Na Fir Bolg is one of Belgium's most open-minded folk festival, situated in the cosy village of Vorselaar. Traditional Flemish folk shares the stage with intense folk metal and nobody bats an eye. This year, Wim went to see a few bands in between his many duties. He came back with these four photo series.
More than a thousand people showed up, even though the event was not sold out. Some people sold their tickets over the internet. I tried it too, a ticket for a friend of mine who couldn't make it. One guy offered 15 euros, another one 18. Tickets were €29.50, by the way. It pissed me off. To me, that behaviour is similar to that of people who buy tickets for sold-out events and sell them for twice the price. It's a vile and unrespectful version of opportunism, something I can't stand. So I ignored the cheap-asses and decided to enjoy the evening.
Once inside, I quickly noticed the differences between OLT Rivierenhof and many other events, especially Antwerp Metal Fest which I attended a week earlier. This thing showed the allure of Ghent Jazz, Jazz Middelheim and all the other "upper-class" festivals. Prices were higher, food looked as if it was made for a TV-show and some of the attendees had picked out their most chic attire as if it were a wedding reception. Others wore bandshirts from We Lost The Sea, Duran Duran Duran, Nine Inch Nails and many, many more.
We bought something to drink and looked for a place to sit. OLT Rivierenhof is a beautiful venue, an open air theatre, surrounded by trees. The organisation also makes sure that your experience is as perfect as possible, which resulted in a near perfect sound quality. Kudos for that, that's getting rare these days. But obviously, we were there for the music and that first appeared in an energetic and experimental way.
MDC III is the trio of Mattias De Craene (sax-player in Nordmann) and drummers Simon Segers and Lenner Jacobs. With this band, the trio explores the interaction between these instruments. The result was something I can only describe as "Latin free jazz". The drums at times felt like a Brazilian carnival while the sax (and other equipment) of De Craene droned, screamed and whirled. It was interesting but it also showed that this was nearly a first experiment. It will be interesting to see where this sounds heads to in the future but for now, this was a decent opener.
After a short break it was time for the Canadian legends to appear on stage. Their set started with a monotonous (hope) drone, obviously stolen from Hellstorm Of Flaming Nothingness. One by one the musicians walked on stage and started adding layers of Godspeed to layers of Godspeed. Before we knew it, everyone in attendance was being treated to a Godspeed You! Black Emperor greatest hits set. They kicked off with 'Mladic', which immediately ignited the spark. Heads were banged, tears flowed and people quickly got into a state of trance.
This was my sixth time seeing these Canadians live, twice before their 2003 split and four times after. This was also the best and most convincing set I have ever seen them perform. 'Fam/Famine' and 'Undoing a Luciferian Towers' were absolute highlights and the saxophone cameo was so intense it scared off the mosquitos in the arena. Even the looping outro was performed to perfection. It was fun to see the left part of the standing audience dancing and shaking while the rest stood their with their eyes closed and their minds into faraway places.
So yes, this was utter brilliance, certainly one of my personal highlights of the year. I can't think of anything that would have made it even better. Godspeed You! Black Emperor are deservedly one of the most successful bands in the atmospheric musical regions and they apparently loved to show that here in Antwerp. My fanhood is renewed, hurray for that...
The recipe is simple: build a stage for both upcoming local talents and big names, have a big ass truck filled with beer and invite the local metal scene for a weekend of debauchery. You can see heaps of familiar faces while watching the crème-de-la-crème of the heavy scene. And all that in a nice environment and with an incredibly friendly atmosphere. I told one of the volunteers that Antwerp Metal Fest is the Dunk! festival for metal fans, and that isn't too far off.
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.
Deconsecrate attempted something similar on the main stage, this time with influences from black metal acts like Behemoth but also death and hardcore bands. Supported by masked musicians, the two vocalists growled and screamed like madmen. This West Flemish band certainly convinced a handful of people, mostly because most of the audience members were still trying to find a parking spot near the park. I saw metalcore fans in the audience - to be recognized by their crazy dance - making their first aggressive movements.
With Leng Tch'E a heap of brutal grindcore tunes started to fill the festival area, much to the delight of the many Belgian fans. For Leng Tch'E this was a home game, obviously, and that resulted in an array of mosh pits, crowdsurfers and circle pits. We had lift-off, so to speak. Meanwhile, the crew started messing around with a water hose, spraying the audience. The fresh water proved extremely welcome as faces, necks and shoulders started turning more and more red each minute.
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.
Hæster then finally did something I welcomed very much, tone down on the tempo. The booklet announced them as a new heavy band featuring members of Aborted and Death Before Disco. I was expecting something fast again but their stuff was slow, dark and incredibly immersive. This was the biggest and most pleasant surprise so far, something between death metal, post-whatever and whatever-core. I see a great future for Hæster, perhaps eventually more and more separated from the metal scene but still. This was awesome.
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.
Their gig consumed more energy than the crackling power plant in Doel can produce. Ron was being the most intense version of himself again, supported by his gang of musical berzerkers. For a moment I thought people were about to get hurt, either in the mosh pit or by Ron's swinging microphone stand. But, this is the Antwerp metal scene, people don't get hurt here, people look after one another. Here, safety is guaranteed by people not doing dumb shit.
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.
So did I, I think this was the only gig I watched completely, apart from Bark. Hell, I was so drenched into this soul pummeling death metal that even Nile faded to the background and that is an accomplishment. Not that Nile was bad, on the exact contrary. I watched them close, wondering how merely three guys can produce such an intense death metal set. But after a handful of songs, I suddenly got tired of the whole thing. The whole day had just been so exhausting, so energy consuming that I needed some rest. Besides, with my means of transportation now in the hands of De Lijn instead of my bike, I decided it was best to leave early enough. I heard some more Nile growls while waiting for the bus and I heard the audience cheering. This was a good day, not a perfect day but a good day...
If you observe carefully, a festival like Antwerp Metal Fest is definitely more than just a musical happening. On Sunday, I walked onto the festival area, overhearing people's conversations. I was on my way to the merch stand to see if the people from Bathsheba had already arrived. I passed two fully adorned metal chicks, both somewhere in their thirties. They were talking about a baby shower, which seemed somewhat odd to me. Next to the women, their supposed husbands were chatting about mortgages. Then, suddenly, a baby stroller passed me by. It was pushed by another fully adorned metal girl. Of course, there were children at Antwerp Metal Fest. Noor was there, along with her dad Izzy. Noor is almost as legendary and loved as the AMF All Star Band. But babies at a metal festival? I guess you can't start early enough.
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?
Someone had described Cycles as "a heavy version of Muse" and I thought "The love child of Muse and Melt Banana". The music by Cyclus is greatly unpredictable but their intensity and their enthusiasm turned this gig into one of the best I had witnessed so far at Antwerp Metal Fest. The booklet mentioned the term "mathcore", and yeah, perhaps, but this is just something unique and overwhelming. Well done, I'll buy that shirt soon.
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.
Dwight grabbed his battle axe and started rumbling his monolithic riffs through the speakers. The rest of the band followed and before the audience realized, they were immersed into an intense doom metal journey. Finally, I would say. I had been longing for psychedelic doom metal for two days now. Bathsheba was brilliant, Michelle enchanted the whole tent over the waves of sound delivered by the rest of the band. Yet, mostly in the calmer pieces, you could hear the soundcheck from I Am Morbid, which somewhat downgraded the whole experience. Nonetheless, I'm still going to place this gig on top of my Antwerp Metal Fest chart.
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.
In the tent, another farewell was about to blast off. Belgian hardcore legends Hard Resistance had decided to call it quits. Antwerp Metal Fest had been chosen as the final battle ground. Good choice, very good choice. The crowd went nuts, Ron gave it all, the band members had a blast, except maybe for the bass player who seemed to rather disappear into the background. No worries though, this was a stunning set, and that comes from me, someone who has never been a hardcore fan. Am I too late to become a Hard Resistance fan? Luckily, Ron now crushes eardrums in Bark.
Then something highly unusual happened. Like almost all the time, I had been watching most of the concerts from the back, or near the P.A. When the legendary Testament was about to overtake Merksem, I was in my usual spot, far in the back. With my arms crossed I watched Chuck Billy and company conquering the youth. Half of the audience wasn't even born when Testament made their first steps in the heavy metal scene. 35 years. God, we're old.
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.
I don't think it's easy to organise such an event, especially not in politically narrow-minded Antwerp where sound-issues close down everything that is fun. I don't think Bouckenborgh park is the perfect place to organise this, especially from a logistical standpoint. Yet, the enthusiasm and the hard work of the many volunteers show that this scene is very much alive and very much a solid brotherhood. Kudos to everyone involved in this gathering.
And that heartbroken boy? I saw him try again. I hope he had more luck this time.
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