Alcatraz is one of the many European Metal Festivals, filling the line-up mainly with heroes from our past. This is a wise decision as old bands are good for some nostalgic banging for my generation and can teach the younger generations a thing or two on how to put up a great show. Hans and Mary were planning to attend the Friday and Saturday already and with Tiago on camp, me home alone the choice of joining was rather easy. While I am writing this the Sunday is still underway, but we skipped today. This because Mary has to work, the main acts (Korn, Amon Amarth, Trivium) are not my favorites and the ones I woud love to see (Raven, UFO and Enslaved) shall pass or just passed Holland already. Reality also taught me that I should go in advance training next year if I want to survive three days in a row. The weather turned out to be Ok over the two days with only a few light rains, plus a sunburned neck. Traffic was poor around Antwerp, taking us more than twice as much for the way down, as for the return. Only the crew from media partner Rockmuzine drove down early in two hours, while for others four hours plus was the norm. The hotel in the centre was nice and the walking distance to the venue acceptable.
Our late arrival made me miss Dyscordia and Evil Invaders, both bands I would have liked to see. On the main Prison stage Fortuna announced the arrival of Pretty Maids. This was the first band I was curious about as I have their selftitled EP and the album Red, Hot and Heavy. Completely loosing track of them since, I did not know what to expect and I was surprised positively. Although this hard rock is old-school, they brought it well. Especially the songs I knew were fine and in spite of technical problems and a shortened set the festival kicked of in style. Next on were Hell on the Swamp stage. In the former Circus Renz tent this was what I expected to be the highlight of the day. Again Hell gave us the show we came to know from them. The surprise is gone now, but the efects and the show for a band their size remains remarkable. The music is also above average and this was all I hoped from them. Well maybe skipping my personal favorite "Save Us from those who Would Save Us"was missed due to the short set. Yet all was there and I thought I saw the best show of the day. Turned out I was wrong. First we had next band Krokus on the main stage. In the early eighties I actually received a fanpackage from the Dutch Krokus Fanclub after buying some of their LP's. Playing those again last week, they seemed somewhat outdated. Unfortunately live they also seemed no powerhouse either. Not helped by adding several cliche covers (American Woman, Rockin'in the Free World) this was for me the only disappointment of the weekend.
Hereafter things should become better with Denner/Shermann and they did. This band is called after the guitar tandem of Mercyful Fate. The set unsurprisingly was a mix of new work from the band and some Fate covers. This was one comforting show of pure eighties Heavy Metal. The stars of the band seemed somewhat modest, which gave the vocalist and bassist the chance to be very present on stage. Good show and proving the Swamp stage was the place to be on Friday. This preferred stage was even more confirmed when Ghost hit the Prison Stage. Seeing some 80% of the people under twenty years wearing a Ghost T-shirt their presence made commercial sense. Musically I thought them rather simple and sounding like Depeche Mode at times. For us the signal to enter the Presidio bar, where we could even indulge in some of those famous Belgium beers. Being cheered up by Video Clips from the eighties this was one party place. Unfortunately we found the next morning that mixing some Cinay's with the common Maes beers resulted in some fitness issues. For now it was the perfect bridge to what was to be the closing band of the day: Dirkschneider. Now I did see them in Tilburg last year and quite liked their show of old Accept songs. Tonight they had 40 minutes less to play (still leaving 90) and what I did not expect happened, best gig of the weekend. Helped by the perfect timing of the first day after not a full day, everyone was fit, filled up and ready for a party. Seeing a tent full with a few thousand fans jumping and shouting along classic Accept songs was a blast. Highlights to me Princess of the Dawn, Fast as a Shark and yes Balls to the Wall. Before they started we thought maybecalling it a day halfway (as they played until 01:30). Well none of that as we loved to see every minute of it. Great closer of a succesfull first day.
Waking up the next morning the Cinay's of the day before, made us decide to take it easy skipping the first bands. Pity I missed Sweet Savage as a result, but the decision was a good one. Also some rain would occasionally fall this day, the pitch was muddy at spots and the end would be at 01:00 again. Entering we heard some notes of post metal from Monkey3. We needed to move on as Death Angel was next on the Prison stage. I am not their biggest fan, but always love them live and again they were good. Best newer song Thrown to the Wolves and old favorite Seemingly Endless Time were in the set again and just another solid performance. High on Fire got only ten minutes from me, good band, not so good vocals. And then came Last in Line. Now Dio was the band I probably saw playing most in the mid eighties. This band called after the second album holds original Dio members Vivian Campbell and Vinnie Appice. Awkwardly the announcer spoke of famous musicians including Jimmy Bain. The band kicked of and it took me two minutes to see this would be good. Stand up and Shout followed by Straight Through the Heart. Vocalist Andrew Freeman seemed to be very smart. Staying far from trying to clone the best vocalist ever he put his own style in and was singing very good. Helped by a perfect setlist this was one highlight of the day. Last in Line did release an album Heavy Crown last year and The Devil in Me plus Starmaker fitted very welll in this set. In december there shall be a controversial Dio returns tour where we can watch a hologram of Dio sing. I shall pass for that and wait for Last in Line to return to Holland, as this was brilliant.
Skipping Brant Bjork for food, The next highlight was waiting for us at the Prison stage straight hereafter. Iced Earth gave us one of their epic metal blastswhich was as good as expected. I do not own a lot of their albums, but was pleased that my favorite the Dark Saga was well presented with I Died for You, The Hunter and Vengeance is Mine. Closing with Watching Over Me this made me guarantee to go see them again when on tour with a full set. Stu Brock proved to be the most metal vocalist of the day. In advance I would look at the trio Death Angel/Last in Line/Iced Earth as my favorites of the day with Saxon. So the next bands I shall only commnet on shortly. Obituary, very good set, but awful silences inbetween songs downing the atmosphere all the time.Testament solid performance filled with some classics Into the Pit, Over the Wall, Practice What You Preach. Sleep unknown to me, but defintely a good show with slow and heavy doom, sludge, stoner. I was never a big Venom fan in the eighties and today did not convince me otherwise. What was extremely extreme in 83 is now a lot softer on the ears, but vocals still have lots of space for improving. Abbath managed even to convince Hans that Black Metal can sound interesting and understand why I expanded there. What we saw sounded very good.
And then it was up to Saxon to close the festival for us. Just releasing a box with later albums, it came as no surprise that we got several title tracks from not that old LP's. But Saxon knows how to build a set, so soon we would be entering the list of top class NWOBHM classics. And the Bands Played On, Heavy Metal Thunder, Princess of the Night, Crusader and well you name them. Saxon ruled over Alcatraz and was after Dirkschneider the night before another great closer of the evening. For us at the same time the closure of the festival and what great days we had. No idea how many people were at the site (5-10,000?) but it was full at shows but never overly crowded. Bars and toilets were perfect, food not that special (Vega was good) and the bandmerch looked what limited. Strong candidate for returning for us, so let's wait for band announcements next year.