Sweden Rock Festival 2008


Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4

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Norje Boke, Solvesborg - June 4-7

Before the end of the year the first bands, including one of the headliners, for Sweden Rock 2009 will be announced. The tickets will also go on sale, so it's time to look back at the 2008 festival, to which Jukebox:Metal returned this Summer.

Organisationally Sweden Rock stuck to the winning formula which won such acclaim from Jukebox:Metal last year. Improvements in toilet facilities and drinking water supply were amongst the very few changes made, with the stage layout kept the same and mostly-excellent time-tabling of bands to avoid clashes still intact. As ever the time-tabling proved a difficult task, given the overall strength and variety of the line-up, and some clashes were inevitable, but on the whole bands expected to attract similar fans (Carcass, At The Gates and Testament, for example) were kept well apart.

One aspect of the line-up came under heavy criticism however. The booking of Poison as closing headliner for Saturday attracted a lot of negative comment from the Sweden Rock faithful. Many didn't consider the band big enough, or indeed good enough, for such a lofty spot (held last year by the wildly popular Scorpions). Indeed reports from fans who did stick around to witness the abbreviated set (more on this later) claimed it to be the most under-attended headlining set they'd ever seen at Sweden Rock.

Poison's less-than-popular status aside, Sweden Rock once again managed to pull out a few exclusive/rare appearances that other festivals didn't manage. They were first, and ultimately one of the few, European festivals to book Tobias Sammet's Avantasia, they were the only 2008 European performance for Triumph, blues hero Omar & The Howlers and Ratt, one of only two festivals to book Danish legends Picture and original KISS guitarist Ace Frehley and one of just three festival appearances by Tesla. In fact, Poison's appearance was also a European exclusive.

Each year the Sweden Rock Festival give away a free CD of rare or exclusive material to everyone who buys a four-day ticket for the event. For about the same amount of time as they've been doing that, the slogan "Fill Your Head With Rock", from the song of the same name by Helix, has been synonymous with the festival. For the 2008 CD the organisers invited several of the bands set to appear to record their own song with that title. Not a cover, but to write their own original track. As will be noted further down, all of the artists on the CD who played this year's festival included their Fill Your Head With Rock in their set. This really highlights the 'community' feel of Sweden Rock, something the organisers are passionate about and many of the bands seem to really buy into. It's not lost on the fans either.

Day 1

June 4

The shorter first day of Sweden Rock, added for the first time last year, is a chance to put some different bands on show and cater for a smaller, but devoted audience. The headline slot is given to a band who have a big headline-status show, but perhaps not the following of a true headlining act. Last year The Australian Pink Floyd Show were afforded the opportunity, and this year black metal masters Satyricon got to put on their full flame-fuelled show.

Hit of the day were unquestionably Australian AC/DC clones Airbourne, who's sheer energy won over thousands of fans. Sabaton similarly, with the space to use plenty of pyro, made a big impact in the early evening, and as the sun went down the massively impressive Five Fifteen provided some laid-back southern rock 'n' roll between the big shows of Sabaton and Satyricon.

The opening day line-up wasn't quite as interesting as 2007's, where big hitters like Annihilator led the charge, but it did its job of provider a healthy mix of bands and styles that perhaps might not be present on three main days. Well, that's what everyone thought anyway, until Bonafide's surprise call-up the next day. More on that later...

Bands reviewed:
Astral Doors | Fatal Smile

Bands NOT reviewed:
Airbourne | Boil | Bonafide | Dampungarna | Faith | Five Fifteen | Graveyard | Korpiklaani | Sabaton | Satyricon | Sweet Savage

Astral Doors

Zeppelin Stage
Capacity 8,000
18:00 - 19:00

Visitors to Sweden Rock 2007 will remember a superb set from Lions Share, touring for the first time with vocalist Nils Patrik Johansson. This year he returned with his longer-term outfit Astral Doors and new album New Revelation.

Astral Doors aren't perhaps as heavy as Lions Shares' current sound, but are no less intense with their approach to metal, and put an equal amount of faith in hooky choruses amongst their muscular power metal riffs and solos and in Johansson's prowess.

The early evening slot on the opening day's Zeppelin Stage was perfect for Astral Doors, as it had been for Nocturnal Rites last year. The audience on this day is often there simply because they want to have a more relaxed, good time ahead of the main days, and power metal bands like Astral Doors and Nocturnal Rites are just right for that. The smaller stage suits Johansson as well. He isn't a roaming front-man, preferring to stick largely to the middle of the stage and let his strong voice engage the audience.

It's easy to see why Lions Share chose him as their new singer, and why he didn't leave Astral Doors to do so. Although in a similar vein, their music is very different, and both bands suit Johansson's voice very well. The rest of Astral Doors, particularly guitarists Martin Haglund and Joachim Nordlund, visibly loved playing to the Sweden Rock crowd, and seemed to raise their playing to the occasion, comfortably playing harder than, for example, when they supported Blind Guardian in 2006. Indeed Johansson seemed to enjoy himself more this year than last, perhaps because he's more familiar with the songs.

Astral Doors will complete a new album by the Autumn of 2009, so hopefully a return to Sweden Rock in 2010 will be on the cards. Judging by the audience reaction, they will be well received.

“ muscular power metal ”

Setlist: Cloudbreaker / Fill Your Head With Rock / New Revelation / London Caves / Of The Son And The Father / Bride of Christ / Freedom War / Quisling / Hungry People / Evil Is Forever / Black Rain

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Fatal Smile

Gibson Stage
Capacity 3,000
20:00 - 21:00

A couple of times each year a band really captures the imagination of the tiny Gibson Stage crowd (3,000 really is a very generous estimate of its capacity), and this year home-grown sleaze-rockers Fatal Smile did the trick on day one.

Taking huge cues from Mötley Crüe, they delivered high energy, heavy rock taken entirely from latest album World Domination and previous offering Neo-Natural Freaks. Although consisting of somewhat predictable elements (charismatic blonde singer, Nikki Sixx-ish hair styles, requisite attire etc.) their strong riffs give their music its own identity.

Whether or not there's enough different about Fatal Smile to one day see them on the bigger stages remains to be seen with future releases, but as an alternative act in the small tent their lively attitude and catchy songs are exactly the kind of that's needed. Bonafide were playing at the same time on the Zeppelin Stage, so may well have taken quite a lot of people who would have watched Fatal Smile had they, for example, been playing opposite Graveyard or Korpiklaani, bands that are very different to themselves, but their heavier approach clearly attracted plenty of people in the mood for something harder.

Like most bands selected for the short opening day Fatal Smile provide a good, fun rock 'n' roll show and didn't disappoint, although their sound suffered a little in the small tent. Being a home-grown talent as well they will no doubt be back at Sweden Rock in the near future, and they should be on the next stage up.

“ high energy, heavy rock ”

Setlist: SOB / Neo-Natural Freaks / Out of My Head / Straight To Hell / Run For Your Life / Crash & Burn / Common People / Learn - Love - Hate / Stranger

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Day 2

June 5

The main story of day two, the first of the full-length days of this year's event, and one of the biggest disappointments of the week, was the last-minute cancellation of Sebastian Bach, citing flight problems. Rumours began to circulate during Picture's set and confirmation came via an message on the video screens either side of the main stage where Bach was scheduled to perform at 13:30.

Instead, Bonafide, who had played on a smaller stage the day before, and who are one of the few singings to Sweden Rock's own record label, played a second, successful set to a larger crowd. Elsewhere Volbeat were the biggest attraction of the smaller stages, packing the Zeppelin Stage beyond capacity, while the return to the stage of both At The Gates and Derringer pleased legions of fans who had long missed both outfits.

And the day's biggest flops were teen icons Coheed & Cambria, who had to resort to playing half of Iron Maiden's The Trooper to win back the crowd's interest half way through (a song they had in fact recently recorded for an Iron Maiden Tribute CD to be given away by Kerrang! Magazine) and bizarrely closed their set with an eleven-minute drum solo.

The biggest surprise came at the end though, with Judas Priest's out-of-nowhere set...

Bands reviewed:
Disturbed | Judas Priest | Pain of Salvation | Picture | Primal Fear | Testament

Bands NOT reviewed:
April Divine | At The Gates | Ammotrack | Avatar | Billion Dollar Babies | Black Stone Cherry | Bonafide | CB Murdoc | The Citadel | Coheed & Cambria | Corroded | Dare | Derringer | Electric Light Orchestra | Hell Patrol | Mad Lee Riot | Omar & The Howlers | Pale | Sister Sin | Sonic Syndicate | Stereo Generator | Volbeat | Volturyon | When It

Picture

Sweden Stage
Capacity 10,000
12:00 - 13:15

Dutch veterans Picture fit neatly into the category of "bands people never thought they'd see". Particularly the very large Brazilian contingent occupying the majority of the front row at a disappointingly under-attended Sweden Stage early in the day.

After more than a decade they reformed to play selected live shows with three original members (bassist Rinus Vreugdenhil, drummer Laurens Bakker and guitarist Jan Bechtum) plus former singer Pete Lovell and former guitarist Rob van Enkhuizen, and have issued a new live CD into the bargain. They are also working on a new album, and some of those new songs have already made it into the live set. The rest of the set was, of course, a cherry-picked greatest hits featuring nearly every one of their most popular tracks.

Unfortunately for Picture, in much the same way as Fates Warning suffered last year in London, they've been away too long, and people have forgotten who they are. The early afternoon time-slot didn't help either; it never does. But, those that made the effort to be there we ecstatic. The front few rows were one of the liveliest seen all week on the smaller stages (behind Airbourne, probably).

With a comeback like this the setlist naturally mostly consisted of fan favourites from the most popular albums, the raw greeting Eternal Dark in particular was huge, but amongst the 'hits' were two brand new songs, Blood Out of A Stone, Choosing Your Sign and Live By The Sword, both noticeably heavier than the older material, but unmistakably Picture, and they fit in perfectly.

Lovell's slightly dated look aside (studded leather jacket etc.) the band looked in good shape, sounded fantastic, and loved every minute of their set. The new songs hint at a new album in 2009, maybe more touring, and hopefully reissues of their back catalogue, which at the moment are unavailable. Either way, this particular performance was a success and hopefully part of the catalyst for more.

“ in good shape ”

Setlist: You're All Alone / Heavy Metal Ears / Diamond Dreamer / Night Hunter / Blood Out of A Stone / Fill Your Head With Rock / Eternal Dark / Griffons Guard The Gold / The Blade / Tell No Lies / Battle of The Universe / Lady Lightning / You're Touching Me / Choosing Your Sign / Live By The Sword / Bombers // Message From Hell

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Pain of Salvation

Zeppelin Stage
Capacity 8,000
13:30 - 14:45

Pain of Salvation were an unexpected treat, as they were due to clash with Sebastian Bach. But given Bach's last minute cancellation they were greeted by a bigger crowd than they probably thought they'd get.

And the pleasure front-man Daniel Gildenlöw took in attacking the songs was clear to see. The band's playing was flawless from start to finish and the set covered all periods of their career to date, with at least one track from each of their six studio albums, but surprisingly only two from latest disc Scarsick, and the worst two at that.

Their usual tour set includes more from the new album, including better tracks like Cribcaged, Flame To The Moth and the title track, but as a progressive band their songs are reasonably long, and they had to drop a few songs to fit into the alloted time. The crowd was reasonably spread out, but everyone there was there because they wanted to see Pain of Salvation, meaning the energy levels and enthusiasm remained high for the duration (noticeably thinning out during Disco Queen, however).

With the right songs Pain of Salvation's music has a rare power and impact that more meandering progressive music can sometimes lack, and crowds seem to respond well to it, much more so than progressive bands often encounter in a festival setting. It should see them getting invited back...

“ enthusiasm remained high ”

Setlist: Falling / The Perfect Element / America / Diffidentia (Breaching The Core) / Spirit of the Land / Inside / Undertow / Ashes / Nightmist / Disco Queen

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Testament

Rock Stage
Capacity 20,000
18:15 - 19:45

It feels like a long time coming, given that they reunited in 2005, but Testament finally released the first new album with the return of original members Alex Skolnick and Greg Christian earlier this year, The Formation of Damnation, playing songs from it for the first time in America.

The initial reunion also included drummer Louie Clemente, but he couldn't continue beyond the 2005 tour, and has since been replaced by Paul Bostaph. This was their first tour of Europe since the album's release, and their performance was one of the biggest attractions to this year's festival for metal fans, along with At The Gates and Judas Priest. However, despite their first new album of material in nine years (The Gathering was released in 1999, without Skolnick and Christian), they only played two songs from it, leaving the rest of the set for a largely predictable string of classic tracks.

Some of the old songs in the 2008 set weren't quite so predictable. Compared to their 2007 set True Believer, which only made it into the set for full headlining shows, Eerie Inhabitants, The Haunting, The Legacy and Sins of Omission were all absent. These were replaced by Apocalyptic City and Trail of Tears from the Low album, which was the last to feature Christian on bass, plus new songs More Than Meets The Eye and Henchmen Ride (dedicated to Chuck Billy's biker friends back home). The only song to be dropped from their full 2008 set was another new song, The Evil Has Landed.

Mildly obvious setlist aside, Testament were unbelievably good and incredibly heavy. Eric Petersen's suspiciously permanently glazed, wide-eyed look seemed to have no adverse effect on his playing or movement, although he did let Alex Skolnick take most of the acclaim at the front of the stage, and although Greg Christian remained in the background for the entire set until forced to come forward during the obligatory band introduction, their performance was incredibly tight.

Indeed very few in attendance would argue that this was the performance of the festival and the band seem to be as full of energy and as hungry as they've ever been.

“ unbelievably good and incredibly heavy ”

Setlist: Over The Wall / Into The Pit / Apocalyptic City / Practice What You Preach / New Order / Electric Crown / More Than Meets The Eye / Low / Trail of Tears / Henchmen Ride / Souls of Black / The Preacher // D.N.R. / Three Days In Darkness / Alone In The Dark / Disciples of The Watch

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Disturbed

Festival Stage
Capacity 25,000
20:00 - 21:30

There are always a few alternative slots Sweden Rock try to fill. Always at least one blues band, and always a modern band. The latter as something perhaps with a bit of extra attraction for younger fans. Last year bands like Hinder and Dimmu Borgir had that appeal. This year Disturbed were given a main stage berth for the same reason.

As their intro played, front-man David Draiman was dramatically wheeled onto the stage strapped to an upright trolley in a strait jacket and a Hannibal Lecter mask. These were removed while the rest of the band took up their positions and Perfect Insanity kicked off. The immediate thing to notice was their sound. It was crystal clear and brilliantly heavy. It gave the riffs an added impact.

Not quite realising new album Indestructible only arrived a couple of days before Sweden Rock, front-man David Draiman was clearly expecting a bigger reaction when he asked the crowd how many had bought it. And they therefore played what was probably too many new songs for a festival set from an album no-one knew. For a headlining tour later in the year, it would have been fine. But the new songs fell a bit flat in this setting.

The other problem with Disturbed's songs is, especially without knowing the words, they can sound very similar. The words are all that sometimes sets them apart from each other, and with several songs being relative unknowns, the set started to drag, especially in the final 30 minutes, until the ever-popular Down With The Sickness at the very end).

Disturbed were a welcome alternative to the rest of the line-up and were excellent for an hour, but they didn't prove to be to everyone's tastes and their set didn't really spark the imagination for anyone but ardent fans of the band come the end.

“ started to drag ”

Setlist: Perfect Insanity / Voices / Liberate / Prayer / Indestructible / Just Stop / Remember / Fear / Deify / Stupify / Land of Confusion / 10,000 Fists / The Game / Divide / Inside The Fire // Stricken / Down With The Sickness

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Judas Priest

Festival Stage
Capacity 25,000
23:30 - 01:00

Unsure what metal legends Judas Priest would put in their set, with new album Nostradamus not yet out, many fans wanted a greatest hits set, while many others wanted a set of more obscure songs from the back catalogue with a few hits mixed in. The latter group were the most satisfied.

Priest rolled out two new songs from the forthcoming album amongst several older songs spanning their whole career, some of which had never been played live before this tour. They also chose to play a couple of ever-green hits like Breaking The Law very early in the set instead of giving them their usual set-closing prestige, again emphasising the focus on the rarer tracks.

It was a set for true Priest fans and all those familiar with their music beyond the hits let out huge cheers each time an unexpected track began. In particular, The Hammer And The Anvil, Dissident Aggressor and Sinner were ecstatically received, although the biggest surprise was probably ballad Angel, from the first album since the reunion with Rob Halford, Angel of Retribution. Indeed only Metal Gods, Breaking The Law, Painkiller and the three-song encore could really have been written down before the show. Maybe Electric Eye as well.

This was, to all intents and purposes, a stop-gap tour for Priest. The new album had nearly arrived, but not yet, so touring it wouldn't have worked, and they'd been playing all the hits and the songs from Angel of Retribution last time out. This kind of tour, one without pressure or expectation, was probably a good thing for the band. It gave them a kind of freedom not normally associated with a tour that needs to make money.

And they performed like they were unrestricted as well. Rob Halford doesn't move as well, and can't hit the high notes so well anymore. He's 57 years old and has been touring the World for 35 years. It's to be expected and shouldn't be leveled at him as a criticism, which is something a few too many fans seemed quite quick to do. But the two new tracks, especially the excellent The Prophecy, showed that they still have plenty of songs in them, and they tore through the songs they don't normally play like they're included every night.

Priest have more plans for 2009, including both European and North American touring, and eventually a large-scale production of Nostradamus in its entirety, so another album might be a long way off yet, but if they were to return to Sweden Rock with it, there are likely to be very few complaints.

“ unexpected ”

Setlist: The Prophecy / Metal Gods / Eat Me Alive / The Hammer And The Anvil / Devil's Child / Breaking The Law / Hell Patrol / Death / Dissident Aggressor / Angel / Electric Eye / Rock Hard, Ride Free / Sinner / Painkiller // Hell Bent For Leather / The Green Manalishi (With The Two-Pronged Crown) / You've Got Another Thing Comin'

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Day 3

June 6

Bands reviewed:
Ace Frehley | Joe Satriani | Saxon | Team Cans | Whitesnake

Bands NOT reviewed:
Accepted | Axewitch | Birth Control | Carcass | Defenders of The Faith | Fastway | Hanoi Rocks | Hazy/Dizzy | Hindenburg | Iron Made 'em | Ministry | MUCC | Negative | The Poodles | Royal Hunt | Sabbath The Coverband | Shakin' Street | Svölk | The Soft Parade | Tesla |

Joe Satriani

Rock Stage
Capacity 20,000
15:00 - 16:15

For Joe Satriani Sweden Rock formed one of many stops on his most extensive European tour for some time, behind questionably-titled new album Professor Satchafunkilus And The Musterion of Rock and along with Apocalyptica he represented one of only two instrumental acts on the bill.

With long-time bassist Stu Hamm, drummer Jeff Campitelli and tour manager Galen Henson adding additional rhythm guitar, Joe set about showcasing material from the new album amongst several classics from his back catalogue, mostly sticking to heavier, groovier tracks with just a one or two softer ones.

The audience, unfortunately for Joe, suffered heavily from boredom. A festival environment really isn't best suited to instrumental music, especially 75 minutes of it, and while Joe is one of the most accessible guitar virtuosos around, that much word-less music, with no possible hooks for anyone not completely familiar with the tracks, is always going to fail to capture the imagination. Of course it could be said that anyone not a Satriani fan shouldn't waste their time watching his set, but that's not the right attitude for a festival. Especially as Joe really isn't popular enough to fill a 20,000-capacity stage at a four day festival with just his own fans.

Many people did the right thing and tried watching his set, even if they weren't already fans, but most of them seemed to end up doing it from a seated position either on the ground or from a deck chair, and that was unfortunately the effect his set had beyond the first few rows of fans.

A performer delivering an instrumental set at a rock festival needs to, as Apocalyptica would successfully do the next day, be lively and attention-grabbing, because the music itself is unlikely to do that on its own. Unfortunately for Joe, still the record holder for the most Grammy nominations in history without ever winning, his set was one of the few failures of the week.

“ suffered heavily from boredom ”

Setlist: I Just Wanna Rock / Overdriver / Satch Boogie / Ice 9 / Flying In A Blue Dream / Super Colossal / Always With Me, Always With You / One Big Rush / Cool #9 / Time Machine / Surfing With The Alien / Crowd Chant / Summer Song

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Ace Frehley

Festival Stage
Capacity 25,000
16:40 - 18:10

Someone with the history of Ace Frehley can't escape both huge anticipation, and huge doubt. His well documented alcohol problems are responsible for the doubt, and his legacy as lead guitarist of KISS accounts for the anticipation.

The fact that he hasn't toured or released any new material for several years also contributes to a mystique surrounding both his current abilities and state of sobriety. While the latter wasn't in question until he gave speaking between songs a shot, the former needn't have been of any concern at all.

Amidst the obvious hope that Ace would be on good form on this tour, especially as he was up against former his employers' own first European tour for eight years (he was still in the band at that point), were more optimistic hopes that he would bring out some new songs. Unfortunately this was to be the only disappointment of an otherwise flawless set, which mixed in largely equal parts tracks from his solo and Frehley's Comet albums, and KISS songs he either wrote or sang originally.

Ace's playing is still excellent, and his voice just how we remember it, with a young (compared to himself, at any rate), eager band, including former Brides of Destruction drummer Scot Coogan, ex-Lynch Mob bassist Anthony Esposito and ex-Stabbing Westward guitarist Derrek Hawkins, who not only play the hell out of all of the songs, but can contribute vocally as well. With no reliance on KISS-trademark pyro or effects, the band delivered pure rock 'n' roll songs, exactly the kind of thing SRF is built on.

Although a retrospective set, Ace's performance was one of the highlights of the day, and certainly the best on the Festival Stage, possibly all weekend.

“ pure rock 'n' roll ”

Setlist: Rip It Out / Parasite / Snowblind > I Want You > Rock Soldiers / Breakout / Into The Void / Strange Ways / Shout It Out Loud / New York Groove / 2000 Man / Shock Me / Guitar solo > Rocket Ride // Deuce / Love Gun / Cold Gin

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Whitesnake

Festival Stage
Capacity 25,000
20:00 - 21:30

Whitesnake's reinvention was always going to be a two-stage process. Their return in 2003 with an all-new line-up was a complete success and almost all doubters were silenced completely by the time 2004s touring had finished. Then it was time for new music.

2005 brought a live album from the tours, with new songs included as bonus tracks. Although not the best tracks to have ever born the Whitesnake name, they sounded like they had transferred the new-found energy from the live performances, in particular the guitar histrionics of Doug Aldrich, to record and a new album was next on the agenda. That album, Good To Be Bad, arrived in early 2008 and Sweden Rock formed part of their extensive European touring in support of it.

The album met with near-universal approval so their new live sets have been hotly anticipated. David Coverdale's voice has suffered a little compared to the 2003/04 tours. Although still capable of delivering most things, much like Deep Purple's Ian Gillan, the higher-end stuff was simply beyond reach. Still the consummate front-man, and backed by an outstanding band, a Whitesnake show is still something to be enjoyed, and heavier new songs like Can You Hear The Wind Blow sound vibrant live.

They also played the right set for a festival. Bands all too often play too many new songs and not enough well-known ones in festival sets. This is often a mistake as, by its very nature, a festival crowd is likely to contain a lower proportion of your fans than not. A set containing well-known, sing-a-long classics like Ain't No Love In The Heart of The City, Here I Go Again and Fool For Your Lovin' was always going to go over well with the kind of crowd Sweden Rock attracts - classic hard rock fans.

Including something like Slide It In or Crying In The Rain would probably have been a better idea than letting Aldrich and drummer Chris Frazier have their usual solo spots, but overall they got the mix of new and old spot on. And acoustic Ain't Gonna Cry No More, rarely played in recent years, was a particular treat for older fans of the band, and the encore of Still of The Night sent all but a few detractors away happy.

“ vibrant ”

Setlist: Best Years / Fool For Your Lovin' / Can You Hear The Wind Blow / Love Ain't No Stranger / Lay Down Your Love / Is This Love / Guitar solos > Snake Dance > A Fool In Love > Drums > A Fool In Love / Ain't Gonna Cry No More (Acoustic) / Ain't No Love In The Heart of The City / Give Me All Your Love / Here I Go Again // Still of The Night

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Day 4

June 7

Bands reviewed:
Apocalyptica | Gotthard | Primordial | Ratt

Bands NOT reviewed:
45 Degree Woman | Archer | Avantasia | Blue Oyster Cult | The Blues Band | Eläkeläiset | Glyder | Happy Pill | Havana Black | H.E.A.T. | Hensley/Lawton & Live Fire | Lizzy Borden | Mustasch | Poison | Stormwarrior | Triumph | Vivian

Gotthard

Festival Stage
Capacity 25,000
13:30 - 14:45

Switzerland's Gotthard were expected to be one of the biggest draws of the final day at SRF '08, and a packed Festival Stage crowd in the middle of the day proved that to be the case.

Sticking to the same set they've been playing for most of 2008 since the release of latest album Domino Effect, with a few songs removed due to a shorter set time than a headlining show, they hit a good balance between songs from the new disc and back catalogue material. Both guitarists Freddy Scherer and Leo Leoni were afforded guitar solo spots, which was a little unnecessary, but otherwise their set was well-rounded and high energy.

Previous album Lipservice has been the band's most popular album for some time, and as such the set still contains several songs from it (four here) three years after its release, including both singles Lift U Up and Anytime, Anywhere. With four selections from Domino Effect included that only left time for four older tracks plus their ever-popular cover of Hush, faithful to the Deep Purple version more than Joe South's original.

Gotthard's brand for high-energy, good-time rock 'n' roll has always been the kind of thing that has been the staple of Sweden Rock (probably because it's the closest style to the '80s rock that always proves to be the most popular here) and all expectations were met. Not the best performance of the week, and not the biggest success (because their success was almost guaranteed), but they didn't let anyone down.

“ well-rounded and high energy ”

Setlist: Master of Illusion / Gone Too Far / Top of The World / The Call > Freddy Scherer guitar solo / Hush / I Wonder / Leo Leoni guitar solo / Sister Moon / Anytime, Anywhere / Let It Be / Mountain Mama / The Oscar Goes To You / Lift U Up / All We Are

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Apocalyptica

Zeppelin Stage
Capacity 5,000
16:00 - 17:00

In terms of winning new fans, Finland's Apocalyptica probably had one of the most successful festivals of anyone appearing this year. Easily overcoming the problem Joe Satriani had yesterday they kept the crowded enthralled from start to finish.

Indeed although still instrumental, Apocalyptica's music and performance is somehow never dull. They do have the novelty attached to heavy metal playing on four cellos and a drum kit, particularly for new listeners, but once that has worn off they still hold the attention, and that's with one member (Antero Manninen) sitting stock-still behind a pair of sunglasses for the entire set.

Founding members Eicca Toppinen and Paavo Lötjönen tend to be the centre of attention along with Perttu Kivilaakso, who replaced Manninen in 1999 (Manninen returned in 2002 when fourth founding member Max Lilja left), roaming the stage (between bouts of actually playing the cello, which of course require being stationary) and providing obligatory heavy metal head-banging and hair-swirling along with drummer Mikko Sirén.

The one problem Apocalyptica have, mainly with their more recent and most popular material, is that they record quite frequently, particularly singles, with guest vocalists (these have included Cristina Scabbia, Matt Tuck, Till Lindemann, Corey Taylor, Max Cavalera, Ville Vallo and Lauri Ylönen), and it is rare that any of these are available to perform with the band. Ultimately what this means is that they have to play some of their biggest songs instrumentally, which makes them far less recognisable or enjoyable. They would be best recruiting a touring singer to handle these songs when the guests aren't available.

Consequently they are still to shake the tendency for the most popular live tracks to be their cult covers of Metallica and Slayer, which still meet with bigger cheers than any of their own material (here Creeping Death, Fight Fire With Fire, Nothing Else Matters and Enter Sandman). That one issue aside they are still able to deliver a highly enjoyable live show. With a singer they could be even better, though.

“ never dull ”

Setlist: Refuse/Resist / Grace / I'm Not Jesus / Somewhere Around Nothing / Fight Fire With Fire / Helden / Creeping Death / Betrayal/Forgiveness / Bittersweet / Last Hope / Life Burns! / Seek And Destroy / Inquisition Symphony / Hall of The Mountain King / Nothing Else Matters / Enter Sandman

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Ratt

Rock Stage
Capacity 20,000
18:15 - 19:45

Question marks continue to loom over Ratt around the ability of singer Stephen Pearcy to perform at an acceptable level. Now celebrating their 25th Anniversary, and performing just one festival date on their European tour, these doubts were compounded by the lack of shows.

Pearcy has been in and out of the Ratt line-up a few times over the years, but now he's back in place there's talk of new material and more touring in 2009. But for this tour the focus was very much retrospective. The aim was to celebrate each of their albums to date, so a selection of tracks from each one were included in the set, mostly in chronological order.

Essentially a greatest hits set (also coinciding with the release of Tell The World, their new retrospective hits album) with a few lesser played tracks included to represent each album, they opened with the complete debut Ratt EP before plucking the hits from the other albums, and slipping in Giving Yourself Away, which has never been played live before this tour. The fans were ecstatic for the whole set, having not seen the band for so long, if at all in many cases, confidently singing to every track.

Union/E.S.P. front-man John Corabi was at this point still being drastically under-used on rhythm guitar alongside classic line-up members Warren DeMartini (lead guitar) and Bobby Blotzer (drums) and long-time bassist Robbie Crane, all of which performed as expected, but the most striking aspect of their set was how good Pearcy was. The band were tight and lively, but Pearcy's roaming bravado generally kept eyes fixed on him, and his voice barely faltered.

Ratt's performance was a surprise highlight on the final day, amongst some top-drawer bands who didn't have the same doubts to overcome. They were certainly more successful than Poison.

“ focus was very much retrospective ”

Setlist: Tell The World / Sweet Cheater / Walkin' The Dog / U Got It / You Think You're Tough / The Morning After / Back For More / Wanted Man / I'm Insane / Lack of Communication / Lay It Down / You're In Love / Slip of The Lip / Dangerous But Worth The Risk / Nobody Rides For Free / Way Cool Jr. / City To City / Lovin' You's A Dirty Job / Bodytalk // Giving Yourself Away / Round And Round

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Written by Andy Lye
More: 2008, Alternative, Black Metal, Festivals, Hard/Heavy Rock, Heavy Metal, Power Metal, Thrash Metal, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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