Fortarock 2018 Review

When it was announced that Fortarock would not happen in 2017, it was like a bucket of cold water had been dropped on the local metal community. With massive festivals like Hellfest and Graspop taking place in June, there is always the possibility that there won’t be enough fans to go around for every festival. Putting up events like this is extremely expensive, and so it wouldn’t be all that surprising if Fortarock would simply disappear.

it was because of these fears that, when Fortarock 2018 was finally announced, and the full list of bands was confirmed, a massive sense of relief overcame Dutch metalheads.

Fortarock was back!

Fans crowdsurfing during a show

Friday

Due to some unexpected problems with the trains, I made it to the festival grounds after I finally managed to get all my accreditation sorted out. I got there just in time to catch Body Count on the main stage, fronted by the legendary Ice T. Even though I didn’t have many expectations in terms of musical quality (since I didn’t really know the band) I was pleasantly surprised by the sheer power of their performance. Ice T is a terrific lead for a thrash band like them, and his pipes really shone in songs like “No Lives Matter” and in their rendition of Slayer‘s “Raining Blood”.

As the weather started to take a turn for the worse, I was happy that Watain would be conducting their ritual at the tent stage, and not in the open. As if god himself was demonstrating his displeasure with the Swedes’ blasphemy, the skies darkened and thunders cracked the skies as they took the stage.

With a stage that was almost entirely in the dark, save for some inverted crosses with torches, the black mass appearance of the Watain ritual was more than effective. Every band member looked horrendous, as if they belonged in a horror movie. Erik certainly knows how to play the part of a Satanic master of ceremonies, and not satisfied with having himself and his band drenched in animal blood, he shared some of that vital fluid with the audience, spraying them from a chalice.

Of course, a band like Watain is much more than just their visuals. After all, Erik himself has been clear in stating that this is not just a gimmick for them. The image isn’t there to replace good songwriting but, instead, to be complemented by it. Erik‘s shrieks, coupled with the constant barrage of machine-gun drumming and mad riffing, marched through the setlist covering hits like “Malfeitor” and “The Serpent’s Chalice,” unleashing an all-out assault on the senses, and creating a visceral sense of chaos all around us.

 

As I moved back to the main stage, hoping in vain that the downpour would finally end, Arch Enemy started their set. They were really good sports about it, even though it was evident that they were also getting drenched by the rain. They thanked the crowd for sticking with them despite the weather, and delivered the kind of energetic performance that, regardless of what you might think of their music, really ingratiates them with their audiences. There’s constant interaction with the crowd, with Alissa White-Gluz always reaching out to them to participate in the show.

The only low points of Arch Enemy‘s performance were a couple of technical malfunctions that actually forced them to stop the show, as the sound would randomly cut off. To their credit, unlike those artists that throw a fit when things don’t go perfectly, Arch Enemy seemed to take these glitches with good humor. It was definitely refreshing to see a band being so relaxed about these problems, acknowledging the fact that, well, shit happens.

After shooting the band, I spent the rest of their set meeting with some friends and, finally, getting something to eat. In food department, Fortarock did not disappoint, offering a wide array of meal options, from the mandatory SUPER HYPER METAL BBQ!!!!!!, to Thai food and even plenty of vegan and vegetarian options. It’s always nice to see when a festival tries to create a welcoming environment for every person in attendance, and that even issues like food options have carefully taken care of.


With a full stomach, I made my way back to the tent stage, to catch Kreator‘s show. This is one of those bands that I love as a fan, but that I truly hate as a photographer, since their shows tend to be pretty annoying to shoot due to their heavy reliance on dark blue lights.

Lighting situation notwithstanding, I really enjoyed their show, since they always manage to convey this enormous power and aggression. It’s a really inspiring band in that regards, since they’ve managed to stay true to their own brand of thrash metal, despite this not being a very financially rewarding genre (and before you bring up Metallica, let’s remember that their massive growth came after they dropped their thrash sound).

I was rather oblivious to Parkway Drive‘s music. Blame it on my dislike for metalcore, but I couldn’t get into their music. My own personal tastes aside, however, their show was really fantastic, making a pretty great use of pyros, culminating on a rotating drumkit on fire!

Talk about ending a festival’s first night on a high note!

 

Saturday

Since train problems seem to be a constant for me when I go to festivals, my second day at Fortarock started off running against the clock, hoping that the many disruptions that were plaguing my route, would not prevent me from reaching my destination in time. Since on this day I was going to be Dragonforce‘s photographer, I definitely did not want to miss it!

I started off the second day of Fortarock with Tyr. For some reason they were still sporting a backdrop from Valkyrja, an album they released 5 years ago, which seemed a bit odd. There are some talks of another album coming out next year, so I sincerely hope that the anachronistic backdrop isn’t a bad omen.

I first got into Tyr when I listened to “Raise the Heathen Hammer High,” and got absolutely hooked. Heri Joensen has a really unique vocal style, and real skills as a songwriter. Despite being an atheist himself, he really plays the part of the bard of Viking and Pagan tales, and it’s really a pleasure to witness it all. To make things even better, their shows tend to be very energetic and playful, quickly getting the audience to mosh and crowdsurf.

After listening to as much of Tyr as time allowed, I ran backstage to meet with Herman Li, the guitar player of Dragonforce, and with whom I had been in touch in preparation for the shoot. Doing literally anything at a festival is always a challenge, since there are so many moving pieces that it’s always possible that your name will just get lost somewhere. Well, that’s precisely what happened this time around, although I was able to take care of it thanks to a friend within the organization (talk about happy coincidences!).

Dragonforce are always a tough band the analyze, since so much of their reputation is associated with their (unquestionably successful) inclusion in the Guitar Hero video game series. Because of that, as well as some lyrical memes that they keep resorting to, many brush them aside as a kiddie, “flowercore” kind of band. It’s a paradoxical situation, since even though they are made up of some of the most technically talented musicians in the genre, they sometimes struggle to be taken seriously (the name Dragonforce probably doesn’t help).

Regardless of what you might think of their music or style, however, what is absolutely undeniable is that they put up a terrific show, demonstrating great songwriting skills and unparalleled technical prowess. Sam Totman and Herman Li are constantly dueling with their guitars, playing faster than it should be humanly possible. They exude a tremendous enjoyment throughout the performance, and which allows them to not take themselves too seriously as they play. Joking around, laughing, and interacting with the audience so as to get them riled up, Dragonforce delivered exactly what Fortarock needed to get the crowd moving.

Exhausted from running on and in front of the stage during the entire show, I decided to skip Igorrr in the tent stage and, instead, go and crash on a chair in the press area. I had a pretty limited amount of time available to rest, so I just found a quiet corner, took off my camera harness, got a cereal bar from my backpack, and ignored the world around me for a bit.


Based on the amount of people dressed up as as dark clowns, it was obvious that Avatar had a lot of fans in attendance. It was a pretty incredible situation when we consider that only a few years ago they would have probably been relegated to a tent, playing to a niche audience. Their meteoric rise is undoubtedly the consequence of a lot of hard work on their part, emphasizing both the musical as well as the visual aspects of the band. This has allowed them to create a kind of mythology around themselves and the personas they take over while on stage, and which has captured the interest of the fans.

As soon as the band went on stage, even those who might have been unaware of Avatar had to admit that they knew how to put up a great show. Militaristic and even fascistic visual elements come into play with a carnival atmosphere, as if we were attending Pennywise’s boot camp. It draws you in immediately, grabbing your attention and not letting go.

 

A recent convert to the church of Baroness, I was happy to finally see them live. They put up a show featuring a fantastic blend of classic heavy metal with some prog and alternative elements that, somehow, manages to be extremely effective.

It’s a true pleasure for the senses, as they start to show hints of what they say will be their new album. To be frank, regardless of the band’s future efforts, I’m more than happy to hear them play classic like “Isak” and “A Horse Named Golgotha,” and could have honestly just stayed in front the stage for the rest of the day, had that been an option.

Although they seem to particularly successful among younger fans, Alestorm knew that they had the audience in the bag as soon as they walked onto the stage. With plenty of kids in the crowd dressed up as pirates, it was obvious that the band were basically playing a home game.

Alestorm‘s shows are known for having a party-like atmosphere, with the band actively encouraging things like crowdsurfing, moshing and singalongs. It’s definitely not something for everyone (I know plenty of traditional metal fans who would like to drown them), but it’s still nice to see so many people simply having a good time and enjoying the music in a festive atmosphere.

 

With the constant evolution of their sound, Opeth continues to challenge their own fans to open their minds and explore different sounds. Having moved away from a melodic death metal sound, opting instead to be a prog outfit (switching between prog “rock” and “metal” depending on the song). This switch has definitely alienated some fans, who yearn for the days of more growling and distorted guitar riffings, but it has also earned Opeth a special place in the pantheon of progressive bands, along the likes of Porcupine Tree, Kansas, and Steven Wilson.

With a Dutch singer leading them, Nightwish took the fortarock stage with the confidence of a team playing in their home turf. They know that they are loved in this country (as their sold-out gigs clearly prove), and are more than happy to reward the audience with a simply fantastic show. full of pyros and lighting effects.

Floor Jansen, who took over the role from Anette Olzon in 2013, is one of the best things that have happened to the band. Despite her unquestionable ability to perform operatic songs (something that put her well above Olzon, who struggled with the operatic parts), Floor is very flexible, which has given the band tremendous flexibility in terms of their music. This coincided, of course, with Tuomas Holopainen‘s own new creative pursuits, as the gothic sound that made the band famous started to give way to a more bombastic style, taking cue from the likes of Danny Elfman and Hans Zimmer in his compositions.

For years now, Nightwish has been committed to creating a truly memorable experience in their shows, and their Fortarock performance was no exception. Indeed, they truly served as the cherry on top of what was (and hopefully will continue to be) an amazing festival.

Until next year!