At the tail end of 16 hours of travel, a back full of sunburn and a hangover from hell, I can quite honestly say I have never been so depressed to be back in the UK. Metaldays 2015 is like no other festival I have ever been to. If you’re reading this having attended you will know exactly what I mean. If you have never been then I hope that by the end of this review you will get yourself a ticket for 2016. There will not be quite so much of a focus on bands in this article, as I believe the surroundings and atmosphere are just as important to the overall experience. In fact there were several moments over the week where it just felt like being on a holiday.
Right off the bat, Slovenia is beautiful, and is worth a visit on it’s own merit. The two hour drive from Ljubljana airport to Tolmin, where the festival is held, was endless mountain terrain with some insane roads (kudos to the bus driver for not catapulting us off a cliff face), I thought Norway had some epic mountains, but WOW. Once you get to the site itself you are still surrounded by lush green mountains and the most turquoise river you’ve ever seen. The festival sits right in the valley next to said river, and unlike most festivals is completely open to frolic in. This is also true of the forest, which lines the valley. To my surprise the steward informs me that there are NO limitations on where to camp, so set up camp in the forest, because, why the fuck not. This proves to be a winning decision come the following morning when I wake up at nearly 11am to find that I’m not boiling to death in my tent. The weather was punishingly hot (we’re talking pushing 40 degrees C) so I HIGHLY recommend the woods as a home for the week. Another major advantage of this laid back setup is that you avoid the cramped nature of most festivals where you have about fifty tents per square metre. There were huge gaps between campsites so you could claim some prime real estate.
Then there is the river and beaches which act as the perfect antidote for the blistering heat. The river Soca is one of the purest rivers you will ever see, the water is literally crystal clear and is by contrast icy cold. I overheard a conversation on the coach journey that this is because the water flows down from the Alps, which makes sense to me. The first time your balls hit the water makes for a shock to the system… Anyone that didn’t bring swimming gear comes across as foolishly unprepared and I too seem a tad unprepared and have a case of ‘rubber inflatable envy’. There are just as many people floating around on the river as there are chilling on the beaches. The steeper sides on the other side of the river make for a good launchpad for the more adventurous to have a dive off. There are few things as satisfying as sitting on that beach with some beers, surrounded by hundreds of metalheads acting like children. This is how most of the peak sunshine hours were spent, as it was simply too hot to do much else. A common activity seemed to be to float downstream to the arena beach, named the Beach Bar. Due to the lack of inflatable it’s something I never got to do, but on the to do list for next year nonetheless.
Anyway, it wouldn’t be a music festival without at least SOME music right? I eventually get down to the arena to catch Devin Townsend doing his blissed out Metal thing. A pretty perfect first act to see if you ask me. The soaring melodies compliment to surroundings and vibe of the festival beautifully. The Dev himself seems to be having a moment or two to take in the mountains from the stage, and why not. Normally I’d crave for a bit of Strapping Young Lad in the set, but today I just get lost in it and jump on the hippy Metal bliss trip. Next band I properly catch is not until darkness has fallen and is the appropriately titled Dark Fortress. They play a kind of Extreme Metal that borders between Brutal Black and more Melodic Metal. There is a mass of energy to the performance from the heroic drum parts, but the downside is that as a result the guitars get slightly lost in the mix. Still it’s a great stage show and all the better for being on after the sun has disappeared. The smaller second stage area allows for a greater light show and it really intensifies things.
Day two of Metaldays 2015 kicks things off with Blues Pills on the Main Stage. As with Devin the previous day, the set is perfect for time of day (late afternoon). Sitting on the hill and chilling with a beer to some brilliantly played 70’s Rock worship. The vocals really stand out within the first 30 seconds of opener ‘High Class Woman’, which rings true as excellently autobiographical. The guitar work is all the more remarkable when you consider the guy is still a teenager, pulling off some excellent licks that would give Clapton or Hendrix a run for their money. Coincidently the smell of weed is thick in the air and I get a feeling I’ve travelled back to the 1970s. Black Label Society are next, or should that be Zakk Wylde and friends? It’s no secret that he can play guitar pretty damn well, in fact with this amount of soloing it’s nigh on impossible to keep the secret. In the context of the songs it works, but there are several 5 minute plus shred sections between songs and it gets a bit tiresome. It’s a shame because songs like ‘Suicide Messiah’ and ‘Stillborn’ sound huge, but overall there’s just a tad too much ego on the centre stage. Moonspell are on the second stage and a band I’ve never been overly keen on, but seeing their set at Inferno in 2013 swung me more than I thought. However by comparison this show is not doing it for me. It’s a little too flamboyant for my liking and lacking some balls. Still, they draw a good crowd so don’t judge solely on my opinion. If there’s one thing Cannibal Corpse do not lack it’s balls. They absolutely dominate the Main Stage and the sound is perfect for them. The guitars are the chunkiest of the festival and the playing is unbelievably tight. I don’t listen to them much on record but every time I see them live is one hell of a headbang. ‘Playing all the classics’ is a strange term to use for a Death Metal band but it’s just what they do, giving older material like ‘A Skull Full Of Maggots’ new life.
The next (admittedly lazy) day’s music starts with Death Angel giving a taste of the Bay Area. It’s a highly energetic set and must be pretty exhausting to play in the 40 degree heat. Mixing up old and new material equally, the older material does come across as being the more edgy of the two but it’s all rather excellent. Fuck moshing in this heat though… Sepultura bring a similar vibe to the Main Stage and once again, it’s the older material that stands out, particularly ‘Arise’ and ‘Beneath The Remains’. The appearance of ‘Ratamahatta’ reminds me to revisit the ‘Roots’ album also. However if there’s one gripe it’s that the older material doesn’t sound as strong with only one guitar. Accept bring a very impressive show and the stage is pretty much a ball of white light for the majority of the set. These guys were the highlight of the festival for me, massive show, massive tunes, just perfect Heavy Metal. It’s easy to forget how ahead of it’s time their early material was when first released. Tracks such as ‘Restless And Wild’ and the immortal ‘Fast As A Shark’ are basically Thrash Metal, when such a term was yet to be formulated. Credit also goes for their new material being just as impressive. There is nothing groundbreaking or revolutionary to tracks such as ‘Stalingrad’ but god damn they make for a great drunken singalong. The original plan was to duck out early to catch some of Kampfar’s set, but it was just too good to leave. Well played Accept, well played. Carcass finish the night in a more back to basics style, but the music does the talking and that’s fine. They play something from every album which makes for a very varied and interesting set, given how their sound has changed over the years. They really hit on something with their comeback ‘Surgical Steel’ and opening with a track from the album shows the confidence they have with the release. ‘Heartwork’ remains a pinnacle of Melodic Death Metal and sounds just as fresh 22 years after it’s release and a one/two of ‘Genital Grinder’ and ‘Exhume To Consume’ tick all the Grind boxes. It might not be as impressive as Accept, but it’s still a winner.
Crowbar get Thursday off to a chunky start with a taste of the Deep South. There is a distinct lack of Sludge on the bill but Crowbar fill the void nicely. Opening with the excellent duel harmony guitar lead of ‘The Lasting Dose’ Kirk Windsteins wretched vocals take things DOOOWWWWNNN and the NOLA vibe soon takes hold (all puns intended). One of the best descriptions of the Sludge genre is a mash up of Black Sabbath and Punk Rock, and songs like ‘The Cemetery Angels’ demonstrate the Punk side nicely. A very stark switch in style to Vreid, the continuation of Windir. Their material seems to have a very clear divide, between epic sounding Black Metal and more groovy mid paced Satyricon sounding sections. It seems a bit jarring at first both styles work for the band and gives a aspect of unpredictability to it all. The final song sounds straight up sleazy, like it could be Aerosmith playing Black Metal. The faster sections ain’t bad either, something they had not revealed when I saw them supporting Paradise Lost a few years ago. Due to a pretty direct clash I only get to see the very beginning of Arch Enemy’s set. It is the first time seeing them with new vocalist Alissa White-Gluz, and while it would be nice to catch more of their set, I have seen them many times over the years and Archgoat are one I am yet to tick off. Now I admit to being rather shitfaced by this point (Thanks vodka), so forgive the lack of details, but I remember the brutality of it all. For a three piece they have a thick sound, and although everything I have seen from them has labelled them as a Black Metal band, they sure do have a lot of Death Metal influence, from the gutteral vocals to the thick guitar tone that has more in common with Obituary than Mayhem. There were a LOT of blastbeats also, once again proving that the second stage knew it’s shit when it came to drum mixes. The original plan was to stay around until 3am for Rotting Christ, but I then find out my lift home is leaving significantly earlier than anticipated so I am forced to bail and have an abrupt end to the festival. Overall though a fantastic festival and experience. If (like me) you have been thinking of going for years, do yourself a favour and buy your ticket now, it’s truly worth it.