, while the rest came off "This Violent Decline" and "The Vermin Breed", the band's previous two records. In short, AFTER ALL is a must-see live and must-have on CD.

Playlist:

My Own Sacrifice
Frozen Skin
Land Of Sin
Devastation Done
Violent Decline (Drawn To The Devil)
Betrayed By The Gods
Ruins Of Bones
Release
The Harlot
End Of Your World
Blackest Moon
Into The Pit (TESTAMENT cover)
Forgotten
To Haunt You

AFTER ALL


The international part of the show consisted of two bands now: HOLLENTHON and HEIDEVOLK. HOLLENTHON is no stranger to me, as I had the chance to review their last full-length "Opus Magnum", which was very good, and that resulted in me buying the other albums. Recently the band from Austria released an EP called "Tyrants & Wraiths", from which several tracks were played. Obviously the majority came from the last album, though older material wasn't forgotten either. HOLLENTHON has been around since 15 years and has three full-lengths up its sleeves: "Domus Mundi" (1999), "With Vilest Of Worms To Dwell" (2001) and "Opus Magnum" (2008). Musically it's a combination of Black and Death Metal with orchestral and choir elements providing a massive melodic touch.

I like what they do on CD, seeing them do it live would make my impression complete. Of course, as the band has no keyboardist, the choir and orchestral elements are provided through backing tape or CD. The band itself offers the Metal aspect. As the sound was very good, let me tell you it was pure awesomeness seeing HOLLENTHON bring their work to the people. Martin's voice was good, the musicianship was excellent and especially the drummer, Mike Gröger, made me speechless. Well, not speechless, since I was enthusiastic about his playing. His style reminded me of Casey Grillo's, who hits the skins in KAMELOT. Mike played with lots of energy, pounding the toms, kicking those bass drums, crashing the cymbals with exquisite skill. No fear, the other players also made the spectacle more alive and stood proud on stage. Like with AFTER ALL, only one simple conclusion: must-have on CD, must-see live. There was no setlist, so the song below are based on recognition. They played some more, but my memory couldn't tell me which.

Playlist: (in no specific order)

Tyrants And Wraiths
Deadly Dirges
On The Wings Of A Dove
Sons Of Perdition
To Kingdom Come
Once We Were Kings
Woe To The Defeated
Conspirator

HOLLENTHON


Folk/Pagan Metal has been a very popular genre since the last few years with bands like ELUVEITIE, ENSIFERUM, KORPIKLAANI, MOONSORROW, and many many more (though mainly smaller bands). In January it was ENSIFERUM who made the crowd go mad, now it were the Dutch heathens from HEIDEVOLK. Formed in 2002, the band has two full albums out so far, "De Strijdlust Is Geboren" (2005) and "Walhalla Wacht" (2008). You can read my review of the latter on the 2008 page of CD reviews. Personally, I found it strange to hear Dutch with this kind of Metal. Well, hearing Dutch with Metal (any kind) is strange to my ears. Not only because there aren't that many bands that do it and also because in several cases it doesn't sound or feel right. And yet, HEIDEVOLK manage to make the situation more interesting. To my surprise, several youngsters here really went exstatic when the band hit the stage. I never thought HEIDEVOLK would be THAT popular here, with all due respect. But good for them, of course.

The stage was a bit too small for this large line-up, I think. But the band didn't care and sang their hymns with might and pride. And honestly, I liked it. Even more than their latest album, which was good to my ears. Two vocalists, horn (like the drinking horn, yes), dual guitars... the key elements. The venue was now more crowded than before. There was no setlist, so I only could remember some titles of the played songs, like "Saksenland", "Wodan Heerst" and "Walhalla Wacht". The atmosphere was great and I could easily have stayed longer, but as it had snowed outside and the parking was anything but free from snow. Luckily the roads themselves were largily free from snow and ice, which allowed a smooth ride back home.

Playlist: (in no specific order)

Saksenland
Wodan Heerst
Walhalla Wacht
Opstand Der Bataven
??

HEIDEVOLK


It's thanks to festivals like Frostrock or Alcatraz Metal Festival, to name just these, the western region of Belgium gets to see international names along with national bands, allowing the Belgian scene to reach more people and trying to spark the people's interest for its own bands, so to speak. Otherwise you could travel each weekend to the Biebob in Vosselaar, in the province of Antwerp. Each Frostrock edition has been qualitative, without the smallest doubt. How the organisation managed to deal with the many cancellations this year and quickly find worthy replacements deserves applause. Of course it would be nice to have more gigs, but as it's usually a matter of finances, I guess keeping it annual is not only good for the people's wallets, but it also makes you look forward to the next edition of this festival. If you didn't see this or that band during the year, the chance exists you'll see them at Frostrock or another festival. The smallness of Frostrock is also a pluspoint, as for a low price you'll have an afternoon/evening filled with Metal without having to skip from one stage to the other, like on bigger events like Graspop. Of course, more people coming over would not only be good for the organisation, but the fans then too could contribute this way to help bigger bands be booked. So, hail to the organisation and on to the next edition.





More pictures can viewed at this location (part 1: ACHYRONTHIA - AFTER ALL) and this location (part 2: AFTER ALL - HEIDEVOLK).


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05/12/2009 – METAL AGAINST CHILD CANCER (De Wieke, Deerlijk, Belgium)

On the 5th of December the first edition of the Metal Against Child Cancer, in short MACC, fetival took place at De Wieke in Deerlijk, Belgium. And that alone was a reason to not let this opportunity slip away, as it allowed me to go there relaxed and not prepare hours in advance to go to, for example, Antwerp or farther. As you may remember from my report from the 3rd of November. Let me just copy-paste the piece explaining why MACC was set up: MACC stands for Metal Against Child Cancer and the main reason for the existence of this festival is because Brecht Debrouwere has had cancer himself, testical cancer. Having seen his son while at the hospital made him think it could happen to his son, too. Usually it's big TV-stations and famous people that organise/put their shoulders under a project for, or rather against, child cancer. Hence the positive behaviour of the people of the Child Cancer Fund (www.kinderkankerfonds.be), especially that of Kathleen Maelput, seeing someone not from the mainstream domain. The CCF is entirely dependant of donations from people, companies, and others. Brecht, or rather MACC, made an agreement with the CCF to donate all the profits of the festival to them, after having substracted the costs for the bands, electricity, drinks and other things. Or in short, Brecht and co. will have nothing left over for themselves. You can check out the agreement on the festival's website: www.maccfest.be.

Upon arrival it was already dark, as these days darkness sets in much sooner, and it was faintly raining. Inside it was much warmer and outside two tents were set up, one for the KSA (a youth movement) and their French fries installation and a second one, warm and pretty comfy for the artists. The poster contained six bands, two of which needed to be replaced due to urgent reasons: GWYLLION saw their new vocalist Ann Van Rooy leave, though in good understanding, and are still looking for a replacement and BURIAL GROUND, the band in which organiser Brecht Debrouwere played bass and would play his goodbye gig this evening, had to cancel because their drummer had the Mexican flu. Replacements were respectively LOWRES and MENTAL GENOCIDE.

Brecht was assisted by four other people (Yoerik Neirinck, Wim Van Riet, Nick Vermote), including his wife (Saska Deruytere), whom I might have seen, but I couldn't tell if it was her or not as there were a few more women at the venue. There were obviously already several Metalheads present as well, though not in such a large quantity that no one could enter or move anymore. But more would join the fold as the hours passed by. Sadly the room never filled to the brim, or better, there was not such a big number of people. A sad finding, especially considering the cause and the ultra-low price of 6 EUR. Perhaps more did arrive after I had left prematurely, due to health reasons.

As said before, six bands offered their services for this good cause. For logical reasons (and to promote the local scene a bit more) most came from Belgium, though two were neighbours: CEREMONY OF OPPOSITES and IZEGRIM, both from The Netherlands. For CEREMONY OF OPPOSITES their presence was normal, as bassist Asje created the festival logo and poster.

MACC Festival logo

LOCUS CONTROL (BE) - http://www.myspace.com/locuscontrolrocks
MENTAL GENOCIDE (BE) - http://www.myspace.com/mentalgenocidemetal
FIREFORCE (BE) - http://www.myspace.com/fireforcemetal
LOWRES (BE) - http://www.myspace.com/lowresband
CEREMONY OF OPPOSITES (NL) - http://www.myspace.com/ceremonyofoppositesmetal
IEGRIM (NL) - http://www.myspace.com/izegrim



The doors opened at 17h00. LOCUS CONTROL took to the stage at around 18h00. This is a four-piece band playing quite good Stoner Rock/Metal. When the band was formed is unknown to me and their MySpace didn't give many clues either. I did learn that second guitarist Koen joined the band to give them a more complete sound and perhaps a better push in the right direction. While there was a microphone for bassist Stefaan, there was absolutely NO singing involved, none at all. I was waiting for a voice to come in, but to my (positive, I must add) surprise all remained instrumental for the entire set, save when Stefaan announced a new song, for example. Sure, some songs could use a vocalist, but overall the lacking of one sure is not hurtful to the music. I had a great time listening to their rocking tunes, providing us with an energetic start of the evening. So far the band has no releases, but they plan to record an album in 2010. After the show I had a nice, but short, talk with bassist Stefaan about the band and their performance. Apparently this wasn't their best set yet, but to me it was very solid and I hope to hear more from them.

Playlist:

Mirror Cell
Through Veins
6 Degrees
Catch 22
Collision

LOCUS CONTROL


Up next was the Thrash band MENTAL GENOCIDE, in which Brecht used to play. The setlist consisted not only of uptempo Thrash tracks, but also midtempo songs were a part of the band's performance, sometimes reminding me of METALLICA's self-titled album. The fast songs were in vein of bands like LAAZ ROCKIT, TESTAMENT, (old) METALLICA, EXODUS and similar. Rough vocals, as can be expected with this kind of Metal and a very energetic set, especially the singing was done well. The guitars and drum input made the whole more passionate. In terms of releases I have no idea what MENTAL GENOCIDE has brought out so far. There was no mention by the band or on the band's MySpace page. And to be honest, I didn't check if there was a (small) merchandise stand. In general, no complaints here either, as the band played a good show and kept the entertainment value high. Two bands done, satisfaction level intact.

Playlist:

Secret War
Ride Along
Busted
Dying
Run Away
Your Life Is A Lie
Mental Genocide

MENTAL GENOCIDE


FIREFORCE was band no. 3 and these guys sure aren't new when it comes to pure and classic Heavy Metal. The band might be new (formed in early 2009), its members have acquired the necessary experience and knowledge throughout the years in various other bands like DOUBLE DIAMOND, to name one example. And may I say these guys were GOOD!! Starting as a five-piece, playing as a four-piece as they're looking for a new lead guitarist. But let it be clear that Erwin handled the guitar parts very well. The band recently recorded a promo EP called "Moonlight Lady", which was produced by R.D. Liapakis at the Prophecy studios in Germany. FIREFORCE has already written 20 songs since its founding, yet no release came of it. Heavy Metal it was, all the way, and I cannot stress it enough that it was of very good quality. I had a great time during this band's set. Somehow the track "Moonlight Lady" reminded me of an old MANOWAR song, of which the title escapes me. The band did return for a bonus song, being JUDAS PRIEST's classic hit "Breaking The Law". FIREFORCE lived up to its name: they heated up the place with a tremendous force. Let's see how that EP will sound, shall we?

Playlist:

Annihilation
Crecy
Mona Lisa
1302
Metal Rages On
Born To Play Metal
Moonlight Lady
Breaking The Law (JUDAS PRIEST cover)

FIREFORCE


Time for something completely different and more modern then: LOWRES. They came instead of GWYLLION, who are one of the best Belgian bands ever, in my humble opinion. But anyway, more modern Metal. LOWRES plays a mix of Groove Metal, Metalcore and Nu-Metal. Musically not all was equally attractive, though over the entire line it was pretty much alright, truth be told. Vocals remained the same from the stat: screams and yells. Good for a few songs, but for a set of eleven songs, boredom soon set in. It was hard to distinguish one song from the other and several songs sounded similar. I took a picture of the setlist, but somehow the paper was folded a bit, so it was hard to decipher certain titles. The band's website didn't help much either. During LOWRES's set I went outside for something to eat. Since it was raining outside, lots of people were inside the hall, smoking their cigarette. A smoke screen was litterally created and you had to pass through it to enter the venue where the bands played. Wasn't there a sign on the door that said "smoking prohibited"?

Playlist:

Ius Taliones (?)
Scorched Souls
Unite (?)
?
My Law
Pro Pain
Fearless Scapegoat
Rise
Unite
Dawn Of Man
Paths Of Glory

LOWRES


So, the French fries were in my stomach and it was time to process them. Not that long afterwards, my stomach and head were involved in a grave battle, one not wanting to give in for the other. Whether the fries had something to do with it or not remains unknown, though I can only tell it commenced after my food break. Luckily there were some people from the Red Cross, but the Motilium (a medicine for the stomach, to sort of form a barrier for things coming back up) didn't help that much. While awaiting some progress (which would never come), the Dutch Death Metal formation CEREMONY OF OPPOSITES had started their set. The sound volume was now louder than before and you didn't need to be in the room itself to hear the band. In other words, I didn't see much of their set. It's only when I decided - or better, my head and stomach - that leaving the venue earlier than foreseen would be the only option for a speedy recovery. But as I was going to write a report, I needed footage. I made a last effort to take some pictures from CEREMONY OF OPPOSITES's performance. It had to go fast, so please excuse me for the not-so-good pictures. Prior to the show I had a small talk with bassist Asje and guitarist Pascal, finally getting in touch for real instead of posting back and forth on MySpace. And it was nice, obviously. I received a copy of their latest EP "Seeds Of Resurrection", which will be reviewed as soon as possible. Keep an eye on the 2009 page for that or the MySpace blog. The band previously released a demo and a full album in the now four years of their existence. The album, also called "Seeds Of Resurrection", is due for early 2010 through Painkiller Records. But I can be short about the performance: lots of enthusiasm, lots of energy, lots of brutal tunes. Based on what I saw and heard, it was solid, and I really want to see them again for a better impression. The EP sounds nice, in any case.

Playlist:

Frantic Convulsion
Bathe In Gore
Posttraumatic Disorder
Severe Carnage
Supremacy
Wall Of Darkness
Death's Dominion
Exoneration
False Believes
Soul Cemetary
The Fool's Ferocity
The Fear Within
TG: Wasted Years

CEREMONY OF OPPOSITES


The Dutch Thrash Metal band IZEGRIM was to close the evening. I had heard a lot about them this year, also because they played at the Metal Female Voices Fest. But foremost them being a female-fronted band made me more curious to see them at work. IZEGRIM has been around since 1996, put out a few releases and line-up changes have not been strange to them either. Long before their performance I had a talk with vocalist/bassist Marloes and guitarist Jeroen, who were very kind in providing me with a review copy of their latest release, the "Point Of No Return" EP, which came out earlier this year. Like with CEREMONY OF OPPOSITES, the review will follow asap. And yes, the EP is a qualitative release. I did see Marloes briefly before she had to go on and the only thing I then could do was apologize for my earlier leaving. So, nothing seen, no pictures taken, no knowledge of the setlist. Wouter Debonnet (drummer in GWYLLION) was also present and you can trust his opinion when he said that IZEGRIM delivered a strong performance. When I came home, it didn't take long before the fries I ate earlier decided not to stay inside for much longer. A shower and a good night's sleep were the only medicine that completely cured me.

Playlist:

??

IZEGRIM
none none none


Conclusion: Metal Against Child Cancer, not only a noble cause, but also one that is planned to take place each year. Some bands have already been booked for 2010. All proceedings went to the CCF, but I cannot tell how much money the event brought up, how much was on the special bank account, how much was collected the evening itself. I can only hope it was a very nice amount, all things combined. The bill was a very nice one, giving the chance to more unknown bands to show their skills and potential, plus the location might not have been the best for Metal gigs, but the sound was good, the site itself was easily accessible, and so on. It was funny, though, that a mass was going to begin around the same time when the festival was to take off. I noticed that the venue could accomodate many more Metalheads, but either it was due to schedule conflicts or not many people being aware of the event or being cautious about going or not (it ws the first edition, after all). Those who did come had a great evening of Metal, that I'm sure of. To cut a long story short: great idea, very good bands, ideal location (well, in my case, anyway ;-)) and let's make it happen for many more years!



UPDATE 17/12/2009: Brecht just informed me that this Saturday, the 19th, the check will be handed over to the Child Cancer Fund. Considering the bad weather, with the snow and possible accidents that may occur, the chance is small I'll be able to attend this event. But for anyone curious to know how much money the first edition of the festival brought in, after all costs (bands, food, drinks, venue, ...) were settled: 1,850 EUR or one thousand eight hundred and fifty euros. Peanuts for some, but nevertheless a nice amount for a good cause. A next edition may of course put more money in the basket. Anyone interested in supporting the festival or the cause can still donate money. Details are in the press conference report at this location.





More pictures can viewed at this location.


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08/08/2009 – ALCATRAZ METAL FESTIVAL (Brielpoort, Deinze, Belgium)

Alcatraz Concerts (website) organised its first own festival last year. TRENCHFOOT, THE LUCIFER PRINCIPLE, MORTAL SIN, BENEDICTUM, LEGION OF THE DAMNED, EXODUS and DORO made it quite an experience and an entertaining afternoon/evening of Metal for all to see and hear. TRENCHFOOT came it as last, as PRIMAL FEAR's presence had to be cancelled due to presales being low. Anyway, the Germans were asked to come over for the second edition, but that coincided with a performance abroad. So, no PRIMAL FEAR (yet). One stage last year, two this year: a main stage and a club stage, where mainly Belgian bands could show their talents. Instead of waiting 20 minutes of more before the next band comes on stage, the organisation thought of this possibility to offer Metal all around and thus not let people wait too long to see or hear the next band.

2008 had some big names and it wasn't different this time. The mainstage was occupied by international acts like ONSLAUGHT, AGENT STEEL, HELSTAR, ROSS THE BOSS, TESTAMENT and SAXON. The Belgian Heavy Metal veterans from KILLER had the honour to kick off the afternoon on the mainstage. The club stage was the territory of SANITY'S RAGE, THE LUCIFER PRINCIPLE (who were on the mainstage last year), SPOIL ENGINE, THE DIFFERENCE and VIRUS IV. It became clear as time passed by that upstairs is a sauna, small with an infrastrucutre that doesn't allow proper lighting or sound production. But most bands did pretty good.

Last year there were already many people at the beginning of the festival, but that was nothing compared to the number of people present this year. I arrived at around 12h45 and based on the crowded situation, it was as if the festival had started several hours earlier. Already there were as many people on the premises as there were when DORO got on stage, and she was headliner. It seemed that many people had come for KILLER. The coolness of the venue I mentioned in my report last year was far to seek. Outside or inside, the heat conquered all, although it took a little while before the temperature in the venue had reached a high peak. But once a few bands had played the thermometer had difficulties to show a comfortable temperature indication. Many people were grateful for the massive amounts of drinks (cola, water, beer). Gallons and gallons of beer were consumed and more needed to be supplied. One final remark about the heat: the club stage could be accessed by going upstairs, yet only two windows were opened and the overall space quickly warms up once it's full of people and some spots. Halfway the afternoon the sweat was pouring from you just by arriving upstairs as a cloud of warm air totally engulfed you.

Alcatraz Metal Festival logo

12h00: Doors
13h00-13h40: KILLER (BE) - http://www.myspace.com/killerheavymetal
13h50-14h25: SANITY'S RAGE (BE) - http://www.myspace.com/sanitysrage
14h35-15h15: ONSLAUGHT (UK) - http://www.myspace.com/onslaughtuk
15h25-16h00: THE DIFFERENCE (BE) - http://www.myspace.com/differencemetal
16h10-16h55: AGENT STEEL (USA) - http://www.myspace.com/agentsteel
17h05-17h45: VIRUS IV (BE) - http://www.myspace.com/virusiv
17h55-18h45: HELSTAR (USA) - http://myspace.com/helstar
18h55-19h35: SPOIL ENGINE (BE) - http://www.myspace.com/spoilengine
19h45-20h45: ROSS THE BOSS (USA/GER) - http://www.myspace.com/newmetalleader
20h55-21h45: THE LUCIFER PRINCIPLE (NL) - http://www.myspace.com/tlpmetal
22h00-23h10: TESTAMENT (USA) (22u30 - 23u40) - http://www.myspace.com/testamentlegions
23h45-01h15: SAXON (UK) (00h30-02h00) - http://www.myspace.com/planetsaxon



As I wrote above, the place was quite packed already before the first band even hit the stage. That first band was the Belgian Heavy Metal formation KILLER, whom I've seen once so far, in January 2008 at Frostrock where the band occupied the before-last slot. ANCIENT RITES was the headliner. Considering their long time career of about 30 years, Alcatraz Concerts couldn't neglect this chunck of Belgian Metal history. Last year there was a mention of a Best Of release and a new album, but I haven't seen any of those so far. Even on the band's website there's no news about those releases. Vocalist/guitarist Shorty (Paul Van Camp) was in the mood and even more so because original bassist Spooky is back after an absence of 18 years. And I can tell you he's happy to be back, too. Running around on stage, singing the lyrics, trying to pump up the crowd... he was like a kid that got a new toy. Not always easy to take pictures then, but it's nice to see someone still having fun with Heavy Metal after so many years.

While I could take a picture of the setlist last year, I didn't see one this time, and since my knowledge of this band's discography is extremely limited, I can't tell which songs were played, except for "Touch Of Evil". Rest assured, though, that as good as KILLER was anno 2008, the performance in Deinze was very good, too, if not better. The band got a good sound, played several very nice songs - maybe I should add some albums to my collection after all, but which ones? - and showed that even after 25-30 years they still offer quality. Something many younger bands can learn from. I nearly forgot, but the band's intro was put on CD and either the player had a problem or the CD had been used too much, but let's just say things didn't run very smooth. Once the band did what they had to do, the intro was a triviality.

Playlist:

??

KILLER


The Thrashers of SANITY'S RAGE were next and the first to try out the club stage. Upstairs it was dark, somewhat crowded, and compact. This was the second time I saw the band at work. The first time dates from April 2007 when LAAZ ROCKIT came to Eeklo, Belgium. The Belgians left a positive impression on me at that time, even if they only had one EP, "The Rage Of One" (2006). This time I was curious to hear if they would do as well as two years ago. Also because new material is written and waiting to be recorded. Personally, I found it hard to remain upstairs. The band's got delayed a little due to seeking the right sound. The overall execution was good, at least the short time I witnessed the band. In 2007 I mentioned the singing problems of Kenny and truth be told, his input was a bit better now, but still nothing to write home about, if you ask me.

SANITY'S RAGE played three songs off the EP mixed with four new tracks, playing about 35 minutes before the crowd, at least the ones that could find a spot upstairs went back down for a drink and/or watch ONSLAUGHT's performance. I can be short about SANITY'S RAGE this time: after a few songs I had enough of it. Their music just didn't do me much to remain present the entire time. It may be the circumstances and I might have to adjust my opinion on a next occasion, but the interim score was a tie: one good band (KILLER), one not-so-good (SANITY'S RAGE).

Playlist:

Product Of Calamity
Shackles & Shades
The Rage Of One
Feeding The Fire
....e Of Decay
H.. Keep Grinding
Apocalypse

SANITY'S RAGE


ONSLAUGHT would show how it's done, playing Thrash live. There were monitor problems in the beginning, especially with Nige Rockett's material. Again. He also had problems at Meadow Fest in 2007, when I saw the band for the first time. But those problems were solved soon as "Killing Peace" came blasting out of the speakers. A glorious moment! Well, drummer Steve Grice apparently was craving to play and rushed his first hits too much, but corrected himself a little later. The line-up underwent some changes in those two years: Andy Rosser-Davies occupies the second guitarist position now. And he did a fine job, even playing the solos like a madman. His style is different than Nige's. Rougher or more refined, I can't tell, for it was the first time I saw him at work.

The songs were picked from all but the "In Search of Sanity" album, when Steve Grimmett was the vocalist. Seems like the band doesn't have good memories of that period, or Sy just doesn't want to sing songs he wasn't part of. Fair enough, because the rest of the material is more than good to have a killer Thrash experience. ONSLAUGHT recently put out a live CD/DVD, "Live Damnation", which was recorded at the Damnation Festival in Leeds, England, in 2008. The mixing was done by Andy Sneap. I've only heard a few songs on the band's MySpace page and they're good, but I'll order my copy soon.

Sy sounded as evil and raw as can be. He was very good back in 2007, he was as good or perhaps better last Saturday. He came, he saw, he conquered. But that can be said about the entire band. Everyone had great fun, especially Nige and Jeff, though Steve also hit the skins hard enough. The setlist was similar to that of the new live album, except that "Demoniac" was replaced by "Angels Of Death" and put on the third spot. The sound was good, though not perfect. Just quite real and that would have it a very good bootleg instead of fiddling with the sound in the studio afterwards. But anyhow, ONSLAUGHT thrashed the place once again, the crowd loved it, the atmosphere as great. My only complaint is that I couldn't do the interview with Nige as the band didn't have much time left before or after the gig and I had other bands to see for this report. But that problem is only trivial as there's still the electronic way of communication. In short, about ONSLAUGHT live: go see them, quality experience for sure!

Playlist:

Killing Peace
Let There Be Death
Angels Of Death
Destroyer Of Worlds
Metal Forces
Seeds Of Hate
Burn
Power From Hell

ONSLAUGHT


Time to go upstairs again then as the Belgian Progressive/Heavy/Doom Metal band THE DIFFERENCE was going to present new material. The band released its debut album, "Lost In Mass Confusion", in 2005 and this proved to be a very solid release, if you were willing to take the time to listen. With this band, too, it was the second time that I saw them at work. The first was also in 2007 when LAAZ ROCKIT thrashed CC De Herbakker. A new album is in the making and should come out later this year. The new material is said to be "even more melodic and heavier than the previous albums".

THE DIFFERENCE is a band I got to know through a colleague at work and one thing leads to another (i.e. a review of "Lost In Mass Confusion"). The album convinced me of the guys' talents and the live performance, too. Considering there's new work in the pipeline, I was curious to hear it, so up I went to the sauna. And yes, the new stuff is good. The setlist consisted mostly of new songs and two older tracks, "The Darkest Of All Times" and "Dying In Vain".

"Lost In Mass Confusion" was a self-release, the follow-up will come out via Battlecat Productions in around September-October, if I heard correctly. THE DIFFERENCE also had only 35 minutes, so the setlist wasn't that long in terms of tracks, especially since the band's songs are already longer than your average 3-4 minute tracks. THE DIFFERENCE made a difference in that their set was solid, but due to the compact space it was a bit hard to let the music breath better.

Playlist:

Intro
Into The Cold
The Attic
The Awakening
instrumental
The Darkest Of Times
Dying In Vain

THE DIFFERENCE


And down we went again for the next main stage act, being the veterans of AGENT STEEL. This American Thrash/Speed Metal band has been around since the 1980s, though with lots of line-up changes. That had its impact on the number of releases, as to this date the band has five studio albums up its sleeves. But it must be said that there is a huge gap of at least ten years between "Unstoppable Force" and the band's first demo since the reunion/comeback that resulted in the "Agents Of Steel" demo in 1998. The band briefly used another name at the time of the reunion, since original vocalist John Cyriis claimed legal rights to the name AGENT STEEL, but in 2003 the new line-up used the original name again after all and used the new name as title of their 2003 release, "Order of the Illuminati". Bruce Hall became the new vocalist in 1998.

AGENT STEEL is a band I knew by name, not by music. I haven't heard any of their albums so far, let alone that I would own one. But a quick listen to the samples on MySpace and seeing the band on stage in Deinze made me think about buying one or more album(s) anyway. I talked to two friends, Mike from Hard Life Promotion and Ilse Vandamme, photography for RMP, and like with many bands, I was advised to start with the first two albums. Apparently the vocals of John Cyriis were high, much higher than Bruce's. Bruce is a good singer, but when hearing the songs live, I couldn't help but think that a little bit of roughness wouldn't hurt him or the songs.

The Americans played two songs from every studio album (4) and even the title track off the "Mad Locust Rising" EP from 1986, but strangely enough only one track of the last and fifth album, "Alienigma" (2007), which has a more modern production, made it onto the setlist: "Fashioned From Dust". My guess is that it had been a while since AGENT STEEL had been in Belgium and therefore preferred to play a mix of older songs to make the crowd more acquainted with the back catalogue. Or they didn't see Alcatraz Metal Festival as a proper place to present the last release a little more, saving it for the gigs abroad. Or they think that the better material is to be found on the older releases. In any case, AGENT STEEL gave a more than solid performance and should have converted more souls that day. The guys definitely had their fun, the crowd had a great time, so had I, and thus the conclusion is that this was one of the better acts of the afternoon and still remains a force to reckon with.

Playlist:

Fashioned From Dust
It's Not What You Think
Unstoppable Force
Rager
Insurrection / Forever Black
Bleed Forever
Guilty As Charged
Agents Of Steel
Mad Locust Rising

AGENT STEEL


After this great historical moment - I hadn't seen AGENT STEEL yet - it was time to check out a Belgian band again. VIRUS IV with frontwoman Magali Luyten, known from her work with BEAUTIFUL SIN and AYREON, was put on the wrong stage. Despite her small height, she does have quite a voice. The result on CD is known, live it's as good. The band hails from the French-speaking part of Belgium, but Magali speaks Dutch, too, and even addressed the crowd in this language. Once she switched to French, you could hear a couple of boos from the crowd. The Flanders-Wallony debate is a very hot one and has been for many years, but particularly since the last federal elections the temperature has risen again. Anyway, no politics today, only great music. VIRUS IV isn't exactly a Metal band, but more of a cross-over of Rock and Heavy Metal, but that doesn't mean the music is less good or heavy or crunchy.

I had heard some samples on the band's MySpace page, but never thought of buying an album. Seeing them live might make me think otherwise, but as usual, it depends on budget and what else is on the wishlist. The songs came all off the "Dark Sun" release, which came out last year. In fact, besides the intro, VIRUS IV played the entire album, though in a different order, of course. Even the "Such A Shame" cover (originally by TALK TALK) was played. Now, in many cases the covering of a Pop song doesn't lead to good results and it's therefore best to avoid it. What Magali and co. did isn't bad at all, but not exactly super either. The band's own songs are far superior in quality and varied enough for Magali to sing either rough (as we all know) or go for a cleaner approach, which she can do very much as well. Like I said earlier, VIRUS IV didn't get the chance to show their full potential on such a small platform and in such a small place. Therefore I hope, if they get booked for a next edition of the festival, they'll play on the mainstage. Other than that, another qualitative Belgian band to keep in mind.

Playlist:

Frightening Lanes
Behind Me
The Last Time
Such A Shame (TALK TALK cover)
Silent Arrows
Dark Sun
New Karma
Signs
Soulrace

VIRUS IV


Back to the mainstage then for HELSTAR. This US Power Metal band saw the light of day around the mid of the 1980s. Two splits and a reunion in 2006 later, the band has a new album out: "The King Of Hell" (2008). The material is very much inline with their older records, but to offer a view on the band's back catalogue they re-recorded several tracks and even added two new written songs. The whole came out in 2007 under the title "Sins Of The Past". The newest release showed a HELSTAR that is glad to be back and still can fight like before. I don't know if "The King Of Hell" is their best album - I still have to hear the others - but it's a very solid one, that I can tell. Seeing them on the bill for Alcatraz Metal Festival made me very happy. Like with AGENT STEEL, I had yet to see this Power Metal band do its thing on stage.

James, Larry, Rob, Jerry and Russel made a varied setlist, putting the focus on the latest album with four tracks: "The King Of Hell", "The Plague Called Man", "Wicked Disposition" and "Pain Will Be Thy Name". The other, older songs were selected from the first four albums. One track per album, save for the 1988 album "A Distant Thunder" being represented with two songs. The sound was very good and the guitars' sound came close to that on "The King Of Hell": blunt and hard. James's voice was very good. Even though I'm not accustomed to the band's live performances, James came onto the stage with a demon mask, as if to represent "The King Of Hell", which was the song with which HELSTAR started their set. The mask soon disappeared as the next songs were to be played.

Overall it felt good to see a band whose release(s) you've reviewed. Gigs are then a very nice situation to experience the songs in a different setting. The other way around is also interesting, but less, as it's better to know the songs (or recognise them) when you see the band perform them. HELSTAR played a long set and as much as I like what they do, I have to admit that it was perhaps a bit too much, too long. But I would go right back to see them again, that's for sure.

Playlist:

The King Of Hell
The Plague Called Man
The King Is Dead
Suicidal Nightmare
Pain Will Be Thy Name
Winds Of War
Wicked Disposition
Baptized In Blood
Run With The Pack

HELSTAR


For the next Belgian band to play upstairs I could copy-paste what I wrote in my Frostrock 2008 report. SPOIL ENGINE is a band I can do nothing with. They've been active since a few years, are hailed as the next best thing, or sort of. That was when their debut album cam out. Thrash it is not, far from it even. What you get is pounding, aggressive and violent... eh... noise. Let's just say Metalcore, but a bit more aggressive. There are also similarities with SLIPKNOT, particularly in the vocals: screaming and 'singing'/talking in turns. There's absolutely no singing (and I do mean real singing) involved.

From start to finish, one big wall of sound, of guitar violence and screaming/yelling. It's popular with today's youth, but I personally am not impressed at all. My taste also has something to do with it and maybe I expect other things than just a band that makes heavy...music. You didn't need to be there to hear the songs. The volume was high enough and you could easily enjoy another beer (or cola or water), having something to eat and wait until it was time to go see ROSS THE BOSS. Sorry, no pics and no playlist either. Yes, I should have gone up there, but I preferred to go outside and relax a bit next to the road near the river. I kept my earplugs in to not let the noise affect my hearing. And what a change that was, not hearing the music so strongly.

Playlist:

??

OUTSIDE THE VENUE


ROSS THE BOSS is the band of ex-MANOWAR guitarist Ross The Boss, who had been the axeman of this Heavy Metal band during almost the entire period of the 1980s, from the classic "Battle Hymns" to "Kings Of Metal" in 1988. Afterwards he sought his musical inspiration elsewhere, like in the Punk band THE DICTATORS, but in 2007 or 2008 he wanted to play Heavy Metal again, reminiscent of his period in MANOWAR. He found the rest of the band in Germany, under the name of IVORY NIGHT, a Melodic Metal band I had never heard of. Together they made "New Metal Leader" and set it for release on the 22nd of August 2008. Personally I thought this album was hyped like hell, but failed to deliver, except for fans of MANOWAR and present HAMMERFALL.

Seeing ROSS THE BOSS on the bill made me frown, but there are still cases where I have to adjust my opinion after having seen a band live. There are bands that sound good on CD, but not live. And there's the other situation. ROSS THE BOSS is that other situation. Live the music comes out muc better, stronger and less annoying. I mean, I liked standing in the pit for the first few songs. Ross and co. also made it easy for the photographers to shoot pictures as they didn't run from one side of the stage to the other, rather moved sporadically or even stood still. Especially Carsten (bass) and Ross often came together to strike a pose and I can assure you, some nice photos will have come out of that. Ross was happy to oblige for the shoot. The performance was overall very good, although I remain sceptical about the follow-up to "New Metal Leader".

The setlist consisted of own material as well as MANOWAR songs, which was to be expected. The songs were divided as 2-3: two in the first half, three in the other half of the list. "Hail And Kill", "Kill With Power", "Thor"... it went down very easily, though I have to say that MANOWAR themselves still do it better, also because Patrick doesn't have Eric's throat. Still, a very nice addition to the list and perfect to keep the atmosphere great. As some people wore a MANOWAR t-shirt, one didn't need much time to guess why. All in all, a solid performance by Ross's own band.

Playlist:

I.L.H.
Blood Of Knives
Death & Glory
Death Tone (MANOWAR cover)
God Of Dying
Gloves Of Metal (MANOWAR cover)
We Will Kill
Thor (MANOWAR cover)
Kill With Power (MANOWAR cover)
I Got The Right
Hail And Kill (MANOWAR cover)

ROSS THE BOSS


The Dutch band THE LUCIFER PRINCIPLE had already played at the festival, last year and one the main stage. There was only one stage then, so logically the band presented its groovy Death Metal on the big stage. Like said before, the special element in their music is the contrabass instead of a normal bass guitar. Not that it makes such a difference musically, but it does provide a nice visual change. And you can be sure this instrument isn't treated softly during the performance. Erik's throat was again very good. The songs were of course very energetic, heavy and more. Many weeks ago the band released its second album, "Welcome To Bloodshed", as follow-up to their debut "Pitch Black Dawn", released in 2007.

The temperature was high last year, it was even higher this year, as mentioned a couple of times. And it wasn't easy for the band to stay where they were, although Michael Grunwald did move his contrabass a few times. Heat also enourages people to drink. Preferably water, but that's apparently for sissies when going to a Metal concert/festival. Anyway, a few guys had drunk too much and started moshing, pushing people around and some even ending on the floor. No one was injured, luckily, and Erik did keep a watchful eye on what happened right in front of him. The stage was very close and you could easily get on it. But to come back to the performance of THE LUCIFER PRINCIPLE: it was good, make no mistake, but for personally not all songs were a success. When they played the more grooving songs, that's when my ears caught the sounds better. I didn't detect a playlist and since I don't own any of their albums, I don't know which songs were played.

Playlist:

??

THE LUCIFER PRINCIPLE


AGENT STEEL is a well-known band in the history of Metal, but the Thrash band TESTAMENT is it even more. Several line-up changes and whatever more occured, and TESTAMENT has released quite a back catalogue, but somehow this band couldn't generate the same interest as the one I had in (old) METALLICA, DESTRUCTION, KREATOR, MEGADETH, EXODUS, and many more. I do own a Japanese Best Of release, just to have one TESTAMENT release, but other than that none, even if I heard some of the band's albums over the years, even the last one, "The Formation Of Damnation". And that wasn't much of a success, as the hoped Thrash assault stayed out, even if it was a heavy album. But anyway, since I had never seen the band live, this was an excellent opportunity to find out if they really are good live. I've heard various opinions, so it's best to check 'em out for yourself then, right?

The band was scheduled to play from 22h00 until 23h10. At 22h00 sharp, everyone was ready to see this Thrash giant at work. Nothing happened. We (fans, photographers, organisers, sound-, stage- and lightcrew... well, everyone) waited, waited a while longer, saw time passing by. No one dared to move to go fetch a drink or something to eat (if needed) for fear they would miss the start. Several began to become nervous, a bit disappointed even. The soundcheck still needed to take place and lots of mic testing still continued long after that. 30 minutes after the planned starting time the band came on stage. Finally! But not one word about the delay, not one apology. Something uncle Biff from SAXON did not forget when they (SAXON) were to play their set.

But on to the gig. TESTAMENT's latest release dates from last year, yet played only three songs from that album: "More Than Meets The Eye", "The Persecuted Won't Forget" and "The Formation Of Damnation". The majority of the material came off the first two albums, "The Legacy" and "The New Order", with classics like "The New Order", "Over The Wall", "Into The Pit" and several more. "Practice What You Preach" also made it onto the list and is also a classic TESTAMENT song. The band also travelled back to 1999 for two songs off "The Gathering", "D.N.R." and "3 Days In Darkness". The three releases in between were completely ignored: "The Ritual", "Low" and "Demonic", although I think those are mostly ignored these days, no? I would need to check that, though.

Anyway, it was thus my first TESTAMENT gig and even if the machine ran very smoothly - some said automatic pilot, cruise control if you wish - I must say I enjoyed it nevertheless. Bands that have been active for such a long time and who have played many gigs together create automatisms and consequently you're better adjusted to various situations and each other. Cohesion, as they call it. The classic songs, the newer material, it was fine for me. It was even more fine to see what a fine guitarist Alex Skolnick is. The man plays guitar like it's nothing, very smooth and without effort. TESTAMENT might not be very well represented in my collection, but this one gig is a different story. They're good, very good even, live and here as well, I'm glad to have seen another big name in Metal's history. Maybe this wasn't the best period to see them or maybe this wasn't their best performance ever, but that's food for discussion for dedicated fans and those who have seen the band many times before.

Playlist:

The Preacher
The New Order
Over The Wall
Practice What You Preach
More Than Meets The Eye
The Persecuted Won't Forget
Burnt Offerings
Into The Pit
Alone In The Dark
Disciples Of The Watch
D.N.R.
3 Days In Darkness
The Formation Of Damnation

TESTAMENT


And then the British NWOBHM band SAXON. I have practically all their albums, save for the Pop album "Destiny", and obviously I like one album more than the other, but overall this band is among my favourites. I witnessed them last back in February when they were touring with ICED EARTH. The Saxons delivered the goods once again, just like the previous times. Last Saturday was the fourth time or so that I had the pleasure to go to a SAXON gig. Since TESTAMENT started much later, SAXON's schedule also was moved and this to 00h30 until 02h00. I heard they were supposed to stop at 01h30, full set or not. After the first song, "Battalions Of Steel" - an excellent track, if you ask me - the atmosphere couldnt be better and the pace was set for a whole lot more. Uncle Biff apologised for the delay, mentioning "technical problems" as the cause of it. True or not, at least he acted responsably. He added the would play a full set anyway.

In terms of music the band played lots of oldies, about eight, while the other six came off the "Battalions Of Steel", "The Inner Sanctum" and "Lionheart" releases. The new material was represented by "Battalions Of Steel", "Demon Sweeny Todd" (a great uptempo track), "Valley Of The Kings" and "Live To Rock". One by one very nice songs and among the best on the newest album. From start to finish did the British offer a nice mix of old and new and I wish I could have stayed until the last note, but since it was far past midnight and Deinze isn't my neighbouring city, I still had some distance to cross. One remark about the songs and particularly the classic SAXON hit "747 Strangers In The Night". I like the song, but the characteristic guitar lead worked on my nerves that evening. Also because I didn't think it sounded right after the energetic "Witchfinder General".

Despite the size of the stage, SAXON had brought material to put Nigel's drumkit higher and offer two ramps for guitarists Paul and Doug to place themselves next to Nigel. This of course added to the show aspect of the band's performance and honestly, a SAXON gig without those things just wouldn't be the same. What did surprise me was that bassist Nibbs didn't give his all this time, at least not in the beginning and as the set progressed, I was standing too far to notice any change. Normally he runs from one side to the other, up and down the ramps, tearing his bass to shreds and more. He did headbang from time to time, but at least the first moments when I was in the pit he was quite reserved. It was more guitarist Doug Scarrat who regularly set his foot on the monitors. Paul Quinn was dressed for the occasion, looked twenty years younger and had a good time, though he somehow also was reserved a bit. At least, that's the impression I had. He never was the wild guitarist, but in Brussels he was more active, if you ask me. Anyway, I had a great time, it was a pleasure to see SAXON again and I hope they'll carry on making great Heavy Metal and do many more gigs. As final remark: Biff told that the band will play at Graspop in 2010, but nothing's confirmed yet.

Playlist:

Battalions Of Steel
Heavy Metal Thunder
Demon Sweeny Todd
Strong Arm Of The Law
Witchfinder General
747 Strangers In The Night
20.000 Feet
Valley Of The Kings
Let Me Feel Your Powe
Wheels Of Steel
Crusader
Live To Rock (encore)
Denim And Leather (encore)
Princess Of The Night (encore)

SAXON


Conclusion: Last year I called the festival a sort of mini-Graspop. With two stages and thus more bands, it's even more the case. I've never been to Graspop - I'm no fan of such very big events where it's crowded and you have to work your way through the masses to get food or go see another bands. Alcatraz Metal Festival anno 2008 was a very good edition, anno 2009 is at least as good, if not better. From Heavy Metal to Heavy Metal and lots of extreme (mainly Thrash) Metal in between. Positive for me were the following bands: KILLER, THE DIFFERENCE, VIRUS IV, AGENT STEEL, TESTAMENT, HELSTAR and of course ONSLAUGHT. And those are the bands I would like/love to see again, more than once, if possible. Last year I also said it's a blessing to have organisations like Alcatraz Concerts who bring Metal to the people in a wide region, else it's mostly Antwerp that gets the big fish. The organisation was top notch this year with better food (not perfect yet, but at least it's getting healthier) and again very interesting bands (they all had a great time, I'm sure), though I'd love to see more bands from the Progressive and/or Doom and/or Power and/or Death and perhaps Black Metal genres. Especially Doom, as this genre has many great bands and it's a way to make more people acquainted with the genre. I'll be more than happy to offer suggestions and I'm sure I'm not alone.

All things considered I was happy to be there and I would like to thank everyone involved and not in the least Filip from Alcatraz Concerts. This festival doesn't have to become bigger like Graspop or Wacken or anything similar. It's fine like it is now. If they do plan to continue the two-stage setup, it's going to be tough to arrange something better than the sauna upstairs. Perhaps a stage outside? But then you would need more parking space for the people to enjoy their drinks and food and of course for the stands that provide these goods. Not to mention the sound and lighting installation and the sound it would produce for the people living in the neighbourhood. No, better leave it all inside. The location (Brielpoort) is more than fine, too. No need to go elsewhere. Alcatraz Metal Festival, for anyone seeking a smaller festival with the same quality as big festivals!





More pictures can viewed at this location. Sorry for the mediocre result, but better equipment is on its way. Next year should give better results.


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03/01/2009 – FROSTROCK (Kuurne, Belgium)

Winter period, early January, time for another edition of Frost Rock (website). Considering the weather conditions, the term "Frost" was very much at its place. The landscape lay frozen and towards the evening the mists of winter arose or descended from the heavens. Considering the fact that the bill looked very interesting and that a big act like ENSIFERUM played in my backyard, so to speak, this was an event and edition I could not let pass by.

Again there was a big fous on national bands - last year it was an all-Belgian edition -, but this time there were three slots for international acts: STORMLORD from Italy, AXXIS from Germany and ENSIFERUM from Finland. Of course I knew most of the bands, either from having heard one or more songs or from having at least one release in my collection. But really unknown to me, or better said, not familiar enough with their music were APOCRYPH and STORMLORD. STORMLORD did ring a bell, not only because of their latest release, but also because David Folchitto plays the drums there, just like he does on KALEDON.

The first band was scheduled at 15h30. Upon arrival at 15h10 there were already a few tens of Metalheads, but certainly not a lot, as the venue wasn't even filled for a quarter of the capacity. Seeing ENSIFERUM as headliner it was obvious the biggest mass would arrive much later in the evening, much later, since the Finnish were planned to occupy the stage at 23h00.

APOCRYPH (B) - www.myspace.com/apocryphs
ALWAYS FALLEN (B) - www.myspace.com/alwaysfallenmetal
ANGELI DI PIETRA (B) - www.myspace.com/angelidipietra
IN-QUEST (B) - www.myspace.com/inquestofficial
STORMLORD (IT) - www.myspace.com/stormlordband
AXXIS (DE) - www.myspace.com/axxisworld
ENSIFERUM (FI) - www.myspace.com/officialensiferum


Kicking off the show was the East-Flemish APOCRYPH, who play a form of Melodic Death Metal that you can consider as AMON AMARTH meets DARK TRANQUILLITY meets (old) IN FLAMES. That sort of describes the core of the music. If you think other Melodic Death Metal bands fit better as comparison, be my guest. But anyway, these influences could clearly be heard AND seen. The songs were mostly uptempo and Thrashy, sort of like DARK TRANQUILLITY does. The melodic aspect also comes from these Swedes. The AMON AMARTH influence is also woven into the compositions and not in the least is vocalist Jo responsible for this: his looks come close to those of Johan Hegg (AMON AMARTH vocalist) and Jo also tries to growl like Johan and acts like him as well. This might be a coincidence, but I think not, even if AMON AMARTH isn't among his favourite bands, according to his profile on the band's website. But let's get back to the music. The musicianship isn't perfect, but the songs are damn well composed and the guys managed to keep the attention alive during the entire set. Each of the members played his parts very well and the guitarwork was very tight and flawless, be it rhythm or leads. The solos were another positive element in the music. APOCRYPH were put on the Belgian Metal map in 2004 and in the summer of 2007 the band released the EP "Drenched In Grace" via Rotten To The Core. As an openingsband they did a very fine job and exceeded my expectations, even though they're not at their peak yet, not by a long shot.

Playlist:

??
Poisoned Tears
Harbinger Of Silence
Equinox
When Reality Comes Crashing In...
Banished Are The Meek

APOCRYPH
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Next band to hit the stage was ALWAYS FALLEN. This young Thrash Metal band played the finals of the Wacken Metal Battle in 2008, after which the MCD/EP "See My Blood" (review) came out and bassist Pieter sent me a review request. During the Wacken Metal Battle final it became clear who my favourite was, and although they didn't win, they did end on the second spot, which showed that I wans't the only one who believed they were, sorry, are good. But after this event and following the release of the EP, ALWAYS FALLEN have been gigging a lot. It's not always possible to match both agendas (yours and the band's), but this time I was lucky to see the guys again in a proper setting. There were some problems during the warm-up and you will read that there were other bands that has similar problems.

Vocalist Kenny Devos told me after the show that he had some throat problems and that this affected his singing/screaming a bit. Personally, I did't detect any problems, at least not like he described them. The gigging after the Wakcne competition certainly did the guys a lot of good as their confidence has grown, even if they never had any fear or stress when on stage. The playing was tight, though not perfect. Hearing the EP songs live was interesting and the execution went very well. This band also had 30 minutes of playtime and filled it with the three "See My Blood" songs, a new one ("Death Comes Down") and an oldie, "No Mercy", which can be found on their first demo. According to bassist Pieter this is one of their hits, hence the choice of adding it to the setlist. The stranger in the setlist was the cover of METALLICA's classic "Creeping Death". ALWAYS FALLEN didn't play an exact copy, as it's a risky undertaking to play such a great and technical song. But as (old) METALLICA is one of my all-time favourite bands - they were the most important band in my love for Metal - I couldn't resist to sing along, as the sheer pleasure and atmosphere of that moment demanded it. So, all in all ALWAYS FALLEN's rendition was good, but the guitarsolo in the last part, where Kirk taps, wasn't played. This is due - I think - to Jens' or Mike's skills not being good enough... yet. But practise makes perfect. It did make the gig more interesting, as strange and double-sided that may sound.

Now, about the two last songs: "Death Comes Down" is a new track, off the forthcoming album, planned for a release in May if all goes well. Midtempo is key, although at some point there are Thrashier, uptempo outbreaks. Kenny combines clean singing and screaming, as usual. All in all, and this is only a first impression, this is typically ALWAYS FALLEN with a very decent result. Let's wait and see, eh, hear how it will sound on CD. "No Mercy" is an uptempo, pounding song off the band's first demo, "No Mercy For Sinners" (2007). About halfway or so there's a nice guitarmoment before rebuilding towards the Thrash outbreak.

My second ALWAYS FALLEN gig and I can't say it was bad. On the contrary even, as they pleasantly surprised me with the METALLICA cover. Even though everything was well played and done, it wasn't perfect, but the guys have the balls, guts, skills and determination. Time is on their side.

Playlist:

See My Blood
Prophecy
Creeping Death (METALLICA cover)
Hail To Fire
Death Comes Down (new)
No Mercy

ALWAYS FALLEN
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17h30, time for the Antwerp Folk/Power Metallers from ANGELI DI PIETRA to conquer the stage. But the start was delayed a bit, as mainly guitarist Quevin had sound problems, or better, connection problems. This was the third time that I saw the band live at work. Sjoera was dressed for the occasion. I don't know which one, but I think she thought it would be hot under the spots, and to make the show a bit more attractive, her clothing style was adapted while it was freezing outside. But somehow it's still about the music and with that there was nothing really wrong. Gael and Quevin played their parts excellent, Kurt did the same and added the necessary grunts, while Vincent pushed everything onwards with heavy beatings, feeling pretty much at ease. The singing by Guy and Sjoera was good, although it wasn't like the previous times. It's as if both were more nervous than the instrumentalists, or it was just my impression. Still, both sang their parts quite well, Guy a little better than Sjoera, as far as I'm concerned.

One point of criticism is needed: smoke. Ok, there were people - many even as the afternoon advanced - that smoked, but I'm referring to the smoke on stage. Was it as distraction for Sjoera's rather sexy outfit or was there a purpose behind this? Each five steps, by manner of speech, a big blow of smoke was let out, blocking your view for a short while - the smoke cleared quite rapidly, but still, it was too much and was more a disturbance than a functional element.

All in all, ANGELI DI PIETRA remain a good to very good live band and they can go far, but to me this was their least good performance compared to last year's Mandeldaele and Paganfest gigs. Guy also announced the signing to the Austrian label CCP Records for the release of their debut. No date has been scheduled yet. CCP Records also houses or has housed VANITAS, WOLFMARE, DARKMOON, TRIGLAV, BISHOP OF HEXEN and many other Viking, Black and Pagan Metal acts.

Playlist:

Intro
Ride Into Oblivion
For Us, Fallen Ones
Torquemada
Last Flight
The Moor
Manannan Mac Lir

ANGELI DI PIETRA
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At this time the venue was warmed up and ready for something heavier and more brutal. One of Belgium's heaviest and most dangerous acts was on: IN-QUEST. I own two albums, "Epileptic" and "The Comatose Quandaries", both actually really good albums, although very technical and not exactly easy-listening music. The band has been around since 1994 and done many gigs in Belgium and abroad. For me this was another band I hadn't seen live yet. Expectations were high, very high. The first thing I noticed was I recognized two members: guitarist Valéry Bottin used to play in the Death Metal band EMETH, who performed at the Midwinter Fest last year at the same location, and drummer Gert Monden, who also hits the skins in APOCRYPH.

On "Epileptic" you had Sven from ABORTED doing the screaming and growling, on "The Comatose Quandaries" it's Miqe Löfberg. It's not always easy to understand what he growls and live as well you better not pay attention to it, as it sounds as unclear as on CD. The music is brutal, very brutal and I'm starting to think if IN-QUEST is the most brutal band in the Belgian scene. Fact remains that the tuning of the guitars was so low it almost didn't mind which strings were touched to get that crushing guitarwall. And the longer the band played, the bigger the wall became. Or in other words, things started to sound more and more the same, it's as if the music was turned into one big goo. The melodic parts, be them very few in number, weren't exactly cherries on the cake, as the cake was baked too hard and dry, despite 5 new ingredients. I mean, songs.

I can be short about the band's performance. They played their parts, they gave a lot, but somehow it sounded too forced at times and the live version of IN-QUEST isn't better than the studio version, at least to my ears and eyes. But as with every band it was interesting and in a way entertaining to see how they pull it off live. A new album is made, the release date not yet chosen. The title? "Made Out Of Negative Matter". Fingers crossed for this one, but I have no doubt that this will be an eardrum-destroying release, as the new songs (see *) clearly showed.

Playlist:

Intro
Compelled Misogyny *
Neurofractal Bypass
Asynchronous Transmission *
Audiotoxic Binaries
Ignition Sequence *
Warpath
The Auxiliary Theories *
Systematic Arhythmetic Hate
Mind Over Matter *

IN-QUEST
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The first part consisted of national bands, At 20h00 it was time for the international part of the show, starting with the Italian Epic Black/Power Metal band STORMLORD. They too had sound problems and more than, for example, ANGELI DI PIETRA. The soundcheck took longer than expected and the Italians could really start their set about 15 minutes later. First an epic intro, after which the power broke loose. Both guitarists stood very relaxed on stage. In fact, each member was quite relaxed, unlike with previous bands where headbanging or walking from one part of the stage to the other were not rare. David Folchitto, on drums, was the only one who showed signs of life, so to speak. He's a small guy and it was kind of funny to see him being hidden by the drumkit. But I can tell you, the man can hit! The power he excerted was as if he wanted to thrash his kit. But his playing was tight, very tight.

STORMLORD have a new album out since last year, "Mare Nostrum", and I wanted to wait with buying this one or an older one until having heard and seen the band play, since I wasn't and still am not really familiar with their music. But as good, epic, heavy, powerful and more the music was - and it was good, that I cannot deny - the element that turned my enthusiasm down the most - well, there was no real competition - was Cristiano Borchi. His singing consisted mainly of shrieks and grunts, with the grunts actually being the best of the two. The shrieks were absolutely horrible. All went well, the music was very pleasing to the ears... and then shrieks destroy it. Compare it to having to eat a salade or adding a sauce to whatever you're eating. One extra ingredient can make or break it.

The strange, or maybe very logical, thing is that I found Cristiano's vocals the weakest link, but when hearing the songs on the band's MySpace page, I have to adjust my opinion in a positive direction. So chances are big I'll add a STORMLORD album to my collection. Their mix of Power Metal with Black Metal and a sniff of epicness can be called a success. And so it should be, as the band has been playing this Metal since 1991.

Playlist:

Start (?)
Legacy Of The Snake
And The Wind Shall Scream My Name
Under The Boards
I Am Legend
Mare Nostrum
Neon Karma
The Curse Of Medusa
Stormlord

STORMLORD
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After the dark and aggressive Black Metal of STORMLORD it was time for something completely different, yet still melodic. The German Hard Rock/Heavy Metal band AXXIS, who have been active since the end of the 1980s. I got to know them only a few years ago, when they released "Paradise In Flames" in 2006. It was a decent album, but not really one to be overjoyed by it. At least, in my humble opinion. The successor, "Doom Of Destiny", out since 2007, was one that was more to my liking. But none of those releases made me interested in a live gig by AXXIS. However, live Metal is in most cases great to experience, and getting to see bands you don't get to see that often or at all makes the trip to the venue even more interesting.

Of course it was "Doom Of Destiny" that played a bigger role in the selection of the songs, but with only three tracks you can hardly say the majority was enormous. "Time Machine" and "II" each added two songs, while "Paradise In Flames", "The Big Thrill" and "Kingdom Of The Night" filled the other slots. As this gig wasn't really part of a tour, the idea was to show AXXIS's material from the olden days and from the recent period, something they did quite well. Honesty obliges me to say that not everything was my cup of tea, but it did form a nice change to what preceded and each member does have the required abilities. Vocalist Bernhard Weiss eyed a woman in the audience for a certain moment, as if he knew her or just wanted her to come nearer, even sing along. It appears that much later during the show he did manage to get her or another woman/girl on stage and play along on the tambourine. I missed that moment, as I went outside to have something to eat and reinforce the inner human, so to speak.

Bernard also has a strange way of amusing himself on stage, having an own dance. It's almost a ritual one, a mating dance you could say. Next to that he did his best to speak some Dutch, although he did have a piece of paper with the right words. Nevertheless, this gesture was well received by the crowd, but he did get some "booo"s when asking if he should speak French. His Dutch was good, I have to admit, also because Dutch and German don't differ that much in several areas. But he continued in English to make it comprehensible for all.

AXXIS's performance was actually quite solid and for the fans I don't think anything bad happened, although perhaps the sound could have been a bit better, but that's something trivial here, as I thought all was well. Seeing AXXIS live gave me a better impression of the band, even if they will never be among my favourites. The strange thing is that after being active for so many years they're still pretty much unknown and headliner tours is something that's hard to find in their dictionary. I'll end with a positive note: Bernard knows how to address and talk to the audience, that is clear.

Playlist:

Doom Of Destiny
Tales Of Glory Island
Little War
Blood Angel
Astoria
Touch The Rainbow
Wind In The Night
Angel Of Death
Little Look Back
Kingdom Of The Night

AXXIS
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And last, the Finnish Folk/Melodic Death Metal band ENSIFERUM. This was my second ENSIFERUM gig, after their headlining slot at last year's Paganfest in Hof Ter Lo, Antwerp, Belgium. At that time I was pretty amazed at how they brought their repertoire live and although it lasted a bit too long, just a tiny bit, they did do a very good job. So logically I was expecting the same, if not better in Kuurne at Frost Rock. Lots of people also had come for the Finnish Metallers. But as good as the band's performance and the crowd's reception was, it wasn't quite the same at Frost Rock. The sound problems causing a delay of about 15 minutes didn't play a role in this impression of mine.

The crowd did cheer and was very happy to see such a big act - ok, some exaggeration here, but you get the idea - in their backyard, whereas otherwise they would have to go to Antwerp or abroad. The setlist consisted of varied material and the band certainly has enough songs in store to play the given 90 minutes. Regarding stage accessories, there were none, save for the backdrop. No big shields or anything, unlike at Paganfest. Petri and co. did play as they should have played and in general the set was tight, but I won't remember it like the performance in Antwerp. Was it the sound, was it because the stage isn't as big as Hof Ter Lo's? Not that I mind, but still...

For some the sound still wasn't good enough, but it was better compared to last year's Midwinter Fest, also because the venue had been isolated a little more. Let's just cut it short and be happy that now and then this region of West-Flanders can also enjoy qualitative Metal bands, both national and international.

Playlist:

Hero In A Dream
One More Magic Potion
Into Battle
Deathbringer From The Sky
Token Of Time
The New Dawn
Warrior's Quest
Trösö
Victory Song
Lai Lai Hei
Iron

ENSIFERUM
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My first Frostrock was in 2008 and fully Belgian. Although not each band was of my liking, I did have a good time and saw great acts doing what they do best. This time the expectations were much higher and it seems the organisation could book renowned international bands to share the stage with upcoming and solid Belgian formations. As cold as it was outside - it was freezing! - the temperature inside was warm enough, not only because of the number of people, but also the great atmosphere that was present. The music was good to very good and as usual it was very interesting and entertaining to see known and unknown (in terms of "never heard them before" or "I'm not that familiar with their music" or "never seen them live") bands spread the sound of Metal.

Even if Frostrock is an annual event, it sure is worth going to. The organisation was very good, simple, modest and down to earth. Like it should be. The location was well picked, although there could be more improvements for better accoustics. In time this shouldn't be a problem anymore. Sadly there aren't enough locations in this area in South West Flanders to have indoor festivals, but let's be satisfied with what we have. So, kudos to the people behind Frostrock and fingers crossed for next year, since this asks for more. ;-)





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Festivals 2009

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