Wizzfest (22/03/2014 – Lotenhulle, Belgium)

Sunday, May 4, 2014 : 0 Comments

Wizzfest 2014Anno 2014: the sixth edition of the annual Wizzfest, organised by the frontman of the same-named band: Wizz Wizzard. While the classic menu of Wizzfest is based on Classic Rock, Hard Rock, and a touch of Metal, this year it would be a bit different, more diverse, and heavier. It wouldn’t be your typical Wizzfest. Lotenhulle loves its frequent visitors, and because of the contacts Wizz has with his fellow label mates, it’s obvious some of them were again present at the fest.

Last year BABYLON FIRE was asked at the very last moment to replace CORE OF NATION, and they more than delivered the goods. They came, the saw, they conquered the place by storm, so to speak. And since they got a lot of praise for their performance, Wizz then confirmed that they would be back next year (i.e. this year). FANTASIST, who play accessible, Progressive-influenced Rock, and EXIT STATE (Pop/Hard Rock) were also present again.

Booked for 2014’s edition were, in playing order: FLEXANT (BE), PATRIARCH (BE), AZYLYA (BE), FANTASIST (UK), BABYLON FIRE (UK), FIREFORCE (UK), WIZZ Acoustic (BE) (no WIZZ WIZZARD, as drummer Steve has recently undergone an operation), EXIT STATE (UK), SANDSTONE (N-IRL), MÖREHEAD (BE). However, the Dutch band SMOOTH TASTE also was to perform at the fest, but I heard that only two weeks earlier the band called it quits. I had never heard of these guys, but since Wizzfest always offers a unique chance to discover new stuff, I was, as usual going for the surprise.

 

Schedule:
Doors: 13h00
FLEXANT (BE): 14h00 – 14h40
PATRIARCH (BE): 15h00 – 15h40
AZYLYA (BE): 16h00 – 16h40
FANTASIST (UK): 17h00 – 17h40
BABYLON FIRE (UK): 18h00 – 18h40
FIREFORCE (BE): 19h00 – 19h40
WIZZ Acoustic (BE): 20h00 – 20h40
EXIT STATE (UK): 21h00 – 21h20
SANDSTONE (N-IRL): 21h40 – 22h40
MÖREHEAD (BE): 23h15 – …

 

Upon arrival, there were already a few tens of people on the battlefield. FLEXANT had the honour to open the fest with their melodic Thrash/Death Metal. The band was formed in 2008, but it took them several line-up changes and lots of hard work to finally have enough material for a first full-length. “Dark Sides Of Humanity” is a self-release and came out in 2012. I was only aware of FLEXANT by seeing the name on Facebook a few times. Most sngs are midtempo, but while heaviness dominates, the melodic touches are a welcome element to weaken the wall a bit. Growling is of course of importance, but much variety is out of the question, so after a few songs, it can become tedious to hear the same timbre, the same growls again and again. Drumwise things are quite alright, with the occasional blastbeat. However, and it’s perhaps a detail, the cymbals were a bit too tight, I tought, not allowing for a nice sound to come from them. Or is it a shared responsability? Drummer and soundman? Coming back to the melodic aspect: not just in terms of leads, but also (atmospheric) solos, which, in my opinion, are that special touch FLEXANT needs to (try to) stand out. In short: ok as opener, the solos are vital in keeping things interesting, not just to keep the wall of heaviness at bay. One small remark: the sound could have been better. Especially when you compare it to the other bands’ sounds.

Setlist:
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Pictures can be seen at this location.

 

Next were PATRIARCH, a band I had never heard of. Friends of me told me this is a veteran Belgian Metal band. Metal-Archives.com confirms this. They started back in 1983 as PARIAH, then switched to PATRIARCH in 1988, which resulted in a few releases (two demos and two albums). But it seems things came to a stand-still or slowdown as the 21st century was entered. A few years ago then, a new vocalist (Kevin Vangelooven from the defunct band NATIVE INSTINCT) and guitarist (Stijn Claessen) were added. Together they recorded a new demo, “The Red Cord” (2013). This one follows the 2006 demo “Black Harvest” and 2008 full length “Mankind = The Virus”, all self-released. One could acquire those 3 releases for the very democratic price of 15 EUR. PATRIARCH plays Power Metal with a Progressive touch. And the contrast with FLEXANT, not just in style, obviously, but also in sound, couldn’t be bigger. The band is still seeking a new drummer, but in the meantime, surviving member and guitarist Fred Mylemans’s son, Ruben, fulfilled that role with skill and verve. In addition, PATRIARCH played a NEVERMORE song, “Narcosynthesis”. And they nailed it. In short: PATRIARCH was a definite highlight!

Setlist:
??

Pictures can be seen at this location.

 

AZYLYA were then set to convert new souls, although vocalist Jamie-Lee wasn’t 100%, yet the band decided to play anyway. Formed back in 2009, the band put out the “Thanatos’ Insanity” in 2011. Many gigs were played in promotion of this release. A few line-changes later, the band was ready to put out a full-length, thanks to the Italian label WormHoleDeath Records. The band also went to Italy to create that release, “Sweet Cerebral Destruction”. Not long afterwards the line-up changed again in the keyboards and drum departments. With a full-length up their sleeves, AZYLYA could now add many more gigs to their palmares, and even went abroad to a.o. the UK. Having played earlier in De Verlichte Geest (Metal pub), it wouldn’t be long or AZYLYA would play at Wizzfest, thanks to being in touch with Wizz Wizzard himself. The performance at Wizzfest was quite alright, the band made a good effort, and Jamie-Lee’s singing was fine, despite the health issues. However, the band was plagued a bit by technical problems, like an intro that wouldn’t play, or played, but got somehow interrupted. But overall, this little flaw didn’t have much of an impact on the gig. Stylewise the band did stand out with their Gothic/theatrical Metal, compared to the others and what is usually on offer at Wizzfest. But that’s what made the bill interesting, the variety.

Setlist:
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Pictures can be seen at this location.

 

And speaking of variety and contrast: FANTASIST. These guys play cheerful, funky, groovy, Progressive-influenced Rock. Two years ago they managed to convince me not only of their instrumental skills, but of their musical skills as well. So I bought their album, “Giggle Juice” (2011), as their performance was quite refreshing to witness. And so it was this year as well. The band put out a new album in 2013, a self-titled one. And both guitarist and bassist made sure to move frequently to keep the blood flowing and entertain the crowd. For a photographer it  was hell, hahaha. Either way, FANTASIST put on a cheerful, colourful and entertaining show. The crowd clearly loved them, judging by the amount of cheers. The band’s music also can be a quite a mood booster, in a positive way. They don’t play the kind of music I usually listen to, which is far heavier, but I can certainly appreciate such Funky Rock now and then.

Setlist:
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Pictures can be seen at this location.

 

BABYLON FIRE took to the stage then, as said above. I could copy-paste what I wrote last year, because this year it wasn’t any different. The band gave their all, put on an energetic show, and vocalist Mark again demonstrated the power of his throat and lungs, a very important element in what makes BABYLON FIRE… BABYLON FIRE. Bassist Ryk also had a lot of energy to get out. Only guitarist Rishi seemed to be the most peaceful member on stage, despite a few headbangings. Upon the higher stae, drummer MArk pounded his way around the kit. The crowd loved it, I liked it as well, but honesty obliges me to say that I missed something. Last year the band truly surprised me in the  “Woha!” sense. This year they also put on a good show, their tunes were very well received, but it’s like that extra spice/element/magic touch decided to stay at home.

Setlist:
??

Pictures can be seen at this location.

 

Time for another Belgian band then: FIREFORCE, the Power Metal flag bearers in Belgium. The band was formed several years ago, in 2008, when DOUBLE DIAMOND was put to rest. That same year FIREFORCE performed at the first edition of the Metal Against Child Cancer festival in Deerlijk, Belgium. Back then they indeed put on a fiery and forceful show, promoting the “Moonlight Lady” EP that would come out a few months later. However, after that I lost track of them, though as they put out their debut album “March On” in 2011, the band came back into the spotlights. Several gigs and a few years later, our paths crossed again… at Wizzfest. FIREFORCE was also plagued by line-up changes, he last one being a new lead guitarist by the name of Yves Vermeersch (EPSYLON). FIREFORCE play tight and powerful Heavy/Power Metal, driven onwards by pounding drums and razorsharp riffing, spiced with flashy solos and the occasional leadwork. A proven recipe, but one that works very well. Add Filip’s raspy vocals (and high-pitched screams, a little à la Rob Halford) and you’re in for quite an experience that will surely get you headbanging. While I couldn’t obtain a setlist, they did play, for example, “The Only Way” and “Coastal Battery” (making the crowd scand “Fire! Fire!” – a phrase guitarist Erwin used during the soundcheck… which makes him “zo muug”, hahaha). Old school Power Metal, tried and tested, with FIREFORCE keeping the flame burning. Quality assured! The band has a new album ready to be unleashed, but even they couldn’t tell when that would be.

Setlist:
??

Pictures can be seen at this location.

 

As we neared 20h00, WIZZ Acoustic was due, but Wizz himself made a short appearance on stage during FIREFORCE’s set. As he told the audience that he was, indeed, f-ing ill, he also said that FIREFORCE and the other  bands could extend their set a little, if they wanted. And so they did. But the schedule was respected as much as possible.

 

EXIT STATE then. They’re also very popular with the locals, so to speak. Their accessible Pop/Hard Rock – one  song rocks more than the other, hence… – can be found on albums and EPs that are put out on a regular basis: almost every year there’s something new from EXIT STATE. Last year the band released their third album, “Let’s See It All”, following “Black Veins” (2011) and “Death Of A Rockstar” (2010). So this year, the band led by vocalist/guitarist Roy Bright, is promoting “Let’s See It All”. Now, EXIT STATE are good at what they do and they have good songs, but on a whole it’s not my cup of tea, although I can appreciate a bit of EXIT STATE to counter the Metal stuff I listen to. Next to a new album, they also have a new guitarist, whose enthousiasm was litterally gushing out of him. 😉 But that aspect aside, like the others he did well. And no every musician is as expressive as the other. I don’t mind that, the most important thing is still the music. On a sidenote: EXIT STATE were recording their gig for a live release.

Setlist:
??

Pictures can be seen at this location.

 

And then, the headliner: SANDSTONE. I last, and first, saw this Progressive/Heavy Metal band when they were on tour with Tim Ripper Owens. See my show review here. Last year, 2013, the band put out their fourth studio album, “Delta Viridian”. Not that easy to get into it, I thought, upon first listens, but soon enough it opened up and showed that SANDSTONE is a force to reckon with. Already after the very good “Cultural Dissonance” it wasn’t hard to see/hear that. For that tour they played twice in Belgium, although the closing gig, which was more casual, cannot really be counted as an official tourdate. Yet there I acquired the original release of the band’s second album, “Purging The Past”. And this completed my collection. I also had blast at those two dates.

Seeing last year that they would come to Wizzfest was of course a sort of “must fix this in my agenda” moment. Which songs did they play? Definitely “Almost Grateful” (started the set), “King Of Cipher”, “Fortress” and of course many others. But as I wrote in my review of their earlier gig on Belgian soil, since I’ve got so much material to listen to and come across new stuff on a regular basis, it’s hard to know the songs by heart, though I do recognize the melodies and stuff, but can’t name those songs. And that’s the case with several bands I have in my collection, even with bands whose music I like a lot.

Sean and co. definitely gave their all and Dee’s flexibility kept surprising me. At some point I feared in his stead for his head to fall off or him getting a concussion. Now he wasn’t really obstructing the bass player, rather Thomas Alford (new man in charge of the low end) chose to remain close(r) to the drums and let others stand in the spotlights. Regardless of this choice, he did do what he had to do and showed he’s a good addition/replacement. And SANDSTONE also are quite demanding in terms of drummers, it seems. New man behind the kit: Eamonn McNaught, a young fellow who very much nailed the songs and showed his eagerness to play. Or was that a bit of nervosity? In any case, I wouldn’t have wanted to be the drumkit, as he pounded it like his life depended on it.

Apparently no backline was arranged, as the drumkit used was not the one that, for example, AZYLYA used, but the one from EXIT STATE. Also, guitars and amps were from others bands, as SANDSTONE didn’t bring any own material. Although I do think Stevie did bring his own guitar and perhaps Thomas his own bass. Not having your own material has an influence on your gig, no matter how much effort you put into it. There were also sound problems. No matter how hard Eamonn pounded those cymbals, they weren’t coming through that much or not at all in the mix. However, the bass drum volume suddenly did get louder. One could easily feel it in his/her chest. And I was standing near the PA! And still those cymbals weren’t coming through. Compare that to the sound FIREFORCE and PATRIARCH had and you’ve got a difference of night and day. Luckily I’ve seen SANDSTONE before to know they can bring live what they record in the studio, and that they can sound good on stage. Sadly, I must admit, the sound was part of not having an experience as great as before. Unfortunately. In my humble opinion, even if I’m no sound expert. But since they’re coming back later this year – around August/September – a new chance is offered. So fingers crossed for matching agendas.

Setlist:
Almost Grateful
King Of Cipher
Fortress
America / Building Castles
Red Mist
Y
Son Of Carthage
On Fire
Fingerprints
Happy Birthday
Carefree Moment

Pictures can be seen at this location.

 

The evening was closed by MÖREHEAD, a Belgian tribute band to the original MOTÖRHEAD line-up. As the band started its set around 23h20 and fatigue was taking dominion over me, I found the time right to head home. WIZZFEST remains a cosy and interesting little festival, which should not change location or choice of bands (or rather, the styles). Quality remains assured. Again there was only quality on offer, from FLEXANT to SANDSTONE. Each band was good at what they did. But while variety was never an issue, technical issues were. Be that sound, an intro that wouldn’t carry on, there not being a backline, etc… Those problems aside, it was another day worth experiencing. Laughter, fun, great music. Key ingredients that make Wizzfest so awesome. Even if Wizz couldn’t stay to witness it all. Let’s hope he recovers soon. (update since then: he has indeed recovered, walking the healthy path now)

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