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09-11/05/2008, Rockhard Festival 2008, Gelsenkirschen – Germany

Friday may 9 2008

It’s late in the morning when we set off for Gelsenkirchen (Germany), the weather is great. After a two-hour drive without traffic jams we arrive at the hotel where a taxi is waiting to take us to the Amphitheatre. Soon we arrive at the Amphitheatre where we are about to become part of the 6th edition of the Rockhard festival, three whole days this year! Just like the past years the festival is practically sold out before it has even started. It appears the sun has convinced the last-minute deciders to come out; within hours the last ticket is sold. This year’s bill is varied as always with headliners such as Exodus, Immortal, Volbeat, Iced Earth and Testament (who stepped in for Celtic Frost at the last moment). An all-star jam session featuring artists such as James Riviera, Jorn Lande and Destruction vocalist Schmier is planned for the Sunday.

We arrive at the beautiful festival area and while we wait for our passes, we manage to catch the last couple of songs by the Claymore. All the paperwork is taken care of swiftly and when we enter the festival area, the theatre has started to fill up with metal heads. The atmosphere is fantastic and the weather is amazingl. Unfortunately we missed most of the semi-local opening act The Claymore, this was certainly not as planned. Over the years we have discovered many great bands that served as support act and we have learned that it can definitely be worth your while to check out a band you’ve never heard of before. We managed to hear The Claymore songs “Sign”, “Arborlan” and the final song “Soulseeker”.

It is now time for another German act: Stormwarrior. It’s quite apparent that these guys were inspired by their “big brothers” Gamma Ray and Helloween, both in terms of music and the element of show. This is hardly surprising as Gamma Ray’s Kai Hansen is the mastermind behind Stormwarrior’s success. Hansen has been known to get on stage with the Stormwarrior guys to sing a Helloween classic or two. Today Stormwarrior kick off their set with “Heading Northe” and “Heavy Metal Fire”. They really get into it and are clearly enjoying the attention. Some elements of their music are a little passé but the ripping guitar parts make up for this. We hear “Metal Legacy” and “Into the Battle” off their latest album entitled ‘Heading Northe’. Despite the hot weather there’s a lot of head banging going on and many people in the crowd raise their horns as a sign of appreciation. Stormwarrior continue to play a number of older songs such as “Odinns Warriors”, “Thunderer”, “Sign Of The Warlord”, “Iron Prayers” and the classic “Valhalla”. This was a fun show played with great enthusiasm for an appreciative crowd.

We are less impressed by the Swedish band Lake of Tears and so we decide to eat and shop during their show though we are still able to witness it all from a distance. This Doom-Gothic band does not often play live shows so many fans have made their way to the stage to witness a relatively rare sight. Lake of tears play a balanced set with songs from each of their albums. We hear “Return of Ravens”, “You Better Breathe While There’s Still Air”, “Ravenland” and “Greyman”. The music can be described as a mix of gothic and rock with 70’s influences resulting in a spherical, relaxed sound. The musicians in this band know their stuff and judging by their solo’s, they are having a good time. Lake Of Tears wrap up the sow with the songs “Like A Leaf”, “Sweetwater” and “Crazyman”.

It’s now time for old Californian rockers Y&T. This band has been going strong for about 35 years and as soon as they play the first chords of the song “Hurricane”, the crowd swells and they really get the party started. Y&T fire classics at us such as “Mean Streak”, “Dirty Girl”, “Midnight In Tokyo” and “Rescue Me”. They really rip it up and the audience is ecstatic, singing along to the vocals of each song. Y&T are in top condition today. We hear excellent renditions of “Pretty Prison”, “Black Tiger” and “Look Like Trouble”. Bass player Phil Kennemore fulfills the vocal duties for the song “Squeeze” but we would like to advise Y&T to stick with singer Dave Meniketti’s voice! Besides his vocal qualities, Meniketti is also a fine guitar player and we are treated to a number of his gripping solo’s. They proceed to play the songs “Forever” and “I Believe In You” after which a show of great class has come to an end.

Die Apokalyptischen Reiter are practically a must for a German festival. For your information: The band name refers to the four horsemen mentioned in  chapter 6 of the Book of Revelations from the New Testament in the Bible. By now the Amphitheatre has filled up and after a short intro the band starts by playing “Vom Ende Der Welt”, “Riders On The Storm” and “Warum” among others. Front man Fuchs is a born entertainer and knows exactly how to work the audience. Keyboard player DR. Pest grabs our attention with his interesting SM outfit and he appears to be trapped in a giant birdcage. The new female guitarist Ladis Catman also manages to raise an eyebrow or two. We hear “Seeman”, “Erhalle Meine Seele”, “We Will Never Die” and fan favourite “Reitermania”. Musically, the songs are relatively up to scratch: the innovative metal is mixed effortlessly with hard riffs that came straight from the death and black genre and the next moment we’re back to flowing melodies. Towards the end of the show we are entertained with the songs “Die Sonne Scheint” and Die Apokalyptischen Reiter leave us after playing “Terra Nola”. A fine show by the horsemen.

Due to the sudden break up of the Swiss band Celtic Frost only a number of weeks ago, the Rockhard  organisation was forced to search for a new headliner. They soon found what they were looking for in San Francisco, when Testament agreed to fill the spot. After a nine-year album void these Bay Area metallers released a solid new record entitled ‘The Formation Of Damnation’. We learned from insiders that this show was going to be a special one. The gentlemen were forced to leave Alex Scolnick at home (due to a prior engagement on his part), but the set list might contain certain surprises. Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back In Town” is played as an intro after which Testament take the stage and the crowd breaks out in a deafening applause. They are off with a bumpy start when they play “Over The Wall”, the classic “Into The Pit” and “Raging Waters” (first time live since 15 years). Eric Peterson has to carry twice his weight on guitars but he’s still all smiles all the way through the set. The guys are all clearly working extra hard in order to make up for the missing guitarist. Even Paul Bostaph takes over some of Alex’s solo’s on his drum kit. This drummer is proving his exceptional drumming skills here. The set is continued with the songs “The Haunting”, “Practice What You Preach” and “The Preacher”, among others. Graig’s bass sound is more audible than ever and actually sounds very good. We hear “Henchmen Ride” off the latest album and during the song “Reign Of Terror” Chuck takes a moment to let us know that this song also has not been played live for 15 years. After playing “Souls Of Black” they start playing “C.O.T.Z.O.D.” which they mess up completely, stop and then get it right the second time. Testament goes on playing my personal favourite “Alone In The Dark” followed by the new song “3 Days In Darkness” and oldie “Low”. The show is then ended with a sublime rendition of “Disciples Of The Watch”. In the end, this was a great and entertaining show, exactly what can be expected from a band like Testament. Although the technical aspect of the show wasn’t flawless, the vigorous performance of the band and the professional light show more than made up for this. We also noticed the sizable crowd that came out to witness Testament’s efforts and the remarkably good atmosphere during the show. At 11 o’clock the band leaves the stage, leaving us with a feeling of satisfaction after a good day with memorable shows, excellent weather and a very relaxed atmosphere.

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Saturday 10/05/2008
Sunday 11/05/2008