Sweden Rock Festival 2018

Norje, Sweden
6 – 9 June, 2018

Iron Maiden Iron Maiden/Sweden Rock

A Review in Words, Photos and FootageBy Craig Downes(Photos and footage supplied by Craig Downes, Alex Pain and the brothers at Decibel Geek )

Another year is rolling by and as our normally mild excuse for a winter takes its little bite at our southern shores the opposite season is having its sun-drenched impact all over Europe. All the fun and folly that comes with summer is fully on display and to a huge number of music lovers the world over this can mean only one thing – it’s festival season, and one the best festivals in the heavy music canon is Sweden Rock Festival.

Each year an ever increasing number of rock and metal loving faithful are taking to the skies to adventure to the far reaches on a rock odyssey that holds two of the greatest things known to man – international traveling adventure and heavy friggin’ metal. Both incredibly exhilarating, both potentially mind expanding and both god damn essential to life to anyone who has had the wherewithal and inclination to have embarked on such a journey previously.

Now the fact that you are on this website at all and reading this review probably marks you out as a discerning fan of all things hard rock and metal with an interest in how things roll at one of these incredible European festivals and you may very well have made such a journey yourself, so you know the drill.

All the music, comradery, friendship and flat out fun of the festival adventure also comes with so much more – you’re over there, you might as well go to Rome, you might as well see Paris, Copenhagen or Prague and the added adventure that comes with it can not be overstated. The stuff of historic legend, the postcards and icons we maybe thought we’d never see come with the package and one hell of an eye poppin, wallet emptying good time, but this is a gig review not a travel log so let’s move on.

Sweden Rock PosterEstablished in 1992 Sweden Rock has long been regarded as one of the premier events on the rock and metal calendar and this year’s instalment features three of the biggest acts the world of metal has to offer. 2018 sees Sweden Rock Festival hosting major headliners Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osbourne and Judas Priest – how’s that for a friggin’ dream trifecta !

Anticipation has been running high for months in the lead up and has resulted in tickets selling out in record time even with an increased capacity. With the usual embarrassment of riches, a strong supporting cast of 80+ bands has been assembled to compliment these headlining behemoths and will ensure each day is an engaging feast of rocking and rolling fun and revelry. The sun is shining down, the drinks are flowing and the bands will play loud and long, so buckle in and let’s rock!

Entering the festival is always a great pleasure, a carnival vibe and tangible air of excitement envelopes the entire festival site and surrounding fields as people arrive in their droves to set up camp, plant their flag and get reacquainted with friends they’ve made from previous journeys to this hallowed ground. Even before the bands start there is plenty to do around the festival site, food stalls, bars and a vast array of metal market stalls are set up and some punters arrive days early to get good camping position, hang out, settle in, soak up the anticipation and enjoy the great weather.

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This year’s lineup is a real solid all rounder, a good broad selection of bands across all aspects of rock and metal, old and new with the obvious heavy drawing power of hosting three of the defining acts of metal’s colourful backstory. Increasingly these events have an added gravitas as the careers of some of the founding fathers of our beloved genre are inevitably coming towards their conclusion, the totemistic aspect of these events is becoming more pronounced as the elder statesman get ready to pass the baton – for at least one of these headliners this will be their final showing at Sweden Rock.
We now live in a post-Black Sabbath world, a post-Rush world, Steven Tyler is 70, KISS has trademarked ‘end of the road’ for a future touring monicker and as a certain reality bites there is a great sense of celebration surrounding the fact that we still have the opportunity to enjoy some of these original acts and over these four days close to 40,000 fans a day are going to grab that opportunity with both fists and give it a damn good shake.

Traditionally on Day 1 the bands start later to allow the latecomers time to get set up and get the beers in. After settling in to the holiday house accommodation I am sharing with friends I wander the five-minute walk to check out the festival site and hit the markets looking for a few choice gems in the CD and record tents that dot the site.

First band on my viewing agenda is Brian Downey’s Alive and Dangerous. The original Thin Lizzy drummer has assembled a lineup doing a very faithful representation of parts of the seminal 1978 live album from which he takes the band name. His tall, Afro wearing, bass playing lead singer has an uncanny resemblance to the Lynott legend and his full Irish brogue accent gives a further authenticity that if you close your eyes effortlessly throws you back 40 years. Brian’s workmanlike as ever behind the tubs, there’s tasty twin leads and as they run through ‘Jailbreak’, ‘Emerald’, ‘Are you Ready’, ‘The Boys are Back in Town’ and others, this is a great way to kick things off.

Cyhra are a new project for ex-members of In Flames and Amaranthe and carry with them strong elements of the Gothenburg signature sound with big hooks attached. This is my first real exposure to these guys and they give themselves in good airing on this stunning summer day as do Nocturnal Rites with their melodic brand of Euro power metal.

A part of what is so enjoyable about these festivals is that you are often exposed to, or reacquainted with, bands you recall from the mists of time that perhaps you don’t play so much but are still as legitimate as any other and the next two bands up could slot right into that category – The Quireboys are a slice of Faces-style rock n roll: ‘There She Goes Again’, ‘Hey You’ and other tracks from their high watermark debut album are rollicking fun, and Bullet with their old school trad metal approach, ‘Bite the Bullet’, ‘Fuel the Fire’ and ‘Speed and Attack’ are like Accept for a new generation with bullet belts held aloft. They’re cool enough to include an Angel Witch cover in their set and they’re hard as nails.

Hardcore Superstar
Hardcore Superstar/Shawn Irwin

A brief blast of the guttural technical death of Suffocation and it’s off to the aptly named Sweden stage for the Scandi-sleaze-party-rock of Hardcore Superstar. There’s a massive turnout for these local heroes and with shots of gold like ‘Kick on the Upperclass’, ‘Electric Rider’ and singalongs like ‘Bring the House Down’ and ‘Above the Law’ they prove to be the perfect way to bring the settle in, intro day to a close – sitting up at the bar on the hill surveying the huge crowd and having impassioned rock ‘n’ roll discussions with the locals, brilliant fun !

The next morning we awaken, swap stories of the previous day’s highlights and make plans for the priorities of what must be seen on today’s installment of the festival feast.

Given the vast selection of great tunes a four day event like this presents it is literally impossible to see whole sets by all the bands you would like to see so you’re best served running around timing the acts you really have to see. You will inevitably miss the odd track which can be a total pisser but the glass really is way, way more than half full in this case so you get used to it.
If you are staying on or anywhere near the festival site you normally wake to the distant rumble of soundchecks floating through the air and anticipation builds with the hum of people making their way toward the staging areas for the daily pre-midday kickoff.

As we all know the Scandinavian or Nordic region, and probably most particularly Sweden, can pretty much be considered the home of most things good that have come out of the metal movement for at least the last decade, accordingly upwards of half of the bands playing over the course of the festival are from this part of the world. Today’s first must see act for me are Gothenburg melodic death heroes Dark Tranquility and a strong early turnout has appeared for their set in the belting midday sun.
Currently operating as a six piece with the inclusion of former Arch Enemy guitarist Chris Amott, they are still touring off the back of their impressive 2016 Atoma release and it’s material from this album that makes up the bulk of today’s setlist with the added grab of a selection of highlights from across their substantial career. Hooky, always well played and with an intriguing sprinkle of Gothic melancholy these guys are always worth seeing and provide a great way to kick the day off.

A band that appears to be capturing the imagination of the young metal crowd right now is Finnish act Battle Beast. A wander to an outer stage to catch the end of their set sees an enthusiastic gathering having great fun with their female fronted brand of power metal. Tracks like ‘Touch in the Night’ and ‘King for a Day’ show a pop sensibility wrapped with a metal sheen that will surely continue to gain them a growing audience.

Back in the main stage area we witness what can only be described as a somewhat flat performance by Buckcherry, their ‘Crazy Bitch’ rock n’ roll schtick appears to not have held up that well and they are not as ‘Lit Up’ as they once may have been.

One band that does have a lively edginess to their show is In This Moment. It seems they have come with the intention to shock with their theatrical quasi-ceremonial stage presentation and stomping industrial nu metal sounds. Stage props, costumes, on stage dancers and songs of blood, black weddings and whores combine with the Madonna meets Manson aesthetic of front chick Maria Brink to great effect. The Metallica instrumental medley mid-set is a strange choice but it’s an edgy and entertaining display.

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In This Moment/Craig Downes

A wander for some food and refreshment allows time to check out the Razamanaz of Nazareth and a singalong to ‘Love Hurts’ is a good lead up to some truly majestic 70s rock.

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Glenn Hughes/Craig Downes

After the success of the Deep Purple Revisited tour Glenn Hughes brought to Australia late last year, he is now taking that impressive template to the rest of the world. Having seen that tour I know what to expect of the material but seeing how these songs and Glenn’s performance connects with this massive crowd on a sun drenched afternoon puts one in mind of what those 70s mega shows like Cal Jam must have felt like: great vibes, a very warm response to classic tunes played by a truly gifted artist. Bounding out with a thunderous ‘Stormbringer’ and ‘Might Just Take Your Life’, Glenn is intent on spreading the love today and the crowd are sending it straight back.
Every element of this band is running red hot as the songs are extended and jammed out to great effect through ‘Mistreated’ and ‘You Keep On Moving’. Understandably ‘Smoke On The Water’ and ‘Highway Star’ get a sing along from the assembled masses and a fiery ‘Burn’ is the perfect way to end an effecting set that is one of the day time highlights of the entire event.

Killswitch Engage have always been one of the better bands to come out of the American metalcore movement that was such a big deal in the mid 2000s. Great riffs with catchy aggro vocals were used to great effect on albums like The End of Heartache and they still maintain a popularity that ensures a good turnout for their performance at the Rock Stage. Newer material blends well with tracks from their 00s period, returned vocalist Jesse Leach connects well and the band are energetic. The monster riff is king with these guys and ‘In Due Time’ is a strong way to bring the set towards its end but a masterstroke is finishing with their cover of Dio’s  ‘Holy Diver’ bringing the band and crowd together in reverence to one of metals greatest ever singers.

A quick dash across the embankment takes us to the more intimate setting of the 4Sound stage and the metronic dark tones of Greek gods Rotting Christ. Imposing and exotic, their material is quite mesmerising but duty calls and as their set clashes with Rose Tattoo I drag myself away to catch the end of the Tatts’ set. They are well respected in this part of the world and the turnout for their performance on the main Festival stage is decent. They play to their strengths by packing the set with songs from the first three albums. Angry is angry, the band is solid and this is fun in the sun although it’s 8 in the evening.

Helloween are perhaps the perfect band to be providing the lead up set to Iron Maiden. Their technical take on power metal was massively influential in the creation of the genre and their style and dynamic draws a direct line of lineage back to the mid 80s Piece of Mind, Powerslave period of Maiden releases. The Keeper of the Keys series of albums are essential to the genre and although there have been a few missteps along the way they are one of the more respected bands of the power metal movement. The ‘Pumpkins United’ format they are now touring sees Kai Hansen and Michael Kiske from that early period reunited with the current lineup and has them onstage as a seven piece with two singers and three guitar players. Highly spirited and technically proficient they play it smart with a set heavily weighted towards the Keeper… material and on a balmy evening amongst a large and supportive crowd this is heady stuff. ‘I’m Alive’, ‘Eagle Fly Free’, ‘Future World’,  ‘I Want Out’ – all hit their mark with precision.

A break in the main stage area allows a few minutes to check out the end of the Body Count set before positioning for the Maiden show. Although the rap/metal crossover has limited appeal to some there is a decent turnout and Ice T’s shouty, confronting approach with tracks including ‘KKK Bitch’ and ‘Cop Killer’ gets a reaction from the converted.

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Sweden Rock 2018/Alex Pain

Iron Maiden are making their first ever appearance at Sweden Rock and are a big part of the reason this year’s instalment of the festival has sold out in record time. Having in recent years become one of the flag waving, standard bearers for all that’s big, bombastic and international about metal, they are one of the leading draws for the genre the world over and as workers of the big stage they are virtually without compare. They elicit great loyalty and dedication from their legions and the excitement surrounding their performance in the lead up has been intense.

Securing a good position towards the front of this mammoth, good natured crush takes some jostling but it’s well worth the effort as the introductory Churchill speech explodes into the rolling, turning, diving of ‘Aces High’. All of a sudden there’s a Spitfire war plane hovering over our heads, a blinding light show and the band are in fine form with the rata-tat rumble of ‘Where Eagles Dare’. The war theme continues with a thumping rendition of ‘2 Minutes to Midnight’ and the vigor of the band’s onstage antics is every bit up to what we have come to expect from these masters of the big show. Much speculation has surrounded the greatest hits nature of the setlist for this ‘Legacy of the Beast’ run of shows; no-one will walk away unhappy with the list of essential tracks played in this mainly early career spanning set. They have also been brave enough to include a couple of numbers from the Blaze Bayley period that connect well.

There is a lot of passion in the crowd tonight and it’s moving to see the young German chap beside me, who informs me it’s his first Maiden show, shedding tears of joy as he screams “freedom” to the galloping chorus of ‘The Clansman’.

It’s gone 10pm, the northern twilight is upon us, the stage settings and light show are becoming more impressive and there are backdrop theme changes for virtually every track as they work through the years of their illustrious career. ‘The Trooper’ image looms heavy from the back of the stage and as the song plays out a battle dressed, 15 foot Eddie appears for a sword clash with Bruce and with this and ‘Revelations’ I get a couple more gems from my favourite Maiden album.

This really is a pulse pumping show with a setlist that justifies all the anticipation of the lead up. The entire band are on point, Nicko driving from the back, bass runs and guitar solos everywhere and Bruce full of banter and note perfect the entire show. A few newer tracks are included for good measure and there is no way to go wrong with a set that in its second half features ‘Flight of Icarus’, ‘Fear of the Dark’, ‘Number of the Beast’, ‘Iron Maiden’, ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’ and ‘Run to the Hills’ among others. A great showing by one of the defining metal bands.

 

There is a great tradition now at some of these festivals, they know full well that although the main headliners are normally done by midnight, that’s way too early for the partying metal maniacs to call an end to the day’s celebrations and smart scheduling means there are still more bands to see into the wee small hours. After the Maiden masterclass I dash off to the outer reaches of the festival site for a couple of tracks from the Leppard-like hooks of local melodic rockers H.E.A.T. Not bad, solid band with some hooky songs like ‘Mannequin Show’ but virtually anything is going to seem like a relative comedown after the main stage blitzkrieg and there is a midnight thrashing calling.

Kreator appear to be driven by the challenge. They’ve always been one of the stronger European thrash bands and the late night hordes that have descended to witness their set are fueled to the gills on a great day of adrenaline, drinking and metal and they’re intent on topping it off with a frenzy. I get to the front for ‘Enemy of God’ to be confronted by a super intense circle pit, two pits going in opposite directions, bodies and limbs flying in all directions, smiles as wide as the stage and if anyone falls they are helped to their feet and off they go again. A great, blazing stage production, Mille in fine, rebel rousing form and a career spanning set list that leans heavily on the monstrous Gods of Violence album – metal as fuck!

It’s now well past the witching hour and the perfect way to end such a magical day is the psychedelic occultisms of Coven. Celebrating 50 years since their inception, their performance is like an acid-fueled Black Mass with ‘Wicked Woman’ Jinx Dawson the mouthy priestess out front. With a set drawn mainly from 1969s Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls, watching these guys is watching a piece of hard rock history and a perfect illustration of what is so unique about Sweden Rock Festival. Not only do you get metal legends and newer bands, you get bands like Coven, Focus, Heep, Yes and others that provided the foundation stones of the genre we hold so dear.

A great, great day !

DAY 3

After an ok night’s sleep at the holiday cabin, a hearty breakfast and some recapping of the previous day’s events is in order before we hit the stages again for the next day of this rock n’roll smorgasbord.

Entering the site, the bouncing ragga rock of Skindred is booming across the fields and the inexhaustible crowds are already gathering.
Vixen are an all girl band that achieved some level of success in the late 80s. Since reforming they’ve played Sweden Rock a couple of times and their brand of catchy pop rock seems to have a decent following here. ‘Rev it Up’ and ‘Edge of a Broken Heart’ are bright and breezy and a good cocktail to kick off the new day.

Pretty Maids
Pretty Maids/Shawn Irwin

The first band that really tweeks my interest for today is Danish melodic hard rock powerhouse Pretty Maids. These guys have been producing quality hard rock for over 30 years and with albums in the last few years like Pandemonium and Kingmaker they are at the top of their game. The main stage turnout shows the level of respect with which they’re held in this part of the world and they bound out and hammer us with the politically aware blast of ‘Mother Of All Lies’ and ‘Kingmaker’. Energetic, well played and with an uncanny knack for packing huge hooks in ballsy rock tunes ‘Red Hot and Heavy’ and ‘Bulls Eye’ hit the mark and with ‘Future World’ and ‘Love Games’ they roll back 30+ years like it was yesterday.

Retiring a little to one of the outer stages provides a whimsical progressive rock moment with Focus. 50 year old prog jams with yodelling, flute, searing guitar breaks and a little ‘Hocus Pocus’ for good measure on a beautiful sunny Scandinavian afternoon, what could be more fun?

Graveyard have just released a great new album, they are huge in their home country and their 70s infused retro rock on one of the main stages on such a day is painting the perfect picture of swaying, blissed-out big crowd participation. The more direct riffs of new tracks ‘The Fox’ and ‘Walk On’ mix with the trippier jam moments of ‘Too Much Is Not Enough’ and ‘Uncomfortably Numb’, all combining to create a hazy vision of festival fun.

The Darkness
The Darkness/Shawn Irwin

A brief look at Madam X sees them putting their all into a set of solid 80s hard rock on the way to check out The Darkness on the festival stage. Somewhat subdued in comparison to their usual bombastic, high energy presentation (although Justin’s flamboyant dress sense remains), they are letting the music do the talking a lot more these days and this seems to be a good move as it appears they are being taken more seriously now than at any point in their career. With a couple of decent recent albums behind them – Last Of Our Kind is a real ball tearer – they have a new found credibility and with tracks like ‘Barbarian’, ‘Open Fire’ and ‘Solid Gold’ this is a good time set.

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Dark Funeral/Craig Downes

Swinging past the 4Sound stage I catch a couple of songs from Dark Funeral. Presenting black metal in full regalia in the belting sun must be a difficult task and the poor boys resemble armoured, sweaty pandas but they make a decent fist of it.

Uriah Heep
Uriah Heep/Shawn Irwin

The roll up for Uriah Heep is impressive. This band straddle many of the key elements of Sweden Rock with ease – classic, heavy rock with touches of prog – and their appeal is obvious to this congregation of rock faithful. They play to their strengths with a setlist pulled mainly from the classic 1970-73 period of their lengthy and substantial career: ‘Gypsy’, ‘Look at Yourself’, ‘Stealin’, ‘Easy Livin’’ and others fly by in a flash and the crowd lap it up. It’s incredible when you realise these songs are upwards of 45 years old and the vigor and joy with which these guys attack their craft is a wonder to behold. Yet another highlight and a great example of what this festival is all about.

Young British upstarts Inglorious have had a lot of plaudits in the last few years. The albums are good so I’m keen to check out how they come across in the live realm and they do not disappoint. Nathan James is a big man with a big voice and although the jury may still be out on some of his stage moves songs like ‘Breakaway’ and ‘Until I Die’ show a solid band following in the great tradition of British blues rock.

Stone Sour are not a band I can say I have actively sort to follow. I’ve never seen them live before and I must admit I can occasionally suffer from a touch of Corey Taylor fatigue. The guy is obviously driven and more power to him, they sell a lot of records and their brand of fairly uninspired middle of the road aggro riff rock has a large audience. Our differences define us and as much as this performance does not make me think I’m missing out on something special I will always love seeing a large crowd rocking out and enjoying themselves.

Pestilence in the Rockklassiker tent are a blast of brutal technical Euro death on the way to check out the expansive heavy guitar jams of Baroness. These guys are always intriguing with their stoner groove, progressive nature and soft to hard dynamic and although the sunny early evening is perhaps not the optimum surrounding for their moody tones they throw themselves gleefully into the performance and play a powerful and enjoyable set.

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Baroness/Craig Downes

Heavy Load are a traditional metal band that date back to the mid seventies and are considered to be one of Sweden’s very first heavy metal bands. Their commercial impact was minimal but time and legend has been kind to them. Over time their influence has become substantial and their reformation to play selected shows on this year’s Euro festival calendar has been met with enthusiasm from old school fans of the genre and led to them playing a late set on one of the main stages. Their brand of old school metal is not technically that challenging but historically significant and really quite fun. ‘Heavy Metal Angels’,’The Guitar is my Sword’ and ‘Heathens From the North’ sound like you’d expect and a healthy crowd are paying reverence to a band that represent a formative time for the metal genre.

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Ozzy/Craig Downes

If we are considering the very formation of metal it would be impossible to go past one John ‘Ozzy’ Osbourne. Obviously his influence has been immeasurable for the last 50 years since helping form Black Sabbath in ‘68 at a time when the term ‘heavy metal’ did not even exist as a reference to this all powerful musical form. Over the years his musical impact and loveable rogue character has drawn an audience to him and his music to the extent he has attained royal status to music fans the world over. But as is becoming increasingly obvious in life, all things must pass, or reach their conclusion.

Over the years he has transitioned from metal forefather to doting grandfather, Black Sabbath has been retired and put to bed and by definition this No More Tours tour is his last run around before inevitably stepping down from active duty and as ever he intends to go out with a bang.
The intro reel for this show runs through visuals of an incredible career and the crowd show their appreciation at fever pitch before the man himself takes to the stage and we are commanded to, and dutifully ‘go fucking crazy’.

The band blast into a spritely rendition of ‘Bark at the Moon’ and all is in fine form, Zakk fretting and flailing along with the powerful rhythm section of bass beast Blasko and Tommy Clufetos on drums and anyone who has ever seen Ozzy live will know he always puts his all into every performance. Anyone who may have had a question mark over his ability to still deliver has that thought emphatically dispelled and his energy level and enthusiasm for a man on the verge of his 70th birthday is incredible. Ozzy has never been technically the greatest ever singer on the planet. We all know that and that is not the point, this is a loveable everyman who has lead with his heart to become one of the biggest icons in the history of music and we are here to celebrate his astounding career.

This is a cooking band, representing an overview of Ozzy’s work in a vital and powerful manner, a majestic ‘Mr Crowley’ and stomping ‘I Don’t Know’ throw us back almost 40 years to one of the great years of metal – 1980, the Blizzard … album and the material that ignited our interest in his solo work and saved his career post Sabbath, then we’re back toward the very start with the inevitable heavy swing of ‘Fairies Wear Boots’ and a rendition that does justice to the original and has the crowd in rapture.

‘Suicide Solution’ and an epic ‘No More Tears’ allow the band to stretch out and we get our widdle fix as Zakk puts his hand up as the guitar hero we all expect him to be. The band nail a solid reading of ‘War Pigs’ however Ozzy appears to be using a different key and the jammed out nature of the ending leading into instrumental solos allows the opportunity for the crazy old bugger to have a bit of a breather and the brutally efficient band to showcase their substantial talents. Zakk’s solo is a medley run through a bunch of signature riffs and solo passages from his tenure with the Ozzman and although medleys usually suck, in this case it works pretty well as another reminder of just how many killer tunes have been involved in this career.

Those who saw the last couple of Sabbath tours will know what a powerhouse Clufetos is behind the kit and his solo showcases this before the main man returns for the run home which includes a couple of more commercial crowd pleasing tracks, the surprising inclusion of a really rather good ‘Shot in the Dark’, a belting ‘Crazy Train’ and the essential ‘Paranoid’ to bring things to a satisfying conclusion.

This might possibly turn out to be the very last time I see Ozzy live on stage and as ever he has done himself proud.

 

Meshuggah are an unusual beast. Their take on the riff driven elements of thrash and melodic death metal mixed with the syncopated polyrhythms of their brutally heavy version of a free-form type of experimentation puts them in a world of their own. Their delivery has an extreme intensity that can at times appear impenetrable but there’s always an underlying riff and groove to grab onto and they are a unique talent particularly in a live situation. Their musical chops are impressive and additionally watching a crowd attempting to headbang to their odd and challenging time changes can be hilarious, neck breaking fun. With a set including the weighty tones of ‘Clockworks’, ‘Born in Dissonance’ & ‘Bleed’ and a brutal, strobing light show they bring an intense end to another powerful day of rock’n’roll.

DAY 4

As you will have ascertained by now there is a hell of alot going on at an event like this – four days, more than 80 bands, metal markets, socialising and generally a great sense of revelry and celebration. Pacing yourself is essential if you are to make the most of all that’s on show, so when the final morning offers an opportunity to catch up on a few zzz’s and hang out we make the most of it. A post lunch entry to the stage area means you miss a few sets, but I never was a huge Slade fan.

Getting to the end of a fun Girlschool set that features essential tracks like ‘Screaming Blue Murder’ and ‘Emergency’ and checking out a couple of Steelheart tracks is a great way to stoke the r’n’r fires again and as we wander, beer in hand to check out snippets of the trad metal of Torch, the Goth-lite of Lacuna Coil and strident power metal of Stratovarius, the relaxed yet highly organised precision running of this event is more than obvious. Everything works like clockwork and nothing runs late. The level of stage and sound production this year is the best yet, the headlining bands in particular get to stamp their look and feel on their performance almost to the extent of their own standalone shows. Additionally the goodwill and fellowship on display among the crowd over the course of whole event is incredibly commendable. If someone falls they are helped up, if they have succumbed to the effects of too much sun or have been a little too enthusiastic with their indulgence in the selection of liquid libations available they are looked after. If only life and mankind was a little more like the show of tolerance and respect that is so obviously the driving force behind this type of event the world would truly be a better place.

Crowd 2Next band up is Yes, featuring A.R.W. The A stands for Jon Anderson, the ethereal voice that co-founded the progressive rock institution in 1968, the R for Trevor Rabin, the guitarist and hit writer who reinvigorated the group through the 80s & 90s and the W is Rick Wakeman, the keyboard genius who has contributed greatly over the years, been in and out the unit several times and today comes to the stage looking every bit the eccentric loon he is, dressed in bright orange and green, with a golden cape. The front of the field is packed with older heads, many with their young ones ready to help this new incarnation celebrate 50 years of Yes’ music.

This is an interesting combination with every right to play the significant tracks from all eras of the band and perhaps the only lineup rightly able to play some of the biggest songs of the bands entire career and the set is loaded with that opportunity. ‘Cinema’, ‘Hold On’, ‘Changes’, ‘Rhythm of Love’ are songs we are lucky to catch in the live realm after so many years and when rounded out with ‘Roundabout’, ‘I’ve Seen All Good People’, ‘Owner of a Lonely Heart’ of course and others, this is a vibrant and uplifting set.

Tarja has worked hard to maintain profile and momentum to her endeavours but this is an acquired taste I don’t really share and when it appears a Muse cover will be the highlight of her set we take our leave to the Sweden stage for some of the mad butcher prime cuts of German thrash stalwarts Destruction. Old school Euro thrash riffery, machine gun drumming, synchronised headbanging stage moves to tracks like ‘Dethroned’ and ‘Nailed to the Cross’ provides an energised intro to tonight’s big guns.

The lead up through each day is always great fun and you see an amazing selection of performances from a variety of killer bands but it is really the headliners that ultimately define each day and that is where this festival has really got it right. The three-pronged headlining halo that crowns this event features the biggest names in the game and what better way to bring this event to its conclusion than with the Priest.

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Judas Priest/Craig Downes

I will not wax on about the career of Judas Priest, anyone reading this will be aware of their contribution to all things metal and love them accordingly. They are the very definition of the genre – the riffs, the vocal, the twin guitars, the stage gear, they stand tall as the bearers of the traditional heavy metal flame.

Still basking in the glow of the rapturous reception and universally great reviews following the release of their fiery new album, their strongest certainly since Painkiller and probably since Screaming for Vengeance, they are enjoying yet another golden patch in a career studded with precious metal moments.

Again, positioning is important for this set in a crowd reaching 40,000 so I make my way as close to the front as possible – success ! I’m right near the barrier, it is here that I meet a couple of fellow traveling antipodeans, a young pair from Queensland who are aghast and enthusiastically ranting about how much they are enjoying themselves and vowing never to go home. This place can have that effect on people.

Then the Priest appear, dressed for battle and all guns blazing with title track to the new Firepower album, a great way to kick off an album and a blistering way to kick-off off a live show. This is an anthemic statement of intent, the crowd lap it up and it’s straight into the menacing classic combination of ‘Grinder’, ‘Sinner’ and ‘The Ripper’. With such a vast career body of work picking a setlist must be difficult but this is an incredible nod to the past. Woo hoo, this is what we’re here for !

Halford doesn’t appear to ever have bad nights but even so his vocal is quite phenomenal, his, at times, slightly hunched approach to delivery is obviously intentional substance over style as you see him bracing to nail the next incredible high note. He doesn’t seem to be losing any of his immense range – just check out the attached footage of ‘Sinner’ – My god, this is how we want our Metal Gods to grow old!

This is a dynamic lineup with Richie Faulkner, a shot of energy and increasingly Rob’s guitar slinging foil, supplying all the lead work with ease, the ever solid Ian Hill rocking away on bass, the rapid fire of Scott Travis and metal production guru Andy Sneap on second guitar bringing us back to the present with a hammering rendition of ‘Lightning Strikes’. ‘Bloodstone’, ‘Turbo Lover’ and the surprising inclusion of ‘Saints in Hell’ from ’78’s Stained Class album keep momentum high and with a set that then runs through ‘Tyrant’, ‘Freewheel Burning’, ‘You’ve Got Another Thing Coming’, ‘Hell Bent For Leather’, ‘Painkiller’ and others this is an imperious performance befitting its place as the headline set that concludes these four days of celebration. In a nice moment Glenn Tipton joins the band for the encore of ‘Metal Gods’, ‘Breaking the Law’ and ‘Living After Midnight’ and the Priest leave the stage having put their heavy stamp on proceedings.

 

After four days of such exhilarating fun in the sun no-one has even the remotest interest in calling time or going home. Local heroes Backyard Babies have been entrusted with bringing the curtain down on the entire event and Dregen and his boys are up for the task. In the post midnight haze it appears that close to 40,000 people are attending the world’s coolest after-party as they cram into the smaller surrounds of the Sweden stage to kick up some dust for one last festival ending set.

So, suffice to say, one hell of a great time.
If you haven’t clicked on the live stuff check it out, some is a little rough, it’s fully fuckin live, a shitload of fun and almost, with a good imagination, a little bit like being in the crowd at Sweden Rock Festival 2018.

Roll on next year.