Metalcamp 2012: An American's Odyssey Into A European "Hell Over Paradise" - Part II
Band Photo: Kataklysm (?)
... Continued from Part I...
9… something… am. Or maybe it’s 10, or maybe I’m in Hell. All I know is that the sun has risen, transforming my tent into a “Bridge On The River Kwai” sweatbox and my sleeping bag into a dehydration cocoon. I’m marinating.
Cooking aromas. Eggs frying, a Mediterranean whiff of olive oil, the universal scent of black coffee. Subdued, slow-motion, hung-over camp chatter. An unfamiliar voice: “Mind if I drop in for a meet-and-greet?” Male, low and steady-pitched, Eastern European. Might as well get my ass moving and be social. Also, I’m starving again.
I peel away my constraints, fumbling, slippery, dazed. I unzip the door and gasp for breath. The open air feels cucumber-cool by comparison and prickles my skin.
With nature doing all the work around here, who needs an alarm clock?
I return Kay’s and Lexy’s mid-morning greetings in what I only now discover is a gravelly rasp. My words escape my lips in broken, halting stops and starts. My mind races.
I know I’ve stepped up the smoking the past few days – Slovenia, Reviver of Bad Habits, I can see the brochure – but this is ridiculous.
Then it hits me: I sang and screamed myself hoarse last night with Testament and Machine Head, back to back… the first damn night… out of FIVE. I shudder at the prospect of premature burnout.
I shake the hand of our young visitor, Jure. Slender for his average height, wavy Viking-blond hair falling past his shoulders, a calm and collected disposition that seems to defy (nay, taunt) the bedraggled, mind-clouded, collective morning haze of so many festivalgoers.
I quickly learn the reason: not only Slovenian, Jure is a Tolmin local, with a bona fide home – creature comforts and all – mere minutes away. What a waste if he were a reggae aficionado.
5:00pm. Second stage. Passing through the woods and the Metal Market, I stop to catch early performers The Furious Horde. Pretty standard, face-and-body-painted black metal, nothing too special, but at least they’re smiling.
For black metal, that’s living on the edge.
The second stage is positioned much like a carnival sideshow attraction, set back from a gravel lot between the Heaven & Hell Grill and yet another bar, so the early bands rely on the hungry, the thirsty, and the wandering/curious for an audience. The frontman introduces his band thusly: “We’re The Furious Horde, from London, England, but we just moved to Oslo, Norway.”
I stifle a laugh, reminded of my 2010 interview with Warrel Dane, where he sarcastically related his experience of the Seattle “grunge invasion.” For a local scene to keep exporting bands, it first needs imports, I suppose. More power to them.
Enough of this; on to my first order of business. I stroll into the backstage/”press” area through the rear gate and within a minute, miraculously spot who I’m looking for: Maurizio Iacono and his Kataklysm bandmates JF Dagenais, Max Duhamel, and Stephan Barbe.
I interviewed Maurizio back in April when Kataklysm’s alter ego Ex Deo performed on Paganfest; reviewed the latter’s upcoming album “Caligvla” in July; and pre-arranged this meeting for another interview.
After greetings, Maurizio and I settle on a post-performance rendezvous, right where we’re standing, with an interview time and place to then be determined. We say goodbye for now.
5:30pm. Main stage. Madball swaggers out for a round of brash New York hardcore. Kind of a sore thumb around here, and frontman Freddy “Madball” Cricien, to his humble credit, extends an olive branch: “We’re here to represent the New York hardcore scene, but we just love playing for people… it doesn’t matter where, or who with… we love hardcore, we love metal, we love all genres.”
Actually, he dropped that last “s,” mixing plural and singular: “We love all genre.” For some reason, that touches me. Hardcore isn’t my favorite, but it has a place, and Madball has earned it here.
6:15pm. I return to the rear backstage gate. This time, I’m stopped. I hold up my wristband – do not develop a visible sense of entitlement, that Protestant voice nags – and the security staffer shakes his head. “Artists and crew only.”
“I was here less than an hour ago. I was here last night.”
“That was last night. They changed the rules.”
“Isn’t the press area here? That’s what I was told.”
“They moved it over to the meet-and-greet tent.”
“Well, I just spoke to one of the artists, and we’re trying to set up an interview. I need to meet him when he’s done playing, and if I’m no longer allowed back here, can you let me go tell him that, just this once?”
Solemn shake of the head. “Call him.”
Did I mention my cell phone is a fucking paperweight? It’s a state-of-the-art global phone, but for some cosmic joke of a reason, I’ve been unable to connect to the appropriate cellular networks in Slovenia, and not for lack of attempted assistance, either. We run on technology these days, so it’s like waking up without my penis.
I explain this, using nicer words. Another shake of the head.
This is going nowhere fast, and my hoarse voice now sounds like scratches on a record. I turn away, my shortcut no longer available – how quickly I started taking that for granted – and trudge back through the woods, in a broad circle, along the dirt path doubling back toward the main festival gate.
Finntroll have started their set, and I’ll be lucky if I catch any of it. I make my way to the tiny meet-and-greet tent, nestled in a grove of trees just adjacent to the entrance gate.
Several picnic tables dot the ground in front of the tent, along with a separate food stand. A waitress appears, asks if I’m hungry. I get a beer instead.
The line of autograph seekers brandishing Kataklysm merch stretches at least a dozen yards (I’ve still failed to get off the English system) out the tent door, and all I can do is hang around for the time being. At least I can LISTEN to Finntroll. The beer comes in pretty handy for that.
7:00pm. THE FUCKING TENT HAS A REAR EXIT, the obvious suddenly screams at me. AND YOU’RE STILL SITTING HERE LIKE A DUMBASS. The line of autograph seekers is now splashed with Paradise Lost merch – they play after Kataklysm – and the elusive Montrealers have slipped away, back to the now-forbidden holy of holies. Ugh. I lurch to my feet in disgust and trudge around, through the main gate, to catch some of Finntroll’s set.
No one can really agree what Finntroll are. Black, folk, blackened folk – another peeve of mine is people sticking “blackened” in front of everything and creating official subgenres thereby – whatever you call them, they impress live.
I wish I could let go, grab a pair of beers, push my way to the front, and double-fist like a champ, but I have a pesky situation to resolve. As their set is drawing to a close, I turn tail and leave, heading back through the woods, on my way to the narrow paved access road. I’ll sweat, burn a few calories and reward myself later.
7:30pm. VIP check-in kiosk. Inquiring about the backstage policy change, I admit my confusion over the mythical “press area.” Maybe I AM taking things too seriously, but before I properly apply myself, I need to know what’s expected of me in my role. I got into this festival for free; I feel a tugging sense of obligation.
It’s explained to me: “They changed the rules because there are over 300 journalists here, and some of them are not serious. They come from blogs and Internet portals, and just like to hang around and follow the bands.”
A stab of paranoia, a wave of defensiveness. I wasn’t the only person with a press pass backstage last night, but still, if someone thinks I’m here to be a bum… who was it? My mind races to finger my secret detractor as my semi-deluded ego swells. CUT THE SHIT, a rational nether region of my conscience snaps. THE SITUATION IS WHAT IT IS. FIX IT.
7:45pm. Back at the main stage after a swift hustle, with barely enough time to grab a watermelon slice from a Metal Market fruit stand and scarf it down while walking (I’m getting better at that, I think). Showtime for Kataklysm is inching near.
Sebastian, another new friend the girls and I met yesterday, approaches. A long-haired German from Nuremberg with an apparent disdain for shirts and a love for pin-festooned cowboy hats, he vaguely reminds me of Edguy’s bassist Tobias Exxel – the most random comparisons jump out at you sometimes – though by his account, he’s a death metal vocalist for a band called Adjust The Sun. “I don’t play any instruments,” he’s told me with a toothy grin, “I just growl.”
Now, Sebastian shoves a finger in my face. The crowd is growing and so is the din of chatter and chanting, so I can’t tell if he asks “Did you kill a girl and eat her?” or “Did you eat a girl out?” or “Did you kill a girl and eat her out?”
Whatever the scenario, I shake my head no. Sebastian grabs my digital point-and-shoot, and snaps a photo of me. I examine it to discover sticky red splotches across my cheeks, running out from the corners of my mouth. The damned watermelon. Sheepishly, I wipe my face.
8:00pm. Kataklysm dominates. They always do. Opening with “To Reign Again” was a nice touch, and I’m happy to finally hear new track “Iron Will” live. In addition to the usual suspects – “As I Slither,” “Taking The World By Storm,” “Push The Venom,” et cetera – they throw in a few unexpected gems: “Bound In Chains,” "Where The Enemy Sleeps," “Face The Face Of War,” and “The Night They Returned."
A gifted crowd maestro whether fronting Kataklysm or Ex Deo, Maurizio masterfully pre-arranges and directs the customary Wall of Death for “Crippled & Broken.” He urges wallflowers and other non-participants to get involved.
“I've seen little pits,” he sighs in a plainspoken voice (he’s not the type to growl at crowds between songs), “And that's OK. But I haven't seen a REAL fucking mosh pit. I come from the death metal scene, and where we come from, it's violent as a motherfucker. But THIS is a little bit gay.”
He threatens that unless he gets the pit he desires after the Walls of Death collapse, they'll walk offstage. His tactics seem to work.
9:15pm. Another hike up the access road, digital recorder in its case slung over my shoulder like a frigging man-purse, and now I’m cooling my heels outside the Dijaški Dom youth hostel, a sprawling three-story lodge tucked into some trees on the hill overlooking the spread of tents.
This is the so-named “Production Office,” the nerve center of the whole operation, and the Base Camp for artists, crews, possibly a few groupies, and other assorted “with the band” types.
In the distance, Paradise Lost begin their set – I have nothing to do but sit at a lonely picnic table and listen to the muffled, mournful echo – and here, finally, the shuttle bus pulls up. Kataklysm pile out. Gathering, chattering, scattering. Maurizio tells me to sit tight; he has a few meetings to get through in the lodge. He and virtually everyone else disappear. I wait.
Minutes creep by. Staffers come and go, hanging around the next picnic table on smoke breaks, chitchatting in Slovenian. I’m a fly on the wall.
Normally I relish the hard-won struggle of interviewing bands – especially when they’re among my favorites and I truly give a shit – but I’m starting to realize I may be in over my head.
There are probably 10,000 people packed into these few square miles (English system ‘til death; I’ve accepted it) of rural land, and nobody has time to accommodate a one-on-one, sit-down interview. It just doesn’t seem like it’s DONE at such a festival. Five-minute “stop-and-chats,” sure, but that prospect went out the window a few hours ago, when I was denied backstage access once and for all.
And yesterday, I wasn’t about to subject poor, suffering Warrel Dane to any “official” questioning.
Kay warned me about this, I remember. On this year’s 70,000 Tons Of Metal cruise, which she covered (principally as a photographer), she knocked off precisely ONE interview. Out of, what, thirty or forty bands? Yeah, this isn’t the place or time either.
Whether or not I was a Big Fish in U.S. clubs – and that’s REALLY pushing it – I’m definitely no longer in a Small Pond. Early hiccups notwithstanding, this is a massive, oiled machine, a Big Business – at least in metal terms. Unless you’re booking nothing but platinum acts, that’s just unheard of back home. I recall another observation by Marta, the “Metal Studies” researcher:
“In Europe, more ‘mainstream’ cultural industries, and complementary industries – like the manufacturers that make all the different merch – have recognized the business opportunity rising from the loyalty that heavy metal fans display to bands and even to individual festivals. They both represent powerful brands.
“It’s not necessarily a bad thing that will suddenly make metal ‘mainstream.’ Outside interest is the REASON so many ‘traditional’ companies are willing to work with and be associated with the metal community. This facilitates the boom of metal festivals and more public acceptance of the metal subculture.”
She’s right, of course. But a fat lot of good it’s doing me now.
10:00pm. Time is slipping away, and with it, most of my enthusiasm for journalism tonight. I’m actually getting tired!
If you’re looking for a reliable sleep aid, try listening to Paradise Lost, live from half a mile away through the trees, while contemplating futility.
10:30pm. Paradise Lost wraps. I haven’t budged from the picnic bench, and my ass is killing me. I stand up and stretch my sore back. I look around at the dead scene.
Looks like the lodge swallowed Maurizio up.
These things do happen; in underground music journalism, sometimes you slip through the cracks. And honestly, at this point, were the interview to take place after an hour and a half of waiting, I’d be shuffling through the motions on autopilot.
It’s time to salvage the evening, ‘cause I know who’s on the main stage next, and so help me God, I will not miss them. I turn toward the darkened driveway and slink off into the night empty-handed.
11:15pm. I’m getting MUCH better at eating while walking. After dropping off my recorder in my tent and picking up a plastic-wrapped sandwich at a snack bar between our camp and the main box office, I chew ham, cheese, egg, and pickles ravenously amidst bigger and bigger strides.
I emerge from the tunnel of trees, pass through the main gate, pick up a beer, and polish it off in seconds. I order another. I do not care. With all this scurrying about, I’ve probably LOST weight.
I push into the sea of metalheads. At first I have to rely on the blow-up screen images – one on each side of the stage – for a clear view of Tomas “Tompa” Lindberg and the rest of At The Gates, but as I inch closer, my line of sight does me just fine.
The band finishes “Terminal Spirit Disease.” I open my mouth to cheer and get hoarse static. My voice has deteriorated progressively throughout the day, and now barely exists anymore. I shut up and take the show in. Naturally conscious of looking after my throat, I light a cigarette. What?
12:00am. At The Gates live is everything I thought it would be. Bizarre, however, like peering into a time capsule. Their 1996 breakup, and the legendary status their ’95 swansong “Slaughter Of The Soul” would accrue, made a big fat sacred cow of them over the years, ensuring any future reunion would not involve an attempt to record new music.
They’ve cashed in on the “reunion” trend in metal since 2008, and for four years have existed as a legacy act for those, like me, who never caught them the first time around. But unlike fellow Swedish “Gothenburg metal” pioneers In Flames and Dark Tranquillity, At The Gates didn’t last long enough for their sound to evolve, so every song is a preserved ‘90s holdover.
I step aside and order a whiskey. For the first time, I’ve remembered to save my empty plastic cup. Turn it in with your next order, and they knock a Euro (or coupon) off the price and give you a black poker chip. Turn in the chip at a designated stand, and you get a Euro or coupon – your choice – in return. Nifty system of anti-littering incentives.
I bump into Kay, camera equipment over her shoulder, glassy-eyed and a few steps to the left of sober. She murmurs, with a hint of dejection, “I lost my hip flask.”
This is a big deal. It’s not just any flask; it’s a prized piece of memorabilia. She showed it to me the other day. It bore the following inscription:
“SWR” stands for Steel Warriors Rebellion – metalheads are seriously the biggest nerds – a Portuguese festival on Kay’s circuit. “LITSFBM” is code for an alleged inside joke at said festival: “Life Is Too Short For Black Metal.” It was cute, and personal. I feel her pain.
Just to be safe, I feel my back pocket for my wallet. Still there. I snap the pocket button closed. As best I can, I croak out my own sob story of the aborted interview and wasted time. It’s always better to share the misery with someone else.
There’s a limit to this morose kind of bullshit, though. Kay passes on some sage Aussie advice that tonight, applies to us both: “Harden The Fuck Up.”
12:30am. At The Gates wraps, and vacates the stage for Wisdom to finish out the night. Instead, I trudge through the woods to the second stage. Cattle Decapitation is headlining. They’ve drawn a sizeable crowd, but a few weary people are starting to disperse.
Frontman Travis Ryan launches into a comical tirade, lecturing the quitters on their inadequacies. “What the fuck is wrong with you people?” He snarls, elevating his pitch to a little girl’s, mocking them: “Ooohhh nooo, it’s Metalcamp – I have to go to sleep! My tent is right over there! … WELL, FUCK THAT! IF THIS IS METALCAMP, YOU’RE HERE TO SEE SOME FUCKIN’ METAL! RIGHT?” That wakes everyone up. I oblige him and stick around until the end.
1:30am. Too exhausted for the Beach Bar. I’m back at camp, and so is Kay, and so is Lexy.
And so is Bram, a towering Belgian and one of our three neighbors on the opposite side of our gazebo from the unhinged Austrians. He’s the songwriter and lead guitarist for a band called Herfst, and passed me a copy of their new EP “The Deathcult” earlier today. Or was it yesterday? Everything’s getting blurry already.
It’s a rare quiet period, with the Austrians dispersed. While pre-gaming in the afternoon (then again, with these Germanic types, the “pre” isn’t really necessary), Kay was constantly convinced their intoxicated singalongs were about to break into the “Star Wars” cantina band skit parodied in “Family Guy.” So far it hasn’t happened, though we’ve considered placing bets on it.
Meanwhile, under our own gazebo, all the chairs are taken. Again. I grab some ground. I’ve stumbled into an in-progress conversation with our latest visitor Jaimee, a New Zealander (really, I do not know how these Kiwis and Aussies wind up finding each other. “New Zealand is like our Canada,” an Aussie jokingly told me once) on her way to Summer Breeze in Germany, via Metalcamp. So are Kay and Lexy. This is how the festival circuit works.
Nothing comes out when I open my mouth to introduce myself. My voice has vanished; there is only a forced, hissing wheeze. After some laughter, I croak out my name and shut the fuck up, grabbing myself a nightcap from the ice bucket.
Tanked, Bram is teasing Jaimee for her open lesbianism. “The lesbian one,” he christens her repeatedly, with an arm draped around her as he plies her for details. “So, do you drink from the furry cup?” Her skin is too thick and she holds her own, even when Bram’s vocalist Matthieu drops in and joins the fray.
Jaimee cackles up at Matthieu: “AT LEAST I DIDN’T HAVE SEX, PASS OUT, AND MISS AT THE GATES!”
I can live without details. In any case, for a metalhead, that’s... a tradeoff.
2:00am. In my sleeping bag, I make a silent vow to myself: from this moment forward, I will take nothing seriously at Metalcamp. Fuck interviews. They’re not meant for a place like this.
I’m here to EXPERIENCE a festival, so it’s about damn time I did so.
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