Sweden Rock Festival 2016 – Day 2

Solvesborg, Sweden
Day Two: June 9, 2016

Megadeth Megadeth/Craig Downes

Read about Day 1 here.

The next morning sees us awaken to the distant sounds of heavy artillery mainstage soundchecks and the realisation that as fun as last night was, it was a precursor to the main event. The next three days will see 14 hours each day of end to end metal, hard rock, classic rock, blues and surrounding genres, some of the great and the good of our scene. Bring it on!

We start today’s proceedings by checking out a new band who are clearly on an upward trajectory, The Struts. Having made an early impact with their first album featuring tracks like ‘Roll Up‘ and ‘Where Did She Go’ these guys pull a willing early crowd and if a bit of hollywood sleaze via Scunthorpe is your thing you can’t go wrong with this troupe. With one foot firmly on the throat of their 70s heroes and a front man who has all the moves and has clearly inherited Freddie Mercury’s wardrobe circa ’74, they appear to be one to watch out for.

Another act on the ascendency is Halestorm. I’ve not checked them out live before this but it’s been hard to avoid observing their relentless work ethic and pursuit of the prize which is obviously paying dividends as they have now sold platinum in Sweden and as such they are a good choice as first act of the festival to grace the main stage, the biggest of the 5 stages being used for the event. They give a solid reading of their contemporary hard rock stylings, flashes of Leppard-type hooks are welcome and the gathered crowd are drawn in by Lzzy Hale’s star quality and rock chick moves. Songs – ‘I Am the Fire’, ‘Miss the Misery’ and others are catchy and will ensure these guys have a bright future.

SixxAM
Nikki Sixx/Craig Downes

Speaking of rock star qualities, next act Sixx:A.M have them in spades. Nikki’s 30+ years in the big show demand as much and he has put together a team and carved a reputation for his post Motley endeavours that is bearing real fruit. Much respect to him for having the energy to embark on developing a whole new career when clearly he could sit back and bask in prior glories. Ego is a strong stimulant, but regardless, to witness the band’s current intense touring schedule, the hours-long queue at the post show signing session and the effort and consummate showmanship he and his team are currently displaying is undeniable and justifies this 57 year old’s second bite at the cherry. Current album Prayers for the Damned is solid enough and they lean heavily on it for today’s set with the title track, ‘Rise’, ‘When We Were Gods’ and ‘Everything Went To Hell’ and others getting their time in the sun, earlier material is also firmly familiar with what is the biggest crowd gathered so far. Clearly the ground work is paying off for these guys on the evidence displayed. ‘Rise’ indeed and more power to ’em!

Leaving before the end of their set and dashing to the imaginatively-named Sweden Stage pays dividends as I am able to see a chunk of the primal aggression that is Entombed AD. The local heroes play a set that includes favourites ‘Wolverine Blues’ and ‘Left-hand Path’ and sees the crowd growling the guttural vocal delivery of Lars Goran Petrov in unison, brutal!

Next Shinedown, next! Really, to each their own and due respect to everyone but these guys are lame. You want to check out all the acts to give a fair, well rounded view, but no! The crowd seems an immovable object during their set despite the protestations of their front man and rightly so. Their soul-less attempt at Skynyrd’s ‘Simple Man’ is the final straw, I’ve gotta get away and the relative safety of old school, local AOR stalwarts Neon Rose provides just the respite.

Continuing a run of quality local artists next up is Graveyard. These guys are fully infused with the DNA of classic 70s earthy, analogue rock n roll. Part Zeppelin, part Sabbath, part old school blues/psych rock they have released a brace of fantastic albums in the last 6 or 7 years that have gained them a strong fan base worldwide and on home soil they are preaching to a converted grouping. ‘Slow Motion Countdown’, ‘Hisingen Blues’, ‘Ain’t Fit To Live Here’ et al are great songs that hit their mark and underline the potency and bright future for this act.

Back at the Sweden Stage LA Guns put in a surprisingly robust performance, a lot more energised than the last time I saw them and a big part of the credit for this has to go to their new hotshot guitar player. ‘No Mercy’, ‘Sex Action’, ‘Rip And Tear’ all blast by with a zeal I thought these guys had long lost. Looks like these guns are reloaded.

I like Slayer. They brought a brutality to metal in the 80s that was much needed if it was to survive the extravagances of the poodle prancing of the unfeasibly fun MTV presented period. As much as there are some great bands from that time, often it was style over substance, threads over thunder was the norm and the kicking that ‘Reign In Blood‘ and ‘South Of Heaven‘ provided was an essential element to the genre getting its balls in order and finding itself in the rude health that it currently enjoys. Today however there seems to be a slight disconnect with the crowd that finds things a tad flat. There will always be a hardcore at the front of any Slayer show oblivious to everything but the swirl they find themselves in, but the majority of the audience stands baking in the late afternoon sun appearing a little non-plussed by proceedings, a shame but not entirely unheard of at such events. They play well, good set list, all the key songs are played, ‘War Ensemble’, ‘Mandatory Suicide’, ‘Raining Blood’, ‘South Of Heaven’, ‘Angel Of Death’ etc and enjoyable to a point but the overriding impression is obvious, that Slayer works best in a darkened black mass with their blood red strobes firing on all cylinders.

Slayer
Slayer

No such issues for Megadeth. Having seen them many times over the years you expect a certain level of performance from Mustaine & Co but after a barely passable show at the Hordern on the last run through Oz something solid was required and they really deliver. Opening with a kickass combo – ‘Hangar 18’, ‘Wake up Dead’, ‘In My Darkest Hour’, ‘She Wolf’, ‘Sweating Bullets’, the crowd is on notice: it’s head’s down and let’s rock. The usual extreme level of musicianship is rightly front and centre and Dave is in a mighty mood, smiling and chatty. The current lineup has really gelled and we are witnessing a band at the height of their powers. New material such as ‘Threat is Real’, ‘Poisonous Shadows’, ‘Fatal Illusion’ and ‘Dystopia’ hold up well among further classics ‘Symphony Of Destruction’, ‘Peace Sells’, ‘Holy Wars’ etc. Killer band, killer set and an early highlight.

Catching some of Vanilla Fudge provides a chance for a breather and their covers-dominated set is a bit of fun. Carmine still gives it a fair walloping during ‘Gimme Some Lovin’, Led Zep’s ‘Dazed & Confused’, The Doors’ ‘Break On Through’, ‘She’s Not There’ and others. Good fun by the influential old timers.

Expectation of tonight’s major headliner Queen is understandably high. Can’t say I’m the most expectant. I dig their early work but there is very little they did post their 70s heavy rock heyday that I find particularly appealing. Sure there were moments, normally when they let Brian May off the leash for a couple of tracks on each album to appease their rock hungry original fanbase. I fully appreciate they are a cultural icon but was certainly not a part of the ‘Radio Ga Ga’ generation and found the chart pandering in their later career only dissolved their credibility.

Regardless, the fact of the matter is they are one of history’s biggest bands, Freddie Mercury was a super unique talent, one of the greatest frontmen of all time and, reality would dictate, irreplaceable. To be seeing an obviously talented but none the less inferior substitute is justifiable given the fact that May and drummer Roger Taylor seem to have boundless energy and want to continue to rock for as long as they bloody well want and they deserve that right. I’d rather be seeing them still attempting something new and original with Paul Rodgers in tow but this is where we find ourselves and I’m happy to give it a chance. I have it on good authority that they will unite the crowd and rock the place and I certainly believe that will be the case.

Queen
Queen/Craig Downes

Unite and rock is exactly what they do. They come out blazing with ‘One Vision’, ‘Hammer to Fall’, ‘Seven Seas of Rhye’ and ‘Stone Cold Crazy’ all there enjoying the choice of tracks and it is clear we are in for a classic setlist. There is no denying the obvious talent of Adam Lambert and he lends a colourful, exuberant bonhemie to the event and the entire augmented band are on form but equally the show has an undeniable but respectful and loving tribute feel. Freddie appears on screens at various points and gets an impassioned response that shows the affinity with which his memory is held. Warm, emotional moments bond the crowd. ‘Another One Bites the Dust’, ‘The Game’, ‘Killer Queen’, ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’, ‘Under Pressure’ – with a shout out to another fallen icon – all are rousing and they nail ‘I Want It All’ and ‘Tie Your Mother Down’.  ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ sends everyone into raptures before ‘Break Free’ and ‘Radio Ga Ga’ inspire mass crowd participation. Brian flies with his guitar into a cosmos light show in a nifty staging prop and we get the inevitable encore of ‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘We Are The Champions’. Big festivals need big bands and these crowd pleasing giants show they are still a force to be reckoned with.

A quick dash for a snippet of Mayhem offers some ‘Pure Fucking Armageddon’, an enjoyably chaotic counterpoint to some of the other acts that have been on show today and puts us in the mood for some midnight ritual.

King Diamond
King Diamond

King Diamond has had a long and storied career from the early days with Mercyful Fate to his successful solo band outings and it appears he is currently undergoing somewhat of a renaissance. Of late fans seem to be coming out of the woodwork and he has rightly reached legendary status as is attested by his position closing this evening’s proceedings.

The crowd crush at this late night Halloween ceremony is intense and with this being one of only a few of his shows in Europe to focus on a career highlight Abigail album, anticipation is running high. The stage set appropriately looks like a haunted mansion from around the time of 1777 and the band arrive with ‘Welcome Home’, ‘Sleepless Nights’ and ‘Eye of the Witch’. King is in faultless falsetto and with the ever present Andy La Rocque adding his tasteful Euro stylings on guitar it’s all scarily good. Mercyful Fate tracks ‘Melissa’ and ‘Come To The Sabbath’ are rightly revered, the sense of occasion is strong and this performance is living up to all expectations. ‘Arrival’ signals the er, arrival of tracks from tonight’s main feature album and through ‘A Mansion in Darkness’, ‘The Family Ghost’ and ‘Omens’ the intensity builds as the story unfurls. Metal and horror have long been obvious bedfellows, this was perfectly rendered on the album and translates well to the stage with props and extra characters joining the band to portray the storyline to spooky effect. I currently have a gorgeous, crazed blonde metal maiden crushed against me playing out the characters of ‘Abigail’ into my right ear and it gives me a firm appreciation of how highly regarded this album is particularly among the locals. ‘The Possession’, ‘Abigail’ and ‘Black Horsemen’ elicit an ear shattering response from the 2am revelers and as this murderous metal show draws to a close we all wander off into the cool, dark night having witnessed a hauntingly good show.

Day Three.