(Our UK-based writer Andy Synn made the trek to Germany for this year’s edition of the SUMMER BREEZE festival, and provided us with a review of the bands whose performances he witnessed. We’ve divided the review into two parts. In this post, Andy covers the festival’s first two days, and tomorrow we’ll have his impressions of Day 3. We’ve also collected videos of many of the performances at the end of the post.)
So… German festivals go Thursday – Saturday, not Friday – Sunday… who knew? Well apparently everyone else in the world except for us, when we booked an overnight stay in Cologne on the Wednesday night! Still, Cologne was awesome, and only a mere four hours drive away…
Anyway, on reaching the site (after a desperate last minute rush to the petrol station – seriously, make sure you fill up before you reach the Dinkelsbuhl exit guys and gals!) we joined a surprising, infuriating, queue of cars, followed by an interminable security check… time was ticking away and Be’lakor (one of my primary reasons for going to the festival) would soon be taking the stage! So with some slightly rushed stunt driving (I’m pretty certain I went down that grass verge as much sideways as I did forwards) and a breathless scramble… we made it. Just.
Justifying our desperate, occasionally slightly risky, efforts to get to the festival on time, Be’lakor were undeniably awesome. Live, the Agallochian overtones of the music come through a lot more, a melding of misty melancholy with swells of oceanic heaviness giving the band a more distinctive and individual live presence. The group’s image is a little difficult to reconcile with the music though, encompassing a host of short haircuts, laid-back Australian accents, and inappropriate t-shirts! Shame on you guys!
The next band I was dying to see also happened to be one of my favourites, my loyalty to Darkest Hour forcing me to choose them in an unfortunate clash with Glorior Belli. And though it pained me to do so, I’m glad I did. Darkest Hour never disappoint, their punky, hyper-energetic take on melodic death metal fitting perfectly with the blazing sunshine and free-wheeling atmosphere of the festival. Plus, I was still yet to see them live with either the new material or the new line-up, and both absolutely killed it live.
A quick dash over to the Party (read: Third) Stage got me a great position for yet another of the key reasons I went to Summer Breeze, the German post-black metal/melodic death metal cross-over of Agrypnie. A band I only discovered due to their addition to the line-up, they brought a truly intense sound to the tent, along with a fanatical near-capacity sound. Textured blasts and head-crushing riffs, layered with soaring, anguished vocals and sumptuous guitar melodies were just what the doctor ordered, delivered in lengthy passages of protracted rage and anguish.
Having missed them at Bloodstock I was determined to give Alcest my full attention, their layered beauty and slow-burning melancholy deserving my complete and uninterrupted concentration.
While some of the power of their material was lost in the cavernous expanse of the tent, the soothing waves of melody that radiated from the band left the audience utterly enraptured, and the elegant atmosphere woven by their music still hung in the air long after the last note had faded away.
A break for food, drink, and a general exploration of the festival site gave us some time to take stock, before returning to the main stage just in time to see Behemoth explode into action. Though performing a cut-down version of their Bloodstock headlining set, the group still put on a stunning display of focussed, occult power, once more proving themselves to be a band in the ascendant.
Following this, Eluveitie were solid, bouncy, energetic and… a little bit boring by comparison. Their material has a tendency to get a little samey over an extended period of time, but their energy levels never dipped, and the crowd responded in kind.
And finally (for today at least) what can be said about Ghost Brigade? They always bring their A game, marrying a wistful melancholy to a visceral fusion of raging, Entombed-style riffage and encroaching, Neurosis-esque doom and gloom. With several of their songs breaking the 7-minute mark it wasn’t a surprise that the setlist wasn’t the most extensive, but it was undeniably impressive, the band taking their bow with an intense and moody rendition of “Soulcarvers”.
Unfortunately, I missed The Foreshadowing due to a mix of the heat, the need to sleep, and the previous evening’s alcohol consumption, so the first band I got to encounter on this fine sunny day was the UK’s own Bleed From Within, who produced some solid, if not groundbreaking deathcore, showing that there’s at least some life left in the genre yet.
Right after this, Dew Scented came on over on the Main Stage (the 5-minute gap between bands on the two stages keeps things running like proverbial clockwork). While never a band who’ve managed to really blow me away, their hyper-energetic death thrash certainly helped blow away the cobwebs and the remains of my hangover.
The unadulterated energy of Unearth was a great antidote to the day’s overwhelming heat, playing a greatest-hits set of punchy, shred-tastic metalcore. Although fated it seems to always be the bridesmaids yet never the bride, the group still have a knack for writing impressively heavy, groovy, and shreddy tracks that always manage to connect with the audience on a fundamental level.
Barrelling through a dirty, shit-kicking set of nasty blackened-thrash over on the third stage, Toxic Holocaust succeeded in summoning up more than a few pits in appreciation for their lean, stripped-down set of raw thrash metal and ugly black metal nihilism, conjuring up an impressively brutal sound for a punky three-piece.
Following this was Black Sun Aeon, another of my most anticipated bands for the weekend. The group produced a huge, layered sound with little more than a simple three-piece arrangement, accented by an impressive pairing of dual harsh and clean vocals. The clean vocals of their guitarist were absolutely sublime, while guest female vocals simply added to the unexpected grandeur of the event, making their set one of the most impressive and captivating of the entire festival.
Heidevolk are a Dutch folk metal act who may be familiar to some of you for their brace of rousing anthems, and while not usually my sort of thing, they actually put on a very impressive performance, to what was probably the most packed crowd in the tent the entire festival.
For his second performance of the day, Tuomas Saukkonen brought out the new line-up of Before The Dawn, powering through a raucous set of powerhouse melodic death metal, heavy on big guitar lines and blistering blast-beats. The only caveat I’d add is that, at times, it seemed like the group (in particular Saukkonen as the band-mastermind) were trying a little too hard to prove themselves as a more aggressive act following the recent (some might say knee-jerk) shift in sound.
Insomnium, however, came along to effortlessly outshine all the previous acts, harnessing primal power and glorious melody to take the medal for the best performance of the day. A guest slot from Dark Tranquillity’s Mikael Stanne, performing “Weather The Storm”, certainly helped give the set that “festival feel”, and it was nice to see that new guitarist Markus Vanhala has melded into the band seamlessly (barring an amusing guitar-lead mishap).
Speaking of Mr Stanne, he and his cohorts in Dark Tranquillity also put on a stellar set back over on the second stage, their futuristic, keyboard-heavy melodeath lighting up the night sky with its shimmering, storming brilliance. Though the set was a little predictable, a rare airing of “The Sun Fired Blanks”, along with a live performance of excellent b-side “Zero Distance”, served to keep things on a high.
Closing out the evening (for me at least), Immortal were, in all honesty, probably the best I’ve ever seen them. Tight, fast, and crushingly heavy, with less of the pointless posturing and dicking around that often infects their shows, the group performed with a cocksure swagger and a knowing grin, conscious of the potential ridiculousness of their situation, yet – tellingly – never descending into self-parody. The fact that their set was wall-to-wall black metal classics, all epic, mountainous chords and avalanches of blast-beats, certainly helped too!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Below, we’ve collected the best videos we’ve found for most of the performances Andy reviews in this post. Enjoy!