|» Sweden Rock Festival 2019||
~ Reviews by Mozzy
After last year's edition of Sweden Rock Festival, I highlighted that the higher number of visitors, mainly because Iron Maiden were booked, had an effect on certain areas. Toilets was one issue, and this had now been improved, with toilets placed in a couple of more spots. It should be said that the festival organisers are very good when it comes to listening to their visitors. When the festival is completed each year, the organisers encourage the visitors to give their views on the festival and its area, what can be improved and so on. Collecting all views, they often come up with good solutions which are implemented. This is an approach which must be applauded.
One other big issue that the higher attendance brought was that it, naturally, was more crowded to the extent that it was not as comfortable as one have been used to before. It turned out that the number of tickets for sale was the same this year and as they sold out again, once more with a great line-up, it was just as crowded. With the commercial aspect and increased interest from companies for the festival, among other factors, one can see why the number of tickets will remain at this level. Most probably, one simply has to get used to it being very crowded at the site, and the more comfortable feel of past festivals will be nice memories. Still, criticism this year regarding specific crowded spots, and regarding specific objects such as chairs, will surely mean some action will be taken.
When it comes to the main point of the festival
- the music and entertainment by the artists - all visitors, with wide
tastes, could once again enjoy themselves immensely. Simply a look at
the festival poster will reveal that. It is well-known that the artists
too appreciate the festival, and when Danko Jones commented in his microphone
that the band "want to come back every year to this amazing, fantastic
festival" it was met with a roar from the crowd. Oh, and the weather
was equally as brilliant like last year.
Demon open with the classic Night Of The Demon, with singer Dave Hill appearing last, sporting a mask with horns. Then it is time for material from The Unexpected Guest which the band has based their shows around lately. Total Possession, The Spell and Sign Of A Madman, by which time the guitar sound is louder too, are greeted by warm and loud cheers. The crowd is the largest Demon has played for at Sweden Rock, people covering the entire hill.
It is great to hear the tunes from The Unexpected Guest, with their superb riffs and melodies. As always, it is also a pleasure to hear Hill, now without the mask but still in white make-up and a priest gown, sing and Don't Break The Circle has the crowd assisting loudly during the beloved tune. As it turns out, a couple of tracks from the 1982 album are not played, but this is nonetheless an enjoyable set.
Before it finishes with the rocking One Helluva Night, Hill thanks "the
best crowd in the world" and it is sure brilliant to see that the
fondness for Demon seems to get bigger and bigger with every visit by
the band at Sweden Rock.
Performance: 7,5 chalices
Band: Gathering Of Kings
First Mission, the debut by all-star project Gathering Of Kings, created a big buzz and earned glowing reviews. Most rightly so as it contains AOR and melodic hard rock tunes of the highest calibre, performed by a string of renowned vocalists and musicians. That it would be performed live at Sweden Rock sparked excitement which is evident on the very big crowd gathered at the 4Sound Stage.
As on the record, an intro is followed by Forever And A Day sung by Björn Strid who does so terrifically. Endless Paradise is next with Tobias Jansson, also with a strong effort. Then the other singers appear one by one to replicate their studio efforts live: Apollo Papathanasio, Rick Altzi, Alexander Frisborg and Jens Westin. It is awesome that all vocalists from the record are present and one can tell all are up for the task as they sing with passion, power and commitment. Everyone impresses, although my favourites tonight are Rick Altzi and Jens Westin.
Altzi's tremendous voice, full of power and feel and with some great raspiness, fits perfect to this music. Westin, meanwhile, was an unexpected inclusion on the record but the Corroded frontman's darker and rougher voice fitted perfectly on Lonely Road. He now impresses in the great track live as well and accompanied by an excited response from the audience this is one of the highlights of the show.
Apart from the vocalists, who take turns to perform backing vocals, there are eight other very competent musicians onstage, including guitarist and composer Victor Olsson who shines when delivering the glorious melodies and solos. With such many people appearing onstage at different times, and two drums sets used by two drummers, one cannot expect everything to flow perfectly, and instruments have to be tuned between songs. Also, the rhythm guitar sound, at least from my spot, is quite low.
These are just small remarks, though, and as a whole this ambitious undertaking
is a big success. That is not least obvious from the loving response from
the crowd. People clearly know the songs, singing along loud and excitedly.
In addition to the brilliant tunes with infectious hooks and melodies,
the crowd response creates a magnificent, joyful atmosphere. Within the
melodic rock field, this will live on as a classic concert in the history
of the festival and it is a privilege to experience it. That it is also
recorded for a live DVD is brilliant.
Performance: 9 chalices
Band: Joe Lynn Turner
Last year Joe Lynn Turner had to cancel his visit at Sweden Rock after a heart attack in the spring. Therefore, it is wonderful to see him take the stage this year and being one of the most cherished vocalists in hard rock history he receives a heartfelt welcome. Turner's voice is still strong and it is a pure pleasure to hear him in classic tunes from his stints in Rainbow, Deep Purple and with Yngwie Malmsteen.
The singing from the happy audience is passionate throughout the concert but the magical Street Of Dreams generates an extra special emotion and surely I am not the only one with a tear in my eye. It is followed by a nice surprise in the form of Yngwie track Déjà vu, when most would have expected Heaven Tonight from the same album Odessey.
We are also treated to Purple gem King Of Dreams and the Yngwie staple
Rising Force, but otherwise it is all Rainbow. What unavoidably comes
to mind is that it is sad that Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow, performing
later at the festival, chose not to have Turner as vocalist. Turner, and
his terrific and energetic band (including three members from Dynazty
who are playing straight after this gig at another stage!) have now set
the bar high with this very pleasurable performance.
Performance: 8 chalices
Band: Skid Row
As Skid Row kick off in-your-face style via Slave To The Grind, one soon sees that something is different. On stage right is a guitarist that surely is not Dave 'Snake' Sabo? Vocalist ZP Theart later confirms that Sabo could not make it to Sweden Rock and that it is Ryan Cooke from Gene Simmons' solo band that is substituting. He does a good job but it is unfortunate that one of the remaining original members is missing.
More tunes from the first two albums are played and get an affectionate response, while two newer numbers go down well too. Theart again proves that his voice is a good fit for Skid Row and he is an energetic and confident frontman. During I Remember You the crowd assists with loud and passionate singing, creating a beautiful atmosphere.
Still, one cannot ignore that it is not Sebastian Bach onstage singing these old classics. True, Bach does not have the same voice capacity nowadays but these songs are so associated with his distinctive voice as well as his persona. This dilemma has taken place in many other bands without the original singer of course and is unavoidable. Maybe what one should focus on, however, is simply enjoying the music by the individuals performing it, and Skid Row succeed in that sense, also displaying a committed effort onstage.
During the encores, it is great to hear the emotive In A Darkened Room
before Youth Gone Wild ends it all with a party and loud singing. Skid
Row definitely provide a nice ending to the first festival day, although
they were a notch better last time I saw them.
Performance: 6,5 chalices
Band: Blaze Bayley
Blaze Bayley has performed at Sweden Rock a couple of times in the past, getting a warm reception and not least when an Iron Maiden song has been played. This year, he is back with a special set consisting of solely material from the two Maiden albums with him as singer. It is apparent Blaze is geared-up, instantly busy to spur on the crowd in opener Lord Of The Flies.
Apart from the most popular tracks like The Clansman and Man On The Edge, which receive a great response, it is a treat to hear tunes which Maiden have not played since Bayley's departure, like Judgement Of Heaven, Virus, and The Angel And The Gambler, and hearing Bayley singing them. The crowd react with singalongs to the words as well as to the melodies.
To see Bayley's happiness as he gets this response from a big crowd is
heart-warming as he had endured some difficult times but kept on working
hard. He is backed up by a good, solid band that plays the material a
bit rawer. The final number is a less known number, Come Eastais Amigos
from Virtual XI, which is surprise and a nice conclusion.
Performance: 7 chalices
Band: Amon Amarth
This time at Sweden Rock, Amon Amarth are about to play at the biggest stage, a first for the band. Add that a massive audience is waiting and we have visual proof of just how popular the Swedes have become. The Pursuit Of Vikings is always an excellent opener, its main riff getting the crowd going, before Deceiver Of The Gods and First Kill raise the tempo and intensity. Then during The Way Of Vikings, two Vikings appear, fighting through the song and then returning for other songs. As usual, this ploy and props like the helmet drum riser contribute to an entertaining show and setting and there is also frequent use of fire.
It is obvious the band savours the occasion and cheerful singer Johan Hegg expresses his gratitude towards the crowd. The band has a strong support throughout the concert, both for older material like the terrific Death In Fire and new material, of which Raven's Flight is especially well received. With the incorporation of more classic heavy metal elements in their death metal, it is clear the band now has a formula that is grabbing more and more listeners with each album.
As they come out for an encore, Hegg expresses the band's thanks again and a toast is shared with the crowd. Raise Your Horns goes down a storm live as always just as closing anthem Twilight Of The Thunder God, with the usual Thor's hammer and inflatable serpent. Amon Amarth prove that their spot on the biggest stage is just natural and they will return there for sure, possibly even headlining it.
Performance: 8 chalices
Band: Def Leppard
Then, regrettably, that feel is lost for quite some time. Cover tune Rock On, the rather dull ballad Two Steps Behind, and the average Man Enough from the latest album destroys much of the excited atmosphere. Two more ballads are next, Love Bites and Bringin On The Heartbreak, but although those are lovely, the momentum has been lost. A while later, Pour Some Sugar On Me brings back the enthusiasm and party which remains through encores Rock Of Ages and Photograph.
The show is bombastic from a visual view, with great lights, effects
and entertaining old clips on the screen. The same can be said of the
sound which is excellent, with massive bass. The band members are of course
true professionals, led by the cool Joe Elliot who skips the highest notes
but sings well as a whole, backed up by his bandmates. Without a doubt,
it is once again delightful to hear Def Leppard play their beloved tunes,
but the middle section of the concert affects the overall impression.
Performance: 7 chalices
After the members in Slayer have thanked the crowd at the end, frontman Tom Araya remains onstage for a couple of minutes. He is walking along the front gazing at the spectators and thanking them in a genuine manner before saying goodbye, and it is a touching sight. The concert just performed, though, sees Slayer in their typical brutal fashion.
The opening six numbers, with Evil Has No Boundaries as a splendid inclusion as second number, are all fast tracks, delivered with intensity and without fuss, one quickly followed by another. It is an amazing opening and your Metal Covenant writer is headbanging violently, also knowing it will be the last time at a gig by the almighty thrash metal icons.
The thrash pearls keep coming and hearing the less played Temptation and Born Of Fire back to back is very cool. The band put in a dedicated effort, and when Araya gets lost momentarily in the tempo and lyrics a couple of times, he laughs if off which is good to see. Visually, the show is very impressive, full with great lights, loads of pyro and inverted crosses. Towards the inevitable end, Black Magic makes an awesome appearance after Raining Blood and finally the immense Angel Of Death concludes the thrash metal show.
It feels sad having just seen Slayer for the last time on Swedish soil and probably for the last time ever. At the same time, this tremendous performance ensures that they go out with much dignity and leave us with cherished memories.
Performance: 9 chalices
Band: The Night Flight Orchestra
The Night Flight Orchestra has been a much lauded act in the so called classic rock genre in recent years. The praise has increased with each album, not least the latest Sometimes The World Ain't Enough which just its predecessor was high on many end of year polls.
The title track opens an hour filled with melodic rock of the highest quality with fabulous tracks from all four albums. The tremendous melodies, hooks and musicianship ooze class and the group's sound is just irresistible. Singer Björn 'Speed' Strid invites the audience to dance and it is indeed impossible to stand still to the fantastic groove in the band's music, with bassist Rasmus Ehrnborn substituting very well for Sharlee D'Angelo who is away with Arch Enemy.
Much like at Gathering Of Kings yesterday the gig generates a pure joy, both onstage and on the ground, that is wonderful to behold. A big contribution in this aspect comes from the charming two female background vocalists, named by the band as 'Airline Annas', who are beaming, dancing and toasting the crowd and the band with 80's style colourful drinks, fitting the band's music style.
The hour goes by fast, but the ending is magnificent, as Strid instructs the crowd to form a conga train during the last gem West Ruth Ave. Seing an impressive number of participants, holding each other and dancing through the crowd with sheer happiness in their faces is unforgettable.
Performance: 9 chalices
As I walk as fast as possible through the masses to get to Magnum's concert at the Festival Stage, I can hear that the Englishmen have started and they are playing Wild Swan. This has been the opening song lately and it is a smart move as it is one of the most popular among fans. They continue with a couple of tunes from recent albums, and it is great to hear Lost On The Road To Eternity although Tobias Sammet, who duets with Bob Catley on the studio version, is not here.
Next up is a familiar intro and it belongs to Magnum classic How Far Jerusalem which as usual increases the crowd enthusiasm. Unfortunately, its middle instrumental part is extended with a couple of minutes. It is natural that Catley has to rest his voice, which is now not quite as powerful, for a while but the segment is tedious and dampens the excitement.
The remainder of the concert consists of more classics, and the rendition of Don't Wake The Lion (Too Old To Die Young) is monumental and brings tears to the eye, its sad war lyrics reminding of current, never-ending conflicts. With just one hour to play, there are many songs that are missed in the set, and as a whole this is not of the more memorable Magnum performances.
Nonetheless, it is always a pleasure seeing the band, not least in the
sun with a beer in your hand, and it is evident that the bond between
the likable Englishmen and Sweden remains strong.
Performance: 7 chalices
Band: Easy Action
One of the most talked about acts beforehand this year, and certainly among melodic rock fans, was Easy Action. The classic Swedish 80's band was reunited with the line-up who recorded That Makes One from 1986, apart from drummer Fredrik Von Gerber. Add the fact that the singer is Tommy Nilsson, who went on to become one of Sweden's most celebrated singers as a solo artist, and there were surely not just melodic rock fans who were curious to see the band.
Code To Your Heart is a superb opener and is followed by almost all the other tracks from the aforementioned album. They all sound great, delivered by proficient musicians, including rock-steady bassist Nalle Påhlsson. Nilsson really demonstrates that he has a marvellous, powerful voice and is also an outstanding frontman with the audience firmly in his palm. The catchy song and connection between band a crowd creates a wonderful, happy atmosphere with lots of nostalgia in the air.
It is evident the band members are happy and nostalgic too, not least
when Nilsson and guitarist Kee Marcello share a couple of kisses. Marcello
is chatting frequently between songs and introduces a newly written song
which suggests there could be more activity in the future. Round Round
Round, recorded by an earlier line-up of Easy Action but played as a tribute
to other members says Nilsson, is the final number this afternoon. The
bands receive jubilant cheers and this concert is one of the highlights
of the whole festival.
Performance: 8 chalices
Quite surprisingly, Candlemass re-united with original singer Johan Längqvist for their latest album The Door To Doom. As I did not catch the band on their recent tour as support to Ghost, anticipation is high, also because Leif Edling is now finally back onstage after health problems have forced him to avoid live activities in the last few years.
The Well Of Souls starts the doom festivities and a couple of other classics from the Messiah Marcolin era are next. Längqvist sings them very well, but the real magic appears when he gets to repeat his efforts from first album Epicus Doomicus Metallicus. It is a privilege to enjoy A Sorcerer's Pledge, Under The Oak and Crystal Ball sung by the fabulous original voice, which is still strong.
Längqvist's bandmates deliver the doom with mighty heaviness and it is great to see Edling back onstage, grinning from ear to ear. Two songs from The Door To Doom are included and are very good but having Black Trinity as an encore instead of another classic is perhaps not the best choice.
The second encore, Solitude, brings back the momentum as Längqvist and co deliver a colossal rendition. The appearance of a burlesque dancer strutting around to the music and stripping her clothes comes across as odd, though, as it not something seen before at a Candlemass gig, but is intended to fit the song. The band have passionate support from the fans throughout the tremendous gig, their 6th at Sweden Rock and a memorable one because of the returns of Längqvist and Edling.
Performance: 8,5 chalices
It was very nice to hear that Kiss' End Of The Road tour would make a stop at Sweden Rock Festival. I don't travel to see the band at their own concert anymore since for me, it is not really the same with this line-up, but getting the chance to see them one last time felt right and now the time has come.
Regardless of one's relation to the band, it is always exciting when the intro to a Kiss show starts and Detroit Rock City is the perfect opener. We then get one classic after the other, except for Say Yeah, the only more recent track which feels rather redundant.
It is pleasurable to sing along to all the treasured songs, but then there is the big talking point nowadays when it comes to Kiss live: Paul Stanley's voice. There are strong rumours of pre-recorded vocals, and Stanley also skips some parts letting his bandmates and the audience do the singing.
What is clear is that his voice has definitely lost its full power and he is fighting to hit the usual notes. And between songs, it is honestly painful to hear his voice crack as he does his usual speeches to stimulate the crowd. Gene Simmons' singing, meanwhile, is solid but then his vocal style is less demanding than Stanley's.
A Kiss show is very much a visual experience too, however, and we get the usual ploys like Gene's fire breathing and blood spitting, Paul's wire transport to a platform in the crowd, and Tommy Thayer's rocket-shooting guitar. The stage show has been billed as more spectacular than ever, and whether that is true or not, it is colossal with loads of effects and pyrotechnics.
As the epic Black Diamond ends the main set it strikes me that it is soon over and this is the last time I see my childhood idols. The beautiful Beth is emotional to hear one last time before it is back to the party again. Crazy Crazy Nights, a hit in Sweden, generates an euphoric atmosphere just like Rock And Roll All Nite, during which tons of confetti rains down on the audience and fireworks is set off.
Despite being past their prime, which is natural given their age, Kiss
is still a very entertaining live act. And a unique one which cannot be
replaced. Thank you for the fantastic music, entertainment and joy you
have given us!
Performance: 7 chalices
Band: Demons & Wizards
The self-titled album by the project Demons & Wizards, created by Jon Shaffer from Iced Earth and Hansi Kursch from Blind Guardian, has become something of a modern classic. After some concerts in 2000, and another record in 2005, another bunch of gigs is now happening and the chance to see one of them here at Sweden Rock feels special.
One is pleased right away as Heaven Denies and Poor Man's Crusade are played, despite the bass and kick drums being too loud in the mix which hamper the impact of the great melodies somewhat. The sound gets better later on and we get class power/heavy metal, with the two main men's very identifiable characteristics: Schaffer with his razor-sharp, thrash-like riffing and Kursch with his marvelous vocals, shifting between emotional and aggressive parts, both so distinctive of his voice.
Apart from the material from the albums, we get a couple of tracks from their main bands. It sounds different hearing Hansi sing Iced Earth tunes, but I Died For You is beautiful as always. The Blind Guardian anthems Welcome To Dying and Valhalla generates a loud response from the crowd.
At the same time, if feels a bit odd not playing more material by Demons And Wizards. Sadly, I miss most of the last number, the wonderful Fiddler On The Green, because I want to catch the last songs by UFO who play in Sweden for the last time. This is nevertheless an excellent, exclusive performance.
chalices of 10
So, yet another appearance by Saxon at this festival, no less than their ninth, the 1997 one (when the festival was called Karlshamn Rock Festival) included. Similarly to Motörhead, Saxon came to be seen as a house band at Sweden Rock Festival. While Biff Byford and co are an excellent live band who never ever disappoint, maybe one does not feel that much excitement before today's gig, but that is soon changed.
Celebrating 40 years since their debut record, they kick off the party with a bang, straight into Wheels Of Steel which is followed by Strong Arm Of The Law and Denim And Leather. The audience has been hooked and with the affection in the big crowd for these Englishmen and their heavy metal tunes, the rest of the gig is a smooth winner although the wind catches the sound at times.
Aside from their material, the band's vast experience and skill also make it enjoyable. As always, Biff Byford demonstrates his formidable vocals and frontmanship, while his mates onstage form a very strong musical unit. That the band enjoy what they do is not least visible on bassist Nibbs Carter, grinning and headbanging wildly, and Byford expresses that he is humbled by the warm support they receive, the crowd chanting the band's name.
Saxon will surely return here in their role as a house band, and their
former colleagues Motörhead get a great and cheered tribute via They
Played Rock Rock And Roll.
Performance: 7,5 chalices
Band: Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow
And so finally, after an appearance seemed set already a couple of years ago, he is standing on the Festival Stage at Sweden Rock: one of hard rock's biggest icons, some might say the biggest: Ritchie Blackmore, about to give a long-awaited performance with his Rainbow. Opening with Spotlight Kid, the guitar legend is mostly in his spot at the side. More Rainbow anthems plus Deep Purple ones follow, to the joy of the crowd.
Blackmore himself does not seem as excited, mostly remaining in one spot concentrated on his playing, which is economic and relaxed. But he also comes across as slack at times, not playing all notes and going into small solos and improvisations. To be frank, overall it does not really sound like in the old days, and that is probably a combination of negligence and age. We also have to remember he has been playing subtle medieval music since the late 90's, and splashes of that style shine through.
His fellow musicians onstage do not include any former Rainbow members, unfortunately, but they certainly prove their skill, such as keyboard extraordinaire Jens Johansson, who also gets to present a couple of songs in Swedish, in his witty manner. Singer Ronnie Romero has a great, powerful voice and puts in an impressive effort and also contributes energy onstage and crowd connection.
Blackmore seems to loosen up a little as the show proceeds, joking with his bandmates, and when All Night Long starts, there is more spark in his playing, which is evident during the remainder of the show. No matter how consistent and precise Blackmore's playing is tonight, it is a huge thing to hear and see the golden, timeless riffs being played by the man who actually wrote them, as opposed to countless cover versions.
While there are no doubt those who are disappointed in Blackmore's performance,
there are happy faces all around in the audience when the band play all
these beloved hard rock anthems and to me this is a very pleasurable conclusion
to this year's festival.
Performance: 7 chalices