My second year in Kvinesdal, in the South of Norway, has been one of the most amazing festival experiences one can ever have. I believe I managed to meet the best photo crew that can share the same tent and press area for some days and make each second go away with an incredible amount of laughter. Therefore my good musicwise experience at the festival is highly increased by the mood around me. Norway Rock festival used to be known, until 2008 as Kvinesdal Rock festival and is currently arranged by the foundation Norway Rock Kvinesdal, and, according to its website, it is mainly arranged by volunteers who think it is cool to have world stars play in a field in Kvinedsdal. There is no age limit for the weekdays of the festival, Wednesday and Thursday. The location is absolutely stunning, being surrounded by hills/mountains on all sides, a river running right by the backstage area and the grass in the camping make it a perfect location to spend few nights. This year we didn’t seem to please quite all the gods, so we had plenty of rain in the area. Yet, the response from the organisers was rather fast with sand and straws being thrown over the areas where most of the swamps would form. It still led to a lot of ballet among the audience, but I’ve seen much worse. Other than that, not being a very oversized festival, it’s very pleasant to have space to move around, not to have to spend years in queue for drinks or food and most of all to just end up knowing everyone who already knows everyone around you. Also having only two stages to worry about is very peaceful for your legs and energy levels.
The concerts have started on the main stage on Thursday with the melodic/power/progressive/death music of the Danes from Mercenary. I saw them few months ago as support act for Power of Metal and they made a good impression back then as they did now, of a daring power metal that has dared to go borrow the meaning aspects of death rhythms. Although their show seemed much more fit on a small stage since the vocalist also plays the bass and it’s not easy for him to move around too often. It was a good and energic kick start for the upcoming days of metal music. They were followed in the small stage by one of local surprises of the festival (for me at least). Breed, a Norwegian band who released two albums so far and who delivered an excellent stage show, with very powerful vocals and stunning riffs in a melodic yet brutal mix of sounds that made you think you see AC/DC, In Flames and Black Label Society playing at once. Before Breed, I actually saw few minutes of the performance of a very young band called Switchblade Love who should keep up their work on the punk/alternative metal they have delivered for about half an hour and through which they proved their talent.
The madness went on on the main stage where other Norwegians, this time Kvelertak, offered one hour of fury. If it could be thrown, it was thrown, if it could be jumped, it was jumped, if there was place to run, climb up or down, they would run, climb up or down. Too bad the drummer was stuck to his chair, but else I bet he would have joined his other 5 colleagues in the insanity. I found it hard to pay attention for more than 2 seconds to let’s say, the bass player who was throwing the instrument in the air, since the singer would run around and make something even more extreme, all of their actions fitting perfectly with their dark punk/metal style. After so much testosterone, it was time to cool off a bit by watching the Djerv show in the tent, whose singer, Agnete, also participated in the latest Dimmu Borgir album and shows. She has an incredible powerful voice and they work hard on offering a good experience to the crowd, but honestly after the two ones I previously described, it wasn’t at all too exciting to watch them. Neither were the Germans from Blind Guardian or U.D.O. on the main stage afterwards. it’s always cool and funky to listen to their famous songs, hear the crowd singing along, but they were not the kind of shows to blow you off the ground through their energy. They were beautiful and would only be enjoyed from the perspective of watching some metal legends live.
I went back to the small tent for another portion of extreme and harsh metal, also from Norway, this time the band Insense. I find it hard to place them in any genre whatsoever, I can just say I had the feeling of hearing a slowed down Meshuggah with vocals borrowed from metalcore, yet managing to surprise with the intensity of their growls. It didn’t seem like the kind of music concentrating on being too technical or so, but the songs they put together are really interesting to listen to. The last band I watched in the small tent were another Norwegians, Ingenting (meaning Nothing, whose website actually redirect you to nothing.no and offer you a short history about the Nothing). They are a popular local rock band with the kind of party songs that people love and would scream together with the singer for the duration of the whole set. They had light problems for the first 3-4 songs, so my photographing experience was ruined by the lack of light, cutting off my mood to watch the rest of the show.
The night was ended in style with the Swedes from In Flames whose melodic/alternative death metal was well spiced with pyro effects both on stage but also on its sides and even some lovely fireworks after the show. The festival had offered the chance to four people to win a meet and greet with In Flames members before the show so that increased their popularity among the crowd. They’re a good live act altogether that would easily make you sing or jump along, despite the tiredness gathered during the day.
The second day in Kvinesdal announced itself quite unstable weather wise, but it turned out better than expected. The shows were opened by the local Norwegian progressive band, Pagan’s Mind whom I haven’t notice to have too many shows in their home land. But I noticed quite some enthusiast fans among the few ones gathered in the mud in front of the stage. With an album out at the beginning of the year, Heavenly Ecstasy, the band played a mix of songs from this release but also hits that previously brought them media attention and recognition. The audio was really good from where I stood and even if due daylight their light show had an impact close to zero, it was not a boring show as every musician in the band is equally talented and a joy to watch when they perform solos and riffs.
I’ll briefly go through the bands in the small stage and then go back to the main stage. The biggest surprise of the festival for me were the Norwegian/Swedish mixed band Saint Deamon who uses ex Highland Glory singer on vocals. Their power metal that avoided any sign of ridiculousness and sounded close to perfection. Especially the vocals. But also the fun on stage was something that easily made the crowd love the show. After the festival I saw some videos of the vocalist Jan Thore Grefstad who participated in the Norwegian Idol show and left everyone with their mouths wide open after his performance. It had the same effect in Kvinesdal. His voice is so versatile, strong and melodic and is backed up by a very pleasant power metal sound that doesn’t exaggerate with any instrument, yet all of them can easily be noticed and appreciated. Do all you can to listen to this band. Later on I checked out few songs from the hardcore/punkish Blood command and was pleasantly impressed by the their tiny singer, Silje, and her powerful voice. Yet, I don’t remember being too much caught by their music, so I left quickly. Even later on the day I watched a bit of the performance of the Brits from Quireboys’, who used to be famous at the beginning of the 90s and who had one hour to deliver a fun hard and heavy metal show and keep the spirits up between two concerts on the main stage.
After the progressive opening from Pagan’s Mind, it was time to really wake up with the punk/hardcore four piece from Canada, Cancer Bats whose singer – Liam Cormier – I don’t recall seeing him in the same place for more than 5 seconds. Everyone in the band feels like living for playing live and gives each atom of energy in their body for this show. There’s roars, screams, pounding riffs, low notes, fast grooves and harmonies, and the drummer seems ready to break some world records. Cancer Bats sounded heavy as hell. For more musicians who love to be on stage we get to experience the Swedes extreme metallers from Meshuggah. Intense headbanging, although the rhythms of their music are so atypical that it’s hard to keep track, especially when each of the drummer’s limbs seem to beat at a different rate. Their music belongs to a genre that they pretty much pioneered, with slight touches of jazz at times and vocals that sound almost robotic at times. Jens Kidman took his time to joke with the crowd at times and altogether created a great mood during their show.
A band that was promised for 2010 and who couldn’t make it, returned in 2011 to the excitement of the fans: Black Label Society. For over 20 years their frontguy has served as Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist and he is one of the biggest men I saw performing on stages. They were allowed 75 minutes to deliver their sludge/heavy and groovy metal to the enthusiast crowd. It all started with Zack Wylde coming on stage wearing an indian feather headdress and then he kept on changing guitars that seemed like Barbie dolls accessories in his big arms. The setlist consisted of band’s its that got the crowd singing at all times and cheering whenever a familiar tune would start pouring from the speakers. The man must know most of the tricks needed both when singing and when delivering solos, so that he fascinates everyone who witness his concert.
The second night had a current Danish sensation as headliners – Volbeat. I’ve seen this band live quite few times now and each time it’s almost like they’re playing one of their first shows. The songs and their rockabilly metal rhythms are powerful, the energy is at max, everyone keeps making funny faces, expressing the lyrics of the songs or simply smiling and laughing at something they’re pointing at in the crowd. The vocalist (maybe the second biggest singer at the festival), Michael Paulsen, has an incredible pitch being able to mix elements reminding of famous singers that inspired him, such as Elvis and Johnny Cash. Their songs are catchy, can be danced on and as well can lead to madness in the crowd. I am not too fond of the new album yet, but I only heard it a couple of times. Yet the songs they picked seemed to fit very well in keeping an amazing mood all along their show and made many people dance and sing on the way to their tent. By the way, I think Volbeat was the most listened band in the camping for the duration of the festival.
The night from Friday to Saturday was not the driest one I ever experienced, hence the mud and fixing whatever was damaged overnight was probably the main reason for the little amount of crowd gathered to watch the black metal band who participated in the pre selection for Eurovision, Keep of Kalessin. Of course, I guess the blame can also be shared with the ingested liquids. They play a rather melodic black metal with a lot of technical elements, perfectly fit for their fast windmills which make for good photo material. I didn’t spend the whole concert in front of the stage, but from what I heard towards the end when they played some of their hits, the audience gathered more members and they were awake enough to cheer and clap. We went on with musicians from Trondheim on the mains tage, this time the a Norwegian hard rock/glam metal band TNT, with a history of 12 albums since they formed back in 1982. It was a nice time with good heavy metal/hard rock rhythms on the main stage and really powerful harmonies scattered along the songs. I was even hoping for a second that their previous singer, Tony Harnell, would show up on stage as I saw him live on the same stage the previous year. It didn’t happen though, but this doesn’t mean it was less of a show. Alas, due the fact that the skies opened and it was raining like crazy, I ran to the cozy cover of the press area a bit after the second song or so.
But I returned to watch another German power metal legend in the person of Tobias Sammet who performed now with his Edguy band (he is also the creator of the metal opera Avantasia). A very charismatic appearance in himself, with a fantastic voice that conquered the hearts of the public after few seconds of singing. He got even more popular because the sun started shining right when they begun playing and also by stating that Norway is the most beautiful country he saw (with the shittiest weather, of course) and that he’s going to release an album which will be the best in the history of rock. The band even performed a song from the upcoming album. The backdrop was representing a huge castle and it fit very well with the atmosphere of the music. I wish I didn’t have to run away for few songs and dry camera and all, since it seemed like a very nice and cozy performance, with a vocalist who really knows how to press the right buttons to set the right mood. And I enjoyed watching how the drummer keeps throwing the stick in the air most of the time and trying to always catch it back.
I had seen Brits from The Darkness few weeks before Norway Rock in Austria, at Nova Rock. I had no idea about them or their music, but I found their show extremely funny, hence I spent some time listening to their glam/heavy rock/metal in between the two festivals. It’s not my all times favorite, yet catchy enough to make you go back to it occasionally. And to surprise you that the singer, Justin Hawkins, actually manages to hit those high notes during his live performances. Some might say that the tight pants do help with that. I have to admit that their stage presence is rather genuine,w ith their hippie like looks and especially the singer’s silly behavior on stage – ‘egyptian walking’ body stances, funny jumps, standing on his arms by the drum kit, the way he throws and spins the microphone, the way he dresses and especially the way he takes his voice to some high notes, almost unknown for majority of mankind.
The only band I saw in the tent this day was Mongo Ninja, a project of a Norwegian famous character, Kristopher Schau. I have seen him in Kvinesdal last here with another project, the Cumshots. Actually he even mentioned on stage that he played here in 2010 and since Gary Moore was still playing and his band couldn’t start singing, he got all the crowd to scream ‘Fuck Gary Moore’. And then G. Moore died. But life and music go on anyway, and despite the sad memory, he did the same insane show as he does each time I see him live. It usually starts with coming on stage smoking a cigarette, then spending most of the time during shows doing tricks with the microphone stand, jumping around and joining the other members on stage in acting crazy. All these don’t really stop you from hearing some very interesting riffs in their heavy music that makes you feel closer to the apocalypse with each drum beat.
2011 edition of Norway Rock festival was ended in an amazing fashion by a 63 year old Vincent Damon Furnier whose show, no matter you want to call it cheesy, creepy, lovely, awesome, scary, etc, it’s one of the most extraordinary I ever witnessed on a stage. He had 90 minutes to deliver us with his famous hits from Brutal Planet, Billion Dollar babies, to Poison, Elected and Shcool’s out spiced with Pink Floyd rhythms. I remember the presence of guitarists on stage, I don’t recall anything sounding bad or wrong. I recall a great drum solo during which the drummer was making quite fancy stick tricks. But all these really faded away in front of all the stage crops, effects and acting used. It started with Alice Cooper having spider arms/legs spreading from his back during the first song. Then a walking stick with which he stabbed a guy who was wearing a ‘Rock press’ jacket. Actually this guy got quite often kicked from the stage. Then Alice Cooper was holding a dog on his legs and singing to her. Then he summoned Frankenstein who was walking on the stage from one guitarist to another. Then he got decapitated. Then he came on stage with a jacket saying ‘new Song’ and took it off and the shirt was saying ‘I’ll byte your face off’. We got huge balloons floating over the crowd during School’s out. And probably few hundred more things happened on stage that I simply don’t recall due how overwhelming the whole experience was.
So that was my side of the story on how the festival went this year. Talking the next day with some friends and reading comments online I saw a lot of negative feedback related to the way the security is handled when it comes to people accessing the festival area. People have to wait too much in queues and as well as I understand that security people have to do their job, yet when people are on their way to enjoy a concert and especially after having had had some drinks in the camping, well, any such delay is not a pleasant experience. On the other side, during the Alice Cooper show and idiot threw a light stick, luckily not in the audience but between the fences. Such behavior leads to increased security unfortunately. I hope the issue gets fixed soon and it won’t have an impact on the festival’s future editions.
For the end, I feel like sending big thanks to everyone who worked to make the event possible, to those responsible with press who helped us with a neat press area, but most of all to those who actually spent time in that area and made the moments between concerts so full of fun and laughter. Would really love to meet the same crew again.