Fortarock 2019 (festival review)

Fortarock 2019 (festival review)

June 1st & 2nd, 2019 | NijmegenThe first outdoor festival for me this year and during the week before the first of June, I was afraid I had to search for some rain gear in the attic. Luckily the forecasts got progressively better and closer to the weekend it was said it was going to be hot. And hot it was!

This tenth anniversary of this festal had quite some set backs. Ticket sales were below par because of the lack of big names. And when there were no big names to be announced (Slayer could not or would), it was by then simply too late to get another ticket selling band.
The possibility of Ajax playing the Champions League finale could caused some more damage, but that one went astray.
Still, there were a lot of tickets unsold, so the organization decided that with one ticket, two people would be admitted. On social media this was not received very well either by some… It seemed everything they tried slipped out of their hands and critics took cheap shots at the organization.
Luckily the majority called, phoned or texted their friends and shared their tickets with them or even with total strangers.

Due to the smaller crowd expected, the site layout was smaller and that was not a bad move.
With sunscreen, a water bottle and my camera gear I went to Nijmegen for two days of sun, metal and beer… and sun and even more sun…

Saturday

God Mother (S)
It is half past twelve and it is hot already. In the tent, where the smaller stage is, it is hot and sticky. The band kicks off and halfway the first song, the singer jumps of the stage and jumps the barrier to join the crowd. Not much had anticipated that and a lot of surprised faces were to be seen in the crowd of about a hundred men and women.

The powerful hardcore of God Mother wakes up the mellow crowd. With the singer still running around or sitting on the barrier, there is quite something to see for the people present in tent.
There is some movement, but those who move more than strictly necessary are sweating profoundly.


Sweat does not stop the bass player. He is hyper actively moving around, this in contrast to the guitarist. He is standing stoic on the stage playing his part.
The singer pulls all kinds of stunts like limbo dancing with the audience and climbing in the tent poles. This makes the atmosphere rather rampageous.

Ne Obliviscaris (AU)
There are not a lot of Australian metal bands touring Europe, but Ne Obliviscaris is one of them and what a band it is! Not all band members come from Down Under by the way. Martino Garattoni plays bass and I have seen him before with Ancient Bards and Ludovico Cioffi on guitar can be known from Nightland.

Musically Ne Obliviscaris is just great! Long tracks with complex guitarplaying, but the bass of Martino produces some pretty complex sounds too.

Singer Tim plays the violin on a few songs and those moments are amazing. I’ve listened to most of the set of Ne Obliviscaris and was very impressed by their performance.

Monolord (S)
Another Swedish band in the tent and this bands genre is stoner metal. Personally it is a bit to slow and repetitive for me to really enjoy it. With just three persons on the stage, the sound is a bit thin, even though bass player Mika Häkki hammers away on his bass and is pretty active on the stage with temperatures well above the 30 degrees Celsius.

I cannot say that is bad, but it doesn’t catch me all that much and I decide to hydrate myself again and find a cool breeze.

Atreyu (USA)
First thing to note when Atreyu is getting on the stage is, that singer Alex is missing and that drummer Brandon Saller is standing in front of the band. Normally Brandon is on drums, so this is kinda new for him. Alex has severe problems with his back and had surgery the day before this gig, so his band mates and the crowd sent him their best wishes for a speedy recovery.

I must say, Brandon does a job and a half! I know he can sing, but singing from behind a drum kit is quite something different than to sing upfront and entertain the bunch of frying metal heads in front of the stage!
Dan Jacobs (guitar) is having a blast too. He is enthusiastically playing is blooded or with green tape covered guitar and is inciting the crowd.

When the three songs are over, I have to leave the photopit in front of the stage and when I am near the exit I get pushed. When I look around, Dan Jacobs is urging me to hurry up and when he gets past me he storms into the circle pit with his bass to join the madness! Hilarious!

Enslaved (S)
I kinda looked forward to see Enslaved, but it didn’t came across the way I hoped it would be. Maybe it was the almost unbearable heat in the tent or a less than perfect audio setting that caused this, or I had a different
perspective of Enslaved live.

The experience was visibly there, but musically it was just slightly above average in my opinion. Pity

Myrkur (DK)
With quite a belly from her pregnancy, Amalie Bruun enters the main stage to take her place behind the, with oak leaves and branches decorated, microphone. The metal Myrkur is bringing is based on Scandinavian life, nature and magic and has quite a following in The Netherlands.

The musicians she brought along today know their profession of supporting the elegant singing and moving Amalie. It is a bit pity she hides a lot behind the leaves in front of her microphone, but her singing is mesmerizingly beautiful and the band is doing a great job too.

It is striking to see how many youngsters are standing in the front rows. It is good to see, that these not
so common genres have a decent following.

Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats (UK)
The first out-of-place band of the day is Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats. This is more rock than metal and it shows. It is not as busy in the tent as it as been with the previous bands. Besides that, it is quite dark on the stage with lots of smoke with dim red and blue lights.

After three songs I only have one usable picture and I hurry to hydrate myself again and to prepare for the band I wanted to see live for a long time…

Amorphis (FIN)
It is busy when Amorphis walk on to the stage in the still blistering heat. When the first notes of “The Bee” sound, there is a roar in the crowd. Singer Tomi is sounding great and the overall audio is just awesome. The atmosphere is great. The setting sun and Amorphis playing their not most complex songs keeps everybody listing and hang around enjoying the moment.

The deep dark “Black Winter Day” is diametrically opposed to this day full of sun, happiness and beer, but is brought to perfection.
Much too soon the “House of Sleep” sounds, which heralds the end of the gig of Amorphis on Fortarock 2019.


I can use a lot of superlatives to describe this performance of Amorphis, but I guess you just had to be there to know what I am talking about. With a broad smile I order a large beer and enjoy this gig thoroughly.

Cult of Luna (S)
The heat of the day is being trapped inside the tent and it is hot and humid. On the stage there are two complete drum kits!

This could get interesting, but band doesn’t look like they enjoy these conditions either and surly and maybe even a bit uninterested they work their way through the first few songs. The sound isn’t great either and It looks like this band getting all the technical problems they can have.

Stagehands running around and fiddle around to correct some problems. I stand in the shadow of the tent in a mild breeze and watch Cult of Luna for a while and after about their fifth song there seems to be a small spark of joy getting back and this is audible too. Possibly the better audio is causing the spark.

Children of Bodom (FIN)
When the first notes sound, the ground resonates with the low bass tones and signals that this is going to be heavy and loud! The sun is setting behind the trees and the relative coolness is welcomed by the crowd, which gathered in large numbers in front of the main stage.

The first song of their set is the second song of the new album “Hexed”; “Under Grass and Clover” and sounds awesome live. The audience is moving wildly from the first song to the last.

The grand finale is “If you want peace… Prepare for war!” of their 2005 album “Are You Dead Yet” and is the last chance to go wild with Children of Bodom today… and a lot of guys and girls are doing just that!

Bloodbath (S)
With members of Katationia, Opeth and Paradise Lost, it is hard to imagine that these gifted musicians cover themselves in blood and play a pretty different kind of metal, than they are known for, but that is just what these guys do.

In the tent, it is dark and Bloodbath has no intentions to add light to the show. There is a lot of smoke and red lights, so it is hard to see at times who is who and where he’s at.
Musically there is not one point of criticism. With artist of this kind it should sound great and it does, but visually there is something to be done in my opinion. A cheerful singer who is hardly visible at times is fun, but only that much.

X Raiders (NL)
After Bloodbath I decide to check-out X Raiders, as I just love this band for it’s performance and humor. I am a bit late, because of my presence at Bloodbath in the tent and it is obviously clear to me that I am not the only one who is into this band, as Hanks Garage (the small stage) is filled to the brim. Even outside are quite some people enjoying the performance of X Raiders.
Sadly I hardly see anything of the show, but it is very well audible and it sounds (and looks) like a pretty wild party.
I fill my water bottle and sit down for a while in the cool evening air and enjoy the music and sounds coming form Hanks Garage.

Behemoth (PL)
Behemoth was promoted to headliner and this is fairly just. Behemoth has a great show and is a great live band.
The large distinctive snake microphone standards standing quite a bit from the edge of the pretty high stage, so the first few rows see only chest and up of the band. The large microphone standards hide a large part of Nergals face too, so most of the times he is barely visible and that is a shame.

Nergal does come to the edge of the stage quite a few times, but the singing is done behind the ornamented microphone.
Although there is more than enough light available, the stage is pretty dark throughout the entire set. The advantage of that is, that the fire of the flame throwers is better visible.

The performance is impressive. During every single song, the flame throwers are active and give the stage and the band an eerie look.
Standing from a small distance, the stage is better visible and the band changes costumes a few times and it is very very busy on the field with enthusiastic fans.

Behemoth is a worthy headline band for the Saturday of Fortarock in this arrangement. Personally I would get rid of the large decorated mic stands and move the band 2 meters to the front of the stage to enhance visibility, but that’s just me.

Sunday

Today it is going to be even hotter than yesterday, but luckily there is a small breeze blowing the entire day, so in the shade it is sort of doable. The location, the Goffertpark, is ideal for this weather. There are lots of places with shade from trees and is relative open for the wind to blow away the heat a bit.
Later on the day there was a thunderstorm expected, but that was not an issue now. The issue now was to stay hydrated and use enough sunscreen!

When the gates open, it is already more busy than yesterday and that is a good sign. With the sun at its highest point, the guys of Savage Messiah walk on to the main stage.

Savage Messisah (UK)
The first thing to be noticed about this band, is the extreme joy they display on the stage. Especially guitarist David Hruska is having a blast; he just can’t stop smiling!

These gents have a pretty straightforward approach; play metal, have fun and entertain. There is no finery to their gig, but they play a more than fucking decent gig!

Singer Dave Silver apologizes for his voice after being sick, but I did not hear anything wrong with it.
With a recently released album, there is even more to smile about. These guys can come back more often to our country!

Car Bomb (USA)
These Americans were flown in after Allegaeon canceled their performance on a short notice. These guys play some pretty complex progressive metal and I even hear the term math-metal and I guess that is pretty accurate. Musically it is very complex and once you think you’ve got the beat, it changes… in speed, direction, sound and everything else.

To me these changes in all directions are a bit too much, but the tent is filled up rather well, so I guess I am too old for this and after a few songs I decide to leave the hot and stuffy tent and find a cool spot outside in the shade.

Gloryhammer (UK)
I love to hate these kind of bands and I hate it I love them… It is over the top, the scenes played out on the stage are toe bending at times but musically it ain’t half bad and it is entertaining as fuck!

I’ve spotted some inflatable swords early in the morning and these are now in the front row.
Singer Angus McFife XIII, Crown Prince of Fife (Thomas Winkler) is all over the stage and posing in heroic stances for the crowd and photographers.

I’ve said it before; I don’t see myself buy records of Gloryhammer, but if they are on a festival I will have a look for sure, because bands like this really heightens the fun of a festival and the crowd is always very much involved and everybody has a few laughs.

Decapitated (PL)
I decide to skip Decapitated because of the immense heat in the tent and the fact that I must get something to eat.

Kadavar (D)
De positioning of this German band on the main stage is surprising. The drum kit is in the middle and upfront, so everybody can see the frills en facial expressions of drummer ‘Tiger’ and boy does he have some frills and facial expressions to show! On the left side of the drums, guitar player Lupus is playing his part and he too has some pretty slick moves, but is mostly pinned to his spot behind the mic as he sings too.

Bass player Simon isn’t bound to a spot and moves about quite a bit and competes with Tiger for the facial expression award of the festival.
Musically it is ticking like a clock! Although it is not really metal (it is more heavy rock), there is no one on the field in front of the stage who has any problem with that.

It is entertaining and it is quite danceable too, as I see quite some couples dance to the beat in the back of the field.

Batushka (PL)
The saga around the two versions of Batushka continues in Nijmegen and it was unsure which one of the two versions would perform at Fortarock. It turned out to be the band of Bartlomiej Krysiuk.
The stage is filled to the max with religious attributes and there is hardly any place for the band, so the choir is on the side of the stage and hardly visible and the drummer seems to be behind the backdrop. De other band members are in front of the backdrop, but still way in the back.

Before Bartlomiej can take his spot behind the lectern, two fully dressed monks light the candles on the stage and they take their time for it.
When the show finally starts, it is clear that only new songs will be played. Both Batushka’s seems to have sworn never to play their previous material ever again, because of their differences. I think that is a shame and even an insult for the fans who want to see these songs live.

Although I really like this kind of performances, this one seems a bit pale this time. I’ve seen Batushka before and really liked them then, but it seems as if they are struggling to prove something and therefor missing the spirit.

Nevertheless the props are awesome! It is as if one is visiting a church in Eastern Europe on a very hot and very humid day.
Saying that, I must pay respect to the artists of Batushka, as they are fully dressed in cowls and facial masks. They must have been sweating bullets!

Symphony X (USA)
The sun is still blistering hot As Symphony X starts on their set. Another progressive metal band and what a band it is! On their fifth lustrum, the band is still going strong. It is hot on the field in front of the stage and I guess that is why the crowd is quite tame. Heads move, but that’s about it.
Singer Russell Allen is still emotional when he refers to the accident 2 years ago with which he still struggles.

The gig however is impressive and in the shade the people are more brave to move, as is it is less hot over there.
Russel takes quite some gulps from a bottle of Jack Daniels and it is almost a miracle he keeps going! I enjoyed Symphony X very much. All artists are top notch and the sounds awesome too. The voice of Russel is perfect and maybe the Jack Daniels kept it smooth.

Another band of whom I don’t mind if they play on more Dutch festivals and stages!

Katatonia (S)
I was very much looking forward to this band, as I’ve seen Jonas Renkse perform during Ayreon Universe and was pretty impressed by his voice.
Before the band enters the stage in the tent, the smoke machine is cranked up a lot, but luckily most of the smoke disappeared before the set begins.

There is a chuckle when Jonas says to the crowd: “I know it is Sunday, I know it is Katatonia on the stage, but it could be worse! It could be Monday. It could be Opeth playing songs exclusively from their last cd! He thinks it is funny too, as he smiles cheekily behind his long hair.

I love the doom/depressive sound of Katatonia and they are going to play their 2009 album “Night is the new day” from front to back. Jonas thinks there are quite a few ballads on the setlist, but no one is complaining. The gloomy slow metal of Katatonia is a fresh gush of wind in the hot tent and it is pretty busy too!

It is as if the vibe of Katatonia makes one think it is a cold day in the fall with rain and wind. The thought of that sends a shiver down my spine and no it is not a sunstroke!
There is not a real stage show, but man… musically and vocally this is stellar.

Hammerfall (S)
Next up on the main stage is Hammerfall. This year the power metal fans are getting their money’s worth, as Hammerfall is a live band par excellence!

With the sun largely behind the trees, more and more people are standing on the field in front of the main stage. With the sun gone, there is more movement in the crowd too. On the stage the show is slick and rehearsed, but no one gives a damn. The band does everything right and singer Joacim Cans interacts a lot with the fans.

Both guitarist battle for attention during their solos and the fans are loving it. Especially the tall, white haired Oscar Dronjak is getting a lot of attention with his custom made guitars, which he changes regularly.
After drinking water all day, I switch to beer. With Hammerfall filling the air and the sun setting, life couldn’t be better.

Animals As Leaders (USA)
Another anniversary and this time it is Animals as Leaders, whom celebrate their 10th anniversary. It takes some getting used to, but after a few minutes one does not miss the vocals at all.

Musically this is fucking awesome! If you take in account, that Tosin Abasi is an autodidact, it is even more jaw dropping. I could not determine if the bass sound came from a track or that Javier Reyes also plays the low notes on his guitar.

It is pretty busy in the tent and loads of people enjoying the complex riffs en chords this trio generates.
The band is so into their own music, that the forget at times that there is an audience in front of them.
I’m impressed by their musical quality and how they master their instruments and didn’t expect this to see on Fortarock. It is very enjoyable!

Amon Amarth (S)
These gentle Swedes are no strangers in The Netherlands, and not even on Fortarock! In 2016 they were on the bill too, but at the time a bit lower. At Into the Grave 2018 they were an impressive headliner and I was very curious if they could live up to these expectation.

The wind picked up quite a bit before the gig and a quart of the huge screen that shielded the stage from prying eyes, got ripped of the clamps which should drop it at the start of the show. It flapped violently and it threatened to fall on the stage, so the stagehands decided to let it drop prematurely to keep everyone and everything safe. To give the stagehands time to get things in order again, “Run to the Hills” of Iron Maiden is played and this enhances the comradery on the field to a maximum! Everybody present sings along, making Fortarock the biggest outdoor karaoke bar ever!
Only minutes later the intro of “The Pursuit of Vikings” sounds and the band enters the stage.

Huge fire columns shoot up in the air and a broad smiling Johan Hegg is appearing at the front of the stage. A huge roar goes through the crowd and Johan plays the crowd as if it is a flock of meek sheep.

The fire columns are almost constantly shooting up in the air and we photographers are kept at a distance by security, but these poor bastards feel the heat even better and some touch the back of their heads to check if there is still some hair left. The heat is very intense as the fire shoots up, but damn! We are only halfway through the first song and the Goffertpark is already turned upside down!

The first three songs are the songs everyone wants to hear; “The Pursuit of Vikings”, “Deceiver of the Gods” and “First Kill”.
As I walk around the field, I notice the wind is picking up some more and an occasional flash can be seen in the sky across the main stage.
It is cramped at the field in front of the main stage and that is a good sign!
Amon Amarth plays a very diverse set with lots of older material, but some of the new album too of course.

When the first raindrops start to fall, I pack my stuff and walk towards my car. Halfway I hear a police radio saying that Fortarock will be stopped due to severe weather…. It seems that Fortarock will not be spared anything this year…
At home I read that the park is cleared out in an orderly fashion and that everybody thinks it’s a shame, but there is understanding for the avoidance of any risks with a thunderstorm.

Conclusion
The organization of Fortarock 2019 was a tough one. The problems in the run-up, the disappointing ticket sales and now the weather gods whom intervened with Amon Amarth. I just tell myself that it was because of the absence of “Twilight of the Thunder God” on their setlist 😉

Personally I had a blast. Fortarock is always well organized and the line-up was very diverse and that is no problem. As a visitor you have a problem if all bands are your favorite; you don’t have time to eat, drink or
hangout with your mates!
The number of bands in the category of Iron Maiden, Slayer, etc. are decreasing as they get older and don’t have the urge to tour anymore. That is no criticism towards these bands, it is their good right!
Personally with Amon Amarth there is a new generation of “big names” rising and I can get used to them!

Hopefully there is going to be a Fortarock 2020 and if it is a smaller setup, that is fine by me! Another XL version is fine too, but we must be real.

About the author

Marc is concert/festival photographer and reporter for PitKings in the northern and eastern part of The Netherlands. On occasion he's also writing album reviews. Besides PitKings he also has his own photography company called Loud Images.

View all articles by Marc van Kollenburg