Metal Town 2009

author NB date 22/07/09

Metal Town can be considered the big brother of West Coast Riot. It takes place over the two days following its one day, punk rock equivalent and occupies the same area and facilities in the Frihamnen docks (see PP's review for details of the festival area). Considering that the festival only started in 2004 it has seen surprising growth into a serious event which is consistently producing one of the best metal lineups in the Scandinavian festival calendar. What is perhaps more surprising is that all the big names secured for the festival are distilled into just two days of frantic aural assault. As with West Coast Riot, there is almost no let-up in the pace of the day's schedule, with headline bands appearing one after the other on alternate stages.

The lineup for 2009 was arguably even more impressive than last year. As was to be expected, there was a strong Swedish presence. However, unlike last year it wasn't the bands from the genre of music synonymous with the city of Gothenburg that appeared (In Flames, Dark Tranquillity) instead it was a much more varied mix of genres: Opeth, The Haunted, Meshuggah, Mustasch, Dead by April, Pain, Cult of Luna, Evergrey etc. There was also a large contingent of Japanese bands, arguably three of the four best known bands in the Japanese metal scene: Dir En Grey, Girugämesh and MUCC (D'espairsRay being the only other that I know). However, looking around the crowd it was pretty clear that the vast majority of people had shown up to see headliners Disturbed, Marilyn Manson and Slipknot. The line-up was promising as you can see (and I'm happy to say that unlike last year, none of the bands pulled out at the last minute), so, in contrast to West Coast Riot, the turnout for Metal Town was enormous. Rumour has it that the festival sold out so quickly that the organisers had to increase the ticket numbers from around 12,000 to 20,000 for each day.

Full Lineup

Slipknot, Marilyn Manson, Disturbed, Volbeat, Dir En Grey, Children of Bodom, Opeth, My Dying Bride, The Haunted, Girugämesh, Meshuggah, Napalm Death, Trivium, Mustasch, Dragonforce, Dead by April, Pain, All That Remains, Municipal Waste, MUCC, Cult of Luna, Evergrey, August Burns Red, Bring Me the Horizon, Bullet, Hatesphere, Kongh, Pilgrimz, All Hell, Cedron, Illfigure, Sterbhaus

Reviews

Friday 26.6

Pain @ 14:30 - 15:15 on Red Stage

I'd seen Pain once before at Tuska festival in 2007 and remember being somewhat impressed. After seeing them again here I'm not quite sure why. The band (whose only non-session member is Peter Tägtgren) stood absolutely still in front of their mics with their legs slightly apart for their entire set. As you might expect the crowd didn't respond well to this, even though I think this was the only band of the entire festival that had some pyrotechnics, and it wasn't until the synth intro to "Shut Your Mouth" came over the speakers that there was any enthusiasm at all. Sadly that song was the last of their set. [5] NB

Napalm Death @ 15:30 - 16:15 on Black Stage

I don't know whether the Swedish audience really knew what to make of Napalm Death. Even for me, a Brit, it's hard to tell how seriously they take everything. Mark Greenway humbly and apologetically introduced the band as if it were some unknown act from little old Birmingham instead of one of the most influential and oldest existing bands in the genre. Having said that he clearly hadn't lost any of the enthusiasm for the job over the years as he marched around the stage and threw himself into the vocals like a lunatic. He seemed refreshingly sincere between songs as well; introducing, for example, an anti-torture song with a small, impassioned message about his own incomprehension of human brutality. I would have enjoyed the show more if I'd known a few more of the songs from their vast discography. Although, I'm pretty sure I did recognise the song "You Suffer" in there at some point; but being the worlds shortest song according to the Guinness Book of World Records, it was hard to tell. [6] NB

Trivium @ 16:30 - 17:15 - Red Stage

I've had a pretty bad opinion of Trivium's live shows since my first encounter with them last year supporting Slayer. On that tour they seemed to want to upstage the older band in every way. Every moment between songs and even between choruses was filled with Matt Heafy shouting profanities and massaging his ego. At the end of that show he smashed his guitar an threw the resulting chunks of wood at the audience. Happily the band seem to have learned from the barrage of drinks that were thrown at them on that tour and toned down their act. They kept up the pace of the set with minimal BS in between songs except for Heafy stopping to compare the sapping heat that day to that of his native Florida.

Much of the material came from the new album "Shogun" with "Kirisute Gomen", "Down from the Sky", "Throes of Perdition" being the first things played. At this point, although the show was well received by the biggest audience of the festival so far that day, it wasn't until the "Ascendancy" classics "Like Light to the Flies", "A Gunshot to the Head of Trepidation" and "Pull Harder on the Strings of Your Martyr" came up that the audience really got on-board. During the brilliant solo for "Like Light to the Flies" almost every hand in the audience of well over 10,000 was bent into devil horns and raised in support. I was left wondering if this enthusiasm for the older songs was just because the newer album hadn't been fully appreciated yet or whether Trivium haven't been able to match their past success with "The Crusade" (from which not a single song was played) or "Shogun". I think it might well be the latter. [8] NB

Meshuggah @ 17:30 - 18:30 - Black Stage

Time-bending Swedish metalheads Meshuggah also came to the stage before a fairly sizable crowd. However, if that crowd was expecting to mosh or rock out in any way then it was going to be disappointed. Meshuggah are renowned for their impossibly complex drumming and guitar work, changing time signature as often as possible in every song. And what they do on record they reproduced effortlessly here amidst wind torn banks of stage-smoke and serene sea of spectators.

The sound was perfect. Chewbacca-like Guitarist Mårten Hagström stood absolutely still but with no signs of concentration as he and Fredrik Thordendal churned out carefully intertwined riffs over the top of Tomas Haake's drumming, which itself seems like the sound of some baffling, chaotic, steam-driven machine. Whilst the crowd stood mesmerised by this musicianship (it's almost impossible to headbang to Meshuggah), vocalist Jens Kidman went into some sort of trance. His eyes rolled up inside his furrowed brow and he convulsed and roared with every metallic snap of his bandmates' guitar strings. The band covered quite a few songs from "obZen" including "Bleed" and "Combustion" and a couple from the older albums and at the end of it all that was left for us to do was scrape our jaws off the floor. [8½] NB

Hatesphere @ 18:30 - 19:15 - Close-Up Stage

One of the last straws in my decision to attend the festival this year was the announcement of these Danish lads, what with the serious hype surrounding the band's new vocalist, Jonathan "Joller" Albrechtsen. In my review of the band's latest album, "To the Nines", I, too, extended praise for his talent and went so far as to say that Hatesphere has never sounded better; that Joller is twice the vocalist Jacob Bredahl ever was. But having witnessed the quirkiness and charisma of the latter in a live setting, I was skeptical as to whether Joller could carry on the legacy of one of the best, if not the best live band in Denmark. My verdict: yes, and then some. Seldom does one see a band enjoying themselves on stage as much as these dudes, each band member sporting a huge grin whilst unleashing some of the most brutal music this country has to offer, and addressing the crowd in between the songs in part-Danish, part-Swedish and part-English (particularly bassist Mixen's Swedish-speaking skills inspire amounts of clapping and laughs from the Swedish crowd). And Sweden loves them. Sure, there are some cosmetic flaws from a technical point of view, but watching Hatesphere is such a warm, pleasant (what words to use in a metal review!) experience that those are easy to ignore. This band has a dominating, and yet such an embracing demeanor on stage that it deserves all the respect the crowd is extending to it. [7½] AP

Children of Bodom @ 18:45 - 19:45 - Red Stage

Whilst AP trotted off to the Close-Up stage to see Hatesphere, I couldn't be tempted away from my beloved Children of Bodom. The Finnish band had a fairly big crowd assembled and wasted no time in getting started so as to fit in a long setlist. That's not to say that Laiho and Wirman didn't do all the usual (fake sounding) chit-chat in between most of the songs in which Alexi normally says "fuck" a lot and complains about Janne's sissy choice of keyboard melody. Today those little keyboard fillers were Europe's "The Final Countdown" and a tribute to Michael Jackson (I had even predicted that Bodom would be the most likely band to respond to that morning's news).

Some might criticise the band for not being frenzied and energetic enough during their shows but in my opinion this casual, laid back attitude works well (Janne wandering around the stage drinking between his keyboard sections in each song contrasts strongly with Dragonforce's Vadim's crazy antics between his). This casual manner gets into the music too; this is one of the only bands that sticks in my mind as being able to improvise large sections of songs successfully (even if this does cause occasional slip-ups) and even in regular parts of the song there are often little flourishes and syncopation in the guitar and keyboard work that aren't present on the recorded versions. And even if that doesn't excite you, in the words of AP when he returned half-way through the set "CoB are so fucking metal that they're just a pleasure to watch". [8] NB

Volbeat @ 20:00 - 21:00 - Black Stage

Watching "the number one metal band in Denmark" from the side as we await the beginning of Disturbed's performance it's easy to see what continuous, relentless touring can do for a band. Gone is the uncertainty and shyness in Michael Poulsen's voice (something that hindered their show at Roskilde Festival in 2007 somewhat); instead, he hits every note in his Elvis-impersonation dead on to prove that this band's music was designed for big stage live performances. The size of the crowd gathered in front of the stage further testifies this and honestly, being no fan of Volbeat's music myself, the show is of undeniable quality, albeit that its sheer professionalism is also its greatest pitfall. Everything looks and sounds a bit too manufactured to be convincing and especially the band's cover of "Angelfuck" by The Misfits feels out of character among the fifteen feel-good heavy metal tracks we are treated to. All the goodies are there though: "Radio Girl", "Sad Man's Tongue", "The Human Instrument", "The Garden's Tale" (my personal favourite) and "We", which incite a welcoming, if somewhat subdued, reception from the audience. Volbeat's performance is everything we've come to expect from a band of their esteem and then nothing further. [6] AP

Disturbed @ 21:15 - 22:15 - Red Stage

Disturbed is one of those names that pops out of my memories of school. When I was about fourteen their albums "The Sickness" and "Believe" were just about the coolest thing my friends and I had heard. It was at the centre of the surge in nu-metal that was going on at that time. I'd always assumed that their popularity had declined since then and I think their latest album probably proved me right. I was nonetheless still interested to see if they could recapture my imagination on the stage. Interestingly, I'd also heard that vocalist David Draiman's feeling of self-importance had caused him to lose face in an argument with the pugnacious guys from The Dillinger Escape Plan about the merits of a choreographed stage show. Having seen TDEP live before, now was the time to make up my mind whose side of that debate I was on.

I think self important is probably the phrase I would use to describe the way Draiman was wheeled onto the stage, Anthony Hopkins style, in a straight-jacket. That would have been okay with me if the performance had lived up to that projection of lunacy and unpredictability; but sadly it did not. Standing and punching the sky occasionally and trying to persuade probably almost "Ten Thousand Fists" to be raised by the audience doesn't seem to me to merit being put in a straight-jacket (maybe an old peoples' home). In fact, the only two things that saved me from yawning throughout the set were Draiman's awesome voice and the brilliant, echoing, tribal drum sound that the band uses. When the rolling drum beat of "Down with the Sickness" came booming out of the speakers and suddenly genuine madness came from the sound of Draiman's "oooh-ah-ah-ah-ah" (I was actually surprised to hear him doing the whole "mummy" monologue in the middle of the song live as well) it was fairly spine tingling. Having said that, I'd rather see the mania and chaos of a Dillinger Escape Plan show than this type of choreographed performance and to be honest I think it's Greg Puciato that belongs in the straight-jacket. [5½] NB

Slipknot @ 22:30 - 00:00 - Black Stage

Without a doubt the largest crowd of the festival had gathered before the Black Stage by 10:30. With an appropriate level of grandeur Slipknot entered the stage. This is where the massive screen that had been installed to the left of the stage this year really came into its own because this set looked awesome. Darkness had fallen and first effective light show of the day illuminated the ghastly costumes of Corey and the band. I say "Corey... and the band" because this is really how you see Slipknot. Corey is very clearly the star of the show and the other members of the band are just there to make sure that there is always something spectacular going on for you to be mesmerised by. And this is how it should be; it works brilliantly. I would go on to describe the intricacies of the set: the springing platform, the theatrics and Joey's lifting, rotating drumkit; but I would just be going over well trodden ground because this exact performance has been reviewed here at least twice already, most recently in the the Roskilde 2009 article. You can check out those reviews for the details because this show was just as good. No better, no worse. [8½] NB

Saturday 27.6

Evergrey @ 13:30 - 14:15 - Black Stage

Evergrey started off proceedings on the Saturday with a wholeheartedly mediocre show. I can't say I didn't enjoy the epic soundscapes that pervaded many of their gothic/progressive metal songs but it's nothing you can't get from other, better bands. Anyway, the extreme heat which was beating down on the Black Stage seemed to sap the enthusiasm from the band as much as from the crowd, and might be the real reason why I wasn't really appreciating the many minutes of guitar soloing between or perhaps during(?) most of the songs. The frontman/guitarist also seemed to be drunk and ignoring the audience so he probably didn't notice that it was dwindling at this point. We soon joined the exodus. [5] NB

The Haunted @ 14:30 - 15:15 - Red Stage

Ten minutes later, on the opposite stage to the previous show, an almost completely opposite performance was provided by The Haunted. Where Evergrey hadn't connected with the crowd at all and had remained completely static during their set, Peter Dolving marched around the stage screaming like a psychopath and between songs was bantering with the crowd. Not being a Swedish speaker I don't know what he said but the crowd started singing along with him to the tune of that "Mahna Mahna" song that was used in Sesame Street. Scarcely had the last note of this been chanted than Dolving launched into the next song. For some reason this was the highlight of the show. There's something to be said for the hilarious contrast between the lighthearted ditty and the sheer brutality of The Haunted's riffs.

Clearly the band benefited from playing at home. Even tracks such as "Moronic Colossus" from the latest record "Versus" were well received. However, the set-list continued to improve towards the end as after the first few songs from what I call the "the" album ("The Dead Eye") they got round to: "DOA", "Trenches", "99" and "Bury Your Dead". When the set was done the only thing that had been missing for me, apart from some shade, was "All Against All". I know they play it at almost every show and might want a bit of variety, but when you have a song that good it seems like an injustice to the fans to omit it. [7] NB

August Burns Red @ 16:00 - 16:45 - Close-Up Stage

Before heading to the Close-Up stage to see August Burns Red I stopped by the Red Stage to see the first song of Dragonforce's set. I was very pleased to hear them starting off with "Valley of the Damned", probably the best song in their repertoire along with "Disciples of Babylon". As usual Sam and Vadim (wearing some sort of high-vis lycra ensemble) were endlessly entertaining, leaping around the stage with a wanton disregard for the preservation of their limbs. This remains one of the best and silliest live shows you can see. However, I decided to drag myself away at the end of that first song to preserve in my mind what this awesome band must have been like in the past before they started churning out identical Pacman soundtracks.

When I got over to the Close-Up stage I found that ABR had pretty much filled the tent (although it probably only holds about 600 people). The band appeared and started what proved to be a pretty intense show, Jake Luhrs gesticulating and screaming right at the front of the stage and the guitarists convulsing and headbanging in good metalcore fashion. I couldn't actually see but I assume there was a pretty decent sized pit because towards the end there were plenty of sweat-drenched, red-faced fans heading out of the middle of the crowd. I even briefly saw none other than Oli Sykes (see below) looking on passively from the side of the stage. I don't know whether he was impressed but for me the set eventually seemed to grow a bit repetitive. I'm not sure if this is the fault of the music or just because of the fact that I can't really name any of ABR's songs but I have decided that it is probably the former because a few hours later in this very tent I would be thoroughly engaged by two very different bands that I had previously head nothing from. [6] NB

Bring Me the Horizon @ 17:15 - 18:00 - Close-Up Stage

Next up in this little tent was Sheffield's very own deathcore sensation: Bring Me the Horizon. Each time I see them vocalist Oli Sykes seems to put on a better performance. Sykes' vocals were stronger than usual, the sound was better than ever and the band was that little bit more interesting to watch. In fact, I have decided that I like BMTH better in Sweden. Gone is the irritating cockiness that the band exudes in the UK. Although during Chelsea Smile (which Sykes humbly dedicated to the producer of "Suicide Season") the band clambered on the speakers and stood messiah-like in the adoration of the crowd, that sort of self confident stuff was reserved for mid-song. During the gaps Sykes was comparatively reserved and confessed that the band had been worried that they wouldn't be well received in Sweden and that they might have prematurely booked a venue in Gothenburg to make a return in October. They needn't have worried: if I'd thought the tent was full during the ABR set, it was a struggle to even get inside when BMTH were on and the festival was full of purple t-shirts: the hallmark of Sykes' own clothing label and the hallmark of a BMTH fan. Having said that, I'm still glad that BMTH were playing in the tent because I just don't see their show working on a big stage. The intimate tent was the perfect setting for the mechanical confusion of their show. [7½] NB

Girugämesh @ 18:30 - 19:15 - Close-Up Stage

Diligent Rockfreaks photographer Jill, who provided these awesome images of the festival, is quite the Japanese metal aficionado. She assured me before the festival that these three oriental bands were the reason for anyone to come to Metal Town. I have to say: I had my doubts. I assumed that the fans of these bands must be enamoured by the glamour and exoticism of all things Japanese and that this might bias them towards what I predicted would be some fairly mediocre bands. I was wrong.

Girugämesh came on wearing a uniform of black hoodies and had a distinctly/celebrity rockstar vibe about them (with some maniacal screaming going on in the crowd at the front of the tent). They launched into such a varied set that I would be hard pushed to choose a genre into which the band fits. The music seemed to sway between industrial, death metal, power metal and rock sometimes within the same song. There was even the synthesised sound of MSI and Enter Shikari in some of their songs (which, I'm told by Jill, was a metal oriented selection from their discography). The stage show is just as hard to describe as the music. In the same way that the music seemed to surpass genre boundaries, vocalist Satoshi's performance went from effortlessly cool to camp to lunatic whilst the guitarists prowled around the stage like animals and the tiny drummer leaped up with glee and cheered at the crowd between frantic drum fills.

As a newcomer to the band I was very pleasantly surprised but I'm not sure what the audience made of the show. There was clearly a cult of hardcore fans at the front of the tent, however, at the start of the set I had been standing outside the tent and by the end I was around ten metres inside sheerly because of the mass of people emigrating from the front. For that reason I probably don't speak for everyone when I tell any uninitiated readers that this is a band that should be witnessed at least once in your concert-going career. [7½] NB

Opeth @ 20:15 - 21:15 - Black Stage

I visited the Black Stage to hear a couple of Opeth songs before going to see MUCC in the Close-Up tent. Every time I get the chance to see one of their shows I seem to ignore past experiences and, tricked by the brilliance of their music on record, look forward it. As usual I was disappointed. It was just as boring as ever. In between the minority of exciting and well written metal passages are huge swathes of mellow, almost jazzy, sound during which the audience is abandoned and left to make sense of it on their own. I'm not saying it sounds bad, it might be okay at a summer prom where people are sitting around on the grass with picnics and champagne, but I don't think it fits in at a metal gig where the entire audience's attention (in this case a surprisingly modest audience for a headline act) is focused on every note. This is unfortunate because, what with Opeth being a metal band, this basically means you should never go out of your way to watch them live, even though they are probably one of the best-sounding bands around. [6] NB

MUCC @ 20:30 - 21:30 - Close-Up Stage

Once again I shuffled into the Close-Up tent for a band I knew nothing about. This time the crowd was even smaller; probably only 400 people graced MUCC with their presence, possibly the same elite of J-metal fans that had stood right at the feet of Girugämesh earlier. Mad hairstyles and fashions were everywhere, but not as mad as that aesthetic of the band members themselves when they appeared. Frontman Tatsurou for example was wearing a dress of some description and a pair of the insanely baggy, linen trousers. Although, on the other side of the stage, guitarist Miya was wearing a bowler hat. I'm told that this fashion is what is known as "Visual Kei" (visual style) and in J-rock circles has become almost as important as the music itself. I will try not to get bogged down with it all, suffice to say it was a bizarre sight of androgyny and comedy.

Once again the music was a confusion of genres. Whilst essentially rock, the band includes a electric double bass, harmonica and acoustic guitar and during one song the guitar played what can only be described as funk. The music was varied, exotic and at some points brilliant but was never very heavy. It was post-hardcore at best in some songs. Apparently this is because the band was playing music from their most recent albums which are much softer than their past work but it also explains why the crowd was so meager. If they had done what Girugämesh had done and played selected metal tracks from their back-catalogue (of a staggering nine studio albums since 2001) then they could have drawn a larger crowd, but in my opinion the show was probably better this way. I found it to be one of the most entertaining shows of the festival and those who appreciated it with me in the tent expressed this. The audience's response to the incredible charisma of Tatsurou, stomping around the stage like a gorilla, was simply to scream non-stop at the same volume for the entire gig. My thoughts exactly. [8] NB

Dir En Grey @ 21:30 - 22:30 - Red Stage

Before returning to the occidental mainstream for the headline act, there was still the mysterious performance of Dir En Grey to take in on the Red Stage. Kyo and the band appeared and without a word being said to the audience for the duration of the show became engrossed in their own material. The tiny frontman was standing on some sort of cage and this is presumably what he was set loose from at the beginning of the show, such is his animal ferocity when it comes to delivering his crazed vocals. The vocals themselves, in Japanese (which is surprising for a band with such international success), are the most important and impressive part of Dir En Grey's performance. The sheer range of Kyo's voice is astounding: he can swap from high growling, to singing to some sort of monastic chant with ease. In fact, given that Dir En Grey is arguably the biggest and most mainstream of all Japanese metal bands and has thus toned down their visual kei element, it is laudable that this hasn't stopped them from being just as varied and eccentric musically as the other two Japanese bands which were present at Metal Town. Where one of their songs consists entirely of one long moan that sounds similar to an Islamic call-to-prayer, the next sounds almost exactly like something conjured by Les Claypool and it's this variety of possibilities which keeps this band interesting despite providing very little in the way of audience interaction. [7½] NB

Marilyn Manson @ 22:45 - 00:00 - Black Stage

This was it, the moment we'd all been waiting for the whole day: the headliner of the festival. Actually it wasn't it because we had to endure another 10 minutes of "look-at-me" build-up where lights flashed behind a black curtain covering the stage and various bassy noises were emitted. That was irritating enough but then the black curtain dropped and there was Manson and his band (I'm not sure of whom it was comprised on this occasion) wearing sort of fisherman oilskins: a bit of an anti-climax after the long intro. Then the music began and it went downhill from there.

Although the sound wasn't great Manson's vocals did match those on record pretty well, but when he started speaking to the crowd between songs he slurred his words and seemed wasted and disinterested in the show. I don't know if this is what he's always like, I heard he has a reputation for being a bit of a tit, but it just seemed like a joke to me. He seemed like some sort of tyrannical dictator surrounded by his resentful minions in the form of band mates and roadies. People would scurry up to him from backstage between songs and dust him off and adorn him with props whilst he staggered about and looked as if his mind was somewhere else. Someone put a hat on his head for one song which he almost immediately threw to the ground. He even seemed to miss some lyrics whilst he waited for roadies to light a cigarette, which he had demanded mid-song to replace one that he had snatched from the mouth of a guitarist and promptly dropped at his feet. In another apparent attempt to ruin the show he took the guitar and made some awful noise whilst the guitarist was left with the mic trying to make up some pathetic lyrics on the spot (I honestly feel sorry for his band mates). Finally Manson left the stage. There was no encore, leaving the last song as a completely lackluster finale and a disappointing end to the festival. [4] NB

Click here for more photos from the festival.

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