Graspop Metal Meeting 2011

September 28th, 2011
by Brat

GRASPOP METAL MEETING 2011

Friday 24 June – Sunday 26 June 2011

by Brat and guest writer Ray Martens

 

After one too many overcrowded festivals *cough*Wacken*cough* Ray and I keep a lookout for small or medium sized festivals to combine with sightseeing holidays, preferably in countries not yet travelled. So when the lineup for Graspop Metal Meeting 2011 was announced, we had our next destination.

Hell is empty because all

the devils are here

It had not stopped raining all day. Our previous sightseeing destination was washed out, so we drove ahead to Graspop Metal Meeting (GMM). After numerous Wacken Open Air festivals I thought there’d be enough to keep us entertained in the town until the camping grounds opened the next day, but when we arrived, Ray and I wondered if we were in the wrong place. The town streets sombrely hid any clues that a heavy metal festival would be taking place over the weekend. Even the two supermarkets were oddly deserted. The only thing that did keep this dog-obsessed metalchick entertained was the Central Asian Ovcharka monster clearing the 6- foot fence across from the GMM reception.

                          

After checking out the town, we drove around Desel and located the various GMM locations – parking area, campsites, shuttle bus stops, etc. Hoping we could grab our tickets a day early, we headed to the GMM reception building. Unfortunately, the computers weren’t ready, so we ended up spending the night in the carpark and it seemed we weren’t the only ones to do so.

Our month’s European holiday was by motorhome, so we decided to make the most of it and booked ourselves into the expensive GMM Metaltown. The next afternoon we drove to our €179 space which included 4 nights parking in a powered site, clean toilets, warm showers and breakfast for 2 people. Add to that our kitchen facilities and we were going to do our first overseas metal festival in style. Metaltown also offered festival hut accommodation – timber cabins with bunk beds and electricity which weren’t cheap either, not that it stopped them being booked out.

Driving up to the official driveway to Metaltown, we were greeted by two security guards who asked us the same questions, but individually. I didn’t see any English translation on the website stating we weren’t suppose to bring glass into Metaltown – a problem because most of the drinks were in glass and so was a lot of our food. But as we were foreigners and in the middle of our holiday, they let us through with strict instructions that no glass was to leave the vehicle until we left Metaltown.

Of course budget camping was also available at the festival. After settling into our site we decided to walk to the festival grounds 35 minutes away and were greeted with hordes of metalheads laden with their belongings in an obscene mass waiting to be processed before they could make their way to set up camp. Unfortunately for people from the Metaltown, this was our only entry into the festival grounds even though we already had our festival bands. Eventually we managed to walk through, past and over people and belongings to make our way to the festival entry.

Ray

As this was my first trip to Belgium and hearing good reports from other people who have been to Graspop I was keen to check out the grounds and setup of this festival.

After a week of rain leading up to it, I was surprised to see how dry the thick layer of grass was in the main stage area. Plenty of space to move freely around and the main points of interest were easy to get to!

Not much was happening in the festival ground that was open. We had a quick look around, grabbed our first lot of GMM tokens – the only currency accepted for food and drink, picked up the festival program and even managed to bump into the only other Australian we knew was going to be there. Ray and I weren’t interested in hanging around for the top 100 metal video countdown so we headed back to Metaltown. People were still waiting to be processed into the festival, so getting out of the area was almost as difficult as getting in.

We took out time walking back and checked out the breakfast tent and shower temperature before grabbing our shower gear. They were nice showers with benches, hooks for clothing and even a couple of large mirrors.

The first day was to be a full festival day so we kicked back with some geuze and Jack before having a reasonably early night.

DAY 1

When we crawled out of our bed, we thought that Optimus Primas was also having a heavy metal holiday – this "motorhome" was huge!

Eager to get to the festival area early, we grabbed breakfast as soon as the breakfast tent opened. The Belgians were very hospitable, providing a generous baguette with a choice of 2 fillings, a croissant or pain au chocolat, yoghurt and tea or coffee. I mentioned it would nice if they could change the menu each morning and maybe even have bacon and eggs one morning (I was craving a good hot breakfast), but both Ray and I agreed it was wishful thinking that they’d go to that much trouble.

 

The general organisation of GMM was pretty good and many considerations seemed to be taken from the perspective of the festival-goer.

While the food choices were limited, the portions were good and there were even some healthy choices, like the fresh fruit salad we bought to get a good vitamin hit for the day. The bar was limited to beers/lambics and soft drinks/energy drinks, so those of us who drank mostly spirits were left dry. Lucky I’m a fan of the local lambic, kreik.

The multiple marquees covering stages, bar and dining areas were also great against rain and heat.

GMM’s ethical stance took me by surprise as I’m not used to hearing summer-related health warnings outside Australia. There were regular messages posted on the screens around the festival area to wear a hat, sunscreen and drink lots of water.

Lockers were available for hire to store your stuff, especially great for day pass holders whose walk back to the car wasn’t very short. Even the press area had lockers for hire. The locker definitely saved by back after realising the uselessness of my SLR and 400mm lens while taking photos from the crowd. Alas, metal-rules.com wasn’t granted a pit pass again…in fact, the confirmation had no information other than we still had to pay for the tickets so I didn’t even know if I was allowed to take the professional rig into the area.

Graspop is a curious festival – a metal meeting, with many rock headliners brought to us by POP-FM.

‘Hell is empty because all the devils are here!’ officially opened Graspop Metal Meeting 2011 at 11.30 am. Without missing a beat, the FM intro started.

The main stage blocked most of the sun, but you were still aware of its crisping potential. I left Ray with FM and headed to Marquee 1.

 

FM

Ray

First band on the main stage was the British AOR legends FM and was one of the reasons I came to this festival.

They opened their set with Wildside, the first song off their 2010 "Metropolis" album and a great rocking track to get it started. Next up they played 3 songs in a row from their acclaimed 1986 "Indiscreet" album with two of my favorite, Face to Face and That Girl sounding crystal clear from where I was standing.

Then they played Don’t Stop, Bad Luck and Burning My Heart Down from the 1989 "Tough It Out" album with Steve Overland’s voice still sounding great after all these years.

They finished with the Marvin Gaye cover Heard It Through The Grapevine with a bluesy intro and had the crowd wanting more after they finished.

 

 

ARKONA

Getting in early to Marquee 1, I was greeted by a Naxzul T-shirt – one for Aussie black metal.

ARKONA’s presence at GMM was a great surprise as their last release, "Goi Rodi Goi", is 2 years old. When I checked their website for evidence of a new release I may have missed, all I found was a long list of tour dates.

The stage was opened with another announcement and the lights flared to life. Cheers heralded as the ARKONA backdrop rose. Even though I was in the front row, the position wasn’t ideal with the bottom end of the music thumping through my digestive system giving me the feel of the worst gastric reflux ever experience by a human being. The way the speakers were set up actually spoilt the front row experience because other than the ribcage shattering thumping, I couldn’t hear anything.

The band entered the stage one by one dressed in black Russian folk shirts and when singer Masha Arhipova aka Scream entered, she was dressed the same with one addition – a wolf pelt with its head, legs and tail draped across her body. I understand the difference between the culture I was raised in and that of the culture evolving in Russia, and the beauty of the costume, but I couldn’t help the feeling of sadness, disgust, shame, despair, that such a beautiful animal had died to become a fashion accessory.

 

I think the first song of the set was Ot Serdtsa k Nebu. The marquee looked comfortably full and everyone was getting into ARKONA even though no-one was game enough to attempt singing the Russian lyrics. A big cheer went up when Arhipova announced the song Goi Rodi Goi.

The pipes and accordion were provided by a backing track – shame as having those instruments on stage gives bands like TURISAS great musical colour. Arhipova sang with a mix of growls and clean folk style. Many an ‘oy!’ were sung and of course accompanied by arm in arm dancing circles in the crowd during Pamiat which was followed by Stenka na Stenku and Po Syroi Zemle.

I would say that Yarilo would’ve been my favourite of the set appealing to the Russian in me with the upbeat folk tempo and folk-style vocals. It looked to be a hit with the crowd too, based on the amount of jumping, shuffling and even skipping, and the almighty roar at the end of the song.

The final son, Kupalo i Kostroma, I think was a ‘love song’ according to Arhipova and was another up-tempo folk number.

It was great to see ARKONA added to the GMM bill even if I considered them an unusual inclusion. When I got back home and was writing up my notes, I went to the ARKONA website in search of song names and was greeted with the announcement of the scheduled release of a new album – guess that explains ARKONA’s appearance then.

 

DIO DISCIPLES

While the Tim Owens fronted DIO DISCIPLES took to the stage, I went to the press room to put my thoughts to paper, yes, I’m still using this antiquated method of writing reviews.

I’m sure you are all shouting at the screen in protest ‘How dare you not pay tribute to Ronnie James Dio?’, ‘And you call yourself a metalhead!’. In my defence, I’ve seen Owens perform live with JUDAS PRIEST and with ICED EARTH, but have never been a fan. Plus, Ray has been playing in Sydney with a Dio tribute band of his own so DIO DISCIPLES would have to pull off some mighty spectacular performances to impress me.

While putting this report together, I noticed Ray hadn’t written anything about DIO DISCIPLES and when I asked him why, he said he thought I’d do a better job putting the show into words. Only problem was I didn’t watch the first half of the set. He then replied with:

          OK. They were great. Toby Jepson ripped!

Maybe Ray was uncomfortable critiquing a band doing the same thing he was doing back in Sydney but he eventually came back with this:

Ray

With the passing of the one and only Ronnie James Dio comes a tribute show for his music DIO DISCIPLES fronted by Tim (Ripper) Owens and Toby Jepson.

Owens started the show with Stand Up and Shout then continued with Holy Diver. Owens is always the showman but was somehow lacking in the singing delivery but maybe I’m just used to Ronnie’s way of singing.

Next up Jepson came on for Egypt, Catch the Rainbow and Stargazer. I must say I can’t understand why he doesn’t do more music-wise as he’s a great singer and owns the stage!

Owens and Jepson then took turns singing: Long Live Rock n Roll and Heaven and Hell, the Owens took on Neon Knights and We Rock.

It was a great show with each song getting better as the set went on.

As I have been doing a DIO tribute show in Australia I almost wanted to get up there myself and join in!

  

It was hard to sit in the media room just behind the main stage and not sing along. But when an angelic voice belted out my favourite Dio sung song, RAINBOW’s Stargazer, I was drawn out to the stage to witness Owens’s triumph. But, it wasn’t Owens singing, it was Toby Jepson from FASTWAY. As I watched and listened open mouthed, I immediately thought, Where the hell have you been hiding all my life?

Ray reminded me that I had seen Jepson at Wacken with FASTWAY, but when they were playing the Wet stage, the Owens fronted ICED EARTH played the True metal (main) stage. FASTWAY’s music was a bit soft for my tastes, so although I was standing close to the entry of the Wet stage, most of my attention was aimed at ICED EARTH. Strange how two singers who were once competing for my attention (well, not personally) were now on stage together.

 

FOREIGNER

Ray

As the weather was changing all the time from sunny to rain to who knows what, Foreigner hit the stage. They started off with Double Vision then Head Games with Kelly Hanson strutting his way across the stage. Mick Jones then went to the keyboard to start off Cold As Ice which had the crowd singing along in full voice. Great band to watch as all the members really get into the songs and look like they really enjoy being there.

Next was Can’t Slow Down from their 2009 album followed by going back to the old hits and Dirty White Boy was introduced by Hansen asking ‘Where are the girls [in the crowd]?’.

The sky opened up and the rain came down, but that didn’t stop their performance – it only made it better with Feels Like The First Time and Urgent belted out with gusto.

The next song slowed down the tempo for the massive hit I Want To Know What Love Is which even had this metal crowd singing along!

The set finished with Hot Blooded and Jukebox Hero.

This was a great set which had about everything from Kelly Hanson running off stage to the sound desk in the middle of the crowd, sax solos, sing-alongs and a high energy feel to the show which made it my favorite of this Graspop meeting!!

 

 

While growing up FOREIGNER dominated the radio but even though I knew all their singles, I left Ray to watch them while I hit the metal markets with Euros burning in my pocket. I’d brought so much money in the hope of filling my suitcase, but it was not meant to be. While the number of stalls was enough to keep me browsing for most of the FOREIGNER set, the variety of products on sale was limited to mass produced clothing, metal T-shirts and novelty items. Maybe I’ll find some wish list items in the metal market when I hit it with Ray. 

As I lost interest in the merchandise before me, I walked around looking, but not seeing and singing along with Hanson. I even had a giggle to myself for singing granny rock.

The festival grounds filled early and the fashion was a steady shade of black. Missing was the attention-seeking costumage that I’m so used to seeing at other festivals. If anything, Spot and Joey, my trusty marsupial festival companions, were the most eccentric item I’d seen so far other than a stall vendor who attempted to wear one of everything in his stall.

 

JOURNEY

Ray

Another band I wanted to see as they have never toured Australia in all their years of being together. Fronted by singer Arnel Pineda they started off with the signature song Separate Ways then went into Ask the Lonely.

With a new album out "Eclipse" they played one of the new songs City Of Hope. Arnel was energetic and leaping about on stage giving it his all. Highlights were Dean Castronovo on drums and Neal Schon playing some tasty and melodic solos, while they played Stone In Love, Escape, Wheel In The Sky and Be Good To Yourself.

They ended with Don’t Stop Believing and Anyway You Want It to make it a solid performance.

I now can tick off a band I thought I never would see.

 

 

 

Unlike FOREIGNER, JOURNEY didn’t seem to break it in Australia. And even though I consider them a granny rock band, I can’t deny the influence they seem to have had on the metal community. The first time JOURNEY entered my consciousness was when I witnessed members of GORGOROTH accompanied by many other devout metal musicians play air guitar/drums/bass/keyboards to Separate Ways in the press area at Wacken.

Slowly other songs have grabbed my attention as Ray tells me while we’re watching a movie, ‘That’s a JOURNEY song’. The last straw was while I was watching an episode of Supernatural, a country song sung by a woman was so catchy I was still singing the chorus the next day. I had to know who it was so googled the lyrics – Wheels in the Sky by Journey. (Yes, I realise Steve Perry is not a woman, he just sounds like one sometimes.)

GLEE has a lot to answer for as well for the resurgence in popularity of JOURNEY and when the opening piano notes for Don’t Stop Believing escaped the speakers the youth component of the audience in Korn and Volbeat T-shirts (probably only there so they got a good spot for Korn) erupted louder than the old faithful fans.

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. I’m slowly getting acquainted with the JOURNEY back catalogue.

 

 

The festival area seemed quite spacious most of the day until about 5.00 pm when the workers started to arrive. By 7.00 pm the festival area was full, but comfortable enough to still move easily between stages.

 

EPICA

While Korn were finishing their last couple of songs on the main stage, Marquee 1 with the capacity for 14,000 metalheads started to fill quickly.

The crowd greeted their Dutch neighbours warmly when members walked on stage one by one and a huge display of flames and pyrotechnics (was that safe in a marquee) coupled with guttural vocals opened their set with Samadhi, Resign to Surrender and Sensorium.

Unleashed started with flames and pyros galore. I don’t know much of their material, but EPICA were great last time I saw them, especially the keyboardist’s entertaining stage antics. This time Coen Janssen had another unique gadget – a 360° swivelling stand allowing him to face any direction that took his fancy. Both Ray’s and my eyes lit up and I told Ray he needed one of those.

Growl vocals dominated Martyr of the Free Word from the album “Design Your Universe”. Guitarist Mark Jansen asked ‘Who wants a happy song? Well you can’t have one because this is The Obsessive Devotion’. The issues I had with the Arkona sound continued during EPICA with too much bottom end for a female fronted metal band even if the last release was moving more in the direction of melodic death metal.

When introducing Quietus Jansen got a little confused about whether it was from their 1st or 2nd album but the mix up was taken well with the rest of the band laughing and the other guitarist, Delahaye, even giving Jansen a hearty slap on the back.

All morning I noticed a very familiar face walking around the press area and was sure it was just another press person I’ve seen year after year at Wacken. When EPICA walked on stage there he was, Yves Huts bass in hand. Glad I didn’t just go up to him in the press area and embarrass myself.

Cry for the Moon was welcomed with an almighty roar, it was a pity the big vocal backing tracks dominated Simone Simons’s beautiful voice at times. Voice aside, it was hard to watch Simons for a long time. The showmanship was left to the other band members while she mostly stood in front of a fan giving her hair that 80s windblown effect, holding her corseted stomach…ok, I admit, when I wear a corset I can’t help but enjoy the flatness of my stomach either, but it was annoying, nonetheless. Even Ray commented that he couldn’t watch Simons for a long time.

I recognised the next song as Sancta Terra an old, but popular song that doesn’t seem to miss a single live set. Then EPICA finished with Consign to Oblivion.

 

ICED EARTH

Since the first time I heard Matt Barlow’s voice on “Something Wicked This Way Comes”, I have been waiting anxiously to see this band live. The wait was long and not without hurdles after Matt Barlow’s post 9/11 departure in pursuit of a career in law enforcement, forcing ICED EARTH to cancel an appearance at Wacken 2006. ICED EARTH then performed the next year but with Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens as frontman. And then, the magic announcement came, Matt was a back!

I tried to get as up close and personal as possible for the show in the Marquee 1 and although no longer crowned with a mane of golden hair, Matt’s presence on stage was still dynamic.

The instrumental from “Something Wicked This Way Comes”, 1776 served as the intro to this live set, but because of my proximity to the stage, the distorted sound made it barely recognisable. Even the first song was a compound of noise in which Matt’s voice was lost. It wasn’t until the end that I realised I’d missed Burning Times. During Declaration Day the kick drum pounded through my chest as I tried to grab some photos, but by then I needed to move to the back of the marquee and spent most of Vengeance Is Mine weaving through the dense crowd of close to 14,000.

 

 

 

During this obstacle course I was also confronted with a thick blanket of cigarette smoke which, after seeing 3 bands at the front of the marquee was beginning to affect my breathing. My aims were simple, to get fresh air and decent sound, and achieved this during Violate.

Matt introduced Watching Over Me with a dedication to us at Graspop and the crowd responded in thanks by singing the chorus with full gusto.

Last December from ‘Burnt Offerings” was introduced as a ‘story of tragedy’. Matt’s voice was in full form, but then you’d expect that of a great singer. I was so happy to be seeing and hearing this singer in the flesh finally. I would have cried had the sound quality not improved with me moving to the back for there would be no other opportunity for me to see Matt live again, thanks to the announcement shortly before the summer festival season, that he was once again saying goodbye to a career in music…blah blah blah…

The marquee was huge, even Matt called it the ‘big fucking tent of metal’ when he said he needed help singing the next song from “Dark Saga” – I Died for You. I just closed my eyes and let Matt’s voice envelope me like a length of thick, rich velvet.

‘The next song from “Horror Show”,’ Matt described ‘is not a love song unless you’re into chatting up prostitutes in an alley. It’s called Jack’.

The smoke in the marquee was increasing rapidly during the set thanks to the number of silly-little-girl-bum-suckers (aka people who don’t inhale) who think it looks cool to puff like a steam train. I was choking – verging on succumbing to smoke inhalation and moved to the marquee entry when Matt introduced the remainder of the set would be performed ‘in a row as they were intended. Every good story starts with a Prophecy’. At about this time, 11.00 pm, large numbers started moving out heding for the main stage, and continued steadily during Birth of the Wicked and The Coming Curse. Hearing those three songs live were an extra special treat for me and I belted along with Matt …saviour to my own, devil to some, mankind falls, something wicked comes…

At the end of the song, the stage descended into darkness without a word of goodbye and still people continued to flow out, but I stayed in hope ICED EARTH would come back for one more. And they did, to perform Iced Earth.

ICED EARTH put on a quality show, one I’ll remember for a long time. Finally, the Matt Barlow fronted ICED EARTH live performance can be ticked of my wish list with a warm and fuzzy feeling – even if they didn’t perform Melancholy.

 

SCORPIONS

What can I write about SCORPIONS that hasn’t already been written before? The first and only other time I’d seen them live was at Wacken 2006 when they played an almost gruelling 3-hour set during which every man and his dog that had ever played guitar for them had been invited to get up on stage. For a non-guitarist this was a painful experience made even more uncomfortably by the sheer number of people watching. This time I was hoping for a much fonder experience and wasn’t disappointed.

They opened the set with the title track of “Sting in The Tail” and it wasn’t hard to start enjoying myself. I chose an area away from the dense crowd at the front of the stage so I can wiggle my posterior and jiggle my girlie bits along with the music.

We were then taken back very, many years to Make it Real and Bad Boys Running Wild. While I don’t consider myself a fan of SCORPIONS, I have a few of the albums and enjoy the music they do; nevertheless, I did have to listen closely to Klaus as he introduced the song titles.

The raunchy blues-style The Zoo had many in the crowd singing along. I drifted away during the long and tedious guitar-dominant Coast to Coast and couldn’t believe even Klaus had a guitar for that one.

Loving You Sunday Morning lost me, but I was revived during the “Sting in the Tail” ballad, The Best is Yet to Come, where it was hard not to raise my arms and sway from side to side and join many others in the crowd sing along.

A couple of my favourite Scorpions songs followed, Raised On Rock, and Tease Me Please Me during which I teased Ray with a little vertical lap dance.

Another song I wasn’t familiar with, Dynamite was followed by the obligatory drum solo complete with a raising drum riser. My ears pricked up halfway through when the whistling introduction of Wind of Change sounded, but alas, it was only a tease and the drum solo continued. Blackout got me out of my coma only to put back there for a guitar solo by Matthias ‘yawn’ Jabs. Thank Ormagödden I was revived again with Big City Nights.

SCORPIONS left the stage with me on a high. I was finally able to enjoy them and be close enough to the stage to see what was going on. This was a good night.

Still Loving You started the encore and I sang along to every word, more thanks to the Sonata Arctica cover of the song, but still, at least I knew whose song it was originally – just. The dedication to a loved one was the theme of the encore with No One Like You following.

 

The icing of this cherry stung cake was off course, Rock You Like a Hurricane. No SCORPIONS set should be without it. The arms pounded, the hair flew, the hips swivelled and that was just me enjoying the song that introduced me to SCORPIONS during that MTV era in Australian in the 80s.

Best seats in the house for Scorpions

It was a long walk to the road from the festival site and with only one exit for the main road and campsite, leaving was a slow process. Exhausted from the full day we had, Ray and I waited for the shuttle back to Metaltown. The flow of foot traffic could have been better organised – one exit for day ticket holders and Metaltowners and a separate exit for Graspop campers.

Titty tents in Metaltown in the crew campsite

The excitement and longevity of the day, couple with smoke inhalation had made the journey back to Metaltown gruelling. What was planned to be our big night of merriment and drinking ended with some elephant strength antihistamines and painkillers…but, even in agony, I fell asleep with a melody on my lips and a smile around my eyes.

 

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