Exhausted after a crap night’s sleep (I hate camping!), The Boy and I had a quick round of crazy golf before heading for the arena for the final day.
Leading the charge are Sweden’s own Stormburst. Formed in 2014, they’re a relatively young band and one of the lighter acts of the festival, with a melodic rock / AOR sound. The early crowd in the festival wasn’t large but a very significant number of them were watching the band, including one small group near the front who were absolutely losing their shit – and, in honesty I can’t blame them. Stormburst were great! Upbeat, easy to listen to and those vocal harmonies… Colour me surprised and delighted. While some could argue them not being a “fit” for the festival like The Darkness last night, it didn’t stop them being hugely enjoyable.
From one extreme to the other, with a name like Warbringer it’s no surprise that the LA band are a little on the heavy side. Certainly one for our own Sean Merrigan, this thrash outfit had the audience queuing up for a place at the barrier an hour or more before they came on, giving the main stage a real warming up. They were worth the wait, opening up a small but violent and smiling circle pit early in their set and leaving a handful of the dedicated battered and bruised. The set included new single “Power Unsurpassed” which was as well received as their older material. Yet another band for my “check them out when I get home” list.
Hopping to the smaller stage again, a decent crowd was growing for British metal stalwart Blaze Bayley. I first saw him playing for Wolfsbane when they opened for Iron Maiden, funnily enough, then a few years later when he was fronting them during the “X-Factour”. As he pointed out during the set, he did two albums with them twenty years ago and now has ten solo albums, so he’s chucking out the tunes faster than his old bandmates!
The set was a mixture of his own material – first album and current 3-album-concept-opus – and Maiden songs, though the band stuck to tunes that Blaze recorded with the metal titans. His solo material is something I’ve glossed over in honesty, but live… bloody hell. If it’s as good on CD then I’m converted. Also, much as Virtual XI was written off (and I confess I’m one who wasn’t a fan), hearing both singles from the album (“Futureal” and “The Angel and the Gambler”) live makes it such a shame that Maiden seem to skip it live these days. Likewise “Man On The Edge” had the crowd screaming “Falling do-o-own” along with the man himself.
The whole band were grinning for the entire set and Blaze himself was a superb showman, interacting from beginning to end and ensuring everyone had a great time. The crowd may have been small – many people were still to arrive, holding off for the major bands later in the day – but the couple of hundred who watched were obviously having a great time. Legend.
I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Eleine. As one of the people I was with commented, they’re like a heavy Nightwish. Mixing sultry female and harsh male vocals, the songs were OK and the large crowd liked them but they just didn’t gel for me. I can’t fault their performance, though. Plenty of theatrics and lead singer Madeleine Liljestam had some cracking costumes. I can see a full-on show from them being pretty impressive if the music is your thing.
Kicking the tempo up a notch on the smaller stage next were fellow Swedes H.E.A.T. Hard rock in the vein of Skid Row and catchy as all hell as a result. They battled the rising winds and annoying rain to get a devoted crowd bouncing with their anthemic tracks. Full of action with lead singer Erik Grönwall taking the crowd by the throat and not letting go throughout. When you see middle-aged men dressed in shirts emblazoned with bands like Soulfly, Powerwolf and Morbid Angel rocking their heads off to power anthems, you know the band is on to a winner.
H.E.A.T. absolutely blew me away. Incredible from the start, they managed to get better as the show went on, chucking in little medleys of “Whole Lotta Rosie” and “Piece of my Heart” and surfing over the crowd. We have covered the band in the past, but they take things to a whole new level when they play live.
After a quick run to the tent to get waterproofs, we got back just in time for my maiden experience of the mighty Powerwolf. I’ve been a fan for a few years in which time I think they’ve played a single UK date. In London, obviously. Whatever Swedish god is in charge of rain and wind tried to make the experience less entertaining but they didn’t manage. When you’re enjoying a band as good as Powerwolf with your son rocking along with you then nothing is going to spoil it.
Ploughing through numbers old and new – “Armata Strigoi”, “We Drink Your Blood”, “Demons Are a Girl’s Best Friend”, “Blessed and Possessed”, “Sanctified With Dynamite”… – they did take a few breathers to play the old games with the crowd. Singing along was mandatory, as was being louder than the other half of the audience – obviously.
Powerwolf play with their tongue firmly in cheek, which works perfectly for their over the top styling and music. They were every bit as good as I’d hoped for – next time I hope I get to see them at an indoor venue in Scotland!
We experienced most of Battle Beast‘s set from the press area due to a bedraggled son needing to dry off, but what we heard was bloody good. Their brand of power metal verges into the bouncy hard rock arena, making for some great tunes to get a crowd going… and get them going they very much did.
Another band I’ve heard recorded and thought “they’re… ok”, Battle Beast’s show very much changed my opinion of them. Tight, professional and fun, they’re an act I’d definitely consider seeing again.
But the biggest crowd of the weekend, no surprise, were here for Sabaton who erupted (quite literally) on stage to usual show-starter “Ghost Division”. Of course, they don’t usually start with that level of pyrotechnics… Bangers, flames, fireworks – simply wow! We watched most of the show from the hill behind the audience as my son’s not tall enough to enjoy a good view otherwise but this didn’t lessen the fun as Sabaton zoomed through a ninety minute set that seemed half the length.
Since it was ten years since Art of War was released, we were treated to a handful of tracks from it, including “Unbreakable”‘s second old ever live outing and “Cliffs of Gallipoli” which introduced the Bombshell Belles on backing vocals. They also assisted with “The Last Stand” of which they recorded their own cover. Also thrown into the set was a debut (staggeringly) live performance of “Metal Ripper” which segued into “Metal Crue”.
A wonderful version of “En Livstid I Krig” ended with blue and yellow streamers being fired over the audience, and “Shiroyama” had some wonderful glittery fireworks towards the end. “Blood of Bannockburn” divided fans when it was released, but it rocks live – and this is coming from an Englishman. Hell, I could on all night about how good the set was!
Joakim addressed the crowd mainly in Swedish, with some English for the 30% of us who weren’t natives. 40 countries were represented in the audience this year, including a couple of nutters all the way from Australia. This pair of nutters from Glasgow, despite being tired and a little cold (the rain held off for Sabaton, yay!) had a great time. Hearing my son singing along to “Swedish Pagans” pretty much made my night.
Festival closers Man.Machine.Industry got a decent enough crowd as they started 15 minutes early, catching people as they left. We listened to most of their set from the press room so that Little Mister could warm up a bit. They didn’t sound half bad and I’ll be investigating them once I’m home.
That, though, was it. Four days in a field in Sweden. Three nights camping with another to come (sob). Around 1300 miles travelled to get here and the same to be done on the way back on Monday.
Worth. Every. Bit.