Review by Officer Nice
Pictures by Officer Nice
Lay-Out by Stefan
It’s a long way to the top to Rock’n Roll… and a long way drive for me to bang your head in the most famous garden of the Metal scčne. After two Sabbath years I had the feeling I had to travel again to Brande Hörnerkichen – in the North of Germany – for another edition of the Headbangers Open Air festival. I did pity the fact RIVAL and SLEEPY HOLLOW were cancelled but there were enough goodies to check out. The fact FORTE, HERETIC and good old METAL CHURCH were scheduled were reasons enough to make this trip. Why travelling so far? Well, because it’s after all a unique festival and if you don’t witness the bands here you will probably never witness them. German festival organizations know the secret to make old bands reunite, to schedule bands that are impossible to see in my country…
So we took the ride and thankfully the highway between Bremen and Hamburg seems to be finally ready. No traffic jams this time and that motivates, certainly after what I have been through the last times I travelled to the garden. Right on time we arrived at the venue to see nothing really changed. It wasn’t actually necessary to change big things on this festival because it is obvious that Thomas and Jurgen always want to improve, when possible. But there isn’t much to improve anymore, it’s a good organized festival. What really changed is the fact the security was really friendly this time, it has been different in the past…
And the Headbangers Open Air is always in for True Metal, a healthy dose of US Metal and from that, I can have never enough. The organisation worked hard to please the fans by asking OVERKILL, VICIOUS RUMORS, DEMON and METAL CHURCH. It means that the organisation really takes care of their visitors and I suppose it’s not their fault bands were forced to cancel.
77 had the order to open the festival. Not the most easy task because lots of fans were still hanging around on the parking lots, the camping and the ‘chill out’ area. But these guys didn’t mind, played as it was a full place and they received the respect for it.
KISSIN’ DYNAMITE is a pretty bizarre band, especially because of their front man, who looks like he made a direct trip from a gay festival to here. Nevertheless this band is dynamic and they have their fans in the garden. Obvious was that the sound engineer of this festival turned up the volume of the bass guitar far too loud, it would become a brand for the entire festival.
But I was looking forward to see FORTE. As a big fan of Oliver Magnum I was pleased that, after the disbanding, Forte released four very good albums in the nineties to come back later with an EP and their latest effort, “Unholy War”. Fans of technical played – a bit industrial sounding – Progressive Thrash metal adore this band. Seeing them on stage is exclusive, especially nowadays. And yes, James Randel was pronounced as their singer for this gig so the band did what they had to do, playing first class US Power/Thrash Metal.
We witnessed technical played Metal from a very energetic band. I know Jeff Scott will not like these words but a second guitar player on the stage would have made this performance more impressive. There’s a big difference between live and studio and especially during the leads I was missing something and I’m not the only one with these thoughts. But the performance ‘an sich’ was very good and that this band is underrated was obvious! Super guitars and drums, a singer who still has the voice! I know people who would have died to see this show, hard to say but you missed something unique!
I noticed Venom will headline a Belgian festival this summer. Not that I have always been the biggest fan of these English lads but no one can deny how influencing these guys really were. Nor on their albums nor live Venom was a technical high qualitative band but there are legends, no doubts about that. Mantas, guitar player, has his own band now that listens to the name M:PIRE OF EVIL. It’s also a trio and besides their own material they still keep the myth of Venom alive. Most people who knew the eighties Metal scčne adore this band but also the youngsters, present on this festival, are fond of them. M:PIRE OF EVIL didn’t have troubles to make the garden burn the first time. Especially at the end, with tracks like “Black Metal”, “Countess Bathory”, “Witchin’ Hour” and “In League With Satan” the temperature became dangerously high. But the crowd didn’t care and was well prepared for the headliner. Looking objective to this gig I must admit it wasn’t actually that strong but the classic songs makes you forget that issue.
No matter where or when they play, OVERKILL is always a bomb on stage! These New Yorkers keep on releasing albums and the quality will never fade but especially on stage there are not that many bands who can hook up with them. Neck breaking from the first until the last minute, that's Overkill on stage! Not even the bigger Thrash Metal bands are able to compete with Overkill on stage and it’s hardly rare to see such a dynamic band.
Even youngsters can’t deliver the energy Overkill still brings, a perfect live band and no matter where they will play, fans are always satisfied! And Germany seems to have lots of fans… Of course Overkill has the perfect front man for it but the entire band always produces a sound that blows the crowd away.
This is Metal in a pure form and it’s the kind of music which should always be played as loud as possible. The fact that the Headbangers Open Air organisation was able to add them to the bill is a success and the crowd thanked them for it. The garden burned and the smell of death will stay here for many years, what a memorable show! I can’t say it was the best performance I have ever seen of the band but it was very close! Okay, “Feel The Fire” would have been the ideal ‘blink of an eye’ to this garden but Overkill played many classic songs with a very strong sound. The stage manager of the band took a very long time preparing the stage, it annoyed lots of people, but after all we need to respect this guy for the fact he delivered us a nearly perfect sound! Overkill conquered the garden and showed no mercy!
In the morning a good breakfast, some shopping in the local super market, searching for some sun protection. At noon the second day started on stage and the sun didn't show any mercy, hot summer in North Germany. Meanwhile it was getting warmer and warmer, hard times for a Metal fan who’s obliged to drink even more. Anyway the Canadians of AXXION had the tough job to enter as first band, in this heath, the stage. I must say the band was pretty good, playing some old school Heavy Metal. As far as I know the band will not fly back to Canada after the festival but will hit the stages in some other countries. I hope some of you will have the chance to see them.
It was not really the ideal weather for a mosh pit, although GAME OVER wanted so hard to see one. That’s obvious when you play old school Thrash Metal and these Italians are for sure fans of the old school. Influenced by the old American thrash Metal scčne Game Over represented their selves as a promising band.
KING LEORIC is a German band, True Metal. I wasn’t at that point able to see their gig, so I can’t say much about this band’s effort.
MIDNIGHT PRIEST is playing in different countries nowadays. I know they played in Belgium with Hobbs Angel Of Death. These guys are heading from Portugal and a trip to Germany was probably a piece of cake when you have the chance to play at the Headbangers Open Air festival. Midnight Priest stands for some good traditional Heavy Metal and their self-titled album was a pretty good effort. These guys look Metal, these guys are Metal and play in vein of the old Iron Maiden. They did what they had to do in the killing sun but I suppose they didn't mind. This crowd adores this kind of Metal, no doubt!
The youngsters of the Swedish SCREAMER meanwhile have their fan base too. The Germans are, as a matter of fact, fond of Screamer and that made it easier for the band. Playing old school Heavy Metal does fit these guys and the crowd welcomed them. While in many other countries the Metal fans often stay inactive, in Germany any band can witness some headbanging on the front row. I suppose Screamer was satisfied afterward.
SKILTRON is a bizarre band and they don't actually fit the bill. Well, maybe I am wrong but as far as I know this kind of Folk Metal, Celtic Metal or whatever doesn't fit the row. These guys are heading from out of Argentina but the public gave them a warm welcome! The band will release a new album this year, their record company is Hellion Records. And yes, Hellion Records is the main organizer of this festival, that's meanwhile clear! The band plays good Heavy Metal and it felt a bit strange to hear bagpipes in this German air... But, on the other hand I must admit that it gave us a special mood, it was a welcome break.
It wasn’t the first time BLOODFEAST was in the garden. A few years ago these American Thrashers made the crowd go wild and they did it again. Their kind of harsh Thrash Metal is popular in the underground scčne and no matter how warm it was, Bkoodfeast demanded the crowd to go wild. Sharp riffs, screaming guitars, fast played drums… Bloodfeast has it all and they performed very well, of course playing lots of goodies from their debut “Kill for pleasure” from out of 1987. For diehard fans Bloodfeast seems to be again outstanding!
After a real Thrash Metal party the Germans of IRON SAVIOR could cool down the temperature again. These lads are meanwhile known in the Power Metal scčne, which isn’t really a surprise if you know Kai Hansen (ex Helloween, Gamma Ray) and some members from Blind Guardian and other more famous Power Metal bands were once members. Iron Savior delivers typical German Power Metal and this was for them just an easy home game. The band did a good job, no doubts.
To be honest I was waiting for one of my favourite bands, VICIOUS RUMORS. The band will appear at the next Alcatraz festival so I was curious about their set list. Geoff Thorpe told me before the gig they practised 30 songs and every show in Europe, on this tour, would be different.
The red line is “Digital Dictator” , you don’t hear me complain. After all it’s still the best record the band ever released. So yes, almost the entire second album of the band was played besides some newer tracks and classics like “World Church”, “Soldiers Of The Night” and “Abandoned”.
I don’t know how many times I have seen Vicious Rumors before but they are still a very good live band. Once again I witnessed a very good and energetic show! US Power Metal from the highest level!
The last years I have seen DEMON several times on stage. This NWOBHM band is more than thirty years active and their classic albums should be in the collection of every old school Metal fan. Starting with “Night of the demon” was ideal to get the crowd on their hands. Old school Heavy Metal is popular amongst the Germans and so Demon had no trouble to make the garden burn. Especially with the old school classics like “Don’t Break The Circle” it isn’t that difficult to set this place on fire. The ending of a very hot second day, time to seek some rest…
MIDNIGHT MESSIAH is a NWOBHM icon. Let me explain… Do you remember a band called ELIXIR? I have at least some of their albums in my collection and I saw the band a few years ago in Holland. Midnight Messiah rose out of the ashes of ELIXIR. The result was that the band offered the spectators some old classics and some new stuff. Nice to look at…
From out of the boot of Europe comes MEGAHERA. A few youngsters who discovered the old Heavy metal scčne and got influenced by it… A powerful sound (again to much bass guitars) and a satisfying gig.
SACRED STEEL was mentioned as a replacer for this edition. I didn’t mind because this band slowly changed their style, from Euro-oriented Power metal into more dark Power Metal. These guys delivered a pretty good album this year and also for them it was a home game. Sacred Steel has without any doubts a good fan base in Germany and they performed good.
On day three I was especially looking forward to see HERETIC. Fans of US Power Metal should know this band because of their classic album “Breaking point”, on which Mike Howe was responsible for the vocals before he joined Metal Church. With Metal Church he delivered the classic album, “Blessing In Disguise”. It would have been awesome if he would have travelled to Germany too, so he could join both bands on stage but as far as I know he isn’t active in the Metal scčne anymore.
A waste of talent, no? Heretic reunited and the original singer, Julian Mendez joined the band. They celebrated the reunion by releasing an album in 2012 under the name of “A Time Of Crisis”. It was a good album but the magic didn’t really return. Here in the garden these Americans from out of LA didn’t had any problems to bring old times back and the band was dynamic as hell! Thankfully this band contains two (fantastic) guitar players, an amazing bass player and a really fantastic young – call it impressive – drummer.
The sound for Heretic's gig was good and that helped being a bit overwhelmed. Julian Mendez did a very good job and I admit his vocal performances were much better than I expected, even better than on the new album. Starting with “Heretic” and ending with the Samson cover “Riding With The Angels” these Americans blew me away for an hour! First class US Power Metal, highly appreciated by every fan of the genre in the garden. This was a good reason to travel so far ! Meanwhile I bought their CD box, including their remastered classic album, the EP, a DVD and lots of bonus tracks. Spend your money on it, you won’t regret! Unfortunately the border control confiscated their merchandise, how I wanted a shirt from these guys! Memorable act!
PERSIAN RISK is a band with a history. Did you know Phil Campbell founded the band before he wrote himself into history with Motorhead? Did you know singer Carl Sentence was the vocalist of Krokus before and of course you should know Don Airey who played in the biggest hard Rock and Metal bands on earth… So this is a band with history, with top musicians! It was not difficult to see and hear some top talent was on stage and Persian Risk was pretty impressive to hear. The band released last year a new album I should really lay my hands on… I admit the music of the band was unknown to me but what a singer, amazing musicians!
Sitting in the area next to the garden we met a friendly couple from out of France. They told me they made the trip for lots of bands but also for the French band BLASPHEME. These guys aren’t that famous at all but a quick look in their history learned they released some good albums in the past, with French lyrics. I didn’t mind and the crowd didn’t mind either, even French metal is wanted by the Germans. As far as I see it was pretty crowded at their merchandise stand after their gig. Blaspheme did what they had to do and I suppose this will be forever one of the highlights in the career of the band.
More NWOBHM with SAVAGE! Thirty years ago these guys delivered a classic album in the genre, “Loose ‘n Lethal”. It stayed the ultimate record for the band but after this release the band could never break through. A reunion was a fact in 1995 without any success but the band stayed active. For this edition of HOA they promised to deliver us their entire classic album and they kept their promise. Although it was a decent show I wasn’t impressed, a friend of mine was and for him this was the ultimate highlight of the festival! Talking about different points of view. Of course their ‘hit’ “Let it loose” was performed, making the crow sing along loud! They even performed it twice but the second time it was a speed Metal version…but I preferred the original version.
I don’t know why MURO was scheduled so high on the bill. This band never did something important in the scčne, okay they have a cult status but…. Okay, they’re old and they released several records but… Anyway these Spanish guys have their fan base too and received lots of minutes to play. It was tasted by the public but Germans like almost anything. I didn’t really like this gig, talking about false leads for example. A waste of time…
PRAYING MANTIS is another band with a big history. Dennis Stratton, Paul Di’Anno and Clive Burr (R.I.P.) from Iron Maiden, Gary Barden (MSG) and Doogie White (Rainbow, Tank, Yngwie Malmsteen, MSG) are mentioned on the Praying Mantis page of the book of Heavy Metal. So yes, once more we could witness a band of oldies, a band with extreme gifted musicians. The band still delivers albums and on stage these guys were really good. The band's new frontman named John 'Jaycee' Cuijpers is an excellent singer, Tino Troy is a very good guitar player. Playing in their style, somewhere in between melodic Hard Rock and old school Heavy Metal the band was able to fill the garden…And this crowd knows their classics, proving it over and over again. It’s a band you should see and not only because they have a cult-status.
The main reason, at least an important reason, I made this trip was the reunion of METAL CHURCH, again… I saw the band several times in my career, including their historical show in Brussels as support act of Metallica on their “Master Of Puppets” tour. These guys are always good on stage but every show could be the last one. The band stopped a few times to reunite and deliver a new album.
But, let’s be honest, the magic of the first three albums never returned. For this gig the entire debut album was promised, without any doubts one of the best Metal albums ever. And so it was and the band was in a good shape. The only original member is Kurdt Vanderhoof and it was good to see he still has pleasure in his job.
The band opened with “Ton Of Bricks” to play classics like “Start The Fire”, “Watch The Children Pray”, “Badlands” and “Fake Healer”. And yes, the entire first album was performed and made the garden burn as hell! A good sound, a good show, an enthusiastic public and lots of classics to sing along! Metal Church impressed, even after all those years and Ronnie Munroe is able to perform all those classic songs with the right touch. I was a bit bizarre that the band played all their hits in the first part of the show, to end in the second on with “The Human Factor”. The crowd didn’t mind, this was a memorable show and it feels good the band is back! Let’s hope they will deliver a new album again, with the power and intelligence of their everlasting debut!
It was a hot, very hot edition of this summer festival and it didn’t have anything to do with the burn of the garden. Some rain at the end of the third day was welcome, believe me. A long trip and the bands I wanted to see were more than worth travelling for this far distance, no disappointments there. To me, that’s a personal meaning, there were a bit too many bands I have no affection with but it’s a festival and you know the perfect festival doesn’t exist.
But, it was a memorable festival and seeing what will come next year (TOXIK, XENTRIX, FATAL VIOLENCE) makes me think I will return again to this already legendary garden. Anyway this is one of the most familiar festivals I have ever been to. Germany and Heavy Metal, it remains something special…