Graspop Metal Meeting 2008, Belgium

by Lars Bahren

Initial considerations

Why go there? – Consider the usual exercise once the summer festival season is at your door: you take some time off to go through all your favorite music magazines and websites to see who is showing up where this year. What are you ending up with? Are you going to visit them all or are going to pick a few based on the bands participating? If you have been opting for the latter then the Graspop Metal Meeting almost certainly would be ending up high on any short-list. The combination of head-liners alone – Judas Priest, Kiss and Iron Maiden – would be enough already to make one reach for a full three-days ticket.

Day 1 - The Priests of the Prophecy

The festival opening on the main stage was reserved for Californian band Tesla, who delivered a good show but not good enough to motivate people to stay for 45 min in front of the stage. At that time everybody was more preoccupied buying meal and drink tickets than paying attention to the band.

This not happened during the furious and brutal band that opened the acts on the second stage: Behemoth. The polish band delivered an awesome set, playing most of the songs from their last album „The Apostasy„ plus good selections from the old ones. Taking into consideration the overall atmosphere within the tent I fully can say that their fans had great time at Graspop and the band performance was one of the most appreciated from the festival.

Just to keep the trend of the main stage, Yngwie Malmsteen performance was not only boring but even worse. No-one was impressed by his usual tricks and the crowd didn’t respond at all.The long passing solos between songs didn’t make them to have a better sound.

[By name and track-record, the performance of Yngwie Malmsteen was something really anticipated. However – taking all things into consideration - the presentation cannot be judged otherwise but disapointing. The 2008 edition of the Rising Force once more constitutes of skilled members which manage to stand up against whoever has been filling their slot before. The most prominent addition to the band would have to be considered Tim “Ripper” Owens, who once more proves as a link between band and audience. That this potential – as well as that of the songs – is not able flourish, is a burden which needs to be put on the shoulders of Malmsteen himself. While there can be no doubt his fingers are moving at a speed only few guitarists will be able to achieve, it is this almost obsession with the own technique which turns out to be the biggest short-coming. What good is a great band, if the whole show sounds like one endless guitar solo anyway?]

“A presentation of Steak Number 8 is not complete without to mention the age of the youngest team member that looks to be only 14.5 years older. The group is known as being a post-rock band with long mysterious guitar passage and not limited only to traditional song structures. “ These words translated from Dutch version of the Festival Guide (the only one available) made me curious enough to see the live presentation of their 2008 album „ When the Candle Dies Out”. Despite their young ages, the Belgian band knows very well how to deal with their instruments and how to keep the crowd connected for the entire show.

Next in line,the Portuguese band Moonspell: good sound, excellent performance and great atmosphere. The charismatic presence of lead singer Fernando Ribeiro combined with guitar lines and drums just stuck you in. They started with „At Tragic Heights”, ”Eternal Night„ and ”Finis Terra” but the crowd turn mad when the band guest Anneke of Giersbergen (Aqua de Annique, ex-The Gathering) appeared for a mid-set duet and sang the song “Scorpion Flower” with Ribeiro. Besides already classical songs like “Alma Mater” and “Vampiria”, their new album „Night Eternnal” seems to be very appreciated even by people not familiar with the band or with their style of music.

The Lucifer Principle a catchy death metal band from The Netherlands. The action was very tight, with songs such as The Pitch Black Dawn and I Am The Law as the main attractions.

Back on the main stage for Saxon. Performance was good, lot of people, good interaction with the crowd but I wasn’t yet convinced that on the main stage it will happen something interesting that day.

Instead on the doom stage the atmosphere was higher, a lot of people having fun due to Firewind performance. The Greek band looks to have the receipt in delivering great shows, guitar wizard and band-leader Gus G. and his illustrious band-members (Apollo Papathanasio - voice, Mark Cross - drums, Petros Christo - bass and Bob Katsionis - keyboards and second guitar) were in a great shape at Graspop. Most of the songs were from their last album “The Premonition”; even if their shows didn’t impress me so much as the one from Amsterdam when they opened Kamelot concert, the band still remain one of my favourite. Songs like Into the fire, My lollines are, Head Up High made people to become mad and to ask for more. Hope to see them soon!

Firewind was a very good introduction for next in series: Symphony X that delivered aprox 1 hour of excellent great music. The setlist covered most of the “Paradise Lost” album and ‘Inferno’ from the Odyssey really gets the crowd pumping, especially as it is the first time that they have played the festival. When the band ask the crowd if they want them back naturally a huge roar of approval flows their way.The show ends in an elegant way with „Of Sins and Shadows” from Prelude to the Millenium album. Around me voices tells that Symphony X performance was greater that the one they delivered last year during european tour with Dream Theater. Great band!

[On a technical side note, one might want to do a small comprison here – Michael Romeo on the one hand, Yngwie Malmsteen on the other. While there is not doubt, that both are way-above-average players, the main difference is in two details: (1) Romeo delivers his part clean and with high precision, no matter how technically challenging. Malmsteen however was caught a number of times to let his fingers slip, leaving the closely listening audience with the impression he was more focusing making a big show than actually playing guitar the way he is famous for. (2) The interaction between Romeo and singer Russel Allen works just great, making the show pure joy to watch; Malmsteen on the other hand seems to want dominating the whole show, thereby taking away a lot of the impact his band-mates could have on the audience.]

Setlist Symphony X: “Set the World on Fire”, “Domination”, “The Serpent’s Kiss”, “Paradise Lost”, “Eve of Seduction”, “The Walls of Babylon” , „Inferno” and „Of Sins and Shadows”.

Back in a hurry on the main stage where we have Def Leppard . They weren’t bad, just different. Songs like “Let’s Get rocked”, “Rock It”, “C’mon C’mon”, “Animal”, “Make love like a man”, “Pour some sugar on me, Hysteria”, “Armageddon it” and “Photograph” warmed a lot of hearts and remembered by the time when Def Lepard used to be no 1 in tops. [ need to add something here….no idea for the moment]

In spite of bad sound Testament opening with “Over the wall” and Into the Pit was a very good one and a very good moment for all threshers gathered at Graspop. The show covers all their career, from classics like „Disciples of the watch” to newest ones „Henchman ride” and „More than meets the eye”, as well as some cuts from the 90’s death/thrash era in the form of „DNR” and „Legions in Hiding”. Setlist Testament:Over The Wall, Into The Pit, Apocalyptic City, Practice What You Preach, The New Order, More Than Meets The Eye, The Henchmen Ride, The Preacher, D.N.R., Three Days In Darkness, Alone In The Dark and Disciples Of The Watch.

In accordance with Wikipedia NILE is a brutal / technical death metal band and their music and lyrics are inspired by Ancient Egyptian mysticism, history, religion, art, and the writings of H.P. Lovecraft.. They have one of the best guitarists (Karl Sanders) and the fastest drummer (George Kollias) in the world. At Graspop on the technical side, they were very impressive indeed. Unfortunately the voice sounded not so good and the setlist wasn’t carefully chose. Overall they delivered a very nice show but they can do more then that. Part of Nile’s setlist: Scream, Aim, Fire, Disappear, 4 Words, Tears Don’t Fall, Suffocating and Eye Of The Storm.

As already Saxon and Def Leppard, also Whitesnake has to be considered as a band of long-standing history and considerable achievements. That a good deal of the reputation is based on David Coverdale’s vocals, could be proven once more that evening – a shame however that the voice was not given its full presence in the sound mix. While the songs from the last album „Good to be bad” were received reasonably well, it were of course the classic songs in the band’s setlist, which got the most response; an audience not responding to a song like „Here I go again” still needs to be found. That it is possible to get a large crowd of metal-heads all sentimental… a ballad of the magnitude of „Is this love” can do that.]

Setlist Whitesnake:Best Years – Fool for your Lovin’ – Can you hear the wind blow - Love ain’t no stranger - Lay down your love – Is this love – A fool in love – All your lovin’ – Here I go again – Still of the night.

On the Marquee 1, the entire set of industrial metal band Ministry was built mainly around its Anti-Bush and American Politics - songs, and there are quite a lot (the last three albums Ministry go entirely on that theme).. There were 14 songs played, many of them from the trilogy: “The last sucker”, “Rio Grande Blood” ” and “Houses of the Mole” supplemented with some older work , songs that completely fulfill the funs hearts.As you already probably know, after 27 years of performing, the band has decided to retire in 2008.

The final act on Marquee 2 was reserved to Morbid Angel, one of the oldest bands acting on death metal stage. Songs like „ Chapel of ghouls”, ”Where the slime live”, „ Lords of all Fevers and plague” and „ Gods of Emptiness”, plus Trey Azagthoth solos transformed all show in a great party from where only Gods were missing.

Headliner the first night of the Graspop Metal Meeting was nobody less but the mighty Judas Priest. That this was an excellent choice only took a tiny fraction of the one and a half hour set to realize. With their first ever concept-album “Nostradamus” out, the show inherited a good deal of the setting and atmosphere of the latest work; while some might say Priest have aged quite a bit, one definitely will need to add that they aged and matured (which cannot be said about all bands around for as long). Starting off the set with the “Prophecy” it is immediately clear that Priest will be going a good deal theatrical this evening: if it weren’t for the thousands of people, a theater would have been the fitting place. With the guitar work between K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton working perfectly in sync, the only variable left would be the vocal performance of Rob Halford; no need to worry about that, since Halford presented himself in great condition, covering the full range of lamenting deeper passages up to the high screams for a song like “Painkiller”.

Day 2 - Pyrotechnical extravaganza

For those heading for their tents the night before without a last look on the latest information regarding the running order for Saturday, the arrival on the festival site would hold two surprises: both Opeth and Volbeat had canceled their appearance last minute. While the latter had to withdraw their participation due to sudden death of frontman Michael Poulsen’s father, Mikael Akerfeldt had been diagnosed with chickenpox, forcing the band to cancel all appearances that weekend. The reorganization of the running order caused a number of overlaps which made following up all bands somewhat more difficult.

Without doubt the Saturday afternoon had the strongest opening of all three days: swedish power metal band Sabaton impressively demonstrated that their move from one of the smaller stages up to the main stages for their second appearance at Graspop was well justified. Singer Joakim Brodén and his band-mates delivered a very dynamic show, something which definitely was more but just a warm up for the rest of the day. Sabaton immediately profited from the aforementioned cancellation of Opeth and Volbeat, which allowed for a rather spontaneous extension of their set. After the strong opener “Ghost division” the subsequent songs such as “Attero Dominatus”, “In The Name Of God”, “Primo Victoria”, “40:1” and “The Price Of A Mile” – all lyrically centering on historical wars and battles – left a very positive impression, asking for keeping a closer eye on the band and its works.

Full of energy, after Sabaton performance I could easily run from one tent to another just to pick up some impression from the rest of the bands.Before Sonata Artcica there were Bleeding Through (USA) with a very nice keyboardiste, good music and enjoyable admosphere. Next in line : Alestorm folk metal band that seems to delivered a show on their funs taste but didn’t imprese me much.I think The Captain Morgan’s Revenge was their bigger highlight.

Forbidden was one of the bands I was looking out for the most and they didn’t dissapointed me with their perfect setlist: March Into Fire, Forbidden Evil, Off The Edge, Twisted Into Form, Follow Me, Through The Eyes Of Glass, Parting of the Ways/Infinite and Chalice Of Blood. I have no more words ..the show was great!

Dying Fetus are known for their outspoken political views and for being one of worlds death metal bands who follow a political nature. Very agressive band that played songs as Pissing In The Mainstream, Kill Your Mother / Rape Your Dog, Killing On Adrenaline and Opiates Of The Masses.

Agent Steel – good overall performance, headlight – their new vocal: Bruce Hall. Agent Steel setlist: It’s Not What You Think, Fashioned From Dust, Wash The Planet Clean, Bleed For The Godz, Ten Fists Of Nations, Unstoppable Force, Know Your Master, Agents Of Steel and Mad Locust Rising.

That Sonata Arctica is a band capable of outstanding live performances only had been demonstrated during their recent concert in Eindhoven (NL); how big an influence to this the audience and the venue can be became clear in direct comparison with appearance at GMM. The smaller venues better suit the band’s efforts to directly interact with their audience, throwing back and forth cues; for that reasons also the once more excellent set-list – In black and white, Paid in full, Kingdom for a heart, Caleb, Replica, Fullmoon, It won´t fade, Gravenimage, Don´t say a word, The Cage, Vodka – could not compensate for the large gap between stage and audience.

The fans from Korpiklaani proved once more their ability in delivering great show people having a lot of fun at their concert. The songs are energetic, catchy and very melodic „Many of KORPIKLAANI’s songs come directly from the annals of the Finnish folk archives, but are activated with a fierce twist of metal.’ Said the band on their webside.

The fact that the dutch gothic metal band Delain was set to play at the Metal Dome – the area for the up-and-coming bands – can hardly be read otherwise as that the band still has some way to go before stepping out of the shadow of their fellow country-people of Within Temptation and After Forever. That such a comparison will come to mind almost automatically is of little surprise, remembering that it was keyboarder Martijn Westerholt who set up Delain in 2002 after leaving Within Temptation. But also the fact that all three bands share the characteristic of a “female frontend” cannot be under-estimated: in direct comparison Charlotte Wessels lacks the glamourous stage-appearance of Sharon den Adel and the and the vocal superiority of Floor Jansen. Musically the band is walking a path very similar to that of its more famous counterparts; however sound and song-writing appear not yet fully established, such some further observation may be required to see where the band is really heading.

Cavalera Conspiracy played a bunch of old Sepultura classics. Beneath the Remains, Inner Self, Arise/Dead Embryonic Cells, Troops of Doom, Wasting Away ,Territory, Refuse/Resist, Propaganda, Roots Bloody Roots and Attitude. Max clearly loves to be on the stage! He also has his son play a version of ‘troops of doom’ along with the band.

It was awesome to see Matt Barlow back with Iced Earth, even though I was also impressed by his replacement, Tim Owens, when I saw him played with Iced Earth a year back in Wacken. The setlist was just great and the Barlow and his team were in great shape opening with ‘dark saga’ and ‘vengeance is mine’ followed by ‘Pure evil’, ‘Violate’ and ‘Melancholy’, ‘ten thousand strong’ and ‘Dracula’. A brilliantly balanced set ends too quickly with signature track ‘Iced Earth’sadly.

Immortal were awesome. They did not disappoint: fantastic setlist, brilliant use of pyrotechnics (to emphasize key moments in Withstand the Fall of Time and to shock the audience with loud bangs at a couple of opportune moments, including one that ended the set), and, far more importantly, brilliant musicianship and crowd-management. “Mighty hails to you all, thanks to the Belgium and international hordes at Graspop for creating another victory with us, you were a brilliant audience!”

The relationship of the band to the crowd was an interesting one, which I hadn’t come across before. Whilst they were energetically running around the stage, playing to all parts of the crowd, there was a strong deferential, devotional quality to the relationship, rather than one of reciprocal playfulness and enjoyment This extolled the crowd to greater acts of devotion and made the moment that Horgh gave us all the horns a moment of genuine achievement and pride. Their use of corpsepaint helped this relationship a lot: Horgh could be seen as coldly surveying the audience from the vantage point of his mighty drums, and Apollyon seemed to have a constant look of angry disappointment. Of course, with both band and audience giving their all to the other party, mutual sincere affection was achieved (and recognised) in the end, but the way this stage was reached was exciting .

My Dying Bride closed the day on Marquee 1 with their long, ethereal and sorrowful melodies. It was a strange appearance but the performance was well.

That Kiss would be serving a visual extravaganza that evening already became apparent long before any band member set foot on stage. Throughout the afternoon construction works at the main stage were running in parallel with the changes between other band; step by step major sections of the structure were reworked, making place for hydraulic and wire-suspended platforms. In addition to that a cable covering the distance between the main stage and a small stage above the sound engineering hut was a clear indication that we were about to see some acrobatic action as well. Indeed the performance started off with a minor stunt, releasing everyone but drummer Eric Singer through a cable-suspended platform onto the stage. While the pyrotechnics and stage games were running smoothly – e.g. lunching firework from a tube attached to one of the guitars or Paul Stanley’s ride along the zip-wire from the main stage to the roof of the sound engineering – Kiss was struggling with repeated failures of the main PA. A total of three times the complete front sound went down, leaving it to those with good hearing to get a glimpse of an ongoing drum-solo. Already fearing the band might be aborting the show, the crew was able to recover the sound, tainting the overall experience though. It took until the encore for the audience being able to join in with “I was made for loving you”, wrapping up the evening with “Detroit rock city”. Being the last show in the European leg of the ‘Alive 35’ tour, a limited edition live recording of the evening was announced.

Day 3 - Somewhere back in Dessel

After already two days of festival, why would you want to consider getting out of your sleeping bag even earlier than the days before? Curiosity, maybe. While the grand finale during the night would be up to her dad’s mighty Iron Maiden, the opening on the main stage was put into the hands – or shall we better say: the throat – of Lauren Harris. Naturally the name would evoke both expectations and reservations: would this be another “daughter of” case, somebody just trying to sail in the wake of that well known name? Rest assured that Lauren is working hard to build up a reputation based on what she is doing, her music and how she is presenting it in front of an audience; her performance is solid, her interaction with the audience good – enough to overcome some of the short-comings in music and vocal capabilities.

Apocalyptica, as expected, played a load of covers of familiar metal songs: ‘Chaos AD’ (Sepultura), ‘Fight Fire With Fire’, ‘Seek And Destroy’ and ‘Enter Sandman’ (all Metallica), and also their own songs such as’ betrayal ‘. They said that for their final song (The Hall of the Mountain King), they would “punish you with some classical music”, but they shouldn’t underestimate the combination of people’s open mindedness and their ability for this type of instrumentation to appeal.

Skindred played an interesting mix of reggae, hardcore punk and metal. The concert was incredible, mainly because of the vocalist who managed to get the entire place moving and shouting. Nonetheless, they provided lots of fun.

Black Tide a very young heavy metal band with a strong debut album had a great live performance. Their singer was barely 15, but he could sing and play guitar as a guy of 35. The set-list included: Black Abyss, Shockwave, Warriors Of Time and Light From Above and covers of Hit the lights and Prowler.This band need close attention in the future.

Comeback Kid, hardcore band from Canada, played a very smart set that new, more complex song like “Defeated” and “The Blackstone” combined with older, more straightforward songs like: “False Idols Fall”, “Talk Is Cheap”. “Broadcasting”, “Industry Standards’’ and “Changing Face’“. “Wake The Dead” sounded incredibly strong.

At The Gates, melodic death metal from Sweden was one of the strongest acts from Graspop. They played: Slaughter Of The Soul, Suicide Nation, World Of Lies, Under A Sun Serpent, Terminal Spirit Disease, Raped By The Light Of Christ at a very high level, the crowd just going mad during their performance.

In Flames delivered apox one hour of quality music in an amazing show, starting with’Cloud connected’ and closing out with ‘My sweet shadow’. The crowd movement was insane; brilliant riffs and and great drumming!

Arch Enemy, after they headlined the Tyrany and Bloodshred North American Tour in May 2008 with Dark Tranquillity, Divine Heresy, and Firewind as supporting acts, they come to Graspop to deliver an amaizing show on Marquee 2. With Angela Gossow in a great shape and Michael Amott, who had the oportunity to prove once more his guitarist skills, the setlist that covered mainly their last reliese: Rise of the Tyrant, completelly fulfilled the fun expectations.

Even if none of the performances mentioned up until this point had happened, the big finale by itself would have made the Graspop Metal Meeting worth the visit: the “Somewhere Back In Time” tour is presenting Iron Maiden in top condition, putting the focus on the band’s exceptional decade 1980-1989. Opening the two-hour set with “Aces High” and “2 Minutes to Midnight” was only fitting the stage design, heavily leaning on that of the “World Slavery Tour”. Musically the band was handing out gems one after the other, leaving little to wish for; “Revelations”, “The Trooper”, “Wasted Years”, “The Number of the Beast” and “Can I Play With Madness” followed in rapid succession, leaving the audience to the competition to require as few bars as possible to recognize the next song in line. The full-length performance of the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, converting the stage into the setting of Samuel T. Coleridge’s poem, clearly was one of the highlights of the show. With the final game of the European Football-Championship 2008 played out on the same evening, it was up to Bruce Dickinson to deliver the result to the almost 50000 fans enclosing the stage. Even though Maiden did not finish up their set exactly at the promised two minutes two midnight the only fans disappointed that evening might have been the ones unable to make it to this extraordinary event.

Final thoughts

Well, let’s be quick or be dead:

  • Was it worth the visit? – Hell, yeah!
  • Did we get to hear some great music? – Once more: hell, yeah!
  • Where there some really positive surprises? – Yes, there definitely were a few bands which should be kept under closer observation.
  • Did we encounter some disappointments? – Unfortunately the answer needs to be yes once more.