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25-27/05/2007 - Rockhard Festival - Heaven Shall Burn, Grave Digger, Hammerfall, Ross The Boss, Vader, Death Angel, Amon Amarth, Dark Funeral, Spock's Beard, Paul Dianno, Axel Rudi Pell, Thin Lizzy - Gelsenkirchen, Germany 

Friday 26/05/2007

Due to private circumstances we are not able to head to Gelsenkirchen as early as we would have liked. Typically Dutch traffic is to blame for the fact that the two hour journey takes us almost four hours, finally we arrive at the hotel. Our taxi is already waiting and soon we reach our destination: The fifth edition of the Rockhard festival which will last 3 whole days ! Like last year the festival is not sold out but it has drawn a fair crowd, as could be expected with names like Thin Lizzy, Axel Rudi Pell, Death Angel, Amon Amarth, Hammerfall etc. on the bill.

All the delays have caused us to miss a number of bands (which we did really want to see!) this Friday afternoon: Crucified Barbara, Bullet and Cataract.

The first show we witness today is from the German band Heaven Shall Burn who released the fine album 'Deaf To Our Prayers' last year. HSB play aggressive metalcore based on heavy double bass salvos and death metal influences. We witness a convincing show with an enthusiastic crowd, soon a moshpit arises. We hear a mix of old and new songs such as the recent "The Weapon They Fear" and "Behind A Wall Of Silence" From the 2002 album 'Whatever It May Take'. From the most recent HSB album we hear "Mybestfriends.com" and "Of No Avail" among others. Singer Marcuss Bischoff is really getting into it with his controversial lyrics aimed at today's society. His sincerity definitely adds to the dark sound of this band. Heaven Shall Burn can look back on this performance with contentment.  

After a thirty-minute change over it's now up to Grave Digger to warm up the crowd some more. This German band has been around for over twenty years and they just seem to keep producing new material. Tonight it was their task to promote their most recent album 'Liberty Or Death'. Grave Digger's popularity in their home country becomes evident from the large crowd that has gathered before the stage. We hear the intro "The Brave", followed by "Scotland United" and "In The Dark Of The Sun". We also hear new material in the form of "Silent Revolution" and "Liberty Or Death", the title track of their latest release. Grave Digger take us on a journey to the 80's with classics such as "Excalibur", the title track of their 99 album, "Knights Of The Cross", "The Grave Digger", "Head banging Man" and "Rebellion". Interestingly this crowd seems much more enthusiastic than the crowd at the 013 show in Tilburg, Holland a couple of months ago. Guitarist Manny Smidt is definitely making an effort and singer Chris Boltendahl's enthusiasm seems contagious. The show ends with the 1984 classic "Heavy Metal Breakdown", the title track of Grave Digger´s debut album.

Tonight's headliner is Hammerfall, ever popular in Germany. The crowd looks ready. Hammerfall kicks off with the songs "Threshold", "Templars Of Steel" and "Riders On The Storm". We are entertained with pyrotechnics and as a special detail a row of bass drums has been placed with applied letters that spell "Hammerfall". The sound guys seem to have a bit of puzzling to do during the first couple of songs but the crowd is not bothered, many heads are banging and people everywhere are singing along passionately. The Swedes proceed to play "Fury Of The Wild", "Rebel Inside" and "Bloodbound". The band uses every inch of the stage and the props that have been placed. Singer Joacim Cans sounds as good as ever as he climbs the steps and runs around, singing "Reign Of The Hammer", "Renegade Warrior" and "Glory To The Brave". Apart from the endless drum solo, we have no comments whatsoever. Hammerfall veteran Fredrik Larson who was there when the band wrote their debut album 'Glory to the brave' has returned to reinforce the band with some fine bass playing. As night is closing in, justice is done to a magnificent lightshow and we hear the classics "The Fire Burns Forever", "Let The Hammer Fall" and "Crimson Thunder". The set is ended with the hymn "Hammerfall" after which the band returns to play the encores "Natural High", "Heading The Call" and "Hearts On Fire".

This first festival day has been a true party! Besides enjoying the bands' efforts on stage, we had the pleasure of meeting with many old and new friends. Plenty of beer and a good atmosphere, plus the fact that our friends from Death Angel are here to party all weekend: success guaranteed.


Saturday 26/05/2007

On day two we head for the beautiful Gelsenkirchen festival venue around 1 o'clock. As we were slightly delayed, we had to miss the Metal Inquisitor show, we literally don't know what we missed....

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Next on the programme is the German band Maroon who made quite an impression on me last year with the album "When Worlds Collide" and a solid performance in support of Strapping Young Lad. Maroon play solid thrash/death metal mixed with hardcore influences, fast blastbeats and raging guitars and aggressive vocals. When they kick off, the volume is pumped up so loud we're pretty sure all the camping people are now awake. Maroon play their best songs such as: "The Worlds Havoc", "Annular Eclipse", "Shadow Of The Vengeance" and the thrashy "Wake Up In Hell" during which a massive moshpit forms in front of the stage. The band is into it and they end the set with the Sodom cover "Ausgebombt". Today Maroon entertained us with honest metalcore filled with up-tempo riffs and great vocals.

Next up is Turisas. This Finnish band describes it's own music as "battle metal". They enter the stage clad in animal skins and smeared with blood. Besides the usual instruments like the guitar and bass Turisas uses old instruments such as the violin and accordion. Later this month the new Turisas album entitled 'The Varangian Way' will be released under Century Media, of course Turisas took the opportunity to let us get acquinted with some of the new songs today. With their Finnish folk metal, Turisas manage to entertain the crowd and create a positive, brotherly atmosphere.

After Turisas got the party started, No. 1 partyband Korpiklaani take over and take things one step further. Their speciality is mixing traditional Finnish folk music with metal but they don't let metal take the upperhand like other folkmetalbands tend to do. Korpiklaani open their set with the song "Journey Man" followed by their anthem "Korpiklaani", "Tulikokko" and "Pellonpekko". The crowd goes nuts from the first chords onwards. We watch a vigorous show, the band is enjoying every minute of their performance. Korpiklaani is not concerned with battle; drinking large pints of beer and secret parties in the woods are the subject of their songs. Hence the titles "Let's Drink", "Wooden Pints", "Hunting Song" and the grand finale "Beer Beer". Cheers!!

It's now time for ex-Manowar guitarist Ross the Boss to show us what he is made of. The rest of his band consists of Ivory Night members. These gentlemen are of course well known in Germany, especially amongst the true metal heads. It has already been announced that the band will play a special set of Manowar classics today. Not surprisingly they kick off with the song "Manowar", followed by "Shell Shock". Singer Patrick Fuchs gives the songs his own twist, not bad but kind of different from what we're used to. Evidently, the crowd has been waiting for the real classics such as "Gloves Of Metal", "Hail And Kill" and, of course, "Fighting The World": The crowd sings along word for word. Old Manowar drummer Rhino is also present today and he joins the band to play "Kill With Power", much to the amusement of the crowd. Rhino plays with such power we are amazed they don't need to replace the skins on the drums! As a parting shot we are treated to the song "Hail To Engeland" and the medley "Gates Of Valhalla/Defender". Thus ends an hour of 80's metal.

Polish deathmetalband Vader is here to replace Kataklysm who cancelled their Rockhard performance several months ago. Vader always manages to satisfy our expectations with a decent show, no-nonsense brutal old school death metal. We hear "Xeper", "Sothis", "Epitaph" and "Helleluja (God Is Dead)". Vader shakes the crowd with "Kingdom", "Silent Empire", "This Is The War" and "Back To The Blind" and a firm moshpit takes form before the stage. As always Vader plays a solid show with class and experience. The show is ended with an excellent rendition of Slayer's "Reign In Blood:, sending the crowd to another dimension. Hail!!

The time has come for the bands with a more melodic approach: Amored Saint is next on the bill. Although John Bush has played here with Anthrax and Joey Vera was here with Fates Warning, this is the first time Amored Saint attends the Rockhard Amphitheatre as a band. Amored Saint has been going strong since the beginning of the 80's and has released a number of classic albums, such as 'March Of The Saint'(1984). It's safe to say that Amored Saint is one of the best metal bands of that era with one of the best vocalists, pure metal in your face. After a short intro we hear the songs "Can You Deliver", "The Pillar" and "Glory Hunter". Now Anthrax has definitely parted with singer John Bush, he can fully concentrate on Amored Saint. John Bush is really ready for it today. We also hear "Last Train Home", "For The Sake Of Heaviness", "Symbol Of Salvation" and "Rising Fear". After about an hour we notice that the band as a whole loses it's concentration now and then but this is well compensated by the enthusiasm and power they display, especially bassist Joey Vera and axe man Phil Sandoval. The songs are performed in an almost flawless manner, it can be seen and felt that this band goes way back. Amored Saint saved the best for last and so we hear "March Of The Saint", "Reign Of Fire" and the encore "Lesson Well Learned". Excellent show!

After five years the Rockhard festival has finally succeeded to book thrash legend Death Angel. Up till now, it is the only show Death Angel will be playing in Europe this year which makes it all the more unique. Some twenty years ago a very young Death Angel released the fantastic album 'The Ultra Violence', at the time the drummer Andy Galeon was a mere 14 years old. The band has known some difficult times and they have even split up for a while. Then they got back together to attend the Thrash of the Titans festival after which they recorded a new album (2004). In the previous three years Death Angel have been on extensive tours and they have played numerous festivals, and now they are here today. When the hour has come for Death Angel to play, ominous clouds have gathered over the amphitheatre. Halfway through the show the skies open, the rain is thick and there's thunder and lightening. Still no reason for the crowd to seek shelter and abandon the venue. Some people even strip down to bang half naked in the rain, a great sight. Sparks fly on stage as the San Francisco thrashers give 200% like they always do. We hear the songs: "Seemingly Endless Time", "Voracious Souls" and "Mistress Of Pain". I am very pleased when Death Angel play one of my favourites "Thicker Than Blood" ('The Art Of Dying' 2004) and "The Devil Incarnate". The band also entertains us with classics such as "3rd Floor", Disturbing The Peace" and "Veil of Deception" and relatively new songs "Thrown To The Wolves" and "5 Steps Of Freedom". The sound is great and although part of the crowd finally gives in to the rain and leaves, Death Angel plays a fine show led by charismatic front man Mark Osequeda. The set is ended with the songs "Bored" and "Kill As One" in which Mark is joined by the crowd.

We now wait for the Swedish Vikings Amon Amarth who play a type of melodic death metal based on the sombre Norwegian Mythology. Their latest album entitled 'With Oden On Our Side' was released in 2006. These fearless warriors have been battling for almost twenty years now and slowly but surely they seem to be gaining ground with their songs about cruel gods, bloody slaughter and brave battles. Two Norwegian swordfighters enter the stage and seriously get into it, we are quite impressed that no-one gets hurt. Soon the band takes the stage and they kick off with the song "Valhalla Awaitis Me" and "Death In Fire". Although part of the crowd has disappeared due to the rain, Amon Amarth's power and enthusiasm are convincing. We hear "Bleed For Ancient Gods", "Cry Of The Black Birds" and "Masters Of War". The lightshow is quite impressive and we're even treated to a bit of pyro.

Despite the rain and the hour growing late there is still plenty of people around to start o good old moshpit. We hear the song "Fate Of Horns" and decide to call it a day and leave the amphitheatre to Amon Amarth. We have another long day ahead of us.


Sunday 27/05/2007

After a solid breakfast at the hotel we battle wind and rain and head for the amphitheatre to enjoy the third and last Rockhard day.

We have an extremely slow cabdriver and so we rush to the stage where Sabaton has been kicking it for the last fifteen minutes. In 2005 they released the album 'Primo Victoria' through the Swedish Label Black Lodge Records and in 2006 they released 'Attero Dominatus', ready to conquer the world with their rugged, bombastic heavy metal! We step in to hear "Into The Fire" followed by "Attero Dominatus" and "Rise Of Evil". The crowd before the stage keeps growing as we listen to "Primo Victoria" and we notice that most people here are actually singing along. As a grand finale Sabaton play their "Metal Medley", the lyrics to this song consist of names of rock/metal bands resulting in lines like "When the Priest killed the Maiden in the Metal Church" and "To kiss the Queen of Crimson Glory". Great stuff!! Our request for an encore is granted and so we get to digest the song "Metal Machine". Compliments on a decent show.

The Swedish band Hardcore Superstar is on next and we have no idea what to expect. I soon discover that this is something to fit my taste. These Swedish shock/glam rockers play a fun-packed set full of references to the 80's glam rock. We hear "Last Forever", "Back On Your Head", "Bastard" and "She 's Offbeat". The guys are a pleasure to watch with their wild haircuts and glamorous outfits. They continue to play "Hateful", "Medicate Me" and "Wild Boys". The set is ended with the song "We Don't Celebrate Sundays" and the encore "Kick On The Upperclass". I'm glad I came down to watch Hardcore Superstar, very entertaining.

When Naglfar cancelled their performance at the Rockhard festival, the guys from Dew Scented were so friendly as to step in. Dew Scented guarantee pure and honest thrash metal with death metal influences and a solid, professional show. They open with the song "Never To Return", "Cities Of The Dead" and "Turn To Ash" and they manage to move the crowd at this early hour. Dew Scented lives up to its reputation and we hear "That's Why I Despise You", "New Found Pain" and "Into The Arms Of Misery". Everyone is enjoying the almost catchy thrash beats and before we know it we're listening to the final song "Acts Of Rage" a brutal show by a friendly band comes to an end.

Dark Funeral is the only black metal band at Rockhard this year. Ironically, the sun starts to shine like mad only a moment before Dark Funeral enter the stage, it just doesn't seem right to watch a dark satanic band in the bright sunlight! We wonder if the diehard, corpse painted Dark Funeral fans will survive this overdose of light. According to connaisseurs the DF album 'Diabolis Interium' belongs to the most impressive travails of the dark subgenre. Today they play a reasonable show with songs such as "An Apprentice Of Satan", "The arrival Of Satan's Empire" and "Vobiscum Satanas". They don't seem bothered by the happy weather and manage to create a little darkness in their magnificent leather suits. They continue to play and "Attera Totus Sanctus". Drummer Nils Fjällström (in battle, Deon, Sanctification) is the latest addition to the band and he appears to have found his way. Unfortunately the bass and guitar parts are hard to hear, we blame the mixing. Dark Funeral definitely have the poorest sound this Rockhard edition. The set is ended with "My Dark Desires", resulting in a major moshpit.

Around five o'clock German beer kings Tankard head for the stage. They are in good spirits today, not only is this a home game for the Germans, they are also celebrating their 25th anniversary! They hit the stage and the (German) crowd just can't seem to get enough of singer Gerre's enormous beer belly and his humorous lyrics. Very charming ;-). We hear: "Still Drunk", "Zombie Attack", "Slipping From Reality" and "Beermunda". The crowd is loving it, maybe this has something to do with the fact that they have been drinking for three days straight now... Tankard serves us the classics "The Beauty And The Beer", "Need Money For Beer", "Chemical Invasion" and "Die With A Beer In Your Hand". A churning moshpit starts to form and singer Gerre is very talkative, joking around and rounding up the crowd. Tankard has a good sound going on today and Gerre's voice is raw as it should be. They end the set with the songs "Rectifier", "Freibier" and all-time favourite "(Empty) Tankard", pleasing the crowd one more time.

Ex-Iron Maiden singer and living legend Paul Dianno has come to entertain us with Iron Maiden classics today. Dianno kicks off with the intro "Tales Of March" after which the band, that normally goes by the name Re-vision, starts to play "The Phantom Of The Opera", followed by "Wrathchild and "Prowler". After one song Paul Dianno's face has gone scarlet and he's sweating like a pig. He continues with the songs: "Murders In The Rue Morgue", "Remember tomorrow" and "The Faith Healer" a cover from the Alex Harvey Band. Dianno incorporates his own raw style in the songs and conveniently ignores a number of high notes. However, he has not lost his sense of humour and is very chatty in between songs. We hear the classics "Killers" and "Running Free" during which the stage is crammed with members from other bands who scream along with Paul Dianno. Even Rockhard Godfather Götz Kühnemund joins in the festivities. We must admit that playing all these Maiden classics raises a few eyebrows, it has been over 25 years since Paul Dianno left Iron Maiden. With support of the backing choir we hear "Transsylvania", the Ramones cover "Blitzkrieg Bop" and "Sanctuary".

Because of a scheduled interview we have to miss the most part of progressive metallers Spock's Beard's set. We do hear the songs "Skeletons At The Feast", "Rearranged" and "The Water". Spock's Beard play their music with passion and class and although there is no reason to criticize this band, an hour and a half seems slightly long for this festival. Today the band uses two drum kits; one for tour drummer Jimmy Keegan and one for front man Nick D'Virgilio. D'Virgilio takes his place behind the drums for the last song of the set: a sublime cover version of Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love", sung excellently by drummer Jimmy Keegan.

Axel Rudi Pell is one of Germany's favourite guitarists and so the Rockhard festival is a home game for the former Steeler axe man. The band has no problem getting the crowd going, they play "Tear Down The Walls", "Fly To The Moon" and "Mystica". Axel Rudi Pell and his band seem in good spirits today, especially singer Johnny Gioeli who is running around the stage and doing a fine vocal job as well. Halfway through the set Mike Terrana impresses us with a drum solo and guitar wizard Axel Rudi Pell more than lives up to his reputation this show. We hear excellent renditions of the classics "Cashbah" and "The Masquerade Ball", the crowd is loving it. The show is ended with the songs "Rock The Nation" and "Temple Of The King", we are very content.

After an extremely long changeover and a couple of stage crew blunders, headliner Thin Lizzy open their show half an hour late. Although things will never be the same without singer Phil Lynett, vocalist John Sykes and bass player Marco Mendoza do an excellent job in his stead. We witness an energetic and passionate performance, filled with classics such as "Jailbreak", "Waiting For An Alibi" and "Don't Believe A Word". We get what we expected and we hear "Cold Sweat" and "Are You Ready". A few songs into the show I witness the bass player 'powdering' his nose, apparently some of the guys need a little something extra to pull off a show at their age ;-) They continue their set with "Bad Reputation" which is followed by an outstanding drum solo by Tommy Aldridge who demonstrates that you don't need drumsticks to beat the crap out of your drum kit! After all these years Thin Lizzy is still going strong. We hear "Emerald", "Suicide", "Cowboy Song" and all time hit "The Boys Are Back In Town". Thin Lizzy leaves the stage only to return and play "Black Rose" and "Rosalie" as an encore. Despite the fact that they have only played for one hour, we are well-pleased with Thin Lizzy. They played an enjoyable, professional, classic show today.

Once again we can look back on a fun, atmospheric and musically interesting festival with a fine, varied line-up. Despite a couple of showers the weather was better than expected. We also noted that this year the lack of toilets had been taken care of, so no more waiting in line. Like other years we would like to salute the security people who were friendly as well as professional. We never saw a crowd surfer hit the ground!! The acoustics in the amphitheatre were excellent thanks to the efforts of the sound technicians, a number of creative metal heads also added to the fun with inflatable guitars and extravagant outfits, we even encountered a horde of green monsters, Lord of the Rings style.

Once more we would like to thank the Rockhard crew and director Götz Kühnemund for their hospitality and a fantastic 2007 edition of one of our favourite festivals! We have not yet heard any confirmations for the next Rockhard edition but of course we hope to see everyone back here next year to celebrate one of Germany's most intimate festivals.

To see more photo's from this festival, just go to the photo section of this website.