Fortarock 2012 review

As far as my experience goes with the Netherlands and Dutch people, the word “practical” is one of the first that come to mind when describing them. And it also applies to the Fortarock festival, which has the biggest advantage of being a one day festival. A young and growing festival, located in the Brakkenstein park in the city of Nijmegen, within walking distance from train and bus stations and starting at noon, it makes for a very enjoyable Saturday afternoon. I've been to three or four day festivals and, while there's plenty of fun parts in that, I consider that we're way over the days when people hardly had access to live concerts, hence their desperate need for once a year event where they could see all the big bands during three to seven days. I really find it more practical with a Saturday filled with concerts, a mix of “big” and “small” bands, for all tastes and interests, which still leaves you plenty of time during the weekend and doesn't require days off from work to travel there.

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Mainstage at Fortarock festival 2012
Photo: Andrea Chirulescu / studiorock.ro

Practicality was also seen pretty much all over the area. I mean, for about twelve hours of access to the festival grounds, the organisers set up enough bars, food selling places, merch, toilets that I hardly had to swim through the crowd to get from one stage to another. Not to forget the weather that really was on our side for that day, so overall there was no reason to complain. The day was full of awesome experiences and concerts. I also want to give a big thanks to the staff, whether they were paid or volunteers: I haven't encountered a person whose face was grumpy. Even when the security guys would kick us out of the photo pit after the “regular” three songs, they did it in a calm and friendly manner.

It didn't start as awesome though: the Oslo airport security people begun to strike the evening before, so Saturday morning I ended up in a departure hall filled by a huge snake-queue that the remaining working guards were trying to keep functional. Without getting into details, I caught my flight in time, landed, got the right trains to Nijmegen and easily found the festival's location, arriving about half an hour before everything started.

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Sólstafir live@Fortarock 2012
Photo: Andrea Chirulescu / studiorock.ro

The day was opened on the Jägermeister stage (the tent) by the French death-metal Benighted. A rather brutal start of the day, meant to wake you up if you weren't already. I remember a few quite melodic guitar solos or riffs that were nicely filling the parts in between the mad vocals and the super fast blast beats. I kept thinking of the tunes I heard from Man must die, but as I still had some stuff to put in place after my arrival, I didn't watch their full set.

A little later, the main stage hosted the show of one of the bands that made me travel to the Netherlands, the Icelandic heathen bastards from Sólstafir. With their personal way of making very atmospheric music out of some metal genres that wouldn't let your parents sleep, the guys came on stage in their redneck-ish outfits and managed to draw more and more crowd closer to the stage with each minute. I guess almost nobody understood a word in Icelandic, yet that was less important when the beautiful vibes of the continuously lazy yet tempo increasing rhythms are capturing your ears. The vocal parts are also well planned to build the heavy atmosphere that one can find on the disk, yet, being outdoors, I think some of its charm got literally lost in the wind. At the end of the show I was happy to see plenty of folks cheering and a decent amount of people gathered to watch them.

For various reasons I skipped Asphyx and returned later to the main stage for another “cozy” musical experience (if I am to compare with the styles about to pour from the speakers later on that evening): Devin Townsend and his Project, a combo I've seen live before and I'd happily see again as often as possible. While I am not fully familiar with all the songs recently released (of which I'm sure he played a few), those of you who have seen crazy Davey live probably know what I mean when I say he really knows what he's doing on stage. And he does it with enthusiasm, every single time I see him. He's never out of smiles or silly faces. Then he goes back to playing his guitar, something which he actually is very good at, delivering everything from soft ambiental sounds to heavy and extreme riffs and beats. For a complete dish à la Devin, the Ziltoid's voice comes up often in between or during songs, bringing even more smiles on people's faces. And what's better than having a happy audience to play for?

After hearing recommendations to see Nasum live, I relocated to the tent to pay some attention the grindcore Swedes, whose history has a very sad moment back in 2004 when the December tsunami killed the band's frontman. Yet, in 2012 they found the strength to reunite and I understood the people's eagerness to see them live. A lot of brutality on stage, even punk like at times, everything was played at maximum speed, toasting the much too relaxed brain cells of mine. Yet, their stage attitude was much more friendly than their music, which must be filled with a lot of hatred against something or someone. After a few songs sounding pretty similar to each other I left, deciding to save my energy for the upcoming bands. I took a short trip to glance at Trivium's performance, but like every time I saw them before, I can't find myself impressed except for the fact that they seem to always have plenty of energy on stage. Otherwise, it almost feels like they put a song on repeat and while there's occasionally some cooler guitar part, it's never enough to keep me interested. So I listened to half of their concert from somewhere far away and used the other half to grab some food.

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Steel Panther live@Fortarock 2012
Photo: Andrea Chirulescu / studiorock.ro

Next up on the tent stage I was to witness the sleaziest show in metal. Well, I was aware from before that Steel Panther is all about sex, but I never knew they're that explicit. On one hand, they really are eye candy for photographers since they do have the stage experience and know how to pose. Not to mention the glammiest of the glam outfits, or the bass player's constantly hair care system. But they get so gross by repeating the same explicit sexual jokes and spending so much time talking, that I'm sure I'd avoid their shows in the future. On the happy side though, there's a lot of fans that come around in funny outfits, and actually the audience in the front even reminds you of old days concerts where girls scream and faint when the singer glances a bit longer at them. And they pay back the glance with a sight of their bra's contents. As for the music, I must admit the show is too overwhelming to even remember what they sound like. Except that they had a chorus with something about an Asian hooker.

Time for the metal scene's iconic acts to start taking over. First of them were the New York thrashers known as Anthrax, who had reunited again with Joey Belladona for their vocal parts. Joey hardly spends too much time in one spot, giving the band's show a really entertaining dynamism, especially as the crowd seemed to welcome him with open arms. A stage full of pentagrams, skilled musicians, classic thrash songs, these were the main ingredients to unleash the crowd and make it start raining with crowd surfers over the photo pit. Heavy headbanging was also a sign of music's speed, besides the multitude of voices singing (screaming) along for most songs, a clear proof of the band's notoriety.

Back to serious music on the tent stage: Meshuggah. Swedes with balls and with their extreme metal that tends to ignore a lot of music patterns, yet managing to stick to the simplest of them. I saw them live plenty of times, yet this was the first time afetr the release of their new album, Koloss. This new release brought a new backdrop, new songs in the playlist, if I'm not mistaken they even rearranged a bit some of the old ones (at least Pravus sounded different to me), yet the crowd still screams with excitement when they recognise the intro from Future breed machine or Bleed. Tight as always, annoyingly repeating the same thing yet changing it every few beats during one song, the Swedes deliver their usual master-level performance, always leaving behind some people in the crowd with their mouths wide open, people who seem to wonder about what on Earth did they just witness on stage.

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Meshuggah live@Fortarock 2012
Photo: Andrea Chirulescu/ studiorock.ro

Another type of groovy metal begun soon on the main stage, this time played by the Americans from Machine Head. They started with some technical problems for the first song, as one of their guitarists was absent for most of the time, but he elegantly got back into the set once the issues were solved. I haven't started listening to Machine Head until recently, so their latest album Unto the locust is the one I like best so far. To my own excitement, they started with songs from it, but I also noticed that the crowd was cheering a lot when they recognised the tunes from this album. As they have a lot of softer or mellow parts in almost each song, that would soon explode into fast and angry riffs supported, all supported by groovy drumming, Machine Head's shows seem to reach a new level of intensity with each song. As long as the vocals can well interpret both the clean parts and the harsh ones, the band is certain to be a pleasant live experience.

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Slayer live@Fortarock 2012
Photo: Andrea Chirulescu / studiorock.ro

The previous level of intensity was nothing compared to what happened next on the Jägermeister stage. Originating from Richmond, Virginia (something proudly announced at every show) Lamb of God delivered one of the most insane performances I ever saw. Actually, they do it each time I see them. The band's vocalist, Randy Blythe, must be burning more calories during a show than a marathon runner in a race. He screams, jumps, headbangs, talks, spits, drinks, moves continuously from one end of the stage to another, yet his vocal performance is hardly affected by all this effort. Maybe that's what he actually needs in order to express all the intense feelings in the band's anthems. Such intensity quickly spreads through the crowd's need to headbang, which made it dangerous to actually stand and photograph too close to the fence. The show involved even more crowd surfers and even a daring guy who jumped on the stage, greeted Randy and then did a splendid stage diving. While the guitar and bass parts are not to be ignored, the drumming in Lamb of God's songs is a fantastic thing to experience live. I think even Meshuggah's drummer, Tomas Haake agrees, since I saw him watching it from backstage.

I left the tent with a very low level of energy after screaming along Lamb of God's songs and headed towards the main stage to watch the final act of the evening, another iconic band that goes by the name of Slayer. It got quite crowded on the field in front of the stage, making it a rather beautiful sight from the stage. It finally got dark so that the light show on the main stage actually made sense and it was well thought to 'dance' along the band's classic tunes. It's always impressive to be close to Kerry King or Tom Arraya and see them in action, but besides the fact that they have pioneered certain aspects of today's metal and were/are an inspiration for thousands of kids, they're not even half as good as musicians that played previously that day, guys that were way more versatile in playing their instruments. But as long as the crowd loves Slayer and can accurately do air guitaring or drumming during their sets, they'll be headlining a lot of big stages and show the world what made them gain their fame.

Had this festival been organised every month of the summer, I think I'd try to travel to each of them. I can't stress enough the fact that I find it brilliant to have everything packed on two stages for the duration of one day. Now, I can only look forward to next year's edition and, in the mean time, smile while recalling the cool moments of the day.


by Andrea Chirulescu and Frank Wijers