I’ve had MetalDays in my list of festivals I needed to visit for a while now. Not only is it close by, it also features amazing artists across five days. Five days of heavy metal, partying and enjoying the wonderful scenery Tolmin has to offer in between. A holiday every metalhead dreams about.
The best thing about it is that the fun starts way before the first major bands ever hit the stage. If you believe you need a strong headliner to get the party going, you are sorely mistaken. We arrived Saturday evening, and the party was already in full swing. Metalheads have already occupied the town, and every café, restaurant and watering hole was teeming with life, more than I imagine this small town sees in a whole year.
On Sunday we went ahead to scout the festival area, and much to our surprise it was already packed. The New Forces Stage featured an array of amazing bands like Whorion, Myriad Lights, Fractal Universe and Sober Assault which managed to gather quite an impressive audience. Over at the beach stage, a lot of visitors test out the cold waters at the confluence of Soča and Tolminka, before going back to the beach to dry out and enjoy the greatest rock and metal hits rocking from the sound system.
The festival seemed promising before it even begun!
Cloudy Monday did give us a scare right from the start. The forecasts were not promising and the looming threat of a heavy thunderstorm held us at gunpoint for the most of the day. Regardless, armed with layered clothes, rain jackets and lots of enthusiasm we headed to the festival grounds early (by festival standards at least).
There we caught the first act that day, Hellcrawler. Hailing from Nova Gorica, Slovenia these guys’ infectiously heavy riffs warmed up the crowd and got a few circle pits going. The band had a lot of local support keeping the atmosphere going, although the rest of the crowd was a tad reserved. Regardless, their singer Miran seemed genuinely surprised with the turnout as he bid the crowd farewell.
Next up, the Boško Bursać Stage was getting ready to welcome the legendary Serbian thrash/groove metal act, Rapid Force. The band, who recently officially announced a new lineup gathered around the guitarist and founding member Kosta Bogdanović, and what better way to celebrate than to perform at the region’s biggest metal festival. Unfortunately, the crowd was spread thin right before their performance and the persistent problems with the sound had the band a bit demoralized. Regardless, they professionally carried out their set and even got a few circle pits going.
Moving on to the main stage where Na Cruithne was getting ready to rock, as Xandria was forced to cancel their appearance. In case their name is not a dead giveaway, yes, these guys are from Ireland and they play folk metal, the kind that gets the festival crowds moving. And move them they did. That is until the sky finally pulled the trigger and unleashed a furious thunderstorm. The performance was immediately stopped as the main stage got covered to protect it from the monstrous wind and rain. The audience took cover under the cantina tent, while the rest were left to run for cover wherever they could find one.
The rainstorm stopped but not before wreaking havoc on the festival schedule. The efficient stage crew was left setting up the main stage for the headliners, while the show at the Boško Bursać Stage continued as soon as the worst of the rain has passed. We managed to catch just a couple of songs during Beheaded’s set, and their fans did not seem to mind the rain and the mud. They passed the torch on to Suicidal Angels, the finest thrash metal Greece has to offer. Their youthful energy perfectly matches their intense breed of thrash metal obviously inspired by the likes of Slayer. The band got the crowd moving and moshing in the mud. The band promoted their latest release “Division of Blood” and the crowd seemed to react well to the new songs as well to the old ones.
A band I didn’t really expect I’d see anytime soon, the US-based extreme metal act Absu always gets a warm welcome whenever they decide to cross the Atlantic. The first time I’ve heard of them was also the first time I’ve heard Melechesh’s album “Djinn”. The moment I realized that crazy drummer rocking all those oriental beats like it’s 2500 BC is in fact from the US, I had to find out who this Proscriptor guy is and how in the hell can he be so awesome! To my surprise, I found out that he was even more awesome, playing insane drum patterns while singing the whole damn time. My love for Absu was born. And last night, they did not disappoint. The frontman behind the drum kits showed why he’s considered one of the best drummers in the genre. He even took a chance to step from behind the drums for a rather theatrical performance to the joy of the crowd, replaced by an unnamed drummer.
Unfortunately, since our team had to interview the members of Venom Inc. and with the cloning device not yet patented, we had to skip the last few tracks of the band’s set. Meanwhile, at the main stage the crew was working on setting up the stage for the first main act of the night, Iced Earth, was about to rock. Even though I’ve already seen them two times (or precisely because of that), I knew their set was not something to be missed. This was even more true with the songs off of their fantastic new album, “Incorruptible”, added to the set.
The band played to a full main stage obviously enthralled by legendary tracks such as “I Died for You” and “Watching Over Me”. However, much to my surprise, one of their more recent tracks “Dystopia” off of the same album seemed to ignite the crowds the most, sparkling a few huge mosh pits. While their leader Jon Schaffer was his cold, intimidating self, it was up to Stu Block to get the crowds going. Stu seems to grow both as a frontman and a vocalist with each tour and it is amazing seeing his youthful energy passed on to the crowd. Last night, he demonstrated once again that hiring him was one of the best moves in the band’s career, and the festival crowds backed up that claim with their ovations often overpowering the band playing.
After their set ended on a high note, the crowd veiled the stage to get it ready for the headliner, the iconic Marilyn Manson. Meanwhile, over at the Boško Bursać Stage, the Japanese hair metal veterans Loudness took the stage in front of a massive crowd. The band did not mind that their performance was moved to the smaller stage due to the severe weather and played with equal enthusiasm. With an impressive list of 26 studio albums, it was clear from the start that we were not going to hear the best of all the albums. Instead, Loudness focused on their vintage hits from albums like “Shadows of War” and their debut “The Birthday Eve”. Akira Takasaki, in particular, captivated the crowd with his incredible guitar playing skills, showing that as far as 80’s guitar heroes go, he is vastly underrated.
Over at the Lemmy Stage, the crowds have amassed, waiting for Marilyn Manson to come out behind the black veil obscuring the stage. After The Door’s famous “The End” ended rolling from the sound system, Manson called out to the crowd and the veil dropped revealing him sitting on a giant throne, greeting the fans with “Revelation #12”. Manson and the band kept chugging out hit tunes like “This is the New Shit”, “Disposable Teens” and “mOBSCENE”. Though his songs ignited quite a stir, the cover of Eurithmic’s “Sweet Dreams” seemed to hit a particular chord with the crowd. Some sang from the bottom of their hearts, other lit up their faces with their phones while recording this spectacle.
Although, if I have to be honest that neither the performance nor the crowd’s reaction was nowhere near what I expected from a headliner. Manson seemed to notice that as well, desperately trying to get a louder reaction from the crowd but to no avail. This seems to have pissed him off, launching a few insults such as “Do you even speak English? I’ll talk real slow or If you’re tired, we’ll just leave”. And in fact, that is exactly what they did as the performance was cut half an hour short compared to the official schedule. I can’t shake the feeling that the pale king is just a pale reflection of what he once was, and the audience picked up on that as well. Still, those who came to see him did not seem to mind, enjoying every minute of his hour-long set.
I rushed out of the main stage after Iced Earth’s show was over to catch Batushka. The Boško Bursać Stage was transformed into a small Orthodox church. Icons and candles immediately draw the eye as the smell of incense permeated the air. The band members, dressed in a twisted version of Orthodox priests’ garments, were giving a hell of a show to a huge audience, as the program at the main stage was officially over. With a small Gregorian choir and impressive light setup, Batushka created a fantastic, eerie atmosphere. Taking a hint from Ghost in more than one way, these Polish guys are hiding their identity behind masks (at least until the first lawsuit). And even though they arguably stole the gimmick and simply twisted it around a bit, they still make it work very well and make it their own. I did not think spectacular would be a word I’d ever use to describe a black metal show, but their performance was nothing short of a spectacle.
Closing the day was the legendary Venom members Abaddon, Mantas and Demolition Man under the moniker Venom Inc. With two out of three members of the legendary lineup and Demolition Man making sure the bass and vocal duties are properly handled, Venom Inc. delivered a mixed bag of the iconic band’s greatest hits, including the legendary track “Black Metal”, which is often credited as the main inspiration of many bands who spearheaded the genre. For a band that started the whole movement, the band members are a quite cheerful gang. Demolition Man used the breaks to remind the fans that we were all united by the music we love, regardless of all the sub genre divisions within. Closing their set and officially closing the day, Venom Inc. gave the remaining visitors a show to talk about. At least until tomorrow.
Overall, the first day of the festival was a success even though the bad weather threatened to ruin it all. The atmosphere at the festival was amazing, everybody still energized and excited to be there. Let’s see if five days of hard rocking can change that.