When The Struts were booked for the festival, I hardly knew a thing about the band. I knew that singer Luke Spiller sang on Mike Oldfield’s latest, brilliant album Man On The Rocks (2014), but I hadn’t heard a single note of that band. It was only recently when I turned on the radio in my car and got my ass kicked by a song called “Kiss This”. The DJ enlightened me that the band doing the song was called The Struts and that they were British. I had to have that album because if you can write a killer tune like “Kiss This”, there’s not a risk in Hell that the rest of the album would suck. The album, Everybody Wants, didn’t suck, not one bit – it’s a fantastic album and the band’s brand of 70’s rock ‘n’ roll, pop, glam and hard rock with their influences from bands such as Rolling Stones, Queen, The Faces, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin and David Bowie, they just can’t go wrong live. So, from being a band that I probably wouldn’t have made any big efforts to see, they went to a must-see for me. Of course, the band clashed somewhat with Halestorm’s gig – another must-see for me – which was a bummer, but since The Struts started 15 minutes before Halestorm, I got the chance to watch half of both band’s gigs. Not a premium situation but it was the best I could do. And let me tell ya, even though every member except for Spiller is somewhat anonymous, this band kicks up some major dust live. The groove and the swing is evident and really in your face and to not at least stomp your feet to their music, you can’t have an inch of rhythm in your whole body. Also, Luke Spiller really owns the stage – the guy is the perfect mix of Freddie Mercury, Mick Jagger, David Bowie and Rod Stewart with very personal voice on top that – and I have no doubts what so ever that I had just watch a new super star. With sweaty, catchy, groovy, rocking tunes like “Roll Up”, “These Times Are Changing”, “Dirty Sexy Money”, “It Could Been Me” and of course the mighty “Kiss This”, there was no way this band could lose. Fact, The Struts made one of the festival’s best gigs and I bloody hate that I had to cut their set short. On another note, I just have to mention how funny their name looks in reading for us Swedes, see, struts means ostrich in Swedish… Funny ostrich name or not, please come back quickly. I need to see this band in action again soon.
The second band of the day that I had never seen live before. It took me a while to get into Halestorm as their radio singles were never to my liking – at first. It was first when I by accident listened to their second album The Strange Case Of… (2012) in my fiance’s car that I found out just what f**king brilliant band Halestorm are. Which kinda reminds me that I still haven’t heard their 2009 self-titled debut album. Anyway, I call myself a fan now and this was one gig I didn’t want to miss. But due to the very annoying The Struts clash, I missed the three first songs “Apocalyptic”, “Love Bites” and (half of) “Scream”, but it only took me half-way into “I Am The Fire” to realize that this would be another one of the festival’s highlights. Just to prove their point, they floored me (us all, I reckon) with “Sick Individual”, “It’s Not You”, “Mz Hyde”, “Amen” and the heavy ballad “Unapologetic”. I was a bit worried that the big festival stage might just be a bit too much for Halestorm to handle, especially as front woman Lzzy Hale is locked to her guitar, but I needn’t have worried one bit. See, miss Hale is a phenomenal entertainer who can work an audience without even trying. Her voice is also so powerful it hurts and when in the monstrous “I Like It Heavy” she screams “Hallelujah motherfucker take me to church”, I fall in love. Kinda. Also, being the metal chick she really is, to use a cocktail dress as stage wear is just so unbelievably cool. With a white Gibson Explorer attached to her body and the pure power and conviction and the love for music and performing she radiates, her charisma makes her so amazingly shit hot. There’s nothing phony or thought out about this woman, every ounce of her is rock ‘n’ roll! Drum solos can take the edge of any gig – especially at a festival when all you want to do is to rock out, but Lzzy’s drumming brother Arejay managed to make a short and entertaining solo. Good job. The ending with “Freak Like Me” and “I Miss The Misery” made this gig a victorious one for the band. The only thing I was a bit disappointed with – but I must admit this is extremely far-fetched, so “disappointed” isn’t really the right word – was that Sixx A.M.’s singer James Michael didn’t join the band for a version of the superb ballad “Private Parts” where he and Lzzy sings a duet. I know it’s not one of Halestorm’s biggest songs (it’s actually only a bonus track, but it should have been a single, as far as I’m concerned, that song is single material), but it would have been a cool thing to do as Sixx A.M. is at the festival. Never mind my babbling – Halestorm were without a doubt one of the highlights of this festival.
Since Sixx A.M. released their debut album The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack (2007) they have quickly become a new favorite band for me. With their fourth album, the newly released Prayers For The Damned Vol 1, Sixx A.M. released their fourth killer record and when I say that I yet have to hear a bad Sixx A.M. song, I’m not lying or even exaggerating – they haven’t written one single bad song on four albums!!! So to say that I had looked forward to their gig is to put things mildly – and then some. The thing is, for the two first records, Sixx A.M. were just a studio project as Nikki Sixx was busy with Mötley Crüe, guitarist D.J. Ashba was a member of Axl N’ Roses and singer James Michael had a career as a song writer and producer, but since Ashba quit Axl’s band and Sixx finished off the last ever tour with the Crüe, the guys could now fully concentrate on being a real band – now completed by drummer Dustin Seinke and backup singers Amber Vansbuskirk and Melissa Harding. The fact that I have waited for a live gig with these guys since 2011’s amazingly great This Is Gonna Hurt of course makes for a big risk of getting disappointed. I mean, even though I have never heard this band live, I walked into the crowd with some huge expectations. They were only halfway through opener “This Is Gonna Hurt” when I realized that Sixx A.M. wouldn’t leave me disappointed one bit. The song is a punch in the gut and with a real drummer (instead of the machines they used on their two first albums), the tune just get more meaty. First single of the new album “Rise” follows and it’s another jawbreaker, heavy but catchy as hell and a real crowd pleaser. The same with the two following newies “When We Were Gods” and “Everything Went To Hell”, to favorites of mine and it was really cool to see how many in the crowd knew the songs. Think Muse go pop-metal and you get “Live Forever”. It’s a brilliant uptempo rocker that works like a charm live. Ballads on festivals is always taking a chance / risk – if they don’t work, the whole gig could fall then and there. But when James Michael sits down in front of the keyboard and gives us “Skin” you have to be a cold-hearted mean machine not become moved by it. It’s a fabulously beautiful song and with the addition of the rest of the band at the end of the song, it’s clearly one of the show’s winners. “Dead Man’s Ballet” is also on the ballad side of things and even though I think it worked really well, it didn’t rock everyone in the crowd. But “Prayers For The Damned” did exactly that. it’s a heavy and dark tune and it kicked some major ass this fine day. The very Muse influenced pop rocker “Goodbye My Friends” and the brilliant should-have-been-a-big-hit “Lies Of The Beautiful People” better the action and with those the whole gig was back on track again. The album Modern Vintage (2014) got a mixed reception from both fans and press so it was really cool to see that “Stars” – a fantastic tune – worked really well. If I could decide I would have made them play “Gotta Get It Right” from that album as well. Then came “Rise Of The Melancholy Empire”. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great song and the message is bulls-eye, but it’s a dark, slow, long and epic track and maybe at Sixx A.M.’s own gig, later in the evening in an indoors arena it would have worked great, but it didn’t this late noon – I just don’t think it’s a festival type of song. But, it’s not like the song ruined the whole gig – far from it. When the last song of the gig and Sixx A.M.’s biggest hit “Life Is Beautiful” bursted loose everyone were at their feet again – the song can really kick a crowd into shape. I think Sixx A.M. played a killer gig even though there were a couple of things that could have been better. First of all, the sound. At times the rest of the instruments drowned in Sixx’s bass and it was a thing that the sound engineer really couldn’t work around for some reason. And they should have left “Rise Of The…” out. It’s a long song, over seven minutes and they could have made room for an extra song instead – an uptempo one. Other than that, no complaints from this guy. A great gig and I’m so happy to finally have seen Sixx A.M. live. Can’t wait til the next time.
For quite a while I was under the impression that Shinedown were nothing else than one of those thirteen a dozen stereotype mainstream radio-metal bands, soulless, boring and without even a hint of identity. Where I got that idea from, I’m not sure, but I had probably heard half a song or something with them on the radio and decided there and then what to think. Then someone played me “Devour” from their 2008 album The Sound Of Madness and I loved it so much I checked out the album only to be completely floored by the quality. Today, I almost feel ashamed for what I thought of the band back then. With two more records under their belt since that album that turned me around, I can proudly call myself a Shinedown fan (who yet have to take a listen to their two first albums…) and this was yet another band I had looked forward so much to catch live. And finally Sweden Rock Festival came around and booked them. The band kicked off with the opening track from their latest album Threat To Survival, “Asking For It” and even though the band seemed a bit “off” at first, the audience picks up on the groove on the spot. Two early songs, “Fly From The Inside” and “Diamond Eyes”, follows and since I’m not familiar with them I can’t really grasp them, but the songs are good and I thought to myself that I really have to check out their early stuff. The crowd seemed to know them, judging by the reaction. “If You Only Knew” slows things down for a bit, too early in the set if you ask me, but it is a great pop song and I really dig it and they brought it home so I’m really good with that anyway. It’s with “Sweet Tooth Cyanide Suicide” that the gig picks up the action for real. Suddenly the band is firing on all cylinders and the crowd picks up on that directly and after that there was no turning back. “Unity” and “Enemies”, both from the last album Amaryllis, are both rock radio hits and since they’re both heavy and catchier than a VD, the band hit a home run. The first ballad of the gig “I’ll Follow You” follows and here I got my first goose bumps. The chorus is nothing short of amazing and there was really loud singing along by the crowd. But the finest moment of the gig have to be the latest album’s first single “Cut The Cord”. The song is both hard, direct and so catchy it hurts. To hear the whole crowd scream the song’s title in the chorus made the hairs on my arms stand up – fan-bloody-tastic! I had never heard the next song, “45” off the debut album, before but I was so worked up by then, it felt like I knew the song inside out. I HAVE to check out their earlier albums! “Devour” more or less brought the gig into climax before “Second Chance” slowed things down with the second – and last – ballad of the gig, but the tune is big, fat and crowd-pleasing so it didn’t matter – people were singing along wherever I looked. One of the most emotional moments of the concert was the acoustic cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man”. Now, I’m not a Skynyrd-fan and this particular song isn’t a song I have even noticed that much before, but Shinedown’s version is superb. It also shows what an awesome singer Brent Smith really is – awesome! When the band finished with “Sound Of Madness” it was as winners. There have been many discussions about which bands that has the capacity to take over when all the big “dinosaurs” such as Whitesnake, Scorpions, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Kiss calls it quits – I truly believe that the more modern bands like Halestorm, Sixx A.M. and Shinedown have every possibility to do so. Despite the somewhat laid-back opening of this gig, this was a bloody great gig.
QUEEN + ADAM LAMBERT
I must admit that I wasn’t fully convinced about Queen’s liaison with American Idol singer Adam Lambert would cut it as headliners at the festival. I have always loved Queen and I’m so sad that I never got the chance to see them in their prime with Freddie Mercury – or John Deacon for that matter – but the fact that Brian May and Roger Taylor have chosen an American Idol participant as their new lead singer have always left a sour taste in my mouth. See, I just can’t stand those Idol things. To me, an artist that is true to him / herself takes the long route, works hard and goes their own way in the quest for stardom. To me, going on Idol is nothing more than trying to take a shortcut and letting some TV producer decide for you what should look like and how you should sound, to me they’re nothing but puppets in the hands of the TV-producers. Also, I often get the feeling that many of the participants are more interested in becoming famous than being musicians – some of them would might as well go on Big Brother or whatever reality show is popular at the time, just to become famous of some kind. Of course, I know that’s not the case with everyone involved, but I still believe Idol does more harm to music than good. So I wasn’t too aroused by this booking at first. On the other hand, parts of me just couldn’t wait to see May and Taylor perform all those classics on stage again. Besides, I have seen clips of them playing with Lambert and the guy sure has the voice – and then some. Well, it only took seconds of the brilliant opener “One Vision” for me to surrender. It sounded awesome and Lambert really removed all Idol thoughts from my head. So when the second song, the fat, groovy rocker “Hammer To Fall” came along, I was already won over and I don’t think anything could have ruined this night for me. I thought I would miss Mercury a lot on the old killer “Seven Seas Of Rhye” but Lambert really nailed it and who in their right mind can deny the brilliance of “Stone Cold Crazy”, when Queen goes metal on us? Not me anyway. “Another One Bites The Dust” (should be the theme song for 2016, really…) have never been a favorite of mine and frankly I wouldn’t have missed it had it not been played, but the whole frame of this evening made me helpless to it, I just had to groove along. “Fat Bottomed Girls”, on the other hand, I have always loved hard and to finally hear it live made me 15 again, I screamed the chorus on the top of my lungs – what a winner. “Play The Game” is a bit of a bagatelle so for me it was a good chance for me to remove some beer out of my body. Back in time for the amazing “Killer Queen”, another song I associate a lot with Mercury, and yet again Lambert really shows what a great singer and performer he is – hats off.
“Don’t Stop Me Now” and “Somebody To Love” both made me smile like crazy and in the latter, Lambert once again showed us what a killer voice he has. Brian May takes over the vocals for the amazingly beautiful “Love Of My Life” and the now white-haired guitarist just nails the piece in every way. Roger Taylor takes over the mike for “A Kind Of Magic” and he does it well, but this isn’t one of my fave Queen tracks even though it sounded really good this night. And unfortunately the next few songs – “Under Pressure” (damn you Vanilla Ice for ruining it!), “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and “I Want To Break Free” – are all songs that are disposable. They are all ok songs but Queen has written so many better songs than those. But a phenomenal version of the rocker “I Want It All” comes to the rescue and we’re back on track again. Brian May’s own “Lost Horizon” is a good song and all, but another Queen song would have been preferable and May’s guitar solo also steals valuable time for another Queen song. It was a good solo, though. But “Tie Your Mother Down” kicks things into motion again and this kick-ass rocker is one of Queen’s best songs, in my book. “Bohemian Rhapsody” is always a bit awkward to play live with its big orchestration and opera singing and Queen have always used backing tracks for it. This time Freddie Mercury showed up on the big screen behind the band and what do you know, they pulled it off – I loved it! I can’t stand “Radio Ga Ga”, always had and always will – it’s a ridiculous song, but tonight even I sing along to it – I couldn’t help myself, they did it so well. And that’s the end of the main set. But of course they come back in and when the crowd sang the chorus to “We Will Rock You”, it must a have been heard for miles and the same must be said for the last song “We Are The Champions”. Both songs might have been played to death by now, but I had goosebumps. A perfect ending on an – almost – perfect concert. For the band’s performances, I would give this a 10/10, but for me, there were too many songs that I don’t care for at all played – and there was too many killers left out. “I’m In Love With My Car”. “Innuendo”. “Sheer Heart Attack”. “Now I’m Here”. “Death On Two Legs”. “Keep Yourself Alive”. “Bicycle Race”. “Let Me Entertain You”. “Spread Your Wings”. I mean, just take a look at those titles and compare them to “Another One Bites The Dust”, “I Want To Break Free” and “Radio Ga Ga” – they don’t even play in the same league. That said, the guys played a killer show, and Adam, never mind my Idol comments above – you’re an artist by your own standard and you rawk!
I have been a King Diamond fan forever – or at least it feels like it. But in reality, I was a somewhat late Diamond bloomer. I have loved Mercyful Fate’s albums Melissa (1983) and Don’t Break The Oath (1984) since they came out, but when the King went solo, it took me quite a while to fully appreciate his music. Where Mercyful Fate were a more direct heavy metal band, King Diamond’s music are far more complicated and many times pretty weird. It’s not exactly Top 40 music, let’s put it that way. It took me all the way into 1990 and the album The Eye – still my favorite K.D. record – for me to get what he and his band is were all about. Sure, it is King’s most easy listening record, but it did bring me in the right direction and when I gave his old records another shot, I realized what I had missed for all those years. Partly, that’s the reason for King Diamond’s appearance at Sweden Rock Festival 2012 why it was my first King Diamond concert ever – and I loved it. So when it was clear that King was booked for this year’s festival, it was Hallelujah (sic) time for me. Even though I’m not a big fan of all the `play an album in its entirety´ thing that is so popular nowadays, I had no problem with the fact that King Diamond would play Abigail (1987) that way on the tour he’s out on now. Besides, I knew that the band would play other songs as well, so I was really looking forward to this gig. As usual when it comes to the King and his entourage, the show is nothing short of pure brilliance and I would recommend everyone to catch a King Diamond show at least once, no matter if you like the music or not. Also, with a band like King’s – Andy Laroque and Mike Wead on guitars, Pontus Egberg on bass and Matt Thompson on drums – it’s also crystal clear that the musical performances will be – to put it mildly – totally faultless. In the end, it’s all up to King himself to make sure that the gig doesn’t falter. After the intro “Out Of The Asylum”, they open the show brilliantly with “Welcome Home” from Them (1988) and everything just falls into place right away. King sounds splendid and the band is tight as Hell and they keep the magic up with the awesome “Sleepless Nights” from Conspiracy (1989) followed by “Halloween”, easily the best track from the somewhat uneven debut Fatal Portrait (1986) and I’m in Heaven – or better yet – Hell! “Eye Of The Witch”, the only song off The Eye he seems to wanna play live, follows and as always, this song is one of the highlights for me. Boy, I can’t wait until 2020 when The Eye turns 30. Maybe then we’ll get the whole album live then. But enough of that. The main set finishes with two Mercyful Fate tunes, the excellent “Melissa” and the even more excellent “Come To The Sabbath”, where the latter is one of the best songs King Diamond has ever recorded – a K.D. / Mercyful Fate gig isn’t complete without it. The instrumental “Them” works as a small outro for the first set and when the Abigail set gets going, it kicks off with the “Funeral” intro, of course, before the opener “Arrival” kicks things into motion followed by “A Mansion In Darkness” and it sounds terrific. “The Family Ghost” has almost become a K.D. hit, if you can use the word “hit” when it comes to this lot, but a classic it is and rightfully so. “The 7th Day Of July 1777”, “Omens”, “The Possession” and “Abigail” follows right off the bat before the brilliant “Black Horsemen” finishes the whole thing with “Insanity” as the outro when the band walks off stage. For once “the whole album in its entirety” really works and the band really nails it, but I can’t help getting the feeling that there are songs missing when you do this. Also, the sound on Lemmy Stage isn’t alway all that either even though K.D.’s sound guys managed to get a hold of the situation. It’s great to hear that King still nails it vocally and the band behind him is really great. Hopefully, this little freak show still has many years left in it to entertain the Hell out of us.
Photos by Hanna Henrikson