Note: While the overall quality of the festival, including its pop artists, is beyond any doubt, since the Metal headliners were playing only on the second and third day, we only attended those.
This review would not have been possible without the help of two heavy metal fanatics, Dušan Panic, Jovan Ristic
Day I (Kind of Day II) - June 27th
We were heading to Belgrade, Serbia, in the middle of a hot -37º Celsius hot- summer day. It was the quite opposite of the British and Central-European festivals like Bloodstock, Wacken, Graspop and Dokk’em, where it rains all the time.
At 5.30PM our bus stopped very close to the venue, an enormous field in the middle of Belgrade, called Ušce (in English: “confluence”, referencing the confluence of the rivers Danube and Sava). Ušce has been a place for big concerts and festivals for a while now, having hosted international bands such as Metallica and Machine Head, as well as many national and EX-YU bands that attracted thousands of people. If they’re packed tightly enough, it can hold up to 120, 000 people.
The day started with Norwegian black metal delivered by Satyricon. The duo (Satyr on vocals and guitars, and Frost behind the drums) had moved on to bring something fresh to this, once highly conservative, genre. They traded their corpse paints and torches for raw rock ‘n’ roll energy at its best – resulting in a unique style the fans have appropriately named “black ‘n’ roll”. Their one-hour performance was absolutely amazing, with band acting as an unstoppable machine of heavy riffs and blast beats.
The set list was mainly comprised of songs from some of their most recent works, namely Volcano, Now, Diabolical, and their latest record The Age of Nero. The rock ‘n’ roll energy of their performance was well received by the audience, who jumped and banged to every tune. The die-hard fans were amazed to hear the all-time black metal classic Mother North, and even sang along the keyboard tune, doing a superb job of replacing an actual keyboard player. For the encore, Satyr grabbed his guitar and the band played their ultimate hit – Fuel for Hatred.
The only complaint against Satyricon’s performance is that it was the first show of the day, so a big part of the crowd hadn’t even arrived yet. This was truly a shame, since Satyricon was, definitely, worth seeing.
The atmosphere after Satyricon was pretty OK. While we waited for the next band – Paradise Lost- I walked around the field. The sun was shining like it has never shone before, aiming at the stage, at people’s faces. A lot of band members let us know that they “fucking hate the sun here”. It was pretty much incredible for this time of the day.
The field was divided into two parts – fan pit (closer to the stage, available for press and people with more expensive tickets) and the general area. It was packed with bars, food stands (all kinds of food) and promo booths. It had a grandstand for VIP people and people with disabilities and even a totally extreme Merry-go-round. I am serious. It did look it could cause dizziness or stomach-related reactions.
After two successful gigs in Serbia (in 2005 and 2010), Paradise Lost once again came and showed what they do best, this time under the hot Belgrade sun. The sun did not prevent them to heat up the crowd with songs like Erased, As I Die, Forever Failure and The Enemy. They also played Honesty in Death and Tragic Idol, from their most recent release. The culmination of their, unfortunately short, set was their hit Say Just Words.
Although a terrific show, it was too short to satisfy the fans.
Black Label Society
Finally the Serbian crowd was able to see Black Label Society, the famous heavy metal band. They entered the stage headed by their legendary guitar player and vocalist Zakk Wylde, dressed up as a Native American chief. The concert started fiercely, promising to be an awesome event. The crowd sang along hits like Crazy Horse, Parade of the Dead, Overload, Funeral Bell, Concrete Jungle and many more, which was altogether followed by a 7-minute solo. It was an adrenaline boost for the following concerts.
After the sun set, the atmosphere at Ušce was simply amazing. By then there were several thousand people already (according to the news, there were 13 000 people on that day) waiting for the next band: The Cult. Their third concert in Serbia was welcomed as they were here for the first time. Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy blew people’s minds with their all-time hits such as Lil’ Devil, Rain, Fire Woman, Wild Flower and Rise. People also responded well to the new songs from the upcoming album, Choice of Weapon.
The concert was full of energy, coming both from the stage and from the audience, making it, in my opinion, the best concert of the night.
Speaking of energy, it was funny to see that Ian was drinking Red Bull throughout the performance… even though the main sponsor of the festival was Guarana energy drink!
Ozzy & Friends
It was already after 10PM and the stage was being completely redecorated. The pause seemed endless, and since most of the people there had waited a long time to finally hear and see this concert it was almost intolerable. You could see the impatience and euphoria and tiny bit of disbelief on their faces that this was actually happening.
You could see people of all ages, ranging from 15 to 65 years of age, all of them united by their love for this music, and incredulous of the fact that they’re only minutes away from the one and only Ozzy.
Ozzy’s performance came as a response to the untimely (and extremely sad) cancer that is affecting the great Tony Iommi, which made it impossible for Black Sabbath to perform in Belgrade, as they had planned. Thus, trying to avoid disappoint his legions of fans, Ozzy decided to come anyway as Ozzy & Friends, with Gus G, Zakk Wylde and Slash.
The stage exploded. The screen in the back showed the trailer announcing the concert. People already started to sing along. Then Ozzy stepped on the stage, followed by Gus G, and began the first song – Bark at the Moon. Looking surprisingly agile, Ozzy played one hit after another, including Mr. Crowley, Suicide Solution, I Don’t Know, Shot in a Dark and Rat Salad. Buckets of water and a hose with foam were, of course, an inevitable part of the show, followed by the great solos by Gus G, and drummer Tommy Clufetos.
During the solos Ozzy was off the stage, making us fear that maybe he had lost his voice, but then he theatrically entered accompanied with Slash and Geezer Butler, showing everyone why he is the father of metal. Songs like Iron Man, War Pigs and N.I.B. made the crowd become ecstatic. After Slash and his guitar solos, another legend came to the stage. Zakk Wylde played Black Sabbath’s Fairies Wear Boots and Crazy Train, which everyone sang along with Ozzy. Then Gus G and Slash joined everyone else and played Paranoid for an spectacular end. The audience went crazy, singing so loudly that they drowned Ozzy (who sometimes had to use teleprompters for the lyrics).
For several minutes, people could not believe it was the end but, then again, Ozzy is almost 64. One thing is for sure, we all will remember this concert and this festival forever and we are grateful we had a chance to experience it.
Sadly, we could not stay for the Macedonian thrash metal band Sanatorium, because our bus was waiting for us. Tired, ecstatic and satisfied with the second day of the Belgrade Calling Festival, we went to our bus, eagerly talking and recapitulating the show we had just witnessed.