Artists:   Blind Guardian, Epica, Freak Kitchen, Powerwolf, Mystic Prophecy, Stormwarrior, Power Quest, Manigance, Lonewolf, Beyond The Labyrinth, Stonegoats, Nereids

Venue: Lotto Mons Expo, Mons, Bergen, Belgium

Date: 8 April 2012   

Well it's back on the Metal warpath once more as Day 3 of PPM Fest 2012 gets underway.  Sadly, due to a rather late night and not getting back to our hotel until the wee small hours, we needed time to recuperate after the great day yesterday, so we had to miss the first band of the day France’s Nereids.  Although from what I heard at the bar, they gave left a lasting impression on those early birds who managed to get out of bed on Easter Sunday and catch these Symphonic Metallers in action. 

So our day got underway with Belgium’s Stonegoats, who despite the name, (not the Death Metal band we expected with that name), played Heavy Metal much in the vain of The Black Label Society, with big chunky riffs laid down on a heavy bass and drum foundation.  The band led by the larger than life Oli on vocals, the twin guitars of Julien and Gael and that monster rhythm section I mentioned of Lio on bass and Rony on drums, delivered a groove filled metal set that really set a great foundation for the rest of the day.  Like all the early bands of the festival, short sets but very impressive and Stonegoats definitely left you wanting more.   

Another band to impress were Beyond The Labyrinth, another band hailing from Belgium.  These guys delivered Classic / Melodic Hard Rock that I just loved, as did those who gathered at the Alpha stage.

The band opened up with ‘The Girl With The X-Ray Eyes’, a great hard rock opener, but it wasn't until when the band really got going with ‘Tomorrow Is Gone’, that the crowd really warmed to them.  There were more than a few heads starting banging along, which proved even this early in the day, it was clear the Mons crowd were up for anything.

Frontman PG Haggerty showed his vocal prowess on the excellent ‘The Peter Principle’ while guitarist Geert Fieuw showed he has some guitar moves on this one.  The hard rocking continued with the moody rocker ‘In Flanders Fields’, before picking the tempo back up in a big way with ‘Fear’s The Killer’.  This great set was capped off perfectly with ‘Beyond The Labyrinth’ and like all the Belgium bands on over the three days, these guys showed that Belgium really is a hot bed of Rock talent and is just as diverse as it is rich.   

Another band waving the flag for French Metal were Lonewolf who opened up their account on the Omega stage with a towering assault on the senses with titanic metal anthems like ‘Hell Bent For Metal’, ‘Made In Hell’ and the rampaging ‘Viktoria’.  All no holds barred metal that showed these wolves were baying for blood this day and they were taking no prisoners. 

It was back to the Alpha stage for another slice of French Metal, this time it was Manigance who would deliver a more Symphonic Metal sound than the Heavy Metal of fellow countrymen Lonewolf and unlike Lonewolf, Manigance sang all their lyrics in their native French, which had this reviewer a little confused, because being unfamiliar with the band and not knowing any of their material, I couldn’t put together a set list or tell you which songs they performed.  However, this also meant I could just stand back and listen to the them and enjoy what Didier Desaux, Bruno Ramos, Jean Lahargue, Francois Merle and Marc Duffau did on stage with no pressure, and despite the language barrier, I really got what the band were all about, well musically at least.   

To say I was waiting with baited breath for the next band to hit the stage would have been a understatement.  As a long time fan of Power Quest, I know that the band deserve to be playing these type of events.  This business throws up more curve balls than most for this band, but over recent years Steve Williams has kept "The Quest" going, knocking every ball out of the park and showing that Power Quest are a band to be reckoned with.

More recently the band have seen new frontman Colin Callanan join the fold and today would be his baptism of fire with his very first taste of performing at a big festival.  However, like the true Celtic warrior he is, he grasped the challenge with both hands and proved he was more than capable of delivering the goods and more.  Today the band hit the stage running, opening up, what turned out to be the best show the band have done in years, with the instrumental ‘Battlestations’, before Callanan exploded onto the stage and the band broke into ‘Rising Anew’, taken from the bands latest album ‘Blood Alliance’.  The crowd instantly warmed to the guys, we even had a few crowd surfers appear early on in the set, which has to be a Power Quest first.

Callanan really got into his stride whipping up the crowd and getting them to clap along as the band went into their back catalogue for the storming ‘Cemetery Gates’, with the twin guitars of Andy Midgley and Gav Owen bouncing off each other each, sharing the licks and this double axe attack really adding that extra dimension to the older material.

The classic Power Quest material continued with the towering symphony that is ‘Edge Of Time’, with Callanan showcasing what a terrific vocal force he is and what a great stage presence he has, as he covered nearly every inch of the stage, whipping the crowd to almost fever pitch.  The Quests fans were out in force and there were more then a few had traveled great distance to be here today.  Callanan cottoned on to this early and even managed to get a few of their die hard fans down the front to sing along with him. 

Rolling back the years to the very start, the band continued with ‘Powerquest’, which really got the Mons crowd behind these guys even more. It was forward to 'Blood Alliance' for ‘Glorious’, a towering anthem that brought out the best in all the guys, with bassist Paul Finnie and drummer Rich Smith driving out the power rhythms, while all the time Steve Williams the backbone of Power Quest was throwing out those mighty keyboard tones. 

The crowd surfers were hanging five big time, as the band took things to whole new level with ‘Temple Of Fire’, before rounding up a fantastic performance with ‘Neverworld’.  The band took time out to pose for a quick photo with the crowd behind them, while the chants of ... “Power Quest! Power Quest!” ... filled the room.

As a fan and friend of the band, I’ve never felt prouder.  The band have gone through so much over recent years that at times things looked doubtful for the future of the band, but I like to think of Power Quest as six jigsaw puzzles that have been mixed in the same box, it just taken a bit of time for all the pieces to come together and Callanan is the final piece of that puzzle.  Now they can go forward and become the band I know they can and are destined to be. The Quest goes on!   

After the triumphant set of Power Quest it was time to return to the more traditional Heavy Metal with German / Danish Metallers Stormwarrior.  Who after their intro, set about delivering a monstrous set that got underway in emphatic style with ‘Heathen Warrior’.  This was followed instantly by the massive ‘Fyre & Ice’.  The band may hail from Germany and Denmark, but they're actually heavily influenced by Nordic legends, and Lars Ramcke and the rest of the band bring these influences with them in to today’s set, with ‘Odinn’s Warriors’ and fast and furious ‘Ragnarok’, taken from the band's third studio album ‘Heading Northe’.

Keeping with 'Heading Northe', the band really brought forth the big licks on the fantastic ‘Metal Legacy’ and the storming title track ‘Heading Northe.  The pace was kept going with ‘Heavy Metal Fire’, before going back to 'Heading Northe' for towering epic and guitar frenzy that is ‘Iron Gods’.  A great end to a massive riff laden set. 

The German connection continued on the Omega stage with Mystic Prophecy led by R.D Liapakis, who along with Markus Pohl, Constantine, Connie Andreszka and Tyronne Silva, kept the day going with another fine set of power driven metal, with the highlight for me being ‘Eyes Of The Devil’ and ‘Sacred Souls’. 

With the majority of the crowd already gathered around the Alpha stage for Romania’s Powerwolf, it was clear this band had an army of fans ready to welcome their heroes to the stage.  Even before the lights went down you could feel the air expectancy all around.

And when the lights did go down and Attila Dorn, Matthew Greywolf, Charles Greywolf, Falk Maria Schlel and Roel ven Hexden hit the stage, all the waiting had been well worth while, as the band opened up one of the sets of the day with 'Sanctified With Dynamite', with Dorn blessing the crowd with incense before showing off his vocal might.  The twin guitars of the Greywolf’s simply enthused energy and might.  Even Schlel stepped away from the keyboards to incite the crowd into a metal frenzy.

The Metal Mass continued with ‘Prayer in the Dark’, before raising a salute to metal with the excellent ‘We Drink Your Blood’, before picking up the tempo with ‘All We Need Is Blood’.  Despite the titles you couldn’t help admire the bands theatrics and their ability to give the crowd what they wanted, all with a little tongue in cheek repartee.

The highly melodic metal continued with the fantastic ‘Dead Boys Don’t Cry’ and ‘Werewolves of Armenia’, before the epic ‘Raise Your First Evangelist’. Dorn then announced the next song ‘Resurrection by Erection’ was for the boys, which was quickly followed by ‘Saturday Satan’ for the girls, although this one definitely wasn’t a ballad, more a baptism of fiery licks from the Greywolf’s.

The blood theme continued with the anthemic ‘In Blood We Trust’, before this fantastic set came to its conclusion with ‘Lupus Dei', with Dorn giving a final blessing to the Fest.  Definitely a band that is worth checking out and definitely one of the bands of the festival for me.  I like to be entertained by a band and Powerwolf sure did that.   

Such was the diversity of this years PPM Festival that next up were Gothenburg’s finest Freak Kitchen, who both musically and visually couldn’t even be bracketed anywhere near Powerwolf, but were just as entertaining.

This power trio of Mattias Eklundh, Christer Ortefors and Bjorn Fryklund style could only be described as Improv Hard Rock, with Orterfors dressed in full military uniform, looking like he was just back from maneuvers, complete with helmet and goggles.

But their spin on Hard Rock touched with humour was a joy to watch and listen to, as they opened their set with ‘God Bless The Spleen’, a great opener that really put the fun in funky.

Eklundh really got the crowd behind the band by bringing a little phraseology into the mix, by getting the band to yell ... ”GOODIE GOODIE” ... if they liked what they were hearing and liked it we did.

As the band kept the fun time grooves going with ‘Porno Daddy’ and the fantastic ‘Speak When Spoken Too’, a quick ... “GOODIE GOODIE” ... and to check all was well, then a quick change of pace and tempo with a little funky/jazz infusion in ‘Tear Gas Jazz’, before the melodic 80’s rock of ‘My Favourite Haircut’.  By this time even festival organizer Tony was down the front joining in on the fun and really getting his groove on, with what Eklundh described as "Pop from Hell" with ‘Vaseline Business’.

Next it was time for a big bass thumper with ‘Hateful Little People’, before Ortefors took up the mike duties for ‘Razor Fudge’, as the band brought the crowd into the mix for a little sing-a-long.  Then it was back to the funko-metal with Propaganda Pie’, before the set was closed off as it started, with two great melodic rockers in 'Nobody’s Laughing’ and 'Murder Groupie’, the first of these dedicated to Natalie.

It was a quick ... "GOODIE GOODIE" ...  and the crowd replied in kind in joyous approval of what had gone before.  These three crazy guys from Gothenburg sure made a lot of new fans today, myself included.   

Another band I was really looking forward to seeing from today’s line-up were Epica, but they turned out to be the only let down of the whole three days for me, mainly due to the poor sound.  It was a case of everything louder than everything else and the set really suffered because of this.  At times Simone Simons vocals were totally drowned out by the bass, but despite all this, the vast crowd really seemed to like what they were watching, even it we couldn’t make out most of the vocals.

The set covered the band's back catalogue with songs like ‘Karma’, ‘Sensorium’ and ‘Deter The Tyrant’, all going down a storm with the crowd despite the poor sound.  Even the newer material like ‘Unleashed’ seemed to raise plenty of cheers and horns of approval.

If I had to pick one outstanding song of the set then it would have to be the metal love song ‘The Obsessive Devotion’, just because it was the only audible song of the set for me.  After the set a number of people also commented about the sound problems, which marred what was up until then, a near perfect festival experience.   

So after the disappointment of Epica it was up to Blind Guardian to save the day and save the day they did, with an epic set that really was the complete opposite of the set prior.  Everything was crystal clear and the clarity was near perfection, as the German teutonic Metallers really ended the festival as true headliners should with a set worthy of their name.

Opening up their account with ‘Sacred Worlds’ from there most recent studio album ‘At the Edge of Time’ from here on in Hansi Kursch, Marcus Seipen, Andre Olbrich, Frederick Ehmke and Oliver Holzwarth, put on a Power Metal showing worthy of their headline status, with Kursch reminding the world why he and the band are regarded as pioneers of Power Metal since their incarnation way back in 1984.

The epic metal continued with ‘Welcome to Dying’ from their 1990 'Tales From The Twilight World’, which was the band at their very best and the crowd showed the appreciation in equal parts by cheering and raising their metal horns.  It was only song three of the set and the band were about to turn up the heat with the excellent ‘Nightfall’, before bringing in the more folkish elements with the stunning tales of the Wicker Witches on ‘Turn The Page’, with Kursch delivering those now legendary power vocals that we’ve come accustomed to.

It was back to ' At The Edge of Time' for ‘A Voice in the Dark’, bringing the tempo and atmosphere to almost fever pitch once more. Then we journeyed back again to ' Tales From The Twilight World’ for the stunning ‘Lost in the Twilight Hall’, before bringing the classic heavier sound of Blind Guardian with the triumphant ‘Valhalla’, with the Mons Choir joining the band on the chorus.  Next it was on with the truly epic salute to 'Sauon The Dark Lord’ with what else but ‘Lord Of The Rings’.

The crowd got another chance for some audience participation as they clapped along to the ‘Bright Eyes’ from the ' Imaginations From the Other Side' opus, before taking it Mach 10 with ‘Somewhere Far Beyond’.  The band left the stage for a short time before returning with the glorious ‘Into The Storm’, which was quickly followed by the stunning ‘The Bards Song’ and ' Wheel Of Time’, before ending not only the set, but the festival, with what else but ‘Mirror Mirror’.  The icing on the cake of day three and the cherry on the top for PPM 2012. 

A lot of festival organisers should check out what Tony and his team have put together here in Mons.  The twin stages making perfect stage change over times possible.  The fact that a decent variety of food was available just outside the main hall.  The metal market had plenty to offer, so if you weren’t into certain bands you had somewhere else to be.  There was a seated area outside so you could get some fresh air and rest your feet.  The crew worked tirelessly clearing away any discarded glasses and rubbish that were lying about, from those seemingly unable to find the multitude of waste bins around the venue? There were plenty of signing sessions with times well displayed for each band and posters letting everyone know what time each band would hit the stage, and which of the two stages they would be performing on.   

This way my first taste of PPM and hopefully it won't be my last.  This weekend has to be one of the best organised festivals I’ve been to in my entire life (and I've been to quite a few!). I would like to thank Tony for putting it together; the army of volunteers behind and in front of the scenes; all the staff in the press section for arranging interviews with bands; the every cheerful bar staff who always had a glass of beer ready when you went and the lovely ladies who acted as "guardians of the toilets" inside the main hall. You know who you are!  But most of all, I'd like to thank the people of Mons for making us feel so welcome.  We may have been strangers in a strange land, but with Metal in our hearts we stood side by side, brothers and sisters in arms.

 

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