Alcatraz Metal Festival (12/08/2012 – Deinze, Belgium)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012 : 0 Comments

Alcatraz Metal Festival logoAlcatraz Metal Festival in Deinze, Belgium: the 5th edition! It was hot, we had our own “Summer Flame” (in reference to Weis & Hickman’s “Dragons Of Summer Flame” – see here) in that it was very hot, very dry. But cooling off on the grass, under the trees by the river brought some salvation. There was of course also ale, sugary drinks and water, very much needed with the high temperatures. Although it must be said you dry out from alcohol. Anyway, this year as well the number of people present was enormous, never seen before in the history of the festival. By 14h00 any mortal arriving then or later was doomed to not find a parking space and had to either park on the small road or be prepared to park the car much farther and thus walk a few minutes to the venue. Not even the local people were given space to park and then venture forth to wherever they wanted to go, as in the neighbourhood other happenings were taking place. The gods of Metal really declared the area of the Brielpoort (that’s the venue) as Metal area and nothing else.

However, last year it was said that there might not be a fifth edition, or rather, there might not be a festival in 2012, this due to fincancial issues. Also, focussing on Heavy Metal and Thrash Metal can attract a lot of fans, but you can’t always book the same bands, despite the gazillion less known bands out there that also deserve a chance, but as most people don’t really know, they could be reluctant to buy a ticket and come see them. Also, limiting yourself to (mianly) these two musical styles is also a dangerous option. So the organization chose to tweak the bill a bit, offering Thrash Metal, Heavy Metal, Power Metal and Black(ened) Metal. Thanks to a new sponsor, Safety Jogger, it was now possible to have TESTAMENT, ICED EARTH and IMMORTAL on the list. And each of those could be the headliner, but ultimately it was decided to give the Norwegians that place.

Seven bands this time and only one stage, the mainstage. Last year there was a tent, which was nice in a way, but between two bands, you had no time to rest. Band x (inside or outside) had finished its set, then you had to rush to see band y (outside or inside) continuously until the headliner. You can imagine that after several hours, fatigue sets in and you just don’t give a damn anymore, just sit outside and listen to what’s happening in the tent instead of trying to go in and see for yourself. This year, only seven bands were booked, allowing for a pause of 30 minutes between each performance and that was really refreshing! Many took the liberty and chance to relax outside by the river or on the premises to have a beer, look around the merchandise stands, etc…

In the booklet each visitor was given the organization also utters some thoughts on perhaps expanding the festivals, perhaps making it two days long. Maybe going outdoors instead of remaining indoors, as been so since the beginning. But apparently a camping is a must, so that will probably be dealt with very soon (i.e. next edition or the one after?). Personally, and I’ve said it in each report of the festival, that’s Alcatraz’s charm: one day, see all bands, chill out in the area (no busy traffic at all), very good bands each time, and a reasonable ticket price. Why turn it into two days (who will they book then? Because you’ll need the bands to attract enough people for two days and get a profit for a next edition) when a lot of people are happy with this one day? In addition, two days will cost more: 70 EUR to take a minimum. Graspop (3-days festival) for one day already costs 80 EUR or so. Also, in the summer there’s Graspop, Wacken, Summer Breeze, Hellfest, Alcatraz, Metal Camp, Party.San, and so on. But even when we remain in Belgium there are several events around the date of Alcatraz. Sure, there’s choices to make, but with a list as aforementioned… In any case, the date for next year is already set: Thursday 15th August 2013.

But let’s not jump to conclusions or create scenarios for which most parameters aren’t even known yet. 2012, that’s the current year and the year of the latest edition of this very charming festival. Seven bands, the first starting at 12h00, the last ending the fest at 23h00. And there was even an afterparty at a local pub near the railway station.

 

MAINSTAGE:
WARBRINGER (USA): 12h00 – 12h45
HELL (UK): 13h15 – 14h15
CRIMSON GLORY (USA): 14h45 – 15h45
PRIMORDIAL (IRL): 16h15 – 17h15
TESTAMENT (USA): 17h45 – 19h00
ICED EARTH (USA): 19h30 – 20h45
IMMORTAL (NO): 21h30 – 23h00

 

Pictures of the happenings outside, upon arrival at the premises, can be seen at this location.

 

Kicking off the afternoon were the American Thrashers from WARBRINGER. They are part of the new league of old school Thrash acts (see also EVILE, HAVOK, DUST BOLT, and so on). Formed in 2004, these guys already have quite a few releases up their sleeves, including three full-lengths (“War Without End”, 2008 / “Waking Into Nightmares”, 2009 / “Worlds Torn Asunder”, 2011). I was not familiar at all with their repertoire, but I had heard about the band already. From the start, the energetic storm of Thrash was unleashed. Rough riffing, pounding drums, vicious vocals. Classic ingredients for a classic cocktail. A lot of people were present inside the venue to witness the assault. The previous years the crowd was be much less in number. So it was a good sign that this edition would be very good. Although the sound itself was not perfect, WARBRINGER did put on a good show and indeed warmed up the place (together with the natural heat) for the even hotter sounds of HELL. As an opener WARBRINGER is very good.

SETLIST:
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Pictures can be seen at this location.

 

Up next was one of the bands I was looking forward to, especially after their very good debut album, “Human Remains”, which came out much later than expected. HELL has been around since 1982. Despite various demos and a record deal that should lead to the release of the debut album, but doesn’t because the label gets bankrupt after the signing, and vocalist/guitarist Dave Halliday’s death, HELL does not live on. Some years ago the band gets revived as old songs are re-recorded. Famed producer Andy Sneap instantly grabs the bull by the horns and puts HELL back on the Metal map. “Human Remains” sees the light of day in 2011. This was one of my favourite albums of last year. Many more people are now in the venue, also eager to see HELL at work. The guys are dressed up, have white make-up/facepaint on for the more theatrical aspect of their show. Music and atmosphere are well executed and if you didn’t know any better, as someone told me, you might have thought Dio had risen from the dead. I’m referring to the bass player of HELL, Tony Speakman, but with the looks of an older Dio somehow. Maybe I’m exaggerating, but there is/was a similarity. Frontman David Bower demanded most attention, not only through his singing, which was very good, but his stage presence: once with a thorned crown, then as a raven (or was it a crow?) munk, and when it got too hot on stage, he let his body breathe. And it was hot, as the facepaint was fading on his face. But it was also hot for the crowd. Free sauna, you might say, and it wouldn’t improve as the afternoon advanced. I also like how the drummer remained expressionless, almost as if indeed coming back from the Underworld. The playing overall was very solid, well coordinated. HELL: Definitely a highlight, if not thé highlight of the festival.

SETLIST:
Overture (Themes From “Deathsquad”)
Let Battle Commence
On Earth As It Is In Hell
Blasphemy And The Master
The Quest
The Oppressors
The Devil’s Deadly Weapon
Macbeth
Save Us From Those Who Would Save Us

Pictures can be seen at this location.

 

Third was the American Power Metal band CRIMSON GLORY, another band that has been around since more than 25 years. When I still a small boy, I heard some CRIMSON GLORY stuff on cassette, but didn’t realize who they were, nor did I keep track of this band. I forgot about them. Even when a few years back I read news about CRIMSON GLORY I still didn’t make the link with those songs on cassette, even though over the years I have seen their albums in the shops, obviously. A lot of people were raving about CRIMSON GLORY being booked for the fest and I was set at being surprised, like PRETTY MAIDS managed to a few years ago. The band has so far put out 4 albums or so, also have a new vocalist: Todd La Torre. Midnight was CRIMSON GLORY’s famed vocalist, but got replaced by Wade Black in the 90s, but is said to not be the best replacement. Differences are wiped away many years later and so Midnight returns, but when his death occurs in 2009, the fate of CRIMSON GLORY is unknown. In comes Todd La Torre, who manages to convince the band of his vocal skills and so the band is up and running again. It’s always nice to see veteran Metal bands at work and so, as said before, I would let CRIMSON GLORY do its duty. The band members are all very skilled at what the play and Todd has a very good voice. Only, the songs themselves didn’t really catch me, so to speak, even though they were good. In addition, Todd’s high-pitched screams were vented a bit too often for my taste. Third, the drums sounded too shrill, by lack of a better word. All in all, CRIMSON GLORY were good, but never super. Partly due to the sound. However, many fans were of course happy to have seen the band finally on Belgian grounds. One final remark, but that counts for most bands: shitty lighting, a lot of red too.

SETLIST:
Valhalla
Dragon Lady
Where Dragons Rule
Masque Of The Red Death
Azrael
Queen Of The Masquerade
Painted Skies
Red Sharks
Lost Reflection
Eternal World

Pictures can be seen at this location.

 

The Irish Black/Folk Metal band PRIMORDIAL was also new to me, in that I hadn’t seen them perform yet. I’ve heard the occasional track, mainly thanks to Marcus, with whom I collaborate on the Metal Cast. As an in-between I could appreciate this band’s music, but not everything. You could contrast them with, say, KORPIKLAANI: the Finns are all about “happy little, happy little, happy little boozer, …” (you know, happy Folk tunes) while the Irish have a much darker and depressing sound. No accordion here, no violin either. The main focus lies on guitars and aggressive vocals with the occasional clean intervention. Mind you, the lads know their craft and Nemtheanga is a good performer as well. After the rather happy tunes of CRIMSON GLORY, PRIMORDIAL offered a very dark and raw contrast. The crappy red lights contributed to that… again. Once the photographers were gone, it seems the lightsman found the button for the other colours. What a surprise! Anyway, PRIMORDIAL put on a good show, make no mistake. The venue was a bit less filled – one can’t like every band – but still crowded enough. And the heat (in- and outside) continued to hold or even increase its force. In short: PRIMORDIAL was nice to see, but an hour is too long for my taste.

SETLIST:
No Grave Deep Enough
God To The Godless
Lain With The Wolf
As Rome Burns
Bloodied Yet Unbowed
The Coffin Ships
Empire Falls

Pictures can be seen at this location.

 

TESTAMENT previously played at the festival in 2009. See my report at this location. They came to further promote their then newest release “The Formation Of Damnation”, which was all in all a good album, but many also found it not really TESTAMENT-worthy, or better, they could produce better songs than that. In any case, the TESTAMENT train was back on track and the following album could only be better. This follow-up, “Dark Roots Of Earth”, was recently released (July 2012) and 4 songs made it onto the setlist for Alcatraz. 2012 is also the year of the 25th anniversary of their debut album “The Legacy” (1987). In 2009 Paul Bostaph sat behind the drums, but this time the band found Gene Hoglan (then in FEAR FACTORY, which he has left) available not only for the recordings of “Dark Roots Of Earth”, but also for the live performances, although TESTAMENT is looking for a new drummer. The band’s performance in 2009 was very much to my liking (despite the delay and what not) and seeing that Gene Hoglan would also be on stage made it more something to look forward to. And the guy can drum, seriously. Firm, with ease and power! It was great! However, despite legal obligations in terms of volume limits, I did find the sound very loud, even with custom-made ear plugs. The drums were very high in the mix, which is in se fine by me as I like that instrument a lot, but in the context of a gig, it’s just not right. It pushed the guitars to the back and even Chuck’s voice didn’t come out as it should have been. In addition, the lights were again very well done… NOT! Add a series of stroboscopes that were overused, and a bit of smoke and you can imagine what a great gig it was. But despite these issues, TESTAMENT delivered.

SETLIST:
Rise Up
The New Order
The Preacher
Native Blood
True American Hate
More Than Meets The Eye
Dark Roots Of Earth
Into The Pit
Practice What You Preach
Over The Wall
D.N.R. (Do Not Resuscitate)
3 Days In Darkness
The Formation Of Damnation

Pictures can be seen at this location.

 

The last and first time I have seen ICED EARTH at work was in February 2009, when they were touring with SAXON and came over to play in the Ancienne Belgique in Brussels, Belgium. You can read my report at this location. I was very excited, as you can imagine, also because Matt Barlow had returned, if only for a limited period of time. A new vocalist was needed after the leaving of Tim Owens. Still, as you can read, Matt delivered, the band sounded very good, the setlist was good. With Matt then gone, who would take his place? It seems Jon Schaffer (guitarist) knew instantly where to look: INTO ETERNITY’s frontman Stu Block. And truth be told, the man can sing, be that clean or rough. Another line-up change more recently: bassist Freddie Vidales decided to quit and so Luke Appleton from the UK Heavy Metal band FURY UK was asked to be the new bass player. It didn’t take long to accept. In FURY UK he used to throw himself at it, in ICED EARTH he takes on a more reserved stance, I had the impression. But he did a very good job, played very well. The setlist, obviously, consisted of new and old material, but wasn’t super in terms of choice of songs. Maybe the band intended to make a balance between highs and lows, as in power versus calmer stuff and to show Stu can handle it all. Stu is a very good vocalist for ICED EARTH, although I have to admit that his high-pitched screams sometimes annoyed me. The venue was filled, that was crystal clear. The sound, however, was also loud. Already during the soundcheck I had that impression. Makes you think: why? I mean, we’re not deaf… yet. The heat, well, it remained present, very much even.

SETLIST:
Dystopia
Burning Times
Slave To The Dark
I Died For You
V
Pure Evil
Wolf
Anthem
Declaration Day
Boiling Point
Watching Over Me
Damien
Iced Earth

Pictures can be seen at this location.

 

Last there were the Norwegian Black Metallers from IMMORTAL. I have to say, I’ve never been into IMMORTAL, but I decided to give ’em a chance, also because the band apparently puts on quite a show, as it was written in the festival booklet. The first song we (the photographers) were not permitted into the pit, as the band used pyros. And indeed, you could get seriously burned at that point. Also, a lot of smoke was used to create that nordic effect, the underworldy atmosphere for a more theatrical impression. And also during the second, third and other songs smoke prevented us from properly seeing the band at work. Especially the drummer, Horgh, which would make you think that he didn’t see anymore what he was hitting, but no problems, as far as I saw and heard. Abbath’s guitar was loud, very loud, which helped to create that massive effect/impact. With the red and blue lights, that impression was left, indeed. You could say: the kids loved it, a lot of moms took their kids on the joovy zoom 360 ultralight jogging stroller just that they could attend! A lot of people still remained for the Norwegians, but a lot had already left as well. Even if IMMORTAL is not your typical Black Metal band, it remains an acquired taste somehow. So, personally speaking, it was nice to have seen another veteran band, but after 30 minutes it was indeed time to head home. From what I’ve heard, the band prematurely ended its set, this either because someone threw a beer at Abbath or because Abbath was succumbing to the heat on stage and in the venue. Anyway, I was already gone at the time.

SETLIST:
Withstand The Fall Of Time
Sons Of Northern Darkness
The Rise Of Darkness
Damned In Black
Triumph
Solarfall
In My Kingdom Cold
Tyrants
The Call Of The Wintermoon
One By One
Beyond The North Waves
All Shall Fall
At The Heart Of Winter
The Sun No Longer Rises

Pictures can be seen at this location.

 

The overall atmosphere was good this year, it was also (as usual) pleasant to meet old friends to have a laugh and chat about… yes, Metal, gigs and so on.

Now, to cut things short with regards to edition no. 5 of Alcatraz Metal Festival: it was another very good edition in terms of number of bands, diversity (though you can always play with that from now on) and pause after each band. Quality before quantity! This allowed for people to get a drink, get some air, relax, and so on and then get back inside for the next band. Thus, you could see EVERY band without having to rush from a to b. It was good to have bands that you don’t/can’t see on a regular basis, except perhaps on big festivals like Graspop, Wacken and so on. Standing out for me, despite some minor issues, were HELL (best band of the afternoon), TESTAMENT and ICED EARTH.

AMF should, in my humble opinion, not get bigger. Two days may be nice, but that is not needed at all. That is also AMF’s charm: one day, one stage, qualitative Metal from first band to last.

More info at http://www.alcatrazmusic.be/alcatraz-metal-festival-home/
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