For some, Wacken Open Air is the best Metal Festival in Europe, perhaps worldwide, but if we concentrate within our own borders, the opinions might be divided. Graspop has a lot to offer and a huge reputation, but those that are longing for cosines and sociability on top of an excellent bill, there is only one solution: Alcatraz Metal Festival! What began as a one day event in a rather small hall, has grown into a 2 days event on an area that changed frequently, but at the same time improved in space, facilities and possibilities.
This year, they moved to De Lange Munte, Kortrijk, in the center of Flanders Fields where they will have the chance to stay and grow for many years to come. The new prison area includes a 50 meter ‘Real Prison Stage’, where bands play one after the other. You don’t have to skip any band, or make a choice as every visitor will be able to see all bands in perfect conditions! The Alcatraz concept increased again, as the new ‘prison location’ became a place where you don’t want to escape from. Compared with the original location at the West coast of the USA, in the center of the Bay Area and only 30 minutes from San Francisco, the Flemish version treated their inmates perfectly. The original water tower was adapted into a beer tower, the watchtowers became excellent locations to house the light show, technical facilities and searchlights, and the main building was transferred into a huge stage where Metal was the main topic. No hunger nor thirst, no violent warders but friendly hosts, no violence or misbehavior but only like-minded headbangers that want to party and enjoy the bands that played their asses off! Even the nearby crematory closed that weekend, as it wouldn’t be appropriate to have funeral services.
Drinks flowed and the party started on Saturday with the Swedes from WOLF, which I saw for the very first time live. I guess that I have all their albums, and if you would ask me what style they play, I would say that Wolf recently released an album that Metal Church never succeeded to create. They have the same style and impact, the vocals of Niklas Stalvind (aka Viper) have a lot in common and their Heavy Metal will appeal to a lot of headbangers. Their Flying V guitars add a perfect vibe to their music and the first rows started to bang their head. Songs like ‘Shark Attack’, ‘The Bite’, ‘Skull Crusher’ and ‘Speed On’ made a good impression but although it was fun to look at Wolf, my expectations where a little higher. They did a great show, but I still consider the set of Wolf as average to good, but far from brilliant. Afterwards I spoke to many people that showed up so early, and I guess that many of them shared my opinion.
ARMORED SAINT was formed in 1982, and I was one of many lucky bastards that witnessed their legendary Dynamo Open Air shows in 1989 end 1991. Everybody agreed that this was going to become a super-band, but a few setbacks, guitar player David Prichard died Feb. 28th. 1990 because of leukemia, resulted that the career of the band got stalled. Vocalist John Bush joined Anthrax from 1992 till 2005 to reform Armored Saint again. The same story repeats as he rejoined Anthrax from 2009 till 2010, but now the Saint is stronger than ever before. Having one of the best albums of 2015 under their belts, it was time to support “Win Hands Down” on Belgian soil! Songs like ‘Can U Deliver’, ‘Reign Of Fire’, ‘Raising Fear’, ‘Delirious Nomad’ and ‘March Of The Saint’ reaffirm that Armored Saint is still a super-band albeit limited to the second division. But hey, they don’t care at all, as they are proud on what they achieved, and they have complete artistic freedom, and that’s what wealth is all about for a musician. John Bush, Joey Vera (bass), Gonzo Sandoval (Drums), his brother Phil Sandoval (guitars) and Jeff Duncan fulfilled all expectations and the band welcomed the huge crowd that enjoyed this breakfast with Armored Saint!
DEATH ANGEL supports their recently released live album ‘The Bay Calls For Blood-Live in San Francisco’ after their critically acclaimed studio album ‘The Dream Calls For Blood’. The band hails from the Bay Area and originated in the early 80ies. After the recording of their first demo, moreover produced by Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, they got signed by Enigma Records. From then on, the band released many highlights and since a few years, I have the impression that they have found their second youth. Well, it was obvious that the band is still alive and kicking as their Alcatraz performance was devastating from the very first song. Vocalist Mark Osegueda knows how to impress a crowd and his voice, looks and attitude demand a stage like A.M.F.! Tracks like ‘Left For Dead’, ‘Mistress Of Pain’, ‘Son Of The Morning’, ‘Claws In So Deep’ were executed with deadly precision and Rob Cavestany (guitars) surpassed his riffing skills! The current lineup proves that Death Angel is a live monster, and I’m sure that many will agree that this band was a first highlight on this year’ edition!
A few months ago, I attended the MOONSPELL show at Biebob and at the end of that gig, frontman Armando Ribeiro announced their Alcatraz performance later on the year. I still recall their versions of ‘Breathe’, ‘Opium’, ‘Medusalem’, ‘Scorpion Flower’ and of course ‘Vampiria’, and so far, the band has never let me down. Although I must confess that Armando is an average vocalist with limited reach, but he scores extra respect and dignity with his charismatic approach and friendly attitude. This Alcatraz performance wasn’t different at all. The band is already months on the road, the machine is running and fine-tuned, and I believe that they consider Alcatraz as coming home. They played the festival in 2010, and their new album ‘Extinct’ was a perfect match to bring them to Alcatraz again! While the sun was burning ruthless, the crowd consumed ‘The Last Of Us’, ‘Medusalem’, ‘Breathe (Until We Are No More)’ with great appetite!
One of the nice things on A.M.F. is that they dare to book bands that aren’t really ‘festival minded’. For example MICHAEL SCHENKER'S TEMPLE OF ROCK, known by everyone, but how many people have seen them live over the past 2 years? Michael is one of the best guitarplayers in Europe and we just adore his UFO, Scorpions, Ratt and MSG material. Unforgettable music, a superb musician with a charismatic appearance. Michael Schenker came to Kortrijk to rock the house, and he brought his Temple Of Rock to do so. The lineup included Herman Rarebell (drums) and Francis Buccholz (bass), both ex-Scorpions, Wayne Findlay (guitars and keys and ex-Vinnie Moore) and Doogie White as vocalist (ex-Rainbow, ex-Cornerstone, ex-MSG, ex-Pink Cream 69, ex-Tank, ex-Praying Mantis, ex-Balance Of Power and ex-Yngwie Malmsteen). Needless to say that these lads know how to rock! “Spirit On A Mission” is their latest album, but the band played a varied show with a lot of tracks that can be considered as highlights! Material from UFO en MSG was presented alternately and we still recall tracks like: ‘Lights Out’, ‘Rock You Like A Hurricane’ and ‘Rock Bottom’! This is timeless music from a very gifted guitar player who seems to like his beanie head.
Century Media is going to release the new QUEENSRYCHE album ‘Building The Empire’ and as a precursor they are invading Europe to get the machine running. The lineup of the band is still very interesting as Michael Wilton, Eddie Jackson and Scott Rockenfield are the remaining original members since 1982 and with the addition of Parker Lundgren on guitars and new frontman Todd La Torre, they continue their way to success. Todd already played the A.M.F. in 2012 when he was a member of Crimson Glory, and those that attended that gig know that he’s capable to go very high! He seems to have a new tattoo on his left upper arm, as the logo of Queensrÿche is permanently inked. This is the one and only Queensrÿche, whatever the story of Geoff Tate is. The band recently played the Wacken Open Air Festival and I believe that they played the same set on Alcatraz. Starting with ‘Nightrider’, ‘Break The Silence’ and a return to 1986 with the “Rage For Order” album with the chosen track ‘The Whisper’. When it was time to turn up the pace, the track ‘The Needle Lies’ continued and resulted in banging heads and raised fists! The band played their best tracks all over their career, like ‘En Force’ from their album “The Warning” and the obliged ‘Queen Of The Reich’. But, there was also time for a new track and ‘Arrow Of Time’ is making me curious to hear the complete new output, scheduled to be released on October 7th. Queensrÿche has a brilliant drummer as Scott Rockenfield played a very varied gig while Eddie Jackson his bass guitar create a profound basement. The band is in good shape and I’m sure that they will surprise the fans of The Scorpions as they will support them in September in the USA and Canada.
Alcatraz is known for its thrash metal and every year they try to get some real old school legends on their bill. This year, they booked OVERKILL, and when they walked the stage, you got a flashback to the early 80ies, when albums like ‘Feel The Fire’, ‘Under The Influence’ and the EP ‘Fuck You’ took control. Bass player D.D. Verni is still present and with the original vocalist Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth, they were welcomed like heroes. Overkill took the stage with power and conviction only few are capable of! The members are whirlwinds on stage, the songs grab you by the throat and Overkill did what people demand: leave the crowd slaughtered but satisfied. They have tons of great songs to reach their goal and while the sun was burning continuous, they turned up the volume, increased the pace and moshpits arose randomly! Everyone was having a great time, and that’s why we all love coming to the A.M.F. event! Some tracks that Overkill performed: ‘Rotten to The Core’, ‘Armorist’, ‘Elimination’ and ‘Hello From The Gutter’!
Last year, the shock rockers of W.A.S.P. surprised friend and enemy with a blistering set, a perfect guideline to the ultimate Twisted Sister show. Besides presenting their last concept album ‘Babylon’, we got a lot of hits that raised the temperature on the festival ground. This year wasn’t different! Blackie Lawless (born Steven Edward Duren-1956) and his gang were ready to party and so they did! ‘I Wanna Be Somebody’, ‘Wild Child’ and ‘Blind In Texas’ are songs that are shouted out loud by many throats, and again, we must confirm that the set of W.A.S.P. was thoughtful, the show was energetic and the songs remain classic tracks! This band is the perfect band for a festival like Alcatraz, and I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed the beers that I consumed with the friends along me!
We have to wait a little more before the new TRIVIUM is going to hit the stores, but after the Alcatraz gig, I’m convinced that the new album ‘Silence In The Snow’ is going to be a killer. Mark the date: October 2nd. 2015 will be the day that the earth stands still. The gig of Trivium at the Alcatraz festival was very convincing, the band was playing intense and focused and vocalist Matt Heafy did it really great job. His James Hetfield similarity is past time and he adds an own twist to the songs. Trivium gained a lot of new souls and pleased the people who are already fan since a few years. Tracks like ‘Brave This Storm’, ‘Down From The Sky’ and closing track ‘In Waves’ resulted in a wonderful set that was a perfect warm-up for the lady and gentlemen from Nightwish, who played the Alcatraz Festival in 2013.
The vocalist of NIGHTWISH, Floor Jansen, was already familiar with the crowd and organization, but intense touring during the past two years and a new album results in a very tight set with musicians that convince all the way. Mastermind Tuomas Holopainen (keyboard) is still a wizard and bass player Marco Hietala remains impressive. The songs of Nightwish are a mixture of bombastic, symphonic and movie soundtracks, but they all result in a perfect atmosphere to see and listen to. Fairylike, mythical and a pleasing for the ear, that’s what Nightwish is all about, and tracks like ‘I Want My Tears Back’, ‘Élan’ and ‘Shudder Before The Beautiful’ fulfill all demands. Day 1 of this year’s edition closed with a bull’s-eye and it made my hungry for the next day, as we were only halfway. A good rest, hot shower and hearty breakfast will secure to be ready for the day ahead.
For some, D.A.D. will be unknown, and that’s a bloody shame. They originally started as Disneyland After Dark, but around 1987, problems occurred with Mickey Mouse and Co. so they decided that a change of name would be wishful. They shortened it to D.A.D. and the Danes released many albums in their career with success in their homeland but also in the U.S.A. and Japan! I haven’t seen them live so far, so it was obvious that I wanted to enter the Alcatraz prison on time to get an idea about this band that likes to be described as misfits. Bass player Stig Pedersen is a weird dude that likes costume parties, special shaped guitars and adding a surprising twist to the songs. Both brothers Jesper Binzer (vocals) and Jacob Binzer (Guitars) are the driving forces of the band, but every member has a lot to offer with their skills.Bass player Stig was dressed like Napoleon and his transparent extravagant instrument with only 2 strings draw the attention immediately. The songs convinced as the audience got totally twisted with superb versions of ‘Everything Glows’, ‘A New Age Moving In’, ‘Riding With Sue’, ‘Monster Philosophy’, ‘Bad Craziness’ and the obliged ‘Sleeping My Day Away’! D.A.D. created the perfect conviviality to open this second festival day! Alcatraz demonstrates once again that they know what bands to schedule as opener. Last years they opened with Warbringer (2013- and a perfect Thrash metal act), and last year they did even better with Four By Fate, who surpassed everyone’s expectation, as this band was totally unknown, but they took us by surprise. From now on, D.A.D. can be added to that grandiose opener list, and it was nice that already so many people showed up so early! Again, a memorable opener for those that were already on the holy soil, and for those that awoke in their tent: no better alarm clock as D.A.D.!
The last time that I saw POWERWOLF live, was Graspop 2014, and albeit not exactly my cup of tea, I must say that I have respect for the musical style that this German band is following. Lyrical themes about dark myths, werewolves and religion are interlaced with melodic Heavy Metal songs, but vocalist Attila Dorn makes the difference between average and good. There is a thin line between shoddy and art, and they manage to keep the train perfectly on the right tracks. Their tours are doing well, and I’m sure that after their performance today, they have gained a lot of new souls for their upcoming tour with Orden Ogan, Xandria and Civil War. After the release of their previous album “Preachers Of The Night”, it’s time to present new material and the Alcatraz audience was a perfect aim to conquer. “Blessed & Possessed” is their latest release and besides material from that new output, they also took time to play older songs. It doesn’t matter if Powerwolf is focusing on old or new material, as they convince all the way and the people just loved it. I checked a few tracks (‘Sanctified With Dynamite’, ‘Coleus Sanctus’, ‘Amen & Attack’) but decided that meeting with friends and having a beer is also part of this great festival.
One of the best gigs that I saw at the Graspop 2014 edition was DEATH (DTA), the band that was formed as a tribute to the original Death band and especially Chuck Schuldiner (passed away Dec. 13th. 2001). Chuck can be considered as the ‘father of Death Metal’, as he inspired so many bands and musicians with a musical direction that wasn’t heard before. He surely is a part in history and may his soul never to be forgotten. That’s exactly what former Death members had in mind when they wanted to tribute Chuck and his musical inheritance by starting Death To All. Bass monster Steve Digiorgio (Sadus, Testament, Artension, Dragonlord, Sebastian Bach, Obituray and of course Death) gathered with Sean Reinert (Cynic, Gordian Knot and Death) and Paul Masvidal (Cynic, Gordian Knot, Master, Portal and Death) and since a few years, they are dwelling the globe to make the Death songs immortal! Only few days before the tour begun, Sean Reinert decided to drop off the tour but what we got was even better! Gene Hoglan took a plane, and surprised us with his huge was of sound. He is one of the best drummers that is still alive and kicking ( a kind of pun for the band), and I must say that the similitude and look-alike is striking and the band respected the material from note to note. I’m sure that Chuck would be proud if he took a look from above! Tracks like ‘Pull The Plug’, ‘Leprosy/Left To Die’, ‘Spiritual Healing’ and ‘Symbolic’ are brought with so much passion and dedication that I enjoyed it every single second! The crowd went wild, the whole Alcatraz area enjoyed and this was a revival to the good old times! Once more, it’s proven that Chuck Schuldiner was a visionary! And above all, I’m still impressed about the bass skills of Steve DiGiorgio, who succeeded in playing so intense and so driven that I still get goose bumps from his ‘finger picking’!
ANNIHILATOR’s Jeff Waters is coming to Belgium on November 6th. to present his/their new album, but besides new material, there is also a little (?) change in lineup, which is a constant item in the history of the band. Partner in crime Dave Padden, who joined Annhilator from 2003-2015 is no longer the vocalist as Jeff returns to his microphone stand. I’m sure that nobody will be surprised that things change in the Annihilator camp as Jeff holds the strings constantly and resolute! The legendary Canadian thrashers would be hailed and welcomed by the Alcatraz crowd, but for some unclear reasons, the band decided to skip the show. They had problems with some technical issues and preferred to call it a day. Much consternation by the people that wanted to see the band, but needless to pay much more attention to this unprofessional behavior.
‘Mount Of Execution’ from CARCASS was nominated as #5 in my personal top 20 of 2013, and their album “Surgical Steel” got critical acclaim worldwide. What followed was a gig in Brussels together with Hell and Amon Amarth, and I enjoyed it from the first till the last second! Carcass succeeds in bringing their metal with a very aggressive layer, but at the same time with an utterly crafted precision. They are the masters of medical topics, pathology, gore and with a pinch of political and social indictment. Despite the burning sun, the headbangers were ready for a gig ornate with deadly riffs, vicious attacks and blood spitting vocals. Jeff Walker (‘wearing a Death T-shirt) is the perfect frontman for Carcass as his vocals are hoarse, dark and rough, and while he’s torturing his bass instrument, the solos of Bill Steer subjoin with deadly force! ‘Unfit For Human Consumption’, ‘Captive Bolt Pistol’,… they all were executed at very high level and Carcass gained massive success from the crowd. Intolerable cruelty, that’s how they finished their gig and a few thousand people were gasping for air. Just awesome to be slaughtered this way!
For some, BEHEMOTH from Poland is a bunch of extreme noise pollutants, but if you take some extra time to discover the band, you will agree that this Black Metal/Death Metal has so much more to offer. They have the privilege to lift songs to a higher dimension by adding Satanic themes and Paganism to their music. They don’t reach their goal by playing extremely fast, but they create a certain vibe in their songs that results in a cumbersome and unwieldy atmosphere. Behemoth is on the rise and Nergal (guitars and vocals) knows how to create a dark passage and a freezing cold even when the weather is extremely good like today. Songs like ‘Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel’, ‘Conquer All’ and ‘O Father O Satan O Sun!’ created such a great atmosphere that I consider Behemoth as one of the best acts this year. Alcatraz did a good move to add extreme bands in between old school metal bands, as the interaction and variation is extremely important to entertain the audience, and give the non-lovers a moment to catch a breathe.
ACCEPT's latest album didn’t reach the level of the previous releases ‘Stalingrad: Brothers In Death’ and ‘Blood Of The Nations’ but Mark Tornillo, the new vocalist of Accept is a perfect successor of Udo Dirckschneider, but the quality of the songs wasn’t equal. Of course, this is a personal opinion, and today, the German metal outfit of Accept was present to prove me wrong. Many people know their hit singles like ‘Balls To The Wall’, ‘Metal Heart’ and the ultimate neck breaker: ‘Fast As A Shark’, and the whole festival ground was longing to hear these fine tunes once more. Timeless music, that’s what Accept succeeded in their long career, and this edition of Alcatraz introduced us to a band that isn’t aging at all. They showed no mercy, they accelerated at full speed with songs like ‘Stampede’, ‘Stalingrad’, ‘Princess Of The Dawn’ and ‘Teutonic Terror’, and the people just loved it! Fists in the air, playing the air guitar and banging like there is no tomorrow, that’s what the Accept gig included! German Teutonic Metal with a lot of melody but at the same time with an extremely nice rhythm. Once again, Accept showed how a metal gig should be done!
From the very depths of Hell, here comes: VENOM ! I consider this band as my personal headliner today. They are the one and only originates of Black Metal, besides a new genre also one of their albums released in 1982. Venom is a legend, and I’m sure that Cronos (bass) never expected his influence on a worldwide music scene when he started the band in 1979. Nowadays, Cronos is the remaining original member and he’s gathering with Danté (drums) and Rage (guitars) to entertain the Alcatraz audience the best way possible. I still remember their legendary gig in Poperinge (Belgium), that must have been during ‘The Seven Dates of Hell’ tour where Metallica was supporting act (!). The band played the Master@Rock festival in 2013, but I wasn’t able to attend that gig. Today is the day, today it will happen! My expectations are huge, as Venom is a band that brings pure Black Metal with a lot of bravura and pyrotechnics are one of many elements of the show. The brand new album ‘From The Very Depths’ contains great material, but it was obvious that tonight was going to be a ‘best of’ show! The ‘Sons Of Satan’ ‘Raise The Dead’ with ‘Prime Evil’ and opened the ‘Seven Gates Of Hell’ to introduce us to ‘Countess Bathory’ at ‘Witching Hour’. This was fun but at the same time very enjoyable and I’m sure that a lot of non-Black Metal fans will have a crush on Venom from now on! This was exactly what I expected, and when I talked to friends afterwards, you could see the fire in their eyes, as everybody seemed to have a certain gratitude and respect for what this U.K. Satanists did!
The epic-war-heavy-metal ensemble SABATON was headliner on Sunday, and that was a very good choice for me personally. I didn’t stay at the festival till the end, as I had my portion of metal during the past 48 hours, and Sabaton couldn’t change my opinion that Alcatraz was, again, thé highlight of the year! Programming Sabaton as headliner resulted in an early return to the hotel, and that’s fine by me. What I know about the band and the gig are my final words for this review. I don’t have any affection with this band as they are too mainstream, too polished, would I dare to say ‘too fake’? Anyhow, we want to give an honest review about every band, every style and every performer, so this is my opinion about the Sabaton performance: Vocalist Joakim Brodén is a born entertainer but limited in vocal capacities. He knows exactly what is possible, where his limits are, so he’s keeping that in mind. Don’t try to do better as you really are, and this honest attitude will pay off at the end. The stage looked like the band was coming to invade Kortrijk as the microphone stands were brightened with army helmets, grenades and bullet belts but they also brought extra ‘war-gear’ on stage. Drummer Hannes Van Dahl was sitting on a tank with his drum kit and it was all with the idea of building a camp. What I dislike on Sabaton is that they drivel too much in between the songs. I would skip all the patter and give the people a few more songs instead of childish stories. Songs like ‘Panzer Battalion’, ‘Got Mit Uns’, ‘The Art Of War’, ‘Soldier of 3 Armies’, ‘Swedish Pagans’ and ‘Screaming Eagles’ are welcomed by the fans, but it remains average in my opinion. Those that are hooked on this musical style, enjoyed every minute, so perhaps we can conclude that Sabaton was a perfect Alcatraz headliner, only whiners might have (a little negative) comment.
Dwelling the Kortrijk area, we also heard some rumors as the festival would increase once again to a place with one huge stage ánd a Marquee. They welcomed this year approx. 13500 visitors, and they aim to welcome 15.000 next year! Three crucial elements need to improve as well: a wider entrance as people had to wait +1 hour on the busiest time of the day, one more toilet area on the festival site and above all: more booths where drink tokens can be bought. But, these are only small elements in an organization that did a wonderful thing and this can’t be praised enough!
One final message for the crew, organization, bands and friends that gathered the 2015 edition: until next year, keep up the good work and thank you for everything! You Rule !!