Festival: PPM Fest 2014 (Day Three)

Bands: Saxon, Therion, Finntroll, Fates Warning, MaYan, Vanden Plas, Dragonland, Ravenscry, Sunburst, Fireforce

Location: Lotto Mons Expo, Mons, Bergen, Belgium

Date: 20th April 2014

 

  

Day 3 was one of our least hectic days, with only one interview scheduled, it meant that we could catch nearly all the bands on the final day of this years festival.  An early interview with Dragonland meant that our festival experience kicked off with Fireforce, who were making their second appearance at PPM in as many years.  Last year they opened up Day 1 but due to congestion at the doors, not everyone managed to catch all their set.  So this time the band appeared a little higher in the running order for Day 3, and like last year, these Belgian’s gave it their all.

Their set of "combat metal" hit a blistering pace from the off with opener ‘Coastal Battery’ and continued the assault with ‘The Only Way’.  With a decent sized crowd making it through the early doors specifically to catch these guys, with fists punching the air, the metal-heads were blowing the cobwebs off the rafter early today.

The band kept things going with the speed infused ‘Words of Hatred’, before giving us a taste of the bands new album with the rampaging metal of ‘Thunder Will Roll’, which was quickly followed by the lick spewn ‘1302 Battle For Freedom’.  The temperature was already starting to warm up down the front as the metal-heads in the crowd were really getting into it and showing their appreciation of fine metal, with throngs of horns and fists raised high about the heads.  

The band had not only come here today to musically make a solid impression on the crowd, but had also taken the opportunity to have a bit of fun with their stage setting.  Draped across the speaker stacks was a lot of camouflage combat netting, giving you the impression the band were in a bunker in the middle of a battle-field somewhere.  On top of the two stacks were two huge black wolf like creatures with smoke streaming from their mouths, very scary indeed but great fun all the same.  Always nice to see a band making an effort with their stage show too. 

The metal anthem ‘Born To Play Metal’ rounded off another great set from the Belgians and showed why they have been added to the festival for the last two years.  They came they played, they rocked.  Next up it was time for some Greek Metal courtesy of Sunburst.  

The Greek Progressive Metallers hit the ground running after the intro with ‘Remedy Of My Heart’ and ‘Symbol of Life’, led by the big riffs from guitar virtuoso Gus Drax, aided by the big hitting rhythm section of Kastas Milonas (drums), Nick Grey (bass) and the powerhouse vocals of ‘Vasils Georgiou.  It was clear from the off these boys from Larissa meant business.

The set continued its impressive path with the sublime ‘Break The Core’ and the massive ‘Beyond The Sun’, again with Drax firing out some spellbinding licks, while we all watched in wonder as he made the six strings sing.

With just a short set to show their might, it was straight into the soaring melodic metal of ‘Forevermore’, before rounding off in style with ‘Reincarnation’ and topping off a great set with ‘Out of the World’.  It's hard to believe this band aren’t signed yet because the depth of talent behind this band is just superb.  I’m sure it won't be long before the labels come a knocking. 

Next it was time for Italy to be represented at this years PPM Fest and what better way than with Gothic Metallers Ravenscry, who put on an impressive set and although I was unfamiliar with any of the bands material, this is one band I would definitely check out again. 

 

Next up was a band I was really looking forward to catching, Sweden’s finest Dragonland hit the stage running as Olaf Mork, Jonas Heidert and the rest of the band brought the Dragon Chronicles to the live stage.

Opening the set with the haunting and power driven tones of 'Shadow of the Minthril Mountain’, the crowd was instantly impressed.  This is a band that doesn't tour much, but when they put on a show, they sure do put on one a hell of a show!

The impressive Power Metal assault continued with the likes of 'Fire and Brimstone' and 'The Black Mare' from their most recent opus 'Under The Grey Banner', as well as throwing in the impressive 'Contact', which prompted frontman Jonas to embark on a little crowd surfing himself.  The bands all too short set was rounded off in style with a stomping rendition of ‘The Never Ending Story’, which it has to be said, was definitely one of the highlights of the entire weekend for me and a lot of Dragonland fans in the crowd.  Let's hope a new album is not long in coming and perhaps even a return to Mons for a longer set next time. 

So who could follow the mighty Dragonland, well I suppose the equally mighty German Progressive giants Vanden Plas.  

Another legendary band with a short set, six songs to be exact, but Prog Metal being Prog and the average song length coming in at over five minutes, they managed to squeeze so much into their allotted time.

Opening up with ‘Postcard to God’ from the 'Christ 0' album, this was six minutes plus of pure Progressive ear-candy, with Andy Kuntz leading from the front, aided and abetted by the six string wizardry of Stephen Lil and the powerhouse rhythm section of Torsten Reichert and Andreas Lil on bass and drums respectively, with the magical keyboards of Gunter Werno woven beautifully into the mix.

The set continued with older material with ‘Frequency’ from the 2010 'The Seraphic Clockwork' opus, before the world premier of two tracks form their new album 'Chronicles of the Immortals'.  First up it was the eerie tones of the storming eight minute epic ‘Vision 2wo -The Black Night’, which was followed the the fantastic 'Vison 3hree - Godmaker’.

It was back-to-back catalogue to end things with ‘Far Off Grace’ from the 1999 album of the same name, before returning to 'The Seraphic Clockwork' to round off the set in style with ‘Holes in the Sky’.  Like Dragonland before them, an all too short stage time, but like the Swedes the Germans made good use of the time and again, hopefully they won't be strangers to the PPM Stages. 

Next to adore the PPM Stages were Dutch Symphonic Death Metallers MaYan.

MaYan were a unknown quantity to us apart from the fact that Henning Basse sang earlier in the weekend with Epysode.  The sound mixed several vocal styles from the powerful might of Basse, to the grunts and growls of Mark Jansen and haunting tones of Laura Macri, as well as guest vocalists.  Along with guitarists, bass player and drummer, this was without a doubt the biggest band of the weekend and at one point all the members were on stage at the same time.  

As for the set for me, it was a mixed bag featuring some great Symphonic parts, although the Cookie Monster growls I could easily leave behind.  This was just my own personal opinion though, as the Mons crowd lapped up every minute.  Such is the diversity of PPM that all tastes are catered for, and for me that’s why this is my third year in attendance. 

Next to hit the stage were German Progressive Metal giants Fates Warning, who hit it hard and fast from the off, as they opened up with ‘One Thousand Fires’ from last years 'Darkness In The Light' album, before rolling back the years with the might of ‘One’.  Wasting no time, it was straight into ‘Life In Still Water’, which was definitely one of the highlights of the set for me.  

Then it was time to bring in the heat with 'A Pleasant Shade of Grey Pt III’, before funking things up a bit with the heady bass tones of ‘A Pleasant Shade Of Gray Pt VI’.  It was pedal to the metal once more with ‘Point Of View’ rolling back the years to 1991 for this classic slice of Fates Warning.

It was back to the latest album for the stonking ‘Firefly’, which really got the Mons crowd on their feet.  As with most festival sets, it was back to the classics for 'Through Different Eyes’ from the band's fifth studio album 'Perfect Symmetry', before ending the set on another classic ‘Monument’, which rounded off a great set.  The band's set today proved that real classics stand the test of time and Fates warning's classic stood proud alongside the bands newer material.  Great stuff!

As I said before PPM is a diverse Metal experience, as each year I’m blown away by bands I’ve only heard of and never seen live before, as well as band's we have seen before, but who don't tour the UK as much as we'd like.  One such band making their triumphant return to PPM was Finland’s Finntroll.

Given the high number of Finntroll t-shirts we spotted in the crowd and wandering around the metal market, this was another band that a lot of the younger metallers had come along to see today.  Some were even seen sporting the troll-like ears as worn by the band.

Although the bands songs are sung in the bands native Finnish, this didn’t stop to Mons crowd lapping up the mix of Death Metal and Folk, as from the opener ‘Nattfodd’, the crowd surfing began and tide after tide of bodies propelled forward with the help of their fellow kin.

If you've ever thought about being part of security at a festival, first check out PPM and see what the guys down the front have to do during the Finntroll set and you might think again!  The waves of bodies continued as the band ripped into ‘Blodsvept’ and ‘Under Bergets Rot’.  It was like Malibu beach on Labor Day!

The mayhem continued as Vreth led the band from the front playing the crowd like a gothic puppet master, the set continued with the likes of ‘Nar Jattar Marschera’ and the dark infestation that was ‘Solsagan’.  All  these led up to the massive crowd favourites ‘Trolhammaren’ and set closer ‘Jaktens Tid’.  This was Metal at its most bizarre and manic and most enjoyable, as I found it hard to watch both the band and crowd at the same time, as the bodies continued to flow stage ward, I even saw as couple of the PPM Staff getting in the act (you know I’m talking about you Charlotte!).  A good time was had by all.   

After the mayhem of Finntroll it was back to the more traditional side of Metal with Swedish Symphonic Metallers Therion, a band who were at the complete opposite end of the spectrum to Finland’s Finntroll on more than one level, but again this is PPM and the boundaries of Heavy Metal are left at the door.

The Swedes opened up their set with the impressive ‘The Rise of Sodom and Gomorrah’, although a different entity, the band and crowd carried on the momentum and enthusiasm from the Finntroll set and from this point on, Thomas Vikstrom and rest of the band had the crowd's full and undivided attention.

They raised the band's music to the next level with the wondrous tones of 'Invocation of Naamah’, before unleashing an outstanding Rock Opera medley of ‘Overture’, 'End of the Dynasty’, 'Who’s Your God’, 'Onda Toner’ and ‘Sad End’, during which the guitar wizardry of Christian Vidal just lit up the stage, as he displayed some six string dexterity that was just fret board fireworks.

The band kept things tight and squeezed as many songs into their allotted time as possible, with personal highlights for me being ‘Ginnungagap’, the excellent ‘Flesh of the Gods’ and the dark and mystical tones of ‘Son of the Staves of Time’.

The set was rounded off in style with ‘To Mega Therion’, with the icing on the cake ‘The Khlysti Evangelist’.  This set things up nicely for the headline act of the day and festival closers, of course I’m talking about Saxon. 

Well what can I say about Saxon that I haven’t said before, born out of Barnsley, South Yorkshire in the era that brought us NWOBHM, some 40 years later Biff is still the leader of the pack, aided by the twin guitars of Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt and the hardest hitting rhythm section in Heavy Metal Nibbs Carter on bass and the mighty Nigel Glockler on drums.  Outside it might have been a warm Spring evening, but inside the quintet rained Heavy Metal Thunder on the Mons crowd.

Opening up with the title track from the latest album ‘Sacrifice’, it wasn’t long before we were treated to some classic Saxon with ‘Heavy Metal Thunder’, then ripping through the modern classic ‘Battions of Steel’ with Carter his ever frantic self, coving as much of the stage as humanly possible.

Biff announced its been 38 years since ‘The Power and the Glory’, so that was next and still sounded as impressive today as it did back then (god that makes me feel old!).

It was then time to return to the 'Sacrifice' album for the riff laden ‘Night of the Wolf’, with the twin guitars of Scarratt and Quinn dueling with six string precision and majesty, this is what Heavy Metal and Saxon are all about.

It was then time to turn up the heat as only Saxon can with the massive anthem ‘Solid Ball of Rock’ rolling back the years to 1990 for this one.  It was heads down all the way for this one as the Mons crowd head-banged on mass.  What a wonderful sight to behold.  

With Flanders just down the road Biff dedicated ‘Broken Heroes’ to all those that fought and lost their lives in WWI, before bringing the tempo back up in spades with the stomping ‘Hammer of the Gods’, which gave Scarratt a chance to deliver the chops on this one. Then it was back classic Saxon from here on in with ’20.000 ft’, ‘Crusader’ and then one of my all time favourite Saxon songs, ‘To Hell  & Back Again’ from the 'Strong Arm' album, and guess what was next ‘Strong Arm of the Law’ itself.

Biff then announced the band would be embarking on a 42 date tour later in the year, which really got the crowd buzzing.  The set was rounded off with ‘Wheels of Steel’, before a short departure from the stage, then Biff and the boys returned to end a wonderful set and wonderful weekend with 'Denim and Leather’, which that saw Quinn and Scarratt trade licks once more, before finishing off with ‘Princess of the Night’.  This wrapped up another wonderful PPM Fest. 

One thing that we've omitted to mention about this year's festival was the introduction of a second smaller stage, the Entertainment Stage, where a wide variety of acts performed into between bands throughout the Saturday and Sunday's events this year.  I think the noisiest of these had to be the marvelous Attila & Les Huns, who really know how to catch the ear with their brass orientated musical selections.  Another act appearing this year that had the crowd rocking wildly along to the songs being played was electric violist Michelangelo.  Definitely one to check out if you ever get the chance.  

Now, whereas Attila & Les Huns and Michelangelo caught everyone's ear, the third performer to grace the stage this weekend was something slightly different, although one that got quite possibly, the highest number of male metal-heads assembling on mass to watch up close.  Who could it be, well none other than Lady K-Line and her dance of the fluffy feathers.  Ms K-Line certainly got the pulses racing and kept the blood pumping in between bands.  Thankfully it was all done in the best possible taste and not as tacky as some we've seen at other festivals.  

Overall the weekend was packed with top quality bands from all over the world.  Yet again we left with huge smiles on our faces and aching feet after three glorious days of Prog, Power & Metal.  Some might criticize that the line-up didn’t surpass last year, but for me it was another fantastic festival.  The whole weekend was magnificently organized with perfect timing between bands and seamless switch-overs between the Alpha and the Omega stages.  The price of the tickets for the weekend and for individual days was less than you'd pay for a lot of big touring bands these days, and here you had LOADS of great bands, some big, some not so big, but definitely destined for bright futures if this weekend's performances were anything to go by.  There was something for all tastes.  

Thanks to all the crew for keeping everyone safe while the crowd surfing went on and to the staff who manned the beer pumps and made sure it flowed smoothly so that a good time could be had by one and all.  A special thanks must also go to the guys who made sure the stages were good to go when the bands were ready and the lovely press gang who made our job that much easier when doing interviews across the weekend.  Although the biggest thank you of all must go to Tony Carlino, without whom there would simply be no PPM.   

Great stuff! See you all next year! 

Review by: Barry McMinn & Little Linda 

 

 

 

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