Even though the sunny morning that broke through the blinders on my windows initially seemed promising, the dark, ominous clouds still managed to break free from the mountain’s grasp and once again darken the festival area. However, when we arrived at the site the sun was still high up in the sky, which the festival visitors used to enjoy the wonderful beach at the festival grounds. You could see all sorts of characters, some even bare naked, enjoying fun activities like swimming, volleyball and giant Jenga. The party doesn’t seem to stop here. Ever!
Our schedule was tight and the first band whose performance we managed to catch came from an Austria-based symphonic metal act, Visions of Atlantis. The band has seen its former members return a couple of years ago and are working on a new album which we had a chance to glimpse into as the band played two new songs from the upcoming release. Obviously taking a huge number of hints from Nightwish, the band does not try to hide its influence but sound-wise still manage to add something personal into the mix. However, I can’t shake the feeling that even with the exemplary musicianship the band’s performance was still missing something extra to make it stand out. The audience picked up on that as well and apart from the first few rows, the reaction was mild at best. Shame, because the band really seems to enjoy themselves on the stage.
Shortly after their performance, the clouds reared their ugly head from behind the mountains again. After a short game of “will it, won’t it”, the rain started pouring. And pouring. And pouring. Hours passed like days as the only music came from the raindrops playing their tap-dancing beat. No official announcement was yet published regarding the schedule and the main stage area was cleared.
The sounds of a sound check drew a small crowd out of their shelters, as Sanctuary was getting ready to rock despite the unwavering rain. The band started their show a bit later than scheduled and played for a small crowd at the front of the stage, all safely tucked away in their rain coats. The band did not seem to mind, as Warrel Dane gave an amazing performance right from the start. The present crowd was worth thousands as they wholeheartedly supported the band as they flaunted some of their biggest crowd pleasers like “Arise and Purify”, “Die for my Sins” and “Future Tense”. Fortunately, halfway through their show the rain finally stopped, drawing the rest of the crowd from their shelter and in front of the stage. The band thanked the crowd, promising to return again. Hopefully to a bigger, drier audience.
As the chances for the rain to relapse were slimmer and slimmer as stars started breaking through the clouds, Katatonia was getting ready to rock the amassed audience at the Ian Fraser Lemmy Kilmister Stage. It has been six years since the last time I saw them during a show that made me a fan. This show reminded me what it was I liked so much about them in the first place. The emotion you cannot fake or take for granted. You could see the band leaving their hearts on the stage, smiling at the audience that supported them through song such as “Teargas”, “Ghost of the Sun” and “Dead Letters”.
The band’s live performance has also vastly improved since the last time I saw them. Jonas is far from the reserved singer he was back then. Instead he confidently ruled the stage and lit up the audience. One thing that particularly stands out and rounds up their sound are the impressive backing vocals, handled masterfully by guitarists Anders Nyström and Roger Öjersson. “I know you are all here to see Amon Amarth, but can we play a few more songs for you”, Jonas kid as the crowd exploded in support. The band bid the audience farewell as the crowd began gathering for the main event.
Meanwhile, at the Boško Bursać Stage, the crowds were going crazy as Mgla’s show was already in full swing. The band confidently ruled the stage, and their trademark nylons and hoodies image is truly a sight to behold live. However, their image would be nothing without the raw black metal sound fused with raw rock ‘n’ roll energy that fired up the crowd and got them moshing in the mud and debris. The guitars that represent the pillars of their authentic sound were loud, crisp and had the main word. The songs off of their latest, highly acclaimed record “Exercises in Futility” seemed to hit a particular chord with the crowd, although their set was varied and showcased some of their best works. Towards the end of their show, people started slowly migrating towards the main stage where the final preparations were already in full swing, effectively ending the Polish invasion of Slovenia.
The last time I saw Amon Amarth was in December last year when they played in Sofia, Bulgaria and the only thing missing from that show was the second set on top of that. The concert completely changed the way I saw that band and left me yearning for more. Fortunately, I didn’t even have to wait a full year for an encore.
As the crew was setting up the stage for the inevitable spectacle, I made my ways to the front rows armed with a can of beer and childlike excitement. I could have watched the show from the comfort of the press vista and I would probably have had a better view of the spectacle. But I wanted to feel the show, not just see it. I wanted to feel the heat of the pyrotechnics, carry the wild crowd surfers to the front of the stage, and sing embraced with total strangers while Johan Hegg shouted from the bottom of his heart: “Oden! Guide our ships, our axes, spears and swords. Guide us through storms that whip and in brutal war!”
The immense size of the stage let the band play one of their strongest cards in a deck, their live production. Their drum set was sitting upon an imposing Viking helmet surrounded by platforms the band member often played on. With several backdrops, impressive fireworks and pyrotechnics, the show was nothing short of a spectacle. I consider myself very good with words, but no words can describe the real scope of their show (but maybe pictures can).
However, no matter how good the production is, it would be worth nothing without the music. And this is one other area Amon Amarth excel at. Trading their old, rawer death metal sound for a stripped down, slightly more aggressive traditional heavy metal sound imbued with growling vocals, the Swedish Vikings seem to have found a real crowd-pleasing formula. This was evident both during the songs off of their latest album “Jomsviking”, as well as classics like “Deceiver of the Gods”, “Runes to My Memory” or “Cry of the Black Birds”.
The real treat when the two aspects collided was during the encore when two runes were set on fire during “Guardians of Asgard”. And for the final encore, a giant replica of the serpent Jörmungandr took the stage and drew everyone’s eyes during “Twilight of the Thunder God”. The crowd saluted the band as they left the stage, while Johan Hegg had a hard time leaving, sincerely thanking the crowd and holding one last speech about staying safe in the rain and enjoying the rest of the festival. Though I have to say, their performance set the bar so high, we’re yet to see if anybody is going to be able to top it!
After the somewhat disappointing effort by the opening day headliner, Amon Amarth showed what it really takes to get the crowds going. A little honesty, a great performance, and the actual desire to play your music to people who came to support and enjoy it. It’s not exactly a secret formula, but one many take for granted. Even though the rain threatened to spoil the fun once again the people still managed to outshoot the thunder and not let it spoil the fun. And judging by the looming clouds as I write these lines, our excitement and determination will be put to the test once again. Let’s see who emerges victorious.