Bang Your Head 2017!!! – Metal Family Reunion!
July 22, 2017, a month ago
Banger Films honcho Sam Dunn likes to talk about metal genealogy, in terms of branches and trees. At Balingen, there were all different species: grandfathers, newborns, even the embarrassing drunk uncle who's still part of the clan. Like the TV weather person in San Diego, southern Spain or many tropical island paradises, you'd think writing the 17th consecutive report on the Bang Your Head festival would get a little monotonous, finding new ways to say the same thing. Similar to the sunny dispositions of those “tasked” with such balmy climatological outlooks, attending and reporting on the annual Germany confab is a great joy! Unlike most other multiple day metal get-togethers, BYH remains my favorite festival experience. It essentially sports just a lone stage (there is limited action at an adjacent, indoor venue, primarily once the town's 11 PM noise ordinance takes effect), allowing time for socializing, without missing any of the music, and the crowd is considerably older, with an unscientific survey placing the median age of attendees in their late 30s (at least). Over the years, organizers have sought to vary the heritage heavy, traditional metal line-up, now offering a greater number of thrash/death metal acts, as well as exciting new faces who kick-off each day.
While the current three-day format will remain intact through 2018, thereafter it will revert to its original Friday/Saturday configuration. Of course, there will continue to be a star-studded Warm-Up show, the night before the main event. This year, that additional cost performance, in the aforementioned nearby Volksbank Messe hall saw Death Angel, Sanctuary, Angel Dust, Bloodbound and Stormwarrior on display. After their 2010 ProgPower USA appearance and the Thunder & Steele album, four years later, sort of hadn't heard much from Stormwarrior, although always a fun live act. First order of business, bassist Yenz Leonhardt is gone, although mainstay guitarist/vocalist Lars Ramcke remains (as does drummer Jorg Uken). Plenty of fog (always copious amounts on this stage, regardless of band) and lights that crisscross the stage, but rarely illuminate the principals involved. Despite the threat of rain (or maybe because of it) the early crowd was a little sparse. Then again, the Germans often feel no sense of urgency seeing countrymen/bands that they can see easily/at another time. However, just two songs in and crowd of fists are being thrust skyward. “Bloode Eagle” is up early, new bassist Connie Andreszka (ex-Mystic Prophecy) on backing vocals. Throughout the set, fans/drunks yell stuff, which Ramcke entertains. “Valhalla”, another old school gem, with widdly dual leads, is lit in pink. A pleasant re-introduction to Hamburg based Vikings concludes with the one-two punch of “Steelcrusader” and “Heading Northe”.
Next up was Bloodbound with devilish frontman Patrik Johansson, looking like Mephistopheles, mini horns sprouting from his bald scalp! After “Stand & Fight” opener and “In The Name Of Metal”, the singer lost his long black leather, opting for a black tank top instead. Scrims, depicting the fire breathing winged beast adorning the just issued War Of Dragons CD stood either side. High energy power metal “Moria”, with its refrain, “Bang your head to Hell and back,” seemed tailor made for this weekend. Since Angel Dust are headed to Atlanta in September, didn't spend too much time getting the details, although singer Dirk Thurisch initially wore sunglasses and ski cap. In addition to becoming a second guitarist, to augment the keyboard laden sound, he also employed a megaphone for vocals. “Come Into Resistance” and hard hitting “Border Of Reality” were among the standouts.
After the initial trio that also begins Sanctuary's comeback album, The Year The Sun Died, Warrel Dane and company dished out some old school material, beginning with the green lit “Die For My Sins”, complete with high voice. During blue hued “Future Tense”, Dane highlighted in white, the singer attempted to get a pit going. Not sure why the cover of Jefferson Airplane's “White Rabbit” is still part of the set. They have enough stuff of their own. However, Warrel asked “Who is stoned?” Running through a selection of substances, before ending his inquiry with weed, saying, “It's legal in the US.” Well, only in a handful of states! Lenny Rutledge is alone, under white lights. Later, there's the classic “Battle Angels”, aided by the Balingen chorus of voices and immediately afterwards “Into The Mirror Black” Nice combo! “Soldiers Of Steel” sends the old heads in the crowd (which is almost everyone!) into a state of ecstasy, before the show closes with “Taste Revenge”. Hopefully someone filmed/recorded quality audio/video of this.
Of all the original San Fran thrashers, Death Angel remain the most viciously active onstage, many of their contemporaries forgetting (physically unable) to recall that the word “thrash” was conceived for the way the members moved/played live. Mark Osegueda (vocals) and Rob Cavestany (guitar) both live up to the tradition. A snippet of “The Ultra-Violence”, into “Evil Priest”, instantly keeps the diehards, heads swirling with five hours of metal and beer (not necessarily in equal concentrations) from heading home prematurely. As with last fall's North American stint with Slayer & Anthrax, the majority of the set is culled from the last couple of albums, but do occasional venture back to the debut (“Kill As One”) or “Seemingly Endless Time”. Color scheme is heavy on purples, as “Thrown To The Wolves” is like an indoor tornado. Death Angel are deserving of a much higher global profile. Investigate!
Early the next morning, ran into organizer Horst Franz and in conversation, he complains about all the new safety concerns, stating, “It's boring. If I was worried about terrorism, I wouldn't do this.” That said, as years past, pairs of Polizei stroll the grounds and interact with concert goers, often laughing and joking around. No heavy handed, stand-off elitism here. Although the music reconvenes at 11:30 AM, waited until 1 PM to have the first hefeweizen, during Crystal Viper, the first must-see act of the day. Fronted by guitarist/Polish powerhouse Marta Gabriel, it's easy to see why these guys do so well in Germany, plying a traditional style synonymous with the region. The diminutive red-tipped hair singer, in black lace-up pants, is barely as tall as the axe she plays, but there's nothing small about her voice: raspy, with the odd high pitched yelp (the latter, something of a pattern throughout the weekend: Grim Reaper, Raven, Evil Invaders). “Night Prowler“, with Marta tethered to the mic, sees the others try to pick up the slack, but despite Blazej Grygiel's mugging and fist pounding his bass, ultimately the large festival stage proves too big. The current four piece incarnation better suited to clubs. “Night Of The Sin“, “I Fear No Evil” and concluding “Metal Nation” are among the highlights, punctuated by the ear piercing squeal. Surprised to find there's a little extra time, she puts down the guitar, acting solely as frontwoman (even walking onto the catwalk that jut into the crowd) for a cover of Grim reaper's “See You In Hell”, the first of multiple renditions aired during the weekend.
Reactivated technical thrashers Toxik repeatedly announced how glad they were to be in Balingen, celebrating almost 30 years since the release of their debut World Circus. Original guitarist Josh Christian (now devoid of hair) sees Think This vocalist Charlie Sabin rejoin the fold. Although a 3-song EP (reproduced artwork on scrims) was just issued (hard copies available at the merch booth), the majority of this afternoon's choices came from the aforementioned, Eighties Roadrunner platters. Frenetic, technical, speedy and heavy, sort of a Meshuggah precursor. After “Heart Attack”, they played the video from new EP, “Stand Up”, which commenced with a Sabin scream. There were none of the pre-recorded bits that segued Think This tracks, so “Greed” (ably) stood alone. The slower begun “Count Your Blessings” turned into a Christian showcase, lots of sweeps and whammy bat action.
Plastic swords and inflatable hammers stood at the ready, down front of the stage, for comic book/cos-play metal of Gloryhammer. The underpinnings of the music owes a huge debt to classic power metal, a keyboard poppy amalgam of Alestorm meets Manowar, which had people doing a jig or the Cossack dance to the pomp(osity). The goofy Guardians Of The Galaxy come to life costumes undoubtedly bow to a younger generation of ticket buyers. Furry booted bassist, plus hooded drummer and keyboardist (Alestorm founder Chris Bowes). Are they sword & sorcery? Sci-fi? Or both! At least they don't take themselves too seriously. The titles go a long way in telling the tale: “Legend Of The Astral Hammer”, “Hail To Crail”, "The Unicorn Invasion Of Dundee", “Magic Dragon”, “Universe On Fire” (begun as if it would be the lone ballad, before taking flight, like the others) and of course, “Questlords Of Inverness, Ride To The Galactic Fortress”, although the frontman's between song rap/shtick (including getting a fan do rush off an purchase beer for the band, under the guise of saving the planet) was humorous enough to make me stick through the previous setlist.
Orden Ogan. Gone are the space suits, in favor of cowboy fare (for new album, The Gunmen): imitation knee length dusters, a pair of animatronic, rifle toting sentries (either side of the drummer) perched atop a backline made to look like a log constructed fort. Despite the Western get-up, could tell they're a German band as they walked onstage with cups of beer, opening with “To New Shores Of Sadness”, four fire cannons spewing vertically. Some of the backing tapes were lost on the large, open air stage, but during “We Are Pirates”, with lead singer/guitarist Seeb Leverman's one foot on wedge monitor, the piped in keyboards sounded like a concertina. “Gunman” ends with streamers being shout into the crowd, while “Field Of Sorrow” returns to the Blind Guardian sound-alikes for which they're known. “F.E.V.E.R.” rocks like none of the others. Prior to “The Things We Believe In” finale, the audience participation (shouting “Cold, dead & gone” chorus) is practiced, ultimately sending everyone home happy.
But there's still plenty of show to go. Right up until they hoisted the banner, had no idea which Slaughter was up next, the long dead Canadian thrashers, or the U.S. superstars. Such was my interest in either. Late onstage as guitarist Jeff Blando was checking side-fills and monitors, as soon as I saw bassist Dana Strum (looking the bastard love child of Eagles' Joe Walsh & Savatage/TSO Chris Caffery), knew it was the former hair stars, albeit only with namesake and Strum from the post-Vinnie Vincent Invasion glory days. However, would never have picked out the burly, straight haired, sunglass wearing gent as Mark Slaughter, but who isn't a few pounds heavier, three decades later? Kicking off with “The Wild Life” much of the early action consisted of the frontman taking a drumstick from Zoltan Chaney, then tossing it back to him, from various points on the stage, the skinsman never missing a beat. Apparently this was the initial Slaughter gig in Germany (ever) and as such needed to run through most of the hits, including “Burnin’ Bridges”, the debut's slower “Spend My Life”, “Fly To The Angels” and “Up All Night” finisher. In between, playing their best metal cards (it is Bang Your Head, after all), there was a dedication to Lemmy and an attempt at Black Sabbath's “Heaven & Hell” (dedicated to Ronnie Dio) although it quickly became apparent that Mark didn't know the words (beyond the titular chorus) and thus pointed the mic towards willing fans (of dubious vocal talent) to fill in the lyrics. Another original would have been a better choice, but the reason for this inclusion would come to light the following evening, when the band (minus Mark Slaughter) would back Vince Neil and offer the exact same cover.
‘80s king of slaughtering eardrums, Venom were up next. Couldn't imagine these two in the running order having shared a venue, back in the day. Undaunted by his resurfaced, former bandmates, Cronos played 16 songs, almost all initially from his latest incarnation of the band and only in the final third did he give much notice to his heyday, in stark contrast to Venom Inc, who basically forget everything after the first three LPs (and scads of singles/EPs). No doubt which is a more technical band, then again, know which one is more fun, for Venom fans! Backdrop sported a pair of pentagrams centered by the goat head that adorns the front of Black Metal. Lost some of the mystique, in bright sunlight, and guitarist La Rage is sporting a bushy beard since last taking in one of their shows (70,000 Tons, 2015). Fog, explosions, fire and CO2 cannons announce “From the Very Depths”. “Bloodlust” and “Buried Alive” (complete with prerecorded intro) were early oldies inclusions. Neither “Pandemonium” or “The Evil One” would have been on my list of top 100 choices, but launching that grinding bass tone for “Welcome to Hell” turned all ears/eyes to the stage, although this was more of groove rendition. Feigning a new song, it was “Countess Bathory” instead and in quick succession, to close the show, “Warhead”, with persistent towers of CO2 smoke, “Black Metal” and “Witching Hour”. “Black Metal” was accented by fiery plumes, as Cronos changed the final chorus to include, “thrash metal, speed metal, death metal.”
Most creative backdrop of the entire fest, goes to Satyricon, with a stage width reproduction of some colorful medieval painting. Although diagnosed two years ago with a brain tumor, a lightly corpse-painted, slicked back hair Satyr was more animated than ever, channeling his best David Bowie's Thin White Duke. Probably would have shit himself, upon starting his career, that one day he'd be taking the stage AFTER Venom. Not content to stand behind his two-pronged mic stand, he commanded the stage and worked the runway jutting into the crowd. Frost on drums began “Now, Diabolical” and later the frontman strapped on a guitar, creating a black metal triple guitar threat! He perilously sang atop the drum riser, then there was the hypnotic soundscape of “Die By My Hand”. Once more on guitar, during “Fuel For Hatred” Satyr asked for an old school German mosh pit, before ending with “K.I.N.G.”.
How many times have I seen Saxon? A few dozen, for sure, dating back to Crusader, but as 35 year veteran WJCU metal disc jockey Bill Peters says, “In the festival setting, few bands can touch Saxon, as they have that repertoire of hits to pull out.” Witness the BYH show. Must be throwback Thursday, as Biff Byford wore a red headband, like he did decades ago. After a title nod to the Battering Ram backdrop behind them, “Let Me Feel Your Power” and a pink lit “Sacrifice” virtually the entire 100 minutes delved into the history books. Paul Quinn (guitar) was much more mobile, working his way onto the gangplank and screaming with the crowd. During “Motorcycle Man” there were numerous flame cannons, shooting every which way, then backed with “Power And The Glory”. Speaking of backing, Biff started wearing one of the several denim patched vests tossed onstage (do fans ever get these returned, and if so, how?). Doug Scarrett was next to adorn the fan wear (a switch from most concerts, where fans buy BAND merch. Here the band wore what the FANS had brought) and eventually they all had on jackets purloined from the crowd. If there was ever a doubt metal is family...
A far cry from the setting at BB Kings, at the end of march, a giant visual extravaganza, all the pyro , lighting and an updated Eagle rig. “And The Band Played On” (literally as smoke erupts during “20,000 Ft.” and fire shot at 45 degree angles (to the roar of the audience) for “Dallas 1 PM” where the stage also went black (for dramatic effect) for the assignation tale of JFK. The parade of A List material rolled on with “Eagle Has Landed”, “747 (Strangers In The Night)”, “Strong Arm Of The Law”, “Heavy Metal Thunder” and proper set ending “Princess Of The Night”. No other band strings that many band certified hits together, Maiden, Priest, Metallica... No one! Would have been enough, but as an encore, there was (unbelievably): “Wheels Of Steel”, “Crusader” and “Denim And Leather”, which took on a new meaning tonight, with all the crowd “donations”. Always something special, a Saxon headlining festival set is beyond reproach.
Last band of the night, which unfortunately, in part, overlapped with the Brits on the main stage, was the Mercyful Fate guitar tandem Denner/Shermann inside the hall. Vocals are handled by Cage's Sen Peck, who admitted the following day that with just four shows under his belt, still trying to learn how to handle the duplicity of the King Diamond vocals. Sounds OK to me. Yes, in addition to original material, they played five Mercyful classics. “The Wolf Feeds At Night” was up early, as was “Angel's Blood” (guess what color the lights were?). During “Black Funeral”, Peck got Denner to add a vocal, going over to the guitarist, with mic in hand. The tall Dane moved from his stage right spot, to the center, briefly. Meanwhile, Hank Shermann started the chugging riff to “Curse Of The Pharaohs”, shrouded in purple lights and plenty of fog, as the crowd sang along. From the stage, Peck films with his phone. Later, Shermann ripped off a two minute solo during “Corpse Without A Soul”. The two combine for twin leads, to open “Into The Coven”. Ironic twist, the singer (with Cage), and the two guitarists (Force Of Evil) both played the Friday show of the initial Brave Words 6-Pack Weekend, back in '03.
These are the kind of moments that make metal fests: “discovering” new talent, and while neither act was previously unknown to me, was just the first chance to witness Dead Lord live and but the third for Bullet, both Swedish contenders. From the similar Thin Lizzy lineage that generated all sadly defunct acts The Dagger (quit prematurely), Black Trip (split up due to multiple band commitments) and Vanderbuyst (radical departure from original sound), hopefully this dual guitar foursome will have a better fate (as long as reissues and resurfacing acts don't hog the few dollars fans are still willing to spend)! Like the venerable Irish outfit, singer/guitarist Hakim Krim has a smooth voice and some of the mellow studio material take son a whole new life onstage. These guys need to be heard and even better, checked out live (in person preferably, but failing that, via the Net). A mini Stonehenge monument sat atop the bass cabinet (not the only Spinal Tap-ism of the day). In a driving rain, Dead Lord still drew an audience, running through rollicking anthems like “Don't Give A Damn”, the yet to be released “Reruns” (from the forthcoming In Ignorance We Trust) and concluding “Hammer To The Heart” where the singer coaxed bassist Martin Nordin into two bass solos! Great to see a band having so much fun: smiles, Krim sticking his tongue out at his mates, bundle of energy playing off one another, windmill guitars and twin leads. Also aired “Hank”, “No Regrets”, “Onkaylo”. Hope the name doesn't hinder U.S. promo, remember the name, Dead Lord.
Leather jackets, chrome studded belts, must be Bullet, who, despite a limited budget, have sights on a bigger stage show. The Accept meets AC/DC sound has five albums (with another on the way) and an EP overseas. Hampus Klang (guitar) bought an old amusement park to host “Muscle Rock”, a festival dedicated to Canadian strongman/vocalist Thor. A grinding wheel, mounted to a table is center stage as caped frontman Hell Hofer creates a shower of sparks, sharpening a knife during opening “Storm Of Blades”. New bassist Gustav Hector answers the question about whatever happened to Napoleon Dynamite. Have you ever seen a metal band with two members wearing eyeglasses? “Riding High” and “Heading For The Top” are up before a mid-tempo “Rolling Home' temporarily downshifts. When finished everyone vacates the stage, for a prerecorded countdown to “Pay The Price”. Some synchronized headbanging for “Turn It Up Loud”, before a behind the back solo (on the catwalk) “blows” the screen off the Marshall cabinet, revealing a mini-Me sized “fan” inside. Like many, “Dusk Til Dawn” features three part backing vocals. In the midst of “Stay Wild”, Klang feigns being able to get from his knees, during his solo, and is thus picked up, by a roadie (ala Spinal Tap). Another blank stage for the 30 second, clanking chains introduction to “Hammer Down”. Hofer back with regal red robe, as a hooded, enchained monk strikes an anvil with a sledge to start “Bang Your Head” (wonder why they played that one here?), ultimately ending with “Bite The Bullet” which ends with each of the stringed musicians turning over their instruments, to each reveal a single word of the titular phrase.
Hopefully by now you've read the news items about the triumphant return of Grim Reaper singer Steve Grimmett. Just six months after losing his right leg to infection, Grimmett kept his commitment to play his first show since (despite what might have been considerable personal doubts). No one knew exactly what to expect and when he rolled out in a wheelchair, he got a good ovation. So imagine my (and everyone else’s') surprise when he not only defiantly stood to throw the horns, but proceeded to sing “Rock You To Hell” from an erect position. He had a cane with him (which doubled as air guitar) and at one point seemed destined to teeter over, but he did not. After a few songs, he had to return to the chair to complete “Night Of The Vampire”, saying something about getting tired from overdoing it. Hell, after 57 years, the guy had a major life change (not to mention re-learning how to balance/walk in less than six months), so if he needed a breather, no sweat. No, Grimmett was back on his feet for the prophetic “Walking In The Shadows”, not the only title that takes on added meaning, I'm sure. Witness “Rock Me Till I Die”, which preceded a tribute to Dio, “Don't Talk To Strangers”. As expected, “See You In Hell” closed, but really, under such circumstances, if he'd omitted that one, most would still consider this one of the best Grim Reaper shows, ever.
Lee Aaron took the stage in silver jacket and mini skirt (with leggings). She claimed it was 25 years since Canadian Metal Queen had last been in Germany. During much of that time she was out of rock/metal. Also in her band were Sean Kelly (guitar) and the “father of her children” on drums. “Hands On” gave way to “Tom Boy”, the video/lead track for her forthcoming Fire & Gasoline album. The keyboard laden, late ‘80s soundtrack sounding “Powerline” stands in stark contrast to the newer material aired, bass heavy, ‘70s style blues based hard rock. Think Zeppelin, or Bad Company. She eventually lost the jacket, revealing a spaghetti strap top, before taking on guitar for the closing “Metal Queen”.
Popoff's book and multi-part online documentary have both recently shed a little more light on the oft overlooked Riot, but now with no original members (although some do have lineage to various incarnations with late guitarist Mark Reale), they're known as Riot V. Singer Todd Michael Hall looks something like Myles Kennedy (Alter Bridge/Slash) and easily handles the old material. He went right out onto the catwalk and spent much time there. “Flight Of The Warrior” was second, followed by “Don't Hold Back”. “Road Racin” is always welcome, although “Swords & Tequila” received the biggest response. “Shine On” gives way to “Thundersteel”, which ends everything. Another big crowd roar, with guitarist Mike Flyntz on the catwalk, squeezing out the last notes.
Bad draw for Almanac (the three voiced band of former Rage guitarist Victor Smolski), who were on opposite Krokus, while long running German institution Paragon were sandwiched between the end of the Swiss Blitz and a rare European appearance by Aussies, Rose Tattoo.
Krokus is now a six-piece with a trio of guitars. In general, the cardinal rule for festival sets is to avoid flogging albums that people might not know. Remember, it's different than a headlining gig, in that of the tens of thousands standing there, most are nothing more than casual fans of YOU and as such, pretty much just recognize just the biggest hits. So kicking off with “Long Stick Goes Boom” was the right move, although injecting a snippet of “Pinball Wizard” (from The Who's Tommy) was an omen of what was to come. Sure, the Swiss outfit have made a career of covers and just released a complete album of them, but most didn't (did anyone?) come to hear them play other people's music? An abbreviated cover at #2? OK, they did “American Woman” back in '82, but there's so many other original options. In that regard, while “Rock n Roll Tonight” is a vintage number, few would classify it as essential, same goes for the title track from 2006's Hellraiser. By the second song Marc Storace lost his leather jacket. Later, like Saxon, the night before, he'd don a fan donated patched denim vest. Metal Tim approved “Screaming In The Night” was followed by “Bedside Radio”. At least we're in the correct decade! So why break the momentum by offering Neil Young's oft covered “Rockin' In The Free World” (a nod to the new album, unfortunately not the last)? Would NEVER have guessed “Fire” was on the setlist. Backed with the better known “Heatstrokes” (although why the clip of Metallica's “Enter Sandman”?), which makes three off Metal Rendez-vous. “Easy Rocker” and “Headhunter” end on a winning note, so guess we can excuse yet another cover, “Quinn The Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)”, which might be on the new Big Rocks disc, but certainly not a rousing send-off. Maybe next time!
Only been able to see the bluesy hard rock of Rose Tattoo in Germany and given that frontman Angry Anderson (from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome) will be 70 next month, have no idea if/when there'll be another opportunity. Looking like Elmer Fudd with two sleeves of tattoos, Anderson sipped on a bottle between songs (even before the set started). Never say a slide on Flying V, but plenty of it here. “Assault & Battery” with its “a law for the rich and a law for the poor” lyric saw people less than half his age singing every word. “Rock 'n' Roll Outlaw” is another fan favorite, after which Anderson says, “Beer cannot save the world, but beer gets fat chicks laid!” Love the fact Australia seems to be the last bastion of anti-political correctness. Later, he gave his philosophy: “Until you find something to die for, you've got no reason to live.” Used to play “Scarred For Life” on my college radio show, '82-87 and hadn't heard it much since. Can thank Guns N’ Roses for making set closer “Nice Boys (Don't Play Rock N Roll)” more popular.
Much has already been written about Vince Neil's polarizing set. Apparently unbeknownst to Europe, who allotted him 90 minutes, for a headlining set (first band of the day got 50 minutes!), the former Motley Crue singer pulled off the same one hour set (of which he disappears for 20 minutes) that he's been touring in the States for a few years. His appearance had been advertised for a year, actually on a poster, at the venue, during BYH 2016. Well known that aging singers lose parts of their vocal range (especially the higher registers). Has happened to some of the best, including Geoff Tate, Rob Halford, even the great Ronnie James Dio scheduled a solo, just a couple songs in, to help preserve things. That being said, right from jump, the backing singers were obvious on “Dr. Feelgood” opener. Who were these additional voices? Lo and behold it was the Slaughter band. “Piece Of Your Action” was a nice inclusion for a metal fest (not just the pop anthems). For “Looks That Kill”, the crowd and “his” band did most of the lyrical word, Neil adding the yelps. “Home Sweet Home” follows much the same pattern, with Vince offering three or four words, letting the crowd take over and then he returns, for the chorus. The nasal whine of “Shout At The Devil” was on point, but then things took a bizarre turn. Guitarist Blando sang Zeppelin's “Whole Lotta Love” as it degenerated into a cover band, complete with female backing singer. When they trotted out Sabbath's “Heaven & Hell” (for the second time in two days, for the band, which explains why Mark Slaughter didn't know the words. It was obviously his band's/manager's idea to fill time, without having to learn another song.), and then “Stairway To Heaven”, all minus the lead singer, it was too much. Truth be told, the next day, virtually everyone had praise for the lengthy, histrionic filled musical jam, but little else. “Kickstart My Heart” finally sees the headliner return to stage and “Girls, Girls, Girls” put the set on solid ground. There were a couple more, but apart from those right up front, the iceberg had been hot, as people filtered into the hall, away to the camp, or into town, for a beer.
Stopping at the hour marker prompted the promoter to go onstage and appease the shocked and disgruntled fans. The next day (after damage control from Vince's management), Horst would re-appear, at the end of the night, saying everything was just a misunderstanding. Danny Stanton is a shrewd New Yorker, with an eye for details, who oversaw the resurrection of Twisted Sister and earned them many a lucrative payday, including a two-hour headlining set at BYH, just last year. He had at least three bands on this year's bill (Vince, Slaughter and a main stage gig for baby band Killcode). I find it difficult to believe someone who has been to Balingen, repeatedly, would be caught so off-guard. Certainly covering his tracks for later involvement, probably Dee Snider (as soon as next year?). From the backdrop paid for by a liquor endorsement, to the “borrowed” Slaughter band, the minimal singing, then retread material and a disappearing act, plus the abrupt ending, the entire set seemed a disingenuous money grab, perhaps the worst thing one can do at a legitimate metal festival, where people live for their music.
Since tribes had scattered, in light of the Vince Neil fiasco, the initial part of the final day was taken with recounting/opinions on the night before. As people reconnected, especially in the press/VIP area, they talked. Didn't help interest in longstanding German thrashers Assassin, first band of the day. Left-handed bassist Joachim Kremer had a chain for guitar strap. “The Last Man”, off the 30 year old debut was up early. The later material like “Back From The Dead” veers closer to death than thrash, but no one seems to mind. All sporting wireless units, Assassin used the gangplank more than most, with all the guys taking multiple trips to meet the crowd. At the end, Kremer kissed his ring, removed it and tossed it into the crowd. Talk about unique souvenir.
Second time witnessing Vain, whose namesake frontman performs barefoot. Opening with fast moving “Secrets”, it was a well-paced set, only hampered by Davy Vain's sometimes profane comments, in a crowd with families and small children (thankfully, most parents had their kids wearing over ear protection, so what was actually heard/understood, in a foreign language, was hopefully minimal). Vain complained about the early hour (12:30-1:20 set), saying he had to set his alarm clock, in order to rock and “That's not why I got into this.” “Love Drug” gave way to “Down For The Third Time” which was prefaced by a bit of political comedy, referencing leaks in the U.S., the singer claimed people looking at his setlist determined he didn't actually play them at noon. “I don't give a damn about leaks or Russians, unless it's my list.” Ended with back-to-back pairing of “1000 Degrees” and aggro “Beat The Bullet”.
Takes a lot for just two men to control a big festival stage, but the brothers Gallagher, aka Raven are stark raven mad. The repetitive “exterminate” chorus to “Destroy All Monsters” opener must mean more to Brits raised on Dr. Who. To end “Hell Patrol” bassist/singer John looked at his watch on the sustained scream. He's adapted to the times, while Mark still wears the baseball catcher shin guards, sleeveless black vest and multiple sweatbands around his bulging right bicep. Mostly classics: “All For One”, “Hung, Drawn & Quartered” and “Rock Until You Drop”, the call and response section with the crowd leading into Mark's solo, which in turn heralds “Tank Treads (The Blood Runs Red)”. Upon its release “Faster Than the Speed Of Light” was deemed insane (now common place). It sees a rare foray by the guitarist onto the catwalk. The crowd practically broke into “On & On”, before Jon even announced it. During “Break The Chain” Mark crashes into the side fills like a linebacker hitting the quarterback. Not sure why the cover of “Born To Be Wild”, but later in the day, both brother watched Evil Invaders (who share a style, vocalization and manic stage performance with Raven), hopefully sizing up a future tour partner, especially since the Belgians were denied access to the USA a couple months ago.
Know they're legacy Diamond Head tracks, but “Living On Borrowed Time” and “In The Heat Of The Night” aren't rousing numbers to include early in the set. By contrast, great to hear the energetic “Shoot Out The Lights”. Towards the end of the night, trotted out the Metallica covers (or vice versa): “Electric” and “Am I Evil”.
Vicious Rumors has had yet another pair of line-up changes, Geoff Thorpe (guitar) still the lone original, although drummer Larry Howe appeared on the '85 debut. Most notably, Brian Allen has returned, who was on Razorback Killers and the ensuing live album. With a similar top end, he gives Rumors an added aggressive register and confidence onstage. Old school “Digital Dictator” kicks off, Howe with a demented glint in his eye, as the pace intensifies. Much like Riot, Thorpe has reinvented post-Carl Albert VR as a heavier entity. “Let The Garden Burn” is actually an ode to a different metal festival, a week later. “Soldiers Of The Night” and “Down To The Temple” are longtime faves, although the later mellower than most of its surroundings here. It ends with all three stringed instruments on catwalk. Throughout, there's a virtual parade to the gangplank. The ADD high activity continues on “Hellraiser”. “Don't Wait For Me” bridges the two eras successfully. Hopefully North America will get a chance to see the band.
Joke of the day was that the same trio of musicians would be backing up Dokken, having previously worked with the other ‘80s “hair” acts on the roster. Thankfully, Strum, Blanco & Co. were nowhere to be seen, but then neither was any inflection in Don Dokken's muted voice, a veritable monotone, a spoken word read through of lyrics, with musical accompaniment. Musically, there were no complaints about the selection. A bearded Dokken walked on, sporting a Gaucho hat, leather jacket & red scarf, as they began with “Don't Close Your Eyes”. He remained almost stationary, occasionally wandering side-to-side, but typically relaxed, center stage, one foot up on the monitor. Wild Mick Brown was on drums. “Kiss Of Death” gave way to “Into The Fire”, the singer strapping on a guitar for the second one. He referred to starting in Germany, back in '81, prior to “Breaking The Chains” and ad-libbing “Freddy Krueger's favorite song, to start “Dream Warriors”, where he ventured to the catwalk, although the titular phrase was handled by backing vocalists. Addressing the audience, Don said, “Been lots of cool bands today. We tried to decide if we should just do our heavy shit. Have Michael Schenker coming up, like the greatest guitarist in the world. Would be great if we could sing it with you,” cue “Alone Again”, where he lets the crowd sing a portion. Throughout “In My Dreams”, it was almost exclusively backing vocals. With time for only one song, he asked the crowd to pick from “a love ballad or a fast Dokken song.” Guess which won? “Tooth & Nail” closed, after which Don actually said, “Worth the long flight,” which is high praise from a guy rarely satisfied.
Someone asked me, “Didn't know Kataklysm was so popular” (given their lofty spot in the running order). If there were any doubters, Maurizo Iacono, in black Infidel t-shirt (“The Black Sheep”?), a play on the Oakland Raiders football logo, proved they belonged: commandeering, more than merely commanding the stage. Maybe not “Taking The World By Storm”, but at least a large piece of Germany. Some synchro head banging during the build up to “Crippled & Broken” The frontman shouted, “This is the only religion that matters. It's called freedom”. Still can't believe such a brutal voice comes from such a nice, soft-spoken man.
Since getting the CD/DVD of the Japanese show and learning it would be reprised in Balingen, was eagerly awaiting the Michael Schenker Fest, where the German guitarist re-teamed with old MSG vocalists, but most importantly, Gary Barden and Graham Bonnet. While Michael was having a ball (all to himself) on stage left, playing away, smiling and interacting with the crowd, there was no (zero, zip, nada) chemistry with the musicians onstage. It was as if there was an invisible wall between the singers and famed guitarist. Several times, during his three songs (“Let Sleeping Dogs Lie”, “Attack Of the Mad Axeman” and “Armed & Ready”) the Indiana Jones fedora wearing Barden longingly looked towards Schenker for a reply. He'd never come close enough that the two could be snapped in the same frame. Shame. While Barden struggled mightily in Japan, he fared better here. The Scorps instrumental “Coast To Coast” was an intermezzo between singers, this something of German family outing, parents in the crowd, with their kids on their shoulders, watching Herr Schenker.
Up next was Bonnet, in black dress shirt and tie beneath a pink suit jacket! His tenure with MSG was but one album and a rather lame one at that, thus his choices were limited. In trademark sunglasses, he was stiff and immobile (He will be 70 this December). He began with “Desert Song”. Then ran through “Dancer” (ouch!) and finally the title track for the album he originally appeared on, “Assault Attack”. Switching to his red/black Flying V, Michael did another instrumental break. When Robin McAuley took the stage, Schenker was a little more personable, even moving center stage. It was a little more rocking, but doubtful this was the era most people were interested in reliving. “Bad Boys”, “Love is Not A Game” and then probably the best tune of that MSG era, “Save Yourself”, as McAuley felt it, kicking the air as he moved about stage. UFO nugget “Rock Bottom” is a must, this was a 13 minute version, as always, long on Schenker soloing. They were up against the allotted time limit, but brought back all the vocalists, and squeezed in “Doctor Doctor”, Bonnet now minus his colorful dress, as the finale. Plans call for a U.S. tour, next year. Maybe by then the camaraderie will improve.
Biggest disappointment of the weekend was not being able to take in the entire Evil Invaders set, sandwiched between MSG and Hammerfall. Loved their discs thus far (Feed Me Violence is out September 29th) and was able to catch a brief set at Summer Breeze, last year. Green lights shone like lasers, zig-zagging floor to ceiling across the stage. Single named singer/guitarist Joe stands behind a semi-circle mic stand of blades, which is dangerous, given the frenetic speed metal stage show. These guys definitely know what “thrash” is all bout! There were plenty of strobes and red shadow boxes on which to stand. Joe adds a piercing yelp to his guttural delivery. “Pulses Of Pleasure”, the title of their full-length and a hint of the forthcoming album, video/single “Mental Penitentiary (delivered so fast, the lyrics are almost free flowing) was all I got.
Hammerfall were announced to be playing Glory To The Brave, then said they were bringing some Swedish folk musicians to be onstage simultaneously. In reality, they only played the title track and acoustic “I Believe” ballad in their entirety, plus a medley off said album. Regardless, it was a different show, with big stage values, giant warrior backdrop and bathed in purple and blue, to start. Joacim Cans got the crowd to sing, from the start, with “Hector's Hymn”. Pontus Norgren, then guitar partner Oscar Dronjak each visited the catwalk, in the first song. Dronjak playing with a guitar that looks like mascot Hector's hammer. A red lit and slower “Blood Bound” sees half dozen fire cannons repeatedly ignite, each time the chorus “we're blood bound” is uttered. After green lit “Any Means Necessary” augmented by the Balingen crowd, it's “Renegade”, an explosion accentuating the motorcycle rev that typically starts. Cans, foot on monitor, is usually the only one in white lights, the backing vocals punctuating the chorus.
Like the recent U.S. tour, Dronjak changes to a t-shirt and ultimately ends up topless, despite the night chill. Returning from a blackened stage, Can jokes, “We might be old, with gray beards, dyed hair and no ass. It's the 20th Anniversary of Glory To The Brave.” Unfortunately, they opt for “Dethrone And Defy” instead, where Pontus and Oscar crisscross onstage. “Let The Hammer Fall”, complete with fire and explosions, is the lone inclusion from their '98 sophomore effort, Heeding The Call. “Built To Last” sees the band off stage, replaced by their medieval instrumented guests (fiddle, acoustic guitar, etc.). They also handle “I Believe” with Cans. When the guitars return to the catwalk, flowing hair Dronjak is in t-shirt and jeans. The leads turn into a snippet of “Dragon Lies Bleeding”, then others from the debut, albeit in a medley. The entire “Glory To the Brave” closes the proper set. Back for an encore, crowd singing is at a premium, for “Hammer High” and “Hearts on Fire” closer, which sees the fiddles/acoustic guitar are back onboard, trying to avoid the flames and CO2 bombs going off under foot.
Only a portion of what takes place. Prepare to join the fun in 2018. BYH will be held July 12th-14th. Hope to see you there.
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