Chris Dale’s Metal Meltdown: European Festival Round-Up

3 July 2011

I’ve been to a fair few festivals this year, too many to review every band but here’s my best of each festival.

On most of the shows I’ve been working for Mr Big and quite honestly they’ve been the best band most days but that would be a little biased to review the band paying my wages, so just take my word for it that they’re great, go and buy tickets for their upcoming UK tour in September and let’s take a look at the second best bands on each festival bill.

Hellfest, Clisson France

This was a pretty strong bill the day I was there. Cavalera Conspiracy, Duff McKagan’s Loaded, Doro, Ozzy… all pretty good but the band who unexpectedly stole it for me were Judas Priest. I saw them a couple of years back and quite honestly they bored the pants off me. I think they also bore the pants off each other that day too. No vibe, no interaction with the crowd and a bare minimum of rocking out. This year it’s all different. They’ve been reborn!

Halford commanded the stage like the rock God that he is, his voice was on supreme form and he reminded me why every Metal singer since him can only attempt to emulate him. Scott Travis slammed the kit like I’ve never seen him do before. He is of course an awesome drummer as we always knew but tonight he took it to new levels. ‘Painkiller’ was of course only ever a pounding drum solo with some other guys in the background.

Ian Hill, despite his sticking to the back of the stage as usual, still pulled all the rock shapes we’d want to see and kept the whole band locked in order. Glenn Tipton had upped his game since I last saw him in action, again pulling the shapes, rocking out and of course giving us the riffs that made Priest the icons that they are.

Then there was the new boy, Richie Faulkner, KK’s last minute replacement on this tour. He’s got the riffs and solos down; we’d expect that. He’s pulling the shapes and moving the moves; we’d expect that too. But somehow I think there’s more to him than that. He’s a real rockstar up there. I get the feeling that Priest’s rebirth is down to him. I think he’s given them the inspiration that maybe they’ve been lacking for a while. A little kick up the arse.

He’s a new kid, not jaded from playing arenas for thirty years, not bored of playing the same tunes every day (though he has been playing ‘Breaking The Law’ in Camden pubs every Sunday for years with the covers band Metalworks) and just very happy to be there. Who wouldn’t be? Well, KK apparently.

Special mention must also go to the setlist, where they played far from safe giving the crowd a selection of the old and rare, tracks they’ve not played for years and tracks they may never have played before. It’s never an easy choice when bands do this but always a treat for the die hard fans. They then of course finished up with the hits and crowd pleasers- ‘Breaking the Law’, ‘Painkiller’ and ‘You’ve Got Another Thing Coming’. Please let’s hope the Priest do have another thing coming and that this is not really a farewell tour from them.

Sweden Rock Festival, Solvesborg Sweden

This place has great memories for me. In 2002 I played there in Bruce Dickson’s band, headlining the main stage, on after Motörhead. Now that makes no sense does it? Little old me on after Motörhead? There was something wrong about that whole idea. Like a dream where the events don’t add up to the end result. But that’s what happened and we had a ball doing it.

Then in 2009 we played there in Tank. That was a great day, the first show with the new Tank, the Doogie White fronted Tank. It was that day that Tank fans showed their full support for the new line-up. It was that day we debuted a couple of tracks from the ‘War Machine’ album. It was that day we realised we had something quite special on our hands.

It was also that day that we saw Ronnie James Dio live for the last time. He sang his heart out with Heaven and Hell. Incredible singer, incredible voice. Little did any of us know he wouldn’t be with us twelve months later.

So my third time at Sweden Rock was going to be hard to top. Also because of our scheduling, we had to fly out that same day to get to Donington so I missed most of the bands. The only band I saw any of was Phil Anselmo’s Down. And I’m so glad I did catch that bit. Wow, what a band, what a frontman and what a voice!

I’d seen Pantera back in the day (they blew Megadeth offstage at Hammersmith Odeon) and Anselmo was powerful back then. But now with the experience and wisdom of a few more years in the game, he’s turned into a monster of a singer… then just as I was thinking, this’ll be a great day out, we had to get ourselves out of there to go to…

Download Festival, Donington England

This was probably the best festival bill for my taste. Saturday, stage two was full of great bands – Mr Big (of course), Rise to Remain, Clutch, Cheap Trick, Alice Cooper. How do you pick between them? But there were two bands that stole it for me and I really can’t pick between them so they’ll get joint first place.

Dio Disciples, what’s all that about eh? I was kind of sceptical about this whole thing: Dio’s band, without the late great man himself, doing some covers of his songs with two singers. Sorry but on paper that didn’t do it for me. I was expecting to watch a song, yawn and go off a bit depressed that it had to come to this. But no, somehow they maintained their dignity and pulled it off magnificently.

It helped that the crowd weren’t as hard to please as me and as soon as they started with ‘Stand Up And Shout’, the audience loved them. Of course we all miss Ronnie, but nothing can bring him back so let’s enjoy the music he left us. That is the point of the band and they put it across so well. Craig Goldy, Simon Wright… and new boy James Lomenzo pulled out the songs we wanted to hear exactly how we wanted to hear them, note for note and pummelling.

I say new boy, James Lomenzo may be a newboy to this band but is of course no new boy to rock. Its hard to think of a cool band he hasn’t played bass for at one time or another – Megadeth, David Lee Roth, Ozzy Osbourne, Pride and Glory, Badlands, Frehley’s Comet, not to mention White Lion where he first came to attention and now Dio Disciples. How does he keep getting these gigs? I found out how – by being really good at his job and a very nice bloke too. Good combination!

Then onto the singers. How was anyone going to replace RJD in his own band? We all know Ripper’s a good Metal singer and that Toby Jepson led Little Angles to chart topping success a few years back but replacing Ronnie? No, surely not?

They way they did it was by NOT replacing him.

They didn’t try to out-Dio each other. They sang the parts, often in harmony but in their own styles. Not doing impersonations of his unique voice but in their own voices staying true to the spirit (and notes) of the originals and all done with the greatest respect for the man himself. He’d have been proud. I was.

The other band on that stage that blew me away was Twisted F*cking Sister. They’ve not changed a bit since day one. Still as angry, still as in your face and still as rocking. You can’t stop rock and roll and you can’t stop Twisted Sister either. I wouldn’t like to go on after a band like this.

Every song is an anthem. And every line is delivered like its the first time Dee’s done this. His energy and presence is literally awesome, not in that lame way of “that’s awesome dude” but in its original meaning of he inspires awe in those around him. Don’t get in his way, from song one its clear the kids are indeed back.

The Animal pounds the bass, Jay Jay and Fingers peel out the twin harmony licks and AJ is so under-rated. People may not expect this but AJ Pero has one of the best grooves of any Metal drummer I’ve heard. Put these five guys together and you be hard pressed to find a better band on any festival bill.

Gods Of Metal, Milan Italy

There wasn’t going to be a lot of competition here. David Coverdale’s Whitesnake were here to conquer, and the man himself walked onstage like he knew it all along. “Bueno Sierra, Italy! Here’s a song for Ya!”… and off they went into ‘Best Years Of My Life’. Great stuff.

Hit after hit, ‘Love Ain’t No Stranger’, ‘Slide it In’, ‘Here I Go Again’, the new ‘Love Will Set You Free’ and of course ‘Still of the Night’. Every moment brought a smile to my face.

The only criticism I’d have of the set was the length of the band members’ solo spots. But even then that can only be a slight criticism because when you’ve got musicians the calibre of guitarists Doug Aldritch and Reb Beach and drummer Brian Titchy, solo spots are a real treat, musically and also entertainment wise. I just thought maybe if those solo spots had been one minute shorter each, they could have slipped ‘Crying In The Rain’ into the set.

I’m really small picking holes in a near perfect show now. I got to see a great Whitesnake show, and what did I want? More Whitesnake of course. There’s no pleasing some people is there?

Sonisphere, Basel Switzerland

This was another festival that we had to run out of to get to the next one in time so I didn’t get to see any other bands, which was a shame because Iron Maiden were on our stage later. I did get to see a bit of Limp Bizkit, who were, well, pretty limp actually. But I guess from their name that that’s how they like it. I’m just gutted I missed Maiden.

Noc Pina Hvzd Festival, Trinec Czech Republic

Mr Big were the only international touring band in the bill. Clearly headliners in billing and performance. The local bands didn’t come close. There was no second position, it was a yawning chasm between the headliners and anyone else. But there was a third place, these local bands can pull a few surprises of their own.

The best of them was the Czech Republic’s own Citron. Naming a Metal band after a piece of fruit is rarely a good move, but we’ll overlook that in favour of their riffage. Power Metal in the style of Accept or Sinner, with all the power and Metal that goes with the genre.

They were clearly local favourites, the crowd loved them and seemed to know every word. They sang in Czech so every word was a bit of mystery to me but if you’re one of those people who cares nothing for lyrics and just loves the Metal for Metal’s sake, check (or should that be Czech?) them out. Highly recommended.

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Well that’s my festivals so far this Summer… next stop Metal Hammer Festival, Katowice Poland with Tank and Judas Priest, then Lillehammer Festival, Norway with Tank, Thin Lizzy and UFO. Bring on the Metal!!

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