Sweden Rock Festival 2011

Norje Havsbad, Sölvesborg - June 8-11
event website | venue website | full line-up

Sweden Rock gave themselves a tough act to follow last year when they booked what has been widely regarded since as their highest profile line-up in their 20-year history, and with 2011 representing their actual 20th anniversary, many wondered if, and indeed doubted that, the organisers could pull of anything as good again.

The answer was an unequivocal "yes", although perhaps not in terms of the profile of the bands at the top of the bill, but certainly in the strength in depth the bill had. First out of the hat when tickets went on sale in the autumn of 2010 was the events top billing, Ozzy Osbourne, playing the festival for the first time. This set a standard of sorts, and signalled the events intention to maintain as well as possible the big-money acts at the top of the line-up. Ozzy's headlining appearance was augmented by Judas Priest on their farewell tour and Whitesnake, backing their new album Forevermore.

Many festival regulars were disappointed that German legends Scorpions didn't get a return invite, having capably closed the event in 2007, and also being on their own farewell tour. But as the tour looks set to stretch through until the end of Summer 2012, there is still another chance to book them.

After the headliners the rest of the line-up is one of the strongest to date. Side stage headliners included Saxon, Thin Lizzy, Overkill, Helloween and revitalised death metal veterans Morbid Angel, with acts as noteworthy as The Cult, Mr. Big, Styx, Black Label Society and Rob Zombie occupying daytime main stage slots.

Even down to the early slots on the side stages Iced Earth on their final tour with vocal hero Matt Barlow, Accept, Destruction, much wished-for "metal queen" Lee Aaron, the only European appearance of 2011 from Steelheart, John Cyriis' final show with Agent Steel and blues rock legends Groundhogs were all booked.

The line-up was perhaps a little light on exclusives this year, with only Aaron, Steelheart and The Hooters playing their only European shows at SRF, but with a record zero cancellations, and expansion of the popular new acoustic stage from 2010, albeit with a lower profile line-up, into a fully-fledged open-air stage instead of a tent, Sweden Rock on paper promised not to disappoint.


Accept

Rock Stage
Thursday, June 9
18:15 - 19:45
Photos

One of a handful of shows without guitarist Herman Frank, who was injured falling on stage at a show in San Antonio, Texas in May, a four-man Accept still proved as engaging as they do with a full compliement of members.

The band did exceptionally well to cover the absence of Frank's guitar - with Wolf Hoffmann taking on all of the solos - and comfortably carried on the rich vein of form which has seen their touring and new album Blood of The Nations become such a success throughout 2010 and 2011. Their current reputation for excellent live performances saw them attract a sizeable crowd for the early evening slot, proving far more popular than Moonspell playing opposite them on the Sweden Stage.

There were no surprises in the set in terms of the songs which made it in, but some were dropped compared to their usual headlining shows, which didn't entirely make sense given that their alloted time at SRF was actually the same length as their own gigs (90 minutes). Perhaps some songs really did need the second guitar. In general The Abyss, Aiming High, Son of A Bitch, Burning and Neon Nights were all absent, with No Shelter and Losers And Winners, which appeared in some headlining sets, but not all, coming in.

Accept's brand of full-tilt heavy metal is still only rivaled by the likes of U.D.O. (obviously featuring original Accept singer Udo Dirkschneider) and Saxon, and in terms of electric live performances Accept's new line-up with Mark Tornillo on vocals is probably ahead. Conistently good, energetic and entertaining, their set was one of the SRF highlights this year.

“ rich vein of form ”

Setlist: Teutonic Terror / Bucket Full of Hate / Starlight / Breaker / New World Comin' / Restless And Wild / Metal Heart / Bulletproof / Losers And Winners / Princess of The Dawn / Up To The Limit / No Shelter / Fast As A Shark / Pandemic / Balls To The Wall


Black Label Society

Festival Stage
Saturday, June 11
19:30 - 21:00

Zakk Wylde and Black Label Society somehow bridge that gap between classic metal fans and modern metal fans, probably by virtue of a combination of Zakk's history, the band's exposure to young audiences only interested in what's perceived as "cool" on package tours like Ozzfest, and his legendary guitar playing.

And it would prove the same at Sweden Rock where Zakk and company had a similar experience to Rob Zombie, who played the same main stage time slot the day before. The front of the stage was packed with younger fans, while older ones remained further back (as opposed to vice versa for The Cult, for example), and similarly to Zombie BLS enjoyed a large crowd for a non-headlining act.

Zakk clearly knows which side his bread is buttered though. For the last eight or so years, as BLS have risen in popularity, mostly with younger fans, Zakk has stuck almost entirely to albums produced since that landmark. 1919 Eternal was the first of the run, with 2003's The Blessed Hellride and hit single Stillborn, and 2005's Mafia each becoming his most successful records to date. Subsequent releases Shot To Hell and Order of The Black have proven just as sucessful. The wholly unsurprising set for Sweden Rock (and indeed most stops of the 2011 Summer tour) therefore drew mostly from those albums, with just one song coming from first two albums (Born To Lose from Sonic Brew), regarded by older fans as the best two.

Dropping other interesting songs from the Winter/Spring headlining set, like Rose Petaled Garden and The Beginning... At Last was a shame, but in terms of performance BLS were as good as they usually are. A few fans lost interest during Zakk's extended guitar solo between big hit Fire It Up and new song Godspeed Hell Bound, but a closing run of Suicide Messiah, Concrete Jungle and Stillborn brought them back again.

“ wholly unsurprising set ”

Setlist: Crazy Horse / Funeral Bell / Bleed For Me / Demise of Sanity / Overlord / Parade of The Dead > Born To Lose / Darkest Days / Fire It Up > Guitar solo > Godspeed Hell Bound / The Blessed Hellride / Suicide Messiah / Concrete Jungle / Stillborn


The Cult

Festival Stage
Thursday, June 9
20:00 - 21:30

The Cult tend to be a band of dual reputations; those are of founding members Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy. In general, Duffy is seen as miserable, while Astbury is seen as volatile, appearing angry on stage at some shows, and good-humoured at others.

Sweden Rock found Astbury in an unusually jovial, but provocative mood, mocking Accept, who had played immediately before them across the field on the Rock Stage, by twisting the lyrics to Balls To The Wall on a number of occasions between songs. Duffy remained rooted behind is monitors scowling a lot. Between Duffy's misery and Astbury's ill-advised antics The Cult's performance should have been poor, but they delivered a surprisingly tight set which still hasn't changed much in composition for the last few years, but contains enough hits to engage most crowds.

Indeed the classic tracks like Spiritwalker, Fire Woman, a rousing Sweet Soul Sister, and Lil' Devil mainly served to show how poor newer material like Everyman And Woman Is A Star and Dirty Little Rockstar are. Fortunately those were the only two recent tracks in the whole set, so they didn't do much harm, even if Everyman And Woman Is A Star did manage to ruin the high spirits created in the crowd by opener Rain.

Although a band who have to endure a certain number of fans who only want to hear three or four particular songs (two of which, She Sells Sanctuary and Love Removal Machine, closed the main set), they do also enjoy quite a number who crave deeper cuts from the back catalogue - provided they come from the first five albums - so including Nirvana and The Phoenix back-to-back in the middle of the set certainly won them a lot of support for their performance, which is more than can be said for the lacklustre encore of The Doors' Break On Through (To The Other Side).

“ a surprisingly tight set ”

Setlist: Rain / Everyman And Woman Is A Star / Electric Ocean / Sweet Soul Sister / Horse Nation / Rise / Nirvana / The Phoenix / Fire Woman / Spiritwalker / Lil' Devil / Dirty Little Rockstar / Wild Flower / She Sells Sanctuary / Love Removal Machine // Break On Through (To The Other Side)


Down

Festival Stage
Friday, June 10
16:30 - 18:00
Photos

Despite being firmly rooted in southern metal, Down are more popular with young alternative metal fans than any other section of followers, and as such took the now-traditional alt-metal slot on the SRF bill, drawing a huge crowd for a mid-afternoon slot.

Down just continue to suffer from the same two problems they have suffered from for years. Phil Anselmo between songs, and never changing the setlist. Phil is the bigger problem though. The fact that most of what he says between songs is meaningless doesn't matter so much, it's that he says so much of it. In the time he spends asking the crowd to "go crazy" the band could play at least two more songs. Very often the other members of the band will have finished changing guitars and tuning and be left standing around waiting for Phil to finish. It's an inherent part of Phil's on-stage personality, but it's about time he realised fans have seen it all before and it's not funny anymore. Now they just want songs, especially given that he's in the best vocal shape of his post-Cowboys... life at the moment, and the band's strong performances demand more time actually performing.

This particular setlist, give or take a couple of tracks, has been in rotation for at least two years now, and the band have been to Europe enough times that most fans have seen it at least once. With three albums of their own material, not to mention back catalogues of previous bands, to call upon, there's no real excuse for not changing things around from time to time. Specifically, On March The Saints is still sorely missed, and Lysergik Funeral Procession could certainly do with a rest. There's no real faulting the quality of the songs on display, there are just more equally good songs that fans never get to here. Their catalogue has more riffs than almost anyone else, so why restrict shows to just a few of those?

Down's problems not withstanding, their performances are always flawless. Crushingly heavy (Bury Me In Smoke's main riff defines the term "heavy", and Ghosts Along The Mississippi isn't far behind) and always tight, especially with the addition of Pat Bruders on bass in place of the often-wayward Rex Brown, they tend to be so good fans are constantly begging for more, and if it weren't for Phil's rambling, they could have it.

“ more riffs than almost anyone else ”

Setlist: Hail The Leaf / Lysergik Funeral Procession / Lifer / The Path / Losing All / New Orleans Is A Dying Whore / Pillars of Eternity / Ghosts Along The Mississippi / Swan Song / Temptations Wings / N.O.D. / Eyes of The South // Stone The Crow / Bury Me In Smoke


Iced Earth

Rock Stage
Friday, June 10
15:00 - 16:15
Photos

Iced Earth performances in Europe have been a rarity for a number of years, but this short run of dates had particular significance with the iminent retirement of fan-favourite vocalist Matt Barlow once the tour finishes.

Iced Earth's previous appearance at Sweden Rock, in 2007 with Tim "Ripper" Owens on vocals, was marred by a miscommunication which led them to perform for just 45 minutes of their alloted 75, which was all of the material they had rehearsed with then-new guitarist Troy Seele. This time there were no such problems as, firmly in nostalgia mode, they delivered as many of the choice cuts from the Barlow-fronted albums as possible, plus Declaration Day from the Ripper-fronted The Glorious Burden.

No new songs were previewed (only fair given that Barlow wouldn't be singing them in the studio), but some surprises were in store for the fans who mobbed the front of the stage, particularly when the main set was closed with the entire 'Something Wicked' trilogy. Inclusions of Travel In Stygian, Last December and Jack alongside expected tracks like Violate, Burning Times and Iced Earth also pleased fans who were treated to a performance from Barlow looking every inch a man who should not be retiring. He, and the rest of the band, clearly enjoyed their time and didn't play like anything was coming to an end at all.

Nevertheless, decisions were made and the wheels were already turning for Barlow's more-than-capable replacement so this performance, along with the other seven on this exclusive tour, will stand as points in history for those who attended, and given that historical significance, the band proved up to the task, coming out as one of the highlights of the festival.

“ firmly in nostalgia mode ”

Setlist: Burning Times / Declaration Day / Vengeance Is Mine / Violate / Last December / Travel In Stygian / I Died For You / Jack / The Hunter / Prophecy / Birth of The Wicked / The Coming Curse // Iced Earth


Judas Priest

Festival Stage
Thursday, June 9
23:30 - 01:30

With the English metal institution making this world tour their last, fans were keen to catch any show they could in case they didn't get another chance, so the crowd amassed for their Thursday night headlining set was virtually at capacity.

Initially all eyes were on two members of the band. Vocalist Rob Halford appeared to be in much better physical shape than the last time Judas Priest played Sweden Rock, on their 2007 tour. Far more mobile and energetic, the 59-year-old was also in very good voice, alaying any doubts about his live singing voice after a few shakey performances last time out. Then there was young new guitarist Richie Faulkner, who replaced founding guitar legend K.K. Downing for this tour. Faulkner proved himself to be an exceptional player, easily handling all of Downing's solos and putting on a vibrant display, leaving the audience realising they barely miss K.K. at all.

The band's setlist for the tour had promised to be drawn from every one of their 16 studio albums, taking into account a fans' vote on their official website, but in the end they ignored the two albums recorded with Tim "Ripper" Owens on vocals in favour of one or two more greatest hits cuts. The setlist was balanced nicely between obvious hits and deeper album cuts, with fans very seeming very pleased that tracks like Never Satisfied, which Halford has been playing recently with his solo band, Starbreaker, Night Crawler, Blood Red Skies, The Sentinel and Turbo Lover made long overdue returns to the show.

As a band, and in terms of individual performances, Judas Priest were on much better form than the last time they toured Europe, with as close to a please-everyone set as is probably possible (people bemoaning the absence of Living After Midnight should rest assured that it is included some nights as a final encore, depending on time) and sounding the best they have since Halford rejoined the band in 2005. Sweden Rock should feel privileged to have been one of the events to get Priest on this final tour.

“ setlist was balanced nicely ”

Setlist: Rapid Fire / Metal Gods / Heading Out To The Highway / Judas Rising / Starbreaker / Victim of Changes / Never Satisfied / Diamonds & Rust / Prophecy / Night Crawler / Turbo Lover / Beyond The Realms of Death / The Sentinel / Blood Red Skies / The Green Manalishi (With The Two-Pronged Crown) / Breaking The Law / Painkiller // Electric Eye / Hell Bent For Leather // You've Got Another Thing Comin'


Overkill

Sweden Stage
Friday, June 10
21:45 - 23:15

Thrash metal fans only really had three bands on the bill this year, with Overkill and Agent Steel appearing on Friday and Destruction kicking off Saturday at midday, and of those three Overkill comfortably enjoyed not only the highest profile spot on the bill, but the best crowd and the strongest performance.

Any fans who saw the band on their European tour earlier in the year will probably have been expecting a similar set. And many tracks did indeed appear again, particularly the selections from newest album Ironbound, which were the same four as before. The rest of the set was changed up a bit, with E.vil N.ever D.ies, In Union We Stand and Elimination all returning to the set. However, there were three songs no one would have expected at all. Skullkrusher, from '89's The Years of Decay would have been surprising enough for most people to have gone home happy they'd seen something rare, had it not been for the mid-set shock they'd already had.

For the first time in over 25 years, taken from their first demo tape and never re-recorded for an official commercial release, the band broke out Death Rider and The Beast Within from 1983's Power In Black. Only the older or more dedicated fans recognised how historically significant this was, but enough headbanging and moshing ensured the tracks were well received nevertheless.

The main set predictably closed with Old School, which is long overdue being dropped from the set, and the encore of course finished with Fuck You!!!, but by that point the enormity of what had gone before hadn't sunk in for most people. Overkill were typically excellent on stage, but those two tracks in the middle of the set were easily the biggest surprise and most special exclusive seen all week at Sweden Rock.

“ historically significant ”

Setlist: The Green and Black / E.vil N.ever D.ies / Rotten To The Core / Give A Little / Bring Me The Night / Hello From The Gutter / Ironbound / Death Rider / The Beast Within / In Union We Stand / Skullkrusher / Old School // Elimination / Fuck You!!!


Ozzy Osbourne

Festival Stage
Saturday, June 11
23:00 - 00:30

First to be announced, and easily the biggest draw of the whole week, metal legend Ozzy Osbourne was set to have not only the biggest crowd of the festival, but not to have to worry about his performance as Swedish fans have been waiting so long for him to play, they were going to enjoy it regardless. Which was just as well.

Ozzy has been known for years to be hit and miss with his performances, particularly in the vocal department, and although he started well this time, by the time Goodbye To Romance arrived fourth on the setlist his voice cracked and sounded terrible for the rest of the set. The fact that his setlist was entirely predictable and now verges on boring, and he still insists on choosing songs he can't adequately sing anymore (Shot In The Dark, for instance) ended up paling in comparison to the deficiency in his voice.

But fortunately for Ozzy he wouldn't be the worst performer on stage. Black Sabbath classic Fairies Wear Boots is back in his set at the moment, and the original featured a lot of deft drum fills by Bill Ward. Listening to Tommy Clufetos ruin them was borderline-insulting to any dedicated Sabbath fan and stood out as just about the worst piece of playing all week. Guitarist Gus G. doing little more than mimicking Zakk Wylde for 90 minutes wasn't much better.

Ozzy still went down a storm because for most of the crowd it didn't matter what he played or how he played it, they were seeing Ozzy Osbourne live, many of them for the first time, and that was all that mattered. And by about half way through the set anyone who was unimpressed and retired to the campsite to sleep or find more beer, so although the crowd dwindled a little, the proportion of ecstatic fans rose. Ozzy will have been none the wiser and for the event itself his inclusion had done its part in drawing the crowd and sending many of them home happy, but really the performance was awful.

“ went down a storm ”

Setlist: I Don't Know / Suicide Solution / Mr. Crowley / Goodbye To Romance / Bark At The Moon / Road To Nowhere / Shot In The Dark > Guitar solo > Rat Salad / Iron Man / Fairies Wear Boots / I Don't Want To Change The World / Crazy Train // Mama, I'm Coming Home / Paranoid


Rage

Rockklassiker Stage
Saturday, June 11
21:15 - 22:30

For much of the week the line-up on the Rockklassiker Stage had been of local significance only, with one or two low-profile international acts scattered amongst homegrown talent, leaving Rage as the only relatively major act to perform an acoustic set this year.

Adding German violinist/guitarist/vocalist Charlotte Klausner, from all-girl rockers The Black Sheep, for extra texture, the band renowned for their unique brand of classic metal delivered one of the most crafted sets of the festival. Some of the tracks they chose to give the acoustic treatment to were quite obvious. Ballads like Beauty and Deep In The Night, which are already acoustic tracks, or more upbeat rockers like Turn The Page and Days of December, didn't take much reworking, but turning things like Lord of The Flies and Straight To Hell into acoustic groovers was something altogether more special

Impromptu jazz jam on Don't Fear The Winter aside, the set was incredibly well put together. An acoustic set is rare for Rage, so they seemed unsure at times, but carried it all off superbly. Some tracks were highlighted by how beautiful they became in an acoustic arrangement, some by guitarist Victor Smolski's astonishing playing, and some by the clever acoustic groove they were given in place of the usual electric riffs. Front-man Peavy Wagner didn't hold back with the vocals either, belting out many of the songs at full volume, ensuring none of them lacked power even in the stripped-down setting.

The band were visibly surprised at how passionately the crowd repeatedly sang the Higher Than The Sky chorus back to them as they closed the set with it, but even that surprise was surpassed when, as much as 15 minutes after the end of the set, a core group of fans were still at the front of the stage, continuing to sing the same words over and over. Peavy appeared to feel like he couldn't leave the stage until they'd finished and didn't really know what to do next. This slightly-over-enthusiastic group really proved how much the crowd as a whole had enjoyed such a special set, which will go down as one of the best of the year.

“ something altogether more special ”

Setlist: Lord of The Flies / Wake The Nightmares (Falling From Grace, Pt. 1) / Turn The Page / Deep In The Night / Days of December / After The End / Beauty / Through Ages / Empty Hollow / All This Time / Straight To Hell / Don't Fear The Winter (Jazz Jam) / Higher Than The Sky


Rob Zombie

Festival Stage
Friday, June 10
20:00 - 21:30

2011 has been a rather exploratory year for Rob Zombie, who has been absent from Europe in a music capacity for over a decade, finally returning with a string of sold-out UK shows in February.

Sweden Rock represented his first ever show in Sweden, making him one of the biggest non-headliner draws of this year's event, and one of the most heavily attended afternoon main stage acts all week. A few people were initially put off by surprising opener What Lurks On Channel X? but were quickly put at ease by a string of fan-favourites including Superbeast, Living Dead Girl and staple White Zombie track More Human Than Human.

As well as being one of the most entertaining, despite missing many of the large items of stage apparatus his theatre shows enjoyed earlier in the year, Zombie's set was also one of the most poorly organised. But even this problem was handled well by the band. For their run of festival appearances they had clearly only prepared a 65-75 minute set. But Sweden Rock gives most bands longer to play than they get elsewhere, which meant Zombie had another 25 minutes to fill by the time the encore of Dragula had finished.

In response to this the band re-emerged to a second encore of Pussy Liquor, which they added with an efficiency which suggests it was rehearsed as their back-up additional encore when required. Still with plenty of time remaining they added a third encore of Lords of Salem, which seemed far more unplanned. They still finished 15 minutes early, but really had run out of rehearsed songs by that point.

Hopefully if Rob returns in 2012 the setlist will be changed up a little. Fans of White zombie in particular will really be wanting to hear something other than More Human Than Human, Super-Charger Heaven and Thunder Kiss '65, which have been the only WZ songs in the set for many years. Only including one song each from newest albums Educated Horses and last year's Hellbilly Deluxe II was also a little disappointing, but for a first ever Swedish appearance, most local fans really didn't care.

“ one of the most entertaining ”

Setlist: What Lurks On Channel X? / Superbeast / Scum of the Earth / Living Dead Girl / More Human Than Human / Demonoid Phenomenon / Mars Needs Women / House of 1000 Corpses / Drum Solo / Never Gonna Stop (The Red, Red Kroovy) / Demon Speeding / Super-Charger Heaven / Thunder Kiss '65 // Dragula // Pussy Liquor // Lords of Salem


Steelheart

Rock Stage
Friday, June 10
12:00 - 13:15
Photos

One of the few exclusives at Sweden Rock in 2011, Miljenko Matijevic's Steelheart were also one of the most often requested bands by regulars to the festival, and although they haven't had a new album for three years, having never played in Sweden it really didn't matter.

Despite the presence of founding guitarist Chris Risolo, it has to be said Steelheart really is the Matijevic show. He struts like the centre of attention, commands the crowd, and provides the only real focal point of the show. And he does it extremely well. Add to that his incredibly voice and he's the complete rock 'n' roll front-man package. His performance was absolutely superb here, as was the band's in a more understated way, and the heavier sound they now have really benefits their material.

Probably the reason Steelheart were able to be revitalised was Matijevic's participation in the successful 'Rock Star' movie, where he provided the singing voice for Mark Wahlberg's lead character, and with a band including Zakk Wylde, Jeff Pilson and Jason Bonham (plus Jeff Scott Soto singing for Jason Flemyng's character) recorded several original songs for the soundtrack, plus a new version of We All Die Young. Some of those songs have been adopted as Steelheart's own and are regularly included in the setlists. Here they opened with Blood Pollution, and later added Stand Up amongst an even spread of tracks from '90s albums Steelheart and Wait, and newest album Good 2B Alive. Strangely 1992's Tangled In Reins was completely overlooked.

In addition they added the only new recroding they have available, a cover of Led Zeppelin's Black Dog, and although some people only knew that and the 'Rock Star' songs, and a few others only knew the '90s Steelheart songs, everyone was engaged with Matijevic. Although packing no real surprises in terms of their set, Steelheart's was one of the most consumate performances of the week.

“ the complete rock 'n' roll front-man package ”

Setlist: Blood Pollution / Gimme Gimme / Like Never Before / Cabernet / Black Dog / We All Die Young / Buried Unkind / Everybody Loves Eileen / Stand Up / LOL // She's Gone

Written by Andy Lye
More: 2011, Fantasy/Epic, Festivals, Hard/Heavy Rock, Heavy Metal, Power Metal, Southern, Stoner, Thrash Metal, , , , , , , , , , ,

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