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Graspop Metal Meeting 2017: Day One

Photo of Rammstein

Band Photo: Rammstein (?)

The Graspop Metal Meeting festival in Belgium has become one of the biggest and most popular events on the European summer circuit. Seemingly every year they put together a fantastic line up, mixing the classics, the young blood and cult favourites to really give something for all head bangers. This year was no different, with such legends as Scorpions, Deep Purple and Blue Oyster Cult all booked, as well as plenty for the kids like Chelsea Smile and Architects. It all promised to be a hell of a weekend and indeed it was.

Though the festival doesn't begin it's "official" schedule until Friday, weekend campers arrive the day before and are met with plenty on offer, including a number of live bands and the Metal Cafe. Being too tired after travelling from England to Belgium, we were only able to catch one full performance, though we also caught the last ten minutes of Belgian stoner metal act, King Hiss, who would probably please fans of Mastodon but left little impact. This was followed by the very short journey to the Jupiler Stage, which housed most of the weekend's hardcore and deathcore groups to watch Dutch hardcore veterans, Born From Pain. The quintet are regarded as one of Europe's best hardcore groups and it's easy to see why, particularly in the live setting where their brand of positive energy spreads to the audience very quickly, making for a very enjoyable live set.

On then, to the first full day of the festival, during which the first band I was able to see was Belgian thrashers Evil Invaders. Taking their name from a Razor album, it wasn't hard to work out what their music would sound like, a heavy nod to the days of vintage thrash metal. The trio have a wild stage presence, in particular their frontman Johannes Van Audenhove (or Joe Anus, as he oddly credits himself.) Truthfully, there isn't too much to say about them when one isn't too familiar with their catalogue, save that it's nice to still hear young bands performing old school thrash metal after the revival has ended. Evil Invaders might not be anything special (yet) but they give 100% and that's a great way to kick off a festival.

Up next was the first visit to the Marquee to see Polish death metal outfit, Decapitated. Through all their trials and tribulations (read more about that in the most recent edition of Sunday Old School,) the band, led by guitarist Waclaw "Vogg" Kieltyka have now been going strong for twenty one years and with a new album about to hit the shelves, show no sign of stopping. For those like me who had always been familiar with the name but not so much the music, an early slot at the festival is the perfect opportunity to check them out. It was a wise move to do so, because the four Poles delivered a blistering set from start to finish which delighted all in attendance, displaying a highly impressive musical proficiency, which was needed to perform the complex arrangements which have helped them make their name so respected. Decapitated are an exciting group to watch and one which no doubt left the stage with some new fans.

Back over to the second main stage, it was time for Canadian hardcore group Comeback Kid to grace the stage. Though they came across as likable people with a solid collection of songs, one can't help but feel that straight hardcore doesn't belong on such a big stage, as it loses its intamacy and the energy doesn't translate well to anyone who isn't near the front. Comeback Kid are clearly a good band and one which I would like to see again in a smaller setting, but performing to such a large audience meant that festival goers weren't able to get the full experience.

A return to the Marquee was next on the agenda for a set from the Middle East's most controversial band, Melechesh. Having been more or less forced to leave Jerusalem in the nineties and relocate to the Netherlands, the black metal veterans, led by charismatic frontman Ashmedi, have become highly respected for incorporating Middle Eastern music into extreme metal. While the bulk of their albums have been critically praised, it's in the live setting where Melechesh really comes to life. Kicking off with "The Pendulum Speaks" from their latest alum, the superb, "Enki," the quartet immediately had the audience eating out of the palm of their hands by treating them to an intense and aggressive performance, which focused primarily on the last three albums, "Emissaries," "The Epigenesis" and "Enki," though they did bring out, "Triangular Tattvic Fire" from "Sphynx" towards the end. While the lineup at Graspop was a fantastic one, Melechesh were able to put on one of the best performances of the whole festival, no easy feat considering how early their slot was, and leave at least one audience member with his neck in agony the next day.

Since Graspop began using two main stages, it's become more likely to miss out on seeing some bands or only catching a little of their set, which was the case with Blue Oyster Cult, whose clash with Melechesh meant I was only able to catch the last fifteen minutes of their set, only narrowly missing out on the classic, "Godzilla." I was however, just in time to see the band perform "Don't Fear the Reaper," one of the all time legendary rock songs, which of course had thousands in the crowd singing along. Playing with borrowed gear, as their own had not arrived at the airport, the band performed decently, though they gave off the impression that they felt uncomfortable playing a metal festival, something which was reciprocated somewhat by the crowd, though a mutal respect for legends and lovers of rock meant that they were treated well and after closing with, "Cities on Fire with Rock and Roll," they left the stage to a show of admiration.

Schedule clashes were then to come into play once again, meaning I was only able to see the first ten minutes of Metal Church, who opened very well and seemed like a good live act, before heading back to the Marquee for the final time that day to see Greek black metal favourites, Rotting Christ. Over the course of their extensive history, Rotting Christ have utilised other styles to create a unique catalogue and legacy for themselves, including a Gothic metal influence in the late nineties and the world music that they have been using heavily since the 2010 album, "Aealo," which was especially prominent on their latest album, "Rituals." Rotting Christ are a band unlike any other when it comes to live performances. They are musicians first and foremost and never seemed to miss a note, but the group also have an element of theatre about them, using hand gestures and Monk like chanting at times to hammer in the atmosphere of "Apage Satana." Like Melechesh, they primarily focused on more recent output, though they also brought out an old favourite, this time "Forest of N'Gai" from the "Passage To Arcturo" record, before unleashing the haunting, "In Yumen - Xibalba" and capping off an excellent set with "Grandis Spiritos Diavolos," both from the "Kata ton Demona Eautou" album.

Up next was Thin Lizzy spin off, Black Star Riders. One has to respect the band for changing their name when deciding to record and release new music, when they could have easily attempted to cash in on the Thin Lizzy moniker. Their music is very much a continuation of the Irish legends and as such, they offer a fantastic and fun time with great hard rock music which brings a large number of the crowd to their feet. Frontman Ricky Warwick, formerly of The Almighty, has a fantastic stage presence and daresay is one of the very few who could stand where Phil Lynnott has and do a great job. While most of their set focused on their own, highly enjoyable material, they make no secret of where their roots lie, performing the Thin Lizzy anthem, "The Boys Are Back in Town" and finishing with "Whisky in the Jar," which while not written by the legendary band, was brought to the attention of rock fans by them. All in all, Black Star Riders deliver the exciting rock and roll which so many groups, young and old simply can't and will impress anyone that's dismissed them without giving them a chance.

Switching over to the second main stage, it was time for Brazilian metal legends and personal favourites Sepultura to perform, appropriately enough under a pale grey sky. The group are currently promoting their latest album, "Machine Messiah," which is undoubtedly the strangest and most experimental of their long and storied career and they decided to make songs from the record a large part of their set, in fact five songs from the ten track album were brought out for the performance, which itself only consisted of eleven songs. Though the band are clearly very proud of the album, focusing so heavily on such a leftfield album led to many feeling disappointed by their set, as the experimentation took away a good chunk of the energy that have always made Sepultura such a great band that have stayed relevant for so long. Older compositions were of course brought out, including a welcome performance of "Rattamahatta" and naturally the anthems "Refuse/Resist" and "Roots Bloody Roots" being performed, the former being the traditional closer. While Sepultura did not put on a bad show or even a bad performance, it didn't have the same excitement or energy that one would expect from them and ultimately they were disappointing.

From one surprise to the next, former Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider stormed Main Stage 1 with his new solo band, having only been booked a few weeks prior as a replacement for W.A.S.P. Twisted Sister were of course one of the most beloved heavy metal bands of the 1980s and Dee Snider played a huge role in that, with a bombastic voice and an attitude that made him a rock and roll treasure. While I wasn't alive in their heyday, I feel confident in saying that Snider hasn't lost a shred of this energy. He was able to get practically everyone in attendance dancing, head banging, singing along and even laughing while performing a frenetic set which featured a good chunk of excellent new material from his "We Are The Ones" album, as well as some covers which he claimed he'd always wanted to do, including a brilliant rendition of the Nine Inch Nails song, "Head Like A Hole," and Soundgarden's, "Outshined," which naturally was dedicated to the memory of their recently deceased frontman Chris Cornell.

Of course, he didn't ignore his Twisted Sister past, performing the teenage anthem, "We're Not Gonna Take It" both as a slowed down ballad before turning the volume up for it's traditional sound, as well their other Twisted Sister classic, "I Wanna Rock." Dee Snider and his band put many younger groups to shame, and indeed many of their contemporaries and may well have been the surprise hit of the festival. Frankly, I'd be happy for Snider to have a permanent residence at Graspop if this is the quality of performances we can expect.

Almost anyone following Dee Snider is going to seem like something of a letdown and so it was with Dutch symphonic metal group, Epica. Epica were by no means bad, but their focus on the more up market sound of heavy metal was booked at a bad time. There also seems to be a pattern at Graspop where female fronted symphonic bands play during the evening, which results in a number of attendees having a nap in the fields, something which I'd witnessed last time during Within Temptation and during Nightwish in 2009 and happened again during Epica, which may be disrespectful but this type of music should be on earlier in the day when people have more energy to pay attention. Regardless of how they were scheduled, Epica did their best and vocalist Simone Simons was in fine voice, with opener, "Edge of the Blade" being a particular highlight.

It was a day of classic rock and metal songs, with the likes of "Roots Bloody Roots," "The Boys Are Back in Town" and "Don't Fear The Reaper" all being heard on the main stages and following Epica, it was time for another author of a famous song to be heard, this time in the guise of Swedish rockers, Europe. Many of us are only familiar with one song from the veterans, which we all knew would be saved for the finale but before then Europe put on a solid performance, displaying a harder sound than non-fans might expect and less blonde hair too. Songs from their latest album, "War of Kings" sounded very good indeed and while "The Final Countdown" sounds just as corny today and in a live setting, it certainly hasn't lost its appeal, with thousands singing along, tongue in cheek or otherwise. Europe still aren't for everyone but witnessing a live performance is almost guaranteed to make the audience leave with a greater respect for them at least.

Crossing the border from Sweden to Norway, the first headliners of the day, and indeed the festival, Emperor arrived on Main Stage 2 to deliver their unique blend of black metal which has made them one of, if not the most respected musicians on the infamous Norwegian black metal scene. The band have reunited once again to perform their sophomore album, "Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk" in full to mark the 20th anniversary of the record and the material still sounds as intricate and fascinating today, while the two songs from "In the Nightshade Eclipse," namely "I Am the Black Wizards" and closer, "Inno a Satana" also sound as fresh as ever.

Emperor are a great black metal band to watch because they know full well that their material and legacy speaks for itself and they don't have to wear corpsepaint or forbid themselves from smiling to gain any credibility, they have that in acres. They have a natural stafe presence, particularly frontman Ihsahn (who seems to have made it more acceptable for metal frontmen to wear glasses on stage) and that coupled with their intelligent take on black metal makes them a wonderful band to watch, which was aided that bit more by great use of smoke cannons and fire. Emperor may not be playing for much longer so catch them while you still can.

And so it was that the final band of the night, Rammstein were scheduled to cap the night off, doing so as predicted with a literal bang, with fire and explosions galore and kicking off with the catchy, "Ramm 4." From then on, the group captivated the crowd, performing many of their "hits" for lack of a better word such as, "Keine Lust," Feur Frei!" and "Ich Tu Dir Weh" and setting up an incredible atmposphere while they did, making great use of lighting and fire, though with less flames than one might expect given the reputation Rammstein have for setting the stage alight.

Some less aired songs were brought out for the night too, including "Zerstören," "Seemann" and "Du riechst so gut," before some of their best known work such as "Links 234," "Ich Will" and "Du Hast" before they performed a rendition of the Depeche Mode staple, "Stripped." This was then succeeded by an encore consisting of "Sonne," "Amerika" and finally, "Engel," which came complete with the impressive, metallic wingspan. Though Rammstein do have their detractors, particularly among industrial metal fans, they have made their name by working damn hard both on their music and on their live shows, which put them right up there with such legends as Alice Cooper and KISS. An awesome end to a fantastic day of metal and the thousands in attendance then made the journey back to the campsite, ready to do it all again tomorrow.

Diamond Oz's avatar

Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com since 2007 and a metal fan since 2001, going as far as to travel to other countries and continents for metal gigs.

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