Vagos MetalFest 2016, Day One
Quinta do Ega, Vagos, Portugal
Review and photos by Keith Devereux
This year we approached Vagos with some trepidation. For whatever reason, the original promoter of Vagos Open Air had decided to relocate Vagos’s metal festival down south, near Lisbon. This left a lot of very unhappy metal heads up north, as well as the Vagos Municipality itself, bemoaning the loss of yet another music festival to Lisbon. Recognising the need to continue the festival (aside from the local ‘festa’ Vagos Open Air was always the most exciting thing to happen in the town all year), the local Municipality called on another promoter, Amazing Events, to organise and run a metal festival. With only a few months to run a weekend festival, the Facebook page for Vagos MetalFest and then the website started to take shape. Bands were regularly announced and word of mouth started to spread: Come to Vagos, where metal lives on.
So here we were, sitting in the afternoon sun waiting for festival to start. As usual we left plenty of time to get to the venue and get our bracelet, and there was the first change. Unlike previous years the organisation seemed less hurried and friendlier, the entrance to the Quinta – the little park where the festival was held – was fenced off but everything was easy to find. Getting to the stage itself we passed shops selling merchandise, portable food stalls and cafés – even an ATM machine. It was a breeze this year getting through security, there was much more open space with just a merchandise stall, a few beer and drinks stalls and the sound/lighting deck in the middle. There was also a nice little box for the autograph sessions, but more of that later.
The show started right on time at 17:00 with the Portuguese melodic rock band, Correia. Formed by two brothers, Apolinario (‘Poli’; Devil In Me, Sam Alone) and Miguel (Mike Ghost) Correia (Men Eater, More Than A Thousand), Correia has only been around for a year but the brothers have a history in metal stretching back ten years or more and their powerful melodic rock got the festival off to a great start. Although they began their set with the arena half full, as the crowd trickled in they delivered a powerful selection of songs from their debut album, Act One, such as ‘Deliver Us’ and ‘Down By The Lake’ and by the time they pounded out their latest single, ‘Deceivers Of The Sun, they were being well received by an appreciative crowd.
Setlist: Architect, Seekers of Light, Down By the Lake, Untitled (from “Act One”), Deceivers of the Sun.
After a melodic start to the afternoon, which was even then setting out to be an excellent weekend, the peace was shattered with the Parisian symphonic deathcore band, Betraying the Marytrs. Founded in 2008 and fronted by Englishman Aaron Matts, Betraying the Marytrs have two studio albums and an EP behind them and are Victor Guillet on keyboards and vocals, Baptiste Vigier and Lucas D’angelo on guitar, Valentin Hauser on bass and Boris Le Gal on drums.
Vagos MetalFest 2016
From the start the band were clearly delighted to be at Vagos, pounding out songs like ‘Life is Precious’, from their debut album Breathe in Life, and ‘The Great Disillusion’, the new single from their as yet untitled and unreleased new album. Driving an increasingly receptive crowd into a frenzy, Aaron dashed and leapt around the stage, literally jumping in the air on a couple of occasions, and we were shocked to find the angelic-voiced Victor suddenly start grinding out dirty deathcore vocals as he whirled around the stage with his keyboard (and not one of those portable keyboard’s, either).
For the first time in the afternoon the crowd spontaneously formed into a circle pit, and during a lull in the action Aaron paused to pay tribute to the Portuguese firefighters who had been battling wildfires in the weeks before the festival, which received a rapturous cheer from the audience. They also pointed out this was their first time in Portugal and they were loving the country, the people and the beer! With a set that included songs from their 2014 album, Phantom (‘Legends Never Die’) and their debut album, Breathe in Life (‘Because Of You’), Betraying the Marytrs raised the hot afternoon temperature even further. Near the end of the set Aaron encouraged the crowd to form a wall of death, and as they danced away Betraying the Marytrs launched into an unexpected deathcore version of ‘Let It Go’ from the Disney film, Frozen.
Next up was the American thrash metal band Vektor, fronted by founder and guitarist David DiSanto and with Erik Nelson on guitar, Frank Chin on bass and Blake Anderson on drums. With three albums behind them, most recently the 2016 release Terminal Redux, Vektor are known for fusing hi octane metal with science fiction themes and they grabbed the crowd’s attention straight away with ‘Charging the Void’ from Terminal Redux.
Soon the frenzied crowd were dancing around, forming walls of death and screaming for more with hands raised in devil’s horns. We also had the first crowd surfers, something security – provided by a company more used to transporting money or policing football (real football) matches or shopping malls – were totally unprepared for. As the first crowd surfers headed for the pit, security moved towards the barrier separating the crowd from the stage. When the first metal-head was tipped over the barrier a security guard, with fear in his eyes, grabbed him and bundled him away, almost looking like he was going to arrest the guy. Laughing, our intrepid metal-head pulled himself away and dashed back for more. After a few more exchanges, security seemed to understand that crowd surfing was completely normal at a festival like this and although they never completely seemed to grasp the fun of crowd surfing there were no more incidents.
All the while Vektor were pounding out tracks from Terminal Redux: ‘Cygnus Terminal’, ‘LCD (Liquid Crystal Disease)’, ‘Psychotropia’ and ‘Pillars of Sand’. Finally their set came to a definitely premature end, and as they announced their last song of the afternoon, ‘Hunger for Violence’ from their debut album, Black Future, the crowd were visibly disappointed, screaming for more.
Setlist: Charging the Void, Cygnus Terminal, LCD (Liquid Crystal Disease), Psychotropia, Pillars of Sand, Hunger for Violence.
Next to the stage came Portuguese metal royalty. Formed in 1989, R.A.M.P. (from the initials of the bands founders: Ricardo, António, Miguel and Paulo) released their last album, Visions, in 2009 (and a compilation, XXV, in 2013 celebrating 25 years of the band). Aside from that, R.A.M.P. have made few public appearances, although members of the band have worked with other bands and artists over the years.
So there was great anticipation as to what R.A.M.P. would provide. No one need have worried, from their entrance and a powerful rendition of ‘In Sane’, from their 2003 album Nude, to their closing number, ‘Hallelujah’, from their 1998 album Evolution, Devolution, Revolution, R.A.M.P. captured the crowd. Rui Duarte’s powerful vocals echoed around the festival while flamboyant lead guitarist Tó Pica ground out song after song. The crowd cheered every song, singing along with the choruses to ‘How’ and ‘Dawn’ (also from Evolution, Devolution, Revolution), jostling one another in circle pits and cheering along to one of the best performances of the afternoon when R.A.M.P. launched into ‘Blind Enchantment’, from Visions.
At the end of the performance, the crowd was breathless for more, though sadly the show had come to an end. As drummer José Sales threw his sticks into the crowd, guitarists Ricardo and Tó Pica leapt off the stage into the pit and ran along the barrier, shaking hands and pausing for selfies. It was clear from the crowd’s reaction that R.A.M.P. was as popular as ever with the Vagos audience and they are sorely missed on the live circuit.
Setlist: In Sane, (Unknown), How, Dawn, Follow You, (Unknown), Blind Enchantment, (Unknown), Hallelujah.
As the sun began to set behind the stage, following the old school metal of R.A.M.P. the Italian symphonic/operatic death metal band Fleshgod Apocalypse came on stage. Founded in 2007, Fleshgod Apocalypse are Tommaso Riccardi and Veronica Bordacchini on lead and operatic vocals, respectively, Cristiano Trionfera on guitar and vocals, Paolo Rossi on bass, Francesco Paoli on drums and Francesco Ferrini on keyboard and effects.
Standing alone on a darkened, empty stage, operatic vocalist Veronica Bordacchini pounded a staff into the floor as the band walked onstage to ‘Marche Royale’ from their most recent album, King, before launching into ‘In Aeternum’. Sadly the lighting and the sound were not ideal for the first few songs, and the lighting guys insisted on using strobes throughout the show, which, for me, distracted from the power of the performance. Also, the guttural lead vocals of Tommaso Riccardi were lost for the first few songs among an otherwise excellent musical performance.
Covering songs from their most recent album, King and from previous albums, Oracles (2009), Agony (2011) and Labyrinth (2013), Fleshgod Apocalypse ground out heavy performance after heavy performance, with Veronica Bordacchini supporting each song with a powerful operatic chorus. Finally, she was given the opportunity to stretch her lead vocals with ‘Epilogue’ before the show concluded with the jolly ‘The Fool’ and a venue-shattering performance of ‘The Forsaking’ from the album Agony.
Setlist: Marche Royale, In Aeternum, Gravity, Pathfinder, Cold as Perfection, The Violation, Epilogue, The Fool, The Forsaking.
From eighteenth century Italy, with Fleshgod Apocalypse, Vagos was transported to … well Mordor, probably, with the appearance of the Swedish death metal band Dark Funeral. Founded in 1998, Dark Funeral are ‘Heljarmadr’ (Andreas Vingbäck) on vocals, ‘Lord Ahriman’ (Mikael Svanberg) and ‘Chaq Mol’ (Bo Karlsson) on guitars and ‘Dominator’ (Nils Fjellström) on drums.
As ‘we are here to collect your souls’ boomed across the festival, which is probably what happened to their luggage and instruments which were lost by the airline on the way to Vagos, Dark Funeral emerged onto a darkened stage to the intro track from The Secrets of the Black Arts, ‘The Dark Age Has Arrived’, and immediately wowed the audience with ‘Unchain My Soul’ from their most recent album, Where Shadows Forever Reign. Death metal is not my preferred brand, but Dark Funeral were fabulous, their performance filled with energy as they rocked songs like ‘Open The Gates’, from their 2005 release Attera Totus Sanctus (literally Latin for ‘Destroy All the Holy’), to ‘The Secrets of the Black Arts’, the title track to their debut album of the same name.
Setlist: The Dark Age Has Arrived (intro), Unchain My Soul, The Arrival of Satan’s Empire, Open the Gates, Atrum Regina, The Secrets of the Black Arts, Temple of Ahriman, Hail Murder, Vobiscum Satanas, As I Ascend, Nail Them to the Cross, My Funeral, Where Shadows Forever Reign.
Choosing a death metal band to headline the first night of Vagos MetalFest was an unexpected but surprisingly inspired choice by the programmers, with the Quinta packed for their performance. It was disappointing, therefore, to see so many people have to leave, myself included, before the last show of the evening from the Portuguese industrial metal band, Bizarra Locomotiva, but for many starting the last performance at 00:30 was just too much. Quite frankly it would have been better to have either started the festival an hour earlier, at 16:00, or have one less band perform on the day. Having said that, the quality of music was so strong for the first day it would have been difficult to have to choose which band to not include.