Part II Saturday
Starting even earlier today, we managed to be just in time to catch Der Weg Einer Freiheit. The German atmospheric black metal trio might be one of the biggest surprises of the entire festival. From their small, fragile dreamscapes to the frenzied, loud black metal riffing, their show journeyed the entire spectrum and made it beautiful. The compositions were so convincing that the lacking bass player was hardly noticeable. A very, very good show to start off the day.
The next band in the other room was Komah, who were a heavily-Machine Head inspired five-piece metalcore band. I am still wondering how I never heard of them, because they are right up my alley! Running a tight ship, shifting between melodic death metal brutalizing and melodic metalcore dance-alongs, Komah made sure there was something for everybody there. Bouncing along to the groovy breakdowns I had the time of my life.
Coming off that groovy, high-energy high we were plunged straight to the other end of metal with Schammasch. The stage absolutely filled with smoke, the cloak-wearing band made sure to set the scene with candles and church myrrh-burners. Heavy black metal intertwined with mournful Gregorian chants, for which the singer had a nifty little device mounted on his mic stand, making his chants sound like full choirs. It was intimate and intimidating at the same time. A very good band with a very cool show.
Next up came Memoriam. Rising from the – sort of – ashes of Bolt Thrower, Memoriam threw it way back. The groovy death metal that made Bolt Thrower into the giants they are, got just the slightest sound-update, but remained true to their roots. A guest vocal spot was filled by David Ingram (seen the day before with Hail of Bullets) who is also an ex-Bolt Thrower member himself. The only right way of going about a guest spot like this was playing an old Bolt Thrower song, which is exactly what they did. The crowd went nuts, there was a party both on stage and in the hall, it was beautiful.
Rolling on through the day, Seth played the other room just as Memoriam was finishing up. Seth played some traditional black metal, I think, turned up to eleven, I guess. They were probably playing a tight show without mistakes, but I could not, for the life of me, be sure of that. The sound, much like the show, was turned way up to eleven, resulting in a wall of noise. I feel like I would have enjoyed the band, but I simply could not hear anything that was going on, it all sounded like pure static. Such a pity.
After Seth was done, and the ear drums were allowed to heal a bit, it was time for Austria’s Harakiri For The Sky. I’m going to be honest here, this is a band with whom I had a bone to pick. A number of months ago, when they were playing in Tilburg, the band crashed in our living room and found it necessary to draw on our walls. We’re still a bit miffed about that, really! All jokes aside, this band was worth checking out ten times over. With their own personal brand of sludgy, atmospheric post-black, they managed to enchant the crowd. From a high vantage point, the crowd was just a sea of heads bobbing along to the almost hypnotic, desperate aural journey of discovery through one’s own’s wants and woes. Highly recommended and not easily found, this bunch!
Leaving this almost meditative room, we went on to see Hell. This band has been playing real traditional British heavy metal since the eighties. Now, when someone says they put up a show, this band puts up a SHOW. It was almost like Antichrist Superstar, complete with costume changes. The theatrical display of the singer, combined with the choreographed stage moves of the rest of the band made for a very entertaining show. It made me realise that I miss this in a lot of bands nowadays: the almost camp, theatre-like approach to making a show happen that really entertains people. There wasn’t a moment where there wasn’t a smile on all faces. Hell is fun, you guys!
Following this magical display was some plain, old-school, groovy hardcore by the veterans of Pro-Pain. On the billing, they were the odd one out, but that didn’t show in the room. It was packed, the mosh pits fired up almost immediately (I even saw people waving around toilet brushes in there, it was bonkers), and they made sure everyone had a good vibe for letting off some negative steam. For the last song the band was joined by members of Komah and Harakiri for the Sky, for an old-fashioned hardcore party on stage.
Valkyrja, much like Seth, suffered from a very lo-fi, loud sound, which made it hard to pick up on what exactly was being played. With their corpse paint and bullet belts it was clear Valkyrja came to krieg. A call-back to the early days of Bathory and Darkthrone, the music (as far as could be heard) was no-nonsense black metal. Tight, but nothing new.
One of the headliners for the day was up next; Moonspell. Almost folky, their brand of metal is very hard to pin down to a specific genre, which is a good thing. A very original sound, with a lot of fans in the crowd, singing along word-for-word with the singer. They were really good at what they do, but what they do just isn’t for me. The sound was clear, every instrument was audible and still melted into a coherent whole. Two thumbs up for the sound guys on that one!
Next up was the grand return of Tiamat. Having been defunct for a couple of years, they had decided to hit the road again. With some hardcore fans up front headbanging, swaying and singing along, this band had obviously connected with people back in the day. It might be because they were pioneers on the doom side of metal, but their stage presence was wooden and there was little crowd interaction. It almost felt like the band did not want to be there. The singer might have had an off-day as well, because his vocals were lacking in conviction and pitch. I hope they do better on the rest of their tour, for the audience’s sake.
In the smaller room, it was time for relative newcomers Emptiness. With a video presentation as a backdrop, this band was clearly set on creating an audio-visual atmosphere of not-being-content-with-life in a groovy way. Playing odd time signatures out the wazoo, they still managed to make their songs groovy and flowing. A very refreshing take on post-metal and it was a very solid show. Whenever you see their name on a bill, be sure to check them out!
The act to round out the festival was hyped up all through the weekend. At least twelve people told me to go check out Batushka if I had the chance. Due to their sound check, the band started half an hour late (meaning they started their show at 2:00 AM(!)). Having taken away some of the mystique by sound checking out-of-costume, the ritual was impressive nonetheless. Wearing ornate frocks and paper masks, this band was something special. It felt more like attending a mass than a concert. Unfortunately, the drummer and lead guitarist made a few too many mistakes, taking away from the otherwise very refreshing take on black metal. A very big plus for the band was their Gregorian chants. Instead of using a machine like Schammasch, Batushka had three backing vocalists on stage, which brought some much-needed authenticity to the entire deal.
All in all, EMM was a blast. There were some surprises, some great shows, great laughs, and a good vibe among the people visiting. Some less than stellar performances notwithstanding, the festival was a great success.
WORDS BY SAM C A VAN DE LEUR
PHOTOS BY SUSANNE A. MAATHUIS