We give Skeletonwitch a miss because frankly, they're shit, but after a quick dash back to the tent for a couple of beers (I yearned for a good pint of ale several times during the festival – damn the outdated and pesky German beer purity laws), we see the immense Atlantean Kodex. Playing a solid mixture of material from their two albums, peaking with their eponymous song before closing with 'Pilgrim', the performance is about as metal as you can get. As impressive as Markus Becker's vocal performance is on record, it is only live that one can truly witness the power and emotion of his singing. Do not miss any chance to see them.
I can't remember if we saw Grave, but if we did, I can't remember anything of the set, so Entombed AD are the next band I can discuss. Their performance is poor, the new material being as lifeless and dull as it is on record, and classics such as 'Revel in Flesh' and 'Supposed to Rot' being butchered not only by key rhythmic changes, but also by LG Petrov's awful quasi-melodic recent approach to death metal vocals.
I'm not a fan of Sólstafir on record, finding them stuck in that awkward medium where they either need to add riffs or drop the heavy guitars, but their performance is decent, especially after they launch into the anthemic 'Fjara' (which incidentally shows a step towards the way forward for them of dropping the metal from their sound) about halfway through their set, which I believe consists of four songs (perhaps a bigger Sólstafir fan who was also there will be able to provide more accurate information). The night is closed by Watain, who provide an excellent showcase of exactly how useless they are. After pulling the expected wannabe-rockstar card of taking to the stage 25 minutes late (every other set throughout the day was perfectly to schedule), they fill the arena with a bit of gimmicky crap set to a background of two tracks from The Wild Hunt, then a poor performance of 'Malfeitor', after which beer and sleep became the better alternative and we left.
You might have seen me on the Friday or Saturday – I was the fat English guy in the Fukpig t-shirt and tracksuit shorts alternating between lying down in the arena and swearing. The first full day begins with Jig-Ai and their super-fun goregrind. Getting a circle pit going, albeit brief, at midday is quite an achievement indeed, and an errant beach ball only adds to the entertainment. After it is decided that the neothrash of Havok and Lost Society isn't worth the time of day, Ahab's ponderous funeral doom is well-performed but marred by the borderline intolerable heat of the German sun, which is especially unsuitable given their nautical theme.
Inquisition, on the other hand, just about manage to get over this formidable barrier. Although at times the sun causes individual tracks to run into one another, the power of the band, especially for a two-piece, is stunning. Dagon's enormous stage presence is well-supported by Incubus' thunderous pounding, and I don't seem to be the only one entranced in the crowd. After ignoring Aborted (I honestly can't fathom why anyone likes that band), we return for the excellent Benediction. Although the start of their set is mostly less-appreciated recent tracks (which are pretty fun nevertheless), once they get going with 'Subconscious Terror' things start to look up, and 'Magnificat' is a riotous close to a great set.
After skipping another one of my pet hates in Misery Index, Repulsion are one of the bands I've been looking forward to most in the festival, and they don't disappoint. Without much material to draw from, pretty much everything one could want to hear was played (except for perhaps 'The Stench of Burning Death', but I arrived 5 minutes late so perhaps they opened with that), with a bonus cover of the Venom classic 'Schizo'. Highlights include 'Helga (Lost Her Head)', 'Horrified', and 'Maggots in Your Coffin' but really the whole set lives up to expectations and then some, proving that at least some reunions of cult legends don't end up in miserable failure.
There's again, time for a rest as The Haunted are playing, but we come back for Suffocation. Their set is perfectly performed despite highlighting the relative weakness of the Pinnacle of Bedlam and Blood Oath material, but is let down slightly by Frank Mullen's frankly embarrassing talk between songs, in which the word 'fuck' and its derivatives seem to make up around 80% of everything said. The evening finishes with Marduk's disappointing performance as Satyricon seem about as exciting as another piss against the fence. Something's up with the guitar sound, I think, but I can't be sure, and ultimately Marduk's set lacks intrigue.
Nocturnal open Saturday with a competent performance. There's not much more to say about their black/thrash apart from being grateful that they don't really turn having a female vocalist into a gimmick. Mumakil are a slight step down. They've never been a great band and although their sound is pretty much carnage, it lacks any hooks to complete it, which is unfortunately reflected in their live performance.
Ereb Altor are a surprise. While I've never been a big fan of Hammerheart imitators (though the album itself is great), and my interest in the band has been limited to a couple of half-attentive listens to Gastrike, the sound translates incredibly well to the live arena, their set surviving through the pissing rain it begins in. Perhaps it's a bit late for tributes to Quorthon, but their rendition of the title track of Blood Fire Death makes up for the frontman's speech.
I was looking forward to Protector, and was actually quite surprised that they were this low down on the bill, especially in a festival in Germany, but they leave me disappointed. The entire band seems a little bored half the time, and although a lot of time is given over to classic material, it lacks energy for whatever reason, to the extent that it is overshadowed by material from the good, but not great, comeback album Reanimated Homunculus.
After a long-first session of the day, being kicked in the balls by a donkey seems preferable to the tedium of Imperium Dekadenz and Kampfar, and I reluctantly also give Malevolent Creation a miss, knowing that the rest of the day is going to be action-packed and we're both pretty tired already. It proves worth it, as Aura Noir provide an excellent set, with a strong focus on their earlier material, opening with 'Black Thrash Attack' with several other tracks off the debut (including my personal favourite 'Fighting for Hell') also making an appearance. Perhaps the best way to describe the quality of the set is how sore my neck is at the end.
I stick around to hear the hectic closer 'The Stalker' before dashing over to the tent stage to see Beyond, the set of whom I have fortunately only missed five minutes of. Although the inferior acoustics inside the tent don't lend themselves well to Beyond's chaotic black/death, with the result that many riffs are unfortunately lost inside the wall of sound, the set is still rather powerful (indeed, one could say it emanated a Fatal Power of Death... okay, I'll stop), and I'm sure nobody left that tent without being impressed in some way or other.
Grand Magus never have and never will be a life-changing experience, but laying down, staring at the stars while listening to their repertoire is a pleasant enough experience, and I've perhaps never felt more manly than getting bits of pork eaten off the bone stuck in my beard while they play 'Iron Will'. Perhaps that's the entire point of Grand Magus.
I probably can't be trusted to give an impartial, balanced review of Napalm Death, being my favourite band as they are, but for me they're the band of the festival. Playing a set taken from across all their eras, even the middle-period material which is weaker on record, such as 'Breed to Breathe' and 'Self Betrayal', is exceptional live. Of course, the newer material off Smear Campaign through Utilitarian is great, and classics off Scum through Harmony Corruption are unmatched at the festival. Closing with a cover so idiosyncratic they've almost made the song their own, of course, of 'Nazi Punks Fuck Off', I'm left a bit of a mess after the set, but a delighted one. Oh, and if you're reading, sorry again to the girl in the front row whose eye I caught with my finger.
After the sheer intensity of that and how exhausted it leaves me, I perhaps don't enjoy Bölzer as much as I could have, especially as they again suffer from the inferior sound of the tent-stage. For that reason, I won't review them at length, but even in my state their set was enjoyable, and the intro riff to 'Entranced by the Wolfshook' is perhaps the best riff to come out of extreme metal this decade.
Because Katatonia are as boring as a holiday weekend in the suburbs of Coventry, we head to the tent for a beer or two, which unfortunately causes us to miss the start of Obituary, including my personal favourite 'Immortal Visions'. Not to worry, as even the material from after Cause of Death comes over decently live, although a preview of a new track from Inked in Blood contains a couple of worrying chugga-chugga parts. It's made up for by the monstrous closer 'Slowly We Rot'.
Kreator are shit. I'm not saying that as a general statement – by all accounts including my own, Pleasure to Kill is one of the greatest thrash metal albums of all time. But this performance is really, really shit. After pulling the same prima donna stunt as Watain and arriving on stage 20 minutes late, it really is to rub salt into the wound to launch into a set which comprises primarily of tracks off the new Arch Enemy album Phantom Antichrist, and Hordes of Chaos. What really confirms this set as a steaming pile of shit is Mille's attitude, and in particular his attempts to turn 'Pleasure to Kill' and 'Riot of Violence' into stadium rock anthems with small, but fundamental changes to their composition. An unfortunate end to an otherwise wonderful festival.