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Rockharz Festival Review
Written by Angela Infernale   
Thursday, 26 July 2012

ROCKHARZ 2012
July 12th to 14th, 2012 / Ballenstedt, Germany

Arch Enemy, Lacuna Coil, and Epica – don't panic – no, you did not miss Metal Female Voices Fest, it is still on and it's way too early in the year. This amazing line-up was part of the ROCKHARZ festival, July 12th to 14th 2012, in Ballenstedt, Germany. When people think of European summer festivals, the first – and in many cases only – one they can think of is Wacken. There is a vast range of other festivals though, and many of them can offer a bunch of really good bands, a nice atmosphere, and a lot of fun. All of this was the case at ROCKHARZ this year, which is why I didn't hesitate for even a minute after a friend suggested we should go.

Rockharz

After an overall impression of the festival, you'll find something about the shows of the female fronted bands that played there. Unfortunately, there were none on day one, but days two and three made up for that. In the order of their sets, there are Djerv, Epica, Deadlock, Lacuna Coil, and Arch Enemy. I also couldn't help adding a little bit about some male fronted bands in the end, and I can only recommend to not skip that part.

The General Stuff

ROCKHARZ has been growing over the last few years and now draws about 10,000 people. Next year will be their 20th anniversary, and I'll definitely keep an eye out for what they have in store for that. What is particularly nice about this festival is that there is no overlap between bands. Most festivals that have two or more stages put them at some distance from one other, and have several bands play at the same time. At ROCKHARZ the two stages are right next to each other, and while one band is playing, the other stage is being set up or the next one. There is a five minute break after each band's set, so people can migrate from one stage to the other, and not miss any band they want to see. Also, everything is rather close together, so you can easily go grab a bite, or fetch something from your tent (unless you arrive a day late and have to take a 15 minute hike through the mud, like us...). There are signing sessions with bigger and smaller bands, and a nice sanitary area with flush toilets and shower stalls. Unlike at other some festivals, using the toilets and showers is not free, though.

What is not so nice is that the festival is located in a very remote area. After getting off the highway it was another 60 miles through woods, fields, and some run-down villages. Once we reached the right town, we couldn't find any posters or signs indicating where to go. After a while we found some traffic signs for the small airfield where the festival was. Also, at the festival I had trouble finding something to eat. For vegans (like me) there wasn't really anything there. For the average omnivore visitor the food selection looked pretty damn delicious, though. Now for the recurring rain really no one is to blame, but it was annoying anyway, especially while taking pictures, and it messed up quite a few tents.

Bands - Day Two

Djerv

Rockharz

I had never heard of this band from Norway, until I did my pre-festival research. In order to make sure not to miss any good bands, I gave every single one of them a listen. When I got to Djerv, I was blown away instantly. I would describe their music as Grunge-Rock with Horror Punk elements. The first song I listened to was "Headstone", which comes with an official video that is full of zombies and has a graphic novel look to it. Being a relatively new and not yet well-known band (founded in 2010), Djerv got an early morning slot at 12.30pm – which, believe me, is considered early morning. For those of you who haven't been to a festival like this before: an early slot is bad news. The turnout for their set was not bad at all though, and the crowd was hooked pretty soon. When singer Agnete hit the stage, her face was concealed by a big black hood, which she took off a minute or two into the song, to unleash a truly enthralling stage presence. Unlike a lot of singers who prefer not to make eye contact and seem somewhat detached from the audience, she would direct her piercing gaze at you and sometimes make a cheeky comment. Her vocals range from clear to screaming, and she doesn't lose control of her voice even despite of headbanging and rocking out in general. The guys on the instruments did an awesome job as well, hitting the crowd with full force and not lacking entertaining interaction either. After the show, Agnete stopped by at the merch booth and sold CDs and shirts herself – I didn't see any other band do that. Two of my friends and I each got their self-titled album Djerv, and gave it four spins in a row on the car ride home. That should speak for itself.

Epica

Rockharz

This was about my fifth time seeing Epica, but I never deliberately went to see them before. Unlike the rest of the Sonic Cathedral staff, I'm not a huge Epica fan, and people are usually surprised when I tell them that, even though I listen mostly to Femme Metal, I don't really like Epica. It's nothing specific about them, their music just never really appealed to me. They are however a pretty good live band, so I went to see them anyway. They played at 7:30pm, which is quite a good slot for a festival this size, and the ground was pretty much packed. The crowd got crazy pretty fast too, so much so that during the first or second song, security had to clear the photo pit of photographers, because there were too many crowdsurfers. This I would have expected for other bands, but definitely not for Epica. As for the show itself, I have to say that I enjoyed it a lot more than their other ones I saw. Simone's vocals were crystal clear and close to flawless, and Mark's grunts, that I didn't really like before, have really grown on me. The really skillful performance on stage, and the – as Simone pointed out in her close to perfect German – nice weather (she wasn't being sarcastic, it was actually nice for once) made the show a really enjoyable one, even though I will probably never get super excited about Epica. They ended their set with a classic: "Consign to Oblivion", which was probably the best choice they could make.

Day Three

Deadlock

Rockharz

This was another band that I didn't know before I checked them out for the festival. I had heard the name, and they're not exactly a small band, but I wasn't familiar with their music. They are based in Germany, and even though their Facebook describes them as Melodic Death Metal, I would rather call them Metalcore. As the genre suggests, their music is on the heavier end of the scale, and they have rough/screamo vocals, which are done by a guy. On top of that, they also have clear female vocals. The result reminds of bands like The Agonist, just that it's not the same person singing the two styles. The male vocalist, John, was the one who engaged most in interaction with the crowd. His energy on stage really drew me in, even though I didn't know any of their songs. Singer Sabine seemed a bit more timid, but not when it came to singing. Her voice is very clear and has a young girl's sound to it, but doesn't lack power and goes a long way. The most special thing about this band is probably the fact that they are all vegan, and that their passion for this lifestyle finds its way into almost all of their lyrics. Using your art to promote a good cause is something that I greatly appreciate, especially being vegan myself.

 Lacuna Coil

Rockharz

LC were one of the bands I was looking forward to the most for this festival. Before they played, they also had a signing session earlier that day. All the bands that did signing sessions gave out free autograph cards, but that was nothing compared to the free stuff Lacuna Coil had in store. There was not just one, but two Dark Adrenaline themed posters, a bigger and a smaller one. On top of that, there was something that at first sight looked like a promo-CD. It turned out to be a calendar in a CD-like case. It consists of individual cards that each have two months on them, and it covers two full years, ending December 2013. In addition, there is a portrait photo of each band member. Due to the big crowd that came to the signing session, things had to go really fast, but no one had to leave without getting some friendly hand shakes.

Lacuna Coil are one of those bands that tease you by playing an intro before their set. And in their case, it really works, and has people excited even before the band hits the stage. Most of the songs they played were from Dark Adrenaline, so I was missing a few of the old classics. But their set was only 45 minutes, so they had to cut at some point. They did play "Heaven's a Lie" and "Our Truth" however, which are two of my all-time favorite songs of them. Other highlights were "Spellbound" and "Fragile". One thing that was odd, and for which I still haven't found out the reason, was that Marco (bass) was not playing the show. He hadn't been at the signing session either. He did have trouble with his hand in early June, but I couldn't find any info on whether this is connected to his absence. Considering that they did their whole set without a bass player, it's even more impressive how full and rich the music sounded. Cristina made sure to connect with each and every one in the audience, from one end of the stage to the other. Her and Andrea's efforts to animate the crowd were repaid with a lot of singing and jumping. They both turned in an excellent vocal performance as well. At the end they also announced another tour, which is going to hit Europe in October, and the US in January. As far as I'm concerned they can sign me up right now.

Arch Enemy

Rockharz

Arch Enemy were also among the bands that I wanted to see really badly, especially since I had never seen them before. Their quick-paced guitar solo and drum intro ("Khaos Overture", the intro on the latest album) nicely set up the mood for the very dynamic show that was to follow. Then the speakers fell silent, and the tension grew even stronger. A deep voice spoke some words, and then the band popped up on stage and went into full force right away. They started off with "Yesterday is Dead and Gone" from their most recent album Khaos Legions. They had a one-hour-set, which was not bad. Their show was one of the heaviest and wildest of all the bands, and needless to say the crowd loved them. There was one remarkable incident however. Some guys in the audience seemed to find it funny to keep screaming "take off your clothes", which really pissed Angela off eventually. She addressed the problem by giving them a taste of what they were never going to see: She pulled up her top and revealed a good portion of her perfectly flat belly. Then she pointed out that this was as far as it gets, as she was in the lucky position to earn her money by screaming, and had no need to take off any clothes. The whole thing was a little awkward, but if anyone could afford pulling that one off, it was her. Not only does she have the right body, but also the right attitude to speak her mind like this. Two of my personal highlights of their set were "My Apocalypse" and "We Will Rise". They just have a drive that makes you love every second of them, and this energy is even greater when they are performed live. Both of those songs were definitely a perfect choice for a single and video, and they will probably stay classics and be played for a long time to come.

Notable Male-fronted Bands

Even though Sonic Cathedral is a place for female fronted bands, I have to breach this feature a little at this point. There were a lot of really good male fronted bands at this festival as well, and some are definitely worth mentioning.

Germany-based Coppelius, for instance, are one of the most unconventional bands you will ever see. The last time I had seen them was in 2006, and in those years since, their show got even crazier. They play a pretty heavy rock – on classical instruments. A contrabass, a cello, drums, some clarinets, and vocals. Add some 19th century memorabilia, including a butler, and a load of insanity, and you may have an approximation of what Coppelius is like. But you won't get the full picture until you check them out.

Rockharz

Another great band played just two slots later, Finland's Before the Dawn. They describe themselves as Melancholic Melodic Death Metal, a label that is a bit bulky but very appropriate. I didn't know them before, but was instantly captured by their music. Singer Tuomas Saukkonen's vocals are medium-deep growls, and are nicely balanced out by the very melodic music. The best part for me were Juho Räihä's almost hypnotizing guitar solos though.

Rockharz

One of my personal must-sees of this fest were ASP from Germany. Their Goth Rock has strong electronic influences, and they are one of the biggest bands in the German goth scene. It wasn't my first time seeing them, but the first time since I started listening to them more intensively. They managed to make a metal audience dance and sing along to their Electrogoth songs, which is quite an achievement.

Rockharz

Chthonic from Taiwan are surprisingly little known in Europe, and probably in North America as well. They make Melodic Death Metal, and add a really nice oriental touch to it by using some Asian tunes and a hena violin, which seems to be a kind of huqin, a traditional Chinese string instrument. Their stage makeup has an Asian folklore look to it as well. The elements they use work together nicely and create a pleasant and unique overall impression.

Rockharz

Amon Amarth definitely don't need an introduction. They were the festival headliners and, other than any other band that played, got their very own announcement, presenting them as one of the biggest viking metal bands that exist. They played an amazing set, and as was to be expected, were hailed as heroes. "Twilight of the Thundergod", "Live for the Kill", "The Pursuit of Vikings", and "Guardians of Asgaard" were the highlights of their show.

Rockharz

Wrapping it up

Three days in the mud, with no running water (except in the form of rain), no electricity, and being always cold or hot, but hardly ever something in between – why do people love going to festivals anyway? Simply because it's all worth it. Being constantly surrounded by the music you love makes up for A LOT. Especially with a line-up like this, with bands that you barely get to see on tour, and that it would cost you a fortune to see, you really get your money's worth, and you don't mind taking those extra hardships.

Sonic Cathedral Facebook Photo Page for Rockharz

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