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

Photo of Sodom

Band Photo: Sodom (?)

... Continued from Part IV...

FRIDAY 8/10

9:00am. For the first time since arriving, I wake up without a sore neck. In profound relief and gratitude, I kiss the small-but-soft pillow I managed to procure at Kik yesterday.

Before this, my strategy was simple: I’d rest my head on the stack of clean clothes in my open bag at the end of my tent. But as the days passed, the stack dwindled, until I felt like a neck injury victim tied to a crude, makeshift wooden stretcher.

There’s a preparation and packing lesson to be learned in there… somewhere.

9:30am. Another first (and last, it looks to be) for the week: I shave. Unable to rely on the little pocket mirror in the makeup kit that I absolutely, positively DO NOT own, I haven’t caught a true glimpse of myself in days.

I study my reflection in the window of Kay’s rental car. Things are approaching “Cast Away” levels. My scruffy five-day buildup of facial hair now resembles the beginnings of a feral beard. My hair – unwashed, unkempt, uncombed – shoots straight out in several directions, the accumulation of grime and dried sweat more effective than any gel.

I must smell like a bouquet of roses.

10:00am. Shaved and no longer looking like a fugitive terrorist, I hike down the wooded trail toward the festival grounds. About two-thirds down lies the main box office, across from which is a large, raised, wooden-planked platform beneath rows of outdoor showerheads.

At a festival, these showers will double as your fresh water supply, lest you want to spend the price of another ticket in bottled water. For the first time, I’m using them as intended. I rinse off and apply a sweet-smelling, girly shampoo I borrowed from camp. I promptly get some in my eyes.

I don’t want to succumb to crippling self-consciousness or force the same on others, but the half-naked couple bathing EACH OTHER beneath the same showerhead next to me is a little distracting. HANDS TO YOURSELF, I transmit telepathically. YOU’RE PRACTICALLY FUCKING.

2:00pm. Camera hound that she is, Kay wants to take a swing of the campgrounds for one last scenic picture tour while she still has the chance. Lexy and I tag along with our own cameras, dispersing far and wide.

I capture several people passed out beneath their gazebos, sheltered fetus-like from the sun, hung over and wallowing in varying stages of merciless festival fatigue.

A makeshift fence rigged around one campsite with wooden poles and string. A doorframe of 2x4s, and a rickety wooden door, serving as the only “entrance.” The door is streaked with fake blood: ‘WELCOME TO HELL.” Beneath that, in black, of course: “PAINT IT BLACK.”

There should be an award for this one: a white camper-trailer, festooned with a Metallica flag, two Norwegian flags, and a crumpled beach chair resting on the roof – and spray painted haphazardly in black, red, and blue.

“BRUTAL.” “KILL.” “BEER.”

“IF YOU’RE NOT INTO METAL, YOU ARE NOT MY FRIEND.” Nice Manowar reference.

“FREE COCK, SERVED STIFF.”

A mushroom cloud on the half-open door. The whole thing looks like art therapy at the used-vehicle lot for deranged mental (metal?) patients. Somehow, this sums the whole festival up. At least for the guys. I don’t know if I could guarantee the safety of any women to venture inside that hellwagon on wheels.

4:15pm. Second stage. I show up to catch opening English act Nekrodrako.

I have a pressing personal reason.

Last weekend, in my tiny hole-in-the-wall hotel in Ljubljana, two of my fellow guests were a very pleasant middle-aged couple from London – wearing metal shirts, and clearly festival-bound. Turns out their son Dave is Nekrodrako’s guitarist.

So how many opportunities in my life will I get to give this shout-out to a band member: “KILLER SET, BRO! YOUR MOM SAYS HI!” – and actually MEAN it?

All in good fun, of course. Tragically, I guess it’s not meant to be, because I’ve arrived, and the next band up on the bill, SkyLine, is playing. I ask around; turns out due to a cancellation, some of the early second stage acts were bumped up a time slot.

This could be some kind of sign to stop thinking like a high school freshman.

5:00pm. Main stage. I run into Sebastian, my German death metal friend who’s definitely not gay, and we catch a sizeable chunk of Heidevolk’s set.

They’re a band I won’t be seeing back home anytime soon, so it’s all about managing your priorities. Also, I interviewed guitarist Reamon Bomenbreker back in February (over the phone), so I feel compelled to continue my support.

As fine and pleasing a folky metal band as Heidevolk are, my highlight of their set comes when I snap a picture of a girl’s ass.

Hold on, before you call me a snickering adolescent. The back of her blood-red shorts is emblazoned in the angular, white font of Mastodon’s current “Hunter” logo: “ASSTODON.” Come on, that’s souvenir material.

6:00pm. Clutching the neck of my third bottle of Metalcamp wine – red this time – like a dagger handle, I finally shuffle the daunting fifty feet to introduce myself to our Austrian neighbors.

It feels like walking in on a coed Greek pledging ritual without knowing the rules (and everyone’s speaking German). One shirtless fellow stands in the middle of the broad circle of occupied chairs beneath the gazebo(s), wearing a conical birthday hat and preparing a beer bong. Everyone else is chanting… something. In any case, I manage to put it all together.

One of the girls, a bespectacled, straight-haired brunette named Tamara, invites me to sit. I grab the only empty chair next to her. She’s drinking red wine as well. She raises her plastic cup, revealing the collection of festival wristbands that’s every Euro-metalhead’s pride and joy, and fires off a toast to the birthday boy in German.

Cheers all around. Tamara gulps her wine. Turns to me, raises her eyebrows. I glance around. All eyes are now on me. I guess it’s my turn. I scramble for some clarification, and she helps me out as best she can.

“It’s his birthday, the one there in the middle.”

“Yeah, I got that part, but what are you guys saying, exactly?”

“We’re just going around the circle and saying a little something about him, for his birthday, one by one. And each time, we all drink.”

“I don’t even know the guy!”

“So what? Just say anything.”

Maybe I’ll get away with just flashing some horns and growling “METAAAL!” That usually keeps people happy, and I’m sure at the very least they’ll let it slide, given the circumstances. So I do just that.

Turns out I’m nowhere near drunk enough. Yet. The half-hearted line goes over like a bag of dicks. “Not enough,” someone yells. “You’ve gotta say more!”

On the spot, I deliver a tentative, pained birthday testimonial to a complete stranger. Not Greg “Godspell” Focker in “Meet The Parents” bad, but still pretty lame. Oh well; I still get cheers all around. The thought’s what counts.

While two volunteers assist the birthday boy with his beer bong – he’s doing it all wrong, I silently note – Tamara asks me to sign the group’s memory book. It’s making the rounds, and she drops it in my lap, explaining that so many new people and new friends accumulate at these festivals, the book is a way to keep track of everyone for future festival reunions. You’re also supposed to supply a few fun details about yourself – favorites, likes, dislikes, etc.

I oblige them, borrow a pen, and because I’m getting tipsy and feel like playing trust games, I proceed to jot down the basics: driver’s license number, passport number, social security number, bank account number, and power of attorney over my assets.

Hah. You didn’t think I was already THAT blasted, did you? No, I offer some basic contact information, with WWW.METALUNDERGROUND.COM underlined in bold, of course.

I glance up. Two girls to my right, a few feet down, are eyeing me with hesitant suspicion. One is whispering in the other’s ear, eyeing the press pass around my neck. Tamara and I notice this at the same time. I look at her and shrug – what’s the deal? – without saying a word.

She replies, “They don’t trust you. They think you’re going to write about all this.”

Well… I’m not exactly going to argue with that.

9:30pm. What the hell happened to the afternoon? Between the casual drop-in with the Austrians that wound up stretching over two hours – time REALLY flies around here – and a tedious foot journey to the Metal Market and the nearest cash/coupon exchange kiosk, I’ve had to settle for merely listening to Sodom on the main stage. With the competing noise of Metalsteel and Hypocras from the second stage, it was sometimes hard to hear the killer German thrash threesome, but what I did hear sounded pretty damn tight.

Oh, and of course, I couldn’t let the festival pass without checking the selection beneath the CD/vinyl tent at least once. Talk about the underground jackpot, especially for an American. Some of the rare titles and ENTIRE back catalogues I saw… you could spend all day browsing that stuff. For a metal fan, it’s like Christmas, New Year’s, and your first hand job all rolled into one.

Then again, I did let Sodom’s LIVE SHOW pass me by as I looked at CDs, which is kind of pathetic.

Now I’m standing on the rolling lower slope of the hill to the left of the stage, a beer in each hand. Fifty yards away, Peter Tägtgren is performing with Pain, transforming Metalcamp into a near-rave. Pulsing, club-ready, industrial dance beats. Shake-your-ass metal. No one stands still. I glance up the hill, where a fair crowd of people usually will sit. Not this time; most everyone is on his or her feet.

Lighters and camera LCDs - because this is the 21st century - dot the darkened landscape like erratic fireflies. Against the harsh strobes from the stage, it’s become hard to maintain visual bearings.

In a larger crowd – say at Wacken – these would be the perfect conditions for a hidden-in-plain-sight gang rape, à la “The General’s Daughter.” Because, like George Carlin, these are the kinds of things I think about when I’m sitting at home all alone and the power goes out.

Here, everyone seems pretty safe, albeit a little unhinged. There aren’t many boundaries anymore; it’s the last chance to cut loose.

A random ponytailed blonde grabs my hand, pulls me toward her, and speaks something in French into my ear. Living 45 minutes from Quebec and frequenting Montreal hasn’t taught me shit. I look at her and shrug helplessly. She laughs and leans into my ear again, shouting, this time in English.

This might be a good time to add that by now, in my life, my hearing isn’t what it may have used to be. In my teens, I assumed concert earplugs were for pussies, and never took up the habit. I also blast metal constantly in the car, so I still can’t hear this chick.

I shout this back to her. She laughs and says something else I can’t hear. Slips one arm through mine. I quickly polish off the beer in that hand, lest I spill it. We start to gallop, rotating, square-dance style. Faster.

The centrifugal force pulls us apart, flinging her into the cluster of fans ahead of us, me into the scattered group behind. I spill half my remaining beer.

By the time I pull myself together, everyone around me is someone different. They either darted to avoid the splash or were caught up in the fluid, constantly moving maelstrom of dancing people. In any case, my French acquaintance is nowhere to be seen, and Pain is wrapping it up with “Shut Your Mouth,” so I relocate.

10:30pm. I rendezvous with Jure, Kay, and Lexy outside the main stage gate. “So, your favorite band’s on next, huh?” I tease Kay. She ignores this – ask her about Sabaton and she’ll give you an earful – and glances at the fresh Metalcamp shirts Jure and I are sporting, purchased a few minutes ago at the merch stand a few feet away.

“You’re lucky they still had any,” she notes. “Good rule of thumb at most fests is to buy your merch on the first day.”

Speaking of available merch, for some reason, Dark Tranquillity shirts are for sale right up alongside the rest. They’re not on the bill here this year, which is a little puzzling.

Sebastian reappears with his wide, toothy grin beneath his ever-present cowboy hat. “Beach Bar after the show, everyone?” He rallies us. He glances at the last of the beer in my hand, which I drain, remembering to save the cup for exchange later.

“No more drinking at the show!” He insists. “Save it for later, because you’re gonna be up ALL NIGHT with us.” I look around at Jure, Lexy, and Kay. They’re all nodding. I’m outnumbered and surrounded.

I figure this might be a good time to plan the next rendezvous before we split up for the last time. I bring this up.

“Trollfest plays after Sabaton, and then that’s it,” Kay announces. “I’m only shooting their first three songs, and then we’ll get the hell out of here. So everyone meet me at the gate to the photo pit after the third Trollfest song.”

10:45pm. Jure and I stand side by side, as far up front as we can get without humping the backs of others, on the right side of the crowd. This is where I stood for that fateful first evening, along with Kataklysm the following evening and Edguy yesterday.

The lights dim. A thunderous roar. Any second now, I’m expecting to hear some recorded intro, like “Dead Soldier’s Waltz” or “Dominium Maris Baltici.” Instead, the lights slowly rise again, revealing a short Austrian brunette – apparently affiliated with organizers Rock The Nation – alone onstage. She snatches the microphone from the stand.

Is this going to be a practical joke? “Sabaton’s cancelled,” that sort of thing, to get everybody all hot and bothered before the band lunges out of nowhere?

I guess not. She starts by thanking us for coming out and having as good a time as they did putting it together, and yada, yada, yada. Usual “last night” stuff.

Then, the answer to the question everyone’s been asking, to the rumor that’s spread like herpes, to the doubts and fears abounding:

“This festival will continue. Next summer and, we hope, for many more summers, the same festival will take place, right here in Tolmin. The only thing that will change will be the name. Starting next summer, Metalcamp will be called MetalDays.”

A collective groan spreads amongst the audible relief in the massive crowd. That name really doesn’t make a lot of sense – unless, of course, they intend to spell it “Metal Daze,” which would rule.

A tactful crowd-worker in her own right, the messenger raises her voice, just to make sure everyone hears. “But besides the name, everything – EVERYTHING – will be exactly the same, and this festival WILL take place, next summer, right here in Tolmin!”

She gets some more cheers, wishes everyone fun with Sabaton, and disappears. I turn and solicit Jure’s opinion. “They do mean ‘Metal Daze,’ right? Like D-A-Z-E? That’s the only version that’d make sense and look cool.”

Jure points above our heads at the towering banners, one flanking each side of the stage, that have served as projector screens all week (for the blow-up performance images, for announcements, and such). A flashy animated “title sequence” of sorts is starting up, drip-feeding us information line by teasing line.

“JULY 2013…”

“TOLMIN, SLOVENIA…”

“FROM THE ASHES OF METALCAMP…”

Jure scowls in disapproval at this. “They’re making it sound like Metalcamp is dead, and it’s not. It’s still awesome. What the fuck?” I can't blame him. A proud local, he’s defending his hometown’s pride and joy.

“A SUCCESSOR WILL RISE…”

I wait breathlessly for written confirmation…

METALDAYS.”

I’d rather have a great festival with its name changed than none at all, and I assume everyone around me would agree, but that’s not stopping the plainly obvious odor of disgruntlement clouding the air.

From behind us, an unidentified fan yells, “More like MetalGAYS!”

There’s no time for any more complaining, because the lights dim again. Over the PA, Europe's "The Final Countdown." Really! Entrance track: "The March To War."

In a sudden rush, Sabaton emerge in their trademark camouflage pants, army boots, and bullet belts. The mood changes instantly.

It’s hard not to be uplifted, in a goofy sort of way, by the sight of frontman Joakim Brodén, the mustache that one day will earn him an airport security cavity search, and the aviator shades apparently Superglued to his face.

“We are Sabaton, and this is ‘Ghost Division!’” The standard opener, an aggressive mosh-friendly song that likely won’t leave its place in the setlist anytime soon.

Two-thirds of the band’s members are new, recruited after a mass exodus of ranks earlier this spring, prior to releasing the current “Carolus Rex” album. Seems they could’ve picked worse; the renditions of such back-catalogue tunes as “Midway," “The Art Of War,” and "Into The Fire" sound no different from the Sabaton show I caught in Montreal last year after interviewing Joakim.

At one point, he pauses to recognize the new members. "You all came with a fucking open mind and gave them a chance to prove they can rock."

The photographers exit the pit in a halting flow after the third song, equipment jostling. I spot Kay and sidestep a few feet to the edge of the crowd. She’s hell-bent on getting out of here. “What, you’re not sticking around?” I rub it in.

If sarcastic looks could kill. She rolls her eyes. “Enjoy your homoerotic warmongering.” Starts walking.

The next song starts up. “Fuck you! I will!” I yell above the din. She cackles and heads off in the direction of the nearest bar.

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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