Graspop Metal Meeting 2009, Belgium

After last year's noteworthy edition of the Graspop Metal Meeting (GMM), there was little doubt that it would be on the agenda once more. However, given the last year's quite impressive set of headliners — Judas Priest, Kiss and Iron Maiden — it was a well justified question whether or not the 2009 edition would live up to expectations; a first glance at the line-up suggested that there would be a rather strong Marquee 1, but the program on the main stage failed to spark off much interest.

On the organizational side, the whole festival grounds were shifted westward, resulting in a stretched area consisting of the actual festival area, a 24-hour zone and the camping ground. While the army of stewards, backstage crew and security details were doing their best to get/keep things organized, some information had not been handed down the line, to the effect that getting an answer to a simple question like “Is there a special camping ground for press and VIP?” took the better part of an hour (such that by then we were setting up, the first band was already hitting the stage). Once obtaining a ticket to the camping ground, it was a mere matter of finding a spot — an undertaking which should not be underestimated given the amount of festival visitors staying over for more than a single day. Once having the tent set up it would be time to get the first important hard fact on the festival: how long would it take to walk from the tent up to the main stage? Given the combination of distance and crowd of people, 15 minutes would turn out to be the bare minimum — with the increasing number of festival visitors only to grow over the next two days. We found out after the fact that there were about 130000 people attending over the course of three days.

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GMM 2009 camping
Photo: Lars Bähren / StudioRock

A minor hick-up was encountered when picking up accreditations: of the two passes ordered, none turned out to be the desired photo-pass, thereby preventing access to the photographers pit right in front of the stages. As this could not be resolved in time before Firewind opening up in Marquee 1, I could only shoot from the crowd, with seriously limited options. Luckily enough, this was sorted out towards the end of the day, such that Saturday and Sunday could get the planned coverage.

Day 1

Opening act at the Marquee 1 was Firewind, who used their 40 minutes to warm up the crowd for good. The band was very much alive, delivering a show up to the expectations — a great start to what more was about to come.

First up on the main stage was Dragonforce. As with our previous encounter at a concert in Oslo, the band delivers an energy-loaded performance, full of spectacular guitar solos and and powerful vocals. Some people embraced their performance, some considered it slightly psychedelic… judgement might vary, but there can be little arguing that the band did a great job getting the afternoon started under the heat of the mid-day's Sun.

Switching to Marquee 1, there was no less than Jon Oliva's Pain, who took to the stage to deliver some musical fireworks. While the band is placing little emphasis on show elements — no fancy visual effects, just simple stage light —, the same can't be said about the music, a complex and well rounded sound tapestry. Jon Oliva's vocals undoubtedly dominated each and every song, triggering the audience to sing along for most of the set. Already by this time the Marquee 1 had established itself as a place to keep an eye on…

… which in fact turned out like a good idea, soon afterwards: WASP was a treat for both ears and eyes. What Jon Oliva previously might have lacked in terms of outfit was more than compensated for, especially with respect to footwear. However, the band is not only simply about extravagant shoes, as demonstrated more than enough by Blackie Lawless' vocals, which could rely on the musical fundaments laid down by a band with many years of experience: they know when to talk to the crowd, when to jump around, when to be crazy and when to be serious — a most enjoyable concert.

Soulfly took to the main stage with Blood Fire War Hate. While songs from the latest studio release were well represented, it was more the older material which struck a chord with the audience. Big mosh pits opened up in front of the stage, most likely the biggest ones of that day. The band played along, giving instructions to the audience — e.g. asking people to run around in circles in front of the stage. The show ended with a triple encore consisting of Tribe Jam, Roots Bloody Roots (Sepultura cover) and Eye For An Eye.

After being headliners at the Wacken Open Air, the Marquee 1 definitely was a more intimate venue for Blind Guardian (of course, all things are relative when it comes to this). Same as Jon Oliva's Pain, they did not put much emphasis on visual effects, but rather concentrated on presenting their music — they are one of the bands delivering a fairly constant output across the shows they do. Was there anything really new, anything unexpected? No, but this in no way would lessen the impression they left with the audience: as a matter of fact, the crowd was considerably enjoying the songs going back to the Tales from the Twilight World album (e.g. Lord of the Rings or Traveler in Time). Before finishing up the set with Mirror, Mirror, the atmosphere created by The Bard's Song resulted in goosebumps here and there.

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Hansi Kürsch of Blind Guardian, playing at Graspop Metal Meeting 2009
Photo: Lars Bähren / StudioRock

Even more vocals-centered turned out the next act on the main stage: uniting Black Sabbath members Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler, along with former members Ronnie James Dio and Vinny Appice, Heaven & Hell needed no further announcement but the concert itself: even if one happened to be in a place with no line of sight to the stage at all, Dio's unmistakeable voice was enough to gather everyone around. The set consisted of Black Sabbath songs, such as Mob Rules, Time Machine and, of course, Heaven and Hell.

Friday's finale at the Marquee 1 was brought by Dream Theater; keeping up with the level of musicianship already displayed earlier, then band surely met expectations about mastering musical instruments. Even given the considerable complexity and technical challenge of the songs, the musical flow is interrupted rarely, thereby making the concert pass by rather quickly. If the voice of James LaBrie can be considered the best fit for the band's music, or one would rather prefer the more raw tone of a Russell Allan is up for debate and opinions may vary. The setlist mixed older well known (and appreciated) songs with material from the latest release: Constant Motion as expected, also a very nice surprise in the combination of Erotomania and Voices. Pull me under and Metropolis, Pt. 1 closed off one the musical highlights of the first day.

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Jordan Rudess and John Petrucci of Dream Theater, playing at Graspop Metal Meeting 2009
Photo: Lars Bähren / StudioRock

Midnight at the main stage was time for the headliner of the first day; it remains a secret of the festival organization why exactly Motley Crüe were picked for that. Even mixing old classics, such as Dr. Feelgood, and recent material (Saints Of Los Angeles) could not help to create an atmosphere matching the expectations for a headliner. The band underwent efforts to engage with the audience, but launching balloons from within the crowd to have them fly over to the stage so the musicians could pop them with their guitars just wasn't enough to compensate for the lack of musical substance.

Night 1

While the crew was taking down the set on the main stage, the festival crowd was pushing for the exits at the west end of the site, making its way to (or just through) the 24 hours zone; there those would team up, who were in for a long night (and accordingly little sleep). Heading for the camping on the other hand also would no necessarily mean that dreams would come any time sooner; given the continuous stream of people heading for their tents things would not quieten down soon. Of course, arriving at the tents might (at least by some) just be considered the start of a get-together and party; if failures to manage walking upright and/or crawling into the correct tent had to be attributed to excessive alcohol consumption throughout the day or during the night… the stewards patrolling the camping-site would have their hands full until sunrise.

A particularly elusive character however remained a certain Timmy; despite joint efforts to call the young (?) fellow in, no success could be reported. Nevertheless people remained dedicated to the search, such that each and every single call would immediately be echoed from some neighboring tent. If on the other hand some connection existed to another missing person case — that of Helga, supposedly vanished at the Wacken Open Air some years back — could not be shown.

Day 2

After a short night, getting up in time turned out a challenge for most. However the day's program would be rather packed, so delay would cause missing out on something. Some highlights:

The day was opened by Inquest, replacing Killswitch engage (who had to cancel at the last minute). At the Metaldome, Manic Movement, yet another female fronted band showing some potential. Later, at Marquee 1, Keep of Kalessin: fast black metal, with incredible head banging — head spinning would be a more appropriate description — skills. Mastodon got delayed, Negură Bunget playing at Metaldome. Black Stone Cherry playing on the main stage, sounding good, with an entertaining singer using the hose on the crowd and asking to be watered himself. Really nice solos, drummer using his drumsticks on the bass, guitarist playing with his teeth or behind his back.

Back to Marquee 1, Kataklysm playing to a host of devoted fans screaming their names and being generally mad during their performance. Really tough stuff, not necessarily everyone's cup of tea, but good to see live, nevertheless. Mastodon, taking the main stage by storm. They placed a huge image of their latest album cover as the background of their stage, and didn't bother with visual effects during the show, instead concentrating on the music. The playlist included songs like Oblivion, The Czar and Iron Tusk, and even Blood and Thunder, but they were a bit less energetic than usual, most likely due to the heat. Other songs they played were The Wolf Is Loose, Colony Of Birchmen and the crazy Bladecatcher.

A bit later on the main stage, Hatebreed launched the madness with their totally hardcore punk style. A huge cloud of dust gathered in front of the stage, and the singer encouraged the crowd at some point to take off their T-shirts, bras or anything else they have at hand and just spin them above their heads, which was quite a view — along with the huge mosh pits. Another nice touch was dedicating songs to the fans, the organizers and to the guys from Killswitch engage who couldn’t make it.

Meanwhile, at Marquee 1, SF bay area old school thrashers Death Angel were heating up the public with a high-class performance: high energy, good vocals, lots of drums and bass, and pure crazy music to hear and watch. At Marquee 2, ex Guns'n Roses Duff McKagan’s Loaded played a lot of covers, both from Guns — So Fine, Paradise City — and from other bands — Living after midnight, I wanna be your daddy.

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Arnel Pineda of Journey, playing at Graspop Metal Meeting 2009
Photo: Lars Bähren / StudioRock

A pleasant step up in terms of musical quality and maturity came with Journey. Taking to the main stage, it became apparent rather quickly that the band has quite a few years of experience in the business and possesses an extensive back-catalogue of songs. Lead singer Arnel Pineda knows how to convince with powerful, yet flexible vocals, which manage to match the solid musical foundations the rest of the band is providing. As for the foundations themselves, they clearly are rooted in the 80s to mid-90s, thereby posing a refreshing counterpoint to most of the other bands playing in the main stage. And, of course, there can be no Journey concert without Don't Stop Believing.

The next ones to take the main stage were Korn, singing with a new drummer, who actually managed to fit in very well. The performance was alive and energetic, they improvised a lot, and the crowd resonated, by engaging in mosh pits and throwing pretty much anything up in the air — including rolls of toilet paper. Along with their own songs, the band also played parts of covers such as Another Brick In The Wall, Enter Sandman, We Will Rock You or Final Countdown.

Danish rockers Volbeat were the band to close Marquee 2. After they had to cancel last year due to the singer's father passing away, they more than recouped this year. The public loved the singer's Elvis-like voice accompanied by the Rock 'n Roll metal and jumped around during the whole show. Along with their songs, they also played covers like Misfits' Angelfuck, or Slayer's Raining blood. The small tent was too small for them.

Back to the main stage, the closing band was Slipknot, delivering their usual energy packed show, with masks, jumping around, drum surfing, and general madness on stage, to the delight of the about 50,000 people watching and listening.

Day 3

UFO were Sunday's first band, starting the day with their old fashioned heavy metal that got the people who arrived at the stage early cheering and clapping, in spite of the general hangover. After them, Lamb of God awakened the ones that were still sleeping, with a loud and energetic set. With a talkative singer that interacted with the crowd all time, directing them to spin around in huge mosh pits, taking a little shower on stage, stopping to let the crowd sing, the show got people warmed up for good. The set contained fans' favourites such as Walk With Me In Hell, Ruin, Redneck and Black Label.

At Marquee 1, Scar Symmetry rocked an interesting mix of power metal and death metal, with two vocalists having different vocal skills and ranges. Back at the main stage, Trivium continued with energetic music, with double bass, singer and guitarists across the stage.

Meanwhile, at Metaldome, young French nu-metal/metalcore band Eths, a growling female fronted band, managed to pack the place — there were even folks with Trivium T-shirts at the entrance, during Trivium's performance on the main stage.

At Marquee 2, Suicidal Tendencies entertained the crowd with good thrash metal. This was another band that cared little about the visuals, instead concentrating on transmitting energy to a well resonating crowd.

Back at the main stage, it was time for Chickenfoot, a new band gathering singer Sammy Hagar (ex-Van Halen and Montrose), bassist Michael Anthony (ex-Van Halen), guitarist Joe Satriani and drummer Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers) on the same stage. Although it was their 7th show together after releasing an album, no one could tell it was a new band. The performance was flawless, and the crowd liked it, even if their music is not exactly the catchiest around.

At Marquee2, Devil Driver delivered a powerful show, possibly with the highest number of crowd surfers of all the bands present. At Marquee 1, Sacred Reich, delivering some good old school thrash metal, were too big for a mere tent, they had people screaming outside, as well.

After a short visit to check out Disturbed on the main stage and Epica at Marquee 1, we got back to Marquee 2 to see Anthrax. Again, it was packed, with everyone headbanging, crowd surfing over and over again, jumping up and down, spinning around in mosh pits. The band's performance was electrifying, new vocalist Dan Nelson that replaced John Bush did a good show.

On the main stage, it was time for Nightwish and fireworks. The problem is, it was still daylight, so the fireworks and flame throwers had little impact. Then, despite the energy displayed by Marco and Tuomas, and Marco's vocal parts, the band's performance failed to impress, mostly due to the fact that older songs written for Tarja are simply beyond the capabilities of Anette's voice. By the time they got to newer, less demanding songs, a lot of people had already left.

Meanwhile, at Marquee 1, Children of Bodom were playing their headlining act to a packed tent. They had some problems with the keyboards in the beginning, but they were quickly solved and the show went on, much to the delight of the crowd.

The last performer on the final stage was Marilyn Manson. A typical Manson show, it started behind a huge curtain covering the front of the stage. After the curtain was lifted, lots of smoke, red light and ugly people on stage. Again typical for Manson, it sounded ok, but it was not everyone's cup of tea, and a lot of people left before the show ended.

It was perhaps not the best ending possible for an otherwise great festival.

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Marylin Manson, playing at Graspop Metal Meetoing 2009
Photo: Lars Bähren / StudioRock

By Lars Bähren begin_of_the_skype_highlighting     end_of_the_skype_highlighting