The final full day of Metalfest Austria taught me numerous things, but one of the most prominent ones is that metal listeners have a very strange sense of humor. Maybe it was the mud euphoria, maybe it was the endless flow of alcohol, maybe it was something intangible in the atmosphere, but today was full of amusing surprises. The epic tent waterlogging saga (TM) was mostly resolved except for some clothes, the sun had decided to appear a few shy times amidst the clouds, and the lineup for today boasted some cool-sounding bands to check out. And so, to the mainstage.
I believe the “Oddest Choice For Starting Band Of The Day” award can be firmly presented to Trachtenmusik, a phenomenon that is sweeping German-speaking festivals for reasons I still cannot completely fathom. Put simply, it’s an orchestra of Bavarian musicians playing big band marching tunes, for half an hour. It started at Wacken a few years ago, but apparently most major festivals have hired a group akin to this. Maybe it’s a stab at bringing cultural heritage to metal (there’s enough of that), maybe it’s an ironic gesture (no need for that), maybe it’s a strange hangover cure (definitely a need for that), although after watching people headbanging for half an hour to this music, I still remain unconvinced as to which is the reason.
After that spectacle, I stayed to catch a couple of songs of Orange Goblin’s rock-solid set, but then headed on over to catch Scarecrow N.W.A.* in the tent. Vocalist Bernd (who works for More Metal) had been quite vague as to the band’s sound, describing it as “death metal with a couple of breakdowns”, but my expectations were more than exceeded once they got onstage and started playing. Old school yet melodic death metal was what greeted my ears, with intelligible growls and highs and a variety of speeds and solos. What surprised me most, however, was Bernd’s clean range, introduced on first track “Schizophrenia” but put to full use on the final track “Scarecrow’s Song”, which took on a pseudo-power metal feel, lighters in the air and everything. However, the majority of the set was death metal, and I think the irony of “Feel The Silence” being one of the loudest songs was not lost on them. There was also great crowd interaction in both German and English, which made a pleasant change from most German-language bands who stuck to their native language during the set. A cool surprise, and one I’ll be sure to follow up on.
Back over on the mainstage, the crowd were made to feel like landlubbers as Alestorm crashed into their first song “Shipwrecked” to a backdrop of cassette and crossbones. Vocalist Chris was on fine humorous form between songs, proudly declaring “We’re Alestorm and we’re here to get you drunk!”, before then trading keytar lines with Elliot, and Dani was extremely tight on solo work. I could sense competition between Chris and Dani, especially when the former drained a bottle of rum whilst playing a keytar solo at the same time. The whole set was one set of hilarious jokes and songs after another, including the epic “crushing pineapples” stance he took to mock black metal bands, before launching into ‘a long and boring one’ (“Death Throes Of The Terror Squid”), and so by the end the whole crowd couldn’t help but throw the horns to the last ‘songie-wongie’, “Captain Morgan’s Revenge”. The term ‘light entertainment’ doesn’t even begin to cover the hearty laughs that Alestorm provided, both onstage and in the interview afterwards.
I stuck around to catch some of Moonspell‘s set, out of curiosity to hear more material from their new double-album, although it was good to re-hear classics like “Alma Mater” and “Full Moon Madness” again as well. However, my ‘curiosity’ act to catch today were Hypocrisy, a band whose discography I have woefully neglected thus far, and so figured that live would be a good way to become familiar them. They put on a very solid show, and even if I’m still not sure where to start in their discography, Hypocrisy definitely found a new fan here.
For my personal taste, I would have been hard pressed to find a better band to see last than Blind Guardian. I’ve known them for most of my metal listening timeline, and have never failed to feel empowered by their music. I’d only seen them once before, headlining Bloodstock, where they played extremely well, and I had a similar feeling as the opening strings of “Sacred Worlds” struck up, with smoke swirling around the stage. As the metal section of the song kicked in, the only word coursing through my head was “epic”, with vocalist Hansi playing the frontman role naturally. The band have had an impressive run over the past 25 years, and it shows in the amount of respect they command, despite not being the most active of stage participants. However, everything sounds note-perfect, including Hansi’s spectacular high notes like on “Tanelorn (“Into The Void”). The setlist was classics-riddled, so anyone who was very familiar with Blind Guardian’s liveshow wouldn’t expect anything new (except perhaps them playing “Lord Of The Rings”), but for a second time round the magic still hold true. Even the older tracks such as “Valhalla” (containing the longest crowd-only chorus singalong I’ve ever witnessed) haven’t lost their shine. And I think no melodic metal fan is going to deny the joy of hearing “Nightfall” or “Imaginations From The Other Side”. And, of course, one of the anthemic and most recognizable tracks of Blind Guardian’s catalog is taken for an outing in Austria: “The Bard’s Song: In The Forest”, complete with a crowd singing every word. All together now: “Tomorrow will take us away, far from home, no-one will ever know our names, but the bard’s songs will remain”.
Metalfest Austria is a quirky little festival edition, set in an area where one would not necessarily expect to find metal, but it delivers in spades (and not just to dig out of the mud). Overall, the entire festival was an incredible experience, and one well worth repeating. The combination of the band sets, the interviews, the friendly people and the atmosphere made me realize the high quality of European festivals, and that’s without even looking at larger ones like Hellfest or Wacken. Those who are looking for a 3-day festival without forking out for the more expensive English ones (I’m looking at you, Download and Sonisphere) should seriously consider attending an edition of Metalfest somewhere in Europe. Take it from this happy camper, it’s worth it.
* Not, as I thought, Niggaz With Attitude, but instead New World Annihilation.
Many, many thanks to the people at Metalfest, More Metal and affiliated companies for the opportunity provided, and I look forward to hanging out/working with you all again in the future. Preferably with less hail around.