SWEDEN ROCK FESTIVAL 2017

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SWEDEN ROCK 2017: FRIDAY 

PRIMAL FEAR

Primal Fear now appeared in Sweden Rock for the second time. The band’s latest release, RULEBREAKER, is their strongest album in ages so, the expectations were very high. And the band didn’t disappoint. When the band hit the stage and opened with “Final Embrace,” it was clear that the band was there to kill. Vocalist Ralf Scheepers commanded the group, and he was in superb form. His stage presence is convincing, with all the muscles and tattoos and the vocals… Rob Halford would be proud of his disciple.  Although the band’s showtime wasn’t the best possible, there was a good size of the crowd following Primal Fear’s brilliant performance, and it gave some extra energy for the whole band. The guitarist duo of Tom Neumann and Alex Beyrodt played perfectly together with a big smile on their faces.

The bassist and the band mastermind Matt Sinner stayed mostly in the background, but he grinned, looking very pleased through the show. However, the biggest change in the band is sitting behind the drum kit. Drummer Francesco Jovino is a welcome reform for the band. His drumming style is much closer to the traditional Priest / 80’s style than his predecessors, whose style was more or less generic, and perhaps Jovino is one of the reasons RULEBREAKER is such a successful album. A big surprise happened when the band’s sixth member, guitarist Magnus Karlsson, jumped on stage and joined his bandmates on “Nuclear Fire.” Karlsson has been a member of the band since 2008, but he hasn’t played any shows with the band in five years. It was awesome to see the man back in action, and I think that the feeling was mutual. Karlsson then actually played the rest of the show with the band, so the audience was able to enjoy a whole lot of this “three-guitar attack” on stage. The setlist was built very reasonably. The primary focus was on RULEBREAKER, but altogether the band played songs from seven different Primal Fear albums. The definite highlights were “Nuclear Fire,” a very Judas Priest sounding “Rulebreaker,” and “Metal Is Forever,” which was also the last song of the set. Primal Fear came, saw, and won, and they were undoubtedly one of the best bands in the festival at all levels.

KIX

US hard rockers Kix performed for the first time at Sweden Rock, and I’m not sure if the band has ever played in Europe before. However, the band was a long-awaited guest, and they have been on top of the band request lists for Swedenrock for years. The current line-up features four original members: vocalist Steve Whiteman, drummer Jimmy Chalfant, guitarists Brian Forsythe and Ronnie Younkins, and bassist Mark Schenker, who joined the band ranks in 2003.

Kix has always had a good live band reputation, but their commercial heyday was in the late ’80s when they released MIDNIGHT DYNAMITE and BLOW MY FUSE. Both albums included several successful singles like “Don’t Close Your Eyes,” “Cold Shower,” and “Blow My Fuse,” which got a lot of airplay on MTV. Later on, the problems started, and the band slowly disbanded in 1995. The reunion started in 2003 with the line-up which is existing still today. The new Kix album ROCK YOUR FACE OFF, their first album of new material in nine years, was released in 2014. The band kicked off the show with “Girl Money,” followed by “Red Lite, Green Lite, TNT,” and “No Ring Around Rosie.” Vocalist Whiteman ran around the stage and was the leader of the show. His vocals were strong, and he did an excellent performance, but I’m not sure about all the facial expressions he did. Those were mainly fun, but maybe he overdid it a little bit at times.

However, the man was fun to follow and listen through the set. More good old stuff followed. “Midnight Dynamite,” “Cold Shower,” and finally the first “new” track, “Love Me With Your Top Down,” from ROCK YOUR FACE OFF. The guitarist duo of Forsythe and Younkins was outstanding. It was funny that the guys looked and sounded so different. Forsythe looked and sounded a lot like the late Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones.

In contrast, Younkins reminded me of young Joe Perry, and I’m saying that positively because they sounded perfect together. The rhythm section of Schenker and Chalfant stayed more in the background, but both did a solid performance. Once again, the setlist was a typical best of the show, including all the big hits, no surprises, and a few newer tracks.

The Kix show was overall good, and it was great to see them finally, but it didn’t rock anyone’s face off. Distantly, this show was quite close to Helix’s performance what I saw two days earlier. The bands are about the same age, they both have great frontmen, and both bands are 90% playing material from their big 80’s albums. There are many things in common with these two bands, but I would say that Kix wins here because of stronger material and a little bit better show.

 

GOTTHARD

The Swiss giants Gotthard have been regular visitors to Sweden Rock during the past fifteen years. If I don’t remember incorrectly, this would be the fourth time I see the band in here, including two shows with the late vocalist Steve Lee. Although the horrible tragedy Lee died in a motorcycle accident in 2010, Gotthard has survived well with new singer Nic Maeder. They’re still enjoying huge success in their home country and other Central European countries.  The band released its latest opus SILVER in January so, it wasn’t surprising that the band opened their show with the new album tracks “Silver River” and “Electrified.” The sound of Gotthard is like a mix of 70’s oldies like Deep Purple and Whitesnake meets the modern hard rock. The following Purple cover, “Hush,” pictured that quite perfectly, and the crowd well received the song. Nic Maeder is the band’s lead vocalist, but although he’s a good singer, he still doesn’t have the charisma his predecessor once had. Without taking anything away from Maeder, it seems that the actual leader on stage is now the lead guitarist and mastermind, Leo Leoni.

All in all, Gotthard’s show and performance was close to perfect. It was entertaining and easy to follow from start to finish. The sound was crystal clear, and the setlist included material from all the band’s different eras. The definite highlights were the old classics “Lift U Up,” “One Life, One Soul,” and the concert’s last song, “Anytime Anywhere,” but also the material from SILVER worked out great. “Stay With Me” is fast becoming the next Gotthard classic. Welcome back any day!

THE DEAD DAISIES 

What do these names say to all the readers: John Corabi, Marco Mendoza, Doug Aldrich? Well, bands and artists like Motley Crue, Whitesnake, Black Star Riders, Ted Nugent, Billy Idol definitely make eyeballs spin around by going upsidedown. The Dead Daisies can be described as the ultimate all-star band consisting of the musicians who have gained fame and glory in those outfits. Therefore seeing all of them playing at the smaller fourth stage was bizarre. However, The Dead Daisies is a perfect and great traditional rock band in every aspect, with good songs with catchy riffs. Unfortunately, the crowd wasn’t familiar with the stuff, playing all in all five cover songs such as “Helter Skelter” by The Beatles, “Highway Star” by Deep Purple brought that needed action among the crowd. Despite those cover ones, the all-star outfit performed many songs of their own from all three albums. Especially the opening songs in the set like “Mexico” and “Long Way To Go.” As stated a bit earlier, great rock band, but why the heck are these musicians doing in this such tiny band after all ??

RATT

One of the most awaited performers at this year’s festival was the legendary US hard rockers Ratt. The band is among the most successful groups of its genre, and they’ve sold more than 20 million records worldwide. Ratt has gone through many changes during the past 25 years, including break-ups, reunions, line-up changes, and its members have had numerous battles in the court. However, the band is now back with three original members; vocalist Stephen Pearcy, guitarist Warren De Martini, and bassist Juan Croucier. The line-up is completed by guitarist Carlos Cavazo (ex-Quiet Riot) and the latest addition Jimmy DeGrasso, who replaced the original drummer Bobby Blotzer earlier this year. The band performed in Swedenrock in 2008, and to be honest, that performance wasn’t a great gig. It was easy to see that there was a lot of internal tensions and bad chemistry within the band; The line-up has now been updated; the band has new management, and reviews from the band’s present shows have been positive, so it was going to be interesting how the things are working now in Ratt camp.

The band opened up with OUT OF CELLAR classic “Wanted Man” followed by “I’m Insane” and “Dangerous but Worth to Risk.” It was great to see right from the beginning that the band is now in excellent form. Pearcy is now singing better than in a long time. He’s also more motivated, and it seems that he wants to work hard again. More classics followed: “Way Cool Jr,” “You Think You’re Tough,” “Lovin’ You Is A Dirty Job, ” and the list goes on and on. At this point, I noticed how important part of the band is Juan Croucier. I’m sure everyone has opinions about Croucier’s stage moves, but he did excellent work with backing vocals. The band never sounded the same without him, so he’s a significant piece of this puzzle.

De Martini is the only member of the band who’s been a part of all band line-ups. He’s the heart and soul of Ratt, and he shows that on stage. His playing and sound are phenomenal so, there’s no need to wonder why DeMartini is one of the most acclaimed guitarists of his genre. Cavazo might not have that big role as Martini, but he’s a brilliant player too. It can’t be easy to step in and try to fill the big shoes of the late Robbin Crosby, but Cavazo does it with style. A classy guy. Then last but not least, we have the new drummer Jimmy DeGrasso. The man is a long-term professional who previously played with Alice Cooper, Y&T, Megadeth, and Black Star Riders, among many others. DeGrasso played with power and passion, which couldn’t always be said about his predecessor. Some of the songs got some warmly welcomed extra kick from his drumming, and that was a highly positive thing only.

The setlist was a typical “Best of” set, what the bands play on festivals. All big 80’s hits were heard, including “You’re In Love,” “Lay It Down,” and, of course, “Round and Round.” There were no surprises on the setlist. Unfortunately, it included nothing from the latest INFESTATION album. It’s a pity because the album is easily their best after DANCIN’ UNDERCOVER. Also, I’m sure that Cavazo would have played at least some material that he recorded with the band. However, the band proved that there’s still plenty of life on these rats. Hopefully, the problems are now solved, and Ratt will bring us another hard rock masterpiece shortly.

METAL CHURCH

After Mike Howe’s return to Metal Church, Kurt Vanderhoof truly resurrected the classic metal band into the new era of the renaissance. The previous album XI was a splendid output, and Metal Church has been doing several festivals and tour dates. Metal Church has been to Swedenrock before with Ronny Munroe. Returning with Mike Howe was definitely obvious. The Seattle metal veterans kicked off with “Fake Healer” and continued with another old classic from the Howe era from the 80’s “In Mourning.” Whereas “ Needle And Suture” stood for the newer material from Howe’s comeback album. Overall, the setlist was a great balance of the songs from the Howe era and a few essential ones such as “Start The Fire” and “Beyond The Black.” Howe is one hell of a great frontman moving all around the stage and honestly seems to enjoy being in front of the crowd.

MINISTRY

Ministry is such an exciting act culminated by the frontman All Jorgensen’s character, leaving other guys more in the static roles. That could be precisely witnessed on the stage when Uncle Al’s Ministry started the massive industrial metal onslaught. The cacophonous noise approach was so intensive and extreme, and above all, Ministry’s music is meant to be played loud, and they did. Ministry was like a war machine with the insane brutal industrial attack where Al Jorgensen growls and demands the audience to go berserk. Especially the stuff from PSALM 69 got the overwhelming response as ”N.W.O” or “Just One Fix” blew the speakers up.  As it is known, A Jorgensen has or had a dislike of the US government. Maybe it is about time to dig that hatred again up and get into the new stuff.

VOIVOD

Voivod had such a nightmarish playing time when the German legends Scorpions were headlining on the main stage simultaneously. The Canucks managed to pull a handful of diehard Voivod fans. Despite the low attendance, the Canucks didn’t get depressed and did a brutal and bit of school gigs. As for their performance was full of passion, and both Chewy and Rocky were having fun on the stage, running and jumping all around the stage. Away’s ultimate driving drumming behind the kit is the essential factor In the Voivod music. Voivod is still vivid and uncompromising, and a bit surprising, and still kicks hard.

 

SCORPIONS

German veteran rockers Scorpions must be in the lead of one important statistic in the music business. I don’t know if there’s any other band that has announced its retirement as many times as the Scorpions but always returned after a brief break. However, here they are once again, headlining the mighty Swedenrock festival in front of over 30 000 rock fans from all over the world. The band starts with “Going Out with a Bang,” followed by the classics “Make It Real” and “Bad Boys Running Wild.” Vocalist Klaus Meine, guitarists Rudolf Schenker and Matthias Jabs, bassist Paweł Mąciwoda and drummer Mikkey Dee roar to life, shaking the festival ground. The audience catches up and parties along with Meine, who introduced a hit after another hit, but not forgetting the band’s latest album, RETURN TO FOREVER. The medley of the band’s 70’s classics was awesome. It’s a pity that the band doesn’t play more that stuff on their shows anymore. But, understandably, there’s not simply time enough to please everyone. Anyway, the medley was one of the show highlights among immortal “Big City Nights,” “Rock You Like A Hurricane,” and rarely performed LOVEDRIVE track “Can’t Get Enough.” The setlist was great, but the cover of Motorhead’s “Overkill” was useless. Of course, it is great when a band like the Scorpions wants to show their respect for Lemmy, but…. it just didn’t work. Better to leave it out from the set soon because it was really painful to listen. Other than that little detail, the show was pure dynamite, and the band was on fire. Meine sang great, and especially Schenker and Jabs rocked the stage hard with their Flying Vs. and Explorers. Both guitarists ran back and forth of the running ramp through the show with a big smile on their faces. They may not be young anymore, but they still know their game well. It’s been said many times before, but Mikkey Dee is a beast behind his kit. He made an incredible career with Motorhead (and King Diamond), but now with the Scorpions, he helps the band to get to a whole new level in a live situation. It feels crazy to think that the Scorpions have been playing for over half a century already. They still love being up on stage; they still have the hunger, so who knows how long these legends will continue. Hopefully, we’ll see at least one more album and tour before it’s time to retire for the last and final time.

 RUNNING WILD

Running Wild is one of the most respected and worshiped traditional metal outfits out of Germany, which has gained monumental status in the heart of metal fans of various genres. Rock ‘n’ Rolf’s loyal to traditional metal roots with recognizable sounds and trademarks have significantly impacted metal fans. Running Wild returned to the stage at Wacken a couple of years ago until now, and the band got activated by doing a few shows in Russia before Sweden Rock.  As for Sweden Rock, the German pirate metallers’ previous visit to Sweden Rock goes back to 1999. Therefore the crowd was keen on witnessing Running Wild even though playing after Scorpions could be quite rough. The set was a great balance of old classic ones and the newer material. The four-piece offered plenty of classic gems such as “Bad To The Bone,” “Riding The Storm,” “Running Blood,” and of course the mandatory ones “Under Jolly Joker” and “Conquistadores” to conclude the 90-minute set. As far as the newer material is concerned,  all in all, four songs off from RAPID FORAY had ended up on the setlist. Even though the band has gone through more than “a few” changes in the line-up, Rolf has managed to navigate thru these years pretty well. As to their stage presence, playing a few shows in Russia has brought the needed tightness and edge to the playing and, in general, being at the stage. Running Wild is Rolf’s world, and his performance and hearing those classic Running Wild evergreens are the essential part of the show, along with pyros and bombs. Hopefully, Running Wild would keep doing more and more shows as they stand for the loyal heavy metal and have the fanatical following all around.