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Review: Rockavaria 2016

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One of the greatest advantages of living in Germany is that there is always a good concert or festival close to you. Rockavaria in Munich is (reasonably) close to where I live, and after the success from last year, it was only obvious that I would return this year.

The billing included Nightwish, Dust Bolt, Slayer, Anthrax, Sodom and more but I was there primarily for Iron Maiden and the Book of Souls world tour. The band flew into Munich on the Ed Force One and brought their ‘big’ stage act along, and the show was, well, magical.

But more on that later.

I got to the Olympiastadion early enough on Friday (Day 1) and was hit with my first dilemma – Powerwolf at the main stage or Dust Bolt on the lake? I had to choose Dust Bolt but managed to catch a few tracks of the Blessed & Possessed crew. I liked what I heard but Dust Bolt was on my radar ever since I watched them with Kryptos, Death Angel and Sepultura last summer. The German punk-influenced thrash metal band was an absolute treat to watch on the rather picturesque ‘Seebühne,’ a stage built on the small lake at the Olympia Park. The energy and urgency in the music was palatable and the quartet burst through their rather short set with barely any breathing room. The highlight was ‘Agent Thrash’ where frontman Lenny Breuss invited the audience on to the stage to celebrate thrash metal. I’ll be watching them again later this year in Austria and I’ll be on the lookout for their new album ‘Mass Confusion’ expected to hit stores later this year on Napalm Records.

Dust Bolt at Rockavaria

I caught a bit of Apocalyptica and Suicidal Tendancies but they’ve never really been among the bands I wanted to watch. There is also so much ‘heavy cello’ that I can handle. Before I knew it, my second dilemma of the day was upon me: Nightwish or Dog Eat Dog? I’d seen at Wacken a few years back and Dog Eat Dog the day earlier in Lindau (DE) and both bands were terrific. Had to come to a compromise again and catch the first half of Dog Eat Dog and the last half of Nightwish. DED is one of those bands that I’m surprised took me so long to get into! Their brand of saxophone heavy punk/rap rock got the crowds on their feet and in the air. Recovering from celebrating bassist Dave Neabore’s birthday the day earlier, the band pushed through the a classic playlist including ‘No Fronts,’ ‘Isms,’ and ‘Pull My Finger,’ at which point I set off to catch Nightwish. Hanging out right at the back, I was pleasantly surprised with the ferocity of the music live – a far cry from the symphonic, more sober music on the band’s records. I left the venue a few minutes before the band ended to catch the tube home, the fire from the big pyrotechnics still burnt into my eyes.

Day 2 was really a confused day and a sort of rest day after the long day earlier and what I expected to be a long final day. While I really like Rockavaria, I think the organizers still need to come to terms with the fact that it is indeed a metal festival, not a rock festival. Sodom in the afternoon and Iggy Pop in the night?! I caught a bit of The Charm The Fury at the sea stage as I walked in the blazing heat to catch Sodom’s set atthe main stage. Tom Angelripper has to be one of the best thrash metal frontmen around and age evidently hasn’t caught up with the band. Beginning with ‘In War & Pieces,’ Sodom played a mix of old and new to satisfy the masses who seem to have turned up early simply to catch Sodom. And of course, its always good to hear ‘The Saw Is The Law’ played live.

Angelripper

The final day, Sunday was the big day. I got in early enough and caught Gojira play music off the new album ‘Magma’ which was entertaining but I was impatient. IRON MAIDEN WHERE ART THOU?! I sat through Tremonti’s set which was quite disappointing because its obvious that the ex-Creed & Alter Bridge guitar-slinger has the riffs but his vocals are so painfully weak that it completely took away the emphasis from the music.

Anthrax came on for a 50 minute set and that’s when the weather started turning on its heels. Just as Joey Belladonna mentioned how lucky we were to have the sun shining on us for the festival, the large TV screens displayed an ominous message: thunderstorms expected. I stood around in my tshirt and shorts and evaluated the situation – take refuge in the covered stands miles away from the stage or brave the rains? I decided to brave the thunderstorms and raised my beer to Anthrax who were one of the best sounding bands of the day. The eleventh studio album ‘For All Kings’ is one of my favourite releases of the year and I was so happy to hear ‘Breathing Lightning’ live. Joey Belladonna has injected new life into the band and still sounds as good as he did 30 years back!

Frank Anthrax

Anthrax made way for Swedish occult legionaries Ghost who took advantage of the overcast conditions to cast a spell on the audience who were gathering in masses despite the weather getting stormier. Songs included ‘Year Zero,’ ‘Ritual’ and of course, the Satanic tribute to female orgasms, ‘Monsterous Clock.’ I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again – Papa Emeritus III is one of the most charismatic frontmen around. His voice, stage act and live banter all encompass what is a Ghost live show.

By the time Slayer hit the stage, temperatures had dropped and I was soaked to the bone. A few shots of Jägermeister to keep me warm was all I needed to get into the pit, and a Slayer pit is truly a pit. I watched Slayer at Wacken a few years back and was terribly underwhelmed by the sound and stage act but the set at Rockavaria was something special. Loud, heavy, and did I mention loud? The American thrash metal legends ripped through a 60 minute classic set which included Hell Awaits, Raining Blood, Dead Skin Mask etc and ended with the Hannemann tribute song, Angel of Death. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen Youtube videos of Slayer played Angel of Death, and every time I see the backdrop change to the Hannemann/Heineken logo, I get a chill down my spine.

Slayer at Rockavaria

Through Slayer’s set, I steadily inched my way right to the front of the stage. The time for Iron Maiden was close but before that, I had to endure 75 minutes of Sabaton. It still surprises me that Sabaton got a better and longer slot than Slayer. They have their fans and their stage act is great but there is something about the music I can’t tolerate. This coming from a fan of the cheesiest power metal that exists (Gloryhammer anyone?). Still, I tolerated the set because every second in the pouring rain was a second closer to Iron Maiden. When Sabaton was done and Doctor Doctor started playing on the PAs, I think had tears in my eyes. I had endured about 2 hrs of rain in cold weather, I was tired and I just wanted to watch Iron Maiden. The two hours that followed was the perfect ending to what was a great, well organized festival; a celebration of heavy metal, really. The Iron Maiden stage setup looked like something out of the Mayan civilization – sticking to the theme of the Book of Souls album, with different backdrops for every song. The band played a bunch of songs from the new album as well as the classics (but really, is there an Iron Maiden song that isn’t a classic?) from almost every album but my personal highlights were Wasted Years, Children of the Damned and Blood Brothers, from Brave New World – the album that made me a metalhead 16 years back.

Iron Maiden at Rockavaria

There’s something very primal about heavy metal, and as the chords faded and the masses of metalheads filtered out of the Olympiastadion, I thought back about the show; almost 40,000 fans, drenched in the rain and still screaming together, experiencing the highs and lows of the music together. Its a feeling that is hard to put into words – just something that has to be experienced. Its been a long time since I watched a band and came out so… So weak with emotion, and yet so alive.

Rockavaria 2016 was great and Headbangers India will be happy to be back in 2017 once again. See you around, München!