Wizzfest (23/03/2013 – Lotenhulle, Belgium)

Wednesday, July 10, 2013 : 0 Comments

Like the previous four years, 2013 also had its Wizzfest and thus fifth edition. To celebrate this happening – and contrary to previous editions where it was Belgium vs the UK – Wizz and co. opted for a more international bill, featuring also bands from Ireland, Greece, Austria and Germany. Wizzfest 2013 also was fast sold out, a few months in advance. To allow even more Rock and Metalfans to attend the event, the organisation chose to put a tent outside for the merchandise and signing sessions. This caused an added sale of 100 tickets. As you can imagine, the place was packed and crowded. Compared to previous editions, there were already a bit more rockers present in the “early” hours, which says a lot about the importance and popularity of the fest AND the quality of the bill.

I was happy to finally see some Doom Metal at Wizzfest – by CORE OF NATION – but these guys couldn’t make it, so BABYLON FIRE gladly stepped in in the last minute. And they don’t play Doom Metal. At all.

 

Schedule:
Doors: 11h00
DROP DOWN SMILING (UK): 12h00 – 12h40
MOCKINGBIRD (IRL): 13h00 – 13h40
BABYLON FIRE (UK): 14h00 – 14h40
REIGN OF FURY (UK): 15h00 – 15h40
ELMSFIRE (DE): 16h00 – 16h40
GARAGEDAYS (AUS): 17h00 – 17h40
4BITTEN (GR): 18h00 – 18h40
OSTROGOTH (BE): 19h00 – 19h40
WIZZARD (BE): 20h00 – 20h40
TRIAXIS (UK): 21h00 – 21h40
SHADOWKEEP (UK): 22h00 – 22h40
ABSOLVA (UK): 23h00 – 23h40 (delay… started at 23h30!)

 

DROP DOWN SMILING had the honour to kick off the fest. This young quartet plays a very accessible kind of Rock, yet manages to keep things rolling and hold the listener’s attention. To not make the set monotonous, the lads also added slow, ballad-like material. To then of course return business as usual. Samples (piano, acouostic guitar, electronics, …) were used to spice things up a little, but also because one only has two arms, so compromises needed to be made. The clean vocals go quite well with the music, so the picture is complete. Despite the fact that the venue wasn’t filled yet at this early hour, DDS did get positive feedback from the crowd. All in all, a good and solid opener.

Setlist:
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Pictures can be seen at this location.

 

Next was the Irish Hard Rock formation MOCKINGBIRD. This trio has been around since a few years (2010). Their music is said to be influenced by bands like AC/DC, THIN LIZZY, NWOBHM and so on. Hard Rock with a Bluesy touch. That Bluesy touch came out in e.g. “Drag Me Down”. Although there are only three members, the guys know how to rock. At no point was there something amiss. Then again, it wouldn’t hurt to have a second guitarist, but in MOCKINGBIRD’s case, all is well. The music was of course very entertaining and accessible. It also had some nice grooves. Ian O’Sullivan’s clean, yet rough-edged vocals go very well with the music. Bonus points for the solo moment, which doesn’t happen that often during a gig. So if you’re into the aforementioned bands and SAXON (especially the song “Free Your Mind”), DIO and so on… do check out MOCKINGBIRD.

Setlist:
??

Pictures can be seen at this location.

 

Time to crank it up then with BABYLON FIRE. I had no idea what to expect. Like with the previous bands, I had never heard of them. Turns out their grooving Rock/Metal indeed delivered the balls to stand out from the rest. Lots of energy, power and melody made sure it was a gig to never forget. They’re also very nice lads, needless to say. Anyway, the vocals: clean, yet rough and aggressive where necessary. All quite effortlessly. The songs are accessible, but also very catchy without compromising on the ballsiness factor. These guys deliver the goods and do it properly. They have an EP and a full-length out, both very much worth the investment. Trust me. 😉 To me BABYLON FIRE was THE band of the fest.

Setlist:
Intro
The Clarion Call
Darkness
Blood In Blood Out
Cycle
Shattered Crown
Freight Train
Rise Through Babylon

Pictures can be seen at this location.

 

After the FIRE, it was time for some FURY… REIGN OF FURY, also from the UK. These guys mix Thrash with Heavy Metal and create a harmonious ensemble. Clean vocals are dominant, however, there are occasional grunts and screams, but their roles are are more filler than leading. While melody is an important ingredient in REIGN OF FURY’s compositions, the songs do rock hard and sound brutal and energetic enough to get you through the day and through the gig, so to speak.

Setlist:
??

Pictures can be seen at this location.

 

Next were the Germans from ELMSFIRE, formed in 1999. It took them a while to put out a debut album (2010), preceded by 3 demos. Apparently they lacked a vocalist for the album, so VAN CANTO vocalist Ross Thompson gladly offered his services. The line-up afterwards complete thanks to the addition of a proper vocalist (Erdmann from MORTAL ILLUSION), the band could now continue to present their material to the masses. The music is catalogued under melodic Power Metal. Guitars are central, while the keyboards are more responsible for atmosphere and additional melodies. Drums, like the guitars, are important for heaviness and pounding power. The vocals duties are divided between cleans for the lead vocalist and growls by the bassist.  If someone was having a lot of fun, it was lead guitarist Germano Sanna: he was more off stage than on stage. All in all, ELMSFIRE was nice to see and hear, but for me not among the best/better bands this year.

Setlist:
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Pictures can be seen at this location.

 

Austria is not far from Germany. GARAGEDAYS was formed in 2005 with the idea to revive/keep alive the Metal from the 1980s. After a few demos, the band put out their debut album “Dark And Cold” in 2011. The music is riff-based, very much. You could see it as a marriage of MANOWAR, METALLICA (the black album), HAMMERFALL, and so on. Add a rough-edged voice for catchy singing and the picture is complete. Speaking of which, like ELMSFIRE, GARAGEDAYS also has active members: the lead guitarist and bassist. The songs themselves were good, very accessible, but for my taste a bit too simple, by manner of speech. All in all, quite alright for a change.

Setlist:
Never Give Up
Road To Madness
Passion Of Dirt
Scars Of Life
Lord Of Darkness
Inject
Dark And Cold
Piece Of Shit

Pictures can be seen at this location.

 

Continuing the trip farther east, we arrive in Greece, from where 4BITTEN hails. They bring Hard Rock / Heavy Metal, fronted by a feisty little female vocalist. A smaller version of Shakira, you could say. Iris Boanta (THE MYSTERY, SOULDRINKER) is another such kind of singer. Anyway, 4BITTEN. Fofi Roussos’s vocals are good and really fit this kind of music. The band was formed back in 2002 and has so far two albums up its sleeves: “No More Sins” (2009) and “Delirium” (2012). Live-wise they’ve already shared the stage with UFO, URIAH HEEP, MSG, and more. The band’s set at Wizzfest was very varied and catchy. Also worth mentioning: the drummer playing his parts quite loosely, effortlessly. 4BITTEN deliver the goods, that’s for sure.

Setlist:
Burning The Candle
Live 4 Today
Jaded
Games U play
Different Fate
Far From Grace
Let It All Burn
Follow

Pictures can be seen at this location.

 

Back to Belgium then for one of the greatest bands in its history: OSTROGOTH. To be honest, I’ve heard and seen their name pass by several times, but never heard a single tune from them. So this was an excellent occasion. This is Belgium’s NWOBHM band and their album “Full Moon’s Eyes” seems to be 30 years old already. Harmonic guitarwork, fast rockers, Bluesier songs, … OSTROGOTH delivers. New vocalist Josey Hindrix has a clean, yet high-pitched voice, but that’s not a problem here. If you’re into NWOBHM, ROXXCALIBUR and so on, then OSTROGOTH should also be on your list.

Setlist:
Intro
Too Hot
E & D
Queen Of Desire
Full Moon’s Eyes
Paris By Night
Rock Fever
Samurai

Pictures can be seen at this location.

 

I’ve seen WIZZARD several times already. What more do I have to write? They’ve got an album out, “Tears From The Moon”, featuring nothing but old school Rock/Heavy Metal. Catchy as hell, gets you going every time. Like before, lots of people came to receive absolution from Pope Wizz. 😉 They played a few new songs as well, songs that were written after the release of the album. One of those was “Heaven”, a slower song, but so damn tasty! Definitely one of their best. “Insanity” also sounded very good.

Setlist:
Heaven
Insanity
The Wolf
Six Feet Under
Tears From The Moon
Reflections From Hell
Motorhead Music

Pictures can be seen at this location.

 

Time for another load of female-fronted Heavy Metal then with TRIAXIS. This UK band has one EP and two full-length releases up its sleeves, the last being “Rage And Retribution” from 2012. On offer solid and firm Heavy Metal with the obligatory harmonies. At this stage the venue was crowded and the temperature very high. Outside it was freezing cold. Talk about contrast! But with regards to TRIAXIS, their set was well brought. Being label mates with WIZZARD, I expect them to visit Belgium many more times the coming years.

Setlist:
Intro
Sand And Silver
??
Gates Of Domination
Sker Point
And Shadow Creep
Black Trinity

Pictures can be seen at this location.

 

Two more bands to go, starting with the co-headliner SHADOWKEEP, fronted (again) by the Belgian vocalist Rogue M., who sang on the band’s first two albums, “Corruption Within” (2000) and “A Chaos Theory” (2002). Rogue has the kind of voice you either love or hate. He can sing in a normal fashion, yet as the screams come out, the pitch is so high you may need some time to get used to it. After these two releases, he left the band and got replaced by Richie Wicks, who can be heard on the band’s last album, “The Hourglass Effect” (2008; see my review here). I really liked that album. The band’s debut album also has several good tracks, but – like I said – Rogue’s voice is an element you have to learn to appreciate. In any case, I’ve always wanted to see this band live, so thank you Wizz and co. for making this possible. 🙂

SHADOWKEEP played a solid set, let that be clear. Songs from all three albums were played and if I recall correctly there was even a bonus from the “Corruption Within” album. Rogue M. sure as hell was very active on stage, as if he drunk a load of Red Bulls. 😉 If he had a leash, he would’ve used it to make the crowd more active/involved. The keyboards were put to the side and towards the back, I had the impression. Then again, most of the stage space was reserved for the headliner, ABSOLVA. In short: SHADOWKEEP delivered… and I still have to get used to Rogue’s high-pitched screams.

Setlist:
Shadowkeep
Corruption Within
Beware The Signs
Riot On Earth
A Distant Paradox
Believe
Incisor
Lucifer’s Pastime
Dark Tower

Pictures can be seen at this location.

 

Last but not least, the headliner: ABSOLVA. Formed from the ashes of FURY UK, who played in Belgium several times before, the band was formed rapidly as FURY UK bassist Luke Appleton joined ICED EARTH. So FURY UK couldn’t headline. But as ABSOLVA was formed soon afterwards, the switch was not a problem at all. I’ve never seen ABSOLVA at work, yet have heard their debut album “Flames Of Justice”. All in all, it’s very good, harmonious Heavy Metal with solid musicianship. But as FURY UK became very popular (not only here in Belgium), it’s not a surprise the same would happen to ABSOLVA. It’s as they’re the new IRON MAIDEN or something.

I was going to let the band surprise me at Wizzfest. Not only were they recording the gig for a live DVD, they also used the entire stage area, just like WIZZARD did for their Helloween Ball in October 2012 (see here). However, as the crowd was anxiously awaiting the band to do their thing… the start was delayed by 30 minutes! Talk about sticking to the schedule. I don’t know if technical issues were at the basis of this, but personally I felt disappointed. Once the curtain was lifted, the magic was unleashed. To cut things short: the band delivered and had a lot of fun doing so as well. The guys are also very down to earth. The crowd was enjoying the performance. But I did leave the premises after two songs, as it was getting late and I was getting tired.

Setlist:
Intro
Flames Of Justice
Hundred Years
It Is What It Is
Breathe
Free
From Beyond The Light
Killing Season
In Some Wild Universe
Code Red
– drum solo –
Love To Hate
Empires
Outro – State Of Grace
Emerald (encore)
Heaven & Hell (encore)

Pictures can be seen at this location.

 

Conclusion: Putting a tent outside for the merch and signings was a very good idea, as it allowed for more room in the venue. However, the organisation used this opportunity to sell more tickets, which led to a more crowded venue. Considering the rising temperature and hanging smoke screens, the cold outside was welcome… and not so welcome, as going from warm to cold to warm to cold is nefast for your health. So more air circulation would be nice. The bill itself was one of the most diverse so far, not only in terms of nationalities. It was good to see another original line-up, while several other festivals keep booking the same (big) names. So, kudos to Wizz and co. for presenting new material to the masses. What will next year bring? According to recent reports, the following bands have been confirmed so far: FIREFORCE (BE), EXIT STATE (UK), AZYLYA (BE), FANTASIST (UK), BABYLON FIRE (UK), FLEXANT (BE), PATRIARCH (BE), WIZZARD (BE), SWEET TASTE (NL) and SANDSTONE (IRL). Also, afterparty with MOREHEAD. I’m sure it will be another killer edition, just like the previous ones. Who needs Graspop when there’s Wizzfest!

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