Graspop Metal Meeting: Day One
Band Photo: Iced Earth (?)
There is absolutely no question about it, if you want to go to a metal festival, go to a European one. Wacken Open Air and Download might well be the most famous, with the Sonisphere events gaining plenty of exposure too, but for my money, it just doesn't get any better than Graspop Metal Meeting, which takes place in a small town in Belgium called Dessel. This would be my third time attending the event, and more likely than not, it won't be the last.
The festival kicked off on Friday the 24th with a rather unusual choice of band, namely FM. The band features two former members of New Wave Of British Heavy Metal band, Samson but their style is much more album orientated rock than metal. Nevertheless, they proved to be a good way to start the festivities, opening with the song, "Wildside." As it was only half past eleven in the morning and the majority of the crowd had been up all night drinking and shouting, "TIMMY!" it took the audience a little while to get into the mood. In any case, they were still very appreciative of FM and perhaps the biggest response came when the band performed a cover of "Heard It Through The Grapevine," a song made famous by soul legend Marvin Gaye. Maybe it would have been better to start with something a little heavier, but either way, FM put in a solid performance and were warmly received.
After deciding to skip the first bands on the Marquees, we hung around the main stage to wait for the next band, Dio Disciples. I've always liked "Ripper" Owens and felt that he doesn't get the credit he deserves so the prospect of him singing Dio songs this afternoon seemed quite interesting. "Interesting" didn't quite cover Dio Disciples though, as when they took the stage, they instantly proved themselves to be an outstanding way to remember Ronnie James Dio. Owens was in top form for the performance, which opened with "Stand Up And Shout" before leading into the classic, "Holy Diver." Owens isn't the only vocalist in the band either, as he is joined by Little Angels singer Toby Jepson, who was just as impressive as Owens and whose voice was absolutely magnifficent. The group frequently got the crowd to cheer as loud as they could whenever Dio's name was mentioned and most importantly, they seemed to be genuine about what they were doing. Make no mistake, Dio Disciples are not a cash in, they are one of the most heartfelt tributes to anything you will ever see. If Dio could see his music living on like this, with two amazing vocalists leading the charge, he would be proud.
After once again skipping the Marquee bands and catching the first song from Foreigner (it was "Double Vision" in case you're interested,) we decided to head to the festival's smallest stage, the MetalDome, to catch Northern Irish NWOBHM veterans Sweet Savage. Having only heard a few songs from the band, I wasn't sure what to expect from them, but what followed was the surprise hit of the day, if not the whole event. Sweet Savage formed back in 1979 but given the ferocious energy displayed by the band, you would never have guessed it. They can hold their own and give some of the younger bands a run for their money. In addition to great energy, frontman Ray Haller interacted with the audience brilliantly, cracking jokes, getting them riled up and leading them into a frenzy of headbanging and metal horns. As one might expect, they busted out "Killing Time," perhaps their most famous song due to it being covered by Metallica (which Haller referenced) but I was also happy to hear, "Eye Of The Storm," which is a quality slab of heavy metal if ever there was one. The band finished their set perfectly with the traditional Irish classic, "Whiskey In The Jar," a version which captured the intensity of the Metallica and Thin Lizzy versions, along with the emotion of more traditional covers of the song, such as The Dubliners. It was a shame they didn't bring any merchandise with them, as judging from the crowd's reaction, they would certainly have sold their fair share. An absolutely brilliant live band and well worth your time and money.
After heading back to the main stage to see Foreigner closing with "I Wanna Know What Love Is" and "Hot Blooded" (which only made me think of Apu from The Simpsons,) we headed into the Marquee 2 tent to catch one of my personal favourite bands, Sepultura, whose new album, "Kairos" was released that day. As soon as they took the stage, the crowd were on their feet with horns raised, before descending into an orgy of head banging, thanks largely to set opener, "Arise." One classic followed another as the band then launched into, "Refuse/Resist" with extreme intensity. They performed a good mix of newer material too, such as the excellent "Convicted In Life" from the "Dante XXI" album and "What I Do!" from the Clockwork Orange inspired, "A-Lex." Although clearly excited about the release of their new album, they only performed the title track from "Kairos" and the song, "Seethe," which both went down really well with the crowd. The band dug deep into their catalogue too, performing, "Troops Of Doom" and "Escape To The Void," though they suffered from a technical problem in the latter which caused them to stop playing temporarily. They worked through this hiccup like true pros however and singer Derrick Green was more than pleased at how well the audience handled the hitch. As is to be expected, the band closed their performance with "Roots Bloody Roots," one of the great sing alongs of the day. A blistering performance from a band that can still throw down, despite the problems they have faced in the past.
Following Sepultura, the next band I saw in full was Journey. It's unlikely that the readers here are particularly interested as they're not a metal band by any stretch of the imagination, so I'll just skim over it. The band performed an hour long set which featured material from their latest album, "Eclipse" as well as all their classics, including "Wheel In The Sky" (which was a real highlight) and of course, "Don't Stop Believing," before finishing with Rodney Dangerfield's Caddyshack anthem, "Any Way You Want It." Vocalist Arnel Pineda was really impressive and displayed a great stage presence, despite not talking to the crowd much. You can say what you like about Journey, but they're still a top notch live act.
Following Journey, I caught the first song from Korn ("Blind") before heading back to the MetalDome to see another NWOBHM veteran, this time it was Angel Witch. Angel Witch was one of the bands I had been most looking forward to seeing but ultimately, their set proved somewhat disappointing. Lead vocalist Kevin Heybourne seemed to slur his words between songs and was also quite hard to make out while he was singing. The band seemed quite mellow in comparison to their NWOBHM comrades Sweet Savage and seemed to tread through their set rather than charge through it. This is not to say the band weren't any good however, with guitarist Bill Steer (of Carcass and Napalm Death fame) being particularly noteworthy. Despite how tame the whole performance appeared though, the finale of their eponymous song "Angel Witch" was fantastic, with every member of the audience singing as loud as they could to the chourus and most of them with a smile on their face throughout. I'm glad I finally got to see Angel Witch, but I'm not in a hurry to see them again.
Back to Marquee 2 next for a performance from the new supergroup, The Damned Things. Perhaps it was their music being more focused on classic rock, or maybe it was because guitarist Scott Ian was missing today (he was celebrating the birth of his first born child back in America,) but the band seemed quite lightweight. The crowd seemed to enjoy the performance, but they didn't have the same drive that they had displayed during Dio Disciples or Sweet Savage. The absence of Scott Ian seemed to lessen the heavier tone of the band and I heard several people say that it was more like watching Every Time I Die or Fallout Boy than the hard rockers they had heard on the album. While enjoyable, they were quite disappointing and even the finish of "We've Got A Situation Here" seemed a little dull.
Back to the main stage now. Fun fact: Danish Johnny Cash worshippers Volbeat are absolutely massive in Europe, as was proved when people flooded onto the field to catch their set, many of whom were wearing Volbeat shirts. They didn't disappoint either and delivered a scorching set of great rock and roll from start to finish. They seemed heavier live with their metal influences really shining through and unleashed their music with a frantic burst of energy. Ten songs into the set, The Damned Things/Anthrax guitarist Rob Caggiano joined them on stage to perform a cover of the Misfits' song, "Angel Fuck," which wasn't the only cover song of the performance as they later played the Dusty Springfield classic, "I Only Wanna Be With You" and finished their performance by jamming to Slayer's, "Raining Blood." What made this performance so special was not just how much the fans enjoyed it, but also seeing how much the band did, with frontman Michael Poulsen frequently thanking people for coming to see them and expressing disbelief at how big the crowd was. Definitely one of the best sets of the day.
It was then time for the final performances in the Marquees, where I opted to watch Iced Earth over Australian metalcore act, Parkway Drive. Iced Earth's performance was a special one, as everyone knew it was their last tour with vocalist Matt Barlow, who had only returned to the band in late 2007. Power metal is a very popular genre in mainland Europe so the tent was packed out for Iced Earth, who opened their set with "Burning Times" from their 1998 album, "Something Wicked This Way Comes." The crowd absolutely loved the band tonight and sang along as often as they could, with plenty of head banging thrown in for good measure. They seemed particularly pleased when the group performed the ballad, "Watching Over Me" and provided a moment of comedy themselves in the build up to the song, "Jack" when Barlow claimed it wasn't a love song unless "your idea of love is carving up hookers in an alley," to which he was met with a massive cheer from the audience before stating in bewilderment, "you guys are some sick motherfuckers." The band continued to crank out great songs and the crowd ate every one of them up, enjoying the performance from the first note until the last.
Now, at half past eleven as night, it was time for the headlining act. While Iced Earth will be seeing their vocalist retire soon, tonight's headliners, the Scorpions, will soon be seeing their band laid to rest, as they announced last year that this tour would be their last. They opened with "Sting In The Tail," the title track from their latest album to a great response from the crowd. Given that there was a massive number of German speaking fans in the audience, it was no surprise when singer Klaus Meine spoke to them in his native tongue, but soon decided to speak in English for the duration of the set. Their performance featured a number of songs which seemed a little rare for such a special tour, but every one of them went down a treat, particularly the ballad "The Best Is Yet To Come," which the crowd sang along to for as long as they could. The classics weren't ignored either, as "Blackout" and "Big City Nights" were cranked up to eleven for the cheering hordes to enjoy. A real highlight from the headliners came (surprisingly) during the drum solo from James Kottak when the skinsman stood on his stool with his back turned to the audience, revealing a shirt with "ROCK AND ROLL FOREVER" on the back print, before removing his top to reveal the same words, in the exact same font, tattooed on his back. After a brief break, the band came back on stage to perform "Still Loving You" and "No One Like You" before calling it a night with the anthemic, "Rock You Like A Hurricane," marking a superb end to a superb day.
You can read about the rest of the festival by clicking on the links below:
Dio Disciples - "Holy Diver"
Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com for four years and has been a metal fan for ten years, going so far as to travel abroad for metal shows.
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