Merksem, originally spelled "Merxem" is one of the loudest districts in Antwerp. The Lotto Arena and Sportpaleis have been receiving world famous acts for decades, including only recently Queen with Adam Lambert. Rammstein, Iron Maiden, Metallica, The Cure, Black Sabbath... everyone who has even been anyone in the world of music has visited Merksem in the past. However, a bit down the road, the Bredabaan to be exact, there is another yearly feast of loudness. In Bouckenborgh Park, the green lung of the district, Antwerp Metal Fest has been raging hell for several years now.
It was my first time on Antwerp Metal Fest. Family obligations had kept me from visiting this event in the previous years but now I was ready for two days of mayhem and madness. In fact, that is pretty much how the whole thing started for me. It was around noon. It was hot as hell. A heatwave was pouring over Belgium, crushing spirits and flora. Still, I decided to jump on my bike instead of the bus and race to Merksem.
That went rather smoothly, for a while. Cycling in Antwerp can be nice, with plenty of bike lanes and even something we call "bicycle highway". It took me about thirty minutes with only a few red lights and slow people to interrupt my journey. Yet, things went wrong when I started to climb the "Brug Van Den Azijn". I heard something snap and I lost control over my pedals. My bicycle chain was gone, disappeared on the bridge. I walked the rest of the uphill and jumped on the bike again to go downhill, at least that would get me to the festival in time. Objector was already playing, I could hear their thrash metal in the distance.
I dumped the now useless piece of iron and rubber near the back entrance of the park and continued my way to the entrance. The thrash metal became louder and more intense. I loved it, even though I was still not on the area. I wasn't pissed off, which somehow surprised me. I hate bicycles. Somehow those things always break down when I need them and now it made me miss one of my favorite thrash bands of the moment. Once inside, I could only hear the cheering of the audience. Undoubtedly Objector was a great opener.
In the tent, Schizophrenia delivered a raging set, loaded with a blend of thrash and death metal. Their ferocious speeds and flashing solos were intense and the early audience members seemed to enjoy every moment of it. The festival line-up promised tonnes of thrash and death galore and these youngsters certainly passed the early test.
Then it was time for Téras, a modern thrash metal band from Brussels. Their set was solid and often reminded me of some of the big names in the early thrash metal scene. The overall quality of the festival seemed to rise fast now, making Téras an early highlight. That theory proved to be true shortly after when people with Téras shirts start to appear everywhere.
During their set I mainly walked around on the area, exploring the merch and food trucks. The latter were rather disappointing. Bicky burgers, fries, some fried offal, wraps and pizza baguettes. I didn't feel like any of that, certainly not for two days in a row. But that's nobody's fault I guess. Who knows, maybe I'm spoiled festival-cuisine wise but I like to be spoiled. I ordered a Bicky Burger and didn't regret it. I did regret the "braadworst" on Sunday. That was just awful.
On the main stage, German crossover thrashers Dust Bolt demanded circle pits, something the audience only slightly seemed to get into. Sure, there was energy, there was flashing thrash metal and there were ear battering drums but Dust Bolt could not convince me. Perhaps it was the increasing overdose of thrash metal or just the heat. I decided to work on getting my now despised iron pony back home without too much hassle.
My review for local death metal legends Serial Butcher became the victim of this bicycle ordeal. It just so happens that our electricity-provider has a neat bike-service. If you're further than three kilometers from home and your metal junk breaks down, they're coming to pick you and your bike up and drop you off at your local bike-shop. In my case, the friendly man dropped the bike off at my place. About Serial Butcher? I have seen them before and I know how brutal and crushing they are. There is no doubt in my mind that they delivered a punishing set at Antwerp Metal Fest.
With Pestilence one of my early heroes appeared on stage. It was weird to experience their old school death metal being performed in the bright shining sun. For a moment I thought we were back in the glorious nineties when festivals weren't plagued by volume restrictions and insane safety measures. Back then, festivals, and certainly metal festivals, were about letting yourself go, get absolutely wasted and head bang yourself a hernia. That seemed to be exactly what happened during this awesome Pestilence gig. Patrick and co raged through their greatest tunes from 'Malleus Maleficarum', 'Consuming Impulse' and 'Testimony of the Ancients'. The audience at it all like maggots eat dead bodies. This surely was the highlight of this Saturday...or maybe not...
In all honesty, I think that title goes to the locals from Bark. With their short, harsh and intense songs they immediately set the tent on fire. I said it before and I'll say it again, Bark is one of the best live bands in Belgium.
Furthermore, people were not there to make Instagram-selfies and that's one of the main pillars of a festival like Antwerp Metal Fest. Metal, brotherhood and a firm we-against-the-world feeling dominated the park, not "look everybody, I'm half naked at a festival". Well, many people were half naked but that was merely because of the heat. That heat also caused a few victims. I saw some people being carried away by Red Cross members.
I my opinion, Dr. Living Dead! had nothing to gain from their passage at AMF. They had the opportunity to replace Venom Inc. but they couldn't convince yours truly. The masked Swedes blasted their crossover thrash metal over the dying grass, along with some jokes about the age of the guys from Venom and "Fuck Nile". I guess it was all in good fun but entertaining? Perhaps only for the die-hard thrash fans.
With Off The Cross an old acquaintance of mine climbed on stage. I didn't know Kurt played in this band and I also had no idea what to expect. But eventually, this was one of the most pleasant surprises on this festival. With their dark death metal and thunderous sound Off The Cross played a remarkable concert. The atmosphere was crushing and the audience loved every second of this.
Unfortunately, since I had to trust De Lijn to get me to Merksem on time, I was late to watch the whole Lost Baron gig. I did hear the last few minutes and those were pretty interesting. I'm quite positive that I will get another chance soon. For me, this Sunday fully began with The Curse Of Millhaven, named after a Nick Cave song (which they also used as outro). Their thick, punishing death metal seemed to promise storm clouds and apocalyptic weather. Too bad that didn't happen. Still, this was a neat gig, surprisingly good again. It made me wonder about the future of a band like this, which made me wonder about the future of any death metal band here in our hidebound little country.
Something similar goes for Here Stands A Hero, a "heavy" band from Lier. Being inspired by a gargantuan array of styles and bands, HSAH rumbled and gnawed and crushed and clawed. In fact, that's all I remember, something heavy, something intense but don't ask me what kind of music these guys have been playing. I just can't remember, it all feels like a blur now. I càn remember Fire Force's music but who can't? For a decade these guys have been blasting their power metal over audiences far and wide, without mercy, without fear. Only, at Antwerp Metal Fest sometimes the sound seems to disappoint and that was the case here too. It was weird to hear a different sound depending on your chosen spot on the field. In the end, I witnessed their confetti blasts from inside the tent. I saw a content audience and enthusiastic performers, what more could you possibly want?
The day before, I had gotten introduced to Seth from Cyclus. Formed out of ex members from a bunch of well known bands, Cyclus was a complete newcomer to me, plus Seth told me that they would probably be the most unfitting act on this festival. That was promising. Yet, their gig completely took me by surprise, in a good way too.
Then it was time to travel back in time, so to speak. When we stepped out of the tent where Cyclus had just invited us to an immersive trip through time and space, we arrived in 1986. On the big stage, Dutch old schoolers Distillator raged with their fierce thrash metal. Was it good? Well, of course it was good. I mean, have Distillator ever played a disappointing set? Again, depending on where you stood, the overall sound often differed but as usual Distillator was a rollercoaster of old school thrash metal, causing circle pits and crowd surfers in front of the stage.
The youngsters from Carrion are one of the newest marbles in the local death metal circuit. They opened Antwerp Metal Fest in 2013 after winning the AMF-contest and gradually gained a reputation as a crushing live band. I watched them for a short while. Quite honestly, their death metal just isn't my thing but judging from the audience and from their own enthusiasm on stage, I see where all the superlatives come from. Carrion indeed is a force to be reckoned with.
English act Malevolence was supposedly at Antwerp Metal Fest as a result of a booking deal and that's pretty much all I can say about their appearance. Possibly simply a matter of taste, possibly because it was more-of-the-same but Malevolence could not convince me. I guess on every festival there are a few bands that just don't seem to catch on with the whole flow of the thing. I grabbed myself another Bicky Burger and strolled around the merch area once again.
At least for a short while because in the tent, my personal highlight of the festival was about to kick off. I have been a Bathsheba fan since day one so I couldn't wait for this gig. The more because it would be their last on Belgian soil. Yes, soon Bathsheba will be no more. Unfortunately, their gig somewhat drowned in the technical constraints of AMF.
It seemed that either I or the festival had been in a bit of a rut before the Bathsheba gig. However, that was soon to change because the Limburg quartet blasted the whole thing into an upward spiral. David Vincent incorporated that new born enthusiasm and delivered a massive set of old school death metal, because "that is what we are here for, hm hm?". This gig was as fantastic as it was hilarious. Vincent is an all-out entertainer. Somehow he turned an otherwise punishing death metal set into a fun-filled gig that transcends any genre. I mean, do this at Pukkelpop and the audience will also eat it up. 'Blessed Are The Sick', 'Rapture', my personal highlight 'God Of Emptiness'... The classics simply kept coming. Some people however criticized the 'I Am Morbid' interlude but I thought this fitted the joyous feeling of the whole thing quite well.
But there was heartbreak too. Shortly after the gig I witnessed a long haired, metal shirt wearing guy buying a beer for a long haired, metal shirt wearing girl. He was smiling, making flirtatious little jokes and she laughed. Yet, after a few minutes he walked by me, barely constraining his look of disappointment and failure. Poor boy, some things never change, I guess.
I left my spot at the back for a place where I could finally make a decent picture. That has never been my strong point. Yet, suddenly I found myself right at the front. I could touch the security people (but I realized I'd better not). Some crowdsurfers came very near my face and I didn't mind. I was there again, right near the pit, right in front of the stage, right where I had my first bumps and stains in my own metal history. This was so fucking cool and Testament was so fucking good that I decided to use curse words as superlatives. Testament is still one of the greatest thrash/heavy metal bands in the world. I never really doubted that but I never expected to be sucked into the whole experience like that.
Satisfied and exhausted I left the terrain one last time. Sorry to Fleddy Melculy but my candle was out, so to speak. I walked to the bus station, stepped on the bus and reminisced about how this secon days had transcended the first one. The bus driver was listening to the radio. 'Blauw' by The Scene started playing. I loved it. I forgot what a great song this was. Three quarters of an hour later I crawled into bed. I dreamed about a festival, no idea in which era.
In all, this was an exhilarating edition of Antwerp Metal Fest. A perfect mix of new and legendary bands. A few technical unfortunalities couldn't temper the fun. Sure, the sound wasn't always perfect and the lack of drinks in the food area was confusing but this festival actually deserves to be named 'The Dunk! of the Metal Scene'.
And that heartbroken boy? I saw him try again. I hope he had more luck this time.