Vagos Open Air (Portugal)

Vagos Open Air

by special guest writer and photographer Keith Devereux

 

It’s the second weekend of August so it must be Vagos Open Air (VoA), when the peace of the little town of Vagos is shattered by the roar of guitars, the pounding of drums and the delighted screams of a thousand metal fans. In its several years of existence VoA has gone from a small two day festival featuring local bands to a three day international festival that plays host to metal bands from all over Europe and beyond. That Vagos can attract international bands like Within Temptation, Overkill and Black Label Society, who were also playing at Bloodstock in the UK the same weekend, speaks volumes for the hard work of the promoters, Prime Artists, in creating a great festival with a good reputation.

Although I was hoping to cover the three days of the festival this year circumstances prevented me from attending the second and third days, but the sheer passion of the bands and the fans at Vagos got the festival off to a great start. I had arrived early, and the one thing that was apparent was that the clear, still day that was in the air when I left home, about ten kilometres from Vagos, was replaced with a sunny but quite windy day, something that would come along to bite me on the ass later on.

 

Before I could collect my media pass, I waited around at the top of the Quinta do Ega, the park where the festival is held, listening to the first band of the afternoon, Scar For Life, do their sound check and watching the fans queue to collect their bracelets. One thing that always strikes me about Vagos, and the metal fans in particular, is just how nice they all are. No matter how much beer (or Hidromel, the Portuguese “drink of the gods”) is consumed over the weekend the fans are focussed purely on the music and are there just to have a great time.

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Opening a festival is a pretty thankless task for any band. Fans are still queuing for their bracelets or unpacking their tents and the opening bands are often responsible for determining the mood of the festival. So any band that opens a festival on its first day always deserves my respect and Scar For Life were no exception, in fact they were an excellent choice.

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Founded in Portugal in 2008, the current line-up of this melodic rock/metal band from Lisbon is Teen Asty on bass, Tiago Ian and Alexandre Santos on guitars and featuring Ricardo Reis on drums. Although a Portuguese band, Scar For Life is fronted by lead vocalist Rob Mancini from Ireland, giving the band a real international flavour.

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With four albums behind them Scar For Life have a sizeable back catalogue to choose from, though with limited time they concentrated mostly on material from their most recent album, Worlds Entwined. The band kicked off their set, and Vagos Open Air 2015, with the title track from their last album, the powerful guitar riffs setting the scene for the metal set that was to follow. With a brief sojourn into their back catalogue with Never Smile again, Scar For Life belted out tracks from Worlds Entwined, including Thirteen Revolution, dedicated by Rob Mancini to Angela Merkel and the agents of austerity, a big ‘fuck you’ from Portugal, Ireland and all the victims of their destructive policies.

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Scheduled to start at 5pm, the opening performance was brought forward by one hour to 4pm to accommodate the performance of the headliners, Within Temptation, who were due to open at Bloodstock the following day. This didn’t help the attendance for Scar For Life, although they handled their brief set with humour and professionalism, garnering a respectable and polite audience who enjoyed the show, despite a few sound issues which upset the rhythm of the band a couple of times.

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Set list: Worlds Entwined, Never Smile Again, Promised Land, Because I Can, Thirteen Revolution, Fire & Flame

 

One of the difficulties of running a festival in a limited space, like the Quinta do Ega with one stage, is that the impetus and enthusiasm generated by the first band is often lost as the audience drifts away to eat, drink and check the merchandise while the bands remove and set up their instruments. On the other hand it does give the technicians a chance to recheck the sound system, and the latecomers a chance to get into the festival area, so it was that by the time the second band of the day, Moonshade, came on stage there was a bigger audience and better sound.

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Moonshade are a relatively recent group compared to some who came to Vagos this year. Founded in 2010, this Portuguese melodic death metal quintet from Porto currently has one album and an EP behind them. Fronted by vocalist Ricardo Pereira, with Pedro Quelhas and Daniel Laureano on guitars, Afonso Aguiar on bass and Sandro Rodrigues on drums, Moonshade began their set with the powerful and haunting Lenore, before launching into a short retrospective of their most recent album Dream|Oblivion. Pounding around and addressing the audience from the front of the stage Ricardo Pereira, with his deep guttural voice, accompanied by Pedro and Afonso with their choral vocals and headbanging on guitar and bass gave an arresting performance that certainly motivated the crowd.

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Moonshade certainly grabbed the opportunity of their first festival performance with both hands, and by the time they announced their last song of the afternoon, Goddess Eternal, the band received a rousing cheer.

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Set list: Lenore, Dawn of A New Era, Genesis 3.5, Fall To Oblivion, Goddess Eternal

 

The next band to appear at Vagos Open Air were anticipated for a number of reasons. The Nic Roeg of progressive metal, the Swedish band Vildhjarta (“wildheart” in Swedish) formed in 2005 but didn’t release their first full album until 2011, although they released an EP, Omnislash in 2009. Since then they have released a further eight song EP, Thousands of Evils, in 2013 and are reputed to be working on a new record.

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The sound of Vildhjarta is essentially two vocalists backed by a wall of guitar and drums, reminiscent of the Swedish extreme metal band, Meshuggah, and known as djent. The two vocalists, Daniel Ädel and Vilhelm Bladin, roared out their songs, though their characters were as different as could be. Daniel would stand around staring emotionlessly at the crowd when he wasn’t singing then would become a frenzy of action when he began to sing. On the other hand, whether he was singing or not, Vilhelm would leap and headbang around the stage. All the while the guitarists Daniel Bergström, Calle Thomér and Patrick Häberli, and bassist Johan Nyberg, headbanged enthusiastically, drawing in the audience with their passion.

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Initially curious, and somewhat confused by what to expect, the crowd was soon cheering and headbanging along with every song, and their performance drew the first circle-pit of the day. Vildhjarta proved to be consummate and humorous performers, Daniel at one point asking if the audience would like a cup of tea (which tickled me as a Brit, while probably leaving much of the expresso-drinking Portuguese audience befuddled), and later asking if we would like to hear another song “before we get a beer”. Of course the affirmative cheers in reply to that question resulted in two or three songs being played before the final track, All These Feelings from their first album, Måsstaden.

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All in all Vildhjarta proved to be the most surprising act of the afternoon and it turned out to be quite a coup for Vagos Open Air to host them for one of their few live performances. Thall.

 

Set list: Benblåst, Shadow, Eternal Golden Monk, Introduction: Staos, Längstmedån, En Mörk Vit Lögn, Traces, Dagger, Mist Förståndet, All These Feelings

 

Following the novelty of Vildhjarta was the German extreme metal band Heaven Shall Burn. Formed in 1996, this veteran band is fronted by Marcus Bischoff on vocals with Maik Weichert and Alexander Dietz on guitars, Eric Bischoff on bass and Christian Bass on drums. With seven albums to choose from, Heaven Shall Burn concentrated on giving us songs from their last four albums: Antigone (2004), Deaf to Our Prayers (2006), Iconoclast [Part 1: The Final Resistance] (2008), Invictus [Iconoclast III] (2010) and Veto (2013).

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Heaven Shall Burn’s performance started late because of problems getting the band through security at one of the airports they were travelling from, but right from the start the audience was hyped up into forming a circle pit and almost immediately crowd surfers appeared in the pit in front of the stage. Marcus Bischoff was a dervish on stage, leaping around and belting out each track. Between each song he entertained the crowd in English, and when he paused for a moment between one song and asked, “do you understand me, Vagos?” he was greeted with a huge cheer. But it occurred to me later, even if part of the crowd didn’t understand him and was cheering because everyone else was cheering, this is metal. Everyone gets metal.

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In his introduction, front man Marcus pointed out that this was the first time that Heaven Shall Burn had come to Portugal since their last visit fifteen years before. When he asked if anyone was in the audience who had been there the first time a few hands went up in the crowd, and after joking that one member of the crowd looked like he was old enough to have seen them the first time around, he promised it wouldn’t be another fifteen years before the band came back, an announcement which was greeted with a huge cheer. Throughout the performance the powerful guitars and Marcus’ guttural death metal voice drew the audience into a frenzy and for the first time the crowd was heard singing along with the choruses.

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In his dark shirt, Marcus was reduced to a pool of sweat and adrenaline by the end of the set, while the guitarists headbanged through the show. “I’m an old man,” he protested during one break, but from his passion and energy you’d never know it. Half way through the performance Marcus asked if the crowd wanted to hear “a classic from the 1990s”, before delivering a knockout cover of Edge of Sanity’s Black Tears.

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Near the end of the set Marcus spotted a child on her father’s shoulders at the side of the stage: “How old are you, 10?” Six came back the answer. “Six? You must be the youngest metal fan here, do you want to come up on stage?” So for a part of The Disease the band was accompanied by a six year-old headbanging away on the stage. By the time Heaven Shall Burn finished their set, with a track from the most recent album Veto, Like Gods among Mortals, the crowd was just a sea of raised hands and the evening session of Vagos Open Air was beginning.

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Set list: Counterweight, Profane Believers, Land of The Upright Ones, Combat, Hunters Will Be Hunted, Forlorn Skies, Voice of the Voiceless, Black Tears, (Edge of Sanity cover),

Trespassing the Shores of Your World, Awoken, Endzeit, The Disease, Like Gods among Mortals

 

As the evening session began and night set in the Finnish heavy metal band, Amorphis took to the stage. The warm wind that had been blowing all day turned cold, reflecting the icy blue eagle projected behind the stage. Founded in 1990, Amorphis have a twelve album catalogue to choose from, so it was a pleasant surprise to everyone when for the first half of their set they played the whole of the album Tales from the Thousand Lakes, in celebration of its twentieth anniversary, a performance which would only ever be played two or three more times. From the opening track, Thousand Lakes, with its haunting introduction over an empty stage, to the closing track, Magic and Mayhem, Amorphis dominated the arena and mesmerised the crowd, continuing even when lead vocalist, Tomi Koivusaari, seemed to be having problems with his customised microphone early in in the set.

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Following the anniversary celebration of Tales from the Thousand Lakes, Amorphis went on to surprise everyone by completely ignoring any of their songs post-millennium and playing a number of hard-hitting tracks from their 1990s albums The Karelian Isthmus, Elegy and a bonus track from their Black Winter Day EP. There was even a cover from Tomi Koivusaari’s original band, Abhorrence, Vulgar Necrolatry. I’m not sure that everyone liked Amorphis eschewing their more recent albums in favour of 90s music but for me, and hopefully for a good proportion of the younger audience it was a welcome reminder of where such a great band came from.

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Set list: Thousand Lakes, Into Hiding, The Castaway, First Doom, Black Winter Day, Drowned Maid, In the Beginning, Forgotten Sunrise, To Father’s Cabin, Magic and Mayhem, Sign from the North Side, Vulgar Necrolatry (Abhorrence cover), Better Unborn, Against Widows, My Kantele, Folk of the North, Vaivaistalossa (Eläkeläiset cover)

After a day of heavy metal, death metal and the wall of sound that was Amorphis, it was a brave choice of the organizers of Vagos Open Air to close the first day with headliners the Dutch symphonic metal band Within Temptation. Founded in 1996, and still fronted by founding member Sharon den Adel, Within Temptation mellowed the mood of the audience with tracks like Memories or Edge of The World, while were still unafraid to rock the night air with tracks like In the Middle of the Night and Stand My Ground.

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Leaping between the podiums of guitarists Ruud Jolie and Stefan Helleblad, Sharon den Adel dodged the now freezing wind that roared across the festival ground and bounded around the stage addressing all parts of the crowd. By the time she blew a kiss to us at the end of a fabulous cover of Lana del Ray’s Summertime Blues, the whole audience was enchanted. Backed by the keyboards of Martijn Spierenburg, Mike Coolenon on drums and Jeroen van Veen on bass, Within Temptation produced a clear and capable sound. The technical standards of this headline performance were excellent.

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Unafraid to mix modern tracks from their 2014 album, Hydra, with older songs from their earlier albums, Within Temptation gave a solid and capable performance. As a child of the 80s, listening to sounds of the band wafting across the festival ground I couldn’t help but think of some of the melodic rock of that time: Bonnie Tyler, Nancy Wilson (from Heart) and even, during some of the spectacularly beautiful choral moments in songs like Memories and Edge of the World, Kate Bush.

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Within Temptation finished a strong set with Mother Earth, but were encouraged to stay on stage for an encore. Thanking the crowd and entreating us all to “live life to the max”, the band played two more songs, Covered by Roses and an old favourite, Ice Queen, which had everyone singing along. With one last “obrigada!” and a wave at the crowd the band left the stage and the crowd cheered and whistled one last time.

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Setlist: Introduction (from The Silent Force), Paradise (What About Us?), Faster, In the Middle of the Night, Edge of the World, Dangerous, Our Solemn Hour, Stand My Ground, Iron, Angels, Summertime Sadness (Lana Del Ray cover), And We Run, The Heart Of Everything, Memories, What Have You Done, Mother Earth. Encore: Covered by Roses, Ice Queen

Editors note:   Thank you very much to guest contributor Keith Devereux.  Although this article was completed some time ago in a timely fashion by Keith it was not published until later.  This is no fault of Mr. Devereux but due to minor technical problems and delays on the part of MR Management (myself). My sincere apologies to Keith and the people of VOA. 

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