First weekend of June, time to start into the festival season! For me the place to be was in the Netherlands, more precisely Goffertpark in Nijmegen, for an incredible line-up at the sweet little FortaRock festival, although time and money restrictions only allowed me to go on the second day of the festival. Starting out super early in the morning to be among the first people in line at the festival, and going home in the night taking turns driving with my friend, this was a pretty crazy 25 hour trip, but totally worth it! I wasn’t even able to see every band I would have liked to see, especially missing out on Meshuggah was really painful! But still it’s safe to say I had an amazing day with amazing bands!
Vuur opened the day on the main stage. By now they are much more than just Anneke van Giersbergen’s new project, they’re rather a whole band of super talented Dutch musicians who harmonize very well on stage. I feel like they’re getting better every time I see them, and while Anneke is of course still one of the most adorable people you will ever see on a stage, the guys in the band made good use of the space of the big festival stage too. Always good to see them!
Dragonforce are all in all the perfect festival band. Yes, their powermetal might not be super deep, but their songs are so catchy you can easily sing along even if you’re not really familiar with them, and the lightspeed guitar solos of the legendary Herman Li and his sidekick Sam Totman are highly entertaining. Entertainment is the keyword anyway – they’re a bunch of funny guys who take very opportunity to fool around a bit. As long as you’re not scared singer Marc Hudson’s head might explode when he belts out his high and higher notes, Dragonforce will surely put you into a good mood so you’re well prepared for the rest of the day.
After Dragonforce it was already time for my first huge highlight of the day: After their European tour, about which I’ve written more than plenty here, Avatar have returned to the festival stages of this continent. And when the set is only half as long as their headline shows, it only means you headbang twice as hard! They have added a few new elements to the show like new intros (which were cool), and a new way to open the set: A Statue Of The King instead of Legend Of The King, with the whole band standing basically like statues on stage throughout the whole song (which was less cool in my opinion, since the contrast between the energy and the tempo of the song and the staticness of the band members was bizarre… on the other hand, this is Avatar, and bizarre is probably exactly what they want.) They hurried through their set of greatest hits, and of course there’s no way this could replace the experience of a full Avatar show… still it was good to see them again!
Just like Dragonforce, Alestorm might be considered the perfect festival band, because they certainly know how to get a crowd going with their pirate metal songs that deal with important topics like drinking beer, and with their giant inflatable rubber duck. I have to admit though that what they do doesn’t really suit my taste, and at this point of the day I was rather annoyed by it, especially since they attracted a large number of crowdsurfers. Just my two cents on this topic, from my experience – I’m certainly not a pussy when it comes to rioting concert/festival crowds, I don’t mind going home with a bruise or three, and I’m all for people going wild and enjoying themselves, but crowdsurfing is just too dangerous. If you get hit by a crowdsurfer, there’s a high chance the part of your body that catches the blow will be your head or your neck, and that’s seriously no joke (on contrary, in moshpits for example you catch a lot more with your arms and shoulders). Also, while it’s easy to move away from a moshpit if you don’t like it, there’s not really a way you can escape the crowdsurfers except if you’re willing to stand far at the back. To sum it up: for their 30 seconds of fun, crowdsurfers risk seriously injuring other people and possibly ruin the whole show for the dedicated music fans at the front, because sometimes you can hardly watch a show when you have to watch out for crowdsurfers the whole time.
I know I have to expect this when I go to a festival, and I’m totally willing to endure it if that’s necessary to see my favorite bands from the first row. Doesn’t mean I think it’s okay or even cool or good fun. There are thousands of ways to go crazy and enjoy yourself at a gig without hurting other people, so it’s simply unnecessary and stupid. Well. Today I took a nasty kick from a heavy boot against my jaw, with the result that I could hardly eat anything until the next day because chewing was too painful. I survived and prepared myself for the next band…
How brilliant was Opeth?? They started late and had to shorten their set by one song – considering the average length of an Opeth song, this meant only five songs remained for their less-than-60 minute set, but wow, those five songs were intense! The whole band sounded absolutely amazing with a crystal clear sound down to every detail, especially the precision of the bass might have been one of the best I’ve heard in a long time. Both the instrumentals and Mikael Åkerfeldt’s versatile vocals were so expressive that I was emotionally overwhelmed all the time. I might have been a bit lonely there though… Obviously Opeth’s complicated prog music is something that you really have to be into to be able to enjoy it. Apparently many of the people who were waiting at the front for Nightwish already were not into it though, so the crowd response Opeth got was a bit lame… “This is our last song. [sigh of relief] It’s three days long. [sigh of despair]” Yes, Mikael knows how to make people happy… 😂 He and Opeth made me happy with this set though, and after seeing them at a festival for the second time now, I really hope that someday I’ll be able to see a full headline show!
And then it was headliner time! A bit over 20 years ago, Nightwish released their first album, and that’s more than enough of a reason for the special setlists they’re playing this year on the Decades world tour, playing mostly songs from the ancient past of the band rather than songs from the recent albums, although the limited stage time didn’t allow them to play as many rarities as on their recent North American tour which I was lucky enough to witness for two shows. Still, several songs from Oceanborn, Wishmaster, Century Child and so on found their way into the set, and as if that wasn’t exciting in itself already for longtime Nightwish fans, it’s especially curious to see what the band makes out of these songs in 2018. The answer is: a lot! Without having to change much about the arrangements, they take the oldschool Nightwish sound to a whole new level. The songs sound much fuller, the guitars a lot more prominent and heavier without ever drowning out the synths that define these songs so much. And then there’s Floor Jansen of course, technically maybe the most skilled singer in the metal world, mastering pretty much every vocal style there is. She could easily go full opera soprano and sing these songs in their original form, but instead she makes the most out of the songs by using the whole set of her skills. From energetic and powerful to soft and lyrical – I know the Tarja purists will hate me for saying this, but after hearing these songs in the 2018 version, why would you ever want to listen to the original recordings again?
Perfectly matching the amazing music, Nightwish rounded the show off with amazing video visuals and some pyro of course. They are also one of the bands who seem to genuinely enjoy being on stage. Especially Floor, whose performance always appears very natural and down to earth, was really happy and proud to headline a festival in her home country. And guitarist Emppu Vuorinen never misses an opportunity to be a dork and interact with the people at the front anyway – sometimes I’m not sure whether he is actually making fun of us… 😉 But you should have seen how his face exploded with happiness when Floor hit her famous high note at the end of Ghost Love Score, even though he must have heard her do it a hundred times by now… you can’t fake a moment like that!
Nightwish were a perfect end to a perfect festival day! I’m very much looking forward to seeing them a few more times in November and December – do you have your tickets already?