|» Sweden Rock Festival 2016||
~ Reviews by Mozzy
For this year's Sweden Rock Festival, Metal Covenant was visited by just two correspondents: myself aka Mozzy and Tobbe. Therefore, the coverage this time is a bit different, with fewer concert reviews. Also, Tobbe conducted a bunch of interviews during the four days and they can be found below in between the reviews (and in the interview section of course).
In any case, we feel we can still present a solid
report from this edition of the festival which is such a highlight during
the year. As a matter of fact, Sweden Rock is a significant part of one's
whole existence as it is something you can always look forward to during
less fun times in your life. It is simply four days of guaranteed quality
time, with an impressive organisation which always seeks to improve and
a very strong, diverse line-up offering something for everyone. No wonder
that so many people return year after year and that artists speak highly
of Sweden Rock Festival.
Eclipse´ first appearance at Sweden Rock Festival is long overdue. The band has been a steadily rising star in the Swedish and continental hard rock scene for some years and there is a packed crowd in front of the 4Sound Stage. After some technical glitches in the beginning, the quartet is its usual live machine. Singer Erik Mårtensson leads from the front with high energy and infectious enthusiasm, and his bandmates deliver the music with composure, with newest member Philip Crusner being an excellent replacement of the sadly departed Robban Bäck.
Half the set is comprised of songs from last year's brilliant Armageddonize,
and the audience reaction speaks for itself. There is passionate singing
to older tunes as well, and then at the end there is a new inclusion to
the set. Runaways, the band's contribution to the Eurovision song contest,
is played and gets a lively response. The song reached a wider audience
of course, but it actually works very well live and is a cool addition.
The usual closing number Breaking My Heart Again concludes a successful
Sweden Rock debut for Eclipse, and they could well appear on a bigger
stage here in future.
Performance: 7,5 chalices
Band: Blind Guardian
Blind Guardian last played at Sweden Rock as far back as 2007, so their appearance tonight is welcome. There is a very large crowd waiting in the cold for the Germans, power metal giants and one of the most popular metal bands in Europe. The Ninth Wave, over nine minutes long, is an ambitious opener before the appreciated The Script For My Requiem. After some more material from the latest albums we then get a quartet of older fan favourites: The Last Candle, Lord Of The Rings, Bright Eyes and Time What Is Time. These generate a great atmosphere and keen singing.
As for the band's stage performance, it is very professional, solid and competent, just as one can expect. The sound is powerful, tight and a grandiose light show ties in with the bombastic ambience of the music. Singer Hansi Kursch once again impresses with equal parts of power and feel in his vocals and has a good rapport with the audience. His long-time partners in crime, guitarists Markus Siepen and André Olbrich, rock out occasionally but mostly concentrate on their instruments, while the remaining musicians are all in the background.
As far as the actual show is concerned, Blind Guardian are certainly not the most entertaining bunch to watch. Then again, their music with its twists and intense parts is quite demanding. More importantly, the music speaks for itself, consisting of memorable hooks and appealing emotion which the band puts across so well. The last numbers contain Blind Guardian´s more revered moments and the fans are in bliss and loud voice, not least during The Bard´s Song, as expected. All in all, Blind Guardian deliver a very strong Wednesday headline performance which is warming during the chilly night.
Performance: 7,5 chalices
I have seen Therapy? live a couple of times before, but only a few songs at a time because of clashes with other bands. At Sweden Rock, the second half of their set clashes with Slayer at the Festival Stage. As it turns out, I find myself staying at the 4Sound Stage, watching Therapy? in full as they perform an engaging set. The Northern Irish trio has a positive, cheerful attitude onstage, not least the bouncy bassist McKeegan, and the joyfulness and energy is infectious. Vocalist/guitarist Andy Cairns is a very cool frontman with a good connection with the crowd which is having a very good time.
In an excellent, seriously rocking set, the response is as expected the
biggest to the numbers taken from the big breakthrough album Troublegum.
Class tunes like Die Laughing, Knives, Nowhere and Screamager generate
a superb mood among the audience. The decision to skip the first part
of Slayer in favour of Therapy? feels a smart one, a feeling I hear expressed
by others too. Personally, this was actually one of the more enjoyable
concerts of the festival.
Performance: 8 chalices
Megadeth had to cancel their appearance at Sweden Rock in 2014 because bassist David Ellefson had recently lost his brother to cancer. Thus it is nice to see them take the stage this year, and opening with Hangar 18 is indeed an awesome way to kick off things. They then follow it with two other golden classics in the form of Wake Up Dead and In My Darkest Hour. As for the musical execution, it is as ever of top standard with the newest recruits fitting in splendidly. Kiko Loureiro is a gifted guitarist and good onstage, where he certainly seems to enjoy his new position. Drummer Dirk Verbeuren is as we know from his time in Soilwork another very skilled musician and fit in great.
Quite often in later years, main man Dave Mustaine has received criticism for being a rather dull figure live. It is a positive surprise, therefore, that he more active onstage tonight. The frontman is in a good mood, joking and interacting with the crowd as well as rocking out a bit more to the music. Another rather new feature (I had not seen the band in a few years) in the Megadeth live show is that Vic Rattlehead, the band´s record cover mascot, appears onstage during Peace Sells in form of a human, presumably, with a Vic mask. A cool move which adds a bit of fun.
The setlist is a collection of a string of the band's hits as well as four tracks from Dystopia, the latest album. This is where the downside is created, unfortunately. The new songs are very good, just as the album, but they don't go down as well as desired with this festival crowd, as the momentum is slowed down every time a new song is played. One can surely understand the will of the band to play the new stuff, but at a festival it is usually wise to restrict that ingredient in favour of more well-known tunes. After three full-on Megadeth and metal anthems finish the set, the overall impression is definitely still strong, although it could have been even stronger.
Performance: 7 chalices
Band: Queen + Adam Lambert
Without doubt, Queen + Adam Lambert was this year's booking that made the biggest headlines and generated the most excitement among rock fans. The anticipation in the huge crowd can be felt in the air before the intro starts. Then, the familiar riff to One Vision is heard before the curtain falls to deafening cheers. This incarnation of Queen - the "+ Adam Lambert" part is vital, for obvious reasons - has received raving reviews and the singer's contribution has been heralded, so it is very interesting to see him in action. The American puts in a highly dynamic effort with passionate gestures and theatricality that accompanies the role. It is very impressive frontmanship and he does not look the slightest uncomfortable in his role, also having a superb connection with the audience.
As for Lambert's vocal capabilities, they are well-known already and
he certainly proves them. He possesses a tremendous, strong voice that
is working very well to these songs. He is not trying to imitate the mighty
Freddie Mercury at all and states to the crowd early on that there is
of course only one Freddie and tonight will simply be a celebration of
The stage show is extravagant, with colossal lights and lasers as well
as the huge screen projecting images. The sound is great, with a very
competent band including the legends May and Taylor, of course. Taylor's
son, Rufus, is part of the ensemble which is cool and he jumps in behind
the drums when his father sings A Kind Of Magic. Speaking of May and Taylor,
it is evident from their big smiles that they are having fun and that
they are very pleased with Lambert. When the show gets to a close, there
is sheer happiness both onstage and down on the ground. While this is,
once again, not the 'real' Queen, this concert will be a milestone in
the Sweden Rock history.
Performance: 9 chalices
Band: King Diamond
After the triumphant return at Sweden Rock 2012, the group's first concert in five years, Kind Diamond is back at the festival. This time, the special thing about the gig is that the 1987 masterpiece Abigail will be played in its entirety, for the first time in Sweden. It has been suggested that this stage performance would be even more spectacular than last time, and while one cannot really notice any major differences, the stage production is surely striking. There are two colossal inverted crosses, stairways surrounding the drum riser, a pentagram backdrop and many other cool ornaments, and the light show is outstanding.
Welcome Home is an awesome opener and is followed by some other Kind Diamond gems plus the Mercyful Fate classics Melissa and Come To The Sabbath which are most pleasurable. King's voice proves to be in fine shape still and his band members deliver too. The whole performance is well-rehearsed indeed, which sure is obvious when we get Abigail in full. Some essential moments in the album concept story is recreated by King and other figures onstage, accompanying the song lyrics, and it enhances the experience.
The stage sound is excellent as well. The occasion and emotional impact
may have been bigger four years ago since it was the comeback gig, but
the top standard performance is repeated this time. In addition, the setlist
is a notch better, even. It is undoubtedly one of the best performances
at the festival. Now, then, please let us have a Mercyful Fate reunion...
Performance: 8 chalices
Band: Glenn Hughes
I had the pleasure to see Glenn Hughes in England last October which was an excellent evening so to get the chance again was nice indeed. Now performing during the afternoon, the Deep Purple classic Stormbringer kicks things off and satisfies the large gathering. We are then served a set with gems taken from various bands Hughes has been in, apart from Purple including Trapeze, Hughes/Trall and Black Country Communion, plus his solo career.
It is wonderful to see this living hard rock legend, who has had an illustrious but at times dangerous journey, in such great form and mood, smiling widely. And even more wonderful is his still most impressive ability, as he is still capable of hitting very high notes, apart from singing with marvellous feel and soul. His bass-playing is brilliant and combines heaviness with virtuosity plus irresistible funk and groove.
Guitarist Soren Andersen and drummer Pontus Engborg impress with their
chops too and it is very tight trio playing onstage. Together with the
eminent hard rock played it all results in a terrific performance that
gets an excited response, not least during last number Burn, a true cornerstone
within the hard rock genre.
Performance: 8 chalices
Foreigner made a celebrated appearance at Sweden Rock in 2009, so their return this year is most welcome. The big backdrop has "40" under the logo, as this year marks the 40th anniversary of the forming of the band who became one of the biggest in rock via a long run of hits during the 70´s and 80´s. The setlist comprises of a selection of these and to say that the audience is satisfied is an understatement. There is a lovely atmosphere throughout the concert, with loud singing and happy faces all round which not even some rain can affect.
Foreigner prove once again that they are an excellent live act, adding a 'rock out' factor to the hugely catchy hits. Bassist Jeff Pilson is as usual the liveliest one onstage, while Kelly Hansen again demonstrates his brilliant frontman ability. The American works the crowd great and display fine frontmanship, all the while singing fabulously.
It is also pleasing to witness Mick Jones, the founder and remaining
original member, enjoy himself at Sweden Rock since he has had to sit
out gigs once in a while because of illness. The 2009 appearance will
probably be more memorable because one was not really prepared for such
an impact live from Foreigner, but this is certainly another quality display
from a most professional band with cherished tunes.
Performance: 7,5 chalices
Band: The Hellacopters
One of the real treats of the festival this year was no doubt The Hellacopters´ exclusive reunion gig. It's the 20th anniversary of the knockout debut Supershitty To The Max and it is great to see the original line-up, including guitarist Dregen who left the band in 1998, come onstage. Born Broke is a cool opener and after a couple of numbers the quintet seem more at ease onstage.
For this occasion, I feel the need to take a spot in the front, where it is packed but also a terrific party mood thanks to the quality rock that is played. All tracks from Supershitty To The Max are aired, plus some single B-sides, and although they are not as electric as back in the days, the guys put in a committed effort and are enjoying themselves. The awesome (Gotta Get Some Action) Now! rounds off things to an elated response.
This does not give me the same the buzz as the rowdy, kick-ass The Hellacopters
gigs witnessed in the 90´s, but that was expected. Under all circumstances,
it is very good to see the band together again and a nice time is had
indeed. Maybe one could hope for more concerts by the band, and if so,
with tunes from the debut's great follow-up, Payin´The Dues, added.
Performance: 7 chalices
Band: Twisted Sister
And so the time has come for the mighty Twisted Sister's Swedish farewell show. Following three previous, memorable appearances at Sweden Rock, there is now one face missing, AJ Pero tragically passing away last year. His place on the drum stool has since been occupied by none other than Mike Portnoy, himself a big Twisted Sister and AJ Pero supporter, and he does a very good job.
With a hefty playing time, the setlist has room for a couple of gems not played as much as the hits and well-known songs. It is a treat to hear tracks like Destroyer, Like A Knife In The Back and The Fire Still Burns. The latter is introduced via a great speech by guitarist Jay Jay French, expressing his gratitude for the fans' loyalty and paying tribute to the old classic bands. Overall, the set is awesome, with fan favourites and great hard rock tracks throughout.
As always, the one dominating the show is singer Dee Snider. The very fit American puts in a highly energetic performance, sings great and delivers many amusing comments, having the audience in his pocket the way only he has. During The Price, Snider instructs the audience to raise their cellphones and lights for AJ Pero and the loved ones we have lost. This beautiful ballad always gets you in tears, and more so now.
The last part of the set is a stormer. The main set finishes with It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It), where the crowd obeys Snider and yell their lungs out. As first encore, we get Come Out And Play, which is very cool. Then it's another old gem in Tear It Loose before the Twisted Sister rally call S.M.F. The cheers and applauds at the end for Twisted Sister are loud and heartfelt, and there is also an air of sadness among the crowd.
This band has been loved in Sweden ever since their huge impact in the 80´s, and I am one of those expressing gratitude and being emotional. This was a beautiful conclusion which will be remembered, and the great show combined with the circumstances makes it a given to hand out the finest decoration. Thank you for all the awesome entertainment through the years, Twisted Sister!
Performance: 10 chalices
To be honest, the last two times Avantasia played at Sweden Rock it has felt more special beforehand. The first time was just the second live gig by Tobias Sammet's project, and to get to see it again after five years in 2013 was also a treat. Nevertheless, closing festivities on the third festival day with Avantasia's superb music cannot be anything other than enjoyable. This proves right, but unfortunately there are a couple of negative factors this time around.
Let's start with the positives. Said music with its formidable hooks and melodies, with vocals by some household names, is of a very high order and it sure makes the chilly late night easier to bear. One of the vocalists, Jorn Lande, could not be present last time at the festival, and he makes a formidable return, demonstrating his powerful voice, not least in The Scarecrow. The other celebrated singers also deliver their great vocals but unfortunately the sound is overall not that well-balanced tonight and it occasionally hampers the vocalists' impact. And during The Great Mystery, poor Bob Catley can at first not be heard because of a problem with the microphone.
Then, during the last part of the show, it all comes to a peculiar end.
Sammet informs us that there won't be time to play all songs due to time
restrictions. Thus, Lost In Space turns out to be the last number before
everyone leaves the stage ather abruptly without the usual greetings at
the end. The standard closing number Sign Of The Cross/The Seven Angels,
always an epic conclusion to the Avantasia spectacle, is dropped and it
all gets a sour aftertaste.
Performance: 6,5 chalices
Band: Death DTA
One of the metal bands I really regret that I never got to see is definitely Death, who ceased to be (although the band had been inactive for a couple of years) when singer/guitarist Chuck Schuldiner sadly lost his battle to cancer in in 2001. For the last couple of years, the vastly influential Schuldiner and his music has been celebrated by mainly former band members under the moniker Death To All, then being renamed Death DTA.
That this would take place also at Sweden Rock was great news and a large crowd has gathered. That this is a tribute to Schuldiner is declared from the stage by bassist Steve DiGiorgio, who is joined by Gene Hoglan on drums and Bobby Koelble on guitar - both of them, like DiGiorgio, former Death members - plus Max Phelps from Cynic on vocals and guitar.
Opener The Philosopher gets juices flowing and that we're dealing with a tight quartet with very skilful musicians is clear. DiGiorgio and Hoglan, the rhythm section in Testament as well of course, are rock solid but a bit too dominant in the mix, making the guitars suffer. Under all circumstances, it is a pleasure to hear such magnificent compositions like Suicide Machine, Lack Of Comprehension, Zombie Ritual and Pull The Plug live. As for Phelps, he does a good job and sings in quite a similar vein as Schuldiner although it is far from matching the original, making it a thankless task.
One cannot help feel that this is a second-hand version of Death, but it should be seen for what it is, namely a tribute to a fantastic artist. All in all, it is an enjoyable concert which gets a devoted response.
Performance: 7 chalices
(sorry, no setlist)
Band: Michael Schenker Fest
Having performed at the festival a couple of times before, guitar legend Michael Schenker this time around brought an exclusive package. Under the moniker Michael Schenker Fest, four of his former vocalists would perform: Gary Barden, Graham Bonnet and Robin McAuley and Leif Sundin. A tempting concept indeed, and the ensemble also included former band members Ted McKenna om drums, Chris Glen on bass and Steve Mann on guitar and keyboards.
After Into The Arena, Gary Barden is the first one up to reproduce his vocals from some 80´s hard rock classics. Unfortunately, his voice is not in its best condition, being overstrained, for which he apologizes. It is a shame indeed, and his appearance with Michael Schenker Group at the festival some years ago was clearly superior to this one.
Then it is Graham Bonnet's turn, singing three tracks from Assault Attack. Just as the 67-year-old did during his solo gig on the first festival day he proves that his voice is still in a good shape, although he has some problems during the most demanding, higher parts, which is only natural given his age. Finally, Robin McAuley comes out and I'm surely not alone to consider his participation the most anticipated. His time with Schenker, when the band was called McAuley Schenker Group, produced three popular records, not least in Sweden.
He proves he has strong pipes still and is an entertaining frontman. Alas, only two songs from that period are played before he does a fine effort in some UFO classics which bring the show to an end. Leif Sundin, meanwhile, is nowhere to be seen for some reason and was probably unable to take part.
As for Schenker himself, it is as always a pure joy to hear him playing
his guitar, delivering those awesome riffs and solos in his unmistakable
style. It is also obvious he finds it fun onstage with his companions
from back in the day. The German has been quite a common visitor in Sweden
for a number of years but with this concept he made this appearance unique,
although it did not quite turn out the way it was supposed to. Nevertheless,
it becomes a very pleasant ending to this year's excellent edition of
Sweden Rock Festival.
Performance: 7 chalices
Related links: www.swedenrock.com