First, a rant, preceded by a disclaimer: this review is intentionally being written a while after the event; this ensures that the author's head is cool enough to avoid swearing (too much). So, here we go: after we'd kinda given up on going to OST Fest 2012, StudioRock received the documentation for press access. That was one impressive email: it contained a poster, event schedule, event map and a .doc (yuck! repeat after me: open standards, people, open standards!) containing the press terms and conditions. The latter seemed fine with respect to photography (two songs for most bands, no photos for MÃ¶tley CrÃ¼e, one song for Manowar; we would have a “secure” air conditioned room with wifi), so we applied and got accredited almost immediately. The PR was so generous that she granted a press pass for StudioRock to someone the core team didn't know about, but that's another story.
Day 1 — (Mostly) Metal Day
So, after all these interactions indicating a pro PR, everyone had high hopes for the festival. Boy, were we wrong! A bit of background first: when an organiser says x songs (where usually x == 3), they mean from the pit (the area in front of the stage), and if shooting from the crowd is not allowed they also announce that in advance — except, of course, for various divas who communicate the conditions after people have entered the pit (no, really, it happened at a Soulfly concert a few years ago). Imagine the surprise all of the press photographers had when our interpretation of the terms (2 songs in the pit, shoot at will from the crowd) was radically different from the organisers': 2 songs from the “normal circle” for most of the bands (~ 70m from the stage), and the “pit” for the “big” ones was, like, 50m away from the stage, and far to the left.
Facing the prospect of going home empty handed and failing at the job we were there to do, everyone with a camera left the “pit”. After a few minutes of heated discussions the organisers withdrew for “deliberations” (in the mean time, some obscure television team was having an interview with Dimmu Borgir in the room next to the press one - we didn't get access to that either). They returned a few minutes later and said we could shoot from the “fire circle” (because they had 4 areas: “expensive” (normal circle), “extortionate” (golden circle), “crazy” (fire circle) and “astronomical” (VIP; that one included, believe it or not, catering; who are these people who require chairs and catering at an Overkill or Dimmu Borgir concert?). The fire circle was right in front of the stage, and for tall-ish people like me photography was not a problem, so this arrangement was fine. Of course, the special conditions for the divas remained, but nobody had objected to them anyway. They are divas after all.
By now, all of the Romanian bands (Armies of Enlil, Psychogod and White Walls) had finished, Exodus had finished as well (the photographers' rebellion and the armistice happened during the latter), and Overkill were getting on stage. While yours truly was completely unimpressed (I can't really understand a thing about thrash in general), the crowd had a totally different opinion: they went nuts! Apparently the band played mostly well known songs people craved, so all was fine.
Next came the band I wanted to see the most, Dimmu Borgir. They sounded just right, and played the same combination of Abrahadabra with older songs from Death Cult Armageddon, Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia and Enthrone Darkness Triumphant they did in most concerts lately. If it is a good combination that works live, why change it? The fact that they are very photogenic also helps in my book.
I left after Dimmu because I was exhausted, the evening's divas (MÃ¶tley CrÃ¼e) don't like photographers, and I don't really like their music either. Apparently a jerk stayed and took photos from the fire circle (and published them the same evening, just to make life more difficult for the rest of us), because after the scandal nobody bothered to police the fire circle any more. This would change in the following days.
Day 2 — Heavy Metal Day
It began with a band I missed (Desant). Then, Mystery took the stage. They are a bunch of kids from Australia, I think, who play something along the lines of heavy metal. They sounded decent overall, but not overly original, but this is OK; after all, they are young and have a lot of time to find their own way.
The following band has two things going for it: a celebrity producer and a female vocalist (the latter is rarely seen in a heavy/power metal band). The celebrity producer does a good job, because Holyhell actually sound decent recorded: they are good musicians, and the voice can be “photoshopped” when needed. Unfortunately, the latter was not possible to do live, so it made all the rather impressive instrumental work from the rest of the band go down the drain. My mind kept making comparisons to Lauren Harris, whom I saw some years ago; at least the latter is hot, so us humans who like girls tend to forget that she can't sing.
Next were Trooper. They are a hard/heavy band from Romania with a large fan base and good showmanship. They had a huge banner with Vlad ÈšepeÈ™ sitting between 2 impaled naked ladies. They communicate constantly with the crowd. They are good musicians and the vocalist can really sing.
And, if these don't get the crowd cheering, the band of hot scantily dressed ladies who joined them on stage for the last 2-3 songs certainly do. All in all, they have taken over the large Romanian hard/heavy niche with great mastery from an old timers' band that will remain unnamed here. I don't like the music, but their show is good and the crowd takes part in it enthusiastically.
After Trooper and a short changeover, Europe started playing songs I've never heard before and ended with that song. They are the perfect example of a band-only-known-for-one-song that actually has a lot more to say. The style is not my cup of tea, but they're good. Really good. And they enjoy being on stage.
The second evening's divas, Manowar, had a long concert with all of their classic songs and moves, apart from the fur underwear. It ended with Mr. DeMayo fighting an epic battle with a short text in Romanian, a not-so-nice version of Hail and Kill, a well done The Crown and The Ring and lots of fireworks.
After Manowar, I stayed for a while to watch the late night Romanian band concerts on the secondary stage. The first band, Steelborn, plays some sort of pop/alternative rock.
They used to be called Stillborn and have re-branded apparently in a bid for more metal and less alternative, but the sound hasn't changed. Nevertheless, they have a sizeable fan base thanks to a really friendly vocalist, who also has an impressive voice and lots of energy on stage. There are even some who like the music.
Next came Gothic; unlike what their name suggests, they play melodic death metal and are really good at it. This was the second time I've seen them, and the second awesome show, so based on this poor statistic I conclude they are excellent showmen in general.
The last band I saw is called Syn Ze Sase Tri, and they play some sort of a symphonic black metal. Some of them are former members of NegurÄƒ Bunget, one of the more famous Romanian bands of the genre, and they sound kinda similar recorded, thanks to a strong emphasis on ancient Romanian motifs. Live, however, they are a totally different beast: my first time viewer impression was of Amon Amarth sprinkled with the previously mentioned ancient Romanian motifs. And they are insanely good at it.
What disgusted me, though, was the “don't download” speech held to a handful of people who had paid tickets and stayed up until 2 AM to watch them; I see this as a total lack of respect for their fans, but that's a different rant.
There were 2 more bands scheduled, but I was too tired to hold a camera up any more, so I left.
Day 3 — Mixed Mainstream Day
It started with some Romanian bands I missed (Reborn and Metrock). Then, Lake of Tears took the stage on a June day at ~ 5 PM and started singing about rain and autumn, while the asphalt was melting underneath our feet (there were around 39 degrees C in the shade, and a friend showed me his sneakers now had black soles, instead of the original white). If that was not trolling, I don't know what it was… Probably something about hell would have been more appropriate (assuming it is an exothermic place), but I don't complain, the show was a kind of a “best of”, and they did a much better job than the last time I saw them in Bucharest many years ago (on a rainy day, no less); it's pretty rare to go to a show and know all the songs, and I was not alone at this, everyone was singing along.
Then there were W.A.S.P. It was the second time I've seen them, and they're not as fun to watch under the scorching sun as in a smaller venue, but Mr. Blackie and the crew still got it. It was a shorter concert than the last time, the lighting conditions (that is, the big scorching light in the sky) didn't allow for stuff like The Heaven's Hung in Black + projections, but classics like I Wanna Be Somebody and Wild Child were there and were enjoyed.
After a short changeover, Megadeth did mostly the same as Lake of Tears, i.e. a “best of”. I hadn't listened to them for about the same number of years as LoT, but their music apparently didn't stick to my brain much, as I only recognised A Tout Le Monde for its sloppy French.
The fans were there, though, and apparently had a blast.
The last band of the festival is some sort of a living legend I fail to understand. Or like. However, people say that MÃ¶torhead did good, so I'll have to trust them on this. All I remember is smoke. Lots of smoke. And Lemmy's cool steampunk-style bass.
So, this was it. A festival with a decent line-up, good PR, but awful treatment of the press, and bad treatment of the people who paid the most as well (the sound quality was excellent in the back, sucked in the Fire Circle and most of the Golden Circle). However, apparently it's only us press folks who were complaining, because rockers tend to be very lenient with these things (unlike another kind of people commonly referred to as hipsters: I've been to an awesomely organised short film festival, and some complained about bloody creases and seams in the screens; it had to be stopped due to a thunderstorm — to be resumed another time, not cancelled — and they complained that organisers didn't have a redundant indoor setup; and I could go on).
To enforce the overall impression of organisational failure and press as an afterthought, apparently the “secure” room wasn't so secure after all: one unfortunate photographer left home with a lighter bag (a GoPro and an expensive Canon lens lighter, to be precise). I never leave my stuff unattended, and paranoia proved once more to be a healthy understanding of the way the Universe works.