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It’s Saturday night, and Vienna is ready to party. The second day of Dragon’s Cry Festival has rolled into town, and after some great music the night before, the crowd turn up early to catch what this line-up has to offer.

Starting right on time, first act Grim Justice were eager to please with their oldschool heavy metal sound, calling forth the spirit of 70′s and 80′s metal – the era of Accept, Iron Maiden and such bands. Frontwoman Michela, armed with her axe, was reminiscent of Doro and Nicole Lee, with a resounding and confident voice that both soared and rasped as required. The other musicians also delivered the goods, particularly the recently-joined drummer, who led some solid head-banging grooves and fills. The band clearly have an established following in Vienna, as none of the songs were covers but the crowd seemed more than happy to sing along when beckoned to, such as in “Worthless Youth”, and they applauded loudly after each track. An enjoyable rocking start to the evening.

Next up on the bill were a recent favourite discovery of mine, Harpia Deiis. Playing along with (and yet subverting), the beauty-and-the-beast melodeath formula, they performed fantastically; catchy guitar and keyboard melodies wove around a strong rhythmic base, with tasteful blastbeats dropped in between the groovy parts. It took a while for some of the solos to reach the required volume, but both guitarists executed their parts solidly, one of them even multitasking with a keyboard for some piano interludes. This left the other guitarist’s voice to play off the female vocalist à la Deadlock; Chiara’s lovely full-blooded voice complemented Marco’s hoarse grunts, both in their own material and the completely-unexpected “Breaking The Law” cover that broke loose during their set.

However the main surprise came for a couple of songs afterwards, as Chiara and Marco traded vocals, the former unleashing some impressive harsh vocals while the latter took over singing duties. As the band rounded out their set, it was clear they’d left a good impression on the crowd, and there was more than a passing interest in the couple of free CDs they had going, one of which is now happily spinning in my stereo.

Garbed in war paint and thrash band shirts, it was clear what Mortal Strike were about from the get-go. The logo-backdrop summed up their music perfectly: a tank built from the words steamrollering through the crowd as they fired off several volleys of hard-hitting thrash metal, evoking the gods of Sodom, Slayer and Kreator as they announced the arrival of “Here Comes The Tank”, “A Storm Will Overcome” and, perhaps the most accurate track for their sound, “For The Loud And The Aggressive”.

It was clear that these guys are pretty straight forward and have a strong sense of identity, it’s just a shame that the sound mixing did not lend itself well to their music – causing their riffs to meld into an unattractive wall of sound. This sadly resulted in a fairly homogenous and uninteresting background for the vocalist to bark Tom Araya-style over, or occasionally sing in a slightly more melodic fashion. This came to a head in the final track, a rock-n’-roll medley of German and English songs which I hazard a guess was “Es Geht Rund” (“It Goes Around”), although I definitely caught some Motörhead in that mix. It’d be too easy for me to make a war simile here, so I’ll safely conclude from my bunker that Vienna was sufficiently levelled by the rolling tank of Mortal Strike. Sorry, couldn’t help it.

Diving back into the classic-inspired power/heavy metal style, ValSans were up next to pay homage to both heavy metal predecessors and Norse mythology together. If one can imagine Saxon and Jag Panzer singing about “the hammer of Thor” while bouncing around with vitality onstage, that should give a clue as to ValSans’ set. The musicianship was top-notch, setting a driving pace that straddled the power and traditional-metal boundaries with the guitar work taking precedence. The crowd clearly savoured what they were hearing, in particular the highly enjoyable cover of Rage‘s “Sent By The Devil”, and wanted in on the action by the time the final track “Dawn Of Metal” rolled around. Cue several fans onstage with the band repeating said title for the chorus while the singer whipped up support in the crowd for an amusing end to a hearty meal of metal.

As is so often the case with festivals, it’s inevitable that not every band is going to leave a positive impression. However, I was not quite prepared for the trainwreck that Blood God were to bring to Vienna. The only non-Austrian and non-metal band on the bill, the project instead blared out as an AC/DC & Airbourne-loving style of hard rock full of rocking riffs and screeching high vocals in the vein of Brian Johnson. At least, that’s what should have happened with the project of Thomas Gurrath, he of Debauchery fame. What instead happened was a blurry wall of over-driven guitars with barely-detectable riffs, and a microphone unaccustomed to his unique vocals, resulting in an unintelligible quasi-black-metal-shriek that lasted the entire set.

To give them their due, they get points for trying; Thomas was singing and playing while hobbling on a broken foot, and the Blackie Lawless-lookalike bassist made his physical presence known around the entire room on a wireless bass. But it was incredibly difficult to take the band earnestly with the sound mixing and tracks like “Stupid But Sexy”, “No Brain But Balls” and lead single “Blowjob Barbie”, which are all as ridiculous and unappealing as they sound. Ultimately Blood God were not what the heavy metal doctor ordered at this festival.

Finally, to round off a generally very positive festival experience, it was time for the headline band to bring everything to a close, and Dragony did so with a resounding success. Sauntering in to their empowering cinematic intro music, the band quickly set about playing firm favourites from their début album, Legends. Grandiose and symphonic power metal was delivered in buckets, with a strong keyboard flavour floating over pounding drums.

On top of headlining the festival, today was a particularly special gig for the band, firstly to welcome new faces on guitar and keyboard, but also to re-welcome Siegfried back on vocals after 6 months of absence due to illness. His voice appeared not to have suffered in the meantime, as the strong vocal melodies and air-raid siren wails he let out attested to his strength as a singer. “Burning Skies”, “Land Of Broken Dreams” and “The Longest Night” each got a strong reaction from the crowd, everyone happily singing along and even engaging in the second wall of death of the festival. Actually, they called it a wall of unicorns, as this is power metal after all!

As Dragony wrapped up their set bang on midnight and took their final bow, there was a sense of satisfaction on everyone’s faces; a great set, a great festival and a great experience was had by all there. Dragon’s Cry proved unequivocally that metal in Austria is alive and well, regardless of which subgenre a band may come from. If any of the bands here have piqued your interest, then I highly encourage you to check out their material, either on YouTube or Bandcamp, and support a clearly strong Austrian metal scene.

The Monolith raises a glass to the organizers, the venue Aera and all the bands who played.

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