The 25th Sweden Rock Festival was held at sunny Solvesborg in the southern part of Sweden in June. This year there were five stages and 82 bands playing throughout four-day festival. The second biggest stage was also renamed as Lemmy Stage to honour the late Motörhead-frontman and videoclips of the great man were played on screens during the weekend. Steel Mill’s report on the festival follows!
During Wednesday only three stages were open with the two biggest, Festival Stage and Lemmy Stage still closed. However many great acts performed throughout the evening. We just missed Sweden’s very own Eclipse but witnessed good shows from both Bonafide and Diamond Head. Diamond Head especially really shone with their new vocalist Rasmus Bom Andersen, although the band performed on the smallest tent stage, their enthusiasm carried through.
After Amaranthe’s symphonic fireworks display, Graham Bonnet Band took the stage with an excellent blast of old school hard rock. Offering songs from his whole back catalogue starting from Rainbow-days and including, MSG, Alcatrazz and even underrated Impellitteri classic “Stand In Line.” Graham’s solo hit “Night Games” also got an airing. Bonnet was in good shape vocally despite that the man has to rely on monitors for lyrics. “Since You Been Gone” and “All Night Long” rounded out the best performance of Wednesday evening.
Blind Guardian started headlining in colder night offering their usual brand of folk inspired power metal. Set consisted of their newest “Beyond The Red Mirror”-album with three songs featured among older classics, with “Nightfall” and “Time What Is Time” working best. Their sound with lights was grandiose enough although sound up towards the hill close by gates was not best possible. Blind Guardian, whilst good on their own, might have been best to move up before Amaranthe who had more fire and brimstone in their performance.
Thursday turned out to be the warmest day of the week with sun blazing down upon as we arrived. On every day it started off extremely warm, but as we approached midnight, temperatures came down to only few degrees. So extra clothing was needed every day.
Finland’s own Lordi had the honour of being the first band to play on the renamed Lemmy Stage. Monsters attacked the stage with “Nailed By The Hammer Of Frankenstein” and carried on victoriously with their most famous hits “Hard Rock Hallelujah” and “Would You Love A Monsterman” sealing the deal for the evening. Most positive impression was made by keyboardist Hella, who really lived her role as the living dead. This was a great opening for the Motörhead legend’s stage.
Halestorm and Sixx: A.M. offered ear candy for melodic hard rock next. Halestorm took the prize here on main stage with Nikki Sixx and his cohorts struggling badly. Their performance might work better on a club stage but here, the group looked like they were lost. By the time admittedly skilled vocalist James Michael sat down and began a solo performance of “Skin” with keyboards, most of the energy left the area and we moved on as well.
Entombed A.D. was rolling its death’n’roll on Sweden Stage. LG Petrov gave everything he got, drinking, telling jokes and head banging. The band seemed to have a good time, but their mid-average new material didn’t go down too well. Even old classics like “Wolverine Blues” and “Revel In Flesh” somehow lacked spark, which only ignited towards the end with Venom’s “In League with Satan” rolled out to delight veterans.
From Hollywood Hills, L.A. Guns came out much stronger on Sweden Stage, This line-up was led by singer Phil Lewis, who happily mixed up words and song order few times. This however, only seemed to add to overall loose rock’n’roll atmosphere and the group kicked in some good quality hard rock with glamour touch. “Purple Rain” played as tribute recently passed Prince got good reception from the crowd.
We were early on walking towards the main stage preparing for Slayer to reign once again in blood. There was slight suspicion on how the thrash kings would cope with bright sunlight and huge outdoor stage. “Repentless” is a fine record and Gary Holt especially was on fire doing some impressive solo work throughout. However compared to indoor gig I just recently witnessed, the violent and dark atmosphere Slayer usually delivers in spades seemed to have disappeared. The structure of the main stage with huge ramp in the middle also prevented any kind of mosh pits to emerge and thus brought down energy levels. Despite this, the band played their set like no tomorrow and faithful fans kept banging their necks until the closing number “Angel Of Death”.
Immediately after Slayer stepped off stage, Megadeth was preparing to begin their show on Lemmy Stage. Somewhat bizarre timetable and many speculated this got under Dave Mustaine’s skin. If that’s the case, Mustaine used this to bring out an excellent thrash gig leaving Slayer totally in shadows. New guitar player Kiko Loureiro has blended in well with the band and played perfectly in unison with Mustaine. Borrowed from Soilwork, drummer Dirk Verbeuren was technically brilliant and shone on the old material. Bassist and veteran Dave Ellefson was great too. Right from the opening track “Hangar 18” up until the end and another “Rust In Peace”-classic “Holy Wars” everything came together for Megadeth. New songs sounded really strong and while tempos were brought down on some tracks like “Poisonous Shadows” and “Trust” it all worked in band’s favor. Even Rattlehead made an appearance towards the end of the set. Megadeth was definitely one of this festival’s most positive surprises.
Mayhem came on stage at at the same time most of the festival was preparing to see Queen. The black metal legends have performed their 1994 classic “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” full during previous dates. Now this show also had their old vocalist Maniac joining them on stage, thus generating plenty of expectations. Unfortunately Mayhem also generated probably the biggest disappointment of the whole festival. We got no “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” but instead most of the songs played were pulled from later albums and 2000’s The Grand Declaration Of War – in other words albums Maniac originally sang on. The band’s current vocalist Attila was nowhere to be seen and Maniac ended up singing the whole gig. His vocals didn’t impress us, singer focusing more on jumping and prowling across the stage in punkish fashion. Most of the singing sounded downright awful. The chains and barbed wire fence built in front of the stage got most of his attention and to top it off, vocals were mixed way too low. The band left the stage 15 minutes before the scheduled end performing barely an hour. Much praised Hellhammer pounded the skins like man possessed but this didn’t save the flat show.
Queen and Adam Lambert took over the main stage before huge crowd. The band got fantastic response and although our own prejudices on the vocalist were immense, we had to admit he met the challenge head on. “Tie Your Mother Down” and “I Want It All” came out great and although no one obviously can replace Freddie Mercury, but there is still a time and place for these songs and tonight it was clearly at Sweden Rock.
Soilwork performed for their homecrowd on Sweden Stage but we couldn’t pass on King Diamond and his special “Abigail Show” on Lemmy Stage. Our previous KD-show was at broad daylight at Tuska-Festival in 2013 but now the surroundings were much better. We also got an excellent show and a band who was in great shape. King’s vocals just got to be admired, the man now 60 years old and brings out that flawless falsetto. Also guitarists Andy LaRocque and Michael Wead did great job. The dolls, grandmother in wheel chair and King’s wife Livia on background vocals all added to the experience. The set list outside of “Abigail” album played from start to finish, could be more adventurous, but the show with all visuals and musical extravaganza was rammed home with such professionalism and skill that everything worked perfectly. After King Diamond’s show we were happy to step out to a chillingly dark and cold night.
Friday became the most unstable day as far as the weather was concerned. Several thunderstorms came down on us throughout the early part of the afternoon, luckily this was nothing like the catastrophe at Rock Am Ring earlier and by evening showers passed for good.
220 Volt was playing as we walked in and immediately took a liking to their classic hard rock sound. Swedish band has somewhat cult status and to our disappointment no records of theirs could be found on any of the several record shops around the area.
Epica still managed to enjoy sunshine at Lemmy Stage and surpsingly vast crowd was eager to hear their brand of symphonic metal. Comparisons to Nightwish are inevitable and Simone Simons simply cannot hold a candle next to impressive Floor Jansen. The band is skilled enough but after a while our attention was more on keyboard players curious looking instrument than the actual songs.
Loudness are regular guest on 1980’s themed festivals and here they were again conquering Sweden Stage. They had best sounds of that particular stage behind them and everyone was into it as “Shadows Of War” and “The Power Of Truth” kept pounding away.
During Loudness rain started to come down and we escaped towards tent. The sun returned as The Voice Of Rock, Glenn Hughes began his show on main stage. Hughes was in great shape vocally which became apparent right from the opening classic track “Stormbringer.” The show provided legend’s material throughout his lengthy career in Deep Purple, Trapeze and Hughes/Thrall. Solo stuff got airing too and delightfully also two songs from Black Country Communion. Glenn got huge applause by announcing the return of BCC next year and also revelead the band would play next Sweden Rock. Hughes’ backing group consisting of guitarist Søren Andersen and drummer Pontus Engborg did fabulous work and power trio sounded excellent. Evergreen Purple-numbers “Burn” and “Mistreated” finalized the set and Glenn’s crystal clear vocals got same admiration from us as King Diamond did the day before. It’s great to see these masters still on great form.
Female master came on next on Lemmy Stage as Lita Ford stepped up with rain drops again heralding her arrival. Lita promoted heavily her new autobiography “Living Like A Runaway” with signing sessions and also played the title track. The years may be heard in roughness of Ford’s voice but Elton John-cover “The Bitch Is Back, “ Runaways-classic “Cherry Bomb” and set closing “Close My Eyes Forever” and “Kiss Me Deadly” brought forward a genuine happiness of playing and throwback 1980’s emotions.
Although having witnessed several live clips, attitude towards current Foreigner-line up has been at least a bit skeptic. Kelly Hansen however, proved to be exactly the right man for the job, singing old hits faithfully, with true power and conviction. Even though the voice of Lou Gramm is one of the most recognized and revered in the AOR-genre, Hansen rose to the occasion. Rest of the band starting from energetic bassist Jeff Pilson to guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Thom Gimbell performed with excitement brought via years of experience. “I Want To Know What Love Is” was eventually rolled out and got some “overplayed” comments from around us, however my eyes did get wet after hearing this gem finally live. The closing number “Hot Blooded” offered heavier side of the band and nicely finished the set, which was one of the best of the day. Only downside was the shortness of it.
After visiting Twisted Sister’s press conference we got to witnesss the most awaited comeback of the festival, as The Hellacopters returned to action on Lemmy Stage, for the first time since 2008. They came out with original line up performing their 1996 classic album “Supeshitty To The Max!” in full. Led by Nicke Andersson, the band fired away their dirty rock’n’roll with great attitude and fans were in ecstasy. Many still felt playing the first album limited the performance and more varied look at their output would have been a better fit. Regardless, The Hellacopters exited the stage as winners and new single “My Mephisophelean Creed” sounded as good as anything else group threw at us.
Sweden Stage saw Gamma Ray stepping out if not before an enormous crowd, still a loud group of faithful punters looking forward to an evening full of top quality power metal. Frank Beck had joined the band on second vocals since the last time we saw them, which caused some amazement since the best parts of the show took place when Kai Hansen sang solo. There also seemed to be some confusion on stage who would sing what, but these were settled with laughter and gave some amusement for the audience. Helloween classic “I Want Out” was played surprisingly early in the set and included some Jamaica-style reggae jamming. Two encores, “To The Metal” and always brilliant “Send Me A Sign” finalized the show, which could have benefited from a bigger crowd. Still Hansen & co. delivered good time power metal with style and professionalism.
Main stage was closed on Friday rightfully by Twisted Sister. Dee Snider and his troops have announced “Forty And F**k It Farewell Tour” as being the absolute final chance to see them live. “We Are not the Scorpions, We are Not Judas Priest. We will stop!” screamed vocalist, who with his slim looks, still awesome voice and energetic performance might continue playing Twisted Sister material for many years to come. For some of the other members, it looks like farewell tour comes just in time. Regardless, their playing was spot on and drummer Mike Portnoy fits in well. Setlist was safe all around with Snider’s promised rarities only including “Destroyer” and “Tear It Loose” in the encores. Still when it works it works, and tonight was an excellent stab of classic heavy metal from one of the classiest bands ever. Somehow mellowed front man didn’t bait the crowd at all this time saying “you got this shit!” and brilliant “Come Out And Play” sealed the deal. Pyros followed the show which rocked from start to finish like runaway train hell on wheels.
As Avantasia began their show, temperature had dropped down close to zero. In the scale of metal operas, Edguy-vocalist Tobias Sammet’s project has no rivals. Guests in the caliber of Jorn Lande, Michael Kiske, Ronnie Atkins and Bob Catley make this clear. Sammet pured accolades over Mr. Big-singer Eric Martin, calling him a Sweden Rock legend may have been overstating things a bit and unfortunately Avantasia was in a bad spot after Twisted Sister had rocked the place just few minutes earlier. Sammet also told the crowd several times they had to cut the set and cut the talk, but instead of playing shorter material we got 10-minute epics from their not so impressive new album “Ghostlights.” The grandiose delivery had its moments but as we left the area blowing heat to our freezing hands, the only mantra ringing in our ears was still Twisted Sister’s “It’s Only Rock’n’Roll (But I Like It)”.
The program on the final day was probably the most outstanding of the whole week so to the main stage we were headed once again. In the sunshine super group The Winery Dogs opened up the festivities. Their two albums “The Winery Dogs” and “Hot Streak” have brought them plenty of attention and previous evening, Dee Snider had urged all 20 000 people to arrive and watch drummer Mike Portnoy’s second set of the festival. People came – if not in thousands, at least several hundreds and Portnoy coped well despite playing his heart out just 15 hours before. Our eyes however, were fixed on bassist Billy Sheehan and his magic fingers, the whole band is made of virtuoses and technically it was hard to find fault in the performance. Their material however, is sadly mostly mediocre with playing of the individuals stealing more space than the actual songs.
Fintroll fared better on Sweden Stage. Finland’s folk metal pride had sound and crowd working for them and Swedish seemed to enjoy them the best from all the festival’s extreme metal acts. Audience sang along and everyone had a good time. And several fists were raised high even from the nearby lunch tables.
One of the most anticipated bands of Sweden Rock were Legion Of The Damned from Netherlands. They suffered from audiences low-energy reception, aside from few hardcore fans most seemed to just watch them with mild interest. This luckily didn’t have an effect on the band’s performance and celebrating 2006’s “Malevolent Creation” – thrash quintet played this classic album from start to finish. It is one of the greatest thrash albums ever released and the band rode it through with excellent drive despite sounds getting muddier by the minute. After this they sealed the deal with “Cult Of The Dead” and “Son Of The Jackal” title tracks.
Main stage called us next with guitar maestro Steve Vai giving his usual flash and style display. As a guitar player Vai is impeccable no doubt about this. However, the endless fretboard trickery on a bigger stage and without a proper vocalist just didn’t light our fire. Plus by delivering “Passion & Warfare” 25th anniversary set, the song inclusion was understandably somewhat limited. Our attention went for speculating about the promised reunion of David Lee Roth’s “Eat ‘Em And Smile” line-up, 2/4 of that group would have already been present at Sweden Rock.
Giants of progressive metal, Symphony X delivered one of the best shows of the whole festival on Lemmy Stage. The band’s brave decision to play their latest record “Underworld” in full paid off and songs sounded excellent throughout. Vocalist Russell Allen possesses one of this genre’s best voices and has great charisma, which elevates group’s technical ability to an enjoyable live experience. The wall of sound was heavy and grandiose with finally “Sea Of Lies” and “Out Of The Ashes” rolled out to please older fans. Towards the end Allen swung Captain Morgan’s Rum bottle and dedicated the final “Legend” to fallen heroes Ronnie James Dio and Lemmy Kilmister.
4Sound Stage introduced us again to heavier end of line-up as Death and Chuck Schuldiner tribute band Death DTA kicked off their set. The band has hinted the end of touring, which would really be a shame as Schuldiner’s great material deserves to be heard by mostly original Death musicians who paid excellent respect via music on Saturday. Sound was better than during Legion Of The Damned’s set excluding the slightly low mix on vocals. Max Phelps did fine work on guitar and sang with his style wisely not trying to simply copy Schuldiner’s unique playing. It was also nice to witness old Death-members Steve DiGiorgio and drummer Gene Hoglan. I do question the inclusion of Slayer-material when we are watching a Death-show. Other than that this was a versatile look on band’s history with “Human’s” classic “Flattening Of Emotions” and “Suicide Machine” especially offering a sheer neck torture to people at front.
Dirkschneider brought tank load of old Accept classics to main stage. The crowd by this point was massive and appreciated the classics from “Metal Heart” to “Princess Of The Dawn” with loud noise and wild applause. Udo kept cheering the audience on, however with huge stage the contrast between his 60-something moves and young albeit skilled backing group came forth too clearly. Having seen the band also inside a club, we can say the set works much better in those conditions. “Losers Ans Winners” ended the main set and the ban returned with “Metal Heart,” “Fast As A Shark” and the immortal “Balls To The Wall” & “Burning” finally closing the encore. Accept is always Accept but if you get a chance to catch Dirkschneider during this tour (preferably in a smaller setting) don’t hesitate.
There was still heavy dose of thrash to be had, when during Anthrax’s set, Sweden Rock even got pit spinning on. The band seemed happy with the reception and new “For All Kings” album being a strong effort, played several new songs to enthusiastic fans as well. The highlight for us personally was “Medusa” and once again have to compliment Joey Belladonna’s voice which considering his age, is in impressive shape.
Sweden Stage closed its festival proceedings with 1980’s hard rock masters King Kobra, who have returned some years ago with almost original line-up. I appreciate the band a lot and they began strong enough in Sweden Rock as well. However, numerous solo spots and pointless cover of Black Sabbath’s “Heaven And Hell” stole their momentum. Bassist Johnny Rod’s version of W.A.S.P.’s Wild Child” at least was more appropriate. Vocalist Paul Shortino seemed disinterested and Carmine Appice’s over long drum solo saw many heading out towards usual toilets and bars. Rod kept the show going and tried his best but tonight simply wasn’t for King Kobra.
After this there was some time to check out the British masters of doom My Dying Bride and final performance on 4Sound Stage. The atmosphere was properly gloomy with lights and arrangements fittingly supporting the old familiar numbers and selections from the new “Feel The Misery”- album. The night could have used more audience again, but somehow the silence and darkness seemed to work perfectly with MDB’s music.
Demon had joined the festival line-up at the last moment and also got to close Rockklassiker Stage in the tent. NWOBHM-veteran was strong enough, however the difference between this act and couple of other bigger ones from that same movement was clear. The energy levels also didn’t match Wednesday’s great show by Diamond Head.
Sabaton got their chance to prove themselves in front of their home crowd and headlining the main stage. Festival Stage seemed to light up on fire as Swedish maestros offered their usual brand or excitement and fireworks. War tank was rigged in the middle and the whole band with their vocalist Joakim Broden leading the charge seemed to make use of every inch on the huge space. 2012’s “Carolus Rex” – record’s songs were delivered naturally in their own language and “The Lost Battalion” single from their forthcoming new album fitted in well with old material. Sabaton’s growing popularity outside power metal genre have to be admired even if you wouldn’t be their numbed one fan.
Michael Schenker Fest ended this year’s proceedings and definitely belonged to festival’s most anticipated acts. Besides Schenker himself, line-up included bassist Chris Glen and drummer Ted McKenna. Augmented with keyboardist/guitarist Steve Mann this was essentially a classic early 1980’s MSG back together. Unfortunately while Schenker played well and seemed to enjoy himself, the band lacked tightness and unified sound. Guest vocalists added more problems.
Gary Barden arrived first from retirement and straight away announced his voice was shot but he would try his best. This somewhat puzzling declaration was followed by no less than seven songs with Barden seemingly struggling with each and every one of them. After brilliant “Coast To Coast” Graham Bonnet took over and sang the same three songs he did with his solo band earlier in the week. Finally Robin McAuley ran out and sure enough things picked up with “Save Yourself” and “This Is My Heart” with vocalist in great mood and shape. But for whatever reason, Schenker decided not to delve any deeper into McAuley Schenker Group’s catalog and had poor Robin singing those UFO classics you can all guess and this was it. Fourth previously announced singer Leif Sundin was supposed to do “Too Hot To Handle” but never appeared. Just as well, as out hopes on getting something from 1996’s underrated “Written In The Sand” would then have been squashed. As good as it was, and Michael did play fantastically throughout, for final performance Michael Schenker Fest was indeed a bit of a disappointment.
The 25th Sweden Rock was both nostalgic, exciting and reflecting experience. I have to wonder the future of festivals like this, with so many veterans now ending their careers, many of them already dead and gone, who will fill their shoes? From main stage headliners, only Sabaton are predicted to continue their career beyond next couple of years. Will we see performers of just as high quality next year, or are we forced to settle for less? Time will tell. However, the surroundings, organizing and food was excellent plus great travel companions made the trip worthwhile. Thanks to Elmu Travels, photographers and all friends met and talked to during the festival!
Report: Ville Krannila & Jussi Krannila
The review originally appeared on Metalliluola.fi. Links below: