Metalcamp 2012: An American's Odyssey Into A European "Hell Over Paradise" - Part V (Continued)
... Continued from Part V...
2:00am. Beach Bar. So this is where it all ends. The final showdown.
Trollfest came on after Sabaton and played some lively little ditties, including the official Metalcamp theme, but after three songs, we were ready to call it a show. We dropped off all our shit back at camp, and now here we are.
Business is booming at the food stands and raging at the bar, and once again, the strippers are out in full force. We’ve found an empty table on the covered deck ringing the steep hill that meets the narrow beach.
The table has filled up quickly. Kay, Lexy, Jure, Matic, Sebastian, and me. Now here comes Cody, the Mikael Akerfeldt lookalike from New York. “Metal Underground?” he recognizes me.
“Hey, New York!” I greet him. “Grab a seat.” Cody joins us. What I’m guessing is a new acquaintance, Eva, shows up with him. Slovenian, short and tiny, and probably barely legal. Straight, jet-black, borderline Goth hair and a denim jacket. The kind of deceiving appearances that may kick your ass in the pit if you try anything fresh.
I’m not sure where the Belgians – Bram, Matthieu, and the “other” Eva – are, but our table is overflowing now as it is.
On endless nights like these, the clock notwithstanding, it’s hard to determine exactly when “tonight” ends and “tomorrow” begins.
The wee witching hours blur together.
I don’t black out. It’s never been an issue for me. However, in these situations, I do cease to record events in my memory bank in a straightforward, linear fashion. Any later attempt to divide these memory snatches episodically will be doomed to fail.
Laško after Laško after Laško. A few whiskeys here, a vodka there. At one point, a wine spritzer to slow the pace.
I don’t think I’m going to make it.
Eventually, I notice the striptease is over, and the DJ’s tunes are considerably louder. The music is keeping the night alive.
Some Carcass, some Pantera, some Priest. The others see me starting to fade. Kay yanks me to my feet. Throws an arm around me.
“You know what? When we were planning this, I thought to myself, ‘I don’t know if I can relate to a guy who doesn’t drink…’ BUT YOU DO DRINK!” She laughs. I laugh with her, hoping it doesn’t come off hollow.
It’s a dubious compliment. Not her fault, of course. But thoughts of the near future have now crept in… a future in which vacation is over, and I’m back home at square one to deal with a slippery vice I’d previously kicked.
She snaps me out of it and gives me a stern shove. “Now dance.”
Eventually, everyone joins in, although I think Jure and Matic split at some point. An impromptu, motley metal club forms on the wooden deck. The songs, one after another, become a single amorphous blob of riffs and beats that we somehow make danceable.
Eva and Lexy, hurling their petite frames around like unhinged gates in a bracing breeze. Kay and Cody, drinks in hand, taking the disco route – in spirit, at least. Sebastian, windmilling his hair, then stomping his foot and thrusting an accusing finger straight down at the deck when Exodus’ “Throwing Down” comes on. “I’ve gotta hear ‘Blacklist,” he exclaims. “That’s my favorite song off ‘Tempo Of The Damned.’”
I’m not sure what I look like during these shenanigans, but I could use a good “jumping jack” song, to at least keep the adrenaline flowing. “Kings Of Metal” pops into my head. I blurt out, “I could use a little Manowar action.”
VERY poor phrasing. The others have a field day with it. I think I’m going to be regretting it for a while.
5:45am. I’m not sure how I got this far.
The sky has lightened to a purplish gray, with burning hints of the approaching sun over the hills across the river. It’s definitely “tomorrow.”
Everyone’s still with us – I think – but the party is faltering to its inevitable end. The DJ is still blasting metal as dozens of all-night stragglers make their way back to their camps.
I can barely see in front of my face anymore. I’m not sick or spinning – yet – but I’m not far off, either. I pull myself together just enough to pose with Kay, Lexy, and Sebastian for a picture. I’m not even sure who takes it.
I sink to the wooden bench and lower my head. “I think I’m done. I might pass out now,” I mumble.
“You could jump in the river,” Lexy offers. That is batshit crazy, so I wave it off. We’re not in the Caribbean, or even the Mediterranean, by a long shot.
“DO IT!” Sebastian yells excitedly. “Do it! If you do, that will be the most METAL ACTION anyone at this festival has done this whole week!”
I glance at Kay, hoping she’ll save me. Why’d I hope that? She’s nodding.
“See the crepe stand over there? It’s still open. If you do it, I’ll order you one, on me.”
Free dessert/breakfast aside, I’m starting to see the advantages. It’ll be one hell of a wakeup. I do need a jolt.
With a bit of hesitation, I nod, pull off my shirt, and reach for my belt buckle. They all cheer.
6:00am. YOU’VE KNOCKED A SCREW LOOSE, a taunting Protestant voice rattles my inner skull in a booze-muddled echo as I lope across a bed of sharp stones and plunge into the frigid river just this side of bare-assed.
The full immersion drowns that pesky voice mid-sentence. Eyes open under water; I find peaceful seclusion for a few precious, bone-chilling seconds.
Confirming the diagnosis as I breach the surface and hoist myself to my feet, waist-deep, skin already tightening from the abrupt system shock, a guy on the beach mutters something to his friend, shoots me a strange glare – did I somehow manage to insult his mom? – and twirls his finger near his temple. Yep.
Whatever. I reinforce the diagnosis and thrust double horns skyward, hoping to give the appearance of a calculated, decisive, tough, metal-inspired action and not the clumsy result of a dare, drowned brain cells, and a liquid blanket.
6:15am. Did I mention that water is FUCKING COLD? You can almost HEAR an inner voice counting down degrees as your body temperature lowers. After an initial shock and endorphin rush, I feel weak.
“Wide-awake drunk,” as they say.
After pulling my clothes back on with numb fingers, I plunked down on the bench, collapsed forward, and rested my clouded head on folded arms on the table.
And here I still am, in a hazy state of suspended delirium. Picking up snatches of conversation from the others, hanging a few feet away.
“Here you go.” Kay slides a paper plate across the table. I nod, mumble something unintelligible in thanks, and wolf down the delicious chocolate crepe in a few quick bites. I discover I’m ravenous.
I pick myself up and lurch off the deck, passing Sebastian, who claps me on the back. He’s still drinking beer like a good German.
I head over to the crepe stand to order another. Chocolate and some kind of jam this time. But their generator craps out moments later, and I stand there for most of my life as they troubleshoot. I think I’m going to fall straight forward into the batter bowl.
7:00am. I finally get the crepe and sit back down. It’s gone in seconds. I feel my head beginning the slow, painful process of clearing itself. The pounding metal from the DJ – still going! – isn’t as much fun now.
Incredibly, Manowar’s “Kings Of Metal” comes on. Too little, too late, but that doesn’t stop Kay: “Hey, it’s that ‘Manowar action’ you were looking for!”
7:30am. Stumbling the long road back toward camp. A walk of pride for some, a walk of shame for others. What’s MY category? My thoughts and feelings on this are scattered, discombobulated, and contradictory. I just want a nap.
Kay shows me the LCD monitor on her camera. Oh, great. She snapped a picture of me crashing into the river, looking like a complete tool.
Sebastian shakes my shoulder. “Hey, Mike! Look!” He points. “It’s your zombie girlfriend!”
I blink. My eyes focus. Coming the other way, another group of stragglers. A mirror image of us, probably. One chick is trudging along with a lethargic gait, face pale white, eyes blank, mouth hanging half open, slack-jawed. PLEASE TELL ME, I silently pray, THAT IS NOT WHAT I LOOK LIKE RIGHT NOW.
11:00am. Australian Embassy. I crashed a couple hours, but the sun is high in the sky, and there’s just no staying in the tent.
I shuffle amongst the scattered debris around and beneath the gazebo, the results of six nights of camping. In the end, tidiness and cleanliness always go the way of shit down the shitter. In its place comes along something more closely resembling “Lord Of The Flies.”
Kay is driving us back to Ljubljana later today, and needs her rest more than any of us. So she’s dragged her mattress from her tent and under the gazebo, and now lies passed out, snoring, face up, mouth hanging open, body contorted, in quite an unflattering pose.
I pull out my digital point-and-shoot and snap a picture. For insurance. M.A.D. “Mutually Assured Destruction.”
12:00pm. We’re all awake, clumsily cooking our last… brunch, I guess we’re calling it… with the supplies we have left.
Jure has dropped by for one last visit, looking rested and relaxed. As always, he seems to be hovering slightly above all the wretchedness. After all, he does this every year.
I survey the landscape and surrounding mountains, taking a final few pictures. I pause. When you stop and look around once in a while, it really does take your breath away.
“This really is a paradise,” I murmur in subdued awe.
“Not far away from here, up in those hills, there’s an old Austro-Hungarian fort left over from World War One,” Jure casually offers. “We’re on the old Italian front. They fought in this valley for two whole years, and over a million guys were killed."
Such a contradiction. Such pristine beauty, barely scarred over from the flat-out rape of war. Here at Metalcamp, we’ve been playing “war” all week. Except we get to pack up and go home.
Jure continues: “After the Austro-Hungarians lost the war, the Italians tried to colonize and basically ‘Italianize’ us. That’s why that influence in the culture is so much more obvious here than back in Ljubljana.”
3:00pm. Just as I dragged my packed bag outside and began to break down my tent, the rain clouds swept in to give us a kick in the ass.
Luckily, most of our gear is already stowed in the car, but we’re not finished. Cursing, I drag my bag to the passenger side, open the door, and squeeze the fucker in, end over end, like a body bag. I push hard enough to make a sliver of room to sit.
I let the rain soak me down to the bone as I yank out the tent pegs and gather up the guy lines. I drag everything beneath the battered gazebo – we’re leaving it behind – and roll it all up in its drawstring bag.
Lexy pulls down the Aussie flag. The Embassy is no more. Feels like Americans evacuating Saigon or Phnom Penh.
4:00pm. I stare out the window, semiconscious, as a weary and hung-over Kay steers us through winding passes between the imposing mountains. She munches small squares of chocolate to stay awake.
A tap on my knee. I shake fully awake. “Huh?” Lexy passes a small CaseLogic CD booklet into the backseat. I take it.
“Kay says to pick one of the burned Sepultura CDs and pass it up front,” she tells me. I ask her which. “They both just say ‘Sepultura.’ Pick one.”
I do. They pop it in. It’s “Chaos A.D.” A rocking album, but we keep the volume on the low side. After a week of earsplitting metal crashing in on us from all directions, all we now need is background music. I don’t think my head can take much more than that – not until I’ve truly slept.
5:00pm. By the time “Clenched Fist” starts, we’re rolling past the railway station in Ljubljana.
7:00pm. Scratch Rock Bar.
A cozy tavern just off Krakovski nasip, a narrow, leafy promenade running along the Ljubljanica River. The soft lighting encases the parade of wall decorations in a warm glow.
Posters of Iron Maiden and AC/DC. A cymbal mounted between them. A small picture of a shredding Dave Mustaine in the corner. Musical bars (get it?) running wall to wall near the ceiling. Guitars mounted on the wall behind the bar. Slayer on the speakers.
Such a welcoming haven, hidden in plain sight amongst mainstream restaurants, bars, and tourist sights.
Why do we do that? Relegate anything outside metal to “mainstream?” The designation often smacks of more than a little disdain. For better or worse, I guess it’s a spiteful way to “other” a culture that we perceive has “othered” us.
I sip my drink and remember another “Metal Studies” point that Marta, my academic metal friend from last week, made:
“I think the reason metal didn’t really become ‘big’ in the States is the issue of association. It looks like metal is still feared by many in North America, whereas in Europe, it’s either embraced or simply ignored.”
And what of establishments like Scratch? Or Kuma’s Corner in Chicago, for that matter?
“Metal subcultures are sort of founded on ‘being the underdog’ and rebelling, and even being the antithesis of the values of general society. Basically, metalheads love all things metal because other people don’t get it, so it’s a kind of exclusivity you feel when you’re part of it. But it seems this exclusivity is lessening in recent years, which a lot of people don’t like.”
On that note, earlier today, I saw prominent advertisements for upcoming shows by Accept, Ensiferum, and Paradise Lost – right nearby a billboard for an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.
What a novel concept (to me at least), the actual moneymaking potential of metal.
On a related, but darker and twisted note...
This afternoon I fired up my laptop and connected to my hotel’s Wi-Fi. After sifting through a week’s worth of stale emails, I logged onto Facebook.
Seconds later, singer Peter Dolving posted a lengthy screed regarding his recent split with The Haunted, and his deep personal estrangement from Anders and Jonas Björler, his former bandmates and current members of At The Gates.
“The day the Björlers decided to tell [The Haunted] about the At The Gates ‘farewell tour,’ (the farewell tour now in its third year…) we were releasing and promoting ‘Versus.’  They told us that they would only do 14 shows. They are still touring…
“They have really cashed in to the fullest. Good for them. It’s good to have money in a capitalist world.
“Rock ‘n’ roll for me is about love, hate, life and how we live it. It’s vivid, aware, right here. Indifference and shutting each other off is the diametric opposite. Watching your back because you care more about your pension-plan than your fellow travelers, avoiding confrontations because one is lazy and a coward, etc., is just not fucking cutting it.
“They broke my fucking heart.”
Success in music is, without doubt, a nasty, rusty double-edged sword. Especially when the honest, emotionally raw ideals of metal and rock ‘n’ roll – TRUE rock ‘n’ roll – are painted, one way or another, with dollar signs.
I wonder about the legal and/or financial issues that led to the rebranding of Metalcamp into MetalDays. I wonder who dropped what ball, who split with whom, who no longer speaks to whom. How many people in this business, all over the globe, now compete bitterly over music that once bound them as brothers and sisters?
What breaks MY heart is that I just want to enjoy the tunes without feeling pressured to take sides in public feuds. You know it happens. That's one of the downsides of the intensity of Metaldom: taking everything personally.
I want to forget about this bullshit right fucking now, starting with another drink. Kay and Lexy are long gone by now, on their way to Summer Breeze. I'm keeping my own company.
Cody walks in, randomly. I wave him over. It’s Sunday, the banks were closed all day, and he’s temporarily penniless. I buy him a round. We recap.
“You’re one of the only other Americans I’ve met here, and this was my third time to Metalcamp,” he says. I believe it. We’re a long way from home.
9:00pm. Hostel Celica on Masarykova cesta, three blocks east of the railway station. After meeting Cody’s new Slovenian friend Eva there, we wound up here.
The mind boggles.
We sit on benches in the roofed top tier of a staggered series of elevated platforms, accessible via narrow, steep metal staircase. It’s part tree house, part jungle gym, part concentration camp guard tower.
Around us lies a blacktopped courtyard – including a ring of rubber tires converted into permanent seats – surrounded by the outbuildings of a former prison, turned art gallery, turned youth hostel.
I know. It confused me too.
A stone’s throw away, the dilapidated bar is scrawled in graffiti that just barely breaks through the “ugly” barrier into “charming.”
A group of people, faces obscured in the dim, shadowy glow from the nearby streetlights, exits the bar, laughing, and approaches the bottom of the tower. Thumping, clanging as they ascend, voices growing louder.
A head peeks up through the opening in the floor. A pair of eyes on me. “Hey, America!” It’s the “other” Eva.
“Hey, Belgium!” I reply. She climbs up, followed by Bram and Matthieu of Herfst. Bram’s height makes standing difficult in this cramped, enclosed space. He has to crouch on the wooden platform.
With the proud excitement of an elementary schooler returning home from arts and crafts, Bram pulls out his smart phone and plays some Herfst music from “The Deathcult,” the new EP (reviewed here).
Gradually, one by one and sometimes two by two, a stream of festival survivors from Metalcamp show up and join us, some ensconcing themselves in our turret, some claiming spots on lower levels, some circulating between the tower and the bar.
Somehow, all roads have led here, from many, many places indeed.
Three Irishmen; Adrian, a slim, crew-cut entrepreneur; Bobby, a curly, bearded redhead with an Alestorm shirt; and Ciarán, braided and ruddy-cheeked, strumming an acoustic guitar.
Dorian, a Frenchman with dangerous eyes and a suspicious Glen Benton resemblance; and Andrée, a Québécois. Iveta, a Czech girl; Gavin, an English music journalist; and Tzafi, a grinning, bespectacled Israeli-American from Rochester, New York.
Amid all the introductions and chitchat, Belgian Eva borrows the trusty writer's notebook from my lapel and starts scribbling a lengthy list of European festivals to check out.
Graspop. Rock Hard. Summer Breeze. Wacken. Hellfest. Brutal Assault. Vagos. Sweden Rock. Tuska. Masters Of Rock. And on and on.
Tzafi, meanwhile, has a hell of a story to tell.
“Last night, almost everyone else had left the Metalcamp grounds. Only a few diehard metalheads, or those too hung over to leave, remained there. Our party consisted of us – the motley crew of World Camp – with our new English friends, the Brotherhood of Beer, and 2 Guys 1 TV, the documentarians. Because when the show can no longer go on, the party must!
“We were all sitting around grilling, drinking and merry-making in camp with our friends, both old and new, when suddenly, from the cover of darkness a wild tractor appeared with forklift forks mounted on the front.?
“At that point, we were all basically squatting on park land and were a little apprehensive of the fact that maybe the land owners had brought in heavy machinery to evict us. Cue Sepultura's ‘Territory.’
"We all got up and started walking towards the tractor to see what was going on. Then we noticed that the tractor was carrying a RUBBER DINGHY on its forks!
"‘That's an odd thing for a forklift to be carrying,’ I remember thinking.
“Curious, we drew closer. The operator stopped the tractor dead in front of us, but instead of shouting at us to get out of the way or gunning the engine, he slowly lowered the forks.
“As they descended to eye level, we saw that the dinghy was completely full of pristine beer cans. Just as we were about to run out of booze, too! The tractor/forklift deposited the beer dinghy on the ground, backed up, and then lifted the forks in the air to FLASH US THE METAL HORNS.
“That exact moment made my fucking festival! ‘Epic’ doesn't even begin to describe it. With a wave of his forks and a honk of his horn, our anonymous tractor driver turned around and drove off into the Slovenian night.
“That party easily ranked as one of the best nights of my life.”
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