December, for most a time of going home and seeing family, retrospectives, lists and copious amounts of food. However, for many in the European metal community, it’s also the time for the magnificent Eindhoven Metal Meeting. For many it’s the final party of the year, a place to see friends, network, hang out and lift the horns up one last time before the dead space at the end of the year when we all ascribe to the forced merriness we call the holidays.
As every year, the line to get in trails quite a way before the doors even open. It’s cold this year though, and very much sold out solid. It has been for several weeks. Progress inside is somewhat slow because security meticulously checks everyone. But once we get inside the familiar maze of the Effenaar venue the pace quickens, at least for now.
Kicking things off are Icelandic Post Rockers Kontinuum. A mellow start of the festival for the few hundred early birds, with the wide, open Icelandic landscapes reflected in their soundscaping. The first band on the main stage, however, are the locally well-known Sisters of Suffocation. This mostly female Death Metal band manages to scream and kick the milling crowd awake decently well, as their pink logo flies overhead. Many of the crowd seem to properly appreciate the band, especially considering they’re opening things up, which is never an easy thing. Clearly, the young band are one to watch. After the death metal pummelling on the main stage, I’m quite interested in seeing IXXI (nine-eleven). The Swedish Black Metal outfit thoroughly tear the small stage a new one, as people push the crowd in. Always a struggle with festivals with larger and smaller rooms, the added crush of bodies and claustrophobia somehow makes the impact of the band even greater.
EMM has always been a festival that caters to pretty much everyone, after coming down from the kick in the face start, I go up to check out Irish thrashers Gama Bomb. Having a more light-hearted approach, and quite the fashion statement, they’re a fun change of pace. The only pity is that the lead guitarist is really sloppy in his playing this particular gig. But the band seem to be more about the fun of it, and that they certainly bring. A joyous sort of violence.
One of the great things about a festival like Eindhoven Metal Meeting is getting caught up with friends. The bar area in the Effenaar is excellent for this, though with all the merch booths and traffic to and from the rooms, it does tend to get a bit crowded. The bar, however, is a strictly non-brutal zone: they only play 80’s rock and eventually pop songs as the evening progresses. As blackened thrashers Deasaster play in the main room, this is where one loses track of time or unwinds.
Taking a quick peek at Benediction reveals the heavy, sluggish cookie monster type Death Metal that is very far from my cup of tea, but the band plays with an obvious relish for their art. The crowd too eats up the thick as molasses crushing heaviness the band spread out over them. Stagedivers invade the stage after the band tells the crowd they don’t care, but you know, legally speaking they are not telling them to. A happy chaos ensues as fans invade the stage to headbang along with the band I decide that I’d rather try to get into the smaller room in order to try and catch something of Wiegedood myself, but sadly by the time I work my way down there through the packed and labyrinthine Effenaar hallways, the room is already impossibly full. Knowing the band are local I decided to take a break instead, regroup a little and get myself some food.
The heavy Vethal (fat-hall for all you non-Dutch speakers out there, we know there are many of you) is as much a staple of the small festival as the hooded shadow shrouded figure on their yearly posters. The local purveyor of greasy foods has slowly expanded its menu over the years to include more vegetarian and vegan options, but in general the major fare still is a burger, a pizza, some pasta or a sausage in a bun. Thankfully for those who have more time and a more distinct palate the road to the Effenaar is laden with small restaurants and take away places.
After regaining some energy through nourishment the frozen north of olden days rumbles in on the wings of Moonsorrow. The Finnish Pagan metallers manage to enchant the crowd fairly well, keeping a nastier and meaner edge on them than most of the folkloric metal bands manage. None of the cheese and silliness bands like Korpiklaani and Eluveitie evoke is present here, instead the feeling of sincere devotion to heritage seeps through. The folkloric elements aren’t overpowering and thus don’t ever become too cheesy but more an enhancement. An excellent show by these fins. Shaking their enchantment I wrestle my way downstairs through squeezed hallways to catch some of Possession. Honoring their name, the insanity the band exudes is a disturbing and singular experience, one that isn’t easily matched. Candelabras on stage get carelessly kicked over and then aggressively stamped out when noticed. Coming up for air in this onslaught is nearly impossible. But a small break to gather one’s wits is needed.
Sadly, I missed Urfaust as once again the pure crush of bodies squeezed into the small room foils my plans to see the band play. Hanging out in the hallway to catch some of the wailing screeched vocalisations and desolate noise the band creates I decide it is probably best to stay in the somewhat Nordic mood and go up to see Solstafir. The Icelandic once Black Metal band by now Post Rock band have grown quickly, their stagecraft honed to a fine tip. Here again, we meet enchantment and while the rougher edges of the band earlier work have been polished away in recent years they have lost nothing of the depth and passion they’ve always carried. However, the cut and polish of the band now allows them to shine that like a brilliant gem, instead of shrouding it. For me, they were the pinnacle of the evening, as I have to hurry to catch a train home, to rest up for the second day of this joyous, excellent Christmas gathering of metal lovers.
WORDS AND PHOTOS BY SUSANNE A. MAATHUIS