REVIEW AND PHOTOS BY MARKO SYRJALA
Skogsrojet is one of these newer hard rock/metal festivals organized in the promised land of festivals, Sweden. The two-day event is held in the outlying village of Rejmyre, and the nearest town is Norrkoping, about 40 kilometers away. The festival was held for the first time in 2006, and it has been increasing steadily year by year. Last year the line-up included Alice Cooper, Doro, Testament, and L.A. Guns, and now the fans were treated with bands like Twisted Sister, Helloween, Pretty Maids, and Lita Ford. As you can see from the list of names, the event organizers rely heavily on traditional hard rock spiced with a few heavier acts. I don’t know if this concept would work anywhere else, but in Sweden, but it works. This year, the festival again gathered thousands of participants who were eager to rock hard!!!
Swedish hard rock veterans Treat the first band to catch on Friday. The band, which will retire after the current tour, was in good shape and their “larger than life” choruses still worked out great. The setlist was a well-built combination of the most recent COUP DE GRACE tracks and 80’s classics like “We Are One” and “World of Promises.” It’s a pity if the band really is quitting because they still sound great, and in fact, there aren’t too many bands playing this kind of super melodic hard rock anymore.
Shotgun is a new band featuring original Shotgun Messiah members Zinny J. Zan and Stixx, bassist Chris Laney (Laney’s Legion), and guitarist Rob Marcello who is known for his stint with Danger. This was Shotgun’s first show together, so it was interesting to see how the band works together. As expected, the band based their setlist around the first Shotgun Messiah album. Songs like “Shout it Loud,” “Bob City,” and especially “Don’t Care About Nothin” sounded great, but somehow, it did feel that there wasn’t enough good material to carry the band through the entire show. The show became a bit boring at the end. Things will hopefully change once the band finds some time to write more original material to fill “the holes” in the future. Anyway, the band sounded good, and their performance was really energetic, and they definitely had a good time on stage – and that’s the most important thing after all.
It’s been more than 5 years since I’ve seen Finnish horror rockers, Lordi, live. So now it was time to fix that issue. The band has gone through several transformations during the past years, including several line-up changes, but it seems that the band has managed to turn all setbacks into positive results. The latest album TO BEAST OR NOT TO BEAST is easily one of their strongest releases to date, and it was now great to witness the band’s positive “monster energy” on stage. The audience was thrilled when Mr.Lordi was doing his famous theatrical tricks, and the show truly was a great visual experience. The set was a cleverly built ensemble including four heavier songs from the latest release mixed with the band’s biggest hits like “Would You Love a Monsterman” and the Eurovision winning track “Hard Rock Hallelujah.” Maybe Lordi does not make headlines as much as they did in the past, but the current line-up is easily the strongest in their history, and it shall be granted that musically the band is now in the prime of their career.
The next interesting artist on Friday was one time Guns ’n Roses guitarist Gilby Clarke. The man now performs as a solo artist with his Swedish rhythm section, which featured bassist Chris LeMon and drummer Robert Young. Well, Clarke might not be as interesting as a frontman as his former band’s singer, but Clarke certainly does have a bunch of decent material in his catalog. It wasn’t surprising that “It’s So Easy” got the noisiest feedback from the audience, but the man’s own “Wasn’t Yesterday Great,” “Tijuana Jail” and “Cure Me or Kill Me” are just brilliant rock songs, and they lost not a cent for Guns n Roses classics. All in all, the band played good and tight set, and there’s nothing to complain about.
Lita Ford is one of the very few female hard rockers who have created her own successful and long-lasting career. At the age of 16, Ford began her career in the all-girl band Runaways in the late ’70s. She started a solo career in the early ’80s. She enjoyed great commercial success with her 1988 album LITA which included such hit singles as “Kiss Me Deadly” and “Close My Eyes Forever,” a duet with legendary Ozzy Osbourne. But a lot of things have changed since the 80’s heydays. Ford was out of the music business for 15 years, and her comeback album WICKED WONDERLAND (2009) was not her strongest album to date.
Lita Ford’s live show was about to begin at 10:25 PM, but the show was delayed because of some technical problems. About 45 minutes later, she was finally on stage and opened up with a new LIVING LIKE A RUNAWAY album track, “The Bitch Is Back.” The song is originally written/recorded by Sir Elton John, and it was a good fit for Lita’s set. The STILETTO track “Hungry” followed, and the crowd started to be very involved in the gig. There was a little quiet phase when the band performed a string of new tracks in a row, but always when she announced some early classic, the crowd was instantly into it. It was “Gotta Let Go,” old Runaways classic “Cherry Bomb,” and LITA album hits “Close My Eyes Forever” and “Kiss Me Deadly,” which clearly got the best reception from the audience.
Lita Ford played an almost disastrous show in Sweden Rock a few years ago, but this performance was from a different planet. Lita was full of energy. She was singing and playing great. She performed with a passion and really loved being on stage. The rest of the band was really tight as well. Former Vinnie Vincent Invasion/Nelson etc., drummer Bobby Rock was amazing behind his kit, and his powerful playing brings extra kick for the whole band. Guitarist Mitch Perry (MSG, Asia) was a great addition, too, and the man played some great guitar harmonies with Lita. Bassist Marty O’Brien (Tommy Lee) looked like quite a stranger on stage with his short hair and peaked cap, but his playing was very accurate and efficient. There were no songs on the set from her best album, DANGEROUS CURVES but other than that, the show was very entertaining, and Lita Ford proved that now she truly is back!
German power metallers Helloween were the headliners on Friday. The band still enjoys extensive popularity, and they easily attracted the largest audience of the day. Unfortunately, there were (again) some delays with the schedule, and for that reason, I managed to miss the first two songs of the Helloween show. The title track of the latest album, STRAIGHT OUT OF HELL, was the third song on the set, followed by another new track, “Waiting for the Thunder,” although Andi Deris first introduced it incorrectly (maybe because the songs are similar?) as “If I Could Fly.”
For some reason, Helloween didn’t have proper lighting during their set, and it was tough to have decent shots from the show. Except for a few moments, the whole band was basically performing the entire show in the dark. Few other bands had the same problem before, but I thought this would talk about the headliner.
However, the band did not let it interfere, and they played a decent gig. Deris was still wearing his Gene Simmons t-shirt, Weikath was his own strange character, and Grosskopf/Gerstner ran and jumped all over the stage. The setlist was pretty much the same as what they’ve been playing earlier this tour, and there were no surprises. All in all, this was good but a bit of a routine gig from the Germans.
Sister Sin is one of these new generation bands hailing from Sweden. I don’t know much of the band or almost any of their songs, but I decided to check them out. Liv Jagrell fronts the band, and she turned out to be quite a valid singer. She might sound a bit like Doro Pesch, but she still does have a strong sound of her own. “End of the Line” was a great track, and it clearly stood out from the rest of the material. The band has many potentials, so perhaps I should shape up and try to get to know them better in the future.
Faster Pussycat is one of the bands formed in Hollywood during the biggest glam metal boom in the ’80s. The band was most successful with their self-titled debut (1987) and their 1989 album WAKE ME WHEN IT’S OVER. Later on, the band went through several changes, and now vocalist Taime Downe is the only remaining member from the original line-up. It’s been seven years since Faster Pussycat released new music (THE POWER AND THE GLORY HOLE, 2006), but the band has been an active touring act, and I think that this was their third visit to Sweden within the past few years.
The band opened shows with pair of 80’s gems. “Cathouse” and “Slip of the Tongue” were then followed by THE POWER AND THE GLORY HOLE track “Number 1 With a Bullet”. The band’s current heavier sound made new and old songs work well together. Downe looks very different from his 80’s blonde look. His current look is quite hard to explain, but he said he now looks like a crippled but elegant version of Marilyn Manson. There was no single moment during the show you could see him without a cigarette in his hands, but a chain-smoker was vocally in good shape still. The setlist was a mix of old and POWER AND THE GLORY HOLE tracks, but the band also performed one brand new song titled “Pretty Ok,” which was nothing less or more but pretty ok. The highlights were definitely the classics “Bathroom Wall,” “Don’t You Change That Song,” and the ballad “House of Pain,” which was the band’s biggest hit to date. Overall, Faster Pussycat did a strong performance, and there were no dull moments during it. Along with Pretty Maids, Lita Ford, and Twisted Sister, this was one of the better shows in Skogsrojet this year.
U.S. shock rockers Lizzy Borden have been regular visitors to Sweden since 2008 when they performed here for the first time at the Sweden Rock festival. The band’s show is all about horror/shock rock with tons of theatrics, so they’re always a great band to watch live. The band is touring under the title “30 Years of American Metal,” As the name says, the band is now celebrating its 30’Th Anniversary. Lizzy opened up with a brilliant title song of “Master of Disguise,” followed by the debut album LOVE YOU TO PIECES track “Red Rum.” Vocalist Lizzy was a busy man as always. The man constantly changed his outfits and masks during the show, and at one point, a man was swinging on stage with a huge ax. The highlight of the show was when Lizzy, during the “There Will Be Blood Tonight,” “bit” beautiful dancer girl from the neck and sucked up her blood like “a real vampire” does. Next, the man leaped into the audience and painted people’s faces with “blood.” Many things were going on stage, and generally speaking, the show was great, but there were a few things that I didn’t like. First of all, although Dario Lorena is a really qualified guitar player, at times, I was missing a second guitar player. Another minus comes from the setlist choices. Seriously, does it make any sense to play worn-out cover songs like “Rebel Yell” and “Born to Be Wild” when you have only a 60-minute set?
THE 69 EYES
Finnish band The 69 Eyes has managed to create a successful career, especially in Southern and Eastern Europe, but it was pleasant to see a great demand for the band in Sweden. The men in black kicked off their set with the new X album track “Love Runs Away.” Vocalist Jyrki 69 was surprisingly active on stage, and so was the whole band, actually. It must have been more than 10 years when I last saw this band playing live, so now there was a huge difference in the band’s stage presence compared to the old days. What’s also different from the old days is that the band has enough good songs to play. Good songs are starting from “Gothic Girl” and “Brandon Lee” to the latest hit “Tonight,” and the list goes on. “Wasting the Dawn” was the only track included from the band’s “pre-gothic” era, and it was quite a refreshing anomaly among the newer songs. The 69 Eyes played a good show, and it was striking to notice how many girls dressed in black were following the band’s gig.
Danish veteran hard rockers Pretty Maids have been on a strong upward trend in recent years, and they are now little by little catching up with similar popularity as they had during the golden ’80s. The band released its latest album, MOTHERLAND, just a few months ago, and they now opened up with pair of songs from it. “Mother of All Lies” and “I See Ghosts” worked out fine, but it was the third song, “Needless in the Dark” from the classic FUTURE WORLD, which finally aroused everybody in the audience. Ronnie Atkins is a great frontman, and it seemed that his recent stint as a special guest on the ongoing Avantasia tour had brought some new manners to his stage presence. New bassist Rene Shades is another strong character on stage, and he clearly brings some fresh energy to the band. Pretty Maids set was really solid. It was pleasant to notice that although the 80’s classics got a hot welcome, it was “Drops of Heaven” off from the band’s previous album PANDEMONIUM, which got the loudest applause from the audience. Pretty Maids show was one of the better ones on the whole festival.
Twisted Sister is one of those bands who were really big in Scandinavia during the ’80s. Although the band hasn’t basically released any new material after 1987, they’re still capable of coming back annually and headline festivals here. Twisted Sister opened the show with a bang, and ageless classics followed one another. “You Can’t Stop Rock ’n Roll,” “Shoot ‘Em Down,” and “Stay Hungry” made the audience go wild, and in fact, regardless of what song they played, it was like the band was receiving unconditional love from the audience. Twisted Sister’s songs are easy to adopt because their music is not about virtuosity or of any very profound message. Their songs are simple but filled with great melodies and huge refrains, a ’la “I Wanna Rock” or “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”
The band gave up their famous makeup and outfits a few years ago, but you don’t really miss those things anymore. Dee Snider is still an incredible performer and always gives 100% on every show. A man was still hyperactive on stage, whereas the rest stayed more in the background. A.J Pero had his turn to shine during the drum solo. Guitarist J.J French repeated his famous “incendiary speech” where he states his opinions about the music business and record companies’ current state. He praised the longevity of real bands like Kiss, Alice Cooper, AC/DC, Twisted Sister (of course) compared to current American Idol, etc., generated artists who are just disposable products. Of course, he got noisy applauses because the man has a point.
I’ve seen Twisted Sister many times, and although they now just repeated the same old setlist, I never got bored, which is a testament to their ability because I was entertained. Twisted Sister figured out years ago exactly what works for them and their fans, and that’s precisely what the Skogsrojet crowd received on Saturday night. Until next time then…
BTW: Because time is limited, you sometimes have to choose which bands to check and which you need to skip for a reason or another. For this report, I picked up selected bands but tried to include as many as possible.