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Rock Hard Festival 2008 Review

Rock Hard Festival 2008
Five years ago Germany’s leading Rock- & Metal – print – magazine Rock Hard celebrated their 20th anniversary with the Open Air Festival at the Amphitheater Gelsenkirchen. After a successful birthday party happening over three days the Rock Hard – editors invented this event turning into a constant Open Air Festival placed in the very special as beautiful location of the amphitheatre. After five wonderful editions www.metal-festivals.com had always been happy to experience and to report about the Rock Hard Festival organized in the 25th year of the mag- existence its sixth as most successful edition.

The RHF-Friday stayed a regular festival day which had been raised to a six-band-day on the Main Stage in 2007. But due to curfew-problems the organizers were forced two delete one billing position on Saturday as on Sunday to still guarantee a billing with shows lasting 45 minutes minimum per band.
After Celtic Frost had cancelled their RHF – participation for the second time in a row after 2005 Testament became the Friday-headliner and their co-headliner-position got replaced by Exodus. This Thrashback-effect might have been another reason for the new visitor record.
At the Rock Hard Festival appeared 22 bands (each band 45 minutes minimum) on one stage in three days for about 7000 visitors.

Friday
The Claymore The festival opening act from the very close town of Castrop-Rauxel had kind of a home game before they probably walked home later on. The sound of the fivepiece lead by the voice of Andreas Grundmann and the twin-guitars sounded pretty much like Iron Maiden. Nevertheless they surprised by the In Flames – cover “Trigger”. Their Power Metal – performance convinced their fan club as those few spectators which had already arrived in front of the stage.

Stormwarrior The formation from Hamburg is well-known for several cooperations with Kai Hansen. This time they performed without him continuing the traditional program which had begun by the act right before. From the opener “Heading Northe” from the so-titled new release over the single “Heavy Metal Fire” to the finisher “Iron Prayers” from the self-titled debut True Metal reigned around the amphitheatre. But most of the visitors as myself got pretty bored by the non-variable sound by a group which got mainly well-known by the mentioned cooperations.

Lake Of Tears The Swedish ex-Black Mark-band doesn’t spend many opportunities for their still numerous German fans to get experienced live. So “Return Of The Ravens” marked the right opener for the completely black-suited musicians to get acclaimed by its supporters which celebrated the following “Cosmic Weed” especially as all the band’s classics like “Ravenland”, “Sweetwater”, “So Fell Autumn Rain” and the debut-track “As Daylight Yields”. Nevertheless the newer songs like “Greymen” or the last played title “Crazyman” rocked, too. And so did new sixstringer Fredrik Jordanius improving the band’s stage performance. In my opinion they also should have considered “Headstones”, but I don’t want to worry much about it because this appearance was the first festival highlight which earned the first supporters’ chants.

Y&T The oldest band of the festival rocked the stage in its 34th year of existence like they might have done in the seventies and eighties. After the darker sound right before the Californians convinced by their good-time – Hard Rock including classic rockers like “Meanstreak”, “Rescue Me”, “Black Tiger” and “Squeeze” which got sung by bassist Phil Kennemore. So the formation around guitar wizard Dave Meniketti satisfied their fans and won many new ones with their sympathic motivated show.

Die Apokalyptischen Reiter Many supporters awaited their faves which opened with “Friede Sei Mit Dir” and “Riders On The Storm”. Fronter Fuchs animated special games like getting some girl on stage who had to play the guitar for one song or for another time the started rubber-dinghy-race. Those actions took care of the entertainment factor and the atmosphere in front of the stage wass nice, but what for? Again their material didn’t convince me at all. Nevertheless Die Apokalyptischen Reiter finished their regular set with “Reitermania” to get celebrated and to let follow the two encores “Die Sonne Scheint” and “Metal Will Never Die”.

Testament Bay Area Thrash is back! After Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back In Town” as intro the Thrash-veterans entered the stage to start with “Over The Wall” into an exclusive old-style-setlist filled with old classics (“Souls Of Black”, “Practise What You Preach”, “Into The Pit”, “C.O.T.L.O.D.”, “Alone In The Dark”, “Raging Waters”, “Reign Of Terror”, the encores “3 Days In Darkness” and “Disciples Of The Watch”) and added by one song from the brandnew “The Damnation Of Salvation”-album (“Henchmen Ride”) as a few newer classics like the hit “Low” and the first of the three encores “D.N.R..” The air-guitar playing cult-fronter Chuck Billy & Co were forced to perform without their guitar-genius Alex Skolnick which leads got played by Eric Peterson for another time pretty confident. The agile performance animated hundreds of fans to bang their heads and got just disturbed by the live-mixer who mixed the sound much too raunchy as loud. Nevertheless a strong appearance by a Thrash-legend which definitely is back!

Saturday
The Sorrow The Metalcore – shootingstars had the difficult mission to open the Saturday while hot summer temperatures. No matter to the Austrians who showed their live-experience they had won over the last year by massive touring. A good example for young bands which get the opportunity! The band around the very confident frontman Matze took care of a good atmosphere and animated many especially young fans by “Knights Of Doom”, “Saviour Welcome Home”, “Death From A Lover’s Hand”, the hit “Far Beyond The Days Of Grace” and “From This Life” to moshpits and headbanging action! The day couldn’t have begun better!

Moonsorrow Well, after The Sorrow followed Moonsorrow. What a billing gag! Although both bands couldn’t sound more different! In contrast to other so-called Pagan-bands the fivepiece had convinced me for several times. And so they did in Gelsenkirchen. Its members’ faces and arms were all covered blood-red. With “Tulimyrski”, “Kylän Pääsä” and “Pakanajuhla” the five Finnish didn’t cause the same rumble as their Austrian namesakes, but they achieved applause from the audience and a few crowdsurfers.

Helstar After raising his newcomer formation Destiny’s End and fronting the Power Metal-icon Vicious Rumors the Classic Metal – voice James Rivera and his cult-band were back in the “Remnants Of War” – line-up. They returned with the classics “The King Is Dead” and “Suicidal Nightmare” to let follow “Tormentor”, besides “Caress Of The Dead one of two new played tracks from the forthcoming “The King Of Hell” – longplayer. The fivepiece from Texas mainly concentrated on their first four albums which earned huge courtesy by their fans. Those were a few less than while the two newer bands before, but not less fanatic. Rivera’s voice still reigned and the band played tight. So they left with “Run With The Pack” and “Baptized In Blood”.

Enslaved Another band for a special fanship were the Norwegians. I expected their experimental Progressive Black Metal on a too early billing position played while bright sunny weather would fail, but to my surprise it worked very well. The musicians which started by “Path To Vanir” and “Fusion Of Sense And Earth” into an epic set fulfilling high approaches. Their fans took care about complete headbanging in the first few rows and I wondered myself about the highest musical live standards this, not just by me, underestimated band showed. So after the hits “As Fire Swept Clean The Earth” and “Isa” the band closed its celebrated set with “Return To Yggdrasil” and “Ruun”. And nobody worried about they hadn’t played titles from their early years. Excellent!

Exciter The Canadiens opened with “I Am The Beast” and the title track of their new release “Thrash Speed Burn”. John Ricci & Co didn’t just present a new output, they also introduced their new voice Kenny Winter from New York who totally convinced the band’s supporters with a very agile performance. The whole band acted very motivated, and so they got celebrated for their classics (“Rising Of The Dead”, “Violence & Force”, “Reign Of Terror”) as for further new songs (“In Mortal Fear”, “Massacre Mountain”). After “Heavy Metal Maniac” and “Long Live The Loud” they left a satisfied crowd.

Amorphis The innovative Death Metal-institution was awaited by numerous fans, so they were some kind of a secret headliner. The band from Suomi is definitely back on track. With the new sympathic as charismatic vocalist Tomi Joutsen and two great albums after a longer break Amorphis still can count on a huge fanbase. And those celebrated songs from the new masterpiece “Silent Waters” like its title track or the opener “I Of Crimson Blood” as classics like “Better Unborn”, the debut-grunter “Vulgar Necrolatry”, the ballad “My Kantele”, “The Castaway” and the set ending band-hymn “Black Winter Day”. The comeback-album-hit “House Of Sleep” and the middle-era-track “Summer’s End” earned great reactions. Dreadlock-fronter Tomi headbanged and communicated with the fans and this all turned out to a great Metal party. The highlight of the day!

Exodus After the reunions with their former frontiers Paul Baloff and Steve “Zetro” Souza the Bay Area – Thrash-attack is back, and much stronger than before. With the new singer Rob Dukes and the strong album “The Atrocity Exhibition Exhibit A” the Californians surprised with its high quality. And they held the level live. So it didn’t become a disadvantage to open with their biggest hit “Bonded By Blood”. The quintet turned their main focus on their Thrash-classics (“And Then There Were None”, “A Lesson In Violence”, “Piranha”, “War Is My Shepherd”, “Toxic Waltz”) without ignoring their current smasher-CD (“Funeral March”, “Children Of A Worthless God”). The guitar between Gary Holt and the Rick Hunolt-replacing Lee Altus who is well-known from the Bay Area Thrash-brothers Heathen harmonized very well and drummer Tom Hunting impressed by his power. The stage-acting was pretty aggressive and caused several moshpits. The fans enjoyed it.

Immortal After one of our two chief editors had left the festivalsite to take the bus to Gelsenkirchen downtown watching the ice hockey world championship match which happened in Canada and so in Germany by night Bergen’s finest introduced the audience with lots of smoke pyros and similar show effects. Fronter Abbath himself introduced the crowd with “Hello ladies and motherfuckers!” and the band opened by “Sun No Longer Rises” which didn’t really fit to the earlier headliner schedule as the earlier curfew to let follow “Withstand The Fall Of Time” and “Solarfall”. Abbath showed his sense of humour when a few guys held up some drapery panda teddies with his comment: “Ah, the pandas of northern darkness!” Supported by the majority of the amphitheatre the trio performed “One By One”, “Damned In Black”, “Wrath From Above”, “Demonium”, “Sons Of Northern Darkness” and “Tyrants” (with the known break) achieving even la ola – waves animated by Abbath. After the regular set finishing “Unsilent Storms In The North Abyss” the band left the stage to return with the encores “At The Heart Of Winter”, “Battles In The North” and Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)”. So the visitors applauded to more Black Metal – hammers than our chief-editor meanwhile counted Canadien goals against Germany in front of a TV-screen in the inner city, and those were a lot.

Sunday
Enemy Of The Sun Same procedure as yesterday: Wonderful weather reigned over the festivalsite including maybe too hot temperatures for the opening band. Not at all! Because this is one of the two new bands (besides Eyes Of Eden) of Waldemar Sorychta known as musician (Grip Inc., Voodoocult, Despair) and as producer (too many bands to name to) which just gained the monthly evaluation with their debut album “Shadows”! This fourpiece convinced totally by its powerful material containing the opener “Emptiness”, “Lives Based On Conflicts”, “Burning Bridges” backed up by the rhythm section consisting of bassist Alla Feydnitch (known from Pain, Disillusion, Leaves’ Eyes, Eyes Of Eden) and drummer Daniel Zeman creating a cool groove. But the main attraction was the Finnish vocalist Jules Naveri with an impressing appearance and a sympathic aura. So the band caught the attention of more and more spectators who celebrated the Grip Inc. – classics “Ostracized” and “Hostage To Heaven”. So the opening band closed its successful opening slot motivating lots of new fans for innovative varieble heavy sounds with “Lost In Time”. More of that!

Sieges Even Variety is an issue you don’t need to ask for considering the Progressive Rock/Metal – band from Munich. Creating innovative sounds since 1983 it’s nice to have them back after a longer break with the new sympathic as talented singer Arno from the Netherland’s. The quartet considered three songs from the new masterpiece “Paramount” (the opening tracks “When Alpha And Omega Collide” and “Tidal” as “Duende”) and two classics (the wonderful “The Waking Hours” and the high-pitched debut-track “Live Cycle”) before they finished their appearance by the comeback-album-composition “Sequence I: The Weight”. Watching an outstanding show nobody minded about the backing vocals had been sampled. Because of some misunderstanding the band finished ten minutes too early. Nevertheless the mentioned sympathic new voice Arno Menses, guitar-genius Markus Steffen and the Holzwarth-brothers-rhythm-machine showed individual musical abilities leading to an overwhelming band-sound in combination with a great performance celebrated by its fans in front of the stage and applauded by the auditorium around!

Asphyx Netherland’s Death Metal – cult is back! After the reunion on the Party San last year the band entered the next cult festival performing “Vermin”, “Food For The Ignorant”, “The Sickening Dwell” and “Wasteland Of Terror” which lead a lot of fans in front of the stage banging their heads. The first few rows were completely in action. The sympathic cult-fronter Martin van Drunen was thrilled by the audience and did most comments in German. He solaced the Celtic Frost – fans for their cancelation and announced the following “Os Abysmi Verl Daath” cover-interpretation of them which worked very well. The Deathers left the satisfied fans with “Asphyx (The Forgotten War)” and the instrumental “The Rack” not without lots of shakehands from the photo-pit.

Jorn The Norwegian voice of Hardrock was supposed to come and the expectations were set high built up by his own set quality standards. But what works on a CD like the new “Lonely Are The Brave” doesn’t succeed mandatorily on stage. Jorn Lande who is also known from Masterplan, Beyond Twilight, Ark and different other projects as bands is the owner of an outstanding voice, but this day he didn’t have much live personality. So the opener “We Brought The Angels Down”, “War Of The World” (besides the title track one of two new album – songs) and the last title “End Of Time” had its musical quality, but the vibe was missed.

Napalm Death The Grindcore – legend from Birmingham was probably the most brutal band of the billing. And so the fivepiece started a gig without any compromises by “Sink Fast, Let Go” and “Silence Is Deafening”. Classics like “Unchallenged Hate”, “Suffer The Children” and “Scum” caused wild moshpits, so band as fans were having a good time. Grunter Barney Greenway might have run kilometres on stage and the instrumental section rocked. So the British left an outpowered supportership with the encores “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” and “Siege Of Power”.

Volbeat Two years ago the Danish Elvis-meets-Metal-Rock’n’Roll-phenomenon acted as a secret hint playing the second billing position in the early afternoon. Two years later their appearance took place in the evening in front of a full auditorium. And the fans got in motion from the first tones of “The Human Instrument” on. “Sad Man’s Tongue”, “Caroline Leaving”, the Dusty Springfield – cover “I Only Wanna Be With You”, “Pool Of Booze Booze Booza” or “The Garden’s Tale”: All these had become hits in their short band-career which caused fans’ choir-singalongs and party celebration. The band enjoyed it obviously. Front-Elvis Michael Poulsen pointed out on the switch between his black and his white instrument calling it the Satan guitar and the Jesus Guitar. After some crowdsurfing he announced: “Thanks for grabbing my ass and balls!” Always advising “We love the sun” Michael took care of a positive atmosphere. Besides known hits the Copenhagen-guys introduced their fans to material of their forthcoming album by “Hallelujah Goat” and “Still Counting” including some interesting Reggae-riff. It’s nice to watch an indie-label-band raising within two years between two editions of a cool-festival from hopeful newcomers to the shooting stars of the scene.

Paradise Lost It was clear the position after Volbeat would become the hardest one of the whole billing, especially for a darker band like Paradise Lost. The fivepiece began with their new video-single “The Enemy” and “Ash & Debris” from their new album “In Requiem” to let follow the band-hymn “As I Die”, the uptempo-smasher “Pity The Sadness” and the younger classic “Hallowed Land”. Of course classics like “Gothic” and “Émbers Fire” achieved much more support than “In Requiem” – compositions like its title track or “Unreachable”. The instrumentalists rocked the stage while Nick Holmes showed his cool sense of humour what many spectators interpreted as weariness. So the fan’s reactions were different. The fivepiece finished its in my opinion cool set with “One Second” and “Say Just Words”.

Iced Earth After the “Karaoke All-Star Jam” the time had come for the much expected headliner: The reunion between bandleader and mainman Jon Schaffer and the fan’s darling Matt Barlow was supposed to happen at the Rock Hard Festival. And it was the right place for this historic event. Iced Earth and Rock Hard have always been close accompanies to each other from the first demo on till the discussions about the latest singer switches. The opener “Dark Saga” followed by “Vengeance Is Mine” and “Burning Times” which were played in a row without any comment-interruption showed the band putting their main focus on the Barlow-era. Nevertheless they performed by “Declaration Day” and “Ten Thousand Strong” two songs from the Tim “Ripper” Owens – phase which were interpreted by Barlow in an ideal way. But “Violate”, “Pure Evil”, “Watching Over Me”, “Dracula”, “The Coming Curse” and “Travel In Stygian” left no doubt about the big US-Power-Metal-icon is back in track. So the whole audience went wild celebrating this fantastic appearance. The band finished their regular showcase by the wonderful “A Question Of Heaven” to return with the encores “Melancholy (Holy Martyr)”, “My Own Saviour” and “Iced Earth”. What a comeback which got celebrated a long time after the musicians had left the stage happily! It’s great to have Matt back on stage, he cut his hair, but he didn’t lose anything of his unique aura. And his vocalist’s abilities are the same outstanding ones like before he had quit the band. With such an appearance Schaffer / Barlow & Co are unbeatable!

Conclusion:
The sixth Rock Hard Festival might have turned out to the most successful one! The cancelation of the formerly planned Friday-headliner didn’t turn out to a disadvantage. Putting Testament in the headliner position and replacing their co-headliner-slot by Exodus had probably a positive effect on the number of spectators.
Again the festival organizers were able to hold their high standards offering a very good as clean toilet / restroom-situation for free and an uncomplicated security. The Rock Hard – members were always close to the fans as to their questions. Due to the owner of the Amphitheater the RHF-organization was forced to increase the prices a bit (e.g. from 2,30 € to 2,50 € for a 0,33l beer or softdrink) which were still pretty fair.
Just one circumstance we wish to get improved: Often the sound was much too loud! In spite of the current Rock Hard – reports about that problem on many concerts and its possible consequences it’s better taking care about that than just advising on ear-plugs! But this was a special summer-2008-phenomenon, so hopefully all the festivals will take care about that.
The Rock Hard Festival 2008 rocked really hard! It turned out to a big family meeting with its typical relaxed atmosphere! Ask anybody of the guests: We haven’t found anyone worrying about the event! They all want to come back!
Special Thanks go out to Jenny Rönnebeck, Manni Glamowski, Götz Kühnemund and the RHF-team!!!!!
At the Rock Hard Festival rocked, drank and partied Tobi Wan Kenobi, Lotte, Yvi and Sebi Sebericks!!!!!