This year was my second time of Graspop, a festival near the small Belgian town of Dessel. My first time had been cool but marred by rain. Why does it always seem to have to rain?

This year was no exception. But the entire day had a theme: "F%@k the rain!" And, damn it, it worked.

As usual, there's a main stage and two Marquees. One of the two Marquees caters for good music, the other for skater/hardcore crap. Everything was scheduled so that you could witness everything you needed to see, barring one occasional song. Well done.

The first band of interest was Oceans of Sadness, a Belgian band that opened the festival as far as the 'good' marquee was concerned. The music was OK, but the vocals were rather same-ish, especially the screams.

Next, Entombed. Ever since they re-discovered the right path with release of their latest, "Uprising", they have regained my appreciation. They played stuff from a variety of albums, though none of "Same Difference". There was "Out of Hand", "Seeing Red", "To Ride, Shoot Straight and Speak the Truth", "Hollowman", something from "Clandestine" and no doubt they played "Left Hand Path" (I had by that time already gone to the marquee so as not to miss anything of the next band). Good new drummer.

God Dethroned, probably the nether countries' tightest and most extreme death metal outfit, suffered from bad sound at start but then got better. "Serpent King", "The Execution Protocol", "Boiling Blood" and several songs from older albums that I didn't recognise were played. Good.

Caught something of "Gamma Ray", but wasn't impressed. I like old Helloween, but it must have been the period in which I got to know them. Gamma Ray did nothing for me.

Cannibal Corpse, of course, I checked out. Never seen them play before, but I'd heard good stuff of their enthusiasm. Indeed such was the case. Whenever I bang my head like George "Corpsegrinder" Fischer, I inevitably lose my balance. He seems to have a trick. To see them live is to fully come to appreciate the technical high standard of their music as you see fingers flying to and fro on the fretboard. I have no idea which songs they all played, but they ended with ("this one's for all the fucking women here") "Fucked with a Knife" and "Hammer Smashed Face". Before that they played "Devoured by Vermin" as well as a host of tracks from "Bloodthirst" and earlier albums. I had a few good laughs at the song titles (I guess I am really turning old, any older and I'll be getting angry at the song titles perhaps :-), but also banged my head off to their insane riffs, relentlessly pounding, as it were, the audience into dust.

Grabbed a bite to eat and checked out Testament with, as we say here, half an eye. Wasn't impressed. Saw them once before (on the 1990 "Clash of the Titans" tour) and I shall never understand why people like them. They're OK, nothing more.

Apocalyptica was a pleasant surprise and, though I don't usually admit this freely (and indeed it rarely happens), it brought a tear or two of happiness to my eyes. The Marquee was packed with people who reacted like a dream to the band's covers and original songs performed on cellos. Particularly "One" must have sent shivers up and down a couple of spines. The audience sang along with all their hearts, and what I was amidst of was the first climax of the day. They actually got to do an encore after there were general shoutings of "we want more".

Saxon. Always liked them, but after seeing them at Graspop 2 years previous I got all their old albums. Good stuff. They were as good as back then, playing a lot of old stuff ("20,000 Feet", "Motorcycle Man", "Princess of the Night", "Wheels of Steel", "The Band Played On"). Then there was a new track from "Metalhead" which was pretty OK, and some middle-old songs (like "Crusader" and "Dogs of War"). Good. It was raining quite a bit, but this time the audience didn't hurl mud at them. Biff did repeat the "I know you're cold so I will throw a bucket of water over myself" gimmick. Well hey.

Samael had been replaced by Sins of Thy Beloved. I like Samael, but Sins of Thy Beloved have released a most splendid second album so I didn't mind. There was a cute singer, but they suffered from very bad sound. I left to have something to eat.

I missed the Rollins Band while I was waiting in a line for 'signings' of God Dethroned and Saxon while outside the rain came pelting down.

Tristania was a nice surprise, when I came back from the 'signings'. They need good sound as well, and this band had excellent sound. The enchantingly radiant Vibeke Stene was the shining point around which the band performed. They played a lot from their latest album (including "Angina" ans "A Sequel of Decay" and one or two tracks from their full-length debut, and it all went down really well with me and fellow Tristania afficionadoes. The guy doing the 'clean vocals' (Osten Bergoy?) was making a bit of a spectacle of himself, running around and climbing into poles and stuff. What a prat. The gig as a whole was another climax, though. If I didn't have all their albums already, I'd rush right out to buy them.

Machinehead, not exactly my cup of tea but there was nothing else going on. I'd seen them before (Waldrock 1995) and they were a tad repetitive but more convincing there. And I don't like music that you have to jump up and down to.

Anathema in the marquee again. I've seen these guys progress from heavy doom to, well, Pink-Floyd-ish pop. Up to and including "Alternative 4" I'd really liked it, but I never came round to checking out their latest. The songs they played that I didn't recognize must have been from that one, and I am sure I'll never buy it. The older tunes were better (older meaning from "Eternity" and "Alternative 4"). They played a rather excellent Iron Maiden tribute in the form of "Phantom of the Opera" and then a Pink Floyd cover ("Is there Anybody out there?", I think). Pretty good, and a sufficient farewell to this band as far as yours truly is concerned.

The Mighty Slayer was up next at the main stage. They'd closed off Graspop (also with Iron Maiden, incidentally) 4 years earlier and I am sure they did as good as job then as they did now. Banging their heads off, playing tight, sounding good, with lots of classics under their belts. They can't do wrong. "Dead Skin Mask", "South of Heaven", "Raining Blood", "War Ensemble", "Mandatory Suicide", "Chemical Warfare", "Hallowed Point"...they played them all. And if you saw Tom Araya's enthusiasm you'd swear it was the first time he performed in front of a crowd. They played "Bitter Peace" from "Diabolus in Musica", as well as a new song (something like "And then comes the Pain", or "Here Comes the Pain"). Sounded OK. Slayer came, saw, and were another climax of the day.

My Dying Bride was quite a surprise, next. They played a lot of old stuff, including "The Snow in my Hand", "Turn Loose the Swans", "Under Darkest Skies" and "The Cry of Mankind". Newer stuff they did included "She is the Dark" and "Under Your Wings and Into Your Arms", whereas they closed off with "The Fever Sea". They may also have played "A Kiss to Remember". I wonder if they're still behind what they do, after their own evolution seemed to backfire on "38.7%...complete" and they had to retrace their steps back to a style the fans more appreciated. If not, however, it didn't show. Good.

Iron Maiden had a massive stage built for them, and used it to play a lot of their new songs, including "Brave New World", "Ghost of the Navigator", "The Wicker Man", "Blood Brothers" (good track but not too excellent for festivals) and "Dream of Mirrors". Not too many oldies they did, at least not until I left at about 75% of the set to make sure I wouldn't get stuck in well-driven mud on my way out. In fact, I'd only heard "The Trooper" and "Two Minutes to Midnight"... They also played "Sign of the Cross" and "The Clansman" from the disastrous Blaze Bayley CDs. I noticed that the band was all enthusiastic, especially Bruce Dickinson feeling right at ease. In fact, the term "crazy" would come to mind. Janick Gers was doing his best Yngwie imitation, with those funny dance steps and guitar poses and generally running to and fro. I can't help but think that he must be feeling a mite superfluous as a third guitarist added to the same line-up that recorded "Piece of Mind" and "Live After Death".

More and more I hear people saying that they'd rather go to Graspop than to Dynamo Open Air. Graspop is much better organised, not so humongous, and is, well, much better organised :-)

A fine festival day, despite the rain, and I'll go again next year.



Written June 2000


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