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Metalcamp 2012: An American's Odyssey Into A European "Hell Over Paradise" - Part III

Photo of Korn

Band Photo: Korn (?)

... Continued from Part II...

WEDNESDAY 8/8

11:00am. After two full days of brushing my teeth with bottled water, “morning” and “night” (relative terms), without a sink, I have toothpaste streaked in white stains all over my army-green shorts. I’ve already lost count of people who’ve asked me how much I’ve been jerking it.

12:00pm. A bracing gust of wind pummels the gazebo. So far, the guy lines and tent pegs anchoring the flimsy metal stanchions to the ground have held (with some occasional coaxing), but they’ve taken a beating from the continuous breeze. We’re situated on the crest of a slope that scoops up the air and sends it hurtling into our camp.

Now, the pegs break free and one of the crossbeams fails.

The canopy lurches upward like a roof in a tornado strike. The remaining guy lines keep it tethered as we scramble to wrestle the thing back into position – before it rips from our grasp.

12:30pm. We. Are. Geniuses. After cannibalizing Kay’s collection of stray tent pegs she amassed in the aftermaths of festivals past – bigger, stronger pegs – we’ve MacGyvered a crossbeam reinforcement using a plastic water bottle and about thirty wraps of masking tape. The wind still blows, the gazebo still shudders, but it holds firm.

We glance in envy, not for the first time, at the Austrian camp. Four gazebos pitched in one giant square, with a corner stanchion of each bound together to form a single center pole, and guy-lined and tent-pegged as all hell. It has not budged once.

Meanwhile, the tattered remains of some other gazebo – God help the unidentified campers if it rains – go cartwheeling by in the breeze.

1:00pm. Tolmin. Kay and Lexy are across the street picking up some odds and ends in “Kik,” one of those stores that sells all the things you both do and don't need. I’ll be meeting them soon in the market. Now, I’m reclining on a posh covered restaurant terrace – the sun has yet to show any mercy – surrounded by metalheads, slowly sipping a glass of white wine. The incongruities seem to pile up around here.

Another “Metal Studies” observation, courtesy of Marta, echoes:

“You can see a localized version of [the European dynamic between ‘traditional’ industries and the metal industry] here at Metalcamp. Look at all the shops and restaurants in Tolmin that cater to metalheads while we’re here – offering discounts, adding ‘metal’ to almost everything they offer, playing metal on their speakers for the fans’ enjoyment – even though they don’t have to. If they didn’t, the fans would probably still come, but they probably form longer relationships with returning metal customers who remember those places.”

1:30pm. We exit the market, freshly stocked with groceries, take a seat to rest, and promptly open a box of desserts. Strawberry Italian Ice shell around a vanilla gelato core. Did I mention it’s hot? Somehow, the whole box is consumed. I’m effectively eight years old again.

2:30pm. Beach Bar. The place looks far more civilized in the daytime. Swimmers on rafts and tubes, bikinied girls stretched out on beach towels to get some cancer, straight out of a brochure.

Somewhere, the DJ keeps the metal flowing nonstop. Dimmu Borgir, "Progenies Of The Great Apocalypse." Exodus, "War Is My Shepherd." Iron Maiden, "Moonchild." Slipknot, "Disasterpiece." I’d go to the beach more often if this stuff came with it.

At the meeting of the Soca and Tolminka, the numbing water barely even reaches the waist, so we wade across, spotting a couple flat rocks – good place to relax for a little while.

A lance of pain through my foot and up my leg. I right myself before I tumble into the river. The pebbly, sharp-rocked bottom is murdering my bare feet. Mental note to pick up a pair of flip-flops next trip to town.

Side note about flip-flops – the girls have informed me that the equivalent Aussie slang is “thongs.” A welcome explanation after hearing Lexy repeatedly exclaim, “THESE THONGS ARE KILLING ME!” the other day.

It led to some temporary confusion.

I glance aside to our right. At the edge of the water, a stuffed Tigger doll, decked out in a metal-patched vest and rocking a pair of shades over that eternal goofy grin, reclines comfortably in his own beach chair.

4:45pm. Australian Embassy. I’ve discovered a bottle of commemorative Metalcamp 2012 white wine, and shelled out an amount I’m not going to reveal.

This is the only glass allowed on the grounds – presumably, the assumption being that anyone classy enough to opt for wine over beer is less likely to reduce the bottle to shards, and may just be a recycling “Portlandia” enviro-hipster. I polish off a glass (actually, it’s one of our plastic cups). I feel smugger already!

Echoing in the distance, Warbringer crank up their main stage set with “Living Weapon.” I’ve seen these guys live enough times, and I’m content to sip with my feet up and simply listen.

As far as the wine is concerned, I’ve had both better and worse, but on such an occasion, it’s all about the labeling. Marta had something to say about this as well:

“The ‘metal’ brand, the brand of the subculture – and it very much is and behaves as a brand – is very powerful. It’s the centerpiece of any festival. But also, you can see that from very early on, especially in the U.S., the metal subculture has been so naïve and starved for asserting itself that you can take any everyday thing, make it ‘metal,’ and potentially make a lot of money selling it to metalheads, like shitty cookbooks or really shitty beer and wine.”

Free enterprise rules.

As I’m liquoring myself up like a gentleman, Jure strolls over with his reserved but pleasant friend and campmate Matic. Turns out Jure is forgoing the nearby comforts of home and camping with the rest of us, like a man. Good on him. We recap the past two nights.

I haven’t done much talking today, and now I strain to speak coherently. Somewhere in my throat, my vocal cords are flailing about, hanging in shredded tatters.

It’s taken almost 48 hours for it to come to this. Today is Wednesday. Hump Day. Will my voice revive itself? I make a mental note to refrain from singing later (another mental note to quit making stupid musical puns).

Jure intones darkly, in his slow, measured, almost professorial baritone: “You know, this might be the last Metalcamp.”

Marta mentioned this at the Beach Bar on Monday night. I ask Jure if he knows anything more. He smiles sadly and shrugs. “I have no idea. If it’s true, I don’t understand why. It’s such a good thing for Tolmin.”

So much talk of endings these days. So many ends of so many eras. Annual festivals, insolvent, unable to continue. Tours cancelled. Indefinite hiatuses. Breakups. Pop cultural hysteria over the imagined end of the world. Zombies. Anarchy. "Lulu."

It’s fucking depressing. Maybe this is why a lot of metal exists in the first place.

Appropriately, I realize I’ve drained the entire bottle of Metalcamp wine. Huh. I hoist myself out of my chair and carefully stash the empty as a souvenir.

7:00pm. Main stage. Nile. In the specialty category of South Carolinian Technical Death Metal With Ancient Egyptian Themes, these guys win every time – it’s uncanny.

I’ve never seen them live, but already they’re contending with Megadeth in the Least Exciting Stage Performances category. Frontman/lead songwriter Karl Sanders is a creative guy, I’m a big fan of the music, the new album “At The Gate Of Sethu” (is there something Freudian in Nile’s fixation on length?) is beastly, but honestly, for me, none of it translates into a live experience remotely approaching spectacular.

8:00pm. I’m really on a non-participatory roll here. I caught the first few songs of Epica’s set, just to check it out and say I was there, and then rendezvoused at camp with the girls for some dinner. Again: fan of the music, not such a fan of the live experience. Not sure exactly why. It puzzles me.

Somehow, a couple slices of bread have made their way into our assortment of food tonight, and Kay is repulsed. She offers them to me and simultaneously offers a historical lecture on the ill-founded transition of the West, over time, to a grain-based diet.

She’s mostly right, of course, I acknowledge – as I munch on the bread. That stuff expands like a balloon in my stomach and I instantly regret it. May as well have just double-fisted two more beers.

Kay is an unswayable brutal death metal girl, but I’ve urged her to give Eluveitie a shot. In any case, she’s preparing to shoot their upcoming set. “After THAT banshee finishes and shuts up,” she quips, waving in the direction of the main stage and the operatic wails of Epica’s Simone Simons.

I mention my disappointment in watching Nile. Lexy agrees. “Nile is the kind of band that makes me want to put on a pair of great headphones, lie on my bed in my room, and just let the music flow through me, and soak up every interesting little thing that’s going on,” she explains. “But they’re just not the kind of band that makes me want to rock out at a show.” These are my thoughts exactly.

I’ve never felt this bloated from eating bread in my life. Thanks, Kay. I stand up and waddle “next door” where our concert companions for the evening are gearing up.

I approach Eva, our third neighbor. A cute Belgian with layers of dark blonde curls piling around her shoulders, she shoots a wry, tight grin from behind a gigantic pair of sunglasses half the size of her face.

“Bram and Matthieu are almost ready. They’re at the beauty parlor.”

Before I even try to make sense of this, they emerge from their tents wearing makeup and eyeliner framed by long, straight, darkish hair. Their band Herfst incorporates black metal and gothic elements – or so the flyer they handed me suggests – and I guess it never hurts to maintain your image.

Like Sebastian, they’re going shirtless. What’s that Brian Posehn line about metalheads? “You never see a guy with his shirt off screaming “R&B!” With Bram’s imposing height, they could be modeling for some heroic album cover art. A Manowar and Immortal split release, perhaps.

9:15pm. Main stage. Eluveitie. Since releasing “Slania” on Nuclear Blast in 2008, the Swiss band has rocketed straight to the top of the so-called “folk metal” heap by having as little as possible to do, musically, with its peers. This isn’t folk-infused rock with extra guitar distortion and the occasional growl; this is ferocious melodic death metal with a Celtic folk rhythm section that somehow makes it all feel heavier – certainly grander. You can really bang your head to it live.

This year’s “Helvetios” album was a watershed moment for Eluveitie, and it provides virtually the entire set. Nothing really wrong with that; it might be their best album yet. The title track/opener, “Luxtos,” “Meet The Enemy,” “Neverland,” “A Rose For Epona,” “Havoc,” and “Alesia.”

Band mastermind Chrigel Glanzmann has made a habit of inciting circle pits by singling out and recruiting a lone volunteer from the crowd and instructing that person to lead the swirl. Also, there's more batshit insane crowdsurfing than I think I've seen yet.

Time out for bitching: for some reason, the 2008 single “Ínís Mona” has become Eluveitie’s “Balls To The Wall” or “Fuck Her Gently” – the obligatory finale everyone waits for. It’s a great song, and I get why people adore it – the headbanging groove, the straightforward chorus – but sometimes I just don’t understand the disproportionate emphasis on this single tune. At least back in March they played “Calling The Rain” in North America. But alas, “Ínís Mona” is the solitary non-“Helvetios” performance, and the sea of heads in front of me begins to undulate, whipped into an unstable frenzy, as the jumping begins.

I look at Lexy straining in vain to peer over the crowd before her, and giving up. She’s a tiny little thing. I hoist her onto my shoulders. Instantly, she exclaims, “This band has EIGHT MEMBERS???” She couldn’t see a damn thing for most of the set.

10:45pm. Korn. Yes, I still like them, though I think I’m past the “notebook logo-scribbling” stylization phase (“KoRn”). How much homework time did I piss away in high school doodling band logos in the margins?

Another live first for me, but Korn was a major part of my adolescence, and most metalheads that reached high school age in the late ‘90s, if they’re honest, will say the same.

Backed by an epileptic neon light show, Korn wastes zero time in diving back into the past. I hear “Divine,” “Good God,” and a handful of other menacing cuts from 1994 and 1996.

This band has been an endless source of controversy for a smattering of good reasons and a parade of ridiculous ones, and few people can ever agree on whether or not they deliver live. Well, here, the sound is tight, and the band fits right into the rest of the bill. After all, it’s METALCamp, not “Select List Of Approved Bands One Purist Metalhead Likes” Camp.

The transitions between older, traditional Korn and the new electronic “Path Of Totality” material are smoother than anticipated. Somehow it all works.

Lexy and I have stuck together for a nostalgia ride. We were born three days apart, and it’s a generational thing. When the band steers back toward some older hits – “Here To Stay,” “Falling Away From Me,” “Freak On A Leash,” et al – we wreck our necks and break out some of the dorkiest moves ever conjured, even by accident. We’re also sloshed by this point.

Korn includes a couple covers - Pink Floyd's "Another Brick In The Wall" and Metallica's "One." I admit, when they debuted the latter in 2003 for Metallica's induction as an MTV Icon - alongside Limp Bizkit, Sum 41, Snoop Dogg and Avril Lavigne, of all people - my reaction was, "Metallica just bent over and let MTV give it to them long and hard in the ass." Now, grown up, I really dig their version.

Kay appears out of the gloom. Scoffs and shakes her head. She’s above this stuff. We push to get her into it, but it’s just not happening. She’s seven years older than us, and in music, that kind of gap can make a difference. “This is how I feel about Guns ‘N’ Roses,” she quips. Everyone has at least one old “not-so-guilty” pleasure. It's like spending the day listening to Emperor and Cryptopsy, and then popping in that old "Dr. Feelgood" CD you wore out in 1989.

1:00am. Australian Embassy. Heathen was originally scheduled to close out the night after Korn, but cancelled. So here we are. As for my voice, it partly returned tonight, so I got cocky and pushed it a bit – “ARRRE YOU READDDY?” – but no more jinxing the recovery. I’m saving my strength for the last night.

Lexy is in bad shape. She withdrew into a quiet funk as Korn were wrapping up, and is now struggling against a cascade of emotion – unsuccessfully. This is the most upset I’ve seen anyone so far this week. Kay and I try to coax something out of her.

She explains, in halting, tearful spasms:

“My friend Kurt was 19 when he was killed on New Years Eve. He was with a group of friends and was bailed up [held up], and they had their stuff stolen. It was just a gang of 15 year olds! But they picked him up and smashed him so bad, he was taken to hospital in a coma, and the next day, the life support was turned off.

“The kids that did it went to jail for manslaughter, not murder, like they should’ve. And I’m not sure, but I think they played some Korn at Kurt’s funeral.

“He was my best bud through high school, and I associate him with my first experiences listening to metal – and discovering my own way through life. Y’know, listening to different styles of music than the rest, making different choices, and all those things? Back then, we liked each other but wouldn’t admit it. Everyone would ask if we were together, but we were always like, ‘Nooo, FRIENDS.’

“Shortly before he died, we finally talked about this. We’d planned to meet again and spend some time together… So there’s sort of a ‘first love’ aspect in there too, I guess.

“Korn and Sepultura were a couple early bands we both liked. He was a drummer, and I remember sitting in class together, tapping out the beats to Korn and “Chaos A.D.” with pens and pencils instead of working, and then getting thrown out of class or into detention!

“So many people at Metalcamp have been dissing Korn and putting them down, but it was Kurt’s favorite band, and one of mine too. I’m not ashamed to admit it openly. I’ve moved onto other bands and sounds, but back in the day they were the coolest band. So I just got sad watching them, all these years later, knowing he’d never have the chance to, and how much he would’ve LOVED a festival like Metalcamp.

“Every time I see the word ‘Korn,’ the name ‘Kurt’ comes to mind. The similar spelling helps. The association is ALWAYS there, and it’ll always be with that time in my life. It’s a special connection that I never want to forget, like when you listen to music on a Walkman – back in the good old Walkman days, remember? – over and over in school, sharing the earphones with your mate. I’m surprised we didn’t wear those cassettes out.”

I absorb this with what feels like cold fingers grazing the back of my neck. Spilling her guts has seemed to cheer Lexy up a bit and get her laughing, but now all I can think of is the loss of my oldest, truest friend on his 22nd birthday, after an evening of drinking. One too many, as it turned out.

I imagine Story – he always took a bunch of good-natured shit about his name, and took it with a wry smile – nodding in irreverent approval at the way I sometimes describe his freak accidental death, the “Jimi Hendrix Experience,” when I can’t bear to visualize the forensic details. They lack the outward carnage of assault and battery, but internally, his vital systems were hurled into Armageddon.

How do we cope when someone simply slips away into the night, when death announces how fucking CLOSE he’s been all along? Is THIS another reason metal exists?

I think of that December. Wake, funeral, burial, gatherings (I wince at calling them “parties”). Overdue reunions and shell-shocked resolutions to maintain better touch with everyone. A month of irrational, pulverizing fear every time my phone rang that I’d lost another loved one. Iced Earth’s “Watching Over Me” on endless repeat.

Strange thing is, years before this happened, I’d thought to myself, randomly, inexplicably: “If I were to lose a close pal and write a song about him, it’d be this guy, and it’d be this song.”

I also think to when my car was under repair in summer 2004, and this saint offered to drive us all the way up to the Palladium in Worcester, Massachusetts – this is when I still lived in Virginia, mind you – because he knew I was dying to see Machine Head.

And he wasn’t even a metalhead! Just a big fan of road trips.

Beneath our gazebo, I share all this with Lexy. She’s doing better now. She replies: “Sometimes I like to be sad about it, and let those dark, gloomy thoughts take me over. It makes me realize how important these feelings are, and how good music can be – whether it activates emotions that make me happy or depressed. Good with the bad, y’know?”

2:00am. A pair of random Norwegian dudes came wandering on a zigzag course amidst the campsites, and hospitable people that we are, we invited them to sit for a nightcap.

Now I’m regretting it. I feel a little bad; our guests are pleasant enough, but somehow the pall of death hadn’t dissipated by the time they appeared, because we wound up on the delightful topic of Anders Breivik, child lover and diehard Labour Party fan. He went to trial for terrorism back in the spring, and is now awaiting a verdict.

In short order, Kay and Lexy snuck off to crash in their tents – DAMN them – and left me to fend for myself in what is now devolving into an all-hours discussion about serial killers.

What did I do to deserve this?

OverkillExposure's avatar

Mike Smith is a Southern-born, New England-based writer and a diehard metal and hard rock fan. As a music journalist, he is a staffer with Metalunderground.com and Outburn Magazine. As a screenwriter/producer, he is currently working on his first film with director Jason Matzner ("Dreamland").

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2 Comments on "Metal Daze: The Metalcamp Diaries, Part III"

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1. Slovenian writes:

Another great article, as two before! I'd say this one is the most interesting due to the emotional part.

# Oct 16, 2012 @ 12:04 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
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2. Blindgreed1 writes:

I wish I was there for the serial killer discussion. :-( Great piece Mike.

# Oct 17, 2012 @ 11:47 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address

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