Nova Rock has always had a very special place in my black little heart, and I am sure that in the years to come it will stay safely placed there, feeling cozy and not wanting to leave. Even with a few missteps here and there. We were prepared again to bring home few kilos of Austrian dust and pretty good sunburn maybe as well. Especially since not even the raging sun could stop thousands of metalheads from all over Europe to come together and rock the hell out of the Pannonia Fields in Nickelsdorf.
Let me say, the atmosphere itself there is just something that you must see for yourself. As every country and every festival has its own, Nova Rock is usually full of young people in crazy costumes, sleeping side-stage covered in beer with blasting music piercing their eardrums. But just when the right beat hits, they are again all over the place… Crowdsurfing, making death walls and huge moshpits until they decide it is time for another beer to cool off a bit.
But beer and costumes and naked boobies of girls sitting on guys’ shoulders flashing them proudly to the stage is not what Nova Rock is only about. Even though one can just not imagine this festival without it. It is the music, of course… So, let me get straight to that.
This four-day festival started on Thursday loud and proud with Amaranthe, the Swedish band that is known especially for their three singers combining clear male and female voices and deep male growl. Quite a nice start, even for a short 25-minute set, to lube the crowd a bit up and prepare them for the rest of the day. Even though it was not so perfect since troubles with sound already started and then continued to appear throughout the rest of the festival. We also got to see Three Days Grace, making their debut appearance on Nova Rock and celebrating it with vodka. Yet still managing to pull of the show perfectly, especially since in the history of metal there were few guys who completely failed in that.
The absolute horsepower of Godsmack was the first highlight of the day. We all know what a great voice Sully has but that drum solo he played together with their drummer Shannon Larkin was something else. Throwing around drumsticks, being ridiculously loud and precise… The sheer brilliantness of their talent pretty much caused a lot of mouths to drop open.
But even though Godsmack and their show so far overshadowed anything else and pumped the people up for Lamb of God coming up next, the sound issues got the best of it. They brought a killer show with people throwing themselves around in moshpits and walls of death. But despite the crowd getting crazier with each song, the sound was not earsplitting in a good sense. Unfortunately, that happened throughout the festival with many other bands as well. What is, however, necessary to point out that it got turned to the other side when Amon Amarth came on the stage.
Not just with a simple backdrop, but with big ass horns with the drumset in the middle, the deep growl of Johan Hegg made up for few previous concerts where the sound was just… meh. The show itself was everything a hard die fan of Viking metal or melodic death metal could wish for and everyone else for sure could highly appreciate the talent of those northerners. It turned out to be an amazing start of the night, with thousands of people gathering around to see the headliner of the evening – Slipknot.
The stage, the show, new masks, new songs from the upcoming album We Are Not Your Kind, everything that characterizes the nine was there. But the sound was again off. Which should have been drop-dead amazing especially with the headliners on the stage and when the space in front of the stage was ridiculously packed with fans. One could not hear anything clearly and even though we love when Slipknot gets messy, this mess was kind of uncalled for. Remembering the show four years back it was no doubt that this one was just not pulled off well. Yet again, it got slightly better by the end of the set. Already Sabaton, who were supposed to wrap up the day, sounded much better. And I would be damn angry if they did not since their current show includes male chorus in historic costumes from the Great War. Chills ran up my back with how great it sounded. It is nothing new that Sabaton can do one hell of a show, despite the fact that to some their music might just get boring over time. But this time that could be easily overlooked.
The festival continued and I hoped that the next day will bring fewer sound problems. We were off to a great start on Red Bull Music Stage and bands Like a Storm and Fever 333. Especially those California guys caught my attention and their merge of punk rock and hip hop with lyrics that are underlining political issues such as racism or homophobia. I was not sure what to expect, even though I heard they can get damn wild, but boy, what an understatement. Throwing themselves into the crowd, crawling on top of the sound booth was just a tip of the punk rock iceberg.
After the crazy ball of energy of Fever 333, we got to see a bit different show of Polish devils Behemoth, that are still enjoying the widespread adoration of their fans. The Blue stage was in hands of Dropkick Murphys. The boys got back to Nova Rock after three years making it into a huge pub party. What I was mostly looking forward to, though, was the main four bands of the evening, that nicely split the stages according to their respective genres. While the Red stage got the thrash metal legends Anthrax and Slayer, the Blue stage hosted alternative, emo, indie legends The Smashing Pumpkins and The Cure.
Anthrax has already visited Nova Rock several times as well as Slayer, even though this time their show was a bit more special. Nova Rock got to be one of the stops on The Final World Tour, which will wrap up their three-decades-long career. And to say goodbye they delivered what fans were expecting, nothing less than pure thrash metal madness.
As one headliner was giving their goodbye, the other brought show which cut through their whole carrier – 29 songs with 8 encores, that I have not seen before. And not just that, but the always doom and gloom The Cure are preparing to release their fourteenth studio album which will come out somewhere around October – their first after eleven years. Cannot say how thrilled I was to see the British legends and their undying hits in all the glory. And not just me, as the fields in front of the stage were completely packed. With their long set, they ended the second day of Nova Rock and we could not wait for the other half to come.
Friday started out with quite a number of bands that did not have the pleasure to rock Pannonia Fields before. Badflower, Mind Control (winner of the Planet Music contest), Beyond the Black or Nova Twins made their debut appearance and I believe we might have not seen them on Nova Rock for the last time either. We again got to see in Austria very popular Feine Sahne Fischfilet, which meant that the Austrian guys and gals went totally crazy and it nicely prepared them for the headliner of the day, Die Toten Hosen.
But as the evening was getting closer, even bigger names and bands that are no strangers to Nova Rock made it to the stage. Namely Papa Roach, the Californian rare breed. They brought their new album Who Do You Trust? – a new sound that they translated nicely to the audience and yet kept the old fan base in tack. Which is exactly why I love those guys and am excited for every new thing they come up with. Jacoby is one “not-slowing-down” machine and is able to jump around the stage from the first beat to the last one. Or just dive into the crowd and appreciate all of us, who follow them tirelessly. Just as they are tirelessly putting themselves out there, to power us up with their music and energy. And that’s what made it the highlight of the day, even though they were not the headliner and playing just as the sun was setting down.
And so, we were preparing for the last day of Nova Rock. I was especially thrilled since one of my most favorite band was supposed to perform – Slash feat. Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators. And I just hoped that the rain cloud of bad sound that followed the bands throughout the festival will just disappear until they come up on the stage. As unfortunately, it did not for Ministry and Testament, bands which have history and great songs and yet they could not pull it off as desired. Thankfully, however, the sound technician was not sleeping behind his kit when SMKC came up on the stage.
The characteristic sound of Slash riffs filled out completely the space in front of the Blue stage as they began the show with The Call of the Wild from their third studio album Living the Dream. That combined with Myles Kennedy’s voice, which is, without doubt, one of the greatest in the music industry got chills up my arms. But on the other hand, as SMKC are absolutely perfect in clubs, I believe it is not that nice fit for festivals. It lacked energy even though it was amazing from the technical side of the music. Myles got to move around the stage with the mic stand in his hand and hit the notes perfectly. Still, the point where the show got a bit crazier was only when their bassist Todd Kerns took the mic and as always sang Slash’s song Dr. Alibi, originally sang by the late Lemmy Kilmister. Have to say, hearing Kerns sing that one song made me want much more. That dude has great voice himself and is just perfect as a backing vocalist for Kennedy.
The absolute dream of their whole set was however when instead of Myles singing By The Sword, song from Slash’s first solo album, they invited its original voice up on the stage, Andrew Stockdale from Wolfmother. Wolfmother got to play the Blue stage just before SMKC and I was wondering if they will do the one song together. Thankfully, they did, and it was just amazing performance. Andrew’s specific singing voice filled out the Pannonia fields completely, even when he was holding the mic nearly half a meter from his face. Such a strong, great voice and it really pumped up the show, which was lacking a bit of energy.
That was the fourth highlight of the festival for me. The crowd was yet again gathering much more for the main headliner of the day, the Berliners, the doctors – Die Ärzte. Punk band which is pretty known and big in Austria and Germany, but I was not familiar with them at all. Have to say that seeing what crowd gathered under the Blue stage I was not surprised that each year Nova Rock organizes are betting on German bands to lure all the fans to their festival.
It’s amazing that Nova Rock is that kind of the festival where you have nearly everything. Especially in the last few years it has been so. But it seems like Nova Rock is trying to get more on the mainstream side of the road and is not that hard, rock and metal festival that we were used to. Yeah, big crowds are great, trying out different types of music as well… But it is not quite the same. Yet, on the other hand, it seems like the fans do not really mind. And they can enjoy even DJs, like Paul Kalkbrenner, or rapper RIN playing the main stage.
Thankfully, this year Nova Rock with its lineup did not disappoint as last year. We got into the mashing pot of different styles and honestly, I am kinda getting used to it already. And still so much looking forward to it the whole year, even though it is not what it used to be. I was able to cross out few other names of my must-see bucket list – The Cure, The Smashing Pumpkins, Godsmack – and found out bands that I will be now for sure following and enjoying their live shows. But as everything is going through some kind of evolution, also Nova Rock has obviously its own. Whether it does make sense for some fans or not. It has become that kind of festival where no one blinks an eye when some singer-songwriters, rappers or DJs are playing on one stage while on the other is happening something hard and heavy.
And so, I am already looking forward to the next year. The lineup, the music, even the damn dust of Pannonia Fields. Let’s see what they will bring next.
text: Zuzana Tomkova