As regular readers will be aware, my quest for musical satisfaction involves taking in lots of festivals, as only once you’ve done them all can you compare and contrast and determine which is best. This investigation may be coming to an end though as I’m finding it hard to believe anything can be much better than this beautiful madness in the heart of Europe. Scale, cost, setting, atmosphere, friends, organisation, weather, facilities, hilarity, unforgettableness, it scores so highly on all counts. And of course, bands, legends and discoveries. While it may seem a test of the tolerances to anyone not into the extremes of metal I would seriously challenge anyone open-minded not to have a massive amount of fun here regardless.
As my previous visits of 6 days were far too short to savour it properly this time it was for 8 (plus a couple of warmup days in advance at home, naturally 😉 ) and me and a couple of first-timers flew from Manchester to Prague on the Sunday. The main incentive to have extra time was to enjoy the city before heading out into the wilds, and even in a 35 degree heatwave with relentless electrical storms through the night it was a stunning place. We also undertook the death metal pilgrimage out to Sedlec for the Bone Church and the wafts of the tobacco factory, and lived like kings with the cheap food and quality beer, bargain hotels with all you could eat breakfasts, and Hell’s Bell’s metal club where the owner just wrote off half our tab.
The musical onslaught kicked in on Tuesday evening with the pre-show at the Blue Monkey club in Prague, with some of the festival bands plus others, the pick of the bunch for me being the great crust/grind of Entropiah from Spain, who were fitting in trips here and to the festival with the rest of their European tour. Then it was raising the dead to get the train out to Trutnov, where the £6/3hour trip included a bus transfer that saw us drive past the festival site then down to the bottom of the hill to have to walk all the way back up to it again. No worries, we had arrived and camped and then the messiness began. The warm up evening here was made up of three noise core bands, including ancient Australian legends Seven Minutes of Nausea, which were alternatively random, rabid, and ropey as fuck, but filled the evening for us all the same.
Thursday brought the first full day but still with only an early afternoon start so plenty of time to brace ourselves (liquidly) for what was going to be the peak selection in my opinion. Blasted awake with some tight grind from the French Untamed before the first goregrind silliness with Undying Lust for Cadaveric Molestation and their “wall of masturbation” (I’ll explain to you in person). Next to the party with our friends from the North (Manchester), Foetal Juice, setting us all up for their fast death mayhem with an absinthe water-pistol to the face. Left reeling from that there was no mercy as we had Teething tearing the place up with sharp, heavy grind before one of my anticipated highlights came soon after, Fredag den 13e, furious yet melodic Swedish crust. Just getting into their flow when all power dies but they pick up where they left off and it’s a stormer, I am carried away for the first time! Teethgrinder had also been on the warm-up show bill and the Dutch technical metallic hardcore outfit were impressive again. Following on with some genuine old school Swedish hardcore from Korsfast, with their singer Ake (also in Mob 47) with a bit of Iggy Pop to him full of quirky charisma, and great energy to the tunes. With an interval for some uniformed, polished and precise Italian tech death from Hideous Divinity two of the Swedes are back shortly for Lautsturmer and this is another treat of fast distorted punk that’s right up my street. The girls from Brazil next, with the three piece thrash attack that is Nervosa, and in the sunshine they really get things charged up with their heavy riffing and seem genuinely emotional at an excellent response. A late addition to the bill but a cause for celebration in some ways was General Surgery, a picture in gore-splattered whites, and producing straight up sick death metal with a glorious sound. Back to thrash with Hirax from LA, I had raved about the revelation they were when they came to Hammerfest in Wales for their first date of a tour in decades, and this is the first date of another 30 through Europe. And it goes absolutely mental, pit chaos, and Katon and the guys giving all and feeding off another amazing reaction, they are putting a lot more well-known thrashers to shame! Definitely need a breather for a bit, because next up with the night falling is the veritable legends, the arguable grind originators, Terrorizer (LA). It is so (relatively) simple, so seminal, so punishing. And still so effective after all these years, to hear stuff off “World Downfall” live still kills, and I pretty much lose my remaining marbles to “The dead shall rise”. Sit out Pig Destroyer on the benches whilst trying to reinsert some lung tissue and do enjoy them more that I have at some other recent shows, a real heaviness to their grind and quite varied in their structures too. But then the ultimate cause of death, the last epitaph, Obituary. Since the 90’s in Wrexham, all over the UK and Europe I have never seen them put in a bad show and they level the place once again, Trevor’s guitar tone stripped down to pure horror riffing and John throwing up his vocals all over the place, while the rhythm section is hypnotic and crushing. They are on top form, I lose count of the times I am on and off stage and when we wind up with “Slowly we Rot” it seems the perfect way to go. In the dream/death after-world there is some strangely beautiful freak show involving natural abuse and people hanging around by their flesh but it’s time to end this day to end all days!
“an environmental drama with hard social subtext and appeal to mutual tolerance and coexistence”
Except the party goes on and we are resurrected on the Friday for more of the good stuff. After some solid, heavy death grind from Mindful of Pripyat we have Leeds’ Gets Worse, who are at the far end of their own trip through Europe. Powerviolence by name, it’s a mix of short punchy blasts of hardcore mixed with sludgier dirge, with a real balance between the contribution of all the three piece, included on the vocal front. Bit of Sick of Stupidity, ex Jesus Crost grind that is a bit more expansive than their ancestor, before we pace ourselves back at the camp site (massive 5 minute walk away). Back for more stupidity and exoticness with Analkoholic, a two piece with drum machine all the way from New Caledonia islands in the Pacific. Having them here celebrates the scene there and bouncy, half naked, gore grind insanity has apparently spread its virus there too. Entropiah sharpen the senses with their set, the dual vocal attack giving so much energy to their performance, like a better ENT! They would definitely be my pick of the bands to bring over to a certain North Wales festival one dirty weekend. A lot of dipping in and out of the late afternoon/evening sets with an eye on the long run till the early hours, highlights being the hometown replacements Exorcizphobia who provide top notch thrash with an excellent impression of being first language English too, catching Brazilians Test playing a jam set in the camp site, hilarity of Austrians Squirtophobic and their take on country and western classics, the U.S.’s Fissure bringing intensity with their explosive grind/hardcore, and Finns Feastem showing the tradition of Nasum and Rotten Sound is still strong there with really powerful, hyperspeed grind. A party that everyone wants to return to is a farewell show for Rompeprop, Dutch gore grind legends, hanging up their bloody boots after making a mess everywhere for decades. There’s inflatables, nudity, outfits, mayhem everywhere. Complete stage invasions, with the singer deadpan as ever saying “I’m back here somewhere”. It is hilarious and a peak of party enjoyment that just clicks everything together at this crazy festival. I kiss my inflatable wife goodbye but as some unknown girl next to me says “if you love someone, let them go”, she flies off, occasionally seen with another man, but then lost to me forever. We stumble from the debris laughing and sit back to watch veteran U.S. death metallers Vital Remains, a first time for me. It’s a pretty incredibly relentless show, impressive consistency, double pick riffing and bass drumming ago-go, and the singer launches himself into the crowd on a regular basis. Another fresh (to me) old school blast with the Italian thrashers Bulldozer, who really get things going with great quality music and a theatrical Ming the Merciless frontman coordinating things from his pulpit, although the seriousness is somewhat offset by songs about football and other trivia! I catch a stage-diver on my nose like some performing seal, my neck actually clicks with the impact, but hey, it’s all about the give and take. Can we take it though? As next is another legend ( I need another word!) SOB, from Japan. Sabotage Organised Barbarian, on their first visit to Europe since they played 25 years ago with Napalm Death, who arguably wouldn’t have existed as they did without the influence of these Far East noise-punk gods. It is simply stunning, as we are swept to and fro in the pit, battered from all sides and above, as the band slip from punk rock to grind blasts with ease. There is a little banter but we learn their native tongue, “Arigatou” to you guys too! Another rest required but the version of Pungent Stench (the Dutch deathmasters) that drifts across to us is incredibly strong, mixing up their core twisted guttural heaviness with almost rockier breaks, all very entertaining and testament to why they should be kept in circulation, court cases besides. It’s going to be pretty much a solo mission for the last couple of hours till the 3am finish, but the quality of the bands fires me on, harsh death with the lovely HM2 tone from Sweden’s Centinex, the blistering hardcore energy of Scarborough’s invigorated old schooler’s Satanic Malfunctions, more heavy Bolt Thrower style stripped down crusty death riff-fests from Incarceration, and the dance party to finish with BBYB, masked-up blistering breakcore/gabba beats underpinning brutal riffing and two way vocal fury. A great finish, finishes me off.
So with that 3am+ finish I am allowed a lie-in, with not a great deal to attract me in on what to me is the weakest of the days (and only in relative terms to the preceding monstrosities), bar the North West chaotic grinders Evisorax but my legs are still barely working at that time. There is a Sunday feel to the Saturday really as there are increasing numbers of scattered casualties littering the battlefield, and some responses to some of the bands are more subdued. Start the day with Head Cleaner from Greece which is ok death/grind but things really start to liven up with Urtikaria Anal all the way from Mexico. You may guess this from the oversize sombreros and flag but they also bring some hilarious gore grind, have got the crowd in the hairy palm of their hand on their return visit here. I’d been looking forward to Cloud Rat from the States after hearing their recent new album and its pretty interesting take on a mix of experimental grind and hardcore, and they did put in a fiery and fired up performance, including the serious business singer tolerating some “doctor” occupying her stage for a bit before ramming him back off into the crowd. Lahar deliver a nonstop thrash/hardcore crossover with an energy that belies their age and gains a good response, before we are taken to another level of harsh grind fury with Florida’s Maruta. Really defined and effective riffing and a powerhouse vocalist leave us feeling punchdrunk so take some more breaks just milling and partying, enjoy some more of the polished evolution of Swedish crust that Martyrdod now deliver in the middle of it all, more melody but also the occasional curious wailed vocal. The Dutch death metal of Thanatos I hadn’t heard of before despite a 30 year history, and while solid enough they seemed to struggle to get much of a reaction. The next big draw from me is more Japanese action with Unholy Grave, who I’d last seen in a pub in Manchester some years back. Known for their prodigious output I couldn’t say I would recognise a single song but the raw, sub ENT, distorted grind pummels us and lifts the crowd again, up and over! An unusual headliner in terms of what had gone before was Protector, who history had again passed me by, but fair play gave an excellent performance of their energetic and atmospheric thrash. There must be Blood, and sure enough another repeat show from the ancient German death/grind outfit, playing one of their albums in anniversary celebration but again to me indistinguishable from the general bouncy straight forward riff party. My own reserves are running out so I call time at 1am with a quality grind blast of My Mind’s Mine who had been recommended to me the first time I was here. My attempts to stagger to the tent are hindered by love and drink of Russians, Swedes, and people from Stroud before it all ends in marvelous self-destruction and me killing my tent. I die laughing, I sleep smiling.
fredag den 13e
The return home the next day always has an undercurrent of sadness beneath the overwhelming urge to die from organ failure and rucksack carrying, especially when mixed with the random public transport system changes that just add to the adventure. But this is offset by company of the other survivors, hair of the dog at the airport and having SOB there thank us, no, thank you! Ultimately, there is only rejoicing, with that has just gone and the fact that you can do this again next year. No idea of the line-up but it will be a winner, whatever!