Articles : Sweden Rock Festival @ Sölvesborg, Sweden (Part One)
Sweden Rock Festival (Part One)
June 8th – 11th
For metal fans the world over the act of partaking in the journey to a European metal festival has long been seen as an act of pilgrimage, a rite of passage and our equivalent to a trip to Mecca. It doesn’t particularly matter which road you take to which festival on this massive, culturally diverse and historically rich continent, you are in for one hell of an adventure. It is a gargantuan undertaking both in terms of financial commitment and in the travelling time and energy required to make such a journey but one well worth the cost on all fronts as it can be a profoundly fulfilling adventure that potentially rewards in many worldly ways. You go for the music and additionally you get to see a huge chunk of culture and history. Amongst it’s many incredible sights and historical, cultural overload there is something profoundly metallic coursing through the collective vein of Europe in the summer months that gives it the feeling of a metalheads wonderland. Must see gigs everywhere, hirsute black clad brethren stroll languidly down ancient cobblestone streets and alleyways, ancient architecture and the ghosts of history abound around every corner. We traverse from our antipodean safe harbours to the hoary wilds of a beer soaked field in some far flung land where the equivalent of modern day Vikings run rampant on their conquests, laying waste to all before them, leading not with long boat and broadsword but with drums and guitars, metaphorically “raping the women and wasting the men “ but no one is running to any god damn hills, they are of course descending from countries from the furthest regions of the globe to congregate in reverence to a music and lifestyle that is so much more than any trending sound byte or unit shifting, brand endorsed, fashion plate contender, pseudo celeb. This is the celebration of a truly international metal nation, a tribal gathering of goodwill and common cause that defies language, borders, age or social standing.
Religious zealots may have their wailing walls and effigies to which they bow down and pay homage to their other worldly idols, we have our walls of wailing amps and speakers to which we bow and bang to our towering musical idols and preening performers. Now all of this is purely subjective, others may very possibly have an entirely different experience but let’s not let a lack of imagination get in the way of a good story. This is the journey of a card carrying, lifelong, lost to the cause metalhead on another European odyssey.
Among the selection of these many musical celebrations there are figurehead festivals such as HellFest in France or Wacken Open Air, held each August in Germany, that hold a high level of awareness with punters and rightly so as they are great examples of the ethos and flat out fuckin fun that is on offer at these events and they certainly represent the incredible strength that exists within the metal community but there are literally dozens upon dozens of like minded events on the European summer calendar for you to choose from depending on which lineup or country destinations you prefer. Our undertaking this year is to Sweden Rock Festival in Solvesborg, southern Sweden.
With all of this ringing in my head and beating in my chest I enter the festival grounds at the start of day 1 to be faced with the familiar sights, sounds and smells that are there to greet you upon arrival at such a festival site. People are arriving in their droves, setting up camp, if the surrounding fields are to be their bed and abode for the coming onslaught. Friendships that will endure far beyond the parameters of this 4 day joyride are being forged and a simmering sense of excitement and anticipation hangs heavy in the air. In a fine piece of planning on the part of the organising team, on day 1 the bands start late in the afternoon allowing punters to get in, get set up, get friendly with the natives, visit some of the vast array of metal market stalls on offer and get the early beer’s in. The usual uniform sea of black is the order of the day but the Swedes have a great ability to inject fun and humour into most situations and amongst the black brigade there is a jocularity on display that see’s many dressed to impress in a style that leaves mid 80’s Sunset Strip glam for dead. A real carnival vibe pervades the festival site and surrounding fields as they become crammed to the gills with tents and mobile holiday homes, makeshift villages appear and more flags than the united nations billow in the warm afternoon breeze.
Having settled into the rather comfortable and ideal, feast of friends, accommodation set up myself and my local cohorts have secured for the duration, we greet, catch up on our recent mutual life and rock n roll stories and move forward with our priorities for the weekend. Bbq and a couple of brews under the belt, we plan the must see acts for the proceedings. As well planned as this event is, it’s not always possible to see every single set in its entirety by every band you want to so plan of attack and pecking order are essential for maximising the aural feast on display over the coming days. For this reason, to maintain your correspondent’s relative sanity and to ensure the whole purpose of this adventure is not lost and a high level of enjoyment is maintained throughout, this will perhaps not be the most overtly analytical, song by song type of review, more an overview of proceedings intended to give you, the reader, some level of appreciation of the general feel of the event as well as the sets played. Priorities voiced, plans laid we head out to catch the first course of the musical banquet that is to be served up over the coming days.
Long considered one of the forefathers of the modern metal movement, having had their pensions secured by platitudes and copycat cover tributes by the likes of Metallica and Megadeth, it’s an absolute fucking pleasure to finally get to see Diamond Head. Having been a part of the nation that was struck by their lightning over 30 years ago, I have waited a long time to be in the presence of Tatler and co and although Brian is the sole remaining original member their passion and delivery remains undiminished, the audience is pumped and the atmosphere, well, it’s electric ! Not surprising when you consider the material and when you can reach back into a rich back catalogue and pull out tracks like ‘In The Heat of the Night‘, ‘Lightning to the Nations‘ & ‘It’s Electric’ you have all the makings of a blinding set. Newer tracks such as ‘To Heaven from Hell’ connect well with the assembled hordes and give the new guys their chance to shine and when you round out your set with an ending salvo that includes ‘Am I Evil‘ in it’s canon, you know you’re on a winner. Killer set and a great kick off to proceedings.
Next up on my pecking order for the weekend is another lifelong favourite, Graham Bonnet and band. If this journey were to be an exercise motivated purely by maniacal box ticking we would be off to a mighty fine start. Bonnet has had an outstanding 40+ year career that has seen him reach great heights with some of the hard rock/metal scenes brightest luminaries. Having had the uncanny knack of putting himself in esteemed working environs with a selection of the greatest guitar players to have ever graced a plectrum and fretboard, he has contributed to a brace of releases that have to feature high in the must have collections of any self respecting fan of the foundations of the hard rock movement. He has led bands with and worked alongside Ritchie Blackmore, Michael Schenker, Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai and Chris Impellitteri to name but a few and maintains a contemporary relevance with a super proficient current lineup of his own band and comes packing a career spanning set list that is the stuff of true legend. All the key tracks a festival length set will allow are aired and Graham hits the stage with an excited energy that belies his tenure and alludes to the stature of the event and his ongoing enthusiasm for performing what is undeniably a set dominated by stone cold classics. Kicking off with the Rainbow one, two of ‘Eyes Of the World‘ and ‘All Night Long‘ hooks the crowd in instantly and with the set concentrating mainly on his punchier songs via some solo material and tracks from the Alcatrazz period of his career. A well balanced set hits more highlights with the airing of 3 tracks from the superb ‘Assault Attack’ album from his MSG stint and closes out with 2 more crowd pleasers in ‘Since You’ve Been Gone‘ and ‘ Lost in Hollywood’ Great stuff. An early highlight to a fixture that will see Graham return to the stage a few nights later to add some sparkle to Michael Schenker’s career spanning, festival closing set.
Rounding out the first evening’s performances is an impressive, mechanically proficient set by German power metal kings Blind Guardian, not an act I have actively pursued seeing previously but they impress with musical dexterity and a passion that obviously has a sizable audience in this part of the world. They clearly are among very vocal friends as they blaze on past the witching hour to a broad crowd of willing midnightmanics. Tracks like ‘Nightfall’, ‘Vahalla’ & ‘Twilight of the Gods’ offer a window into why this band are so highly regarded and why Euro power metal is such a force on the current scene. This set gives a very real indication of the stunning quality of the production values on display at this and most other modern music festivals, double kick and bottom end rumble the earth, guitars cut the cool night air and full spectrum piercing lights drill to the very back of your brain. Superbly solid stuff and a fitting end to an evening spent kicking up dust in a Swedish field full of happy, friendly lubed lunatics.
The evening provides a reminder that you are physically unable to sometimes see every set you’d like in full and means that your wordy hack will only get to see snippets of some sets, a theme that if we’re not careful will mean missing some choice tunes and necessitates I will be clocking up a few km’s dashing from stage to stage over the coming days.
The next morning sees us awaken to the distant sounds of heavy artillery main stage soundchecks and the realisation that as fun as last night was, it was a precursor to the main event, the next three days will see 14 hours each day of end to end metal, hard rock, classic rock, blues and surrounding genre’s, some of the great and the good of our scene. Bring it on !
We start today’s proceedings by checking out a new band who are clearly on an upward trajectory, The Struts. Having made an early impact with their first album featuring tracks like ‘Roll Up‘ and ‘Where Did She Go’ these guys pull a willing early crowd and if a bit of hollywood sleaze via Scunthorpe is your thing you can’t go wrong with this troupe. With one foot firmly on the throat of their 70’s heroes and a front man who has all the moves and has clearly inherited Freddie Mercury’s wardrobe circa ‘74, they appear to be one to watch out for.
Another act on the ascendancy is Halestorm, I’ve not checked them out live before this but it’s been hard to avoid observing their relentless work ethic and pursuit of the prize which is obviously paying dividends as they have now sold platinum in Sweden and as such they are a good choice as first act of the festival to grace the main stage, the biggest of the 5 stages being used for the event. They give a solid reading of their contemporary hard rock stylings, flashes of Leppard type hooks are welcome and the gathered crowd are drawn in by Lizzie Hale’s star quality and rock chick moves. Songs – ‘I Am the Fire’, ‘Miss the Misery’ and others are catchy and will ensure these guys have a bright future.
Speaking of rock star qualities, next act Sixx Am have them in spades. Nikki’s 30+ years in the big show demand as much and he has put together a team and carved a reputation for his post Motley endeavours that is bearing real fruit. Much respect to him for having the energy to embark on developing a whole new career when clearly he could sit back and bask in prior glories. Ego is a strong stimulate,but regardless, to witness the band’s current intense touring schedule, the hours long queue at the post show signing session and the effort and consummate showmanship he and his team are currently displaying is undeniable and justifies this 57 year old’s second bite at the cherry. Current album ‘Prayers for the Damned’ is solid enough and they lean heavily on it for today’s set with the title track, ‘Rise’, ‘When We Were Gods’ & ‘Everything Went To Hell’ and others getting their time in the sun, earlier material is also firmly familiar with what is the biggest crowd gathered so far. Clearly the ground work is paying off for these guys on the evidence displayed. Rise indeed ! and more power to em !
Leaving before the end of their set and dashing to the imaginatively named Sweden stage pays dividends as I am able to see a chunk of the primal aggression that is Entombed AD. The local heroes play a set that includes favourites ‘Wolverine Blues’ and ‘Left-hand Path’ and sees the crowd growling the guttural vocal delivery of Lars Goran Petrov in unison, brutal!
Next Shinedown, next! Really, to each their own and due respect to everyone but these guys are lame. You want to check out all the acts to give a fair, well rounded view, but no! The crowd seems an immovable object during their set despite the protestations of their front man and rightly so. Their soul-less attempt at Skynyrds ‘Simple Man’ is the final straw, I’ve gotta get away and the relative safety of old school, local AOR stalwarts Neon Rose provides just the respite.
Continuing a run of quality local artists next up is Graveyard. These guys are fully infused with the DNA of classic 70’s earthy, analogue rock n roll. Part Zeppelin, part Sabbath, part old school blues/ psych rock they have released a brace of fantastic albums in the last 6 or 7 years that have gained them a strong fan base worldwide and on home soil they are preaching to a converted grouping. ‘Slow Motion Countdown’, ‘Hisingen Blues’, ‘Ain’t Fit To Live Here’ et al are great songs that hit their mark and underline the potency and bright future for this act.
Back at the Sweden stage LA Guns put in a surprisingly robust performance, they are a lot more energised than the last time I saw them and a big part of the credit for this has to go to their new hotshot guitar player. ‘No Mercy’, ‘Sex Action’, ‘Rip And Tear’ all blast by with a zeal I thought these guys had long lost. Looks like these guns are reloaded.
I like Slayer, they brought a brutality to metal in the 80’s that was much needed if it was to survive the extravagances of the poodle prancing of the unfeasibly fun MTV presented period. As much as there are some great bands from that time, often it was style over substance, threads over thunder was the norm and the kicking that ‘Reign In Blood‘ and ‘South Of Heaven‘ provided was an essential element to the genre getting it’s balls in order and finding itself in the rude health that it currently enjoys. Today however there seems to be a slight disconnect with the crowd that finds things a tad flat. There will always be a hardcore at the front of any Slayer show oblivious to everything but the swirl they find themselves in but the majority of the audience stands baking in the late afternoon sun appearing a little non plussed by proceedings, a shame but not entirely unheard of at such events. They play well, good set list, all the key songs are played, ‘War Ensemble’, ‘Mandatory Suicide’, ‘Raining Blood’, ‘South Of Heaven’, ‘Angel Of Death’ etc and enjoyable to a point but the overriding impression is obvious, that Slayer works best in a darkened black mass with their blood red strobes firing on all cylinders.
No such issues for Megadeth. Having seen them many times over the years you expect a certain level of performance from Mustaine & co but after a barely passable show at the Hordern on the last run through Oz something solid was required and they really deliver. Opening with a kick ass combo – ‘Hangar 18’, ‘Wake up Dead’, ‘In My Darkest Hour’, ‘She Wolf’, ‘Sweating Bullets’, the crowd is on notice, it’s head’s down and let’s rock. The usual extreme level of musicianship is rightly front and centre and Dave is in a mighty mood, smiling and chatty. The current lineup has really gelled and we are witnessing a band at the height of their powers. New material such as ‘Threat is Real’, ‘Poisonous Shadows’, ‘Fatal Illusion’ and ‘Dystopia’ hold up well among further classics ‘Symphony Of Destruction’, ‘Peace Sells’, ‘Holy Wars’ etc. Killer band, killer set and an early highlight.
Catching some of Vanilla Fudge provides a chance for a breather and their covers dominated set is a bit of fun. Carmine still gives it a fair walloping during ‘Gimme Some Lovin’, Led Zeps ‘Dazed & Confused’, The Doors ‘Break On Through’, ‘She’s Not There’ and others. Good fun by the influential old timers.
Expectation of tonight’s major headliner – Queen is understandably high. Can’t say I’m the most expectant. I dig their early work but there is very little they did post their 70’s heavy rock heyday that I find particularly appealing. Sure there were moments, normally when they let Brian May off the leash for a couple of tracks on each album to appease their rock hungry original fanbase. I fully appreciate they are a cultural icon but was certainly not a part of the ‘goo goo, ga ga’ generation and found the chart pandering in their later career only dissolved their credibility. Regardless, the fact of the matter is they are one of history’s biggest bands, Freddie Mercury was a super unique talent, one of the greatest frontmen of all time and reality would dictate, irreplaceable. To be seeing an obviously talented but none the less inferior substitute is justifiable given the fact that May and drummer Roger Taylor seem to have boundless energy and want to continue to rock for as long as they bloody well want and they deserve that right. I’d rather be seeing them still attempting something new and original with Paul Rodgers in tow but this is where we find ourselves and I’m happy to give it a chance. I have it on good authority that they will unite the crowd and rock the place and I certainly believe that will be the case.
Unite and rock is exactly what they do. They come out blazing with ‘One Vision’, ‘Hammer To Fall’, ‘Seven Seas Of Rhye’ and ‘Stone Cold Crazy’, all are enjoying the choice of tracks and it is clear we are in for a classic setlist. There is no denying the obvious talent of Adam Lambert and he lends a colourful, exuberant bonhemie to the event and the entire augmented band are on form but equally the show has an undeniable but respectful and loving tribute feel. Freddie appears on screens at various points and gets an impassioned response that shows the affinity with which his memory is held. Warm, emotional moments bond the crowd. ‘Another One Bites The Dust’, ‘The Game’, ‘Killer Queen’, ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’, ‘Under Pressure’ with a shout out to another fallen icon, all are rousing and they nail ‘I Want It All’ and ‘Tie Your Mother Down’. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ sends everyone into rapture before ‘Break Free’ and ‘Ga Ga’ inspire mass crowd participation. Brian flies with his guitar into a cosmos light show in a nifty staging prop and we get the inevitable encore of ‘We Will Rock You’/ ‘We Are The Champions’. Big festivals need big bands and these crowd pleasing giants show they are still a force to be reckoned with.
A quick dash for a snippet of Mayhem offers some ‘Pure Fucking Armageddon’, is an enjoyably chaotic counterpoint to some of the other acts that have been on show today and puts us in the mood for some midnight ritual.
King Diamond has had a long and storied career from the early days with Mercyful Fate to his successful solo band outings and it appears he is currently undergoing somewhat of a renaissance. Of late fans seem to be coming out of the woodwork and he has rightly reached legendary status as is attested by his position closing this evening’s proceedings. The crowd crush at this late night Halloween ceremony is intense and with this being one of only a few of his shows in Europe to focus on a career highlight ‘Abigail’ album, anticipation is running high. The stage set appropriately looks like a haunted mansion from around the time of 1777 and the band arrive with ‘Welcome Home’, ‘Sleepless Night’s’ and ‘Eye Of The Witch’. King is in faultless falsetto and with the ever present Andy La Rocque adding his tasteful euro stylings on guitar it’s all scarily good. Mercyful Fate tracks ‘Melissa’ and ‘Come To The Sabbath’ are rightly revered, the sense of occasion is strong and this performance is living up to all expectations. ‘Arrival’ signals the er, arrival of tracks from tonight’s main feature album and through ‘A Mansion In Darkness’, ‘The Family Ghost’ & ‘Omens’ the intensity builds as the story unfurls. Metal and horror have long been obvious bedfellows, this was perfectly rendered on the album and translates well to the stage with props and extra characters joining the band to portray the story line to spooky effect .I currently have a gorgeous, crazed blonde metal maiden crushed against me playing out the characters of ‘Abigail’ into my right ear and it gives me a firm appreciation of how highly regarded this album is particularly among the locals. ‘The Possession’, ‘Abigail’ and ‘Black Horsemen’ elicit an ear shattering response from the 2am revellers and as this murderous metal show draws to a close we all wander off into the cool, dark night having witnessed a hauntingly good show.
Stay tuned for part two coming soon.
Head to www.swedenrock.com to learn more about Sweden Rock Festival.