Thursday 7th June 2018

CRAZY LIXX
4Sound Stage

When the unexpected bye-bye from guitarists Andreas “Zata” Eriksson and Edd Liam came after their brilliant self-titled album in 2015, I wondered whether Crazy Lixx would rise once again. After all, the band have had its fair share of setbacks with members walking out of the band after each album. Luckily enough original members, singer Danny Rexon and drummer Joel Cirera with long-standing bassist Jens Sjöholm decided it was not the right time to call it a day and they recruited two new guitarists in Chrisse Olsson and Jens Lundgren and recorded Ruff Justice, one helluva beast of an album. For me, this gig was the first time for me to catch the new line-up in a live environment and since I have seen the band on numerous occasions before I know that Crazy Lixx are a bad-ass live act so my expectations were pretty high. Crazy Lixx played early, 11.30, which made them the first band out. But it was a beautiful day and it was only the second day of the festival so they got themselves a pretty big crowd to entertain. But it just took a short while into opening track “Wild Child” from the new album to realize that the Lixxers hadn’t lost squat and that they are as vital as ever. “Hell Raising Women” is a fat, heavy sleaze rocker that’s made for the stage and the poppy catchiness of “XIII” is a damn crowd pleaser. Three songs in, Crazy Lixx we’re more than warmed up and they way it looked this could have been a stadium gig instead of an early gig at SRF’s smaller stages. “Rock And A Hard Place” is an Arena Rock groover that kicks butt which was proven by the reaction of the crowd and the AOR smoothness of “Blame It On Love” worked like a charm. When the band ended with their youth anthem “21 Til I Die”, I spontaneously felt that Lixx had won. To me, I can’t get it through my head that Crazy Lixx aren’t bigger than they are. Could it be the name? That they play in the wrong rock genre? Well, that could be discussed till the end of days but the fact is that they played a great gig and the new members are damn good and I hope we have lots of more albums and concerts to look forward to from these guys.

BATTLE BEAST
Sweden Stage

Their name is probably among the most cheesy band-names in Metal and one of the reasons it took me a long time to even bother checking them out. But when I did, I found a band that mixed Heavy Metal with punchy and über-catchy pop melodies and refrains, with heavy and aggressive Metal, something that in their case is a marriage made in heaven (hell?). I discovered the band with their Unholy Savior (2015) album and have since then wanting to catch the band live so this booking was something I had looked forward to. So in broad daylight Battle Beast took the stage and delivered one hell of an opening with “Straight To The Heart”, “Bringer Of Pain” and the Bon Jovi goes Metal stomper “Familiar Hell” (that refrain, folks. That effing refrain!!) and already by then, the band stood as winners with the crowd in their hands. When “Black Ninja” came on it felt like all hell would break loose and a stripped ballad like “Far From Heaven” went down much better than I had expected. I actually didn’t think that a band like Battle Beast would even consider playing a ballad at a festival so kudos to that. The slow grooved and pounding “Lost In Wars” gave the crowd a fist-in-the-air moment and “Bastard Son Of Odin” might be too cheesy for comfort lyrically but it worked like a charm this noon. Battle Beast also brings on pure pop songs like “Touch In The Night” and “King For A Day” that sounds like they were brought in directly from a 1986 pop chart. Doesn’t matter, the crowd ate those up without hesitation. As a band, all focus is on singer Noora Louhimo who brings on an enormous stage presence and a voice that could move mountains. Live or studio doesn’t matter, she delivers a powerful and broad range in both environments without missing a note. Impressive. The rest of the band are really good players but a bit anonymous and disappears some behind their singer, but it really doesn’t matter when you have a front woman in that caliber. To me, Battle Beast was a big success. Well done.

AVATARIUM
4Sound Stage

The last time Avatarium played SRF, I missed them. Not because they clashed with another band I wanted to see more, not because I couldn’t be arsed, not because I didn’t like the band – it was because for some reason the word got around that they had cancelled in the eleventh hour. But it was all a misunderstanding, it was only bass player and founder Leif Edling that had cancelled and been replaced by a stand-in for that gig. What a fucking bummer! Well, this year I wasn’t going to miss a second of their gig because even though I’m not that big on Doom Metal, I freakin’ love Avatarium – all three of their records. So this booking was something I had looked forward to for a long time. Not to make this a gender issue but the dynamics do change when you have a female front person and one thing I love with Avatarium is the fact that they have not only a female vocalist in Jennie Ann Smith but also the fact that she’s got a broad range, a personal sound and phrasing which brings volumes of originality to the band’s sound. The opening with “Into The Fire / Into The Storm” is brilliant and it’s not hard to see that the members are all fired up for the gig – hell, guitar virtuoso Marcus Jidell even kneels when it’s time for his solo, something I don’t think I’ve seen him do before. To play a slow and even soft at times song like “Pearls And Coffins” as the second song is a brave move but it totally works and the more upbeat “The Girl With The Raven Mask” gets the crowd going on the spot. “Medusa Child” might be a 9 minute long progressive doom ace but it doesn’t feel like that at all. The song works brilliantly from the stage and is another winner. When the band finishes with “Avatarium”, I can only state that I have witnessed one of the finest gigs so far – and as it turned out one of the best gigs of the festival. Awesomely tight with all great musicians and with Smith at the front, not moving too much but with an almost hippie-laden move pattern, Avatarium proved they sure is a great live act and not just a studio project. If they come to concert hall near you, do not miss them!

GLENN HUGHES
Festival Stage

I haven’t seen Glenn Hughes live in ages. The last time he played SRF, I missed him for reason I can’t really remember now. It’s weird though because I have always been a big fan of Hughes, both as a singer and the tunes he have performed on through his very long career. With a fairly new solo album under his belt (Resonate, 2016) which was his best in many years and a brand new Black Country Communion album, also damn awesome, it kinda felt a bit strange that he have chosen to go out on the road playing only old Deep Purple songs. Not that I mind, the Hughes/Coverdale (and even Tommy Bolin) version of Deep Purple is damn brilliant, just as brilliant as the Mk II one – only different. So yeah, this time I would not miss out on a Glenn Hughes gig at SRF. Taking the stage, looking like it was the 70’s with long hair, huge sideburns and body that surely must have lost some weight, Hughes looked just ravishing. Opening with the closest thing to Metal that Purple ever went, “Stormbringer”, Hughes and his band that featured Danish guitarist Sören Andersen – damn what a brilliant player – set the standard for the gig. “Might Just Take Your Life” and “Sail Away”, two songs I never thought I’d get to hear live, followed and by now, I’m in Classic Rock Heaven! “Mistreated” might be David Coverdale’s shining star but Hughes do manage to make it his own and I’m once again blown away. “You Keep On Moving” is a slow bluesy ballad and maybe not ideal for a festival when the sun is up and people are ready to party but again, it bloody damn well works. Why on Earth Hughes feel that he have to play “Smoke On The Water” and “Highway Star” is beyond me as he didn’t have anything to do with creating those songs. To me, this was the only dip – if that’s the right word – on his set. Damn, Glenn, there are so many songs from your era to play that I feel it’s a waste of time to play two songs that Deep Purple still plays at every gig. The ending with “Burn” is phenomenal, though, and I can’t think of any better song to end a gig of this caliber. This gig was easily one of the highlights of the festival but I need to state that instead of the MK II songs, bring on a couple of MK III or MK IV ones. There are a lot of goodies there to treat us with.

HELLOWEEN – PUMPKINS UNITED
Rock Stage

My relationship with Helloween is like a double – or triple – edged sword. I don’t like their debut album Walls Of Jericho at all. The production stink, I can’t stand Kai Hansen’s vocals and quite frankly, the songs aren’t very good. I love the Michael Kiske years, though – even though Pink Bubbles Go Ape is uneven and Chameleon doesn’t sound like Helloween one bit. Most of the Andi Deris era is a shrug of my shoulder – don’t hate it, don’t love it, it just is. Good without impressing me except for The Dark Ride and their last two albums. That’s why I really loved the idea of the Pumpkins United tour. That SRF would book them was a no-brainer! So, the fact that I would get to see Michael Kiske and Kai Hansen back with Helloween was a real treat, the rest I could do without, no offense to Deris. I know his era of the band have got a lot of fans and the guy is damn good singer, I’m just not that into those albums. Opening up with parts of “Halloween” that went right into the pop-metal of “Dr Stein” with “I’m Alive” following was nothing but killer. I like “Waiting For The Thunder” from the Deris era but tonight it was a bit of a bracket and the following Walls Of Jericho medley was a chance to take a leak and to fill up with another brewsky. Luckily enough I was back in time for the brilliant classic “A Little Time” which was followed by two Deris tunes, “If I Could Fly” and “Power”, none of which were bad but I just kept waiting for the Kiske-classics. “How Many Tears” is one of the few Jericho tunes that I dig and it sounded damn good tonight but it paled besides the following “Eagle Fly Free” and the snippet of “Keeper Of The Seven Keys” which ended the set. As an encore we got the awesome “Future World” and that “I Want Out” would end the set wasn’t a surprise at all and the place totally exploded. To kick out huge pumpkin balloons was a really fun thing to do and typical Helloween humour – I think everybody dug that. To use several singers – yes, Kai Hansen sang too – was a great thing to do, it meant that Deris wouldn’t be left out but what was a bit surprising was that both Kiske and Deris sang parts of each other’s tunes. At first I wasn’t really comfortable with it – I wanted to hear Kiske sing his own tunes by himself – but it grew on me and I think that idea was really cool. This was a great gig and it was awesome to see Kiske and Hansen back where they belong – in Helloween. What I wouldn’t give for them to record a new album together.

IRON MAIDEN
Festival Stage

The fact that Iron Maiden would ever play SRF was something I never thought would happen. Why? Well, first of all, they don’t need to. Maiden are huge and sells more tickets themselves than the tickets sold at SRF. Second, I thought they’d be way too expensive to book. But I’m glad they did because even though I have always been a Maiden fan, I haven’t seen them live since 2000. Why again? Well, because I have lost a bit of interest, to be honest. I love their eighties, but I hate their 90’s, especially the Blaze albums and I just don’t think that they have recorded enough great records since the reunion with Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith. Only A Matter Of Life And Death have been great, Brave New World and The Book Of Souls were both good albums but only good. So I just haven’t bothered and haven’t felt it was worth to spend lots of money on them. Since I always visit SRF, it was a great chance to finally catch Iron Maiden in action again – and since so many have told me that their recent gig a Tele2 Arena in Stockholm was a real killer I was creating some high expectations in my head. The opening with “Churchill’s Speach” that went right into “Aces High” put me in a time machine right back to 1985 and their World Slavery Tour that resulted in the Live After Death double live album, an album I have always loved. And Maiden sounded good – real bloody good. The following “Where Eagles Dare” and “Two Minutes To Midnight” send me back into teenager mode and I wondered why the hell I hadn’t visited their concerts in 18 bloody years. But I was put back to Earth again after that when “The Clansman” raised its ugly head. A Blaze song. Thanks. Sure, it sounds lots better with Bruce at the mike and it’s not a totally useless song, but it’s not that great either. There are shitloads of songs that they could have played instead.

But things came to an up again with “The Trooper” and the fantastic “Revelations”. The latter is one of my fave Maiden songs and I’m thankful they put it into their set as it wasn’t played at Tele2 only days before. “For The Greater Good” is one of their newer songs that I really, really like so to get to hear it live for the first time was a real treat – and it went down like crazy as well. I know that “The Wickerman” have one of the most crowd pleasing choruses you can think of but I have always found the song pretty weak. But it did its job, it got the audience going nuts and I think the whole crowd chanted “your time has come” right there and then so I guess I’m ok with it anyway. I’m not ok with “Sign Of The Cross”, though – another Blaze track. I think it sucks and what time could be better to go and find some cold beverages? I actually made it to the toilet as well. Back in time for “Flight Of Icarus” that made everything better and the Blaze debacle was forgotten in a second and “Fear Of The Dark” – a brilliant song from a weak album – is a must in their set. “The Number Of The Beast” turned SRF into Heavy Metal mayhem and closing track “Iron Maiden” ended the gig on a high. How brilliant!

First encore, the fantastic “The Evil That Men Do” was followed by the even more brilliant “Hallowed Be Thy Name” and by now every hair on my body stood up – magic was being made right there and then. “Run To The Hills” might have over stayed its welcome when it comes to the radio stations but live it’s just as much of a must as “Rock And Roll All Nite” for Kiss or “Smoke On The Water” for Deep Purple – it would feel wrong not get to hear it live. And it sounded so good I totally forgot that I had grown tired of it ten years ago. Then goodbye and goodnight. Iron Maiden left me smiling and I don’t know if I have ever seen and heard them sounding this good before – what a killer gig. Sure, I can’t for the world think of a reason why they feel the need to bring on those crappy Blaze-tunes when they have a treasure chest full of classics they could have played instead. But you can’t have it all and tonight Maiden came, saw and conquered. I for one will not sit at home the next time the visit Swedish soil – one of the best gigs of SRF 2018 without a doubt!

H.E.A.T.
Sweden Stage

I love H.E.A.T. Since Erik Grönwall joined the band, they have put out killer after killer when it comes to records and live, this band is a beast – Grönwall is easily one of the best frontmen I have ever witnessed and he’s got an amazing voice to go with that. I’ve seen the band on numerous occasions and they have never let me down – not even close. So no matter how many times I have seen them play, to miss them when they play SRF is simply not an option. Last time I saw them was at Rock City Stockholm in May where they had replaced the cancelling Joe Lynn Turner and even though the crowd was small they rocked the place like it was a full Madison Square Garden so when I headed down to Sweden Stage after Iron Maiden had kicked our asses right into next week, my expectations were on a high. When we got there they had just opened with “Bastard Of Society” and I immediately felt there was something wrong. The sound was horrible. It was low, without any punch and it sounded like I listened to my neighbours playing a CD or something. What gives?? Ok, the sound guy will work it out, I thought. “Late Night Lady”, “Mannequin Show” and “Redefined” followed. The sound guy didn’t work it out. Nothing happened. H.E.A.T. themselves were on their usual high and Grönwall was his usual bundle of energy, so I guess everything sounded ok on stage. I wanted to wait it out a bit more. “Heartbreaker”, “Shit City” and “Beg Beg Beg” with an insert of “Whole Lotta Love” and “Piece Of My Heart” tried to rock us. Nothing. I stayed for “Tearing Down The Walls” before I gave up. What happened? Was their sound guy drunk? On crack? Was he even there? Whatever he did, he ruined what could have been – and probably would have been – one of the finest gigs of the festival. H.E.A.T. is a band that I believe could be a future SRF headliner but they need to take it to the next step now, they have been playing Sweden Stage for years and it’s time for an upgrade but that won’t happen if they put on a show and people can’t hear them play properly. What a shame.

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