Vagos MetalFest 2016, Day Two
Quinta do Ega, Vagos, Portugal
Review and photos by Keith Devereux
Following an excellent first day, expectations were high for the second and sadly final day of the new Vagos MetalFest. On Saturday, the quality of bands had been exceptional and the whole venue, from the ‘village’ of shops and tents outside the stage area to the people waiting for the first band of the afternoon, Godvlad, were relaxed and waiting for the show to start.
As on the first day, the festival started promptly at 17:00 and there was a good sized crowd waiting to welcome the local gothic metal band from Aveiro, Godvlad. Fronted by the charismatic and beautiful Vanessa Cabral, the band also featured Sérgio Carrinho on bass and vocals, Hugo Ribeiro on drums, Pedro Miranda and Nuno Fontes on guitars and Paulo Martins on keyboards. For a band that has been around since 2006, Godvlad only have three discs behind them; the self-titled Godvlad (2011), the EP Bipolar (2014) and their 2016 album Dark Streets of Heaven, but they handled opening the second day of the festival with dash and vigour. Dancing around the stage with boundless energy, Vanessa’s angelic voice echoed around the venue, contrasted with the guttural growling of Sérgio. The guitar work of Pedro and Nuno was just excellent, backed up by powerful drumming by Hugo Riveiro. Being a local band, they seemed to have brought a vocal fan club with them, but their excellent rendition of songs from Bipolar and Dark Streets of Heaven surely made them many more.
Setlist: Keep on moving, Urban Tribes, Satisdiction, Bipolar, Praise Your Queen, Game Of Shades, Broken.
Aside from the day’s headline act, Helloween, the most anticipated band of the day for me was the next on stage, the dark/gothic metal band Heavenwood – although Godvlad had done such a good job that I still wanted to hear more from them. Also a local Portuguese band, from Vila Nova de Gaia near Porto, Heavenwood have had a difficult history, having formed in 1992, broken up in 2001 then reformed in 2003, they have released five studio albums including their most recent album, The Tarot of The Bohemians.
The appearance by Heavenwood was greeted rapturously by the crowd, and their powerful start with ‘The Arcadia Order’ from their 2011 release Abyss Masterpiece got them off to a great start. Growling out two songs from The Tarot of The Bohemians, Ernesto Guerra’s strong vocals then gave us ‘Rain of July’ from their second album Swallow (1998) much to the delight of the crowd who cheered and sang along to the chorus. Unsure how they would top that, Ernesto then introduced Sandra Oliveira, from the Portuguese band Blame Zeus, as ‘The High Priestess’ who performed an excellent version of the song of the same name from The Tarot of The Bohemians.
The disappointing thing about these festivals is that the sets are often far too short – especially for the bands on early in the day – and although the band were visibly pleased with the affection shown by the crowd, delivering an enthusiastic and energetic performance, their set had to come to an end. After delivering a robust and energetic performance of ‘Emotional Wound’ from their first album, Diva, they finished their show with ‘Suicidal Letters’ from Swallow. All too soon, this rare performance from one of Portugal’s great metal bands was over.
Setlist: The Arcadia Order, The Empress, The Juggler, Rain Of July, The High Priestess (with Sandra Oliveira), Emotional Wound, Suicidal Letters.
From gothic metal to death metal, as the Swedish band Tribulation took to the stage. Right from the start, when during the sound check large sticks of incense appeared on each side of the stage, we knew that we were in for something special. When Tribulation finally appeared, pale made-up faces and androgynous theatricality from guitarist Jonathan Hultén, they were a breath of fresh air – certainly not to detract from the previous bands, but Tribulation were setting us up for an excellent evening of metal.
Concentrating on songs from their most recent album, The Children of the Night, Tribulation – with Johannes Andersson on bass and vocals, Adam Zaars and Jonathan Hultén on guitars and Jakob Ljungberg on drums – delivered a blistering performance. Theatricality aside, the band was filled with excellent musicians which had the crowd reacting as Tribulation encouraged them to dance and cheer along with the music.
Setlist: Strange Gateways Beckon, Melancholia, Rånda, Ultra Silvam, The Motherhood of God, When the Sky is Black With Devils.
Next on stage was Discharge. A musical revelation for Vagos since these guys are more punk than metal. Discharge have been around since the heady days of punk, formed in the UK in 1977 by ‘Rainy (Royston Wainwright), ‘Bones’ (Anthony Roberts) and ‘Tezz’ (Terence Roberts), they have been through many changes and now feature, as well as the three founding members, ‘Proper’ (David Caution) on drums and ‘J.J.’ (Jeff Janiak) on vocals. Discharge were awesome. They never stood still and pounded out rapid anarchic songs one after the other, ‘Proper’s’ rapid and incessant drumming barely paused as they leapt and bounced around the stage, and the guitars literally ground out their sound across the venue. All the while J.J., hardly pausing for breath, shouted out his lyrics with undisguised glee. The Vagos crowd loved their aggressive breakneck music, jostling one another in circle pits, nearly overwhelming security with crowd surfing and cheering along to songs that anyone could barely understand. As if suddenly remembering the crowd they were here for, guitarist ‘Tezz’ dedicated a song to the late great Lemmy and when J.J. screamed at the crowd: “are we metal enough for you?” I think he should have been asking, “are you punk enough for us, Vagos?” From the reaction and mayhem in the crowd, the answer could only have been … ‘yes’.
After Discharge, everyone was quite breathless as to what could come next, though we did not have long to wait as Fintroll took to the stage. This Finnish folk metal band, made up of ‘Vreth’ (Mathias Lillmåns) on vocals, ‘Skrymer’ (Samuli Ponsimaa) and ‘Routa’ (Mikael Karlbom) on guitars, ‘Tundra’ (Sami Uusitalo) on bass, ‘Virta’ (Aleksi Virta) on keyboards and ‘Mörkö’ (Heikki Saari) on drums, brought a little faerie whimsy to Vagos, with their long pointed ears, armour and painted faces. Truly the Finn-troll of legend.
Following the raw energy of Discharge, the folk metal of Finntroll with their screaming guitars counterpointed with Vreth’s growling vocals behind his large custom microphone, almost obscuring his face, raised the spirits of an already excited crowd. In front of the stage circle pits formed, and even a huge wheel as the crowd danced and partied away. Finntroll presented nothing new, and the songs were mainly from their most recent album, Blodsvept (‘Shrouded in Blood’, 2013) but their music was mischievous, infectious and energetic and their closing performance of ‘Under bergets rot’ (‘Beneath the Mountains Root’) from their 2010 album Nifelvind (‘Underworld’s Winds’) was the culmination of an excellent performance. Probably by that time of the evening the best performance on an afternoon that was packed with excellence.
Setlist: Blodsvept, Mordminnen, Nattfödd, Solsagan, När Jättar Marschera, Svartberg, Skogsdotter, Häxbrygd, Jaktens tid, Trollhammaren, Under bergets rot.
And then it was Helloween. We knew we were in for something special during the sound check as the drum kit was raised above the level of the stage and a giant inflatable Halloween pumpkin Liberty was raised behind the platform. Sure enough, Helloween was a lesson and Vagos was well and truly schooled in the best classic metal from this German power metal band.
Accompanied by ‘Walls of Jericho’ from their debut album of the same name – itself a variation of ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’ – vocalist Andi Deris, who has been with the band since 1994, was joined on stage by Michael Weikath and Sascha Gerstner on guitars, Markus Grosskopf on bass, and Daniel Löble on drums. With sixteen albums behind them since their formation in 1984, Helloween gave us the full range of their greatest songs, whether it was ‘My God-Given Right’ (My God-Given Right, 2015) with Deris encouraging the crowd to sing along to the chorus, to the 1990s ‘Where the Rain grows’ and ‘Power’ (from Master of the Rings  and The Time of the Oath , respectively).
After several songs, each one more rapturously received than the previous, Dani Löble treated us to an excellent drum solo, and finally the show came to an end with a medley of ‘Halloween’/’Sole Survivor’/’I Can’/’Are You Metal?’/’Keeper of the Seven Keys’. But the crowd was not finished with Helloween and they returned for a short encore. First onstage was Sascha Gerstner with an excellent guitar solo and the rest of Helloween joined him for ‘Future World’ (Keeper of the Seven Keys: Part I, 1987) and ‘I Want Out’ (Keeper of the Seven Keys: Part II, 1988). As the stage faded to black the packed festival breathed a collective sigh of disappointment. Helloween, with their perfect sound and lighting were a lesson of how bands should be presented; their use of spotlights counterbalanced with an excellent light show and a perfectly blended use of recordings (‘Walls of Jericho’ and the closing ‘A Tale That Wasn’t Right’ as the band left the stage) and absolutely perfect sound.
Setlist: Walls Of Jericho, Eagle Fly Free, Dr. Stein, My God-Given Right, Steel Tormentor, Waiting for the Thunder, Straight Out of Hell, Heroes, Drum Solo, Where the Rain Grows, Lost in America, Power, Halloween / Sole Survivor / I Can / Are You Metal? / Keeper of the Seven Keys. Encore: Guitar Solo, Future World, I Want Out.
As on the previous evening, the show wasn’t over, but again, with the final performance starting at well past midnight not everyone, including your intrepid reporter, was able to stay. So I missed the final show of the evening, from the Portuguese gothic metal band, Moonspell.
So the first Vagos MetalFest was over and the question that needed to be asked was: how was it? According to the organisers and the mayor of the Municipality, who came to announce that there would be another festival next year, over 10,000 metal-heads attended over the two days, although there were certainly more people there on the second day. Overall the atmosphere of the festival was great, certainly much more relaxed than previous years, and the programming from Amazing Events was excellent, with inspired choices of Vektor and Fleshblood Apocalypse on the first day and Discharge and Helloween on the second. It is also of credit to Amazing that they were able to put together such a quality festival in three or four months. The idea of having a little ‘village’ outside the main festival area was great, as it gave much more space in the festival area itself, though a few seats and tables would certainly have been welcomed. Security, on the whole, were great, although they were certainly unprepared at the start for crowd surfers arriving in the pit and this needs to be part of their training next year. One disappointment for many fans was the lack of an autograph booth, although there was a nice little hut that seemed to have been prepared just for that and I caught many of the band members wandering around, signing autographs and taking selfies with fans after their performances. During the press conference they did admit that not everything they wanted was achieved so hopefully next year the organisers will be ready for that, too.
On the whole, the first Vagos MetalFest was a great success and it’s time to raise a glass to Amazing Events and the Vagos Municipality for making 10,000 metal-heads welcome, and to the second MetalFest in August 2017. Hope to see you there.