On 7th April, another edition of a long standing Polish festival Metalmania took place. One day, two stages, twenty four bands. It was the second one organized after a recent reactivation. The original Metalmania was an early big metal event in that part of the Europe – quite a feat given Polish Communist and post-Communist realities. Then, due to various reasons, the festival was gradually losing its relevance, dwindling and finally went into hiatus for 8 years. There is no sense, however, to cling to its bygone local importance or whatever glorious past. So how does it look now?
While too much reliance on more mainstream gothic and heavy contributed to a collapse of previous incarnation of the festival, and now it was death and black oriented, the music on the big scene is rather consistently aimed at straight metal through all of its generations and styles, ending with bands like Dead Congregation or Blaze of Perdition and with some of the more modern sounds on a small scene. On a downside, the fest resurfacing mainly as a stage for classic bands may be reflecting the actual state of metal, indicating that the newer bands are unable to fill the void with something equally strong to their predecessors.
The festival was obviously rough around the edges (and surprisingly violent – I almost got caught into two different fights just from where I was standing) and the sound was uneven and average overall. It was organized better than in the past, but still perceptibly within Polish standards, that is crudely and with lack of imagination or simply negligence in some areas (although Martin van Drunen said on stage that the organization was great!). Perhaps a very fortunate by-product of these characteristics, which may contribute to the positive reception of this festival, is how – I dare to say – conservative it is, both in terms of lineup and general spirit. With Napalm Death and (I suppose) liberal speed metallers on one side and sort of crypto-nazis on the other, who always find a way to show up in some form, the fest also covered broadest ideological spectrum that is possible for a mainstream event.
As of 2018 this festival is yet to experience types of modern degeneracy, often coming from outside, which can be seen on festivals elsewhere. There were some obligatory side attractions, like exhibition of works of Christophe Szpajdel (who actually speaks Polish fluently), meet-up with the bands and lots of merch, but nothing delving too much into a fan idiocy or really not related to metal. Very few freaks, zero exotic people, no random participants, just fairly traditional metalheads, mostly in the 90s style, as it should be, world without end. However, those spoiled by abundance of propositions and by big festivals in Germany or Czech Republic will probably miss out on some of these modest qualities.
And then there’s the surreal, sci-fi sight at the arrival – a monumental, Communistic “The Saucer” occupied by nothing but a tribe of long haired, black clad drunks…
Destroyer 666 was one of the earliest bands to reintroduce some speed and death metal into already fully developed black metal mindset. For D666, up to the Phoenix Rising it provided for some reasonable material. As a whole however, it was a clear sign that the genre is getting retrospective in a sense which differs from worship of old that is yet seeking new ways to deepen the tradition. Quite sensibly, this non-PC band was preventively separated from Napalm Death on the play schedule. They signalized some technical problems (same thing plagued Mekong Delta, who were playing prior to them) but started anyway. Despite of a characteristic Aussie madness, even though they played a lot of their newer, hard-rockish material, by didn’t having enough of a sound clarity, power and seemingly loosing lead guitar completely at some points, they simply didn’t achieved dynamics required to execute their songs as it should.
This incarnation of the band is fronted by its original vocalist – Roman Kostrzewski. He is notable for his eccentrism and the fact that he was an early proponent of older variety of satanism on Polish metal scene (Kat’s appearance at the rock festival in 1985 inspired a black mass at nearby cemetery). This Polish classic consisted of very competent musicians who were adept in borrowing styles of bands, which were big at a given time, often ending up weirder and edgier than them. Kostrzewski lyrics were inspired by or even adapted from Tadeusz Miciński – a XIX/XX Polish writer informed by various esoteric traditions and the works of Blake and Nietzsche and perhaps some of that bleeds also into Kat’s music. It seems that metal always finds its characteristic set of cultural influences – or at least its closest approximation. Here they played mostly their newer material, which is sanitized, but from their back catalog at least 666/Metal&Hell, with its old brand of satanic heavy/speed metal, should provide for a fun listen.
Asphyx was observably the most cheerfully received band, and rightfully so. They are simply irreplaceable, even if their gig was begging for more crushing sound and less songs from Deathhammer and Incoming Death. There is however too much of a benign indulgence for when a band, catching its second breath, is now going for this self-referential, emblematic idea of “heavy metal”, just like their great predecessors, when their factual contributions to the genre have ended. Asphyx used their last remnants of the serious kind of inspiration on Last One On Earth. In the mid-90s, in no small part because of emergence of black metal, many older death metal bands found themselves obsolete and confused. It is an offense that music from that period had a chance to be recorded, promoted, bought, listened; that some resources were put to waste to produce those CDs. Something – whatever – was being played to meet minimal quotas or fulfill contracts. And Asphyx was also caught into that limbo of outdated simplicity of 80s death metal and burgeoning death’n’roll, mirroring what Entombed or Unleashed were doing with their reputation at the time.
Since then, death metal managed to revitalize itself, or at least moreso than black metal could ever hope for. Now Asphyx, more than ever, sounds like old Death: blunt, intense and drastic. It must be however said that the triumph of death is a bit pyrrhic here. Asphyx, since its rejuvenation on a visceral and satisfying Death… The Brutal Way, is so shamelessly simple yet indistinctive, that it would be actually unthinkable in the 90s. With music that is so basic everything is important yet they waste a lot of potential of good parts, which could be developed to lead somewhere, but instead are left in the middle of the road to just fade away. It’s also hard to not be distracted by riffs reminiscent of Slayer, Sepultura, Type O Negative or Body Count as well as motifs from their own back catalog, which are frequently recalled, but in a still less and less fulfilled iterations.
Martin von Drunnen vocals were simply great, but there was something a bit off with the tempo and motorics of the rest of this machine. It couldn’t be Paul Baayens’ fault, since he actually wrote most of these riffs and understands their efficiency, but while the band never really went full speed where it could, it managed to lose the dynamics and the point of the slower and mid-tempo parts, by being somewhat too hasty there. Still, Asphyx was observably the most cheerfully received band, and rightfully so. They are simply irreplaceable, even if their gig was begging for more crushing sound and less songs from Deathhammer and Incoming Death.
Emperor had by far the best, and of course most elaborate sound that day. They gave very dignified if a tad formulaic performance with some annoying quirks here and there, mostly in synth and vocal arrangement, both courtesy of jazz saxophonist known from Ihsahn solo project. Ihsahn vocals can be somewhat unreliable and it seems that quite a lot depends on by whom he is backed at given show. Still, the band is in great form and provided very strong, memorable experience, which for its participants will only grow to acquire mystical proprieties and significance, even though for many the immersion could be only partial. Closer to the stage it resembled a survival, with massive pressure of the crowd and people taking really desperate measures to reach the front rows to witness the last classic Norwegian horde that’s yet worth seeing. If not for these circumstances it would certainly be that type of concert, which one appreciates stoically and with reverence, as is perhaps most appropriate for this type of black metal – the band was actually able to convey some of that spirituality. Its reception and appreciation was even greater than that of Asphyx, but in a less earthly, less carnal way. It was simply felt.
While main criticism here may stem from objections to the source material, which Emperor will be playing in its entirety for about a year, Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk is probably the best choice in their catalog for such purpose, especially given the modern sound they acquired since that album. Although they also played three songs from it, In the Nightside Eclipse is roughly up there with Burzum and Darkthrone in terms of sheer possibility to recreate their uncanny contrasts of sharp ridges otherwise enveloped in misty atmospheres. Somewhat Pink Floydish meanderings of the Anthems on the other side, are perfectly replicable, if not even improved in live setting.
Napalm Death case is an interesting one. The atmosphere has changed, the crowd have thinned and altered its properties. Large moshpit (more of a whirlwind) which was chaotic and violent on Asphyx became more friendly and welcoming, crowd surfing prominent on Emperor ceased completely. It was now much calmer but it was perfectly understandable as people were already exhausted and ND gig came after the culminating point of the whole festival. They were utilizing a crustcore sound that was very appropriate for a stylistically diverse set, which was presented through energetic (and visually ascetic!) performance, with Barney running around like a crippled, more retarded Bruce Dickinson.
In between the songs Mr. Greenway chatted with unfathomably British mannerisms. Sometimes it resulted in genuinely merry moments, like when he was referencing Slavic memes, cursing in Polish and noticing with amusement “multiple kurwas” from the audience. Perhaps also, as an afterthoughts made from his noteworthy perspective, he was actually pointing to something, when after playing “You Suffer” and “Dead” in direct succession he reminded, that those were actually two songs (“two different songs, trust me on that one”) and asked the audience, if they really spotted any difference. But unfortunately those were only meant as a supporting act for unbearable diatribes. Before ND ended their set he already managed to preach about equality, called for abolishment of borders and condemned religions and usage of weapons against other human beings. Like never before, these Leftist-Liberal axioms struck as something so ridiculous and embarrassing. Granted, they were taken with a dose of reluctancy, but there were still too many metalheads who positively responded to obligatory “nazi punks fuck off” slogan.
Thankfully, on the small stage, perverse and anti-humanist Anima Damnata was still spewing its obscenities…