Sweden Rock Festival 2016 – Day 4

Solvesborg, Sweden
Day Four: June 11, 2016

Michael Schenker Michael Schenker Group/Craig Downes

The Winery Dogs are a supergroup by any standard, featuring 3 musicians of the very highest calibre and rocking in a fashion reminiscent of classic power trio’s as was the norm throughout the 70s when act=s like Beck, Bogart & Appice and Bruce, Lordan & Trower ruled the roost and were formed to bring a bunch of like minded musos together to rock it with a freedom that their day jobs probably wouldn’t allow. Mike Portnoy, Billy Sheehan and Richie Kotzen are a formidable combination, their 2 albums to this point have connected with a sizeable fan base that has seen them chart well the world over. Today their early afternoon set is a vibrant start to the days proceedings, ‘Oblivion’, ‘Captain Love’ and ‘Hot Streak’ are prime examples of their style and rock along with a funky, shreddy aesthetic that is both catchy enough for the newcomers and jammy and expanded enough for the gathered expectant muso obsessives. Sticks fly and strings bend as they blitz through their solid set, ‘No Angel’, ‘Desire’ and ‘Elevate’ bring things to a satisfying conclusion and we all walk away with an appreciation of a triumvirate at the height of their powers.

Winery Dogs
Winery Dogs/Craig Downes

Since transcribing a chunk of Frank Zappa’s musings and consequently joining his band at the tender age of 18, Steve Vai has consistently pushed himself to musical extremes. Passion and fretboard warfare have ensued throughout his long and distinguished career and he has flexed his creative muscles in ways that have expanded our expectations of what the guitar can do. Currently touring in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the seminal Passion & Warfare album he and his band are in breathtaking form. I was lucky enough to also catch their show a few nights later in Copenhagen and he and band are currently at a high water mark in terms of their intuitive linkage and combined musicality. He is so obsessed with the quality of sound that today he is the only musician to obviously to be wired to his amp and not using wireless connections and his wanderings down the catwalk toward the audience are limited by the length of his lead but he is always an animated character and his stagecraft ensures a great connection to the audience and his guitar sound is incredible. ‘Bad Horsie’, ‘Liberty’, ‘Erotic Nightmares’ and ‘The Riddle’ are all works of great musical dexterity and show an ability to infuse real lyrical and emotional impact within the guitar instrumental realm. ‘For The Love Of God’ and excerpts of the ‘Fire Garden Suite’ finish the set and underline the fact that this is a very special band that should be witnessed at any opportunity.

Steve Vai
Steve Vai/Craig Downes



Symphony X
Symphony X/Craig Downes

US progressive metal titans Symphony X have carved out a substantial career over the last 20 years, with albums The Odyssey and Paradise Lost attracting rave reviews and laying the groundwork for their current standing as heir apparent to a prog rock crown that could see them approaching the status of Dream Theater. Latest album Underworld was one of prog metal’s finest releases of last year and has only furthered this rise in standing and as such totally justifies them playing the entire album on this Sweden Rock outing. The set provides another highlight for the festival and only heightens expectation for their impending Oz tour later this year. ‘Nevermore’, ‘Underworld’, ‘Without You’, ‘Run With The Devil’ all get a rousing welcome as does earlier material and we are in the presence of a compelling frontman in Russell Allen, confident stage craft, a voice of great subtlety and possessing a RJD type roar as required, he commands proceedings and is great foil for the musicality on display from Romeo and co controlling the backline. A fantastic appetizer for their upcoming headline shows.

Death DTA
Death DTA/Craig Downes

Death DTA are as ever paying tribute to Chuck Schuldiner. Their current incarnation includes former members Hoglan, DiGiorgio, Joelle and Max Phelps of heavy, fusion proggers Cynic. Their super heavy technical, progressive, death stomp is as influential as any band from the death metal universe and a career spanning setlist draws an impassioned response from the gathered. With ‘Leprosy’, ‘Zombie Ritual’, ‘ Baptised In Blood’, ‘Crystal Mountain’ and ‘Pull The Plug’ and more they visit all major albums and one thinks that Chuck would approve.

Udo Dirkschneider spent decades as the barking little guy of great musical stature out front of Accept, had a hand in writing most of their best songs and is currently doing what he says will be his last run of shows playing the tracks that gave him the audience he enjoys to this day. Revisiting the impact of these songs is not only justifiable but having Udo out front of a super capable band gives you a carbon copy of the originals that with eyes closed puts one back to a time to when Accept were on a popular par with contemporaries such as Judas Priest and Scorpions and all that mattered in life was what piece of vinyl we were thrashing in dark smoky rooms at the time. ‘Midnight Mover’, ‘Breaker’, ‘Princess Of The Dawn’, ‘Restless and Wild’, ‘Son Of A Bitch’, ‘Up To The Limit’… give me a fuckin’ break! Awesome teutonic metal of the highest order. ‘Metal Heart’, ‘Fast As A Shark’ and ‘Balls To The Wall’ bring the set to a close and all in attendance accept that they have been witness to a masterclass in trad metal.

Dirkschneider/Craig Downes

Eric Sardinas is a man of stature both in terms of his standing as a fiery, bluesy slide guitar player and the fact that he appears to stand close to 7 foot tall, looks like the outcome of some weird experiment grafting the DNA of Slash and 70s Ted Nugent and plays like Johnny Winter on steroids. I get to the Rockklassikier stage just in time to catch a couple of songs that end what looks to have been a killer set and again underlines the fact that at these events with such an embarrassment of great acts to see you can’t always get to see everything in full, damn!

Scott Ian
Anthrax/Craig Downes

Currently at a critical highpoint in their long career Anthrax seem to be impressing a lot of people of late. Their latest album For All Kings has reached their highest chart positions in many years and they are gathering plaudits aplenty for maintaining their fire. No small part of this can be attributed to Joey Belladonna, his reinstatement has signaled a return to their old musical stomping grounds and has brought with it the credibility they required to regain their former glories. Joey appears to be aware of this and now exudes a smiling confidence that suits both him and the band equally. The combined unit is strong and getting their message across with great gusto. A no brainer setlist including ‘Got The Time’, ‘Caught In A Mosh’, ‘Madhouse’ & ‘Efilnikufesin (N.F.L)’ is perfectly directed and new tracks ‘Fight Em Til You Can’t’ and ‘Breathing Lightning’ show the audience is up to speed with the newer tunes. Closing out with ‘Antisocial’ and ‘Indians’ has the desired effect and they exit as kings for all.

King Kobra were also-rans from a period in the late 80s when the cheque book was out for all things with big hair and guitars from LA and although albums like Thrill Of It All were fun they didn’t hit a high mark, much like their performance today. A large and largely disinterested Paul Shortino doesn’t do his band any favours and although Johnny Rod and Appice make every effort to engage with the crowd this is a disappointing performance.

My Dying Bride scare the hell out of the 4Sound stage, brutally doom-laden and in their usual glacial dirge they are oppressively and fantastically heavy and set closer ‘To Shiver In Empty Halls’ sounds as you’d expect from the title. Heavy man!

For a long time I’ve had a soft spot for Demon, an influential band from the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal period of late 70’s, early 80’s that never really seemed to get the credit they deserved. Albums like Night Of The Demon, The Unexpected Guest and The Plague have loomed large in my playlist for a long while and it’s a pleasure to finally see them. ‘Night Of The Demon’ ‘The Plague’, ‘ Nowhere To Run’ and ‘Don’t Break The Circle’ are all played faithfully and hit the mark to a crowd that appears well versed in the bands material and they get a rousing reception that is well deserved.

Sabaton/Craig Downes

Sabaton are perhaps a surprising major headliner for final night celebrations but being a local group on the ascendency there is some rationale. It appears there is a genre called Battle Metal and judging from all the combat fatigue, the fact there are at least 2 tanks on stage and the reaction from the crowd this is a popular and relevant movement in this part of the world. This is really traditional metal refined to a focus on a war theme and as such carries all the familiar characteristics of thundering drums, screaming guitars and is really quite enjoyable. I don’t know much of their material but they play with a heroic energy, the crowd dig it to an extent that justifies their inclusion and they end with all guns blazing and a blast of fireworks.

Having for more than 40 years been regarded as one of the predominant guitar players on the planet, through his stellar work with The Scorpions, UFO and his solo MSG band, Michael Schenker is a defining talent. A giant of the hard rock genre, one of my favourite guitar players and a big part of the reason I find myself in a field on the other side of the planet covering this magical event. I defy any guitar fan to listen to Strangers in the Night or One Night at Budokan and not marvel at the tune and expression on display. Although Sabaton are tonight’s official headliner and the post midnight sets on each evening are a bonus for the perseverant punters who have not yet fallen foul of the generous helpings at the bar, the turnout for this repertoire spanning nod to a majestic career is huge. Due respect being paid. Reuniting with 3 singers from crucial periods of his backstory is a great platform for the show that obviously connects well with the assembled. A song selection dominated by material from his first two post-UFO solo albums performed faithfully in Budokan guise with original singer Gary Barden hits a considerable cord and the addition of Graham Bonnet and rhythm section for songs from the Assault Attack album for the first time since ‘82 is a masterstroke. ‘Into The Arena’, ‘Attack Of The Mad Axeman’, ‘Victim Of Illusion’, ‘Cry For The Nation’s’, ‘Armed And Ready’ flash by, every nuance in good order. Gary appears to need a lozenge but his workmanlike delivery has always been full of spirit and intent. Scorps track ‘Coast to Coast’ rocks to great effect and when Bonnet bounces on all is primed for a trio of tracks not played on stage by the original unit in over 30 years.

Assault Attack casts a long shadow in some circles and the title track, ‘Dancer’ & ‘Desert Song’ are a treat to finally see performed by the band who originally wrote and recorded them. Robin McAuley was singer with Schenker for a number of albums spanning ‘86-93 and gave MSG a reinvention that rewarded the band a modicum of success in the US at the time and he is also in attendance to join in tonight’s celebrations. ‘Save Yourself’ is a choice track from that period but it is the onset of UFO classics ‘Doctor Doctor’, ‘Shoot Shoot’ and ‘Rock Bottom’ that really brings the set to a resounding and satisfying conclusion. Super great and a very special way to end a killer set and to bring to an end a fantastic four  days.

Four fantastic days of music and fun in the sun amongst a crowd of 35,000+ revelers each day, all good natured, fun loving metal maniacs, this has as ever been a hugely enjoyable experience. The music and performances were great and one of the main things I take away from this experience is the mateship and unity that goes with it. The reconnecting with old friends and making of new ones that you know will feature again in the future. Having loved every moment, I hurtle off to more ports of call amongst the history, culture and great adventure that come with the journey to a European metal festival. Roll on next year!