Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Graspop Metal Meeting: Day 2

Day 2

Carach Angren

     Day 2 of Graspop began with heavy rain and heavy music. Due to the inclement weather, the indoor "Metal Dome" was the place to be. First up on the indoor side stage were Dutch black metal band Carach Angren. The first thing that strikes you with Carach Angren is their lineup. They have one of the strangest musical combinations with a keyboardist, guitarist/screamer, drummer and violinist. While I was quick to judge that the lack of bass would result in a dry, empty sound and the violinist would likely be drowned out by synth, I was quickly proven wrong as the band boasted a monstrous and epic sound. The keyboardist takes over the bass octaves and allows the violinist and guitarist to trade off melodies. This accompanied by masterful machine gun drum lines results in an epic and vicious black metal tone. While my viewing of Carach Angren's set was mostly coincidence due to the inclement weather, it turned out to be a perfect way to get the metal flowing. Once their set was over, the rain had stopped and the early afternoon crowd who had crammed into the Metal Dome were ready to take on the rest of what Day 2 had in store.

Fire on the metal dome screens looked badass

Quick Review: An interesting musical combination comes together in a familiar yet unique black metal sound.


Protest The Hero

    While I've seen PTH in many times, in many different venues, nothing quite compares to witnessing their set in Belgium. Coming from an area where Protest The Hero has occasionally made it to mainstream radio, it was a strange feeling to see the band perform to a crowd that was largely unfamiliar with the band. The Belgian crowd exploded during Bloodmeat but remained still for the majority of the rest of set.

     As for Protest The Hero's performance, the band is always stellar live. They're a group of phenomenal musicians who can perform their music to near perfection. I will however admit that the band has little to no energy on a large stage. In clubs and smaller venues, the band is so upfront and personal that the minimal movement is sufficient to boost the crowd full of energy. However, on a large festival sized stage, PTH give off a rather bland performance. The music sounds amazing, and Rody's rants are always hilarious, but there is less movement and expression than what you'd expect from a death metal performance. This trend has been growing over the years, with PTH becoming less and less entertaining to watch with every performance I see. While their insane tech guitar lines severely limit the possible movement, the band appears almost un-interested in their own music while they play it. 

Quick Review: Music is performed to perfection but the band appears to have lost any trance of passion in their live performance



     After the standstill nature of Protest The Hero's set, I was looking for a little madness. Nails were set to take the Metal Dome stage and seemed perfectly suited for my needs. Nails are a powerviolence/hardcore band from California and have made a name for themselves with some of the most ruthless and aggressive hardcore punk in the industry. Nails is a no-nonsense type of band. While Nails may be a famous international name, the band still strolls out on stage as if they were opening a small underground show. After a quick sound check the band opened their set by smashing the audience in the face with a wall of sound. Their music is permanently cranked to 10 and strumming any less than your hardest on the guitar is completely unacceptable. The chaos that comes along with hardcore punk can often be confused for sloppiness, but Nails nailed every transition, cut out perfectly in-sync on every pause, and performed some incredible tightly knit chaos.

     Oddly enough, by far my favorite moment of the set came in between songs. There were three beach balls that seemed to permanently exist in the Metal Dome and nowhere else. During Nails set, these beach balls seemed ironically hilarious, but during a tuning break Nails' frontman gave a profound speech about why he loves the beach balls. He declared that he hadn't seen a beach ball in almost a year (when he was last home) and that the combination of the Belgian fans losing their minds in the pit and being fascinated by a beach ball reminded him of the SoCal crowds in front of which Nails originally made a name for themselves. Nails are balls to the wall, in your face, relentless and ruthless hardcore, but connected to the crowd over a giant bouncing colourful inflatable ball. Nails ended their set with kicking all three beach balls at the same time (one per guitarist/bassist), in sync with an ououtrageously heavy slam riff.

Quick Review: Powerviolence and beach balls resulted in a gargantuan-ly heavy sound with some hilarious distractions



     For years Gojira had been a band I'd always heard about but for some strange reason I had never actually got around to listening to. Gojira, being possibly the best metal band to ever come out of France, are a massive attraction for Belgian metal fans. The crowd standing around waiting for Gojira was already huge an hour before the band hit the stage. I distinctly remember the size of Gojira's fan base due to an error in GMMs scheduling, and it turned out the Gojira fans had been waiting at the wrong stage the entire time. At this point I found myself graced with the opportunity to outrun the thousands of Gojira fans marching from one main stage the next (which is actually quite difficult given the barrier and bar between them). Without much of an idea of what I was in for, I found myself at the front of one of the largest crowds of Day 2.

     Gojira blew my pants off with their god-tier metal riffage and immense vocals.  Gojira's constant barrage of incredible heavy riff after incredible heavy riff had the crowd running at full throttle from start until finish. Every once in a while you witness a live performance so good, that you immediately feel the need to listen to that bands entire discography, this was my experience with Gojira. I'm pleased to say that today I have fully recovered from my Gojira-negligence and have probably played L'Enfant Sauvage more than any other album since I returned from my trip. Gojira are absolutely masterful metal songwriters. They have what on the surface may come across as a typical metal tone, but underneath lies some of the best written metal you could ever hope to find. Gojira put on a performance so good that it has already had a noticeable how I think about writing metal riffs on guitar.

Quick Review: Gojira produce an endless stream of incredible riffs and sound spectacular live



     I'd seen Mastodon once before my trip but managed to catch them twice during my month in Europe. GMM was the first of these two performances and I was initially skeptical. My first experience with Mastodon live was at Mayhem Fest in 2008 and their performance was less than stellar. Thankfully the sludge metal king-pins brought their "A" game to Belgium and completely turned around my opinion of their live performance. Mastodon often get praised as being one of the most dynamic and creative bands in metal and their live performance honed in on these strengths. Mastodon's three vocalists and huge musical range provide the audience with a diverse sonic experience and cover enough genres in one performance that the odds are everyone is going to enjoy at least one point in the set. 

     Mastodon merit their name and have one of the hugest live sounds imaginable. Sludgey riffage shook the ground and resonated the very core of the audience. While Mastodon failed to attract as large of a crowd as most main stage bands, their set comprised of largely new material was a wonder to behold. Personally songs where drummer Brann Dailor took over vocals tended to be my favorites, but all three vocalists delivered their own unique styles in spectacular fashion. Mastodon keep you guessing and are constantly exploring new aspects of their sound. In a live setting this variety of sounds results in a fairly stationary but captivated audience.

I did later get closer to the stage, but this is a nice shot of the two main stages

Quick Review: Relatively small and unenergetic crowd for a diverse and captivating performance



     Few bands deliver more of a European folk metal vibe than Swiss band Eluveitie. As far as creative instrumentation goes, have a dedicated Hurdy Gurdy player is a pretty unique choice. For those incapable of using wikipedia on their own: a Hurdy Gurdy is a hand cranked string instrument that fits into the wheel fiddle family. This utilization of strange folk instruments are what have given Eluveitie a step above the competition in the folk metal scene. Examples of the many other of the strange instruments the band has used over the years include: Gaita, Bodhran, Crumhorn, Irish Bouzouki, Hammered Dulcimer, Uilleann Pipes, etc.

    Eluveitie's live experience is just an all around good time. The band's use of folk instrumentation gives the band a constant cheery vibe to their metal soundscape.  However, despite the use of various odd instruments and frequent changing vocalists, I still found Eluveitie's performance to be rather one dimensional. They capture the folk sound incredibly well, but fail to provide much substance or songwriting to accompany the creative instrumentation. While I had gone into the performance quite excited, I found myself unexpectedly bored halfway through. The performance began to feel as if it were dragging on, and the words "last song" came as more of a relief rather than a disappointment. Ultimately it was a good set, but the band would be better experienced in shorter doses, as the folk instruments do lose their appeal after some time and you may find yourself realizing that the core of the band is a rather mediocre and unoriginal metal band, with any strange instrument thrown in.

Marquee tent was massive, there was still about twice as many people behind me as in front of me here

Quick Review: Mediocre metal with creative instrumentation thrown in, best experienced in small doses



    As day 2 began to draw to a close, the headliners began to take over the stages and do what they do best. While I had my sights set on heading to the side stage headliners, the final band I caught over at the main stage was american thrash metal band Trivium. I had been a pretty big Trivium fan in high school, but had been quite disappointed with the latest few albums. I had only managed to the end of Trivium's set at  Download, so I was thrilled that at GMM I'd have a chance to catch their performance in full. 

     Trivium took the stage with furious energy and instantly sparked the crowd into motion. With the speed of thrash and the power metalcore, Trivium finds a happy medium that works incredibly well...until the vocals come in. Matt certainly wasn't bad live, much of his performance was near album quality but reproducing the boring and mediocre work of their last two albums wasn't going to end up magically sounding better live. Trivium brought along one of the strangest and most extensive live set ups at GMM. While the giant logos on either side of the stage were pretty badass, the strange fake ice the band had throughout the stage was an odd choice. It's clear they are trying to add some props to fit in with their new album cover, but it came across as looking cheap and took away from the band's powerful performance. Trivium are extremely talented and play their music with great precision and energy. They also manage to not fall into the boring thrash metal performance category and don't simply stand in one place from 45 minutes. Trivium make great use of the entire stage and are constantly in motion. If you enjoy Trivium's new music I highly recommend catching them live as they do put on a great performance.

Quick Review: Amazing live energy and instrumentation, but nothing fixes how mediocre the new music is

The Dillinger Escape Plan

     Alright, so I already review TDEP live at Download, and have been thus far only making one review for bands I caught at two festivals, but if any band deserves two live reviews it's gotta be them. Mathcore pioneers The Dillinger Escape Plan were alternate headliners in the Metal Dome and I was to get a chance to see one of the best live acts in the world twice over the course of two weeks. 

     While the Metal Dome was a side stage, it out did every other stage in one way: it had a dozen huuge screens behind the stage that the bands could use to put on anything they'd like to add to their live show. TDEP decided to use the screens as massive strobe lights synced up to their music and it was freaking glorious. Since it was around 10pm by this point, it was dark outside and even darker inside a giant tent. Dillinger's music synced up to strobe lights and the otherwise darkness of the tent caused a feeling of absolute madness in the Metal Dome. Everything around you was moving to the oddest rhythms and the crowd became one with the music. 

This was at night, that is how bright these lights were

     Thankfully the band had additional lighting on stage so the band was still view-able at all times. TDEP erupted with insanity and chaos, and lived up to their name as one of the craziest live bands out there. It was also really cool to see that the set was so different from what I had seen at Download. The majority of the set list was the same, with two songs changed, but the performance itself was drastically different from the craziness I saw at Download. The Dillinger Escape Plan's live show has manage to climb to be considered possibly the best live on the planet and it is all done without a single scripted moment. They manage to whip-out a different bag of chaos each time and rely on genuine passion rather than pre-planned stunts. 

Quick Reivew: Witnessing TDEP live is an experience of a lifetime, and I got it twice in two weeks



     Day 2 ended off with Limp Biskit and Volbeat on the main stage, so I had my sights set on the Marquee stage where Carcass were closing out the night. Carcass are a classic British extreme metal band who have been a huge influence on modern Death Metal and extreme metal genres. While members of Carcass might be older then they once were, they still rock as hard as ever and delivered a top tier performance at GMM.

    Carcass has a dynamic and precise live tone that is a combination of two distinctly different guitar tones and is held together by a massive muddy bass tone. Carcass' two guitarists shreded faces and showed how the band has been able to survive the years and continue to be a top tier metal act. While the drumming and vocals are certainly key elements of Carcass' sound, there's no doubt that the band would be little without its distinctive riffing style. The british melodic death pioneers have a wonderful aura of not really caring about their performance yet still deliver an immense and powerful metal show. It's as if the band still has some of that 80s rockstar cockiness in them, but the band plays so damn well that they manage to pull it off.

Quick Review: They might be getting old, but they can still out-perform most metal bands today


That's all for Day 2,
Day 3 should be posted in the next few weeks.
Thanks for reading!

David, I'll see you when our paths should collide once again

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