Metalfest Croatia 2012

author EW date 22/06/12

The Metalfest open airs have been running since an Austrian launch in 2007 and here in 2012 the brand has expanded immeasurably to cover a number of territories across central European, in the process becoming to Europe what Ozzfest was to America over the previous decade-and-a-half. Being a resident of the fair isle Britain, a nation Metalfest looks unlikely to ever grace, it seemed I should do the next best thing and bring Mohammad to the mountain, thus the Croatian edition was chosen ahead of alternatives in Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Italy, Poland and Austria as my metal holiday of destination in 2012. With tickets costing just around €70, headliners Megadeth, Blind Guardian and Kreator and a beautiful coastal location guaranteed what more could the (cost-conscious) metalhead want?

Arriving at the festival-recommended camping site 4 days before the festival began ensured this group had a virtually free choice of pitching location - naturally the space nearest to the sea was chosen, expecting the demand to be high as time ticked onto the festival itself. (Might I add, as a veteran of Wacken, Hellfest, Metal Camp, With Full Force and Bloodstock, the question of camping by the sea or not was a unique one).

Unfortunately the camping site was located a 15 minute walk along the marina to the festival grounds but for being in such a pleasant location in comparison to usual festival camping prevents me from moaning too much about this point. With 7 days of almost (see below for more) unbroken sunshine to follow, it is time to focus on the main attraction to this idyllic setting: HEAVY METAL ROCK 'N'ROLL!

Day 1: Sunday 3rd June

Triptykon

Regrettably the days earlier acts including Fleshgod Apocalypse and Fueled by Fire had to be missed in order to collect our Rockfreaks photographer from the airport, so we begin with Tom G. Warrior's Celtic Frost successor band, Triptykon. Not a band for whom 'bright blazing sunshine' would be an apt description despite the prevailing meteorological conditions at the time, it was required of their doomed, bleakly heavy tomes to bring the darkness, which they very much did with a set of "Eparistera Daimones" material, the great 2010 record for which they are still promoting. Woe befall a band of this negative darkness to have to perform in such mid-afternoon conditions but Warrior and co gave a gracious and well-received setlist, one which was topped off the brave choice of closing with 19-minute "The Prolonging", a song so dismal in outlook a snow-bound black winter's evening would be the conditions to match. With anyone else this might have been sheer posturing but there can be no doubt as to the authenticity of Warrior's work and by the closure I had seen a promising start to my 3 days of music. [7]

Alestorm

Regular readers of this site may be aware of my less than sympathetic opinion towards Scottish 'pirate metallers' Alestorm due to depth of their music being less than that of a puddle of leftover rum at a pirate convention, but both my previous and now this experience have confirmed the assumption their jolly catchy tunes at least work in the live setting when not doing so at home. You could describe frontman Christopher Bowes' vocal abilities as 'average' without being unkind, but behind the keytar is a man who can get an up-for-it crowd like this one on his side, whether it's asking for them to 'crush their pineapples' in the sky or sing along to "The Sunk'n Norwegian" or "Captain Morgan's Revenge". Featuring in their ranks two keyboardists pretty much guarantees the auditory equivalent of an edam factory but for Sunday afternoon sunny drunken fun Alestorm hit the spot for many in attendance, and dare I say it, myself included. [8]


Peter Tägtgreen of Hypocrisy

Hypocrisy

Peter Tägtgren & co have been doing the rounds since the early days of Swedish death metal yet have remained uncelebrated when compared against their ilk. It is purely personal opinion to state if this is justified or not but what is not in doubt is the effectiveness of their music on stage. During an hour set like this which was interrupted by a power cut and featured an impromptu birthday singalong for Peter, the mix of old and new in "Pleasure of Molestation", "Fire in the Sky", "Roswell 47" and "Eraser" proved the strength in the band's back catalogue and in their simple policy of near-constant headbanging to fulfill the required visual spectacle. As per virtually the rest of the festival cast (notably the bigger bands performing later on each day) the impact of the performance would have benefitted from some Nigel 'this amp goes to 11' Tufnell guidance but otherwise after 20 years it would appear Hypocrisy are not a band relying solely on past glories. [8½]

Blind Guardian

There exist three indisputable reasons why I should not be a fan of Blind Guardian:

1) I am not German; 2) I hate 99% of the remaining power metal world, and 3) I have never had any interest in Lord of the Rings or World of Warcraft.

Although there are albums within their vast discography I am not overly keen on, my acceptance of their work can only solely therefore be based on the quality inherent with their carefully layered yet intrinsically catchy music. As day one headliners it was no surprise to see considerably more people present than for any other band so far but as the only one within my group to possess said allegiances towards these legends it was left for me to enjoy the delights of "Born in a Mourning Hall", "And the Story Ends", "Nightfall" and the rest of their set without distraction, a privilege for which Hansi Kürsch and his cohorts delivered in a somewhat restrained fashion. Part through the low volume and part due to me being unable to see Kürsch as anything other than a school teacher given how current hair and fashion styles, what was witnessed was legends going about their delivery in consummate professional fashion but not with the kind of balls-out youthful verve I was about to witness on the second stage…[7]

Skull Fist

By now the effects of four days of drinking, sun bathing, swimming and general summer fun were beginning to take their toll and so appreciating Skull Fist on the sparsely populated 'Liburnian' stage was more effort than should otherwise have been. My sole previous experience with this up-and-coming Canadian heavy/speed metal band was an unknown venture and one bristling with energy and charisma, traits I am pleased to say have not left them (especially mainman Jackie Slaughter) but the efforts of playing to perhaps 200 people in a space considerably larger than that rendered this performance a harder one to exceed in. 2011's "Head öf the Pack" is a work of great potential and the fretboard athleticism in it's title track, "Ride the Beast", "Commanding the Night" and "Tear Down the Wall" among others serve for an exciting performance in this closing set of the night. Not afraid to steal the limelight when a good shred is in order, Slaughter lead his men with the kind of dedication to the heavy metal cause will see them go a lot further in the next few years. [7]

Day 2: Monday


The 'multi-talented' Jill Janus of Huntress

Huntress

Many repeated listens to the debut album of Californian upstarts Huntress had taught me one thing: this band is a vehicle for frontwoman Jill Janus (a woman whose exploits and image are best left described here). Interested to see how this translates to their live performance, I was greeted with the spectacle of four competent typical-looking metal blokes handling their instruments while their vocalist shrieks, growls and hollers in a vampire-cum-pornstar get-up. To her credit, Janus is far more fluid with her movement than I've seen many other female vocalists down the years and her vocal output is umm, attention grabbing, but as for it's quality, well I'm tempted to track down her Playboy images to check out where the true talents lie.

Looking not unlike a witch with her white wiry frame, Janus' screams were abject compared to those on "Spell Eater", leading me to sadly suspect significant studio magic at hand if this is her natural vocal power. Unfortunately, such is the case when a band is called 'Huntress' and it's sole dominating female figure is so off-colour the band as a whole stands no chance. Let's just be thankful this was not the worst vocal performance of the event…[4½]


Spiros Antoniou of Septicflesh

Septicflesh

A few minutes spent checking out local act Kryn on the second stage brought me back to the main one and the change from bumbling amateur act to the high-quality, professional shtick was immediately evident. Dressed in a gothic-styled leather ensemble with his bass being plucked in an unusual vertical position, Spiros Antoniou is a powerful frontman, holding himself with the confidence of Morbid Angel's Dave Vincent while leading the band's technical display of symphonic (via pre-recorded sounds) blackened death metal. Though this is hardly a style conducive to enveloping live performances, the manner of the Greeks delivery and quality of songs chosen from "Communion" and "The Great Mass" left me impressed from my first stage encounter with them. [7½]


The Church of Powerwolf

Powerwolf

Easily one of this writer's favourite acts on the bill, thanks largely to 2009's outrageously silly yet utterly brilliant "Bible of the Beast", I think I performed a good job in convincing as many others as possible to come and witness what concluded being one of the best shows of Metalfest Croatia 2012. Vocalist Attila Dorn has a great set of pipes in his ample frame (ones that can perform live as well as on record, Ms. Janus), plus not to forget a highly entertaining and downright funny charm with the crowd confirming beyond doubt he would be the frontman in my composite band of the festival, one that a few other bands should take notes from.

Strangely lacking a bassist from their performance with no explanation given, the 'Wolf did still at least raise the mood with "Resurrection by Erection" (one for the men), "Catholic in the Morning" (one for the ladies) and all manner of jollity in between. Like Alestorm above, Powerwolf know their act cannot, and should not, be taken seriously and when played with this mindset and a damn fine collection of histrionic power/heavy metal the result can be downright brilliant. [8½]


Grand Magus. Swedish and very metal.

Grand Magus

Now on just my eighth live experience with Grand Magus, I make a point of arranging these repeated bonhomies with the Swedish power trio such is their reliability both on record and live. This Metalfest performance may not have matched up to some of the high standards of past efforts but for all JB Christoffersson's repeated efforts to energise a discouraged crowd, the powerful heavy metal of "Like the Oar Strikes the Water", "Hammer of the North", "Iron Will" and new track "Valhalla Rising" from recent LP "The Hunt" are simple, fist-pumping and well written songs perfect for a beery festival performance. Looking aloof behind his dark aviators, JB still sounds as good as ever both vocally and in his under-rated soloing ability, but trying to get a rise from an audience who seemed somewhat unbothered by the greatness of the band before them took it's eventual toll, reducing Grand Magus to just a mere 'good' who I know to be frequent residents of 'amazing' status. [6½]


Vader

Vader

Polish death metal troupe Vader are the very definition of persistent: year after year, album after album, show after show, through a myriad of line-up changes around band leader Peter, they release a barrage of clinical, quality thrash-powered death metal. The man has never been one to let much else but the music do the talking and so this continued through their show as "Return to the Morbid Reich", "Come and See My Sacrifice" and "Wings" took the band through various stages of their lengthy discography in front of an awakening audience following the above Magus slumber. We've all seen Vader before and so this was nothing revelatory in style, but I left with what I came looking for from these 50 minutes: a fine slice of meaty Polish death metal, classically cut. [6½]


The long-awaited return of Nergal and Behemoth.

Behemoth

Second of the deathly Polish triple-header, Behemoth arrive off the back of Nergal's well documented (and successful) battle with leukaemia in what feels like a fresh start for the band as they now find themselves higher up on festival billings than was ever the case beforehand. Aside from a brief mention of "it's great to be alive" Nergal makes no mention of his illness and is very much back on form and invigorated with a renewed sense of purpose in charging through a setlist mostly culled from the recent three albums where Behemoth's stock has risen dramatically; "Demigod", "Slaves Shall Serve" and "Conquer All" some highlights. Shorn of his long hair yet still looking positively demonic with the short back and sides, there seems a higher intensity to proceedings as the band waste little time in moving from song to song besides a short break after the utterly sublime "Chant for Eschaton 2000", replete with the kind of forceful sound that was unfortunately lacking for a number other of the top bands. The next LP will be an interesting one to assess given what has happened in the recent past but for now Behemoth can still be assured as a fine live act. [8]

Kreator

By this point 5 days into my trip the weather had been consistently hot and sunny. Welcome now to the wet and cloudy portion of the review. Quite what Kreator did to bring the black clouds of doom to Zadar that befell their set one can only wonder but the rain that poured throughout their set ensured those hardy enough to remain looked as if they'd just stepped out the bath fully clothed straight into a Germanic thrashing masterclass. Having remained arguably more consistent than all the other 80's heavyweights on recent releases, 'new' material like "Violent Revolution", "Phantom Antichrist" and "Hordes of Chaos" works just as well as the classic cuts "Endless Pain", "Flag of Hate" and "Pleasure to Kill" in building a pit and keeping it brimming at boiling pit for a 75 minutes.

Mille Petroza of Kreator (rain not pictured)

30 years in Mille Petrozza knows how to work a crowd, so much so that I guess all reading by this point will be fully aware of how the Kreator live experience goes. Finishing with "Flag of Hate" leading into "Tormentor" serves to attach a firm smile to the faces of all the very soggy punters who remained throughout. Well worth the drenching. [9]

Day 3: Tuesday

Hate

And so began the day which began with scheduling changes, flirted heavily with controversy on the way and ended up a success. Leaving the campsite expecting to see Steelwing first up I was instead greeted with news Megadeth were to be on 3 hours earlier this evening, Hate would be on first and the rest of the day's main stage line-up was as cloudy as the average attendees brain after 2 days of partying on the waterside. With what were at this point just 'technical issues' as quoted by the fesitval, it presented Polish blackened death metallers Hate the unenviable task of opening proceedings in a very hot, mostly empty Croatian venue save for their buddies in arms Vader and Behemoth coming down to watch amongst the few else who could be bothered at 1.30pm. Despite their best attempts circumstances did not favour Hate; their clinical, highly Polish attack laboured with the lack of crowd excitement and participation despite mainman Adam the First Sinner's best attempts to do otherwise. Not for a total lack of good tunes in their set, but when bigger names have already come and most people are unaware when your band is on sometime it just isn't meant to be. [5]


Ensiferum

With the news that Dark Tranquillity were the first of the day's casualties my next excursion to the main stage was for Finnish folk/Viking metallers Ensiferum, a common band for the festival circuit and all the more so with new album "Unsung Heroes" in the locker and ready to plug. I've lost track of the number of times I've seen these bare-chested kilt-wearing (a fashion sense that does not unfortunately extend to keyboardist Emmi, natch) warriors in recent years open with the "From Afar" and "Twilight Tavern" double-salvo, so at least Ensi' had the courtesy to mix this up, splitting the two amongst the "Victory Song"'s "Ahti", "One More Magic Potion" and "The New Dawn". Sandwiched in was a very flat and disappointing new song "Burning Leaves" and the usual light-hearted jocularity from a band about as dangerous these days as a baby with a boxing glove. This is not to say the Finns are not good fun live but perhaps from fatigue of having seen them grace every festival I've attended in the last few years and the sheer disappointment at the one new song aired this was far from the revelatory experience some of those previous events have been. [6]


Fear Factory

Forget what I said earlier about the vocals of Jill Janus, for worst vocals of the festival look no further than one Burton C. Bell. Really, why are Fear Factory touring when the man can simply no longer hold a note with the clean vocal style that is such a significant part of their resume? Despite holding absolutely no interest in their computerised, sanitised and mechanical open chord riffing style I cannot deny their influence on metal over the last 15 years (albeit much of it for the worse) and so their place on the touring line-up is fully earned, but fuck me sideways, has the man heard himself? Needless to say the likes of "Linchpin", "Demanufacture" generated a positive response from the crowd well-versed in their moments for vocal participation but feeling embarrassed at seeing a man stumble round and perform so ineffectively has it's drawbacks, not least my decision to award such a paltry grade to a band supposed of much more: [3]





Megadeth

The day's running order well and truly obliterated by this point, Megadeth came on stage 3 hours earlier than scheduled to an atmosphere tense in the air and, from a small but vocal minority on the floor, despicably badly behaved on the floor. Even now in the days after the festival much of the evening's events are rumour, but for what it's worth: Megadeth wished to perform earlier than their scheduled 2240 slot, but in doing so would have meant W.A.S.P. must perform afterwards, something Dave Mustaine was (apparently) unwilling to accept. Being festival headliners their word was final and W.A.S.P. were kicked off the bill, much to the annoyance of their fanbase who decided to show their displeasure towards the legendary Megadeth by hurling stones and bottles, turning their backs, showing the finger and in some cases, their arses, in a display of contempt and disgust I have never seen in my 11 years of concert-going thus far.

Mustaine & co pre-bottling

Should the above rumours have been true then let it be said: the organisers should have never have let themselves get into a position when the day's entire running order was messed up, whether under the request of the top band or not, who should not be able to dictate such measures. Any pre-existing bad blood between Megadeth and W.A.S.P. (or Dave and Blackie Lawless to be frank) should not have been encouraged by scheduling the bands one after another. And finally the W.A.S.P. fans responsible for ultimately causing Megadeth to understandably leave the stage after 30 minutes should never have the audacity to call themselves a metal fan again. The one I confronted could certainly not explain his actions, my only regret being my beer and not my fist that was thrown at him.

A horrible episode which reflected badly on bands, organisers and fans. So just about everyone. Ungradable.


Death Angel

In life, as they say, one man's pain is another man's gain. Here at Metalfest it was actually two (collective) man's gains as the rescheduling meant Death Angel and Steelwing were bumped from early afternoon slots to much more appealing after-dark sets. After a lengthy delay following the Megadeth debacle in which time there was only one subject of discussion on everyone's lips, these old-school Cali thrashers were the perfect antidote: a fantastic full airing of their classic 1987 debut, "The Ultra-Violence", a performance befitting an album of such seminal thrashing perfection. From the opening fizzing riffs of "Thrashers" and through "Evil Priest", "Voracious Souls", "Kill As One" and the wonderfully adept 10-minute instrumental title track, Mark Osgueda lead his troop of merry men through the show of the festival, whereby balancing his good natured demeanour with mass swirling of his audacious dreadlocks and recognisable vocals, which have held up tremendously to today, did a great job of banishing the tension and bad blood that was abound the festival that evening.

The quite superb Death Angel

Saluting the reception of the audience is a common occurrence from frontmen but with Osgueda it seemed more than genuine, his glee at being handed the headliners slot shown across his beaming smile. Once "Final Death" rounded off "The Ultra-Violence" they were left with spare time they had not planned for, so a quick run-through of more recent tracks including "Relentless Retribution" concluded an unexpectedly revelatory show and one that will have solidified Death Angel's name in the minds of anyone here without prior experience of the band. [9]

Rising Dream

In deciding to wait around for Steelwing, a band whom I was not too well acquainted with, I will admit to some confusion when local band Rising Dream came out on stage to begin their set, with no announcement made at all. "Hang on! I'm sure Steelwing don't have a female vocalist!" was one phrase uttered by yours truly until it became clear this dull and boring act were a band entirely out of their depth in a slot this high up the bill and who were lucky to have as many people like I hanging round between bigger and better acts. To their credit, Rising Dream weren't awful but saying that no moment of their melodic death-lite stuck in the memory would be an accurate conclusion of a band who won the lottery to be pitched at 11pm on the final night. [4]


Steelwing

Benefactors of the chaos as Death Angel were earlier, Steelwing moved from a 1pm slot to midnight, quite the improvement in anyone's books and one their brand of (retro-infused) classic heavy metal was well suited to. Stylistically and fashionably similar to fellow Swedes Enforcer, looking as if their metal world has ceased to progress since 1984, their brand of metal offers more than a nod and a wink to the early days of Angel Witch, Iron Maiden and Saxon although arguably without quite the same hooks present in the likes of "Full Speed Ahead" and "Roadkill" as Enforcer built into the awesome "Diamonds". Considerably well developed for a band formed only in 2009 and on their way to finding a sound of their own, the dual lead guitars of Alex Vega and Robby Rockbag (!) intertwined nicely while Riley on vocals (who bears more than a passing resemblance to RHCP's Anthony Kiedis) is the possessor of a powerful and wide-ranging vocals and an engaging frontman at that. Generating one final chance for those still remaining to let loose and bang their heads before the reality of leaving this idyllic location was to dawn, Steelwing took their chance to close out the festival well and cannot be criticised for a lack of effort with only further development of their sound holding them back from deserving this slot in future. [7]

Festival conclusion

Being the first edition of Metal Fest Croatia inevitably meant there were some problems which I offer to the organisers to try and fix for next year to ensure this incredible location has a festival to match.

- Band scheduling: the biggie. The cock-ups with Megadeth and W.A.S.P., the stoning off the stage of Megadeth, the lack of ability to advise when any band was going to perform on day 3 leaves a very black mark against the festival organisers. If there has been previous history between Mustaine and Lawless they should never have been scheduled to play the same day, nor should any band have the ability to change their performance time so late on. It was not the festival's fault a small section of the crowd had neither the decency nor respect to let Megadeth play, but the day's problems only encouraged this situation to occur.

- Band volume: much too quiet on the main stage. Standing half-way to the sound stage I should not be able to talk to friends beside me without leaning to their ear. More volume = more involvement in the music.

- Food/drink: the range of food available in the festival area was poor and of low quality. More stalls and more range please next time, we need something to soak up the beer with! The price of beer was good (especially coming from the UK) but a greater range here as well would not have gone amiss.

- Metal market/stalls: please add one! Selling only tshirts and almost no CDs from just a selection of the performing artists, and noone besides, was not a good way to help bands make badly needed money and fans to do a bit of metal shopping in downtime between bands.

- Cover bands: the idea to have a stage where an AC/DC, Priest, Metallica and Motörhead covers band would play each evening was great, but so woeful were the AC/DC act the first night I was put off from attending the subsequent nights. Quality still goes a long way even in this setting.

- Metal Boat party: reports from a friend who paid to attend the night-time Metal Boat party that it never turned up at the designated location and time and that he could not get a refund from the organisers (if true) shows more poor organisation and a contempt for the fans who would pay for such a service. Do this and those fans are unlikely to attend again.

Despite all this, the location, the weather and (overall) the atmosphere made for a great week and if some of the points above can be fixed for 2013, when the festival will go by the name of Burning Sea then I would recommend anyone reading to choose it as an alternative to one of the more well-known mega fests on the continent. HEAVY METAL!

All photos courtesy of the lovely Teodora Dani

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