Brutal Assault, at this point one of the best European metal festival, reaches its 22nd edition in this 2017. Many are the attractions in terms of bands and exclusive shows, as well as the improvements following last year’s edition. The 4-day event went along without major issues, except for a huge storm during the third day and the consequent blackout and concert interruption for safety reasons. The numerous bands lived up to the expectations, with great performances both from the headliners and the other bands, which witnessed a great response from the audience in terms of size and involvement. Unfortunately, since we don’t enjoy the gift of ubiquity, we couldn’t attend to all the major shows, but surely the ones we witnessed put up a great show, both on the main, alternate stages (Jagermeister and Sea Shepherd) and the smaller ones, Metalgate and Oriental. On an extra-musical note, the festival area was filled with a huge choice of foods and beverages, various merch stands, a horror cinema inside and, for the first time, a lounge area with ambient and electronic artists. Here you can read our personal report of these four days, while we wait for the 2018 names which will be added to the already confirmed Perturbator, Carpathian Forest and Dead Congregation. Enjoy!
The first day is introduced by a free warm-up party with local bands just before the main entrance of the festival area, the evening before. The festive atmosphere is already evident, with all the tents growing and expanding (both in the VIP camp and the normal, free one, wherever your back feels comfortable). At the entrance, the technical problems from last year are just a memory, thanks to the possibility to get your wristband delivered at home (with an 18% cut on entrance lines). Many important events in this first day, but also some really worthy small bands: a considerable amount of Sweden was put at the beginning, with captivating God Mother and their difficult role of first band in the whole festival, and The Lurking Fear, a new supergroup led by the indestructible Tomas “Tompa” Lindberg and Adrian Erlandsson behind the drums, both from At The Gates. Italy was already present in this first batch of bands, with the experienced Fleshgod Apocalypse holding the Jägermeister Stage despite the hot sun.
The first historic band to go on stage is Gorguts, from Canada. Led by Luc Lemay, they put up a flawless performance, picking songs from their last three albums. On the smallest stage, the Oriental, the young Cough from Richmond, Virginia give us one of the most intense and tormented shows I’ve ever witnessed, filled with slow-ness and pathos. After them, Ultha came on the same stage, a German black metal combo quite nice, but repetitive on the long distance.
On the Sea Shepherd Stage, time for The Dillinger Escape Plan playing one of their last shows ever: as usual, their performance is a crushing one, solid and elusive, surely the first big highlight of this Brutal Assault. Five minutes of waiting time and here are Master’s Hammer, legendary czech band back on stage after a very long absence. Evil looking scenography, lady-baphomets with ram heads and very few clothes, and a definitely above average performance for an audience which went as far as the eye could see.
Resigned to miss another pivotal act, Boris, I decide to wait for Batushka: the liturgy officiated by the Polish band involves all the present ones, maybe lacking a bit of atmosphere and intensity compared with their indoors shows. Closing act for me is Wolves In The Throne Room, authors of a great performance even though my tiredness forced me to leave early. A great first day, but almost nothing considering what was coming the day after.
Our second day starts on the main stage with Nervosa: the three Brazilian girls, with a new entry behind drums, hold the stage pretty well with their Sodom-like thrash metal and engage with an already crowded audience despite being noon. A couple hours after, Cryptopsy from Canada: the band stopped at Brutal Assault for their “None So Live Tour”, playing their classic 1996 album in its entirety. The band led by Flo Mounier, an authentic war machine on drums, slaps everyone in the face with a series of violent and clear sounding songs. A couple of quick looks to Havok, with their technical thrash metal, and Russian Arkona, always growing in popularity, before heading to Metalgate Stage for The Great Old Ones and Swans. The French act takes its time with the soundcheck, but puts everything right with a great mixture of black and doom, inspired by Howard Phillip Lovecraft (whose face is showing on the backdrop). Swans are the umpteenth event of the festival: Michael Gira and his mates are playing the longest set in the history of the festival, almost two and a half hours. The wait is long and tedious here as well: due to my tiredness I’m forced to leave after twenty long minutes of experimental stuff. Nothing personal towards the band from New York, but you need proper psychophysical condition to appreciate them live.
Back to more “standard” genres with two of the most anticipated performances: Emperor and Opeth. While waiting for the Norwegians, I’m able to see how Hatebreed, playing on the other stage, is putting up a killer show, with the charismatic frontman Jasta perfectly in control of the audience. After their set, Ihsahn and the others go on stage with green and white lights and immediately start playing the whole “Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk”. Practically impossible to escape the huge, nonstop moshpit, allowing just a few moments of rest during the most atmospheric sections. After the celebration, the show goes on with the final three songs, namely “Curse You All Men“, “I Am The Black Wizards” and “Inno A Satana“, during which chaos unleashed under the stage. A unique experience to say the least. Right after them, another fundamental act on the bill, Opeth. The Swedish band has to deal with a pretty important challenge, due to their stylistic trend in the last years and to the fact that they’re playing between Emperor and Suffocation, not really two ambient acts. Mikael Åkerfeldt might be seen as an asshole in certain moments, but surely he’s not stupid: he knows what fans are expecting and answers with one of the best possible setlist nowadays, with gems like “Demon Of The Fall“, “The Drapery Falls“, “Deliverance” and others, picking up just two songs from the last three albums. Flawless renditions obviously, light rain at the end and everyone’s happy.
The just mentioned rain starts to get heavier, reaching critic levels and forcing me to just hear a bit of Suffocation and skip Rotting Christ entirely, but luckily they were able to play in front of a bunch of brave people who couldn’t be bothered by the storm.
On this third day, the stage calls us with beards and sludge in the form of Crowbar: Kirk Windstein and friends put up a rock-solid performance, with a perfect mix of slow and fast songs, extremely captivating thanks also to the New Orleans singer’s charm and his raspy voice. Quick flight to New Zealand, then, for the oppressive Ulcerate. The three-piece act is perfect musically speaking, their skills in playing a pretty personal interpretation of death metal is definitely top notch. The only downside were the muddy sounds, a pretty common problem in the first rows under the Metalgate tent.
The one thing that everyone feared arrived just after this: a huge black cloud overcame the Fortress quickly, bringing a great storm that forced the main stages to stop everything for thirty minutes during Sacred Reich‘s set, causing all the subsequent acts to be postponed. Back to Metalgate then, with a pretty nice and varied couple of bands: Possessed, as if once more needed, confirmed themselves as one hell of a band with their primitive kind of death metal and Jeff Becerra’s attitude. Following them comes Igorrr (aka Gautier Sierre), bright star in the French avantgarde scene, who pretty much divides the audience. A captivating mixture of breakcore, trip hop and extreme metal enjoyed by those with more open minds, who dance on the music accompanied by the voices of Laurent Lunoir, dressed as a caveman, and the angelic Laure De Prunenec. Time to go back to the main stages just in time to hear “Inis Mona”, by all that remains of Eluveitie and for Trivium, a good show filled with know-how but appreciated by the fans.
Now’s the time of the most important last minute change in the festival (and in others around Europe): nothing personal towards Trey Azagthoth, but Morbid Angel‘s cancellation and replacement by Carcass has filled with joy a huge amount of fans in the continent, including myself. Jeff Walker and the others took the stage with an extremely tight performance, without almost any stop, going from the beginnings with “Genital Grinder” to the last album “Surgical Steel” with practically everything in between. From the rawer “Exhume To Consume” and “Reek Of Putrefaction” to “Corporal Jigsore Quandary” and the mandatory “Heartwork“, even the catchy “Keep On Rotting In The Free World“. Bill Steer, who seems to be still in his 20s, always teaches lessons of style and skills, while Ben Ash’s guitar is non-existent in the mix, that being the only flaw in the show. Great work also by Dan Wilding on drums, capable of putting his own style and groove into already classic songs. Mention on honor (also coming from Walker himself) for Eluveitie, Doomas and Sacred Reich for having lent part of the equipment to the Liverpool quartet, due to logistics problems.
Last big act in this packed Friday, with Electric Wizard on stage. They couldn’t come last year due visa problems, so Jus Oborn and his mates get even with interests by creating sulphurous and mephistophelic atmospheres, both sonically and visually. The tempo is obviously super slow, but this doesn’t let down the fans that go headbanging for the whole concert, covering various albums and picking mainly from “Witchcult Today”. And while Clawfinger are still playing as the last act of the day, it’s time to go back to the tent, looking forward to the fourth and last day.
The last day starts with a feeling of melancholia, as usual. Trying to take it off of our minds, our first band is Svart Crown from France: a nice blackened death performance, maybe not the freshest material around, but definitely effective on the audience that starts to become thinner (many people were already leaving the campsite in the morning). After a quick chat with Vogg from Decapitated, time for their gig: the show is centered on their last album “Anticult” and it crushes all the hesitations about their post-reunion material. After them, a big overlap between Oathbreaker and Mantar: I decide to try and see a bit of both. The beatiful Caro Tanghe, with her now angelic, now desperate voice, leads the Belgian’s really intense performance and captivates the audience. The German duo sounds like ten people are on stage, showing a great connection with all the people present (the singer and guitarist Hanno will give his own beer to a guy in the first row, at some point).
The day goes on with Tiamat: five minutes are enough to understand how awful the show is, with the singer Johan Edlund blabbering some nonsense all the time. A whole complete register for Vallenfyre: calling them a side project of Greg Mackintosh from Paradise Lost would be too diminishing, as the West Yorkshire band puts up one of the best performances of the festival, filled with british humour by the now blonde singer. Many songs from the last “Fear Those Who Fear Him” without ignoring the previous efforts, with the slowest circle pit in history during the new “An Apathetic Grave“.
As two of the last main acts, time for The Devin Townsend Project and Mayhem. The histrionic Canadian artist doesn’t disappoint the fans with a solid and flawless show, maybe a bit dull at times, but which lifts my spirits (due to the studio albums settled on the now popular djent/prog direction). Songs like “Kingdom“, “Supercrush” and “Hyperdrive” make all the audience sing, with classics like “Deadhead” and a couple Ziltoid references from the recent “Z2 – Dark Matters”. The Norwegian combo, as usual, hold the stage excellently recreating their typical cold atmosphere, but this time we’re actually able to hear the instruments and enjoy the mileston album which is “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas”. Dead’s voice introducing “Freezing Moon” (a bit kitsch, I admit), the bass line on “Life Eternal” and the closing ones “Buried By Time And Dust” and the title track: all of these things made the history of black metal, making a great amount of post 1994 material fade in comparison.
There’s no black metal, though, able to close a festival if there’s Gutalax playing after. An insane party with toilet paper, inflatable animals, beach balls and even a cat on the least. The audience dances badly on songs with absurd titles like “Toi Toi Story“, “Fart Fart Away“, “Fart And Furious” and many more, for a closing performance worth framing.
Hats off, then, to the staff of a festival in constant growth and improvement, who succeeded in solving all the unexpected problems like cancellations and storms and apologizing to the fans in the best way possible: by offering half-priced beer for the last, glorious evening.