It’s been 22 years since Brutal Assault took the first step to become one of the most popular underground metal festivals in Europe. As much as the festival has been growing in the last decades, it still managed to remain small enough so you wouldn’t feel lost, but also big enough so you wouldn’t feel bored for a minute. This year, there were virtually no queue for tickets and the top-up was relatively quick, too. The beer was excellent but the prices were higher than last year, though, still very reasonable. About the food: if you couldn’t find anything to eat then you deserve to starve.
After grabbing our tickets and a pint of cold Czech beer we walked in to the festival grounds while the sun was still shining. There is something magical about walking in to a festival on the first day with a beer in your hand and as soon as we heard the first blast beats a tear rolled down our faces. With a big content smile on our faces we felt we finally arrived to our musical sanctuary.
I caught bits of God Mother and Deserted Fear and both did a good job opening the festival on the main stages. It might have been the festival euphoria but they couldn’t really catch my attention. The Lurking Fear was a band I was looking forward to see. There was a little bit of ‘At the Gates’ feel to it but it was closer to the old-school and it had more crust and punk to it. Tompa Lindberg’s new project didn’t bring anything new to the table other than a great set. Fleshgod Apocalypse was very theatrical and anthemic as usual but I think they rely a bit too much on the backing tracks. Gorguts played a killer set, which we all expected them to but missed to bring some cold Canadian breeze with them to help us cool down. Their set was just more fuel to the fire.
The crowd was really looking forward to see Root. Big Boss fronting this cult Czech band, they brought metal and evil worship together while they still managed to stay old-school. I stayed to watch Madball because nothing beats some good old hardcore to pick you up and get those neck muscles warmed up ready for more headbanging. Metal Church was again a big headliner most people were looking forward to see. Some might argue with me but if I turn up to see a band called Metal Church I’d expect more metal. Unfortunately, they were lacking it a bit. Good voice, good theatrics and well put together show but more metal could have been useful. The Dillinger Escape Plan was in great form and as much as I could tell their set was pretty flawless. This was one of the last stops of their final European tour but they ended up adding more dates so if you missed them now there’s still a chance to see them live.
While I was checking out mainstage bands, unfortunately, I missed Ultha on the atmospheric Oriental stage. Ultha is a freshly formed black metal band from Germany and listening to their debut album Pain Cleanses Every Doubt it was a big mistake to miss them. Especially when I heard how good they were live from others who chose to see them.
Now this year Brutal Assault headlined some of the legendary and essential black metal bands nearly every night. While Emperor and Mayhem are the best-known ones I would add Master’s Hammer to this list, too. The Czech representatives of the early years of black metal have a well-deserved place as headliners, especially because they chose to play their first album Ritual in its entirety for the greatest pleasure of everyone who gathered to worship them. Overkill was still doing their specific blend of metal and they are still not lacking any energy. Batushka was one of the most awaited bands of Wednesday. Their band members are still unknown which adds even more mystery to the whole concept. The stage props, the aura they create is very special and overhyped, I must say. The music and the ambience together works but I’m not convinced the music can do without the live atmosphere.
The first day went well without any serious casualties and the weather was much better than we expected. The second day the sun came out even stronger and blazing down to us from the early hours of the morning. Thankfully the festival was prepared with fire trucks and high-pressure water hoses to cool the crowd down. After a good pint of Czech warm-up beer I headed to see Nervosa and managed to catch the last couple of tracks. They currently had a new drummer who was just as furious behind the kit as her predecessor. We had no choice but bow and headbang before these Brazilian ladies who know how to play kickass metal. These ladies put some of the male metal bands to shame. I wasn’t planning to see this band called Insania but I couldn’t help but stay and watch this absurd metal band. Insania was probably one of the most interesting bands at the festival. The frontman looked like a vicar with his pink pentagram on his outfit and pink guitar and even though we didn’t understand the Czech lyrics I’m sure it was some sort of mockery on different affairs of the world. Now Fallujah managed to create a decent pit around lunchtime and they showed no mercy. Killer technical death metal. Cryptopsy was no less than I expected. Sea of hands in the air for the blastbeat finger. You get the picture. The expectation for Havok was high and they did put on a good show but they seemed to be either suffering from too much hangover or too much jetlag but thrashed on anyway.
Nile is one of the top death metal bands for me and I was really looking forward to see them with the new singer. Their set was as tight and brutal as usual and Brian Kingsland seemed to meet all the expectations. It looks like they are not capable of doing a bad set. If you stopped following Samael after they deviated from their black metal origins then you probably weren’t among those who came together to see that black metal is in fact still deeply rooted in their music. As much as I am not a hardcore fan I couldn’t miss Hatebreed’s hardcore set. They made everyone jump as one and caused massive circle pits. Meanwhile Big Boss was playing at the Oriental Stage in a very casual style. Still I chose to be at the main stage singing along with ‘Destroy Everything’, ‘Everyone Bleeds Now’, ‘Last Breath’ and so on.
Without question, for many of us, Emperor was the most awaited band. Some of us this was the first time to hear the anthems live. Some of us it was a nice nostalgia to be part of Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk being played live again after many years. Years went by and despite how much Isahn, Samoth and Trym changed the flame and spirit of the long gone black metal era was successfully evoked and caused some serious goosebumps for most of us. Flawless set and with the additional masterpieces such as ‘Curse You All Men!’, ‘I Am The Black Wizards’ and ‘Inno A Satana’ it was the perfect close for the second day of this brutal madness.
There were other great bands on after Emperor but I was too busy tasting the beer selection the festival offered so I only paid half-attention to them. Opeth is not a festival band in my opinion, especially not after 11pm. After the crowd fell asleep during their set it was Suffocation’s duty to wake everybody up and despite the light rain a lot of us stayed and moshed through their set. Rotting Christ was on at an ungodly hour and as much as I wanted to stay to the end of their set I couldn’t. Thankfully they played ‘Athanati Este’, which I really wanted to hear live but it was simply too late for me to fully enjoy this otherwise great set.
Well, there was two more days of metal ahead of us so no need to be sad. There was plenty of metal waiting for us. The gods were good to us and saved us from the rain and blessed us with high temperatures and blazing sunshine.
All photography by Vivien Varga.