08 February 2023

Fortarock 2018 (festival review)

June 1-2, 2018 | Goffertpark, Nijmegen – After skipping one year (well, actually it was called Fortarock In The City), due to the lack of a solid headliner, Fortarock is alive again in 2018! With bands like Nightwish, Opeth, Parkway Drive, Death Angel, VUUR, Kreator, Arch Enemy and many more, the organization did a very good job. Arriving at the Goffertpark in Nijmegen, the weather wasn’t the thing anyone hoped for when going to a festival; rain was falling down and the gates of the park were still closed. The trees outside the site made reasonable umbrella’s and underneath them, the atmosphere was pretty good!

Day 1 – Friday, June 1st

Betraying The Martyrs (F)
First band of the day is Betraying the Martyrs. Hailing from France, these guys lay down a very energetic show. There are already quite a lot of people in the tent surprisingly and the band is getting inspired by it. Singer and keyboard player Victor is the one who interacts quite a lot with the audience, cheering them on. The deathcore of these French metalheads gets the party started and it doesn’t take long before the majority is moving in any sort of way. Great way to get Fortarock started!

Death Angel (USA)
I really dig Death Angel, so I rush to be time for their gig. It has stopped raining and that’s a nice thing because Death Angel is playing on the outdoors stage. Maybe it’s because of this being their first of only 2 gigs in The Netherlands this year, but there are a load of people in front of the stage. Death Angel will be touring minimally this year, as the concentrate on a new album. But anyway… Death Angels is killing it on Fortarock, but the audience need some encouragement at this time of day. Mark Osegueda takes quite some time to kick their butts, but ultimately it is working. Near the end of their 45 minute set, the crowd is picking up pace.

Suffocation (USA)
I have to hurry to make it to the tent stage for Suffocation. These guys go back a long time and are the ones who gave shape to the genre of death metal. When I am taking pictures, is sense there is quite some movement behind the barrier early in the set. I am a bit surprised by the audibility of the subtle melodics. Judging by their brutal sound, I guessed it would be lost in the steamroller of sound, but it didn’t. The only bit of a let down were the vocals. I could have been the setup, but it sounded quite harsh and too little defined in my opinion.

Body Count feat. Ice-T (USA)
Oh well… crossover thrash with a hint of rap influences it is. After Suffocation I grab a bite to eat and stroll over to the main stage. The sky is getting dark again, but that doesn’t bother the large crowd in front of the stage. I’ve heard some rap(-ish) metal or rap based metal and I never was very impressed. At least not live. Most of the times half the lyrics were left out and the on stage moves and manners were more important than the music and the lyrics, so I was curious how Body Count would bring their style of crossover metal to the stage. I know… Body Count isn’t rapmetal but crossover thrash and I love crossover stuff, so with Ice-T fronting the band, I was mildly curious on how he would fix this live. Straight up… I was impressed by Body Count’s live performance! From the first note ‘till the last, it was a great show, with awesome responses from the audience. Musically there isn’t a bad thing to say about. Vocally neither. Although lyrics about gang life do not appeal to me a lot, it is brought convincingly by Body Count and Ice-T without a lot of frills, but straight in you face! Body Count performed to perfection!

Watain (SWE)
One thing is absolutely clear when Watain is climbing the stage… this is literally and figuratively going to be a dark ride! In the tent with red being the most predominant color of light it would be a challenge to take some worthy shots of this band. Singer Erik Danielsson seems to come straight out of a horror movie, but bass player Alvaro Lillo has the most scary looks and outfit of today. The show Watain lays down on the tent stage of Fortarock is surprisingly melodic… extremely melodic I would say! Listening to this band and seeing the actions on the stage, makes you frown at times. Singer Erik does the most weird stuff. Singing with a flame right in his face, putting his arm into a flame or even throwing a burning torch into the crowd (he did a dummy and didn’t threw hard or far, but still!). Luckily for me the blood traditionally thrown into the crowd was on the other side of the stage! Watain was very interesting, extremely entertaining and had great sound.

Arch Enemy (SWE)
It is packed in front of the main stage! Arch Enemy has a large following mainly among youngsters and they came by the thousands! A few hours earlier they did a meet and greet and the line was at least 100 meters! Singer Alissa is having fun on stage and we as photographers enjoy an elated Alissa, who is on the edge of the stage a lot this time. Arch Enemy is a well oiled machine and technically and musically it sounds great but… (there is always a but…) the weather is getting worse… it is raining quite heavily at times now and suddenly the sound drops offline and it takes a few minutes to get it back online again. That moment of success lasted a few minutes and then for the second time the sound is killed. At a moment there are worries Arch Enemy would call it quits, but they try a third time and now the apparatus keeps functioning. The crowd goes berserk in the pouring rain, but after 2 power outages the band has to strain to keep their focus and concentration. All in all a very good performance with a very visible Alissa.

Kreator (D)
In the tent where Kreator was going to play I thought I’d get a bit drier, but with the damp accumulated there of all the wet people, there was no chance. I’m a bit ambivalent about Kreator; they have great shows, sound is always awesome, they are great performers, but I guess the don’t like photographers too much. This time we were only allowed to take pictures during the first two songs and during these first two songs, there was hardly any other color light than blue. After the confetti and pyro, the lights go on and then it is how Kreator has always been; loud fast and awesome. At least if you’re not the youngest anymore I guess. Innovative is something that is not synonymous with Kreator, but nostalgia… yeah 10 out of 10!

Parkway Drive (AU)
In 2015 Parkway Drive was at Fortarock too and what I saw of them then was not headline material yet, so I was quite curious how well these Aussies did developed to make it to headliner in 2018. The stage was prepped with all kinds of lights and pyro stuff, so the show could be awesome… Musically it was impressive. These Aussies have grown by a mile! The sound was great and there was no hiding on the large stage. Front man Winston is on the edge of the stage a lot and is having a blast. Pyro’s are used extensively by Parkway Drive. Right from the start there are deafening loud bangs and fireballs shooting of the stage, later there are huge flames in the air behind the stage, there is fireworks and the grand finale is when the drum cage is rolling in a Tommy Lee / Mötley Crüe style, but done in Parkway Drive-style… with a lot of flames! Spectacular! A worthy headliner for day one! And this time I’m really curious if Nightwish can top that!

Day 2 – Saturday, June 2nd

A little rain on the way to Nijmegen couldn’t ruin my day. This would be the last rain of the day and today some awesome bands were on the bill, so it was going to be an extremely good day in any way; rain or shine! As I walk into the tent stage, it filled up nicely already; about half full I guess.

Mantar (D)
…now this is a bit odd. A metal band consisting of two persons and the fun part is, they are “sideways” on the stage; Drums to the left and vocals/guitar on the left. The great thing about this positioning is, that we can see the drummer from the side and very good for once! Yes, Mantar uses a backing track with atmospheric noises and some hard to distinguish instruments, but it sounds awesome all together! It is superb melodic and although it’s partly recorded, it never feels fake or artificial. The live-feeling of this band is not unlike any other band and for two performers this is a great compliment. I can’t wait to see and hear more of these guys!

Vuur (NL)
On the main stage Anneke van Giersbergen with her band Vuur is next up and the crowd is huge for this time of day! It’s the first gig of a tour and the band is fresh and full of joy. Although I can’t remember a gig of Vuur where they didn’t smile the whole time! Her stellar voice is complemented by the rest of the very very competent band and the crowd is enjoying the hell out of it. I’ve heard that some think of Vuur as a one trick pony; not much variation, but I think that this is not true. With an extremely experienced band and with a ton of material of dozens of bands to choose from, it must be varied. The band is fun to watch and besides the songs of Vuur, some others are played too, like from the Gentle Storm and The Gathering. Anneke is glad the crowd is massive and thanks them extensively. I guess there are less ways to start a tour!

Týr (FO)
Straight from the Faeroe Islands comes this viking-metal band Týr. Even before the band is on the stage, it is obvious these guys must be good looking. The larger than normal amount of girls and women in the front rows is giving that away. And I was not wrong… Singer Heri Joensen is bare-chested and according to a few of the girls at the barrier, quite a hunk. But that alone doesn’t pay the bills, so I listen a bit more critical. Musically Týr is one of the few bands I got to listen to on Spotify and though the music is catchy as hell, but the vocals are a bit solemn instead of brave and sturdy. Live it is a whole different story! This rocks! This is heroic viking metal with a high sing-along grade and pumping drums. Týr is good on an album, but live the band is awesome!

DragonForce (GB)
Last time I saw DragonForce it was at Dokk’em Open Air and had a bit of fun with keyboard player Vadim, but him being still on paternity leave it was to be seen what influence it had on the live performance of the band. The basic keyboards are on a backing track, so there is no “gap” in the sound, but it is not the full sound of Vadim let alone his virtuoso solos. Guitarist Sam seems to have a bit of a hangover and has small eyes and doesn’t smile a lot… yet. That’s all getting fixed by to bottles of Corona, traditionally placed in their stands on the mics and when he sees pretty girls, his hangover is gone! DragonForce is fast and furious as always. In their 50 minutes time slot, there is plenty of room for their latest album and, of course, for their classics. There is a huge crowd in front of the band and both the band and the audience are having a blast!

Igorrr (F)
Now this is going to be a performance. With Igorrr, Frenchman Gautier Serre invented a whole new genre of metal: Barokmetal combined with breakcore. When the DJ starts a beat, the drummer kicks in gear too and soon singer Laure Le Prunenec enters the stage. With her classically trained voice she varies from opera via lowish grunts to a kind of barking and everything in between. Gautier enters the stage with his torso, arms and head covered in blue, white and black paint and wearing rags looking a bit like old tablecloths. Another remarkable item is the mic Gautier is holding. It looks like a kind of squid with a little blue light in it. It is of the mic of course, but it ads up to the weird atmosphere created. Visually it is a spectacle! Gautier and Laure are all over the stage and scream, sing and grunt in an unexpected (dis-)harmonic way. The baroque and opera influences are not subtle. Laure sings beautiful high notes to end in a grunting sound while jumping and turning violently on the stage, to end in some ballet steps. Gautier moves a bit less around, but is very expressive too. All in all a very intense and interesting gig and I would love to see and hear more of them, because you can never see all what is going on in one show!

Death Alley (NL)
When I leave Igorrr to catch a glimpse of Death Alley (NL) on the theater stage, the entrance is blocked by security for safety reasons. There are to much people in the theater already, so I have to wait and only got see the better part of the last song from a distance. Hopefully I get a rain check, because it sounded great and what I heard of others it was quite impressive. (pictures: Dirk van den Heuvel)

Avatar (SWE)
The guys of Avatar came op with a new theme for their album and tour; Guitarist Jonas is crowned king of Avatar Country. The announcement in Dutch preceding the show, was informing the crowd to pay respect for the king. The king is seated on a riser and singer Johannes is rising up in front of the king, but a bit lower. Of course it is not the king who’s getting the attention, but the clown in front of him. The show starts off with “A Statue of the King” of the latest album, but the older popular songs are not forgotten. Bloody Angel is the one which receives the most appreciation of the crowd, but there is not a bate song according to the fans. As always, there is a lot of action and interaction on the stage when Avatar is playing and it is striking how much details are put in the costumes and guitars. The 50 minutes set is way to short for an entertaining band like Avatar, but sadly there is no more time.

For I Am King (NL)
This time I turn it around and go to the Theater first and that works out just fine. Singer Alma and her merry men are anxious to start. During the soundcheck of For I Am King I’m already pretty impressed by the brutal sound Alma squeezes out of her petite body. In front of the stage more and more youngsters gather to be close to their heroes. When the band starts, there is almost immediately a quite large and violent moshpit in front of the stage and beyond. Security is foreseeing problems with people falling into the water on either side of the stage, but luckily that is not the case. The outdoor theater is filled to the brim and everybody is moving along to the melodic death metal combined with some metalcore influences. The energy coming from the band and mainly from Alma is unbounded. Especially after she had to loosen her belt because she ate a bit much before performing! This band needs a bigger stage!

Baroness (USA)
On my way out, the gates to the theater are closed again, but going out is no problem so I catch a few songs of Baroness. Although the sound is very good in the tent, Baroness cannot convince me. It’s too slick in my opinion and it leans a bit too much to old school American hardrock to my taste. I can only judge on a few songs, so it could be, that I just heard the less interesting songs of their set. (pictures: Dirk van den Heuvel)

Alestorm (GB)
Oh man… Alestorm… To be blunt: I would never ever buy an album of these guys and I would not go to see a concert of them, but damn… Every time I see them on a festival, it is the biggest party I’ve ever seen! What a great festival band this is and what a huge fun they cause among the crowd. There are pirates everywhere, there is even an inflatable boat with a pirate in it crowd surfing, I see inflatable swords and above all… everybody is smiling from ear to ear while singing along and jumping around. The fun on the stage is even greater when Terji and Gunnar of Týr walk on stage to bassplayer Gareth Murdock to bring him a surprise visit. At their signing session they joke around a lot. They draw dicks on peoples arms and even one girl gets her smartphone cover signed, but only after they take a picture of the content one of the band members shorts. Best party of the day was with Alestorm!

Thy Art Is Murder (AU)
As the band is preparing to hit the theater stage, the DJ is playing some tunes. Everybody is nodding a bit to the metal tunes but all of a sudden Vengaboys with “The Vengabus” is playing a lot louder than the rest and almost everybody in front of the theater stage is singing and dancing to this song! Oh well… this is a metal festival, so this kind of music is appreciated as well. We’re not that narrow minded are we?! When it is time for Thy Art Is Murder to get busy, the primarily youngsters fill the area between the benches and the stage. They are ready for some Deathcore action! When the band finally starts, it is getting pretty wild in front of the stage. I have to change location to keep on my feet. The theater is filled to the max for Thy Art Is Murder. The space for the moshers is way to small as more and more people join the moshpit. There are even crowd surfers and later on there is even security on the stage, to prevent damage to good and man. As I try to get a better viewpoint on the action, the crowd is too massive to get a good spot and decide to stay and listen a bit more.

Satyricon (NOR)
I grab a bite to eat and due to the lines I miss out on Satyricon (NOR). I can hear them when I stand in line, but did not see them. It sounded quite good. I guess when they’ll be back, I’ll have to check them out, because of what I heard from others it is a great band. Musically and visually too! (pictures: Dirk van den Heuvel)

Opeth (SWE)
There are quite a lot bands from Scandinavia on Fortarock and Opeth is one of them. The first few songs guitarist Fredrik Åkesson has some problems with his guitar which makes him walk to the techs quite a few times. Even Mikael Åkerfeldt gets distracted by it and after it is sorted out, the band is on a roll. On an album Opeth is perfection and live they are very very close to it! Technically it is superior to anything that has played on Fortarock this weekend and I dare to say to anything coming later on. It is awesome to hear the layered sound and the craftsmanship of these artists, but… I doubt if it is really suitable for a festival. Of course it is busy as hell in front of the stage, but half way through people wander off. There is hardly any action on the stage and technicality is a bit too much for some of the visitors. But damn… This is great!

Meshuggah (SWE)
The dark sounds of Meshuggah can’t bare much light, so it is quite dark most of the time when Meshuggah is playing. Mostly that is a bad thing (especially from a photographers point of view!) But with Meshuggah, it gives you time to pay more attention to the fucking tight played music of this band! Personally, I am not musically skilled in any way, a triangle is way beyond my musical skills but damn… this is like clockwork! On this tour Per Nilsson of Scar Symmetry is still replacing Fredrik Thordendal as he is on a mission to explore some interesting stuff, according to their Facebook. It has hardly any influence as far as I can judge on the sound and the clockwork-like operation of the band. Visibility is something to work on, but that’s a minor technicality.

Dool (NL)
At the same time Meshuggah played, Dool played in the theater and personally I think that is a shame. Although I am not a big fan of the music of Dool, they earned a lot of respect over the last year and I guess they deserved a spot in at least the tent stage. Because of the limited capacity of the outdoor theater, I just caught the last few songs and they sounded solid. Maybe next time a promotion to one of the larger stages? This band deserves it. (pictures: Dirk van den Heuvel)

Nightwish (FI)
At last! Nightwish is doing a gig in The Netherlands again after a few very long years! Dutch vocalist Floor Jansen is fronting Nightwish since 2012 and the Dutch fans of Nightwish and Floor craved for a gig in their and her home country. Quite a few fans of Nightwish were solely at Fortarock for Nightwish and endured the day.

The gig itself was simply awesome! The stage is decorated with large screens, on pyros and banners. Floor is very comfortable right in the middle of this world class act. The band is obviously having fun and the show is very professional and well put together. The visuals are matching the songs and are great for the overall atmosphere. There is hardly anybody elsewhere on the entire site and it is extremely busy in front of the stage. Even outside the gates large groups of people hang around and enjoy the music of Nightwish. I’ve seen Floor quite a few times when she played with After Forever and ReVamp and she has grown to huge proportions with Nighwish. She is the leading lady of Dutch metal and it is justly she received the Buma export award. With the heat of another set of explosions on my back, I walk towards the exit for a short drive home, where I collapse on my sofa with sore feet and back and with a cold beer.

Fortarock 2018 had it all this year. A well balanced bill and a very popular headliner on each day. Both of them had a killer show and I would not dare to declare one better than the other. They were different, where Nightwish had an edge over Parkway Drive in professionalism, but Parkway Drive had an edge over Nightwish being a tad more spectacular. The gap year was well used to prepare for this killer festival. Next year a Fortarock XL again? Please with a similar setup and again a line-up with lots of variation!

See you all next year!