With Full Force 2017 ReviewWEDNESDAY
I flew into Berlin Schönefeld from Paris in the afternoon, not long after Hellfest, seeing Monster Magnet in Rouen, and having dinner with a friend. I easily found the train station and made my way to Dessau – I said hello to a couple of Germans who said they were going to a festival, so when we established it was With Full Force, I knew I was on the right track. I got to Dessau at 7 pm, picked up some provisions at a grocery store I found, grabbed some cold medicine at a pharmacy (yes, unfortunately, I woke up sick first thing that morning), and made my way back to the bus stop. There was a metal bus shuttle waiting for us, as promised, so I jumped on and made my way to the festival grounds, which took about 30 minutes. I talked to a German guy from around Hamburg about his feelings towards Wacken and how it’s gotten even more expensive than last year, plus a bit too big – 75,000 is a lot of people. He told me about the previous WFF festivals, and discussed at length the bands he wanted to see this time around. Perhaps we didn’t agree on musical tastes, but the passion for music bled through nonetheless.
I got off at a bus stop near the entrance to the camping grounds, got directions on which bus to take to get to the VIP/press area, and hopped on the next shuttle bus full of metalheads ready to party at a festival. Well, it didn’t go in the direction I needed it to, so I just waited for it to turn around and take me to the right place this time. No worries, I still had plenty of time to check in for my photo pass for Metal Obsession, plus there wasn’t a queue. The woman said we get our own VIP camping area, which is 2 km from the tent, and me, being geographically challenged, as well as a bit labored by the large suitcase I was dragging across grass and dry mud, thought I would ask for help. I noticed a couple also checking into the VIP area and asked them if they’re going to the campground as well, and lo and behold – they were, and they even had space for my suitcase in their attached camper van! Next thing I know, I’m pitching a tent with a couple that actually speaks English from time to time – I got temporarily adopted by an Australian girl from Melbourne who went to Summer Breeze in Germany 11 years ago and never looked back, plus her ultra-long-haired German partner. Their German friends had already created a private little camping circle at the far end of the VIP field, so it was up to us to join in.
I’d learned the hard way that the tent I had bought was actually not the tent I needed at all – it was made of four mesh walls and a cover, which wasn’t going to be any good for a rainy day or a cold night. Regardless, it was my home for the next 4 days, so up the tent went. It got covered in tiny little beetle-like bugs swarming around the top of it, so I was alarmed until my new friends said these bugs don’t bite and are nothing to worry about, they’re just really annoying and get into your eye. Wednesday night was a dry one, and it was nice and warm out, too. Once everyone was settled in, we went to the festival grounds together to explore the area. We hopped into a shuttle bus that took us right to the entrance, went through security that checked our bags, and wandered around. Ferropolis is an area that holds old decommissioned industrial machines left behind in the city of Gräfenhainichen, between Leipzig and Berlin, and it is used to hold other festivals as well. I picked up a WFF girlie shirt with bold lettering on the front and a lineup on the back. I noticed the men’s festival shirt logos strongly resembled the Fear Factory logo, as the “with” in With Full Force was not very prominent on most items.
Being on festival grounds, it didn’t take long before we grabbed a beer from the bar. It’s a 2 euro deposit for a cup and 3.50 euro for a beer with quite a bit of head. Other alcoholic options included shots, long drinks, and I believe cocktails. Finally, a proper German “prost”! Even though I was exhaustedly sick, I still wanted to meander around the festival area a bit more to get a sense of where things are. I saw where the Main, Hardball, and Metal Hammer stages were, with the 4th stage, the Big Wheel Stage, being farther away and inaccessible until to the next day. There was a WFF Warm-Up Party with DJ Kate Kaputto going on a sandy “beach” in front of the Metal Hammer stage, and while everyone seemed to be having fun, I had to get myself home to rest so I could get ready for the next day.
I woke up with the intent to get beers from the city, feeling really refreshed, so I walked over to the shuttle bus area and waited for a bus to the city for about 30 minutes until finally giving up. No one seemed to have information on the shuttle bus schedules, even though they were promised to have been posted on the festival website; regardless, not having phone signal didn’t help. I gave up, and within that half an hour, I started to feel so sick again that I had to take solace in my tent once more. I looked up to see yet another sunny day, which was marred a bit with haze – I thought perhaps it’s just air pollution. It was quite hot, so I aired out my tent by lifting the cover at all four corners. A couple of hours later, I braved the day and went out to try the shuttle game again, this time succeeding. On the way there, I was able to use my phone again (the phone reception is abysmal at best on the camping grounds, and it only worked for me on the festival grounds and closer to the city).
As we passed by, I noticed that the sky to my right was turning a violent shade of violet and blue, and I thought, “Oh no, no, no! It’s going to rain!” I checked the weather report and it promised rain in a couple of hours. I thought to myself, “Alright, I’ve got enough time to get my train ticket to Berlin for Sunday and go grab some snacks and beer at Kaufland, and surely the shuttles run every 20 minutes at peak hour.” No, not even close. I spend a bit of time in the market and I pass by a door, I see strong winds tearing down branches, a lot of rain, and lighting all over. My tent! My TENT! Now, when I scream “my tent” in my head, I’m talking, “My camera! My laptop! My electronics!” Forget the clothes, those can dry – and did – the next day. My only hope at this point was that my camping mates were kind enough to have possibly salvaged my suitcase with all my gear in it. The rest I would figure out later. At the worst, I thought, everything is drenched, and it’ll be at a total loss. At best, I thought, someone had noticed the storm coming right away and took care of everything. Now, realistically, of course, there’s the middle ground, which I was hoping for.
I check out, take two steps outside, realize I’m still a princess at heart, and turn back around to grab an umbrella and a power bank – did I mention that the only sources of power I’d seen on the camp site are inside the bathrooms? Between the drops of rain, I make it to the bus stop. I wait with the others donned in black. 20 minutes goes by. 30. 40. Okay, an hour. That’s it, I need to get back in time to catch Madball, and the festival is 30 minutes away! Plus I’ve got this Drowned Tent situation to deal with. I look around and think quickly on my feet – surely I can round up 6 more desperate metalheads to grab a cab to the festival? The response was positive, and within 2 minutes a German woman was bartering with a taxi driver, while the rest of us piled into a minivan. 5 minutes later, we’re on our way back, and at about 5 euro a head, none of us regretted the ride back with the driver playing Naglfar at full blast!
Here it is, the moment of truth. The tent is naked, wet, and dead. It has been, however, tidied and dried up, and my semi-soaked suitcase is waiting for me inside the warm camper. Sure, my clothes are all wet, but at least my camera and laptop are doing just fine, waiting for me to go to this festival to photograph bands. I take care of my tent, and then I’m offered the beer storage tent as a backup, which I gladly accept. My semi-dry sleeping bag is hanging up too, so I throw it into my new home. We all get ready to head out to the festival after the storm fiasco that tore down our neighboring couple’s huge blue tent and the social tent, as well as forced the camper owners to take down their roof extension. We all had something to fix, but we figure it’s all good now, right? Now, the problem is, the security is telling us that we cannot go to the festival until the weather clears up – apparently, none of the bands are playing. It’s coming up on 6 for Madball. Coming up on 7 for Sepultura. 7:20. Nothing, no green light to go. Then they tell us out of nowhere that bands started playing (note, however, when I say “they tell us” it is all a game of telephone where the organizer gives info to the security, who then pass it on to my German friends, and then it gets translated and simplified to me in English). Off we go! My tent’s good enough, I’ve got a home all lined up, and we all plan to see each other at different times at the campsite.
On the festival grounds, I see Airbourne setting up on the main FeroX stage, where Sepultura were to be playing. Yet when I ask security for info, they all say they don’t know who’s going on or when. I wait around in this chaotic confusion until a screen finally shows rescheduled band times – all the headliners are still playing, but at later times. I see that Toxpack is now playing at 9:35 at the Hardball stage, so I figure I’ll get started and head over there. The band comes out quickly and throws a towel, picks, and other fan goods. The crowd goes wild and cheers them on.
A moment later, an official-looking man who does not look like he’s in the band comes out to give a speech. Again, with my knowledge of German being limited to “I love beer” and “What is this?” I am obviously in the dark, but I know what he’s saying isn’t very promising based on the crowd’s reaction, and I get the picture when the Toxpack backdrop starts getting pulled down. I asked the photographer next to me what happened, and he said that the festival is cancelled for the rest of the night, everyone is to go back to their camps, and it is recommended to sleep in the car or to get accommodation in the city because 3 storms will rip through Ferropolis overnight, potentially creating tornadoes. No fear, of course – no, there wasn’t a tornado that just touched down in Hamburg this morning, nope, those things don’t happen in Germany. I walk back with this photographer to the press area – he wanted to get on WiFi – but that area was closing as well. Everyone’s sent home, the party’s over before it has even begun.
In our little camp, we all huddle in the couple’s camper van, drink beers, watch videos, talk, take naps, and just wait for the storm to pass. We have all recounted our grievances about bands we wish we had seen but did not, complained about the weather, and hoped for a sunnier tomorrow.
Mind you, I’m still at the peak of my cold. I am awoken at 2 am and it’s announced that the storms are done for the night. I get to my tent only to find that my sleeping bag had gotten soaked somehow in the last few hours, so the solution is a warm blanket, a pillow, and an ultra thin sleeping bag – again, all thanks to the camper friends, so anything is something, and better than nothing at all. I get cozy, watch a bit of Better Call Saul to help me fall asleep, and wait for the morning.
I suppose this is an official 1st day of the festival, though it is already our 3rd day here. We all have a late start, have breakfast, morning beers, and so on. I am out of beer, so I make my way to the shuttle bus area, grab a bus, and only upon arrival to Dessau, think to ask the bus driver for the schedule, as others had done – while we cannot communicate in words, I can still see that it goes every 2 hours, and it’s 4:30 pm now. Two HOURS? No wonder this whole festival it’s been near impossible to go up there for a quick lunch and beers with a guaranteed shuttle back. I am afraid of missing Ministry at this point, so unfortunately, I stay on the bus to go right back at 4:40 – waiting until 6:40 would mean I would miss way too much! Yes, perhaps I should have gone earlier, but again, I kept taking naps to get well sooner, but even those didn’t help. I get back to my campsite, really down, still really sick, with no way of charging up my laptop, my phone, my power bank – nothing – just feeling empty-handed and frustrated that I can’t see my photos or talk to my boyfriend while perhaps sitting in a pub for an hour to take care of that.
Per everyone’s advice, I grab a steaming hot shower – oh, by the way, there is no other setting but “hot” in the communal showers, and apparently I am the only person who thinks it’s comfortable and not scorching hot – and I finally, finally feel much better. I have the energy to go until the last band finishes, and I make it a point to do so. These guys approve!
Glowing in my Monster Magnet shirt, I am excited to finally be able to shoot my first band at this festival! I just saw Ministry perform at Hellfest, but with only having one song to shoot there, I wanted more time, and to compare stages. Their performance there was fine, but something about Ministry’s heavily synthesized sounds being performed at an open air stage didn’t quite translate, so I was hoping to hear better sound this time. At WFF, Ministry had a more confined space to play, and maybe that’s why the sound carried better. They started off with “Punch” to really kick off the set, followed by a couple more classics, basically getting everyone really pumped up. The crowd was really receptive to Ministry, and there was a lot of head-banging and underground-style dancing. Then they performed the often-played “Lies, Lies, Lies,” “Bad Blood,” and “Just One Fix,” finishing off the set with “Thieves.”
I was much happier with the band’s sound and performance at this festival. Also, I was able to get closer to the band, so I could catch more facial expressions, with moments like bassist Jason Christopher flashing a grin out of the blue, or having a concerned look when he tripped over multiple cords as he walked backwards from the corner of the stage. It was a more intimate festival, and therefore you could bond a lot more with the artists and the people around you.
After an energy-fueled goth-industrial metal Ministry set, the Celtic punk rock band from Massachusetts that plays Irish songs with a punk style, Dropkick Murphys, took the same FeroX stage and put on an orchestrated performance with what seemed to be more band members than I have fingers on my hands. The backdrop is a busy patterned black and white, and with nearly everyone wearing all black, some members blended in with the background from a distance. The band’s logo displayed the year they formed – 1996. Jeff DaRosa jumped up and down while playing the banjo and then the acoustic guitar, and was the most expressive and emotive multi-instrumentalist in the band, I would say. Lee Forshner bagpiped away in the foreground, though he’s at the forefront in his career as a firefighter for the Palm Beach County Fire Rescue. Al Barr the vocalist got as close as he could to the crowd and people felt like he was singing directly to them.
Dropkick Murphys is touring to represent their 9th studio album, 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory, and has promised more albums this and next year. After the European summer tour, they’ll embark on a From Boston to Berkeley tour with co-headliners Rancid.
Triptycon is a Swiss extreme metal band originally from Zürich, Switzerland, but living in Zagreb, Croatia. Tom G. Warrior had previously led influential metal bands including Hellhammer, Celtic Frost, and Apollyon Sun, until he formed this project in 2008. The band has released an EP in 2010, and a single and a full album, Melana Chasmata, in 2014.
The stage was set up with very thick impenetrable light, lots of heavy greens, blues, reds, and violets. Vanja Slajh the bassist hid her face behind her long black hair for most of the set, until the heavier riffs kicked in and she was seen grooving and rocking out. The drummer Norman Lonhard was invisible behind the curtain of the smoke machine light, and V. Santura was backing Thomas on the vocals and leading the set on guitar. Tom Warrior played guitar duos with both Vanja and Norman, creating phantom silhouettes. Everyone wore black eye mask make-up and put on a proper metal performance.
In Flames, the Swedish metal band that has undergone a variety of membership changes, played at 10:45 pm at the FeroX (main) stage, putting on a one-hour and 15-minute performance where they went above and beyond to play well, sing well, and act well. They played “Wallflower” off last year’s Battles album, adding symphonic elements to a structured metal sound. Then, jumping back nearly a decade, they played “Alias,” which had a more mainstream emo rock sound with echoing vocals and various breakdowns.
The more smooth-sounding In Flames gave way for the 2000 sound of “Only for the Weak” off the Clayman album, which I would argue to be one of their most well-known songs, with the catchy guitar solos and hummable patterns. “Cloud Connected” off the 2002 album Reroute to Remain also brought back the smooth-to-screaming vocals, fantastic guitar work, and the memorable chorus, “I've come to realize / Every little glimpse, you fade / I was told that I could fly / When least expected, cloud connected.” Both songs brought many fans back to their high-school days.
Another song off Battles, “The Truth,” has a very pop opening, screamo vocals, and too much of a fabricated sound at this point, appealing perhaps to a younger generation, similar to the sound of “The End.” The 2006 song “Take This Life” with its screams of depression and desperation have hints of the heavier tone, yet with lyrics that suggest thoughts of self-mutilation and suicide.
The musical tone of the band has changed over the years with, of course, various departures and additions of band members, none the least the departure of the original guitarist, Jesper Strömblad. Will the “Gothenburg” genre still remain?
To change things up after the headlining act In Flames, Napalm Death took off promptly at midnight. Barney chaotically ran across the stage as always, stopping momentarily to vocalize angry passionate growls, shake his head, and leap halfway into the air, all while the original bassist Shane Embury kept on powering the crowd with heavy riffs.
A month after the Campaign for Musical Destruction Europe Tour with Brujeria and Power Trip was finished, Napalm Death had come out to Ferropolis for a continuation. Their last album is Apex Predator – Easy Meat, released 2 ½ years ago. Tonight, this Napalm set lasted 40 minutes at most, which I would say is pretty unfair considering they were playing a midnight time slot, but fair enough considering them being pioneers of grindcore first and a death metal crossover second.
According to their Bandcamp, “Once, Eïs were Geïst. Under the latter name, the band released three highly-praised albums full of atmospheric Black Metal from 2005 to 2009: the furious and despondent "Patina," the melancholic and autumnal "Kainsmal," and the epic "Galeere" characterised by maritime motifs. Since 2010, the group has a new name and consolidates its status as a firm institution of the German Black Metal scene.” Apparently, they had to have a name change in 2010 because an alternative band Geïst from Cologne threatened to sue them.
They were covered in corpse paint and played melodic black metal, which reminded me of In Flames.
Carach Angren was a band between bands – yet another symphonic black metal band, this one from the Netherlands. Their music is a combination of an orchestra concert and a horror movie, with violin and cello present. Their songs use English, French, Dutch, and German in their lyrics. Everyone was very robotic and yet dramatic in their movements on stage – for example, when the keyboard player moved, each movement was deliberate and rigid. Each person had their emotions all planned out to express various parts of the songs.
On the 16th of June, the week before With Full Force, their 5th studio album, Dance and Laugh Amonst the Rotten, was released.
Debauchery – “excessive indulgence in sex, alcohol, or drugs” (Google Dictionary) – is a band name and perhaps a reminder of what festival life could be like. However, at 3 am, the festival grounds were quite empty, and the 3:15-4:00 am set was attended by few. The bars were shutting down, most of the areas were closed, there were no after-parties, and the nearest city of Dessau is 30 minutes away.
Regardless, I was getting over my cold, so I thought I would stay up ‘til the sun came up to watch this German death band from Stuttgart. They most closely resembled Gwar, with their armor, face paint, distorted vocals, and stage props of nude women and hanging bodies, a meat hook, and a chain of skulls.
Their “Let There Be Blood” song off the 2013 Kings of Carnage summarizes what they’re all about – “Let there be war / Let there be gore / Let there be guts / Let there be blood.” It’s more than just death metal – it’s catchy, it’s groovy, it’s gore-filled, and it’s entertaining, while perhaps morbid.
Friday Has Come to an End
The sun came up as I was leaving the festival grounds. It’s funny how my camp mates said they were going to be out all night, yet I was the one that surpassed them by 3 hours. A lot of people said they didn’t love Debauchery, so they didn’t stay out too late. Still, I’m glad I stuck around to learn see and learn something new – and I was so glad to finally be starting to recover from my cold! I got to my tent via festival shuttle and fell asleep around 6 am in my tent.
Day 2 of 2 – that’s it, folks, this festival is halfway over, and it’s only just begun!
The Greeks have hailed upon us with a clean, powerful, electrifying set, starting with one of my favorites, “Ze Nigmar” off last year’s Rituals album. Greek fans up front held up their country’s sign in support. Rotting Christ have been around since 1987, being one of the first to shake up the underground black metal scene in their region, and to stay strong despite adversities for their supposedly controversial band name.
“Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy” – which means “Against the Demon Within Myself” – off the self-titled 11th album released in 2013 is of a similar tone, with chanting-like vocals, a heroic melody, and ultra-fast guitar picking. “Athanati Este” off the decade earlier 2004 release Sanctus Diavolos has a similar song structure, but is delivered with heavier guitars and deeper growls. The underlying church-inspired atmosphere carried on throughout the set.
Overall, the Rotting Christ performance was spot on, and really engaged the laid-back crowd at the farthest Big Wheel stage, with people following the band’s orders and opening up a circle pit, with everyone enjoying themselves without even a tint of aggression.
To try something different, and to support a band on the smallest stage – the Metal Hammer stage – I watched Psychopunch put on an entertaining Swedish punk rock performance. They formed in 1998, and their 2002 The Pleasure Kill album release landed them a spot at both Wacken and Summer Breeze.
They delivered a pure punk rock show, with the guitarist and vocalist singing to each other in a brotherly way, with the rest of the band smiling and truly rocking out the whole time. Seeing a band enjoy themselves was infectious, and people were dancing along on the sandy “beach” set up in front of the stage.
Terror, a long-awaited hardcore that put everyone in their place with their solid set at Ferropolis. Terror formed in 2002 and are from Los Angeles, California. They have a new EP out, The Walls Will Fall, which features four original tracks plus a cover of Madball’s “Step to You,” totaling in 9 minutes and 14 seconds of super-charged aggression.
Their current vocalist Scott Vogel wouldn’t stand still, jetting from one side of the stage to another. The drummer Nick Jett kept the pace going with a focused and determined look on his face. Martin Stewart stayed put, adding in vocals and shredding the guitar. Jordan Posner made a strong stance and plucked away on his guitar as well. David Wood was just replaced as Terror’s bassist this month, and the hyper Chris Linkovich, a prior singer of Cruel Hand, has taken over. He spun his guitar around multiple times, did countless jump kicks, and wouldn’t stay in place for more than a moment. His energy definitely belongs in this band.
Kreator is a band I’d missed seeing at Hellfest because they played at the same time as not-to-be-missed Suicidal Tendencies with Dave Lombardo on drums, and I knew I would catch Kreator here. This was a full-on pyrotechnic performance with themed digital backdrops, and if you blinked, you’d have missed something. I knew some of what to expect, so I had my camera ready for the high flames that periodically shot up! Some of my favorite photos came from having captured these balls of fire. I watched a technician fill up cannons with what I had thought to be fireworks, but what turned out to be strings of confetti, which shot up and landed on the crowd like wet noodles – some people made the best of it and used it as costume decorations. Explosions of shredded confetti followed suit.
Kreator from Essen, Germany didn’t travel very far for this performance. They’ve been around since 1982 and have been known for their thrash metal sound and the 1986 Pleasure to Kill album. They have just released Gods of Violence in January, which has actually debuted as #1 on the German music charts.
Kreator played “Phobia” off the 1997 album Outcast is catchy with its “Is there something after you / something after you” repetitive chorus about paranoia. Then they fast-forwarded by two decades to play the “Satan is Real” song off this year’s newest album, releasing the bursts of flames for each time the main line, “Satan is real” was sung, which was about 20 times in the 4-minute song. The raspy “Violent Revolution” off the 2001 album by the same name is a perfect example of Kreator’s unique thrash style – somewhat melodic, quite guitar-driven, heavily lyrical, angry, and raw.
Kreator had gone overtime with not one, but two encores, which were well-deserved. Finally feeling more well, I decided to stay longer for my guilty electro-industrial (more specifically, “aggrotech”) pleasure, Combichrist. Catchy tunes like “Throat Full of Glass” with a disturbingly violent music video and the definitely industrial “What the F* is Wrong with You” kept the couple hundred people still out this late dancing around and enjoying the show. The frontman Andy LaPlegua, of Norway, kept up the “bad guy” appearance on stage, with a murderously cold stare and aggressive mannerisms.
The drummer barely sat behind the drum kit, which was turned to the side, and would stand up at every opportunity, as well as swing at the drums with the longest arm reach possible. The bassist and guitarist were full of energy, though Andy jumped and around the stage the most. The band’s energy was definitely something penetrating, and I left feeling satisfied.
Atari Teenage Riot
I took a break between bands, skipping Silent Descent, yet another symphonic metal band, as I was very much in the mood for more hardcore industrial techno, with Atari coming up in just an hour. I spent some time taking the scenery in once more, as this would be the last time I’d see Ferropolis for a while.
ATR is a German digital hardcore group originally formed in Berlin in 1992. They used the Atari ST computer to create songs and put political punk rock vocals to them.
Alec Empire, one of the founders, and Nic Endo, a noise artist that joined four years later, took the stage at With Full Force after having reunited in 2010, ten years after the band’s separation and the original band member Crack’s early hand at death. Alec jumped at least 10 times on stage, and I don’t mean mini jumps – I mean actual leaps. Nic went from bouncing up and down to getting down low and arching all the way back during certain songs. It appears to have been Rowdy Superstar who was in the background keeping the music going along.
Atari Teenage Riot released Reset in 2015, and they aren’t showing any signs of slowing down.
There weren’t many people still up to see ATR, and I have to admit, I was nodding off as well afterwards, so I took a long and slow stroll from the festival grounds to the camping area, gave my boyfriend in Australia a call along the way (I had good phone signal near the festival!), and regretfully returned to the campsite. I got to bed at around 6 am, knowing fully well that I would have to be up again in a couple of hours – the owners of the tent I was borrowing were leaving by 8 am, so I had to be up bright and early as well. Luckily, I had packed all my things the afternoon before just in case, so the morning was leisurely enough to say proper goodbyes and to shower up before catching a 10:20 am bus shuttle to catch the 11:07 train to Berlin. I was going up there to meet up with a Japanese friend I met in Tokyo who moved to Germany just a couple of months ago to study the German language.
From one adventure to another I go!