DAY FIVE – Idle Hands, Witherfall, Solstice, Texas Metal Legion, Midnight, Satan and Sortilege
One woke up early to the sound of normal, common-sense Germans driving to work along the road that intersected the two camping fields. What must they have thought when driving past? Did they realise the exciting world they were missing? Did they not know that they could be listening to heavy metal, retching inside a chemical toilet, eating leftover crisps and drinking supermarket lager for breakfast instead?
In the venue, first band on IDLE HANDS are on the cusp of being well-played-but-a-little-bit-boring ( WPBALBB ), but the singer has an interesting vocal delivery that stops you from walking away. They play goth hard rock, but it also has that kind of dark 80s punk edge to it too – you know, that usual Am F G thing going round and round – but perhaps because Gabe Franco sings short, fast syllable phrases, like ‘1e+a2+’, and lots of syncopation ( think of Alice by Sisters of Mercy). Coupled with the fact that he is often singing low but just slightly sharp, it makes for a pleasing, dark experience. It’s not as dark as my lightly pressing hangover and need for food though, so we only catch a couple of songs and then go in search of a supermarket. A band to watch, actually.
In the local Aldi, which is about a ten minute walk, they have this great wall mounted pastry snack machine. You press a button with a picture of a tasty product on it, and a croissant or lukewarm piece of pizza slides down a chute into your waiting paper tray. Impressive! We get some beer, pizza and sushi (!), and join the very long queue attended by the only cashier in the shop, who is looking quite bored and unhappy. Behind us are some nuns, filipino nuns by the looks of it, and they have a trolley full of cheap sausages and hot dog rolls. When I was young, I actually thought about being a monk when I grew up, but discovered beer and girls instead. I am still however fascinated by religious people, so we have some kind of pleasant conversation with bits of English and sign language and it turns out they were having a party. We part with smiles, but don’t tell them we were getting drunk and going to watch SATAN. Hurr hurr!
We’ve already decided not to watch SACRED RITE – ‘it’s not my cup of tea’ – so return to the campsite where some German youths are having a competition for the most hilarious drunken singing. Then they go to the venue, and laugh at us on the way for eating sushi.
Back in the hall, we have a sit down again. When you get old, you insist on doing daft things like 10ks, and the only sure thing that happens is you then get injuries, and then those turn into semi-crippling things like ‘plantar fasciitis‘ that drag on and on, almost for as long as an old man moaning ‘Zzzzzzz…..’. So, anyway, we sit down on the concrete steps, to the side of the stage. It turns out that we’ve missed all but the last few song of WITHERFALL, who at the time struck me as WPBALBB.
I was wrong, because when I checked their band page they are actually ‘EXTREMELY-well-played-but-a-little-bit-boring’.
Importantly though, they have models with massive boobies wearing their shirts, and lots of videos with female fans, which is a sign of a band that doesn’t give a shit, and I like that. Or, perhaps they are a bunch of sleazy hedonists in which case they are the furthest I have ever ventured into recommending sordid heavy metal. I don’t know. Anyway, listening to their promo videos demonstrates that they are indeed formulaic hard rock, but – respect where it is due – there are some tension filled, urgent guitar solos that spice things up a bit. Maybe they will grow on me, but all I’m saying is – looking at them in context, maybe you wouldn’t want to bump into them in a dark alley, drunk, with no pants on.
I only found out very recently that Rich Walker of SOLSTICE used to sing in daft grindcore project SORE THROAT along with Johnny Doom, Bri Doom, and Nick Royles. The first time I heard them was on a stereo in a traveller’s lorry on Nynehead Fruit Farm in Somerset, in a time when I thought I could run away and be a proper anarchist. (Alas, it was a utopia in which my dreadlocked compatriots would merely take turns doing hot knives off the filthy hob in said vehicle, before going silent, and dribbling for five minutes. Stick it to the man! )
SOLSTICE are thankfully a long way from those days, but I forgot about them after Lamentations, a doom classic. They disappeared didn’t they, or did I just become a boring sad bastard raising a family and never going out?
They did actually disappear I think, for a while at least, but have since released White Horse Hill in 2015, which whilst retaining a strong folk influence, overall has a lot more melancholic and smooth stuff on it. If you harbour a suspicion of heavy music about which blokes get all teary eyed, and – god forbid – start whispering or typing things like ‘beautiful’, it might not grab you. What are they like live though? Really good actually. The first time for myself, and it was great to have it with a beer in a massive room with a thousand or more people.
I was looking forward to MIDNIGHT, and wanted a good spot, but first up were TEXAS METAL LEGION which I don’t know much about, so we take a chance and stay close to the front. It turns out they are a kind of tribute hybrid band led by Jason McMastor of WATCHTOWER, and they knock out a set of very thrashy hard rock, all overdrive and harsh raspy high throated singing, a bit like Bay Area Thrash but with a touch more epic metal. Aesthetically they are pretty cool too, old blokes in leather who look like they would knock you out for looking at their pint. Best song is ‘Tyrants in Distress’ by WATCHTOWER.
As it got closer to MIDNIGHT, the area at the front begins to change from people in their forties and fifties, to those in their twenties and thirties, including some really fucked up and drunk individuals.
The band run on to the stage, the guitarist attacking both amps and turning EVERY KNOB TO TEN ( the sound desk in small venues must despair when they soundcheck ) and they then unleash forty minutes of black and roll mayhem. A bit like Kidderminster Lawless Hour from the nineteenth century, this is an opportunity for the youth to be as crazy as they can get; here, the fucked up guy in front of us tries to vomit on his pals, pull their hair out and was even throwing the odd Sieg Heil – they manage to stop themselves from hitting him though – but even more shocking than that, yes, even more shocking, is that the recycling glasses rule appears to completely breakdown. At one point the air is full of Keep It True official plastic cups flying back and forth, despite the fact that they are worth 1.5 Euros to their owner.
The set culminates in the singer stagediving into the crowd and them tearing the strings from their instruments. If you have not yet seen MIDNIGHT – seriously, go and do so before they burn themselves out. Catch them ASAP!
We’ve already decided not to watch CULPRIT – no offence, but you eventually need a break – so we get some more beer and wander around the festival site where I find a V70 with exactly the same pearlescent olive paint job as mine, and then get some food, which you also have to buy with your beer card. It is raining again, so we check out the pretty cool merch tent with a huge selection of vinyl and cds, plus patches and badges for your battle jacket. Mine looks pathetic compared to some of the ones we see, which almost have two layers of the things sewn on! My phone is flat, so we go back to the van to charge it ( which doesn’t work because the battery is shagged, so I have no videos from this point ) and doss about for an hour sitting on the van’s comfortable seats.
SATAN are yet another band that I foolishly neglected until coming across the release of Cruel Magic last year, an absolute blinder of an album that I reviewed here. We catch the last couple of songs by VICIOUS RUMORS, who are WPBALBB – sorry – and get a good place close to the front.
Most people are quite drunk by this point, but the atmosphere is still convivial. You see huge guys so inebriated that they are swaying in different directions, like a boat on a choppy sea, until they eventually fall into someone, whereby they are then apologising in two or more languages, before regaining posture and slowly raising their cup to guzzle more beer, and then go back to meditating and repeating the process.
It fills up at the front, and by the time SATAN hit the stage there is a massive cheer. And then, they only go and open up with absolute classic Trial by Fire. ( I didn’t realise that BLIND GUARDIAN did a really good cover of this, so check that out ). They also do 2025 from Life Sentence, but also a fair bit from Cruel Magic – Doomsday Clock, Cruel Magic, Ophidian, and Into The mouth of Eternity.
Brian Ross is a likeable fellow, but you have to wonder sometimes what on earth the Germans – a people known for their plain speaking – make of his inter-song rambling; the sort of confusing, tumbleweed-moment things David Brent from The Office would come out with, but with the accent and delivery of David Icke. Ha ha ha! I hope he keeps it up forever though, it’s hilarious – he’s more English eccentric than any foreign metal fan could ever hope for in an English band. Foreigners – we don’t understand what he’s talking about either!
In the Court in the Act era, they were certainly a good metal band, but post 2010 material is definitely something special and we get a good spread from the discography. Still, they finish off with two tracks from the debut album, and everyone laps it up, so they do look after their old fans. A great gig. I hope they are getting somewhere with this new album he mentions too. Top marks for the band from Newcastle Upon Tyne!
The next band have the honour of being headliners, as CANDLEMASS pulled out, which is a blow because they were a real draw for this event. SORTILEGE are French heavy metal, and they sing in their native tongue, which is unusual because heavy metal was crystallised in the recordings of English speaking bands, and it’s difficult to un-hear that. There is lots of musical theory on the role of language, its inflexions and structure, on the development of a genre. Morten pissed himself laughing when I told him about SORTILEGE, and compared it to the phenomena of German hip-hop which perhaps suffers from the language compatibility problem. The same thing happens in J-Rock, perhaps? Does it work though when a heavy metal band sings in French? After a few songs of SORTILEGE, granted they have quite a few fans in the audience, but this is more of WPBALBB, and it isn’t particularly working for me. I’ll let you decide, but all I can say is ‘Ce n’est pas un bon idee!’
We have been drinking all day, and have a monstrous drive tomorrow to get our Hamburg flights, so that’s the end of Keep It True XXII for us and we go back to the van for sleep.
Should you go to Keep It True? Yes, definitely, it really changed my opinion of the heavy metal scene, mostly positively, and even the bands I wasn’t initially impressed with I will concede have the power to grow on me a bit. But there’s probably only one thing I’d do differently next time, and that is, BRING EARPLUGS! It’s louder than you realise!
Last day – back to Hamburg for a huge sausage and mass
I’ll make this quick. Sunday was sunny and calm. The autobahns were empty, so I got to floor the hire van. It started to shake at about 200kph but that was fair enough. We stopped at the services and had a good meal, and even thought of buying a travel pussy from the toilets, but alas I didn’t have the right coins!
Six hours later in Hamburg, the hire company admitted that I hadn’t damaged their vehicle, which was nice as I think they were giving other people a harder time, and then we went on foot to one of those crap chain Bavarian restaurants ( somewhat ironically since we had just driven from there ) and had an overpriced mega-sausage and chips, with a couple of litres of beer. But we didn’t care, we were really hungry and it was ace.
On the plane, I was sad to go. Till next time, Germany! xxxxx