July 11-14, 2018
For more than two decades, the Bang Your Head!!! Festival in Balingen, Germany has been the gold standard for what a large outdoor European festival should be. No, it isn’t perfect (then again, who or what among us is?), but BYH gets so many things right that it is far and away my favorite big summer festival. Having previously attended in 2002, 2005 (the infamous “Hurricane Balingen” year where a fierce overnight storm washed away part of the campground and nearly killed the fest) and 2015, I decided it was high time to return, for two reasons. First, the promotional materials were cryptically touting this year’s installment as the “End of an Era.” If 2018 was to be the end of anything BYH-related, then I needed to be there to pay my respects to this venerable institution. Second, Night Demon. My boys played the big stage at BYH in 2016, and it broke my heart not to be there. Sitting in my office that day wearing my dorky suit and tie, seeing the photos from across the ocean, and imagining what it must be like for them, I swore a blood oath that the next time Night Demon played in Balingen, I was going to be there, come hell or high water. So it came to pass.
But there was actually one more significant wrinkle associated with this particular adventure. Bang Your Head is a three-day festival (plus warm-up night). Night Demon were playing the second day of the fest, then flying to Lithuania – of all places – to perform at the Devilstone Festival. I jumped at the opportunity to tag along and serve (at least nominally) as their crew for that gig. After all, when in your life have you ever had the opportunity to go, or even had a shadow of a thought of going, to Lithuania? Me neither. Life is about seizing the moment, and I seized the hell out of this one. Here’s how it all went down …
July 11, 2018
The airlines did their job and deposited me at the Stuttgart Airport early in the afternoon. Passport control ended up being more of a hassle than usual. I have no idea why. The Polizei were stamping most people’s passports in perfunctory, assembly-line fashion, but when I reached the front of the line, they grilled me for several minutes about where I was going, what I was doing, and so on. They demanded proof of my hotel accommodations as well as documentation confirming my flight home. Weird. Either they thought I looked like a terrorist or they were practicing their English or they just don’t like skinny dudes wearing Jag Panzer shirts. Who knows? In any case, it was a relief when they finally allowed me to enter.
Stuttgart is the closest major city to Bang Your Head, but the festival is actually held in the small, picturesque town of Balingen, an hour-plus train ride from Stuttgart. Thanks to the convoluted Deutsche Bahn system, it took me considerably longer than that today. From the Stuttgart Flughafen (airport), the route to Balingen called for me to change trains three times. Catastrophe struck with the third change (in Tubingen) because I boarded what I thought was the train for Balingen. Then the damn thing split. German trains have a nasty tendency of splitting, with the front cars going to the advertised destination and the back cars going someplace completely different, usually BFE. Perhaps this is all spelled out clearly for German speakers, but it always catches me by surprise. I’ve been screwed by this phenomenon more times than I can count. So it came to pass that 8 minutes outside of Tubingen, I realized I was on the wrong car, going the wrong way. I disembarked at the next stop, having literally no clue where I was, in some remote, rural German outpost without so much as a map to guide me. Fortunately, a bunch of young (and quite hammered, from the looks of them) dudes decked out in Croatia football gear (the World Cup semifinal match with England was tonight) made the same mistake I did. They graciously responded to my entreaties for assistance, and allowed me to go along with them to correct the error and finally navigate my way to Balingen sometime after 4 p.m.
For my taste, tonight’s BYH warm-up show was a bust. Headliner was Lordi, and Twilight Force was next on the bill. I don’t care for those bands and wasn’t interested in paying the separate admission fee for that event, so I said to hell with it. I could have just rested and relaxed at the hotel to recharge the batteries for my festival adventure, but that would have been far too sensible. So instead I hit the Balingen bars with friends old and new, and spent many hours drinking delicious Weissbier, enjoying spirited conversation with said friends and even a few locals (who, much to my surprise, were quite favorably disposed toward BYH and the annual invasion of thousands of metalheads into their tranquil burg, and went out of their way to be welcoming and friendly). We switched pubs at some point to find a venue with a large television screen for World Cup viewing, and proceeded to watch the entire match in a crowded bar. I must confess, however, that by that point I was feeling the combined effects of jetlag and all that Weissbier, so the game didn’t make much of an impression on me. Afterwards, my friends and I parted company (we were staying in different hotels in different parts of town), one of them asking, “You know where you’re going?” Of course, I boldly said yes, but my sense of direction is marginal even when stone-cold sober, which I most assuredly was not. It was a surreal feeling stumbling around late at night in this little German town, encountering numerous Croatia supporters flying the colors and literally celebrating in the streets, and trusting The Force to get me back to my hotel nearly a mile from the bar. Fortunately, The Force did not forsake me on this night and I made it home without incident.
July 12, 2018
So sunrise comes early in Germany in mid-July. I had neglected to close the curtains, so by 5:10 a.m. bright sunlight was streaming into my hotel room, along with traffic noise from the adjacent highway. I guess it was time to rise and shine. Thankfully, I had the presence of mind yesterday to procure a couple of room beers, and I used those to shake off the cobwebs before wandering downstairs to enjoy a fabulous German breakfast spread. I had my own pot of coffee, fruit, rolls, cheese, pastry, and eggs cooked-to-order. I ate like a king. At some point, I looked around the breakfast room and was surprised to spy BYH organizer Horst. Guess he was staying here too.
Logistics were tricky today. I checked out of my hotel, because I was unable to secure a reservation beyond Wednesday night (as you can imagine, hotel accommodations are in high demand during the festival), and I had a bed with the Night Demon guys for the next two nights. But I didn’t know where their hotel was (definitely not in Balingen), and ND’s flight wasn’t going to arrive until sometime this afternoon anyway. So I had no choice but to carry my belongings with me to the festival grounds and hope security would allow me in with them. Fortunately, I travel light, so weight wasn’t an issue, but in the modern world we live in, large spectator events (i.e., soft targets) are understandably uncomfortable about having patrons bring in backpacks or luggage. But there was no other obvious solution. I made a point of being at the front gates when they opened at 11:00 in case there was a problem. The first security guy I spoke with was quite skeptical; however, he called over a supervisor, I did some fast talking, and eventually I was allowed in with my backpack. Whew!
The layout of the Bang Your Head Festival is one of its top selling points. The festival takes place at Balingen’s Messegelande, or fairgrounds. So you’re in close proximity to the town, supermarkets, hotels, train station, etc. There is a large open space for the Mainstage, numerous vendors, and fans to congregate. Best of all, the area is paved, so if it rains (as it is want to do in Germany in the summertime, albeit not this year) the festival grounds don’t turn into a giant mudpit as they do at so many other Euro festivals. Also beneficial are the permanent structures onsite, one with actual running-water toilets and the other being the Halle, which has a capacity of around 2,500 people and serves as a second, indoor stage for a few hours each night. There are clashes between the Open Air and Halle bands at times, but they are not nearly as pronounced as at many other fests. In general (but not always), the organizers do a fine job of fine-tuning the running order so that fans of the band playing the Open Air stage are not likely to be fans of the one playing the Halle contemporaneously.
It was a cool, breezy morning in Balingen, with dark clouds on the horizon and a threat of rain that thankfully never materialized. Things got off to a rather inauspicious start because scheduled festival opener Kickin Valentina (never heard of ‘em, honestly) dropped off the bill at the eleventh hour. The organizers scrambled and came up with Switzerland’s BLACK DIAMONDS as a last-minute replacement to kick things off on the Open Air stage at 11:30 a.m. They set the tone for a set of glammy hard rock by taking the stage with a song with a chorus to the effect of “we are here, we want to party.” To their credit, the quartet seemed intent on making the most of the opportunity and did their best to work the big stage. A track called “Hands of Destiny” near the end of the set caught my ear, but for the most part their hard-rock stylings came and went without leaving much of an impression. Interesting, gutsy call to close their set with a rockin’ cover of Chuck Berry’s “Rock and Roll Music,” which went over better than I would have expected.
Keeping with the Switzerland theme, Nuclear Blast artists BURNING WITCHES were next on the Open Air stage. I was quite curious to see how this all-female quintet would fare in a live setting, as their self-titled debut album (co-produced by Schmier from Destruction) showed some promise. As it turns out, Burning Witches’ performance made for a quite enjoyable 50 minutes. Unsurprisingly, they played the bulk of their album, including such highlights as “Bloody Rose,” “Black Widow” and “Creator of Hell,” the latter complete with synchronized stage moves (band members slide-stepping, swaying in unison to the left, then back to the right during the melodic chorus). Midway through their set, Burning Witches wisely injected a fine cover of Dio’s “Holy Diver” to re-engage a festival crowd that may not have been familiar with their originals. Blonde, heavily tattooed frontwoman Seraina Telli (she of the custom microphone stand featuring the clawed hands from the album cover) worked hard to connect with the audience, which is always tough early in the day as people are slowly filtering onto the festival grounds and getting into the spirit of the event. The band’s stage moves seemed a little forced, but I give them credit for trying to incorporate that visual aspect into their performance. Besides, they’re still a relatively new act, and as a friend and I were discussing afterwards, it’s not easy to make that kind of stuff look natural. Overall, I was impressed with Burning Witches’ energy and their superior live versions of album cuts. Guitar tone was a bit too robotic, mechanical and digital for my taste, but that’s a minor gripe. By the time they ripped through closer “Burning Witches” (their best song), I was more of a Burning Witches fan than I had been an hour earlier, so their gig had to be viewed as a success. Setlist: Metal Demons, We Eat Your Children, Creator of Hell, Creatures of the Night, Bloody Rose, Save Me, Black Widow, Holy Diver, Open Your Mind (new song?), Burning Witches.
I’m sure there’s an unwritten rule out there somewhere that metalheads aren’t supposed to like slick, commercial melodic rock music. If there is, I generally hew closely to it and steer well clear of melodic rock/AOR stuff. My metal cred is sacred, haha. But there are a few exceptions, chief among them being ECLIPSE from Sweden. Straight up, Erik Martensson is a genius songwriter. I don’t care if it’s pop or AOR or whatever, Eclipse’s music is perfect for blasting in the car while driving around town on a sunny day. It makes me happy. So I was stoked to see Eclipse at BYH. I was far from the only one. From my spot in the second row in front of stage left, I felt like an island in a sea of Eclipse t-shirts. (For the record, I was rocking a High Spirits tee, and damn proud of it.) Eclipse’s fanbase was out in full force (and full voice) in Balingen. For the first four songs, Martensson and his bandmates leveled the place with sugary, high-octane rock’n’roll, with a flawless run through “Never Look Back,” “Blood Enemies,” “The Storm,” and “Wake Me Up.” Melodic rock doesn’t get any better than that, folks. The blond, short-haired, smiling Martensson was in constant motion, bolting from one end of the stage to the other and making frequent use of the catwalk projecting into the crowd. The audience was louder than the band during the choruses. Brilliant! I was giddy, singing my happy little poser heart out, hahaha. Unfortunately, things bogged down in the middle of Eclipse’s set, with Martensson donning an electric guitar for three songs, then switching to an acoustic, with attendant technical delays each time almost assuredly causing the setlist to be curtailed (“Runaways” being perhaps the most notable omission). Besides, songs like “Hurt” and “Jaded” off the new album don’t really connect with me. But all was forgiven when Eclipse played a magnificent acoustic version of “Battlegrounds,” with the crowd furnishing spine-tingling backing vocals throughout. “Downfall of Eden” and “I Don’t Wanna Say I’m Sorry” ended things on a high note, with the crowd once again serenading Eclipse with the melody from “Battlegrounds” as they took their final bows, Martensson and his cohorts grinning from ear to ear, obviously touched by the display of affection from the Balingen faithful. Shame about all the backing tracks that Eclipse was using, but I guess that’s part of the ethos for loads of bands these days. Setlist: Never Look Back, Blood Enemies, The Storm, Wake Me Up, Hurt, Jaded, Black Rain, Battlegrounds (acoustic), Downfall of Eden, I Don’t Wanna Say I’m Sorry.
RECKLESS LOVE is definitely not my thing, so I repaired to the media backstage area with my pal Mark Gromen for a few tasty Weizens during their set. Time well spent!
There was a time when I would have self-identified as an ALESTORM fan. Really, I would have. Say what you will, but at the time Captain Morgan’s Revenge was a fun, refreshing, goofy-as-hell romp of pirate metal. Unfortunately, for me at least, the gimmick wore very thin, very fast. At some point, my humorless true-metal self determined that the joke was way more stupid than it was funny. Thus ended my dealings with Alestorm. Until today. I was kind of appalled and offended by the stage set-up, which featured ducks emerging from banana peels on a rainbow-hued backdrop, with a gigantic inflatable rubber ducky occupying the rear center of the stage. Wtf? Musically, things started promisingly enough with “Keelhauled,” but the two sets of keyboards, shoddy sound and endless recycled melodies dragged everything down faster than an elephant on an inflatable lifeboat. Bowes’ contemptuous stage patter didn’t really help either, like when he said, “The average age here is about 65, so you must love slow songs. We’re going to play a slow song for you.” Eventually, a stagehand tossed the rubber ducky into the crowd, where it was batted around for the last couple of tunes. The interminable songs about rum made me long for something much stronger than 4.5% German bier in my glass. By the time Alestorm wrapped things up with their song whose chorus goes, “You’re all c***s so f*** you all,” all I could think was, “The feeling’s mutual, buddy.” (He was even singling out audience members, pointing out people and yelling things like, “F*** you, you have a stupid hat;” “F*** you, you have purple hair;” and so on. Really???) In fairness, the BYH audience went pretty well bananas for Alestorm, everybody singing along and dancing jigs and shit. So I guess I’m in the minority. If everybody else loves them, that’s great. But I swear if I ever have to see that band again, it just might drive me to Davy Jones’ locker once and for all.
As the pirates vacated the area in front of the stage, I swooped in to grab a prime viewing location for EXODUS. (It was kind of hilarious to watch the Alestorm fans depart and the Exodus fans arrive – they couldn’t have looked more different, haha.) Sure, I’d seen the band just four months ago on a tiny stage in New Orleans, but I was stoked to see them today for a number of reasons. Most importantly, my longtime pal Kragen Lum (who for many years has been playing with Exodus whenever Gary Holt is unavailable) was on guitar for this European run and I was stoked to see him on the big BYH stage. Beyond that, Exodus was playing a revamped set on this tour, including a few rare gems from the back catalog. Unfortunately, Exodus caught a couple of bad breaks today. The sun, which had been blissfully hidden behind the clouds most of the day, was suddenly out in full force, beating down on the stage. This was going to be a hot, sweaty gig. Even worse, technical difficulties were running amok both before and during their set. The changeover lasted significantly longer than it should have because of major technical issues, forcing the legendary “Bonded by Blood” to be axed from the setlist. Then, during the performance itself, the band were beset by terrible stage sound, with serious difficulty hearing themselves play. Still, they soldiered on, just as you would expect a pro band like Exodus to do. This was show #29 of a stressful 31-gig run, and you could see them smelling the finish line and turning on the jets to accelerate through the clubhouse turn. The opening punch of “Call to Arms” and “Funeral Hymn” was outstanding, but I was driven to thrash metal delirium when the rarely played “Deliver Us to Evil” off Bonded by Blood was unleashed. Hands-down highlight for me was “Parasite.” Think about it for a minute. When have you ever heard Exodus play “Parasite” live? For most of you, the answer is probably never. Yet it’s one of the greatest Exodus songs of all time, and it was delivered with magnificent precision today. Wow! Singer Zetro Souza offered a couple of well-chosen, endearing stage raps, such as when he noted that BYH is special to him because this was the site of his first return show with Exodus four years ago, and when he underscored Exodus’s love for Germany by pointing that 11 of the 31 shows on this tour had been in Deutschland. On a personal note, I was super-proud of my friend Kragen, as I always am. The guy’s a monster player who plays the songs essentially note-perfect, and he’s got a hell of a stage presence too. I loved it when he strode out onto the catwalk for his solo spot in “Blacklist.” You deserved that, my friend. All too soon, it was time for “Strike of the Beast,” complete with the obligatory wall of death bit in the middle, which kind of fizzled because the crowd was obviously sun-dazed and dehydrated. What a great Exodus show, problems be damned. Setlist: Call to Arms, Funeral Hymn, Blood In Blood Out, Deliver Us to Evil, And Then There Were None, Parasite, Lesson in Violence, Blacklist, Toxic Waltz, Strike of the Beast.
By now it was around 6:00 p.m., and I had a nice gap of nearly two hours before the next band I cared about. To pass the time, I bought a gyro bowl and a beer, then explored the festival grounds a bit and watched some of Amorphis on the mainstage. I’ve never really been a fan, but they sounded good today. Met up with my pal Manni Schmidt from Refuge for a few minutes – love that guy, and he and his bandmates had just now arrived onsite after a miserable, traffic-snarled six-hour drive. (I forget that in the rest of the world, today was just Thursday, haha.) A bit later on, I received a message from Kragen, inviting me to join him backstage. Ended up hanging out in the artist catering area with Kragen, Jack and Lee while they ate dinner, mostly just listening to them tell stories about Exodus’s rather harrowing experiences on this European tour. At 7:30 p.m., I politely excused myself because I had a gig to catch.
The day’s only really unfair scheduling collision involved Doro on the Open Air stage and Refuge on the Halle stage. The times were almost an exact overlap, which totally sucked. Manni had asked me whether I was going to split time between Refuge and Doro. No way. Apologies to the Metal Queen, but my allegiance lay squarely with Peavy, Manni and Chris today. I entered the Halle, made a beeline for the front, and bobbed and weaved my way as far as the second row, Manni’s side. No sooner did I find my spot when, bam, REFUGE hit the stage with the Trapped! classic “Shame On You.” Yes! For any who may not know, Refuge is the reconstitution of the legendary Rage lineup that recorded such all-time milestone records as Trapped! and The Missing Link in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. (Peavy Wagner keeps going with a new incarnation of Rage, so this Peavy/Manni/Chris constellation is dubbed Refuge to minimize confusion.) What made today’s Refuge gig unique was that it marked the band’s first appearance since the release of their superb new album, Solitary Men. The boys didn’t shy away from it either, as they segued from “Shame On You” into a pair of stellar tracks from Solitary Men, “Summer’s Winter” and “Man in the Ivory Tower.” Overall, the sprawling 15-song, 95-minute set was divided neatly between 5 Solitary Men tunes tucked amidst 10 Rage classics. It was awesome. Songs like “Nevermore” and “Power and Greed” and “Enough is Enough” and so many others are timeless evergreens that never fail to bring joy to my heart. The really cool thing, though, was hearing how well the new songs fit in and seeing how visibly energized and excited the band was to be playing them. That’s just the way it should be, and the large, enthusiastic crowd in the Halle (like me, skipping Doro to see their heroes) responded in kind, for sure. Now, Refuge are not the tightest, most technically precise band. They make no pretense of being so. This is a band playing gigs for fun, and they hadn’t played in 6 months before tonight, so there was definitely some rust and things got a bit dicey at times. But honestly, that’s part of the charm of a Refuge show. Manni, Chris and Peavy are all skilled enough to smooth over the rough patches and make it all work somehow, even as a couple songs ended with sheepish chuckles and fist bumps that they’d somehow navigated their way through a rough patch. It’s all very endearing, and part of what makes Refuge so special in my heart, because it isn’t contrived or calculated in any way. It’s just three old friends getting up and bashing out music they love. Again, it’s just the way it should be. The Halle was suffocatingly hot, but the stage was hotter, and this just might be my favorite Refuge show ever. (Only slight, niggling regret? No “Firestorm.” But you can’t have everything. Where would you put it?) Setlist: Shame On You, Summer’s Winter, Man in the Ivory Tower, Solitary Man, The Missing Link, Enough is Enough, Invisible Horizons, Mind Over Matter, Baby I’m Your Nightmare, Power and Greed, Nevermore, Hell Freeze Over, From the Ashes. Encore: Don’t Fear the Winter, Refuge.
As I emerged from the Halle and walked through the festival grounds in search of a beer under still-daylight conditions (it was 9:15 p.m.), I came to a very odd realization. I kept passing people who were singing “All We Are” to themselves; meanwhile, “Don’t Fear the Winter” and “Refuge” were going through my head full-blast. Oh. That’s right. Doro just finished her set out here. Now I’m surrounded by thousands of festival goers who are high on music, just like I am, except that they watched a totally different band than I did. Different experiences, same result. That’s the power of music, I suppose. Then came another strange realization: It was still early tonight, but my day was basically done, at least in terms of gigs, as I didn’t really care about any of the remaining acts on tonight’s slate. So I wandered around the grounds for awhile, then worked my back to the artist catering area again to sit with the Refuge guys while they ate dinner. To my surprise, they asked me whether I thought “Shame On You” was a strong opener. I said emphatically yes, but they seemed to think it maybe didn’t elicit the crowd reaction they were hoping for, so they might switch up the set for future gigs to play something else first. Also, it was fascinating to listen as the Refuge guys and a couple of the Doro band members compared notes on their respective gigs, and it was heartwarming to observe the level of mutual respect, support and encouragement that these musicians gave each other. So, definitely, it was great to sit with the Refuge guys for a bit. Unfortunately, Chris had to work the next day (after all, this was a Thursday night), so Manni had agreed to accompany him on the long drive home tonight to make sure he got back safely. We soon said our goodbyes so they could hit the road.
Just for the hell of it, I went out and watched the last part of EUROPE’s headlining set on the Open Air stage. Got to see them play “Carrie” and of course, “The Final Countdown,” which everybody should see at some point in their lives, right? Joey Tempest still sounds great, and the crowd definitely seemed to be enjoying it. As for me, I donned my Exodus hoodie (as soon as the sun went down, temperatures dropped significantly), ordered a slice of pizza and a beer, and just tried to soak in all the atmosphere I could. That said, I was beginning to get a little worried. You see, I had no idea where I was sleeping tonight. Minor detail, but important, as the hour was growing late. I’d received word during the afternoon that Night Demon had landed safely, but that some of their luggage (including stuff they needed for the gig tomorrow) had not, so they were forced to wait at the hotel for a luggage delivery later this evening. Bummer for them, and for me, because the original plan had been for us all to meet at the festival grounds tonight and go back to the hotel together. I didn’t know the name of the hotel, much less where it was, haha. Fortunately, the metal gods were smiling on me. Just as Europe were playing “The Final Countdown” (the last song of their set, and the last song before the open-air grounds were shut down for the night), I happened to run into ND’s “band host” with BYH. He very kindly offered to give me a lift to the hotel once he took care of a few loose ends backstage. I gratefully accepted. Thanks Martin!
By midnight, I found myself at a small hotel in Schomberg, a few miles from Balingen, reunited with the ND guys. I wasn’t tired. Neither was Armand, so we sallied forth in search of a bar. Now, if Balingen is a small town, Schomberg is no more than a micro village, so much so that we were walking through areas where there weren’t even any streetlights. Martin had told us he’d be very surprised if we found a bar that was open. Well, we did, haha. It turns out this was high-school graduation night, so we ended up drinking Weissbier in a place crawling with highly intoxicated, nattily-dressed 17-year old boys. Needless to say, the entertainment value was high. Bartender was super cool, bier was stellar, and it turned into a fun night.
July 13, 2018
One of my favorite things about this hotel was that it had its own in-house bakery. Breakfast was a dream: pastries, breads, fruit, cheese, coffee. After Fruhstuck, went back to the room to find Armand with his guitar out, fine-tuning a few bits from one of the songs Night Demon would be playing today. I recognized those melodies, but they weren’t from any Night Demon song. Thus I learned that the band would be covering Scorpions’ “In Trance” today. Awesome. I’d never heard them do that one before.
The fest shuttle picked us up at 10:00 a.m., allowing ample time to check out the backstage area before the first band went on the Open Air stage at 11:30. In contrast to yesterday, today was shaping up to be hot and sunny, with little (if any) cloud cover to moderate the temperatures. This was significant because Night Demon’s dressing room consisted of one partitioned section of a tent (other partitions were designated for Alpha Tiger, Striker and Monument). There was definitely no air-conditioning in there, and it was already quite warm inside. It became clear that the dressing room was not a place to hang out today, although it could be a nice spot for grabbing a beer, a coke or a water. Also, we were greeted in the dressing room by the first European copies (vinyl and CD) of Night Demon’s Live Darkness opus, due out worldwide on August 10, 2018. We all spent some time marveling at the packaging and perusing the extensive photo collages on the sleeve/booklet. It looks killer, and everyone was duly stoked about it. We also went and checked out the Open Air stage itself. After all these years of attending BYH, it was quite a thrill for me to actually walk around on that giant stage, to see the area behind the curtain where all the drumkits on rolling risers are arranged so that they can be set up for the next band while one band is playing. The Accept crew guys were there, and greeted Night Demon like the old friends they are, the bands having toured Europe together in January and February. They told us that Accept had prepared a special set for their headlining performance tonight, and it was so secret that not even the crew knew what Accept intended to play. Cool.
Today’s live music agenda kicked off with Germany’s ALPHA TIGER. There was a time a few years ago when Alpha Tiger were one of my absolute favorite new bands, particularly with their Man or Machine (2011) and Beneath the Surface (2013) albums, which feature exciting traditional/power metal songs with amazing vocals. Since then, the band have changed singers and overhauled their sound considerably, which is of course their right. Unfortunately, they have veered pretty far from my personal tastes at this point. (That’s not a knock on them, by the way. These things happen, especially with young bands who want to explore new territory. I still have the first two albums, and love them dearly.) So I wasn’t expecting terribly much today. In the end, I was moderately surprised. The band’s energy on stage was quite good, the twin guitars of Peter Langforth and Alexander Backasch excellent. Newer songs like opener “Comatose” came across heavier and more metal live than they do on the last album or two. They threw the old fans a couple of bones, including the excellent “Against the Time” from Man or Machine. And “Lady Liberty” sounded great too. I still miss the old sound and former vocalist Stephan Dietrich (who is now in a band called Turbokill – check out their newly released EP!), but this incarnation of Alpha Tiger was satisfactory as a festival opener.
At this point, it seems silly to refer to STRIKER as a new band. The five-piece from Edmonton, Alberta has been slugging it out for more than a decade, touring hard and releasing five albums along the way, with number six to follow this fall, apparently. Not only are they one of the hardest working acts of the last ten years, but they’re also one of the best. With a sound rooted in speed metal, alongside generous helpings of traditional and power metal and even bits of glam, Striker richly deserved their slot on the main stage at Bang Your Head this year. I’ve experienced the band’s live show many times before, but I have never seen them better than today. Completely unfazed by the early (12:30 p.m.) set time or the blazing sun, Striker hit the stage in total attack mode for their entire 50-minute set. They were on a mission to blow Balingen away, and that’s exactly what they did. Vocalist Dan Cleary, guitarists Tim Brown and Chris Segger, and bassist William Wallace were a blur of energy throughout the gig, all of them running from end to end on the stage, blasting out onto the catwalk, making eye contact and engaging the crowd with a full complement of rock-star moves. Amazingly, Cleary and Wallace pulled off this feat despite wearing leather jackets throughout the gig. How did they not pass out from heat exhaustion? The set began with a trio of cuts from last year’s self-titled disc (their “White Album,” as it were), then delved into the back catalog to string together one great tune after another. It’s easy to forget just how many killer songs Striker have until you hear them all lined up one after another: “Crossroads,” “Phoenix Lights,” “Full Speed or No Speed,” “Lethal Force,” etc., all of them gold-plated winners. As if all of that wasn’t enough, Striker even added the perfect touch of heartfelt emotion, with Cleary giving a little speech about how ten years ago he had been in the crowd at BYH, dreaming that one day his band might be good enough to play this festival. Dreams do come true. Not only were Striker good enough to play this festival, but they were unquestionably one of the highlights of the entire weekend for me. Then they hung out backstage all day long and well into the night, which is awesome as well. Hail Striker! Setlist: Former Glory, Born to Lose, Pass Me By, Lethal Force, Crossroads, Too Late, Out for Blood, Heart of Lies (new song!), Full Speed or No Speed, Phoenix Lights, Fight for Your Life.
Regrettably, I saw very little of MONUMENT’s set. Night Demon were up next, so my attention was focused on my friends and making sure everything was ready. Judging from the few songs I heard from sidestage, as well as the comments from other attendees, Monument were really good today. Yeah, they sound a lot like mid- to late 1980s Iron Maiden, but that can’t possibly be a bad thing now, can it? They also had a great visual look on stage, with a giant banner behind them and four large scrims lining the cabinets upfront. From what I gather, they made a strong impression, indeed.
The 15-minute set changeover went by in a flash, with my role mostly being to tape eight screens bearing the NIGHT DEMON sigil to the Marshall cabinets closest to the drum riser. It was a sprint to the finish, but I got it done with some timely help. Next thing I knew, it was 2:37 p.m., the “Welcome to the Night” intro tape was rolling, and then boom, it was off to the races. By now, I’ve seen Night Demon play dozens of times in all sorts of conditions. But this was a first: Massive open-air stage, thousands of people in the crowd, relentless sun pummeling the band and audience alike. I witnessed the spectacle from upstage right, trying to keep a watchful eye in case the guys needed me for anything. Jarvis had the toughest job today because there was literally no shade on his side of the stage, whereas Armand could retreat into a small patch of shadow near the backline and Dustin’s drumkit was completely in the shade. A couple of songs in, Armand came over to me for water, and told me he could feel his boots melting on the stage. Wow. But the boys from Ventura were not to be denied, not on this day. Night Demon turned in a ferocious, ripping set, working the entire stage, running out onto the catwalk, and sounding incredibly tight. These guys were born for the stage, and they shine the brightest when the lights (or the sun) are hottest. It was quite obvious that Night Demon had a huge following of partisan spirits in Balingen on this day. I swear, I saw more Night Demon shirts than any other band playing the fest, including a few rare ones (red Rocky shirt with white print, for example) that I don’t often see anymore. The crowd roared with approval as cuts like “Life on the Run” and “Dawn Rider” flew by with lightning precision. It was a treat to hear “The Howling Man” back in the set, as it’s been gone for awhile. Yes, Rocky (the band’s hooded, skull-faced, chalice-bearing mascot) made his traditional appearance onstage during “The Chalice.” In case you’re wondering, you can’t see any better out of that mask during broad daylight than you can in a dark club. And it was a rush to go out there in front of all those people and hang with my friends onstage for a minute or so. At the end of “The Chalice,” Rocky, still in full costume, carried a wireless microphone and stand out to the very end of the catwalk (which is marked in large letters with the words “The End,” I kid you not). Jarvis and Armand hung out there for most of the next song, a mesmerizing cover of Scorpions’ “In Trance.” A friend later told me it was his “goosebump moment” of the day. It was for me, too. Night Demon absolutely nailed the song, perfectly capturing the feeling and the vibe. It was freakin’ beautiful. And the BYH audience loved every second of it. There being a little extra time, Night Demon then tore through an impromptu rendition of “Black Widow,” even though it wasn’t on the setlist. Love that song, and haven’t heard them do it live in a couple months. Then closer “Night Demon” brought everything to a glorious finish, just like it does every single time. I’m always proud of Night Demon wherever in the world I see them, whatever the circumstances. But I’m not sure I’ve ever been prouder of them than I was today. They owned Bang Your Head!!! Mark my words, they’ll be headlining festivals like this someday, and sooner than you think. Setlist: Welcome to the Night, Full Speed Ahead, Life on the Run, The Howling Man, Dawnrider, Hallowed Ground, Stranger in the Room, Heavy Metal Heat, Screams in the Night, The Chalice, In Trance, Black Widow, Night Demon.
When Night Demon’s set concluded, I helped retrieve their gear and get everything secured in the dressing room, then raced back out to the front of the house. It was JAG PANZER time. Jag Panzer has always been a special band in my heart, and they’ve played Bang Your Head every single time I’ve been here (’02, ’05, ’15), even though their 2005 performance was truncated to just three songs because of the storm that devastated the festival ground the night before. Today marked a different configuration of JP than I – or anyone – had ever seen before. The band were fresh from a short run of dates in the northeastern USA, using a fill-in guitarist because Joey Tafolla was unavailable. Today, they were using a different fill-in guitar player, Tony Cortezza, playing his first show with Jag Panzer in front of thousands of people at BYH. No pressure, right? (For the record, Tony did a fantastic job and was a very nice guy too, going out of his way to compliment me on my Rocky performance as soon as I stepped off stage.) Also, Aric Avina was on bass, as he is from time to time when John Tetley is unavailable (as was the case at BYH 2015). A couple of the names might have changed, but the mission remained the same: Top-notch US power metal from one of the pioneers of the genre. Jag Panzer has overhauled the setlist this summer, including a number of rarities for which fans have been clamoring, as well as a pair of tracks off their latest, superb album, 2017’s The Deviant Chord. Jag Panzer were awesome today. Vocalist Harry “The Tyrant” Conklin may now have gray (or white) in his hair, but his voice is ageless and his frontman skills remain superlative. Guitarist Mark Briody was perhaps more active onstage than I’ve ever seen him before, seemingly impervious to the punishing sun as he maneuvered about the stage and onto the catwalk, always with a small, satisfied smile on his face as he surveyed the crowd. During closer “Generally Hostile,” Briody put his wireless unit to the test, first dashing through the entire photo pit then literally venturing out into the crowd to play the song. Wow! (It took him a few minutes to make his way back to the stage, so the first round of post-gig triumphant photos do not include him, haha.) As for the setlist, what can I say? Tracks like “Chain of Command,” “Black,” and “Iron Eagle” are classics that always work splendidly and are greeted like old friends. Of the rarities, it was amazing to hear “Achilles” off Casting the Stones, “Foggy Dew” sounded great (even though The Tyrant kept consulting his phone for lyric cues), and then there was “Shadow Thief.” Yep, they played “Shadow Thief,” one of the most beloved old Panzer songs of all time, which has been out of the setlist forever, it seems. “Shadow Thief” sounded masterful and totally on-point today, and was worth the journey to Balingen all by itself. Unfortunately, a planned Night Demon guest appearance to do backing vocals during “Warfare” did not materialize because ND was in the midst of a scheduled signing session, but that’s okay, you can’t win ‘em all. Jag Panzer are truly American heavy metal royalty, and it was an honor and a privilege to witness their live attack at Bang Your Head once again on this day. They showed no mercy to the weak, or to any others. Setlist: Far Beyond All Fear, Chain of Command, Achilles, Harder than Steel, Black, Iron Eagle, Foggy Dew, Shadow Thief, Warfare, Generally Hostile.
Now I must pause in the narrative to offer an apology, actually more of an explanation. If you’ve read this far (God bless ya, as Accept might say) or if you follow my stuff at all, then you know I pride myself on being meticulous in my live reports. I’ve always felt that the gold lies in the specific, particularized details because that’s what transports the reader to the event and brings it all to life. Well, you can toss that principle out the window for the rest of today. Here’s why: I was with friends, and I had a backstage pass to my favorite open-air festival in the world. In my position, what would you do? Would you dutifully scrutinize every band’s performance, take mental notes for review purposes, and gaze upon it all with a sober and critical eye? Or would you take a victory lap? I took a victory lap. It was a no-brainer. I embraced the moment. I turned off the “journalist” (hah!) part of my brain. I hung out with friends. I talked to people (both band dudes and nobodies like me) backstage. I saw drummer confabs and New Jersey conventions and Destruction photo shoots and rock-star antics. I watched partial band performances from side stage on the Open Air Stage. I drank lots of beer (and other beverages apparently, as I distinctly recall swigging champagne straight from the bottle), and went on beer scavenger hunts backstage to locate more of the nectar of the gods. It was totally the right call. So, even though there was a stacked lineup of bands to perform at BYH on this Friday night, I fear you’ll have to look elsewhere for an in-depth, blow-by-blow account.
Given the above disclaimer, let’s move along and go straight to OVERKILL. Around the time their set started (7:35 p.m.), my friends and I were enjoying some dinner from one of the vendors. I settled on a nice bowl of Schupfnudeln, which is a southern German specialty of potato dumpling noodles served with sauerkraut and meat. Delicious. I always eat this at BYH. Overkill stormed the stage to “Mean Green Killing Machine,” with a massive audience on hand for the occasion. From there, the band tore into a lethal run through some of their best-loved songs: “Rotten to the Core,” “Electric Rattlesnake,” “Hello from the Gutter,” “In Union We Stand.” Wow! Somewhere along the way, my friends and I got the idea of watching the rest of the Overkill set from the side stage. So we used our access passes and found prime viewing spots at upper stage right, where we stood for the remainder of the gig. A few observations: In that location, the stage sound was muddy as all hell (even though Overkill sounded terrific out front), so much so that it was difficult to make out exactly what they were playing at times. I remember “Coma,” “Infectious,” and the very cool surprise of “There’s No Tomorrow,” so that was awesome. Also, from where we stood, we could see what frontman Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth did when he ducked behind the amps during the guitar solos. Not only was he taking oxygen during those breaks, but he also had a medical team of two people standing by. It looked like they were checking his pulse or his blood pressure periodically throughout the gig. To be clear, I’m not poking fun or anything. It was just surprising to see. Hope he’s okay. I don’t know how he does it, but Blitz is a gift to us all, and I salute him for remaining one of the most bad-ass, physically intense frontmen in the business, even after all these years on the grinding wheel. Long may he reign. Also fascinating was looking around the sidestage and seeing so many members of other bands assembled to watch Overkill’s performance, including members of Accept, who were playing next. At some point, I struck up a conversation with Striker vocalist Dan Cleary, who was sidestage as well, and had a great discussion with him about the band, their experiences in Europe, and even an encouraging report from him on what it’s like to play the Devilstone Festival in Lithuania, where we were headed the next morning. I found Dan to be very articulate and very cool, and it was a pleasure to speak with him, even at the cost of missing out on a few Overkill songs along the way. By the time I plugged back into the stage proceedings, Overkill were wrapping up “Elimination” and revving up for their traditional closer “Fuck You,” delivered this time with a twist in the form of the band’s cover of the Dead Boys’ “Sonic Reducer” (which dates all the way back to the Feel the Fire days) as an interlude. I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard them do that live before, but it was killer.
Now, we were all very curious as to what ACCEPT’s setlist would look like tonight. As mentioned above, the crew had told us this morning that Accept had worked out a special set just for Bang Your Head, and that it was so shrouded in mystery that not even the crew knew what they would play. It made for great fun listening to the gig, waiting for the next song to begin, and speculating whether it would be something expected or something unexpected. I absolutely bow in respect to Accept for going to all the time, trouble and effort to deliver a special set to the good people in Balingen. Like many major metal bands, Accept rides the European festival circuit during the summertime. No one would have objected, or even batted an eyelash, had Wolf, Peter and the lads simply come out and delivered their regular Euro fest set. It speaks well of them that they prepared something more for BYH, which did not happen without the band putting in significant extra prep work specific to this gig. A band of Accept’s stature doesn’t have to do things like that, but they did it anyway. And that’s why we love them. The result was a setlist that featured multiple shocking omissions and inclusions. “Stalingrad,” a staple of the set for the last 6 years? Not played tonight. “Shadow Soldiers”? Nowhere to be found. “Midnight Mover”? Moving along somewhere else. And most stunning of all, “Restless and Wild”? Resting and tame back at the hotel, apparently, because it was not here. As for the off-the-wall inclusions, “Starlight” came up early, and “Slaves to Metal,” “Hellfire” and “T.V. War” weighed in mid-set, but I was thrilled out of my mind and deliriously happy to hear both “Ahead of the Pack” and “Demon’s Night” off Restless and Wild, two tracks I never imagined I’d ever get to hear live. (I mentioned that to Wolf when I saw him backstage, and his response was that “Demon’s Night” would have been better if his guitar had been working properly. The man is ever the perfectionist and I salute him for it.) Then, when “Balls to the Wall” concluded and everyone assumed the show was over, Accept pulled another rabbit out of the hat by blazing through “I’m a Rebel” and “Burning,” just to put an exclamation point on the night and send the people home happy. Unbelievable! But here’s my favorite part of the Accept gig, a real once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will never forget: To the left of the BYH Open Air stage, there is a cherry picker operated by the local fire department. I guess it’s used as an observation platform for crowd-control/security/medical purposes, but it’s also used to take VIPs up for a bird’s-eye view of the proceedings. Somewhere along the way, we got the idea that we wanted to go up in that cherry picker during Accept’s performance. We were originally told no way, but Armand persisted. The next thing I knew, three of us were being strapped into safety harnesses and clambering aboard the deck of the cherry picker, which lifted us high into the night sky. Looking down at the thousands of metalheads reduced to miniscule dots below, hearing the strains of “Metal Heart” emanating from the PA, and seeing tiny Wolf and Peter at the front of the stage so far below … man, I tell you, it was a moment. Even now, more than a week later, I get goosebumps just thinking about it. This experience cemented today as one of the all-time great days in my life, no question. Approximate Setlist: Die By the Sword, Pandemic, Starlight, Koolaid, No Regrets, Slaves to Metal, Hellfire, Analog Man, T.V. War, Princess of the Dawn, Up to the Limit, Ahead of the Pack, Objection Overruled, Metal Heart, Teutonic Terror, Fast as a Shark, Demon’s Night, Balls to the Wall, I’m a Rebel, Burning.
After Accept’s set concluded, I had one last official duty to perform today, namely visiting the merch stand to collect Night Demon’s remaining inventory as well as payment for the day’s sales. That task accomplished and the merch secured, I returned to the backstage area for a couple more hours of milling about, rubbing elbows with rockstars, drinking champagne from the bottle, questing for abandoned beer stashes, and reflecting on the day’s triumphs. It honestly doesn’t get much better than this, folks. The shuttle returned us to the hotel in Schomberg after 1:00 a.m., where I enjoyed one last beer in the stillness of the night as I tried to wrap my head around everything that happened today.
July 14, 2018
Did I mention that I was flying to Lithuania with Night Demon this morning? Early. The shuttle to take us to the Stuttgart Airport arrived at the hotel at 4:30 a.m. I hadn’t slept a wink and was definitely still more than a little fuzzy-headed and bleary-eyed. But, hey, rock’n’roll! Thankfully, the bakery attached to the hotel was open even at this ungodly hour of the morning, and the staff kindly provided us with coffee and baked goods (delicious fresh pretzels) for the road. I enjoyed sipping on my coffee and watching the sunrise over the German countryside as we were whisked to the airport. Slept as much as I could on the Austrian Airways flights and by 12:45 p.m. we had landed at the airport in Vilnius, Lithuania.
The Devilstone Festival actually does not take place in Vilnius; rather, it is held in the small town of Anyksciai, an hour and a half drive north. There was a bit of a snafu with the festival shuttle, so we spent a couple of hours waiting for our ride at the airport while keeping a watchful eye on all the gear in the hot sun on the sidewalk out front. Eventually the shuttle arrived, and by 4:30 p.m. or so we reached the Devilstone festival grounds. It was a sight to behold. The festival site is within walking distance of the town of Anyksciai, adjacent to a large cemetery and not far from The Roman Catholic Church of St. Matthias, the tallest church in Lithuania, with each of its twin spires measuring 79 meters high. The festival grounds itself are located in a forest. (Indeed, the name of the fest stems from a legend about an actual devil’s stone purportedly located somewhere in that forest, though I never saw it.) There were two big stages (along with other smaller stages), a skateboard park, numerous vendors and a large camping area. The West stage, where Night Demon was to play, was nothing short of breathtaking. It was situated in a natural amphitheater. There was a steep incline with built-in benches located maybe 30 yards from the front of the stage, with dense trees ringing the top of the incline. (It was great entertainment to watch vehicles and pedestrians attempt to navigate the uphill climb on the hill, because the angle was quite steep and the ground underfoot was a bit treacherous from all the rain that had fallen.) Between the incline and the stage was a large open grassy field. It was really a perfect location for an open air stage. The backstage area was surprisingly comfortable for the forest conditions, with band-specific tents, beanbag chairs and a large backstage bar. (Forest conditions were no joke, though. At one point, people I was talking with abruptly adopted serious – even worried – facial expressions, told me to be still and don’t move, and then proceeded to remove the largest insect I’ve ever seen from my shoulder. Yikes! Damn thing was straight outta Jurassic Park or something.) The festival staff and crew were as welcoming, accommodating and gracious as they could be. Nearly all the festival personnel we encountered spoke impeccable English. They ensured that Night Demon’s tent was well-stocked with beverages, cheeses, olives, vegetable trays and so on, and they went out of their way to make us comfortable and happy. From a crew standpoint, the loaders were plentiful and eager to help haul gear, such that I barely had to lift a finger. Thanks so much for your hospitality, Devilstone.
That said, there was a bit of trepidation going into the show tonight. Devilstone is not a traditional metal festival. It’s more of an alternative lifestyle festival, I guess, catering to the rebels, the outcasts, the countercultural extreme types of personalities, judging by attire, piercings, tattoos, masks and so on of the attendees. This ethos was reflected in the music bookings, as well. Many bands playing the fest were not metal at all, and those metal bands that were presented veered heavily toward the extreme/black/death side of things. How is Night Demon going to go over in a black/death/extreme/
alternative lifestyle festival smack dab in the Lithuanian forest? It was a great mystery, and there was a bit of unease about it. We would soon find out, as Night Demon were set to go on at 7:10 p.m. The leisurely 30-minute set changeover time made things very easy for set-up purposes. Unfortunately, a crazy bank of lights set up across the back of the stage rendered it impossible to fly the Night Demon banner, but everything else set up nicely and looked great. About 10 minutes before the band went on, Jarvis told me to pick tonight’s set list. Usually when he does that, I throw in a bunch of oddball tracks (“Ancient Evil” is a must!) and mix it up considerably from the regular set. Not tonight. I saw what a wallop the Bang Your Head setlist had packed, so I decided the good people of Lithuania deserved exactly the same thing. In the end, I didn’t make a single edit.
The area in front of the stage was largely vacant when NIGHT DEMON struck the first chords of “Welcome to the Night.” But it didn’t stay that way for long. From my vantage point onstage, it was nothing short of remarkable to watch the steady flow of humanity emerging from the forest, drawn by the power of Night Demon’s music to approach the stage to investigate. Before long, a very healthy crowd had assembled. Not many Night Demon shirts on display, but they were banging their heads and throwing their fists in appreciation. A substantial circle pit opened up as well, and the moshers kept the energy flowing in full force for the remainder of the set. The boys definitely noticed and appreciated the crowd support, with Jarvis chiming in at one point that even though Night Demon weren’t the most brutal band playing at Devilstone this weekend, they were definitely the heaviest band on this stage. Right on! In contrast to yesterday’s blazing heat, temperatures at Devilstone were mild and pleasant, with considerable cloud cover. Amusingly, it began to rain while the intro tape to “The Howling Man” was rolling (you know, the intro tape featuring thunder and rain), but by halfway through the song the rain had stopped. Whatever divine entity provided a production assist by making it rain at exactly the right time, we thank you! Rocky’s appearance during “The Chalice” went off without a hitch, and he was happy to oblige the loaders who asked for selfies with the loveable mascot after he came off-stage. The other cool thing about Rocky tonight was that the guys from the band Dr. Living Dead! (Swedish thrash metal, and friends of Night Demon) were watching the gig from side stage and they all clapped me on the back and gave me high-fives as I shuffled off the stage. There had been some question beforehand as to whether Night Demon would play the Scorpions cover this evening. In the end, they elected to do it, and I’m so glad they did. In this environment (forest, fading light, trees all around, gray skies overhead), “In Trance” was even more magical than at BYH. I was blown away, and it certainly looked like the crowd was too. The rousing closer “Night Demon” ended the festivities with a bang, and I am certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that the band made a great many new fans and friends in Lithuania tonight. That’s all you can ask. Setlist: Welcome to the Night, Full Speed Ahead, Life on the Run, The Howling Man, Dawnrider, Hallowed Ground, Stranger in the Room, Heavy Metal Heat, Screams in the Night, The Chalice, Black Widow, In Trance, Night Demon.
Afterwards, there was a nice break which I utilized to take a stroll around the festival grounds and get some dinner. Found a lovely plate of seasoned vegetables and rice at one of the vendor booths. Combined with a Lithuanian beer, it made for a tasty meal. Then it was back to the main stage to watch DR. LIVING DEAD! For those unacquainted with the band, Dr. Living Dead! are a quartet from Sweden who play raging thrash with clean vocals, crossover tendencies and a knack for killer riffs and memorable bits. They also play in skull masks. A perfect pairing with Night Demon, right? With Dr. Living Dead!, all four members wear skull masks with blue bandanas wrapped around their foreheads for the entire set. (It’s particularly humorous to see them try to drink beer through their masks. I asked them afterwards if it worked, and they said, “no, not really,” but they did it anyway.) I had never seen the band before now. They were spectacular. Every facet of the music (riffs, vocals, rhythms) was executed at an extremely high level; moreover, the band’s energy onstage was off the end of the charts. Dr. Living Dead! really went for it with their performance tonight, and they had a huge crowd going nuts for them, notwithstanding the intermittent rain showers. I watched part of their set from front of the house and part from side of the stage, and came away enormously impressed, vowing to become more familiar with their music as soon as I returned home.
There were no more bands I was interested in seeing at Devilstone today, so the backstage bar became the focal point of the remainder of the evening for me. And what a fantastic evening it turned out to be. Our band host had allotted each of us just two drink tickets; however, it soon became clear that bar staff were not requiring drink tickets to be presented. So we just kept ordering more rounds. Over the course of the evening, I had fantastic conversations with each of the Dr. Living Dead! guys about everything from wearing skull masks onstage, to my last name (it’s very Swedish, don’t you know), to bands like Vio-Lence and Armored Saint. They were amazingly cool and I now consider them all my friends. Anyway, the conversation and alcohol flowed quite freely until we finally pulled ourselves away at 3:00 a.m. to catch a shuttle back to the hotel. In true me fashion, I spirited away one last beer, brought it back to the hotel, and sipped it from my cot as I watched the sun rise through the hotel window over the Anyksciai town square. That, my friends, is living.
Big thanks to Night Demon for having me along, to all my friends whom I saw in Germany and Lithuania on these days for being so cool, to all the fine people I drank beer and hung out with, and to everyone associated with the Bang Your Head and Devilstone festivals for treating us so well. This was one for the highlight reels.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~