|» Sweden Rock Festival 2018||
~ Reviews by Mozzy
This year, the three main days - Thursday, Friday, Saturday - at Sweden Rock Festival boasted Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osbourne and Judas Priest as headliners. As these three are among the very dearest artists among hard rock and heavy metal fans it was a big thing indeed, and also made for a very cool festival poster. In addition, there was the reunited Helloween, plus many other appealing bands as usual.
As expected, tickets went fast and the festival was sold-out much earlier than normal. Without a doubt, Iron Maiden was the deciding reason as the English giant has a hugely wide fanbase. The attendance capacity of the festival site was raised with a couple of thousand visitors, and that the area was more crowded this year was most obvious, during all four days. One could also feel it, as it was not quite as smooth and comfortable as normal to move around at the site. This was most apparent regarding the toilets, which were located at fewer spots this year, something which generated much criticism after the festival and rightly so.
Seeing Iron Maiden at Sweden Rock was special, and without a doubt a big milestone for the organisers as well. Still, booking such a giant headliner, which the festival in the past said would not happen, has a slight effect on the festival's feel. The powerful Live Nation is now the majority shareholder, and one suspects they always strive to book the biggest artists. It will be very interesting to see what happens next year.
The remarks aside, a wonderful time was had as
always, with a cheerful atmosphere and even unusually warm weather this
year. Enjoying all the music at Sweden Rock is what is central, and Glenn
Hughes really summarised it all during his excellent gig, branding us
all, bands and audience, a "community of love for rock". It
sure is a fitting description of this event.
Band: Nocturnal Rites
Having done a few gigs since their return after some quiet years, Nocturnal Rites' performance at Sweden Rock is long-awaited. It is one where a greater number of fans get to celebrate their return and the grass by the 4 Sound Stage is packed. With merely an hour's playing time, one favourite is followed by another with audience members singing and jumping along. New World Messiah is a prime example and one of the highlights.
The band members are having fun as well, and Jonny Lindqvist, whose voice
is always appealing, is joking with the crowd between songs. Per Nilsson
is absent since his other band Meshuggah are playing abroad, but Ludwig
Johansson is an excellent substitute. It is nice to witness Johansson's
joy onstage as he is a devoted Nocturnal Rites fan, now getting to play
with them. We don't get the old classic Iron Force at the end, but Fools
Never Die closes the set brilliantly and a happy mood is felt in the air
after the gig has finished.
Performance: 7,5 chalices
(might be slightly incorrect)
Band: Hardcore Superstar
During the last decade, Hardcore Superstar have emerged as one of the most cherished hard rock groups in Sweden. This was obvious when the band was promoted to the Festival Stage at this festival in 2015, playing in front of a huge crowd. This year, the band has the honour of being the last band on the first festival day and one can tell the band is taking on the challenge in a serious manner. Kick On The Upperclass get things started with a bang, and a couple of other hits follow short after.
At the same time, the band seem so confident, even playing a song from the upcoming album as the second number. It gets a good response, having been out as a single for a couple of months. A couple of other songs from the upcoming album are played as well, with an amusing costume change during Baboon to refer to the fresh video to the song.
But most of all, the natural confidence stems from the quartet's expertise and experience as a live band. The band deliver their catchy tunes very tight, with tons of energy and a positive attitude. And in Jocke Berg they have a first-class frontman, constantly bouncing around and having the audience in his palm, while singing great. The band really has an excellent bond with its crowd where there is excitement all the way through.
The party atmosphere is further enhanced when fitting tunes like Last
Call For Alcohol, Moonshine and We Don't Celebrate Sundays are played
and during Last Call For Alcohol a portable bar is wheeled onstage. Hardcore
Superstar provides a terrific ending to the first festival day and one
which whets the appetite for more entertainment.
Performance: 7,5 chalices
Band: Glenn Hughes
One of the most mouth-watering performances beforehand this year was Glenn Hughes. The English legend impressed at the festival two years ago, and now he returns with a special show, just playing music by Deep Purple, where he was a member during three classic albums. It starts with Stormbringer which is followed by Might Just Take Your Life, and looking around me there are overjoyed faces everywhere.
More classic 70's tunes appear and sound awesome, with a marvellous groove. Hughes is playing his bass with skill and dynamics and is accompanied by splendid players in the form of guitarist Soren Andersen, keyboardist Jay Boe and drummer Markus Kullman. The latter, presumably filling in for Pontus Engborg, has not even rehearsed says Hughes. If so, that is remarkable.
But the star onstage is Hughes himself. The way his voice, one of the most beloved in hard rock, is highly intact is astounding, compared to others of his generation and considering his former unhealthy lifestyle. His high-pitch range is quite amazing, and he certainly takes his opportunities to show it off. The Englishman is also in a terrific mood and seems to be in a good place in his life.
However, one could question why Highway Star and Smoke On The Water are
played since they are not from albums Hughes took part in. Still, these
mega anthems are lapped up by all us spectators. Then it ends in an utmost
fashion with the colossal Burn. Standing in the sun, beer in hand, enjoying
these high-class musicians performing timeless hard rock songs is a privilege.
Performance: 8 chalices
Helloween's show in Gothenburg last December, the first in Sweden under the 'Pumpkins United' banner, was a big happening, making grown audience members cry in joy. That the German power metal institution was coming to Sweden Rock as well was great news, although the show would not be as long. Halloween again functions as an immense opener, but a long part in the middle is cut out. Nevertheless, the metal party is in full swing, with the band unveiling Dr Stein and I'm Alive, with loud singing from the thrilled spectators.
Once again, a big highlight is the medley containing songs from the first Helloween releases, sung by Kai Hansen. It is phenomenal stuff where headbanging is unavoidable. Heavy metal is the law indeed, referring to one of the titles. How Many Tears from the first album is awesome as well, featuring shared vocals between Hansen, Michael Kiske and Andy Deris. This takes place in other numbers too, as part of the 'Pumpkins United' concept. There is still some very good songs in the set from Deris' era, but the biggest treat of course is to hear Kiske, especially, and Hansen sing the old tunes.
Kiske tells us of when he played with Unisonic at the festival in 2008 and A Little Time was one of the songs, and now ten years later he is singing it with Helloween. I saw that Unisonic gig and it is special to hear the song again today, with Kiske reunited with his old bandmates, something which then seemed very unlikely. Eagle Fly Free is also sung solely by Kiske and is another special moment. No disrespect to Hansen and Deris, who both deliver a very good effort, but Kiske is the voice almost all have longed to hear and he sounds excellent. That just a small part of the long epic Keeper Of The Seven Keys, fantastic in December, is played is a shame, however. With much less playing time, sacrifices have to be made but this choice is a big disappointment.
Thankfully, the show finishes in a triumphant fashion, via Future World and I Want Out. Everyone is belting out the words while loads of beach balls are flying across the huge crowd. Apart from enjoying the cherished music, it is wonderful to see the members get along and have fun. Although the concert in Gothenburg was more special and offered more music, this performance is most pleasurable. One suspects that the Pumpkins United tour will last for quite some time yet, and there could not be anyone complaining if that proves the case.
Performance: 8 chalices
Band: Iron Maiden
Iron Maiden was long considered an improbable booking by Sweden Rock Festival. But now the heavy metal giants are here and excitement is soaring among the massive crowd, surely the biggest for any band in the festival's history. This Maiden tour, dubbed 'The Legacy Of The Beast', sees the band celebrating their magnificent past plus revisiting a number of songs not played in a while or decades even.
Aces High, with the iconic Churchill intro, is obviously a perfect opener, and a Spitfire plane swaying above the band is cool as hell. Where Eagles Dare as second number is awesome, being a fan favourite not played that often in the past. Continuing with 2 Minutes To Midnight, with the chorus sung loudly by the crowd, the class tunes never stop coming.
In the middle of the set, there is the return of two longer compositions. First, For The Greater Good Of God with its moving melodies and a little later Sign Of The Cross with its darker ambience. These two epic and dynamic numbers are two of the highlights, especially the latter. A Maiden gig is always a feast for the eyes as well, and this time the show is even more spectacular than normal. There are continuous changes of massive, grandiose backdrops and structures onstage.
Eddie appears onstage in a couple of incarnations, and during Flight Of Icarus a giant angelic figure appears while Dickinson is having fun with a flame-thrower is each hand. The song is the big talking point in the current setlist, as it was last played as long back as 1986, and it sure gets the crowd's approval.
As for Dickinson, it must be mentioned yet again how powerful his voice still is, and his vigour onstage as he is all over the place is as impressive. And in the art of conducting a crowd, Dickinson is a true master. His bandmates are energetic as well, and it is great to see how fun they are still having onstage.
What is also signifying of the whole show is the immense level of professionalism and experience, which goes for everything concerning Iron Maiden. The band is of course a watertight unit, knowing each other inside-out, while the show set up by the faithful crew runs like clockwork and is meticulously planned to the music.
The response from the packed audience is passionate throughout the two
hours and manifests itself in loud singing. As usual, Fear Of The Dark
is the most obvious example, creating a magical atmosphere in the dark
field. The "Freedom" chanting parts during The Clansman are
marvellous too. As the last heavy metal anthems are delivered, to deafening
singalongs, it is clear that history has been made. Iron Maiden at Sweden
Rock Festival - two beloved institutions coming together.
Performance: 9 chalices
Kreator's career during the last decade has had a very positive curve. That the thrash legends is handed the task to be the last band on the biggest stages on Thursday, following the mighty Iron Maiden, is a big testament of their current status. The main reason, apart from hard work and touring, behind Kreator's momentum is the high quality of their latest records. The first five songs in the set are from this era, with Enemy Of God a little older, and it is a tremendous start.
Then two golden oldies are unleashed, People Of The Lie and Flag Of Hate, and with the audience thoroughly warmed-up now the moshpit really gets going. Although frontman Mille Petrozza always displays dedication onstage, one can sense a little extra spark in the German tonight. Surely, he is relishing Kreator's slot, and the order to the crowd to raise the Flag Of Hate is committed indeed.
It is a very well-balanced and dynamic set, with a great flow via speedier as well as heavier numbers. And on top of the awesome metal feast we get to see Kreator present their imposing full stage show. There is an extravagant light show, frequent pyro, big screens and some cool props such as the big Kreator demon head and a body hanging from a noose. Fallen Brother, with many fallen rock heroes showing on the screens, is a brilliant number and a very fitting and appreciated celebration at this festival.
Then the set concludes with annihilating versions of oldies Betrayer
and Pleasure To Kill before the band gets heartfelt greetings from the
audience. To play after Iron Maiden and round off Thursday's already marvellous
festivities proves no match for Kreator, and it seems just natural for
them. Fact is, this performance is outstanding from start to finish and
I rank it as high as Maiden's.
Performance: 9 chalices
Although guitarist Jan Kuhenemund was the sole original member, Vixen gave a good show at the festival in 2005. This year, the others from the original line-up - singer Janet Gardner, drummer Roxy Petrucci, bassist Share Pedersen - are part of the Vixen who return to the festival, and it is great to witness. Sadly, Kuhenemund passed away in 2013 which prevented a full reunion. The current guitarist, Britt Lightning who joined in 2017, fits in well and like her band mates she is cool and comfortable onstage.
Being in the audience is also most enjoyable. It is especially great
to hear Gardner's recognisable voice and hearing wonderful gems like How
Much Love and Love Is A Killer is even a bit emotional as they take you
back to the teen years. But doing a couple of covers, a bit of Perfect
Strangers during I Want You To Rock Me plus I Don't Need No Doctor, feels
redundant. All the same, there is a joyful mood in the air with both fans
and band having a great time, and the beloved anthem Edge Of A Broken
Heart is as a glorious conclusion. A very nice start to the day.
Performance: 7,5 chalices
Band: Pretty Maids
Pretty Maids have graced the biggest stage at Sweden Rock a couple of times before and have completed the task well. This time, the crowd awaiting the Danes is even bigger which is proof of the rising popularity thanks to recent albums. A couple of those tracks start things off before two classics from the debut album appear.
This is the band's first gig since March, when a fall by singer Ronnie Atkins and a head injury forced them to cancel a couple of shows. Surely, the excitement of being back plays its part, because this performance has an extra spark. And while Atkins' voice is always enjoyable and full of character, today it has that extra power, and then it is has few competitors.
Combined with the music performed by his comrades, we get a tremendous
concert of melodic hard rock and heavy metal. The hour at their disposal
is made out of half classics from the 80's and half class numbers from
recent albums. Whether old or new, every tune is a winner and generates
an excited response. It is not even possible to name any title (see setlist
below) as this a non-stop success display by Pretty Maids and one of the
festival's top gigs.
Performance: 8 chalices
Band: Stone Sour
Stone Sour played at the festival during the afternoon in 2010, and that they are now just below the headliners on the festival poster reveals how popular they have become, as is the huge crowd awaiting the band. Whiplash Pants is an energetic opener and is followed by a couple of other numbers in the same vein before the catchy Say You'll Haunt Me. Corey taylor once again demonstrates his brilliance as a vocalist, easily switching between aggression and melody and simply singing awesome. And his frontmanship is as usual equally impressive, showcasing much self-assurance as well as humour.
Taylor's colleagues certainly pale in comparison when it comes to stage presence, but focus on performing the material and they do so with much competence. Guitarist Josh Rand, who has recently rejoined following addiction problems, is saluted by Taylor and gets warm greetings from the crowd. Bother is performed solely by Taylor, with his voice and guitar, and he gets help with the vocals from the crowd. Another mellow number, hit song Through Glass, is received even warmer.
Then the quintet returns to their aggressive side and finish with RU486
and Fabuless. The latter includes funny inflatable figures onstage, resembling
the band and swaying in the air, like in the video to the song. While
there is also some pyro and confetti used, it is the music that is in
the forefront for Stone Sour. Not all of the numbers are of the same high
quality, but with time, and with Taylor, Stone Sour might climb further
on the festival bills.
Performance: 7 chalices
See also: interview with Roy Mayorga the same day
Band: Heavy Load
Strolling around next to Rock Stage, the crew is setting up the show for the next band. The backdrop reads Heavy Load, and it sure feels special to see that name. The legendary Swedish heavy metal pioneers have been out of the public eye since 1985, when they last played live. Their resurrection, and an appearance at Sweden Rock, is something which has been raved about for many years and now it is actually about to happen!
Pyro explosions add to the kick-off with opener Heavy Metal Angels and fire is shooting up during Run With The Devil, but otherwise this is all about the music of Heavy Load. Other fan favourites among the first numbers include The King and The Guitar Is My Sword. The former sees Eddy Malm taking the stage to sing and play guitar which is repeated later. We are also treated to a newly written song - a big event in itself - by the name of Walhalla Warriors and it sounds promising and fits in well. It features a guest appearance onstage by bassist Thodoris Vogiantzis from Greek tribute band Heathens From The North which is a cool gesture. The song with that title is played a bit later and is another highlight in the set.
One can tell the band members are a little rusty being on stage, also when it comes to things like presenting songs and talking between them, but that is natural and rather charming too. On the other hand, it is obvious they are relishing being back onstage. It is brilliant to witness and it is especially apparent with frontman Ragne Wahlquist who expresses his gratefulness a number of times when looking out at the big crowd.
The singer and guitarist focuses solely on his vocals from time to time, leaving all guitar work to the newly recruited live member, Niclas Sunnerberg. Both playing guitar is the preferred option though as it creates a fuller sound, but Sunnerberg is doing an excellent job and contributes much of the energy onstage. As on the albums, Ragne's brother Styrbjörn Wahlquist sings his compositions while delivering his characteristic drum style. Bassist Torbjörn Ragnesjö, finally, seems content with being in the background and he virtually looks exactly the same as in the eighties.
The atmosphere among the very big crowd which has gathered is superb, with sheer joy in the air. Fists are pumped and singing is loud during the heavy metal gems that the set is filled to the brim with. The set is well-balanced, one example being that a drum solo is quickly followed by Saturday Night which generates a great party mood. At the end we get two Heavy Load staples, Stronger Than Evil and Singing Swords, before it all finishes with a quick reprise of Heavy Metal Angels and lots of pyro.
As all members walk to the front to greet the audience, they receive a loud ovation, not least when Ragne Wahlquist suggests that we will meet again. Regarding the performance, it can sure be improved. The sound is not perfect, with the vocals a bit low in the mix at times, the band can be a bit tighter and the stage show more entertaining.
These factors will sort themselves after more shows, which is a very tempting prospect. In the meantime, this Sweden Rock gig is historic as the grand return of none other than Heavy Load, something which seemed not likely. And all the hook-filled songs and the wonderful, euphoric atmosphere makes it a very pleasurable concert which is a privilege to be present at.
Performance: 7,5 chalices
Band: Ozzy Osbourne
After an intro with entertaining footage from his monumental history, the iconic Ozzy Osbourne steps onto the Festival Stage and begins to wind up the crowd in his typical manner. On his order to "let the madness begin", the band then kicks into Bark At The Moon. Mr Crowley is next followed by I Don't Know before the first Black Sabbath track, Faires Wear Boots.
Following his return as guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne, Zakk Wylde mentioned in some interviews that he was eager to shake up the setlist a bit with some material not played in a long time. It soon obvious that this will not be the case this time, as we get more tried and trusted tracks. Ironically, the medley which takes place mid-set include parts of a few other great tunes - see setlist below - not played in a long time, but without vocals as Ozzy is resting his voice backstage. Speaking of the Ozzman's voice, largely it sounds good tonight although with occasional mishaps. But considering he is turning 70 this year he does well.
As for the legend's conduct onstage he is his usual endearing self, uttering the well-known comments to get the spectators on their feet, clapping his hands and strolling and jogging onstage in his inimitable style. Still, this time it feels a bit like it goes on auto-pilot. Meanwhile, it is great to see Wylde back in the band and the blonde guitar maestro's style is the same as before, both playing-wise and in appearance. That he is down at the barrier during a solo to greet the fans is an unexpected and cool thing to see, though.
Rounding off the show is some more beloved anthems. The setlist is most predictable, but at this age it is probably smoother for Ozzy to perform the songs he is used to. And despite the remarks on this performance, the classic tunes that are played are much enjoyed by the audience including myself.
Performance: 7 chalices
After watching an excellent set by Swedish 80's heavy metallers Torch, next act is one with a much more polished sound. Stratovarius, one of the main power metal groups to break through in the 90's are perhaps not as popular nowadays but retain their status in their genre. Opening with Forever Free from Visions, the set is a mix of such old classics and material more recent.
The crowd at the Sweden Stage is big but the response is quite indifferent. While the heat and festival weariness could play a part, Stratovarius performance is frankly average. It is nice to hear the old hits but the effort from the band is not overly animated, and Kotipelto is not doing much to get the crowd going, mostly simply presenting the song title and who's the composer. The infectious signature tune Hunting High And Low generates singing and is a worthy ending but as a whole this is a forgettable hour of live music.
Performance: 5 chalices
Walking back towards Sweden Stage to watch Destruction, I don't feel excited. Although the German thrashers are always good live, I have seen them a number of times in recent years. What then takes place is a terrific thrash exhibition as the trio takes the stage and pulverise us with numbers like Curse The Gods, Tormentor and Nailed To The Cross. The latter is dedicated to the recently deceased Ralph Santolla (ex-Deicide, Obituary among others) by vocalist/basist Schmier who urges the audience to create a moshpit for Santolla.
Schmier's request is obeyed and there is a passionate pit throughout the whole gig. Looking around me, is is apparent that this gig is definitely the one attracting most metalheads of the old-school style. As if that was not cool enough, a bunch of kids, around ten years old, are participating in the moshpit. Also sporting the classic features like long hair and denim jackets with patches, they are totally into it, their eyes shining with excitement. It is an absolutely magnificent sight and one which further proves that the interest for metal will always pass onto coming generations.
The intense thrash metal delivered comes with a very good stage sound
as well, with all instruments getting through. The drum stool is now occupied
by the renowned Randy Black and he adds extra edge and power. Schmier
is throwing out beers to the crowd and this is indeed a fun thrash metal
party, concluded with classics Thrash 'Til Death and Bestial Invasion.
Performance: 7,5 chalices
(sorry, no setlist)
Band: Judas Priest
And so time has come for the last of the three beloved giants to headline the Festival Stage; Judas Priest, who more than any other band has come to embody the term heavy metal. While it is exciting when the quintet make their entrance it also looks slightly peculiar. This is due to the absence of Glenn Tipton, who is unable to play a full concert because of his Parkinson disease. The fact that both KK Downing and Tipton, the legendary six-string duo, are not present onstage is honestly sad. While Andy Sneap is a very competent guitarist, he lacks charisma and Tipton is very missed. Ritchie Faulkner, meanwhile, has really grown into his role and is a star onstage with much presence.
The absence of said legends is soon craving less attention though thanks to the heavy metal pearls which are delivered. Opening with the title track from the recently released Firepower, we then get two golden oldies in the shape of Grinder and Sinner. Aside from the title track, we get two more from Firepower. Since the album is so sensationally brilliant, it would have been great to hear other songs as well, but fitting them in among the countless classics is of course difficult.
On the other hand, the setlist contains some real treats from the past. Saints In Hell, from Stained Class, and Tyrant from Sad Wings Of Destiny come out great. Night Comes Down from Defenders Of The Faith is also unexpected and brilliant to hear. Compared to Ozzy's predictable choice of songs, Priest give us something extra for which they must be saluted.
Then it is back to the well-known anthems including Painkiller during which Rob Halford impresses, singing this most demanding song. Overall, he sounds very good tonight which he has done in recent years. During Painkiller, Halford points to the screen which is showing clips of Glenn Tipton and it is a touching moment. The first encore is a great rendition of Rising From Ruins, another new song.
Then loud cheers are heard and it is none other than Tipton who takes
the stage to play the last encores, something he still does sometimes.
He gets an affectionate response from the audience and it is an overwhelming
ending to a heavy metal feast where the heavy metal colossus Judas Priest's
music speaks for itself although it unavoidably feels and looks a bit
Performance: 8 chalices