FESTIVAL REVIEWS

Varna Rock 2019: Unforgettable Heavy Metal Celebration By The Sea

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Written by Jovan Ristić

As I walked through the crowd, my feet full of sand, I couldn’t help but feel amazed by the diverse audience gathered at the Asparuhovo beach in Varna. It amazes me every time: seeing entire families, whole generations come together to celebrate their love for heavy metal. When it comes to this genre, not many countries quite compare to Bulgaria. Their passion, dedication and admiration for this type of music might only be rivaled by countries such as Japan, Brasil and other areas of Latin America.

This is exactly why Bulgarians are able to enjoy such a massive event occupying a large portion of a hugely popular beach just outside the town, as the blood moon is reflected on the surface of the black sea. Not a view you can be treated to at many other festivals.

Of course, the view would not be complete without the killer lineup. While every night we were treated to two local and two international acts, the good thing is that we were able to enjoy longer shows with no rushing between stages in the middle of a show you were excited about seeing. While I enjoy a bit of a rush, being able to enjoy a full show that runs a bit longer than a typical festival gig is certainly appreciated.

Last but not least, it’s worth noting that the promoters did an amazing job hosting such a massive event with all the last-minute location changes they had to navigate through. Of course, not everyone was happy with the relocation, but you can’t make everyone happy. What I appreciated most was the great sound and lighting that made the experience all the more enjoyable.

Rage Celebrate The Marriage Of Metal And Classical Music

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Rage & The Lingua Mortis Orchestra @ Varna Rock Fest 2019 | Foto: Jovan Ristić

Headlining the first evening were the german heavy metal veterans RAGE with a special set consisting of their entire legendary album „XIII“ performed with the help of the Lingua Mortis Orchestra. In all my years of being a metalhead, I’m a bit ashamed to say that this was the first metal meets orchestra performance I’ve seen. Although I’ve been known to look down on certain bands and their use of an orchestra, I have to say that in Rage’s case the marriage is a happy one. Tracks like „From The Cradle To The Grave“ or „Over And Over“ only sounded more powerful and complete with the help of an extra oomph provided by the symphonic orchestra. Getting a chance to hear such a masterpiece in its entirety and in these circumstances was one of the definite highlights of this festival.

Destruction Shows Off Their New Lineup In A Torrent Of Thrash

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Destruction @ Varna Rock Fest 2019 | Foto: Jovan Ristić

With a relatively new lineup, DESTRUCTION veterans Schmier and Mike Sifringer backed by fresh blood in guitarist Damir Eskić and seasoned drummer Randy Black lit up the beach, presenting a couple of tracks off of their latest release “Born To Perish” along with a selection of iconic thrash metal anthems such as “Mad Butcher,” “Thrash Till Death” and “Curse The Gods”. The set also contained a couple of old-school treats such as “Antichrist” and “Total Destruction”. The band was clearly fueled by the overwhelming response they got from the audience who have shown absolute dedication to these German thrash titans.

W.A.S.P. Takes Us On A Cruise Down The Memory Boulevard

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W.A.S.P. @ Varna Rock Fest 2019 | Foto: Jovan Ristić

Before the show, I was adamant I would sing so loud that I or anyone else around me wouldn’t be able to hear the band actually playing. I only half-kept that promise. Seeing a few videos of their recent performances on YouTube, I wasn’t sure Blackie Lawless was still up to the task. And while it’s true that age hasn’t been kind to the metal icon adorning the room of every teenage girl carving the W.A.S.P. logo into any surface soft enough, the music told a different story. When I closed my eyes I felt they took me back to the Sunset Strip during those golden 80’s years of beautiful decadence. With a list containing nothing but their greatest hits and crowd-pleasers, Blackie and W.A.S.P. commanded the immense crowd gathered at the beach that Saturday.

Firewind Lights Up The Power Metal Fury

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Firewind @ Varna Rock Fest 2019 | Foto: Jovan Ristić

While he might have gained recognition as the now-former axeman in Ozzy Osbourne’s band, Gus G. is also the father of a highly-renowned power metal act FIREWIND that has quickly gained recognition as one of the best in the genre, owing it to its mastermind’s incredible shredding skills. Power metal enjoys a special place in the heart of the Bulgarian audience, evident as soon as the band launched into “Ode To Leonidas” off of their latest release “Immortals”. The real surprise was a couple of old-school favorites in “Between Heaven And Hell”, “I Am The Anger” and “Tyranny” that seem to have hit a particularly good nerve with the audience that went berserk.

Sonata Arctica Brings A Cold Northern Breeze

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Sonata Arctica @ Varna Rock Fest 2019 | Foto: Jovan Ristić

Last time I saw SONATA ARCTICA was in another Bulgarian town not far from where we were, at the Kavarna Rock Fest way back in 2011. While I thoroughly enjoyed their show back then, Sonata and I seem to have drifted apart in the last couple of years. With a set consisting of mostly new materials and slowed-down versions of old classics, I couldn’t help but feel a little underwhelmed. However, the band showed incredible showmanship with frontman Tony Kakko going above and beyond to keep the audience entertained with mannerisms if not the music itself.

Avantasia Delivers Power And Grandeur In The Grand Finale

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Avantasia @ Varna Rock Fest 2019 | Foto: Jovan Ristić

Last but not least, headlining the last day of the incredible event was the main reason we set off for Varna in the first place – the renowned metal opera AVANTASIA fronted by the incredibly charismatic Tobias Sammet. With an array of veteran singers in Geoff Tate (ex-Queensrÿche), Eric Martin (Mr. Big), Bob Catley (Magnum) and Jorn Lande (Masterplan) backed by incredibly talented musicians the band delivered a massive two-hour show full of epic tracks such as “The Scarecrow”, “Reach Out For The Light” and the intricate epic “Let The Storm Descend Upon You”.

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Avantasia @ Varna Rock Fest 2019 | Foto: Jovan Ristić

“An hour and a half into their show, other bands would be playing their biggest hit. But we are going to play the longest song we’ve recorded” Sammet remarked before launching into the aforementioned epic. What’s particularly enjoyable at every Avantasia show is the banter the stars share on stage, very obviously spontaneous and highly entertaining. With Avantasia, there are no mistakes when it comes to the sound. At the same time, the band sounds as tight and polished as a studio performance with a raw edge of a live rock and roll performance.

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Avantasia @ Varna Rock Fest 2019 | Foto: Jovan Ristić

With the medley of their anthemic “Sign Of The Cross” and “The Seven Angels,” all the musicians on stage and storm of confetti, the band said farewell to the audience as they said farewell to the beach that has been their shelter for the last three days. All that’s left is to wait for the lineup for the next edition of the festival and hope for it to be as diverse and fulfilling as this year was. Until then, we’re left with photos and memories of the beautiful memories of the moon shining its light on the vast Black sea.

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Avantasia @ Varna Rock Fest 2019 | Foto: Jovan Ristić

 

About the author

Jovan Ristić

Editor

Contact
jovan@hardwiredmagazine.com