Metal Town 2008

author AP date 14/07/08

Metal Town is an annual metal festival that takes place in Gothenburg, Sweden. Since its inception in 2004, the festival has seen steady growth, which has lead the festival organization to extend it to a two-day event for the first time ever, in order to be able to accommodate more visitors and feature more and bigger names in the line-up. Looking at this year's billing there is little doubt that the decision was the right one: In Flames, Nightwish, Dimmu Borgir, Monster Magnet, Cavalera Conspiracy, Killswitch Engage and Bullet For My Valentine on the same bill together with hot up and coming names like Sonic Syndicate, Path Of No Return and Graveyard. Not to mention local heavyweights Soilwork and Dark Tranquillity; even Converge had found its way to this cradle of melodic death metal. The most impressive Metal Town line-up yet and the festival's close proximity to Denmark meant this event had to be covered by Rockfreaks.net. And on we drove.

Note that this article features some guest reviews by Nick Bishop, with whom I attended the festival. And as usual, if you'd like to skip the bit where I'll give you a feel about how the festival looks and feels like, just scroll down to the reviews bit straight away, otherwise read on normally.

First Impressions

Metal Town's website offered a sufficient information package that covered all questions that a potential visitor might have, in both English and Swedish. It even recommended a hotel nearby and offered to it a discount for guests of Metal Town. Now, even though this was a four-star hotel, the price for a double for one night amounted to just 990 SEK (780 DKK), which included a massive breakfast buffet and clean, comfortable rooms. If you're planning to visit Metal Town from another city or country next year, I strongly recommend booking the night at Quality Hotel 11. There is a direct bus from the hotel to a temporary stop outside the festival area at Frihamnen. However, if you're hardcore and prepared to defy the non-camping nature of the festival, we witnessed several tents set up next to parked cars in the festival's parking facilities. The entrance to the festival was divided into two sections: one for exchanging tickets to wrist bands, and another for ensuring that bags were free of alcohol, weapons and such. We arrived at the festival at around noon, and at this point the queue was short and moved swiftly with no standing still whatsoever - a very well organized and effective festival entrance.

For an impression of the festival area itself, please refer to our West Coast Riot article.

Reviews

Friday 27.6

Sonic Syndicate @ 13:30 on Black Stage

Sonic Syndicate have rapidly shot into being one of the hottest up and coming metal bands in Sweden. With such promise in their wake, this sextet was chosen to kick off the biggest MetalTown yet with an ultra-melodic mix of cheesy metalcore choruses and dense chugging. And what better way to inaugurate a metal festival in Gothenburg than with a band that draws such obvious influence from the legends of the city. Yet Richard and Roland's hand-in-hand energy isn't enough to raise much awe beyond the band's closest friends screaming and jumping in the front section of the pit. The two vocalists fly about the stage complementing each other's clean and screamed vocals in a surprisingly coordinated fashion, but the thought that nearly all of the instrumental melody stems from background electronic samples doesn't inspire much respect for the remaining band members. The band's lack of experience is only amplified by the size of the Black Stage, making the Syndicate appear almost as nervous high school kids on their first ever gig. A poor audio quality does nothing to better this, either. [5] AP

Path Of No Return @ 16:00 on Close-Up Stage

When Path Of No Return man the intimate tent stage and blast into their set, one begins to wonder if it really was Sonic Syndicate's inexperience that dragged them down. Because fuck; this band has far fewer years in their tow yet manage to inflict total mayhem. From second one, the vocalist divides his time half and half on stage and in the air, screaming his lungs out. Picture Jacob Bannon of Converge fame in his younger years and you have Patrik Jakobsson - a thin, scrawny hardcore kid clad in a grey hoodie and white tank top screaming his lungs out, punching the air and jumping around in a constant frenzy of straightforward hardcore riffs that occasionally break into beautiful, discordant atmospheric passages and gut-wrenching breakdowns. All this while the rest of the band imitates the live presence of bands like Converge, The Dillinger Escape Plan and Darkest Hour. Could this become Sweden's answer to such bands? I'd say it's very likely, judging from this show, which takes the prize for being the most intense of the festival. But what prevents the band from truly shining is the lack of diversity in their catalog, making it difficult to distinguish one song from the other and remain focused on the music itself. [7] AP

Danko Jones @ 16:30 on Red Stage

Canadian Danko Jones takes the prize for being the most out of place. This small, bald man packs into his 50-minute set more rock n' roll attitude than any band I've previously seen. This with his sense of humor quickly transforms this into one of the best shows at the festival. "I hope it fucking rains", he proclaims, "because metal and rain go hand in hand". Surely enough, a slight drizzle begins shortly after, to which he responds by giving the sun the finger. "Fuck you!" he shouts, "Sun!" For the remainder of the set he wants to do more rocking, less talking, telling himself to shut the fuck up before blasting through one ridiculous lyric after the other accompanied by riffs that speak pure attitude. The sound is crystal clear as the crowd erupts into a massive sing along fest with "First Date". Danko's famous high-speed headbanging brings added comedy to his already amusing stage presence, convincing everyone that Killswitch Engage couldn't have asked for a better warm-up to their show. There is indeed something very Dutkiewiczy about Danko - he's a true show man. [8] AP

Killswitch Engage @ 17:30 on Black Stage

Almost immediately after Danko departs to wild applause, all eyes turn to Black Stage where the intro to "Daylight Dies" is already blasting from the speakers. The band runs on stage to a reception that has me wonder why Killswitch Engage aren't considered a headliner at this event. Adam Dutkiewicz runs on stage in an unusually mundane costume, but his tongue-in-cheek face expression and step dancing are still convincing of the fact that his jester years aren't behind him just yet. Killswitch pound through their set with professionalism that, though admirable, subtracts from their show a certain amount of novelty. But Adam does his best to compensate with spontaneous, amusing guitar fills and by throwing in a death metal grunt here and there instead of clean backing vocals. At times his exaggerated pinch-squeaks and floyd rose tricks force the rest of the band and the crowd into laughter. Killswitch have always claimed not to take their music too seriously, and this playfulness reflects in their comedic live show. Where such childish gestures often act against other bands, these guys are right at home in their pre-pubescent amusements. The atmosphere is positive and it's clear that the dudes are enjoying themselves. And it certainly doesn't do any harm that the setlist is about as good as it can get (though When Darkness Falls was longed for), comprising material from the entirety of the band's back catalog. Classics like "Rose of Sharyn", "The End of Heartache" and "My Last Serenade" have the crowd jumping and moshing wildly and joining in a massive sing along fest. And newer songs like "My Curse", "The Arms of Sorrow" come across as at least as inviting. But it's not until the expected closing cover of Dio's "Holy Diver" that the show reaches its absolute potential, concluding in Howard stage diving and consequently vanishing in the crowd. [8] AP

Bullet For My Valentine @ 20:15 on Black Stage

Much dismay had been shed on my part with regards to Bullet For My Valentine's change of style with their latest album, but as I watch over possibly the biggest crowd for any band at this festival so far, I begin building some positive expectations about what is to come. The band enters amidst an intro track consisting of rain, thunder, and other mighty things, only to explode into "Scream Aim Fire". And god damn does it sound good live. In fact, lynch me for saying this if you like, but as Bullet pounds through one new song after the other - with some oldies in between too - it becomes clearer and clearer that this is what these tracks were written for: massive outdoor stages that do the epic compositions justice. Especially "Eye Of The Storm" and "Deliver Us From Evil" hit the ten-thousand strong audience with incredible weight. Older songs like "4 Words To Choke Upon", "Suffocating Under Words Of Sorrow" and "Tears Don't Fall" have more people singing along, but sound tiny and insignificant amidst these giants. At this point I am struck with awe at how much this band has grown and matured since I last saw them. There are no loose ends like equipment malfunctions, tuning or sound glitches as Bullet For My Valentine executes a calculated, professional and solid set to an enthralled audience. Again, such perfection does constrain the spontaneity of the band's show to an extent, and especially the predictable and overused crowd control methods are sometimes hard to swallow. But with such determination, Bullet are able to keep their set tight and intriguing, and it shows through amazing crowd response. A grandiose finale consisting of "Hand Of Blood" and "Waking The Demon" wraps up the show in a fast-paced, high-energy conclusion that leaves the crowd hungry for more. [8] AP

Cavalera Conspiracy @ 22:45 on Black Stage

Long adrift from one another, Max and Igor Cavalera of Sepultura fame have at last settled their differences and channeled their refound synergy into writing music for a project that many fans of old school metal have had the highest of expectations for. And not without reason, as no band sounds quite like Sepultura did back in the day; until now that is. Yet I must shamefully admit that my familiarity with Sepultura is next to nil, and having heard just this new project prior to the festival, my expectations are mixed. On the one hand I know that Sepultura has been hailed by some as one of the greatest metal bands of our time; but on the other hand I've heard the sometimes too clearly outlined style of Cavalera Conspiracy, which I fear may polarize tonight's show. But a quick glance around me tells me I may be alone in my skepticism, standing amidst thousands upon thousands of raised fists and horns, their owners screaming for Max and Igor to make their Swedish live debut.

Soon after the lights dim as Igor mans the drumkit and Max marches on stage to some kind of tribal intro, screaming "Inflicted! Show no mercy! Motherfucking wicked!". From there on it's complete fucking mayhem for the next one and a half hours. My skepticism disappears in a puff of epiphany as I let what is probably the meanest, manliest music I've ever heard live engulf me: no, blow me away with its sheer volume. Max and Igor have devised a dream come true setlist, consisting of the entirety of Cavalera Conspiracy's "Inflikted" with a few omissions, mixed in with just as many, if not more Sepultura classics. Songs like "Bloodbrawl", "The Doom of All Fires" and "Sanctuary" showcase the group in their uncompromising, brutal tendencies while tracks like "Terrorize" and "Dark Ark" amaze with passages remniscent of South American tribal music. But it's especially the old Sepultura antics that have almost the entire crowd transform into several giant moshpits.

The show is delivered in the best old school fashion, with no gimmicks, very few breaks in between and no bullshit. With every passing song, the band plays faster, culminating in breathtaking solos by lead guitarist Marc Rizzo, and let's not forget Igor's occasional drum solos that neatly flow into the respective songs they precede. And as if that wasn't enough, Max's 12-year old son Igor suddenly emerges from behind the stage and mans the drumkit, performing a note-perfect version of Sepultura's "Troops of Doom", while the older Igor joins max in vocals. Time passes swiftly with ear-blistering guitars, gut-wrenching screams and pulsating double pedals, and the show soon reaches its grandiose finale much to my dismay. But at least it's a finale to remember, featuring two of Sepultura's most revered classics, "Policia" and "Roots Bloody Roots". "Ah shit! Ah shit!", screams Max, "Are you ready for one more?", taking a break between the aforementioned tracks, before blasting through the final song harder and faster than I'd imagined possible. And then, like that, it's over. One and a half hours of no-bullshit man-time with the Cavalera brothers; I salute you. [9½] AP

Saturday 28.6

Dark Tranquillity @ 14:30 on Red Stage

Dark Tranquillity, one of three original Gothenburg metal bands billed this year, had the honor of starting things up on Red Stage on day two of this festival. Unfortunately these veterans have a thing or two against them: the sun is shining from an almost clear sky and metal dudes have hardly even woken up after last night's after party in Götebar downtown. A drowsy, largely uninterested crowd stands arms crossed as Mikael Stanne does his best to blanket himself from the blinding sunlight. Alas, the metal-ness of the show is somewhat reduced. But with all odds against them, Dark Tranquillity braves the stage with an onslaught of brutal blastbeats and a touch of melancholy. Stanne works hard to keep the show alive with his trademark techno dancing, flailing his orange curls in the best headbanging fashion, while his band shreds through one song after the other. Yet as the show progresses, it becomes even more clear that things just aren't falling into place. The setlist seems to consist mainly of the band's latest work, lacking such gems as "Monochromatic Stains", "Static", "Single Part of Two" and "Misery In Me". Now, I'm not a Dark Tranquillity enthusiast or expert, but something tells me that the inclusion of one or two of such songs would have inspired far more crowd participation and given the show the boost it needed. [6] AP

Soilwork @ 15:30 on Black Stage

Although Soilwork is one of the mightiest bands to master the Gothenburg sound, I decide to observe the show from further than most others in a desperate attempt to shield my Nordic skin from the scorching sun. I'm perhaps not the most appropriate person to give an objective review of Soilwork's show then, especially as I engage in casual conversation throughout the band's set, but as it happens, I'm the only scribe at the webzine's disposal at this festival, so I'll give it a fair try. Even from this far I can sense the incredible stage energy and hear Speed's flawless vocal performance to which the crowd responds with massive sing-along and I imagine some moshing up front, and songs like "Bastard Chain" and "Stabbing The Drama" carry even more power live than they do on record. In many ways, Soilwork corrects all the mistakes of Sonic Syndicate the day before in a near-perfect harmony of electronic samples, hypermelodic guitars and scream-to-clean vocals. Yet the set suffers from a certain polarization of sound, and even though the band does its all to compensate for this in their stage show, it's not enough to push the show up to the fields of "very good". Nonetheless, quite an improvement from Dark Tranquillity. [7½] AP

Finntroll @ 16:30 on Red Stage

Of all the bands playing today, Finntroll's "Gryning" is the loudest and most epic backing track intro. The now fairly sizable crowd includes a smattering of die-hard, Finntroll merch-clad fans who, like me, will doubtless have been to a few of their live shows before and have high hopes for this performance. The band appears in their usual trollish regalia and breaks into the fast paced, humppa groove of "Sang" and it strikes me that this band's upbeat metal/folk mixture can improve the mood of any festival audience. I look around and even see the occasional emo kid who probably hasn't heard of Finntroll before uncharacteristically dancing and clapping along. I'm not new to Finntroll though. I know that this band is capable of turning a rain-soaked, muddy field in England into a surreal, pagan party. So I can't help but think that my fellow Finntroll fans in the crowd share in my slight disappointment with this set. Mathias Lillmåns headbangs and screams with his usual vigor but something isn't quite right, maybe it's the subdued energy of the rest of the band, the omission of the excellent "En Mäktig Här" from the setlist or the lack of intimacy on this occasion, but Finntroll can do better than [6½]. NB

Satyricon @ 17:30 on Black Stage

Hats off for Metal Town being able to secure such a high-profile replacement for Opeth so fast. But let's face it, Satyricon not only have big shoes to fill, they're also the wrong shoes. Zounds of fans hungry for some progressive metal, dying to hear some of Opeth's new material played live aren't hiding their disappointment following today's announcement that Opeth had been forced to cancel due to illness, and that Norwegian black metal heavyweights Satyricon were to fill the void. I'm one of those people, watching Satyricon's set from a table next to the hot dog stand while enjoying some late lunch. The dudes appear on stage wearing corpse paint and deliver a standard, unsurprising set of droning black metal. The drummers occasional outbursts of creative energy aren't enough to compensate for Mikael Åkerfeldt's lack of humorous presence, and as cool as they sound, they do little to better Satyricon's set. And it doesn't exactly help that while they're trying to look evil they're bathing in late-afternoon sun. [5½] AP

Amon Amarth @ 19:00 on Red Stage

Having witnessed Turisas's minblowing battle metal twice and Finntroll's groovy folk set just before, Amon Amarth's Viking metal sounds like another interesting concept. When the music begins I realize it really is just the concept that sounds interesting, for Amon Amarth fits my definition of generic metal like I fit my shoes. And believe me, I fit my shoes. Tales of synchronized headbanging had me psyched up to see this band live, but all that open-mindedness is shattered to shits and bits by Amon Amarth's mind-numbing, uneventful show. Not only are the songs all produced with the same, clearly outlined recipe for mediocre metal, there is also absolutely nothing captivating happening on stage. Wait, here come two scantily clad ladies wielding huge torches; they station themselves on either side of the stage; now they're converging in the centre; take sips from their Viking horns; fire breathing! Holy shit! So novel and unexpected I almost faint. Such overwhelming surprise! Forgive my sarcasm, but what the fuck? This spectacle is supposedly the highlight of Amon Amarth's drowsy show, as not even "Runes To My Memory" succeeds in stopping the sea of yawns before the stage. And that synchronous headbanging in the video to that song? It's nowhere to be seen. I look behind me to see a girl leaning against the fence, sound asleep. [4] AP

Dimmu Borgir @ 20:15 on Black Stage

I felt sorry for Satyricon today. First of all, they were an emergency replacement for Opeth which means that they knew that none of the crowd were specifically here to see them. Secondly, and more devastatingly, the only other black-metal band on the bill is Dimmu Borgir and they are about to show Satyricon how to do live black-metal better in almost every way. What makes Dimmu Borgir’s music accessible to people, who are not necessarily at the festival to see the Norwegian black-metal band, is variety - not a word that’s usually associated with the genre. On each of their albums the band has changed their sound significantly (perhaps to the annoyance of their original fans) meaning that they have a very wide (if not very "black") spectrum to choose from for this show. There are a good few songs from older albums such as "Enthrone Darkness Triumphant". However, "Progenies of the Great Apocalypse", from "Death Cult Armageddon", and "The Serpentine Offering", from the most recent album, go down especially well with the help of some pyrotechnics at the front of the stage. This leads us to the other thing that stands out about Dimmu: their theatrics. Whilst Satyricon were also plastered with corpse paint, I don’t think it's really worth it (and is also a bit dated and sad) unless you go the whole way and turn it into a costume, in the vein of Turisas. Dimmu perform in the tattered leather robes which they wore in their "Serpentine Offering" video and press photos. It may seem a bit silly but it definitely gives the audience something extra to look at and adds to the nightmarish, Dimmu Borgir experience. [8] NB

Converge @ 20:30 on Close-Up Stage

Who hasn't seen or heard of Nate Newton grabbing his bass guitar by the neck and slamming it on a fan's back in a fight at a Converge show? Entropy, disorder and chaos - these are things known to be characteristics of a Converge show. It is with the highest of expectations that I enter the intimate Close-Up tent, eager to witness one of the most influential, uncompromising and extreme hardcore bands on the market. This band is trouble, I've been told. The band doesn't waste time after entering, and before I know it, Jacob Bannon is flying all over the place, screaming frantically while Nate and Kurt swing their instruments in weird spasms. Jacob carefully and calmly introduces most songs before ripping the stage apart again and again, because let's face it, if you're not a die hard Converge fan, it isn't easy to distinguish between their material. But amidst all the mayhem and chaos on Jacob's part, a couple of things bother me. First, why is half the melodic guitar coming from a backing track? Second, why is Jacob not defying the restrictions and jumping the barrier to connect with the eager audience? I've heard stories of Converge performing a near-perfect show at Loppen last year, so it's obvious that Converge don't reach their full potential in a festival setting. It's a lack of intimacy that prevents the show from truly shining, though a setlist consisting of at least twenty songs is always a bonus. [7] AP

Nightwish @ 21:30 on Red Stage

With the departure of what some consider to be the most important member of the band: Tarja Turunen, Nightwish are a band who seem to have had to prove themselves again as a newcomer to the genre. It is true to say that master songwriter Tuomas Holopainen has outdone himself with the music on their current release (with Anette Olzon performing vocals) with epics such as "The Poet and the Pendulum" and (the not-too-subtly named) "Bye Bye Beautiful". However, since Tarja was clearly the biggest personality in the band it was up to Anette to make sure that their live show has retained its former drama and glamour. As the band come on stage the perhaps slightly older audience than before (we'd been wondering about the occasional 50 year old woman wandering haplessly around the festival) shows that the band did not lose its following when it lost its frontwoman three years ago. They blast through a mixture of songs, old and new and the older tracks are mainly re-imaginings of the old Nightwish classics furnished with Olzon's more mainstream vocals, for example "Dark Chest of Wonders". It has to be said that this approach detracts slightly from these songs which weren't written with Anette's voice in mind. However, whilst her pop/folk background is also apparent from the way she acts on stage it is no hindrance in getting the audience going. Along with Tuomas' ridiculous theatrics from behind the keyboard, it is clear that this is a band that still puts as much effort into their live performances as ever and the result is breathtaking. [8½] NB

In Flames @ 22:45 on Black Stage

In Flames have proven time after time that they can and will deliver live; wherever, whenever. Now they're headlining a festival in their home town, playing in front of thousands of their most devout fans; the same dudes who banged their heads to "Episode 666" and "Graveland" in tiny Gothenburg clubs in the early 90s; so my expectations are sky high. I'm ready for the show of a lifetime. As the lights dim, the familiar but unsurprising intro to "Cloud Connected" starts to linger until In Flames man their positions on stage and open the concert with nothing short of a spectacle. Sparkling fireworks explode above and around the stage, while some sort of rockets fly over the crowd, shedding a rain of silver sparks on us. At this point, the crowd goes mental and I'm pushed at least ten metres forward to a space that leaves no room for jumping and no field of vision to the stage. Fortunately as "The Mirror's Truth" and "Trigger" follow, an enormous moshpit opens around me and voilà: there's space again.

In Flames' stage setup is the most impressive yet, consisting of a number of flood lights and eight digital screens that are used to supplement an already impressive light show and occasionally spell the band's name in various colors. During newer songs like "Alias", "Move Through Me", "Disconnected" and "Delights And Angers", these screens feature lyrics to the songs' choruses in a bid to have the entire crowd singing along. But we are in Gothenburg, and even though the setlist today has more songs from "A Sense of Purpose" than from any other album, In Flames are aware of this, treating us to revered classics like "Ordinary Story", "Colony" and "Graveland" as well. As usual, when "Only For The Weak" blasts from the speakers, Anders Fridén successfully directs the entire crowd to jump (even the now hundreds of people on the bridge!) amidst fountains of fireworks.

In a sense, the show is everything I've grown to expect from In Flames: a massive, theatric spectacle that no band can quite draw parallels to. But today the theatrics do seem a bit exaggerated, especially towards the end when confetti is shot over the crowd in ridiculous amounts. These gimmicks steal attention from the stage, and while the crowd should be going nuts to "Take This Life" and the concluding "My Sweet Shadow", all eyes are fixated on confetti flying all over the place and a professional fireworks display over the water. And being in Gothenburg, I must admit that the emission of songs like "Episode 666" and "Pinball Map" to make room for half the new album is a bit disappointing. It's an incredible show and an experience, but doesn't quite parallel the concert Cavalera Conspiracy put on last night. Less theatrics and more music; and this show would have tickled the border to perfect. [8½] AP

Final Word

Overall, Metal Town's two days were riddled with strong performances and even some positive surprises here and there. The line-up was any metal-lovers dream come true and the festival organization was top notch. The only complaints from me target the ridiculously high food and drink prices and the hard tarmac base, which was murderous for the feet. It's a festival that's about the music, and the music only; and it does its job very well in that department. I'll most certainly be attending next year (depending on the line-up, price and date). If you like your metal and don't mind potentially missing the queue for Roskilde Festival, Metal Town is where you should be in the end of June next year.

Written by AP (with guest writer Nick Bishop)

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