And so my presence at obscure little European metal festivals continues…This time it was little RockinField—the draw card, seeing Michele Luppi singing live in VISION DIVINE and with the later announcement of AVANTASIA headlining the festival, I couldn’t ask for anything more. It all started out so perfect.
Originally planned for a small down outside of Brescia called Adro—difficult to get to using public transport, but I imagined we’d be rewarded with a smallish crowd as out of the way festivals go.
Later the Avantasia/Edguy forum a query had been posted about the festival moving to Milan, to the Fila Football Stadium, Milan, no less. On one hand I drew a sigh of relief as our journey from Rome would be effortless. On the other hand I felt selfish that I’d have to share the acts with a much bigger crowd and given my altercations with Italian metal fans (see previous Wacken reports) we probably wouldn’t be playing nice.
Finding places outside the city centre was still difficult in a Italian metropolis like Milan. So after um-ing and ah-ing on a bus with a bus drive who said “No” to my “Idroscala?” question we decided to get off and catch a taxi instead. How strange that we managed to find the only taxi driver in Milan with a Helloween CD in his stacker who had no idea Helloween were playing in his home town.
We arrived in time to see Swiss folk metal band ELUVIETTE start before an early crowd. A relatively new addition to this genre which doesn’t hail from a scandi country their live set was pretty close to the quality of their debut CD Slania. The added bonus for the guys at the festival was the female hurdy player and female violinist. Even in the 30-degree-Celsius plus heat people at the front of the stage made the most of the shadow cast over them and jumped in rhythm with the tunes.
One of the newer bands to hit my eardrums this year is BIOMECHANICAL and we were lucky to witness this 4 piece phenomenon making more noise than humanly possible for so few people on stage, but rawer that what you hear on ‘Cannibalised’.
Young guitarist, Gus Drax, gave the frets a good workout and the energetic singer, John K, kept us entertained with his super fast ramble even if we did only manage to catch half of it. Not sure how much the locals would have understood so BIOMECHANICAL’s reception was mixed. They were also the only band not coming under any melodic metal subgenre.
Meanwhile EPICA approached the Metal Hammer stand to applause from the crowd assembled for the meet and greet. Maybe ‘assembled’ is too orderly an adjective for the Italians. In true Italian style there was no line, no waiting, no patience—people just pushed to the fence which separated them from the band without a care to those in front of them.
With machine gun sounds dominating what we were hearing, BIOMECHANICAL seemed to be getting a substandard mix and with comments from John K like “…fear of the guitar sound…” I’d say the monitors sounded just as bad.
Bad mix aside BIOMECHANICAL put on a great performance which unfortunately was lost on the Italian melodic metal fans.
The quick change over times for the 1-stage festival was explained as I watched drum risers wheeled on and off with assembled drums. Will have to suggest that to organisers of future festivals back home.
Brat, Spot & Joey with Biomechanical
English progressive band THRESHOLD opened their set with the first song ‘Slipstream’ of their latest CD release ‘Dead Reckoning’. The crowd was thickening and much attention was paid by all to this band with singer’s, Damian Wilson, smooth voice and backing vocals from at least 3 more members. The harmonies like the music were rich and melodic.
This is one band that can be described as a musician’s band—the calibre of their performances during the set made me understand why Ray liked them so much. ‘Pressure, Part Of The Chaos’ and ‘Light And Space’ followed.
By the time they did ‘Pilot in the Sky of Dreams’, a fairly slow number, also from their latest release, they’d lost me. Ballads should be banned from festivals.
For only having 6 songs, the Threshold set seemed quite long. As they finished with ‘Mission Profile’ I sighed with relief but Ray wanted more.
Many people sunbathed on towels as they enjoyed the metal soundtrack and I wondered how many would dive into the nearby lake. With temperatures in the mid 30s (C) I was very tempted.
In one sense, Italians are for more civilised than Germans choosing to sit in the shade cast by trees instead of pissing on it like at Wacken…if it wasn’t for north Germany’s cold climate, I’m sure Wacken would give Valencia a run for its money as the lead producer of citrus in Europe.
Look out for the big bad metalheads little girls
And now for why we chose RockinField Festival this year…
I’ve appreciated VISION DIVINE since 2001 and seeing them live at Wacken in 2002 increased my opinion of the band. It wasn’t until ‘Stream of Consciousness’ was released with Michele Luppi replacing Fabio Lione (Rhapsody [of Fire]) on vocals, that I considered myself a fan.
During my annual festival search, when I came across RockinField Festival Italy and saw that not only VISION DIVINE but also AVANTASIA were on the bill, I knew this was the festival for me.
Before the band started, the crowd was cheering the return of original singer, Fabio Lione. With Fabio Lione once again fronting VISION DIVINE, I was surprised they opened the set with ‘Secret of Life’, the first song of ‘Stream of Consciousness’. It’s a brilliant song, strong vocal lines, great arrangements and worthy of opening a show; however, a song all fans will associate with Michele as it was the teaser released to announce Michele to the metal world.
Michele’s voice seems to be clearer and richer and other than ‘La Vitta Fugge’, it’s probably the most vocally demanding song in VISION DIVINE’s catalogue. Fabio rendered an A-quality delivery of the song with his distinct accent which is as thick as any Maria’s béchamel sauce.
‘Colours of my World’ and ‘Vision Divine’ were followed by ‘A Perfect Suicide’,
When the keyboards sounded the introduction to ‘1st Day of a Never-ending Day’, I had finished putting away my gear and stopped fidgeting after leaving the pit. I was then shocked to feel my sense of excitement increase 500% finally realising I was watching VISION DIVINE live again and got to be a fan in the crowd singing along with ‘Alpha & Omega’.
As VISION DIVINE played, clouds gathered spilling a light shower that cooled the air. During ‘God Is Dead’ it got dimmer and wetter, but we still all hoped that the forecast thunderstorm would pass by. By ‘Send Me An Angel’ much of the crowd, including me, was sheltered under trees and the heavy rain prevented us bidding VISION DIVINE farewell from the stage in the manner in which they deserved.
No doubt VISION DIVINE’s writing has become stronger and arrangement improved with each CD release. It’s great to see a band able to live up to their recording quality on stage and even though I was really disappointed Michele wasn’t with the band anymore I once again was able to Fabio Lione’s energetic presence on stage.
Rain, thunder and lightning competed against EPICA. Distracted by nature’s performance and light show I barely absorbed the band I was photographing while trying to keep my equipment dry. As soon as our allocated three songs over, I ran back to the shelter of the trees while the rain bucketed down.
Until recently, the stuff I’d heard from EPICA hadn’t really impressed me, but I’ve always tried to wait until I saw a band live before completely dismissing them from my conscience.
The distraction and discomfort probably affected my perception, but I found EPICA average; not bad, but not great either. Simone Simons is a gorgeous frontperson with an angelic voice, but something was lacking. Maybe it was just a lack of contrast is the songs chosen for the set or the songs are just that little bit slower than I like for metal.
Because of all the distractions, I really only caught some of the songs of the setlist including: ‘Quietas'; ‘The Obsessive Devotion’; ‘Sancta Terra’; ‘Menace of Vanity'; ‘Fools of Damnation'; and ‘Consign to Oblivion’.
Seeing Amanda Sommerville appear to sing ‘Quietus’ as a duet with Simone was a surprise. I was expecting to see her during AVANTASIA, but I didn’t know about the history Amanda shared with EPICA. Although they appeared quite friendly on stage together the amount of competitive hair flicking and hair touching from the long-haired songstresses got on my nerves. How do I know it was act of competitiveness? When Amanda left the stage, Simone left her hair alone.
As I’d only seen HELLOWEEN in Sydney a few earlier, I didn’t spend much time near the stage and took the opportunity to sit in the refreshments tent and watch from afar while having something to eat and drink.
As always the performance was as great as always and towards the end of the set giant pumpkins inflated on the stage looking super cool in the evening lighting.
For years fans inundated Tobias Sammet with requests for an AVANTASIA tour, but he said it wouldn’t happen; it couldn’t happen; it would a nightmare to organise; and too expensive to tour. But, it seems many people believed in his talent, the quality of the material and the viability of a successful tour so AVANTASIA live transformed from a pipe dream to a reality.
Although not all guests of the three albums would perform, a star studded "cast" was announced for the tour of a lifetime. Vocalists Jorn Lande, Bob Catley, Claudia Boots-Zimmermann and Amanda Somerville (AINA) and a person I have been waiting a long time to see live, Andre Matos formed the vocal team. The band featured Felix Bohnke (EDGUY) on drums, Miro Rodenberg on keyboards, Oliver Hartmann on guitar and vocals, Robert Hunecke on bass and legendary metal producer Sascha Paeth also on guitar
As the lights darkened and the activity quieted on stage with the threat of AVANTASIA the tour coming to life, the crowd began to chant “Tobi! Tobi! Tobi!”. I could feel my heart pounding in my ears from excitement and tried to breathe it out otherwise my photos would be unusable.
The opening notes of ‘Twisted Mind’ heralded, the lights were set ablaze and upon a platform against the Scarecrow album cover backdrop, AVANTASIA composer, Tobias Sammet was spotlighted in his opening pose instigating a photographic feeding frenzy in the pit. Dressed in cowboy hat and a full skirted long coat, Tobias’s costume captured the album cover artwork perfectly.
As I scanned the stage I was delightfully surprised to see Felix banging the skins instead of Frank Lindenthal as was announced earlier this year.
The crowd chanted “Hey!” in time with the introduction of ‘The Scarecrow’ and the first of the cast singers, Jorn Lande, made his appearance for the second verse, his blonde hair contrasting his black outfit. As guitarist and singer, Oliver Hartmann, made his guitar croon through his solo a hushed crowd watched on.
When Jorn ripped into his vocals during ‘Another Angel Down’ I couldn’t help swinging along with the beat—it’s probably my favourite from ‘The Scarecrow’. Of course, this made taking photos all that bit harder. Many of the front rowers were also belting out the lyrics (with Italian accents), so not just a favourite of mine it seemed.
The first three songs over, it was time to get out of the pit and enjoy the rest of the show without the distraction of photography…or so I thought.
The stage went black again and white lights swung in time with the prelude to ‘Reach Out For The Light’. I joined Tobias in this “WAH!” high note in the typical power metal high note pose—with my arm raised and fingers outstretched and tensed. I must have been pretty loud because a few people turned their heads while Ray just looked at me with embarrassment and pity, and shook his head while I jumped for joy for this AVANTASIA classic.
And then, NO! I couldn’t believe it! Out of the pit and Andre Matos flies onto the stage to sing in unison with Tobias. How these two voices blend! They must enjoy working together making the partnership all the more profitable as not only has Andre lent his voice to many of Tobias’s songs, but Tobias has also sung a duet with Andre on the SHAMAN album ‘Ritual’. I was sorely disappointed I couldn’t get any close ups of another of my favourite singers and relied on the wizzbangness of my lens to give me some good shots.
While Tobias’s costume maintained a rock persona in hand painted, grungy black, Andre took inspiration from the period feel of the first two AVANTASIA albums and the new romantics and dressed in a burgundy velvet frock coat, ruffled shirt and puss-in-boots style leather boots—it actually reminded me of what I wore in the 80s…I still have that coat hanging somewhere…sorry, back to metal…
I was trying to enjoy the atmosphere with my metal poses and singing, but with two extremely fit singers on stage running up and down and from left to right, I didn’t want to miss the show by going off into my own world.
The rhythm and volume slowed down for the keyboards from Miro Rodenberg, hidden in darkness to the far side of the stage, and military style drumming on the snare. Andre almost goose stepped from stage left carrying an Italian flag. Italy is the country of flag throwing and I was expecting the see some fancy displays, but Tobias then shouted something, grabbed the flag and started waving it.
I cheered myself hoarse at the end of the song but had time to regain my voice while I zoned out during Tobias’s and Andre’s ballad duet ‘Inside’.
‘No Return’ was the third of the older songs Tobias and Andre sang together and I was back to my excited self, happy to be finally seeing these songs live, happy that what all fans were told would never happen, was being played out right in front of my eyes—I was still amazed, I was seeing Avantasia live!
During the sampled strings introduction to ‘The Story Ain’t Over’, legend singer Bob Catley appeared on the back platform and raised his arms to welcoming cheers. Dressed in legend attire of white shirt, tuxedo waist coat and jacket and black leather pants, Bob’s hands waved in mock conducting while he sang through his lyrics. Tobias and the rest of the band joined in during the chorus giving the song so much depth.
It was then Sasha Paeth’s turn at the limelight with a solo, but that didn’t stop Bob dancing/conducting along and at the end of the song “Tobi! Tobi! Tobi!” chants started again as Bob walked off stage.
Bob and Andre re-emerged on the platform for ‘Shelter From The Rain’.
Tobias introduced ‘Lost In Space’ with a speech about how he believed it was a good heavy rock song but it was slammed by arsehole journalists as a pop song and that heavy metal fans didn’t care what the press said. Well, the Italian fans seemed to agree with him, but I, on the other hand, was happy to live with my ‘arsehole journalist’ tag remembering how deeply disappointed I was when it was released as the first single from The Scarecrow album.
Oliver Hartmann lent his vocal skills to ‘I Don’t Believe In Your Love’.
“How many of you guys know of an album called Avantasia, The metal opera part one?” Me! me! I know it!!! I started jumping with excitement again as this had to mean it was time for ‘A-VAN-TAY-SI-AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!’ Sure enough, the organ introduction started and my fist moved in time before singing along with the rest of the crowd. Even Ray’s head was nodding in time when I looked at him with a huge grin across my face.
As with all the older songs, the crowd sang along with Tobias and Jorn during ‘Serpents In Paradise’.
Tobias then announced the last song for the night and there was a “yes”, “no”, “yes”, “no”, “yes”, “no”, shouting match between him and the crowd, occasionally joined in by Jorn before launching into ‘Promised Land’. Tobias’s sense of humour came out as leaned against Oliver during his lead break making masturbating gestures.
Tobias came back on stage wearing a military frock coat and the encore started with the very ALICE COOPER-ish ‘The Toy Master’.
Of course the last song of the night would have to be ‘Farewell’. We all waved our arms from side to side in time with the introduction. Amanda joined Tobias at the front of the stage to deliver her few lines with waving arms, then covered the whole stage during the chorus in the same manner before joining Sasha Paeth for his lead break. The extreme hair flicking that annoyed me during her appearance with EPICA continued making it distracting to watch. At the end of the song, Tobias acknowledged her to the crowd who cheered warmly.
During the extended introduction of a song that never fails to bring me to tears during the chorus ‘Sign Of The Cross’, Tobias thanked the fans. “It won’t happen again for the next 20 years so you have to go to the next EDGUY show.” He also thanked the great musicians who were willing to make the AVANTASIA tour possible. The band was introduced and as they made their ways to the centre of the platform Tobias, introduced Jorn, Bob and Andre. Bob and Andre were now dressed in red shirts—Bob’s plain and Andre’s frilly with the frock coat. Of course I joined in belting out the chorus with my arms outstretched in a Jesus Christ pose—something I have to do every time I hear the line ‘sign of the cross’.
From ‘Sign Of The Cross’ there was a seamless transition straight into the chorus of ‘Seven Angels’ and all the singers moved to the front of the stage. There were so many arms waving around the stage at one stage Amanda and Bob locked looking like they were trying to push each other out of the way. I couldn’t stop laughing as I watched closely hoping one of them to fall off the stage. Nasty, I know, but think of the headlines!
As Ray and I left Idroscala, Ray walked calmly while I bounced with AVANTASIA after glow, We bought our festival t-shirts outside the venue and I didn’t think that they were probably pirated, but as no official t-shirts were being sold inside the festival area, we weren’t going to pass up the chance.
On the crowded shuttle bus back to Milano, we reflected at how lucky we were to see AVANTASIA live so up close and personal with what I’d estimate as maybe a little over 1000 other metalheads. The bus stopped at the airport to let off people travelling back to Germany and Spain (where the Avantasia show had been cancelled) but Ray and I were still the winners of the ‘Travelled The Furthest’ club.
At the terminating bus stop, exhausted metalheads dispersed. I no longer had the energy for my excitement and walked like a zombie to the hotel with the singular thought of being horizontal.