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Graspop Metal Meeting 2019: Intro Night

There must be a hundred festivals in Europe by now. Every year a new one pops up, some grow, some wane, but a few sit rightfully in the hall of kings. This year, I made my sixth visit to one from the last category, travelling to the small town of Dessel in the east of Belgium, not far from the Dutch border, to once again experience the one and only Graspop Metal Meeting.

Graspop, as the name suggests, originally began as a more commercial affair, once being headlined by the likes of Simple Minds. In 1996 however, the organisers decided, having witnessed the popularity of the metal bands they'd booked previously, to steer the event entirely towards catering for metal, hardcore and punk fans and brought in the likes of Iron Maiden, Sick Of It All, Type O Negative and Slayer to kick off the inaugural brawl. Fast forward to 2019 and Graspop has become one of Europe's favourite festivals, with many bands also speaking highly of it. It boasts a consistently amazing lineup, serves as a cultural melting pot where people come from all over the globe to celebrate metal and offers fans an unforgettable weekend for a reasonable price. So was this year's event? Well...

Most festivals are advertised as three day affairs, normally the Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but at Graspop, the party gets going on Thursday, as each year, many local bands as well as a few international names descend upon the half opened grounds to welcome those who have made the journey to Dessel. Almost as soon I had set up my tent, it was off to the Marquee to see one of my absolute favourite old school heavy metal bands, Raven.

Raven has for decades, worked tirelessly on their live performances and become one of the most revered performers among their peers. The Geordie trio rolled into Belgium on the Thursday and rightly received a very strong response from the crowd, who ate up such staples as "Faster Than The Speed Of Light" and "All For One." Despite forming forty five years ago, Raven still have an energy and playfulness about them that many younger bands lack. Raven is as fun as heavy metal gets, providing sing along anthems, dry humour and plenty of crowd participation. On a personal note, the band finishing the set with my favourite of theirs, "Don't Need Your Money," made sure that this was indeed the best start to a festival this reporter could have had.

After a little wait, catching the sun and enjoying a drink, it was time for one of Belgium's biggest metal exports, Aborted, to make their home nation proud. There's something special about Aborted, given how brutal their music is and how ferocious vocalist Sven de Caluwé, it's perhaps funny that they're so likeable. The quartet put on a good sized set with plenty of variation to be heard throughout, including new material from their latest album, "Terrorvision," such as "Deep Red" and "Squalor Opera," as well as the title track. There were plenty of older favourites on show too, including, "Coffin Upon Coffin" and closing number, "The Saw And The Carnage Done." Aborted are probably one of the biggest death metal bands to come from Europe and frankly, that success and reputation is well earned.

After another lengthy break, during which the Marquee was visited by Sonata Arctica, I returned to the packed out tent a few hours later to see something truly special. Phil Anselmo, the frontman of such bands as Down, Superjoint Ritual and The Illegals, was returning to the material which launched his career, performing a set of nothing but Pantera songs. Anselmo's decision to do this came from the sudden death of former bandmate Vinnie Paul Abbott, the drummer of Pantera who suffered a fatal heart attack last year and backed by The Illegals, the singer did an amazing job of paying tribute to the Abbot brothers and the phenomenal music the three, along with bassist Rex Brown crafted throughout the nineties.

It was a fascinating setlist, with quite a few surprises, not just in terms of what was played but also when it came to what wasn't. Opening number "Mouth For War" set the crowd off like a spark among dynamite, followed immediately after the sneering, "Becoming." Anselmo used this opportunity to perform songs he never got the chance to with Pantera, including "Using My Third Arm" and "Yesterday Don't Mean Shit," while the classics such as "This Love," "I'm Broken" and of course, "Walk" were dragged like the waters into the spotlight, still being barked out by Phil Anselmo with full force, while the Illegals did a great job performing the intricate music. Fans were no doubt surprised and some disappointed not to hear the likes of "Cowboys From Hell" and "Cemetery Gates" tonight, but this pummeling set, which concluded with an excellent rendition of "A New Level" was not just a treat, but a real experience for those of us too young to have seen Pantera and a wonderful throwback for fans that were.

All this and the festival hadn't even officially begun!

Diamond Oz's avatar

Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com since 2007 and a metal fan since 2001, going as far as to travel to other countries and continents for metal gigs.

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