Euroblast 2014: Day One
Sometimes things don’t run completely to schedule. The small band of committed fans that turned up at Essigfabrik, a club in an industrial district of Cologne, at the time the doors were supposed to be thrown open were instead greeted by an obvious hive of last-minute activity – not that anyone is complaining, of course; there is still an hour before the first band was due to take the stage, and the weather is unseasonably fine. Sunglasses and shorts did not rank highly on my packing list, and I’m very surprised to be regretting leaving them behind.
But, with the final task of fixing the Euroblast banner over the main entrance completed, we make our way inside to be confronted with a somewhat confusing voucher system to pay for drinks. The upside to the system – buying a €10 or €20 card that can be ‘spent’ in increments of 50c does make a certain amount of sense, as the bar staff don’t have to mess around with change, but the system – nor the fact punters can get money off by returning their sturdy plastic glasses – is not particularly clearly explained, and the price of any individual drink feels uncomfortably elastic over the course of the weekend.
Under The Pledge Of Secrecy
So as the venue steadily fills and people begin to figure out the lie of the land, it falls to German quintet Under The Pledge of Secrecy to kick the weekend off. They neither ease us in gently nor take any prisoners with their fast and frantic sound, which takes a healthy pinch of influence from Calculating Infinity-era The Dillinger Escape Plan. My eyes are drawn to the unusual-looking drum kit, which is given more prominence as drummer Stefan is left-handed, so it is set up in front of the standard kit. He makes good use of noticeably smaller than standard rack toms and an array of splash cymbals to underpin the band’s off-kilter grooves.
The end of each song is met by an increasingly loud response as the crowd makes their way through the wristband exchange and into the venue. Their set is enough to make me pop out to the merch stand immediately afterwards and pick up a copy of their latest album, Black Hole Mass Evolution. All in, it’s a fine start to the festival.
We’ve been seeing some very encouraging signs from the Brutai camp over the last year or so, but even so I wasn’t quite prepared for the radical transformation of the band’s sound by the addition of new drummer Mathieu. Right from the very first introductory drum fill, he stamps his identity on the songs and pushes their melodic metalcore up a level, helping to fulfil the potential that the tracks on their debut EP had promised.
The last time I saw the band was with Monuments in Hatfield earlier this year with Michael Pitman of Xerath filling in on drums and keyboard player Alex making only his second appearance with the band. With the line-up complete and some obvious hard work in the rehearsal space since then, the progress the band have made over the summer is quite remarkable.
A new song aired sounds huge, and the vocal harmonies between Felix and Alex are successfully executed. The band all look like they are having a thoroughly splendid time on stage, and set-closer “Flood” is given easily the best performance I’ve seen of it to date. With more new material in the works, expect big things from Brutai in 2015.
Galaxy Space Man
I head down to catch Galaxy Space Man on what is called the ‘Side Stage’, but would be more accurately described as the ‘Under Stage’, situated in the basement directly beneath the main space. It is a substantially smaller and more intimate room with a very different dynamic to the main stage above.
Galaxy Space Man are a little late starting, due to some form of technical issue, but it doesn’t take long for the band to prove they are worth the wait. Reminiscent of Oceansize, their sound balances urgent, angular post-hardcore with more delicate, progressive passages, and I suspect they would work well on the bill of a club show with Agent Fresco.
The band pull in a respectable crowd to the small space, so with at best a limited view, I take the opportunity to have a bit of a sit-down and take in the performance from the sound alone. The band spend a lot of time higher up their guitar necks, which means that when they do drop down, it packs a real punch. The combination of interesting riffs, pleasant harmonies, well-controlled dynamics and some surprisingly meaty head-nodding moments adds up to another very pleasant surprise of a set.
Drewsif Stalin’s Musical Endeavors
The room begins to fill out nicely for the loveable giant that is Drewsif Stalin and his Musical Endeavors, which has two new recruits since his appearance at UK Tech Fest 2014 (and his tour prior to the festival) in the form of second guitarist Danny Vinton and drummer Randall James. Drewsif and vocalist Nikki Simmons interact brilliantly with their bandmates, as well as each other, creating a comical harmony.
Nikki uses her own wireless mic, and unfortunately there were a few issues with it as they begin, however these are resolved before long. While this band certainly have performance nailed, they need to work on the song writing element of their music, as some songs begin to seem to lack form. The set does seem to get better and better throughout before ending on the online sensation “Wrecking Ball“, which sees Nikki stroll through the audience. Once this youthful bunch grow into the new shape that they have carved, with band name and all, I imagine things will fall into place more in their favour musically.
Heavy Metal Ninjas
Following several recommendations from friends, I checked out Kiwis Heavy Metal Ninjas, and they were indeed correct! Despite the silly name, this instrumental trio were brilliant at maintaining interest through their strong songwriting. Their stage presence also had an interesting vibe, with balaclavas to complete the ‘ninja’ look, and the fact all members were pretty well-built made their visual performance quite powerful.
Strong solo sections intertwined with the fat grooves of the djent sound, setting them apart thanks to an almost power metal influence. There were only a couple of numbers in which dynamic changes meant leads were lost in the mix occasionally, but this was certainly no deterrent to the audience.
It’s fair to say that Felix Martin‘s last European trip didn’t go exactly as planned. The 11th hour discovery that his drummer was unable to make the trip saw Felix and his bass-playing compadre Kilian perform to a hastily programmed backing track at shows which included Tech Fest. But this time around, Felix and Kilian are joined onstage by drummer Ray, and with a human being completing what is potentially one of the most accomplished rhythm sections on display all weekend, the sound is transformed.
Feeling much more like a performance and less like a recital, the set carries a much broader appeal than to just guitar aficionados taking an intellectual interest in Felix’s genuinely unique double-necked instruments and his approach to playing them. The completed sound is an extraordinarily inventive hybrid of jazz and tech metal, as well as a host of Latin American styles, making Felix and his band one of few that feel worthy of a comparison with Mr Bungle.
The trio are extraordinarily tight considering the twisting nature of the compositions, and the occasional drops into heavier, more straightforward riffing – especially in set-opener and personal favourite “Tango” – are tremendously exciting. It’s not difficult to see why Felix’s music has been adopted so warmly and completely by the broader-minded elements of both the Euroblast and Tech Fest families, and with the promise of some tantalising new ideas in the pipeline, it’s going to be fascinating to see what he does next.
Destiny Potato shows are rare enough on their own to be classed as one off events, but this one begins in a manner that’s surely never to be repeated. Whilst drummer Milan is fiddling about with the laptop containing the all-important backing track, main man David Maxim Micic breaks into an impromptu and somewhat wobbly version of Stevie Wonder‘s “Superstition“, accompanied by none other the Euroblast supremo John Sprich on drums – but there is plenty of goodwill in the room, and their valiant time-filling antics are warmly received.
This warmth even extends to over-looking the fact that John gives his introduction to the band over the already running backing track to set opener “Walls of Thoughts”. But the introduction is brief, and soon we are basking in the rare delight of the Serbian quartet’s performance. The late cancellation of their scheduled appearance at Tech Fest was probably the biggest disappointment of that weekend, and casting my eye over the assembled crowds, it seems that almost everybody who was in Newark in July that has made the trip to Cologne is in somewhere in the room.
The band run through an all too brief selection of highlights from their truly superb debut album Lun, including “Love Song“, “Take A Picture” (during which singer Aleksandra does exactly that) and “Addict“, but sadly not my personal favourite “Lunatic” – I guess you can’t have everything. Maybe next time.
The band throw themselves into their performance with a barely contained glee, with Dusan temporarily swapping his guitar for the bass, wearing a positively enormous grin throughout, matching his towering stature, which is perhaps exaggerated by standing next to the diminutive Aleksandra. There’s also an evident confidence in their abilities that belies the fact this is only the fifth time they’ve stepped out on stage together.
These songs, with their almost perfect balance of pop sensibility and technical wizardry, translate gloriously to the stage, helped in no small part by Aleksandra’s extraordinarily powerful voice, and it is a positively dreamy experience that feels like it is over almost as soon as it has begun. I’m certainly left hoping that we will have more, many more, opportunities to witness live Potatoes in the not too distant future.
Red Seas Fire
There’s a really great turnout for Red Seas Fire‘s high-billed side stage set – so great, in fact, that they are already well into their second song by the time I get served at the bar. While I initially have difficulties seeing the stage, what I do see is a veritable ocean of nodding heads. The crowd reaction is strong, and the band respond in kind, putting in the strongest performance I’ve seen (having pounced on an opening that allows me a view of the stage) from them yet.
Vocalist Robin, complete with freshly shaved head, has definitely found his voice now, and also does a sterling job of whipping up the crowd. An airing of a song from their old, five-piece incarnation shows just how far the band have come, especially when compared to a new song, from their upcoming Resolution EP, which sees the set end on a climax, with at least fifty people bouncing around in the small space in front of the stage.
The band’s three EP strategy has perhaps taken longer than they had first anticipated to come to fruition, but the results speak for themselves. They have used the extra time to good advantage, are maturing well and fully deserving of this slot. That EP, when it drops, is definitely going to be worth a look.
Another band I was fresh eared to, but had many recommendations to go and watch were Leprous. I missed their first song or two due to long queues at the burger stand (curses!), but even from outside I could tell that it was going to be something a bit different from these guys.
Once I’d found a space to watch them, their epic take on prog-rock became apparent. Vocalist & keyboardist Einar switches between dramatic Matt Bellamy-esque belting, prog rock cleans & avant garde screams, all while commanding the synth parts with ease. Their songs weave together effortlessly, with some edging more towards sludge/doom and others taking a lighter approach to prog, all the while maintaining their dramatic persona.
Closing on “The Valley” from 2013’s Coal, their set draws to grand close with the crowd belting out the chorus back to them. They certainly made at least one new fan tonight.
Going up against Leprous was always going to be a hard sell for Voyager, living up to their name by travelling all the way from Perth, Australia for a short Euro tour. A somewhat smaller crowd than one might expect for a 2nd stage headliner doesn’t visibly dampen their spirits. Their upbeat, hook-filled progressive metal packs more of a meaty punch than I had been expecting, and the band chuck themselves into their performance like the seasoned professionals they are – they’ve no fewer than five albums under their collective belts.
Fortunately, a steady stream of people continue to make their way round to the second stage, and the crowd swells to a more appropriate size before too long. After a few tracks vocalist Daniel breaks out his keytar and the band launch into a truly inspired medley which includes Haddaway’s “What is Love“, the Ghostbusters theme, “Axel F” from Beverly Hills Cop, “Highway to Hell” and “Killing In The Name“, among others. It’s relentless silliness and the deftness of its execution neatly encapsulate both how accomplished the band are, and how much fun they are having.
The reception of the crowd is warm and appreciative. I admit that I had gone into the show just a little skeptically, as they are not really my usual cup of tea – but it is virtually impossible to not be won over by the strength of their performance, their unassailable tightness as a unit and the enthusiasm with which they play.
Now the silent anticipation for TesseracT began. This was the first time many (apart from those who went to Sonisphere this year) have seen Dan Tompkins back with the band (and it’s my first time seeing him with them alltogether). What songs would they play? How would Dan take the material from Altered State? You could tell everyone was pondering these questions.
The eerie ambience during their set up helps add to the suspense; the lights dim and the ongoing ambience materialises into “Of Mind“, which is played in its entirety. Any fears as to how Dan would manage Ashe’s parts are quickly dashed as he elegantly nails them all, perhaps with even more depth than Ashe.
From that, into the majority of “Concealing Fate“, proves that as a band they still have a tight-knit grace to their stage presence. In some ways it’s like Dan never left, and that Altered State was just an album that the band wanted more fragile vocals for. The only downfall of their set is the lack of Dan’s screams, with Amos’ gruff bellows taking over. That said, Dan’s can still be deciphered, and he clearly still has it.
One can only assume he is taking it easier than usual due to the extremely long upcoming tour, of which Euroblast is day one – probably the longest he’ll have been on tour since last being in the band.
More interaction from Dan would have been nice – it only seemed to occur during instrumental endings or intros to songs – but again, this was probably to stick to stage times, with such a well-structured set. By the time the crowd began piling out of the room, most were left in a daze.
But for some the music was not over. Down in the basement side stage, the after party sets up in the form of Belgian mentalists Bear, who have litter the stage with balloons. Once given the green light, the band burst into energy. much to the audience’s bewilderment (and likely accented by the contrast with TesseracT). The second song in is the infamous “Rain“, which is where the crowd obviously began to regain energy, kicking up a riot in the standing area and popping balloons in the process.
This continues throughout their set as they frenzy through “Mantiis“, “Mirrors” and “Aconite” before bringing about a stage invasion for their final song of the night, during which they relocate the drum kit to the floor and set up a crowd surf for guitarist Leander.
By the end of the song the crowd are screaming back their signature chant with Leander suspended almost from the roof and a circle of people around drummer Serch, who trashed his kit as the set ended. Having these lads play in this small space was one of the best choices of the weekend.
Check back for coverage of the rest of the festival soon!