Nova Rock 2017 || Pannonia Fields, Austria || 14-17 June 2017
Review by Zuzana Tomková
If someone asks: “What is the best festival in Middle Europe?” what would be your answer? There are a lot of possible outcomes, no doubt one would have to think twice before deciding. But I know mine for sure very well. Nova Rock in Austria is my ultimate number one choice when it comes to summer festivals. Held every year on Pannonia fields nearly on the borders with Slovakia and Hungary, the festival is always full of metalheads that just know so damn well how to rock out. This time it was no different.
As soon as the final line up was announced it was clear that this year’s going to be marked by the return of the millennials to their musical childhood. Because with Linking Park, Good Charlotte, Blink-182, Green Day, System of a Down or Simple Plan as the biggest acts on the festival, there was no doubt under what flag the ship will be sailing. But more about that later. Let’s make it right by starting off with the first day of Nova Rock.
Kind of short and with just one stage, but nonetheless a great start for the incredible madness that followed. It happened a second time in a row that Nova Rock lasted for four days and started with just few bands on the list. This so-called warm-up day, however, quickly got the attention it surely deserved and it became a perfect kick off with even more perfect bands. The whole day was just buzzing with energy. From Joel O’Keeffe’s (Airbourne) dive between fans on the shoulders of his tour tech to sexual innuendos of the guys (gals?) of Steel Panther… There was no weird moment, nor a moment without laughter under and on the Blue stage.
However, what we were really looking forward to – aside from the absolute headliner of the evening, Linkin Park – was the American heavy metal band Five Finger Death Punch. Known for the stage stunts and crazy behavior of their frontman, Ivan Moody, the band was supposed to bring a great show to the Pannonia fields. At least, they were claiming so on the social sites after the fiasco in Tilburg, Netherlands. Some might have been expecting Ivan to get his shit together and perform on the stage with his bandmates without pulling some crazy stuff like the last time. But instead of this epic monkey with red handprint on his face, Tommy Vext came on stage. Not just singing two songs as the last time, but the whole set. However, despite the obvious let-down and the fact that vocally he is still far behind Ivan, the crowd took him in with arms wide open. I, personally, had a feeling that he was trying too hard to sound like the missing member, to fill the void. But still, he did a great job and the band made a very good choice in choosing Tommy.
So, it might have been a bit of a let-down at the beginning, but the end made up for it nicely. And the same was also with the headliner of the first day, Linkin Park. The band recently released a brand-new album, One More Light, which, as it was kind of expected, did not take all the glory. That could be felt and seen also during the first part of their set that was dedicated to performing the new “popish” stuff. Yes, Chester’s voice was at its best, as well as the energy he possesses was nearly touchable. But the crowd went crazy as hell, headbanging and actually enjoying the music not just seeing the band in the second part of their set, when they pulled out the best stuff they had up their sleeves. “What I’ve Done”, “Breaking the Habit” or “Bleed It Out”, as the notoriously known stuff was just what the crowd needed. I would say, thank god for that. Of course, Nova Rock people are just total sweethearts not giving a single damn when something goes wrong, but the atmosphere did change a great deal, that just needs to be said.
As I said at the beginning, the whole festival felt like getting back to the old times for some people. But those same guys enjoyed the other acts whose names resonated on the line up for the next few days. Metalcore bands like Architects, The Dillinger Escape Plan, A Day To Remember or melodic death metal band Avatar, whose stage performance is always an experience to watch. And not to mention Alter Bridge and Gojira, of course. Unfortunately, there is this one thing I really detest the most and I am sure I am not the only one. When the bands you really want to see are playing nearly at the same time and there is just no way you are moving from the damn front row. Then you, of course, have to choose between those two or just stay somewhere in the bar lounge drinking away your sorrow. I, as a serious working person at the festival (just kidding), refused to miss both of them. And at the end, the choice was not that hard, after all. Alter Bridge was it, the first time ever as well, the first row and the best view on Mark Tremonti shredding his guitar and making the weirdest faces ever. Yeah, this guy just knows how to make the photographers happy.
The music was great, as always. It is no doubt why Alter Bridge have one of the strongest fan base out there. They are modest guys who know how to give to the people what they do the best and enjoy every single minute of it. Which was seen during their set at Nova Rock as well. But, one thing I was kind of missing. It is not what makes the performance unforgettable, but it is the thing that adds up to it. Interaction with the fans I am talking about, of course. Maybe just one or two awkward jokes in which Myles Kennedy is the ultimate expert. But this cute elfling, as he became known on the social websites fan groups, doesn’t have to do anything at all, just play his guitar and sing absolutely beautifully to get the attention of the crowd for every single second of the entire set. My ears were seriously screaming with delight and the smile on my face said it all.
After Alter Bridge finished their set, the punk rockers moved to the Blue Stage and the prog-metal heads crossed the venue to the Red Stage where Mastodon were about to start their stage madness. Back on the Blue Stage was however something entirely different going on. Childhood memories resurfaced for some and surely for me when the Madden twins and Good Charlotte jumped on the stage and brought us back to the old days, when we were acting cool with crazy coloured hair. When you think about it, today is no different, maybe a bit more chilled. The clean vocals of Joel Madden did change a bit, though, as he was maybe trying to sound harsher or it was just a natural way of his singing evolution. Some said it did sound a bit odd, some however appreciated the nice harsh voice that partly reminded M. Shadows of Avenged Sevenfold. They, after all, even played their famous The River where Shads and Syn Gates are hosting. And the screaming of the ladies… if my ears were screaming with delight during Alter Bridge, now they were partly bleeding from the girly screams. Or maybe I was just standing too close to a group of reincarnated fourteen-year-olds. Still, Good Charlotte pulled an amazing show. The guys were not hiding their big appreciation for the crowd and if they did not thank us fifty times during the set, then not even once. It was seriously great to see and hear them and they definitely did not lose anything from their glory days.
The punk rockers surely waited also for the last act of the day on the Blue Stage, Blink-182. The band that took some years off the stage and closed the curtains reemerged again in 2009 and from then is going like a well-oiled machine. Which they also showed during their performance at Nova Rock and none of their fans were disappointed. But for those who are not that big fans of punk rock, there was another crazy thing going on the second Red Stage – In Flames and Slayer. The guys of In Flames are getting better and better every time I see them, and I have to admit that I like more of their current album with a bit of a softer side. Which might not be the cup of tea for everyone, but surely those who like it hard and heavy from the start to the end got what they wanted from Slayer that came up next and last on the Red Stage. If we were talking about a well-oiled machine before, Slayer is the synonym for such a thing. Those guys just do not know what a slow show means. And thank god for that.
Nova Rock is pretty known for a heavy line up from the first day to the last. Well known bands and all the big genres of metal and rock. However, this year was slightly different, which could be seen during the third day especially. The Red stage was for the third day full of alternative genres, some pop and hip-hop, with artists like SSIO, 187 Strassenbande and Beginner or electronic dance band Knife Party. A little bit of a turn from last year where this was not usual in the slightest. But I guess even such a festival as Nova Rock needs to move in a different direction a bit to address more people, more fans. Whether it is okay to just go with the flow is kind of questionable. But, well… that’s business. And we just probably need to appreciate what Nova Rock is bringing us. After all, Nova Rock is about bringing people and music together. So, whatever genre it is, it does not matter. Or in cases of some that are just hard-core metalheads, just try to avoid the bands you do not want to see. Great thing about the venue is that you cannot hear what is going on over on the next stage. And that is sometimes really helpful.
So, when the Red Stage was basically full of hip-hop and electronic genres, the Blue Stage, however, was moving on the waves of metalcore again. Sleeping with Sirens, Pierce the Veil and Of Mice & Man brought a great energy to the crowd that was expecting the highlights of the day – Kreator, Prophets of Rage and, of course, System of a Down.
Another band, that went on a hiatus for something more than three years and maybe some fans thought they will never see them live. Thank God for not giving up and reemerging again, guys from System of a Down, what a life would be without the toxicity of your music? Pretty boring, I assume. Not like the performance they gave us, though. That one was alive and loud, even though sometimes you could not hear Serj that well. Not because of his singing when you cannot make up a single word he is saying, but because Daron Malakian’s mic seemed to be clearer and louder. Despite that, hearing “Chop Suey!” or “Lonely Day” along with “Violent Pornography” and many, many other songs was an absolute blast. Their set was thirty songs long that they managed to ram into something less than two hours. That didn’t give that much space for the interaction with their fans, but whatever… the music made up for it more than greatly.
And just like that, the third day was gone. The fourth was ahead of us starting, as it is a tradition already, with Wendi’s Blasmusik – a traditional Austrian folk group. So, what do you need to give to metalheads to bang on this kind of music as well? Lots of free beer. The people went just crazy, showing things they would usually not show and just freaking out in the moshpits on folk music. This is what Nova Rock is about. The not-giving-a-fuck, the music, the energy. That is just something you need to experience.
The line up on both stages was for this final day a bit more diverse. I, unfortunately, could not be there for the most part due to unforeseen transportation issues, but at least I got to see the best part. Epica, with the always breathtakingly beautiful Simone Simons, did not give us something less than their usual. Simone was hitting the highest notes with ease and the guys were obviously really enjoying themselves on the stage. The piano magician Coen Janssen even took his rounded keyboard and did a bit of a crowd surfing without missing a beat. Some crazy musicians are those guys, especially when they can feel the energy that lives inside their crowd and they want to experience it directly, not just from the stage.
Hatebreed showed that they have a lot to give, especially if the fans are giving back and those Nova Rock guys certainly were. You could not even feel the exhaustion of the fourth day anymore, but even if there was some, it would quickly go away as Green Day jumped on the Blue Stage – or at least a huge pink bunny first, then the guys. They seriously know how to start a show and picking “Bohemian Rhapsody” was probably the greatest choice of all time. What could spin the blood in our veins better than the high and low notes of one Freddie Mercury? The guys from Green Day jumped in with such an energy you would never say that could last for the whole concert. But it really did, from the beginning to the end they gave us everything, with their hearts on their palms, their thoughts screaming into the crowd, calling to end racism, homophobia, and to stop Donald Trump. And who could not be a better advocate for such a message than Green Day? Some might not be big fans of musicians not minding their own business when it comes to politics. But in this case I gave them huge thumbs up for not being afraid to speak their minds. What is the worst thing that could happen after all? Being called a fake band? Most probably.
The end of Nova Rock 2017 was quickly approaching. But I guess no one was really aware of that, especially not those guys who were pulled on the stage by Billie Joe, with one of them even receiving his guitar as a gift. Crazy, crazy stuff, but this is what we live for. But the whole festival was soon wrapped up and by none other than the Hoff and his stage divas in latex. The perfect ending to a perfect festival, even though for some the absolute fun was just starting. When you have no more bands you do not want to miss during the day and still can find your own tent later, then the huge party tent was indeed your temporary stay.
Nova Rock 2017 officially ended with the traditional huge fireworks display. A jaw-dropping sky performance was a nice finale after four long days full of music, beer, dust and laughter. And it somehow made a promise of returning the next year. I am definitely coming. So, how about you?