|» Sweden Rock Festival 2017||
~ Reviews by Mozzy
As usual, this year's Sweden Rock Festival had assembled a very appealing line-up, with a couple of massive bands, many classic ones as well as some upcoming ones spanning various genres. Read below for reviews and interviews by Metal Covenant's two representatives.
In addition to the marvellous musical entertainment, the experience in Southern Sweden is enhanced by the actual festival event itself. When entering the gates, you always feel comfortable in the sense that you know that you will have a very enjoyable and smooth time inside. In fact, it feels a bit like coming home. This is thanks to an outstanding organisation, something which is well-known but a couple of examples deserve to be highlighted this time.
Regarding the schedule, much planning is made. Performances virtually always begin on the set time. In addition, at least concerning the bigger acts, there is a break of 10 or 15 minutes so one can arrive to the next concert in good time, while grabbing a drink and bite from the plentiful bars and food stalls. It was also a wise idea to push back the time for final evening's headline show since by then, visitors are weary after four (or more) days of fun.
For many years, lots of work has been done to improve the festival area and not least the ground on which it takes place. Late on Wednesday evening, the heavens opened with a heavy downpour, but barely any sign of it could be seen the day after. Although some mud is no match for a passionate festival-goer, it is definitely nice without it, walking on dry ground. And regarding that ground, a large number of staff make sure it is always clean, frequently collecting plastic bottles and other waste.
Finally, something which is always so noticeable
at Sweden Rock is the all-through friendly atmosphere. Yes, this is the
case at other hard rock/metal festivals as well, but it is never as obvious
as here. Both visitors and staff contribute to this, and as for the latter
it is undoubtedly something they are conscious about and strive for. This
year, tragic events in Europe led to more security measures at the entrances,
but that did not affect the mood. Most definitely, the friendly and welcoming
atmosphere is an important factor of this very successful, beloved festival.
Band: Grave Digger
After watching a few other acts this first festival day, such as Swedish AOR hotshots Art Nation and Helix who deliver some classic anthems that raise the party mood, it is time for the first main band of the evening. Veteran heavy metallers Grave Digger kick things off with a couple from the latest album, and opener and the title track Healed By Metal prove fitting and descriptive as the rain is now starting to pour down. Thanks to the band's muscular, pumping heavy metal, so typically German, one can endure the cold and rain.
Singer Chris Boltendahl points his middle finger to the sky and the charismatic
frontman displays an infectious passion and knows how to motivate the
crowd. As with the whole band, there is a professionalism that is unmistakable,
no matter the outside circumstances. The one hour set is not of the highest
level throughout, and the sound is not perfect, but the catchy choruses
and riffs are aplenty. As two revered fan favourites, Rebellion (The Clans
Are Marching) and Heavy Metal Breakdown, finish it all the warm response
from the audience is raised further, with loud singing.
Performance: 7 chalices
See also: interview with Axel Ritt the same day
Band: Black Star Riders
Black Star Riders now have three albums under their belt, thus having a bigger catalogue to choose songs from, and it is now this material that dominates their live repertoire. The band displays tons of assurance onstage playing this material which sounds great, performed brilliantly by a strong unit including newest member, drummer Chad Zseliga. In fact, the first ten numbers are taken from the albums, but the response from the crowd is great too.
Of course, the reaction is no surprise as this is high-quality hard rock, comprised of excellent groove, punch and hooks. Still, the Thin Lizzy connection will be always remain of course, so the fact the set now can almost completely rely on Black Star Riders' own material is a great sign. A couple of Lizzy anthems will surely always be included, and tonight it starts with the 11th number in the form of The Boys Are Back In Town. The loved evergreen generates a exhilarated response, obviously, just like Whiskey In The Jar which finish the show.
Then again, tunes like Kingdom Of The Lost, Finest Hour and Bound For
Glory, also played at the end, are just as big highlights tonight. At
this stage spectators are completely soaked and cold because of non-stop
raining, but Black Star Riders' splendid performance which creates a wonderful,
warm atmosphere makes it worth it.
Performance: 8 chalices
Band: Doro Pesch's Warlock
As this year marks the 30th anniversary of Warlock's classic album Triumph And Agony, it will be played in full by Doro at some select shows, Sweden Rock being one, billed as Doro Pesch's Warlock. Aside from Doro only guitarist Tommy Bolan is present from the old Warlock line-up, but there is much anticipation in the air. Touch Of Evil from said album begins the festivities, with Doro running out on the ramp straight away, and the aggressive track works great as the opener. It is followed by I Rule The Ruins, which gets the crowd going. As is already clear, the songs are not played in the same order as on the album, but this is not an issue.
As fifth number, we get Kiss Of Death which is the live premiere of the song, Doro informs us. The same is the case later when the beautiful Make Time For Love is played. It is very nice to hear these live, but otherwise the best response from the audience comes during fan favourites like Fur Immer and All We Are. During the latter, which includes loud singing from the crowd, Tommy Bolan joins Doro out on the ramp to meet the fans. It can be argued he could have done more on an occasion like this, but he seems to have a good time nonetheless. As for Doro, she is as always wonderful to behold. Sporting a Motörhead t-shirt, she displays such true passion for the music as well as strong connection with the fans. She celebrates Sweden and the response is overwhelming.
After the Triumph And Agony set, the worked-up crowd get two more classics,
Earthshaker Rock and True As Steel, before the show is brought to its
close via Breaking The Law. Doro's story of Warlocks's opening slot for
Judas Priest is charming but at an event like this, wouldn't it be wiser
to include another Warlock tune instead of a cover? Judging the performance
itself compared to an 'ordinary' Doro show, it is not more impressive
than usual. But it is a special concert which will be remembered, including
the rarely or never played Warlock tracks, and Tommy Bolan onstage. And
the sunny afternoon adds to a lovely atmosphere at the Festival stage.
chalices of 10
One of the most eye-catching names on the bill this year was no doubt Primus. A so called 90´s band who are not too common at Sweden Rock, the band does not visit Sweden often - my guess is that it was many years ago they did. But first and foremost, this is a unique band many looked forward to see this year, and it is manifested as soon as the trio start playing. Frontman Les Claypool then presents the band as Van Halen and tells the audience to enjoy the show. This is actually happening from the start, despite the quirky, playful music and Claypool's equally quirky, at times ridiculous vocals. The songs are constantly shifting and include various whims here and there, and although I am not familiar with all songs, there is surely some improvisation as well, which the band is known for.
This is no doubt a concert experience out of the ordinary, which could have people shaking their heads. But the band gets the crowd´s support, and a large part is thanks to the absolutely marvellous swing and groove in the music, which even those unfamiliar with the songs can swagger along to. Claypool's renowned, amazing ability on the bass guitar is a sight to behold, as is his funny moves and walks while playing it. The trio, also consisting of drummer Tim Alexander and guitarist Larry LaLonde, also very proficient musicians, have played together for ages and know each other inside out - with these compositions, it is most necessary.
While being truly original, Primus have had big commercial success and the set includes some hits which generate a greater response. This is particularly true when My Name Is Mud and Jerry Was A Race Car Driver are played at the end and get the audience cheering, singing, slamming and dancing. Claypool, a great comedian onstage with hilarious, self-mocking banter, suggests 'goblin rock' as a description of his band's music, and that could well be fitting. Primus' performance is for sure one of the most entertaining ones at this year's festival.
Performance: 7,5 chalices
Aerosmith have headlined Sweden Rock two times in the past, in 2007 and 2010. My impression of them, and others' too, those times were not that overwhelming, although I must admit that in my case there was also a lack of focus involved. In any case, the return of the veteran, massive rock band from Boston this year is a big event, not least because it is part of their final tour before they retire after four decades' service.
After pompous intro music with old pictures and video clips showing on the screen, it begins with Let The Music Do The Talking with guitarist Joe Perry and singer Steven Tyler making their entrance straight onto the ramp. It is a terrific opening, just like second number Young Lust. It is all then turned into a big joyful party with loud singing from the crowd as a quartet of big hits is played: Cryin, Livin' On The Edge, Love In An Elevator and Janie's Got A Gun. Then we get a couple of Fleetwood Mac covers with Perry on vocals which levels out the mood, before the classic rockers Mama Kin and Back In The Saddle bring back the excitement.
At this stage in the show, it is long proven that the gentlemen onstage (all ever-present since the first album which is remarkable in itself) are still vital performers. Drummer Joey Kramer, guitarist Brad Whitford and bassist Tom Hamilton are all essential, but they keep themselves in the background although Hamilton, whose sound contributes a lot, roams the stage sometimes. It is of course Tyler and Perry that are in the limelight, and how they master it. Perry is one cool cat - all riffs, solos and moves, but Tyler is the one who really stars, with a voice in a remarkable shape, sounding great. The same applies for his stagemanship which is full of charisma, energy and agility. Add a very fit-looking body and the fact that he is actually 69 years of age feels rather weird.
The first-class entertainment continues during the second half of the set, where it is striking just how many big hits Aerosmith possess. Even a cheesier song like I Don't Want To Miss A Thing is a highlight tonight, with many couples seen embracing in a touching way. First encore is signature anthem Dream On, and seeing Perry playing his guitar on top of Tyler's piano at the front of the ramp is an epic rock scene. After closer Walk This Way, the band is celebrated by jubilant crowd.
Aerosmith put on a very impressive, exemplary rock show that determines
that they are true pros in the business. Just like Twisted Sister last
year they bid farewell to Sweden in a most admirable way, and just like
their countrymen they deserve to be celebrated: thanks for the great music
Performance: 9 chalices
After being here with Avantasia last year, Tobias Sammet (and drummer Felix Bohnke) is back with Edguy this year. Because Avantasia has become so successful, Edguy has been put on a bit of hold at times, but Sammet still brands it his main band. This year, they celebrate 25 years which will be celebrated with a special release plus a special tour, but the anniversary is the theme already at Sweden Rock.
That the band aim to do something special is evident as loads of pyro and fireworks is set off without a single tone played, continuing through first number Love Tyger. Certainly something you don't witness every day. The very big crowd is thrilled when the first notes of Vain Glory Opera are heard, and singing and happiness sets in. It is indeed delightful to hear the 20-year old Edguy gem, just like next number Mysteria which is heavy live. The party atmosphere continues during Tears Of A Mandrake, and is upheld throughout the set which is a mix of fan favourites from the band's catalogue.
Sammet mentions the celebratory theme of the evening and commemorates
Sweden as being one of the first countries that embraced Edguy. As one
who saw the band a few times back then, it is quite nostalgic to hear
tunes like Land Of The Miracle, Babylon and Out Of Control, although the
sound is not great at all times. Sammet is his usual funny and teasing
self, although his babble tonight might be a tad to much. But he and his
long-time friends end the second festival day in a pleasurable, upbeat
manner and the anniversary tour will sure be appreciated.
Performance: 7,5 chalices
Last time they played at Sweden Rock, five years ago, Gotthard were still healing after singer Steve Lee's heartbreaking death two years earlier. With new vocalist Nic Maeder, the Swiss group did well then, also getting affectionate support from the crowd. Nevertheless as a whole the performance feels slightly more composed and natural this time. Gotthard have continued being a prolific act in the melodic hard rock field, not least evident from the very large crowd that has gathered at the biggest stage. The confidence is also evident because of the dominance of material from the latest three, post-Lee, albums in the first half of set. These are indeed fine tracks, but all the same one is waiting for the gems from the past.
Like Edguy last night, Gotthard are celebrating their 25th anniversary and special treats have been promised. Suddenly, heartbeats are heard from the sound system and images of Steve Lee appears on the screen. The glorious ballad Heaven is next and vocals are provided by Lee's golden voice while the band are playing their instruments. The number is accompanied by live clips of Lee on the screen and tears are impossible to avoid. After the last note, the audience continues singing after which Maeder express the band's gratitude and says that Steve would have been proud to hear the singing. A most moving moment and a terrific tribute.
The remainder of the set offers some other older Gotthard gems and the
band is given a warm response from the spectators. Gotthard will never
be able to escape the ghost and outstanding voice of Steve Lee, but will
surely celebrate his memory forever. Under all circumstances, today's
edition of Gotthard is still one that is successful and popular.
Performance: 7,5 chalices
In recent years (which has been the case before as well) most news concerning Ratt has revolved around ill feelings and legal battles. Drummer Bobby Blotzer now has his own group containing the band name, while other members from the classic line-up - singer Stephen Pearcy, guitarist Warren DeMartini and bassist Juan Croucier - remain as Ratt. The latter group is at Sweden Rock for an exclusive European performance which has naturally attracted big attention.
Wanted Man is a cool opener which is followed by a couple more from the first LP:s, but the first half of the set does not take off. There is nothing to remark on regarding the members' input, however. Although his recognisable voice is not as sharp as before, Stephen Pearcy puts in a good effort and Croucier assists well with backing vocals. It is evident that the latter enjoys being back in Ratt, jumping around onstage, and DeMartini excels as usual with his tremendous sound and chops. The aforementioned trio is complemented by guitarist Carlos Cavazzo and drummer Jimmy DeGrasso - both very experienced and competent, of course.
About two thirds in, the biggest hits finally appear and generate a clear
step up in terms of atmosphere. It would have been preferable to include
one of these during the start to get the crowd going. During classics
like Lay It Down, You're In Love, Back For More and Round And Round the
party is in full swing, with an elated crowd rocking out and singing along.
Pearcy expresses his gratitude and with his ultra-cool stage persona he
could well be described as an archetype of the classic, hardened LA rocker
who has seen and done it all. Ratt's performance at this festival in 2008
was a notch superior and felt a bit more special as they had reunited
just before that, but this return nine years later is definitely pleasurable
Performance: 7 chalices
After Aerosmith's extraordinary showing last night, time has come for another long-serving giant of headliner this evening, namely Scorpions. To a huge audience, they kick off with Going Out With A Bang - a fitting title indeed which is followed by classics such as Make It Real and Bad Boys Running Wild. A while later, we get a cool medley of 70's songs, as well a few tracks from latest album Return To Forever. Regarding the band, guitarist Rudolf Schenker is as usual the liveliest onstage, dashing back and forth onstage. Singer Klaus Meine, is more laidback and although not bad by any means, his voice seems to have lost some of its power. That the sound volume is a bit low does not help his effort either.
Something which one has looked forward to witness is the impact of Mikkey
Dee, replacing James Kottak behind the drums last year. That the Swede,
playing with his typical punch, skill and intensity, is a great acquisition
is obvious and his solo, with an elevating drum set, is more engaging
than others. Despite Dee's presence, the cover of Motörhead's Overkill
falls rather flat though. On the whole, Scorpions do not make as vital
an impression as Aerosmith last night. Still, it is a very enjoyable time,
as few hard rock acts can boast as many revered tunes as Scorpions. The
final part comprising mega anthems generates loud singing from the crowd,
especially during Big City Nights, Still Loving You and Rock You Like
Performance: 7,5 chalices
Band: Running Wild
After Scorpions, it is time for another classic German act. Not nearly as successful, of course, and the crowd is not as packed, but one of the big talking points before the festival: Running Wild! Led by the enigmatic Rolf Kasparek, commonly known under his brilliant artist name Rock n' Rolf, they hade been notoriously sparse with live gigs, and this is the first visit on Swedish soil since 2000, also at Sweden Rock. With flames shooting up, it kicks off with Fistful Of Dynamite which is followed by some real fan favourites which get heads banging, like Bad To The Bone, Soulless and Riding The Storm. The delivery by the band is tight and committed and the sound is excellent, presenting the songs with punch and heaviness. Rock 'n' Rolf's singing is good as well, although it feels odd that guitarist Peter Jordan takes over lead vocals occasionally during the gig.
The second half of the set is not as memorable, though. It starts with a tedious drum solo and then a downside with this concert is highlighted: the song selection. Out of thirteen songs in the set, four are picked from latest album which is too many as not all these are of the same class. Furthermore, Locomotive from the rather average Shadowmaker is also a debatable choice. And when an eighties tune is played again, it is Running Blood which surely could have been replaced by a better one from that era. One old Running Wild anthem that is missed, for example, is Prisoner Of Our Time.
There is much enthusiasm when signature song Under Jolly Roger arrives to end the main part of the set, but then the band return to perform another song from the new album, Stick To Your Guns. A good song, but as the first encore instead of another oldie it is rather misplaced. The excitement is soon back, however, when bassist Ole Hempelmann starts playing a familiar intro; it is indeed the one to Conquistadores, and the Running Wild anthem is greeted with an elated response, just like the band is applauded afterwards. Despite room for improvement, Running Wild's return to Sweden is strong and enjoyable. Let's now hope that Rock 'n' Rolf and his crew become a more frequent feature on the live scene.
Performance: 7 chalices
After reuniting some years back following a couple of years' hiatus, and then deciding to release new music, Thunder have enjoyed great interest and good sales as well. There is a large crowd waiting at the biggest stage and Wonder Days and Enemy Inside, both from the latest two excellent records, get the place rocking and grooving. The quintet, having played together in this line-up for 20 years, sound flawless and it's nice to see guitarist/keyboardist Ben Matthews back onstage, after his treatment for cancer a couple of years ago. Danny Bowes shines as always with his fabulous voice and natural frontman abilities, with which he gets the crowd to participate, and he is often out on the middle ramp.
There are a couple of remarks to be made today, however. The superb tunes from the debut album get the greatest response, naturally, but there is one serious omission in the form of hit ballad Love Walked In. Afterwards, many can be heard despairing over this, as the song is always wonderful to hear and simply should be in the set, which it mostly is. And the inclusion of In Another Life does not go down well, halting the rocking. Sometimes, one can also sense that this is a bit of a day at the office for the band; that the spark is not always there. One hour, also too short of a playing time, goes quick however and overall it is certainly delightful to be treated to Thunder's classic, blues-based hard rock during this sunny afternoon, beer in hand.
Performance: 7 chalices
Sweden Rock is one of the places where Candlemass are celebrating the 30th anniversary of Nightfall this year. Songwriter and bassist Leif Edling, who was supposed to return for this event, unfortunately had to pull out but once again Per Wiberg is a solid replacement. Nightfall, probably the doom masters' most popular record, is played in the same order as on the album. Thus, we get The Well Of Souls straight away and it is followed by more magic, not least the mighty Samarithan which is awesome to hear live again.
It is also a treat to get numbers rarely played like instrumental Codex
Gigas and Mourners Lament.
That music is performed superbly by his bandmates and is complemented
by a great sound. The bright day does not take away from it all either,
as the music speaks for itself, and even the fire flames fit in well.
Following the majestic, memorable rendition of Nightfall, Candlemass perform
four more fan favourites. The band is greeted warmly and loudly and this
sure was an impressive anniversary concert as well as one of the highlights
of the festival. As a matter of fact, Candlemass often are, which speaks
volumes of the band's live capacity nowadays.
Performance: 8,5 chalices
For me, and many others, one of the most interesting acts this year was Artch. The Norwegian group's debut album Another Return, from 1988, is a true cult release in heavy metal. In 2010, the original line-up reunited and as a matter of fact, this is the band's first ever gig in Sweden, strange it may sound. The familiar intro to the debut LP starts before the classic Another Return To Church Hill is delivered to an excited response by the eager fans, which continues via the equally terrific Metal Life. Altogether, six tracks from the album are played and overall we get an hour of high quality heavy metal.
The sound in the tent is excellent, especially benefitting the guitar
sound which is sharp. The quintet sounds very good and although renowned
vocalist Eirikur Hauksson may lack a little of his former capacity, he
puts in a good effort. The audience is also treated to a newly written
tune, which might be recorded, Hauksson informs us. Most pleasingly, Artch
deliver a great gig that is one of the most memorable of the festival.
Performance: 8 chalices
Watching the whole of Artch' excellent set, I miss the beginning of Saxon but I can hear their familiar sound from a long distance, complete with the strong voice of Biff Byford. As I am getting nearer, it is obvious that the number of spectators is massive, surely one of the biggest crowds in years at the Rock Stage. One heavy metal anthem is followed by another, and the atmosphere is festive indeed. It is certainly the music that does the talking at a Saxon gig but during The Eagle Has Landed, the giant steel eagle is adorned with lights and flames which is a cool sight.
Biff is in a splendid mood, orchestrating the crowd in his typical fashion and adding some fun by walking behind the screen and peeping out. And a brilliant moment occurs when a fan throws a denim jacket full of patches onstage and Biff puts in on with a smile on his face. The frontman's bandmates are very solid as usual in their performance and bassist Nibbs Carter is having one of his extra wild evenings, headbanging and running around. Ending the show with some of the biggest staples, time is eventually running out which makes it a bit panicky but the band receives a loud salutation.
To be honest, this particular Saxon concert does not stand out from others,
but at festival with people in a party mood the band is a guaranteed recipe
for success. Alongside Motörhead, Saxon have been somewhat of a house
band at Sweden Rock and now that the former is no more their English friends,
who does not show the slightest sign of lost form, will continue to fly
Performance: 7,5 chalices
Band: In Flames
There have indeed been changes in the In Flames camp since I last saw them live. Last year, both bassist Peter Iwers and drummer Daniel Svensson left the band. The drum stool is now occupied by Joe Richard the bass is handled on tour by Bryce Paul. In addition, there is a live keyboardist tonight in the form of Niels Nielsen. While it is very solid, I cannot help but find the first part of the set a bit uninspiring personally, as it mostly consists of material from recent albums. The seventh number Come Clarity, raises the mood not only for myself before we get two old jewels from the 90's in the form of Moonshield and The Jester's Dance. The latter two really bring out nostalgia from that era, and also makes you realise just how far In Flames have come since those days, now headlining a big festival to a large field packed with people.
Next number is Only For The Weak which always get the crowd going and
standing on the right flank, it is some sight to see thousands jumping
along after vocalist Anders Fridén's instructions. Regardless of
which material one prefers, the band's performance is strong and convincing
all the way through. Much confidence and expertise is showcased, as well
as great connection with the audience, with guitarists Björn Gelotte
and Niclas Engelin regularly occupying the ramp. Fridén, humble
and easygoing as always, expresses his gratitude to the crowd and how
big a privilege it is to close the festival. Just like the band's music,
he generates emotions, not least when dedicating Here Until Forever to
a friend of the band who died recently. It is a very touching moment and
the warmth and togetherness manifested by band and audience carries the
show to its end. Although some remarks could be made song-wise, In Flames
close this year's Sweden Rock in a beautiful and very worthy way.
Performance: 7 chalices