Sweden Rock Festival 2013

Norje Havsbad, Sölvesborg - June 5-8
event website | venue website | full line-up

Now in its 21st year Sweden Rock had already revealed their biggest coup as far back as a few weeks after the 2012 event when Canadian prog rock legends Rush confirmed their plans for 2013. The appearance on the final day was the band's first festival performance for 35 years, and their only one in Europe all year.

Subsequent announcements of the calibre of the highly-demanded KISS, Europe's one-off anniversary show, the return of Avantasia and a rare appearance from Amon Amarth's full Viking show complete with replica ship strengthened the top end of bill, while the mid and lower order were filled out with the usual mixture of styles Sweden Rock has become known for, including a special acoustic performance by The Quireboys, the Scandinavian debut of Jason Newsted's new band Newsted, and a repeat invite for Rick Springfield, arguably the most popular performer of the 2010 festival.

In terms of the event itself, the only significant changes were the renaming of the fourth stage, under new sponsorship from 4Sound, and the slight repositioning of the Rock Stage. This new angle, which pointed it directly across the fifth stage, was not an improvement. When both stages played at the same time, the larger would inevitably interfere with the sound at the smaller, and the new angle made it much harder for the crowd to fit in for the higher demand acts like Avantasia and Saxon.

When the stage used to be angled diagonally across the main stage's area (the two would never be used at the same time) it meant the crowd could spread itself out more, making viewing the stage comfortable. Now the crowd has to pack into an area that is both narrower and shorter. For the biggest acts, this is a problem, and hopefully it'll be rectified in the future.

Apart from that, everything was as well-run, comfortable, and high quality as it always is. In an unprecedented move for Sweden Rock, before KISS took the stage on the Thursday, the main stage screens revealed the first five acts already confirmed for 2014, showing bands are getting keener than ever to play the event; a testament to its growing reputation as one of the best festivals in Europe.


Avantasia

Rock Stage
Saturday, June 8
00:00 - 02:00
Photos

Sweden Rock has obviously proved to be one of Tobias Sammet's favourite places to play. It now stands as the only festival to host his Avantasia project on all three of their world tours, and every time they attract a large crowd and put on a spectacular show.

The line-up for the 2013 tour was a slightly odd one. While it included alumni Michael Kiske (Unisonic, the only singer to have been on every album and every tour besides Sammet himself), Amanda Somerville (Trillium, vocals), Sascha Paeth (guitar), Felix Bonke (Edguy, drums), Bob Cately (Magnum, vocals) and Oliver Hartmann (Hartmann, guitar), it was absent Norwegian hero Jorn Lande, who had been an integral part of both previous Avantasia tours, and their last three albums.

In his stead was Pretty Maids' Ronnie Atkins and Mr. Big's Eric Martin, who both sang on new album The Mystery of Time, joining the band for the first time, and they did excellent jobs of covering Jorn's songs.

Avantasia's regular shows are long. At least 150 minutes, if not three hours, and although this set, closing the festival after headliners Rush, was just two hours, the strains of the longer show meant some songs were rehearsed without Sammet to give him a rest. Obviously the other singers are perfectly capable of filling in any of Sammet's vocal parts, but seeing Avantasia play songs without the main man is a strange experience. Particularly when one of those songs is Twisted Mind, which features Tobi very prominently in a to-and-fro scenario with Roy Kahn, whose parts were sung by Lande on previous tours. On this tour Atkins and Martin shared the song, which was perfectly serviceable, but Tobi's absence from it was noticeable.

Otherwise new material from The Mystery of Time dominated the set, split up by some of the best songs from previous albums, in front of a blinding light show and the band's usual exuberant performance. Although unusual that someone would be playing after the main headliners, it's hard to imagine a better closing act for the festival than a full Avantasia production. There's no one else like them.

Setlist: Spectres / Invoke The Machine / Black Orchid / Prelude / Reach Out For The Light / Avantasia / The Story Ain't Over / The Great Mystery / Dying For An Angel / Promised Land / Farewell / Shelter From The Rain / The Scarecrow / Savior In The Clockwork / Twisted Mind / Lost In Space / Sign of The Cross/The Seven Angels


Candlemass

Sweden Stage
Wednesday, June 5
00:00 - 01:35

Although not perhaps the band with the widest appeal to be chosen for the opening day headline slot, the significance of Candlemass to the Swedish metal scene, in the year of they were voted the greatest Swedish metal band of all time by Sweden Rock Magazine, justified the selection.

The band's last appearance at Sweden Rock included Solitude Aeturnus singer Robert Lowe, but they have, after deciding not in fact to retire, continued with popular Swedish vocalist Mats Levén, also the singer in Candlemass bassist Leif Edling's Krux. Given that most work Edling is involved in bears a distinctive sound, there is the danger that with Levén, Candlemass will simply sound like Krux covering Candlemass but, just as on the demos for King of The Grey Islands, the first album with Lowe, they simply sound right with him.

Their set however was a strange one. Although given a two-hour time slot as headliners, they had prepared only 95 minutes of material, oddly opening and closing the main set, and opening the encore with tracks from newest album Psalms For The Dead, and leaving out many recognised classics like Mirror Mirror, The Well of Souls, Dark Are The Veils of Death, and The Bells of Acheron. Amongst the new tracks and oft-played classics, only Dark Reflections was added as rare song from the archives. Filling the remaining 25 minutes of their slot would certainly have afforded them time enough to add something else interesting and another couple of "hits".

Nevertheless, their performance as impeccable and they are somehow a more exciting live prospect with Levén than they managed to be with Lowe. They were incredibly heavy throughout, and with near perfect sound, and the advantage of playing at night, which suits them rather better than the mid-afternoon slot afforded them last time, they were a worthy closer for the opening day.

Setlist: Prophet / Bewitched / Dark Reflections / Waterwitch / Emperor of The Void / Under The Oak / At The Gallows End / Darkness In Paradise / Psalms For The Dead // Black As Time / Crystal Ball / Solitude


Doro

Festival Stage
Friday, June 7
16:30 - 18:00

The long overdue return of "The Metal Queen" to Sweden Rock, her first appearance since 2006 and third in total, fell between her 25th and 30th anniversary celebration years (2009 and 2014 respectively), but watching her gives the impression that every year is a celebration.

No one on the Sweden Rock bill this year looked happier or more genuinely pleased to be there than Doro, who could barely stop smiling and thanking the crowd long enough to sing songs. She made full use of the walkway extending into the crowd, even if the rest of her band needed encouragement to step out from behind their monitors, and engaged with the front rows as often as possible.

Her set was somewhat unbalanced though. Despite having spent far more time as a solo artist than in Warlock, where she made her name in the 1980s, only six of the set's 15 songs were from Doro albums. Besides faithful Judas Priest cover Breaking The Law, the remaining eight were all Warlock songs. While some of these were a true credit to the show, like a magnificent Für Immer, a set weighted in their favour is not representative of her work, especially when she wanted (rightly) to find room for four tracks from latest album Raise Your Fist, leaving just two songs from her other ten albums.

Nevertheless, her performance was so much fun, it really didn't matter which songs she mined from her back catalogue. She delivered everything with a youthful joy, and because her voice is still so good, all of the songs both new and old sounded great too. Hopefully on her 30th anniversary tour next year, and when she returns to Sweden Rock, she plays more solo songs, because the material deserves it.

Setlist: I Rule The Ruins / Burning The Witches / Rock Till Death / The Night of The Warlock / Metal Racer / True As Steel / Raise Your Fist In The Air / Für Immer / Hero / Breaking The Law / Revenge / All We Are // Earthshaker Rock / Burn It Up / Metal Tango


Europe

Festival Stage
Friday, June 8
23:30 - 02:05
Photos

This year's Sweden Rock was more important for homegrown rock veterans Europe than probably any other established band on bill. This was because, as part of their headline status, the show was their 30th anniversary celebration.

Going on to be one of the few headliners to use the full two-and-a-half hour time slot afforded them, and even running over by about 5 minutes, they played the longest set of their career, filmed entirely for future DVD release, and included many tracks not played for decades.

They also brought with them the biggest light show they've had in a very long time (aided in no small part by a remarkably reflective bass drum in Ian Haugland's kit) and put on a show that was both impressively engaging and consistent in quality for one so long. For vocalist Joey Tempest to sound as good singing the vocally challenging eternal finalé The Final Countdown as he did singing opener Riches To Rags after such an extended set was truly remarkable.

Indeed by starting with Riches For Rags, the set didn't begin at all differently to their normal setlist for most of their recent touring. The next six tracks all followed the usual order as well, including crowd favourite Superstitious, and a further four songs from the most recent two albums, Bag of Bones and Last Look At Eden. Then they started to make things interesting, with back-to-back renditions of two tracks rarely aired from their 1986 self-titled debut album, In The Future To Come, which had only been played on one other occasion, albeit in an acoustic format, since 1991, and Paradize Bay, unplayed since 1989. Obviously as the band adopt a much heavier, harder sound now than they did then, these songs are given a new lease of life, and fit in very well with their more recent material.

The latter part of the set gave places to rarely played tracks like Wings of Tomorrow and Prisoners In Paradise, another not played in a full electric form since the '80s, because special guests Michael Schenker, for a cover of UFO's Light's Out, and Scott Gorham for Thin Lizzy's Jailbreak added a touch of something unique to proceedings.

Closing out with an encore of highly popular recent track Last Look At Eden, which is such a great opener that if it's not used at the start of the show, can only be played as the start of the encore, and The Final Countdown the show was a complete and total success. Fans were ecstatic and the always-fine camerawork provided on the Sweden Rock main stage will give rise to an excellent to commemorate it.

Setlist: Riches To Rags / Firebox / Not Supposed To Sing The Blues / Scream of Anger / Superstitious / No Stone Unturned / New Love In Town / In The Future To Come / Paradize Bay / Girl From Lebanon / Prisoners In Paradise / Always The Pretenders / Drink And A Smile / Open Your Heart / Love Is Not The Enemy / Sign of The Times / Start From The Dark / Wings of Tomorrow / Carrie / Jailbreak / Seven Doors Hotel / Drum Solo / The Beast / Let The Good Times Rock / Lights Out / Rock The Night // Last Look At Eden / The Final Countdown


KISS

Festival Stage
Thursday, June 6
23:00 - 01:00

KISS are one of those major bands who deliver a choreographed, well-planned show every night. Fans always not what they're going to get from KISS, and by and large know they're going to be satisfied with the spectacle.

Some criticise the band for not changing the songs they play often enough, but very few people ever complain about the show itself. To support their latest album, Monster, they've devised a new stage set-up as the backdrop for their tried and tested stunts, centred around a giant lighting rig shaped like a spider, replete with pneumatic moving legs.

The rest of the visual aspect of the show remains much the same, including Gene Simmons being raised onto the top of the lighting rig during his bass solo and singing a song (God of Thunder in the current set) from there, and Paul Stanley taking a zip-wire out to a second stage in the middle of the crowd for Love Gun. The new additions, for closing number Black Diamond, are two platforms on pneumatic arms which carry Simmons and guitarist Tommy Thayer out over the front few rows as the confetti cannons go off, which makes for a spectacular finale.

The show itself was, as ever, flawless. The band however had much greater problems than simply following the script. Front-man Paul Stanley, who has more songs to sing than Gene in the current setlist, struggled badly. It was clear right away, from the moment they disembarked the platform that lowered from the roof of the stage and he began singing opener Psycho Circus that his voice was shot, and it didn't get any better as the night went on. Clearly he was ill, looking physically drained at times, and was having to soldier on regardless. Occasional moments sounded better than others, like Love Gun, but at times he was doing so badly he had to speak the lyrics (most notably for Hell Or Hallelujah) rather than sing them.

And this is where the pre-planned nature of KISS's shows are a problem. A more adaptable band would have substituted a few of Paul's songs with more where Gene takes lead vocals, but the setlist is tied irreversibly to the stage show. Pyrotechnics and fireworks are set to to be used at certain moments in certain songs, and they can't be changed at will. There were several songs in the set though that weren't sung by Paul, so he could have breaks, and of course the band played perfectly, so the show wasn't a complete loss, but not really what the festival wanted for the first main headline performance of the week.

Setlist: Psycho Circus / Shout It Out Loud / Let Me Go, Rock 'N' Roll / I Love It Loud / Hell Or Hallelujah / War Machine / Calling Dr. Love / Deuce / Say Yeah / Shock Me/Outta This World / Guitar Solo / Drum Solo / Bass Solo / God of Thunder / Lick It Up / Love Gun / Rock And Roll All Nite // Detroit Rock City / I Was Made For Lovin' You / Black Diamond


Newsted

Sweden Stage
Friday, June 7
15:00 - 16:15
Photos

Across the world, people were quite wary of a Jason Newsted solo band. Especially one with him handling the lead vocals himself. Never known for his vocals, or when it came to Metallica, his song-writing, and with no full album out by the time he went on tour either, his crowd was modest.

Playing opposite Asia didn't help, because that took away more or less everyone with an interest in melodic or progressive rock, which at Sweden Rock is a large number of people, but those who did opt for the bass hero were eagerly waiting what they thought would be a set of mostly Metallica covers from Metallica, And Justice For All..., Load and ReLoad, broken up by the handful of new songs released on the Metal EP, but that was not to be either.

For the bulk of their set Newsted, full of energy and as heavy as possible, played songs from the forthcoming debut album Heavy Metal Music, plus the two b-sides from the EP, Godsnake and Skyscraper. This approach was perhaps a little impenetrable in terms of material, but as a performance it was absolutely flawless. The band he's assembled, including Staind's Mike Mushok on guitar, are very lively, and Jason looks far happier as a front-man than he ever did as a side-man.

As the set drew to an end they finally brought out a couple of covers, but after teasing with a little Of Wolf And Man, the Metallica cover actually played wasn't even one Jason appeared on originally, Whiplash from debut album Kill 'Em All. Granted Jason was known for that song when in the band, handling some of the vocals, but it was unexpected all the same. The band handled it very well, and Jason probably chose it because the vocal melodies suit his style, which is now far better than the barking he used to do in Metallica. The closer, Motörhead's (We Are) The Road Crew, enjoyed similar results.

Even with unheard songs dominating the set, Newsted were one of the highlights of the festival.

Setlist: Heroic Dose / Soldierhead / Skyscraper / As The Crow Flies / Nocturnus / Long Time Dead / King of The Underdogs / Twisted Tail of The Comet / Godsnake / Whiplash / (We Are) The Road Crew


Rick Springfield

Festival Stage
Thursday, June 6
16:15 - 17:25

Back in 2010 Rick Springfield was a bit of a wild card on the Sweden Rock bill, but by turning in the performance of the festival he earned himself a second invite by popular demand.

Essentially replacing songs from 2008's Venus In Overdrive with new ones from 2012's Songs For The End of The World, he mostly played the same set as before, but making sure to add a couple of tougher songs in Rock of Life and The Man That Never Was from Dave Grohl's Sound City: Real To Reel soundtrack album for the rock crowd.

His performance was just like last time as well. Rick has the rare ability to be able to engage fans of heavy music with pop rock songs, via his energetic performances, which gets more and more remarkable as time goes by (Rick is now quite unbelievably 63 years old). Even without all the running around, he is an accomplished showman, and were he to no longer be able to do things like jump off the stage, move through the crowd, and climb the sound tower, his shows would not suffer much for it.

Unfortunately, Rick was let down this year. After his usual main-set closing duo of Human Touch and Jessie's Girl he and the band left the stage before the inevitable encore. The gap was noticeably longer than usual, and when Rick emerged alone, with no guitar, it was clear something was up. He told everyone that the show was over and he was not being allowed to play any more. With more than 20 minutes of his slot left, and no obvious explanation, fans were left confused and very disappointed. Rick himself put a professional, cheerful face on it, not blaming anyone or complaining, and simply promising to play longer next time.

It's not like Sweden Rock to cut someone off, and up to that point Rick and co. had been superb. There is likely more to the story than will be known to the public, but it's safe to say that Rick once again more than did enough for the crowd to want him back.

Setlist: Wide Awake / I've Done Everything For You / Living In Oz / Celebrate Youth / Our Ship's Sinking / Affair of The Heart / I Hate Myself / Rock of Life / Love Somebody / The Man That Never Was / Love Is Alright Tonight / Cross Road Blues / Don't Talk To Strangers / Human Touch / Jessie's Girl


Saxon

Rock Stage
Friday, June 7
21:45 - 23:15

Saxon are one of those bands, a bit like Motörhead, who are big favourites of both Sweden Rock's staff and crowd, so their usual place at the head of the Rock Stage bill every two or three years is rarely ever frowned upon.

The band consistently responds to their lofty position by bringing their biggest show, always including additional pyrotechnics and the famous eagle, but the difference this time was in the set. Whereas last time they were here (in 2011) they played a one-off set which included the entire Denim And Leather album, this time they stuck predominantly to their usual setlist for supporting new album Sacrifice, combining three new songs with standard hits.

The one true rarity they pulled out for the Sweden Rock crowd came in the shape of Conquistador from the underrated Metalhead album. The reception was lukewarm, as most fans seemed not to know the track at all, but those who did enjoyed its inclusion in an otherwise unbalanced setlist rooted in the 1980s albums. It's a shame that after having regained prominence in recent years after fading from popularity in the 1990s, that most of the albums which got them there (Lionheart, Inner Sanctum, Call To Arms, Killing Ground etc.) were eschewed in favour of standards they play every year.

Nevertheless, their performance was typically excellent, certainly heavier and more consistent than the last couple of appearances here, and it's just a shame that they didn't have anything special up their sleeves for a festival that has been one of their biggest supporters for a number of years.

Setlist: Sacrifice / Wheels of Terror / Power And The Glory / Heavy Metal Thunder / Made In Belfast / Crusader / And The Bands Played On / I've Got To Rock (To Stay Alive) / Conquistador / Drum Solo / Solid Ball of Rock / Stand Up And Fight / Dallas 1 PM / 747 (Strangers In The Night) / Strong Arm of The Law / Wheels of Steel / Denim And Leather / Princess of The Night


Skid Row

Sweden Stage
Saturday, June 8
21:30 - 22:45

American rockers Skid Row were handed the most unenviable time slot of the week; playing opposite big headliners Rush on the Sweden Stage. Last time they played the festival, they were placed on the Rock Stage, and enjoyed a very large crowd. This time their attendance fared rather less well.

The small crowd affected the members, and their performances, differently. Guitarist Scotti Hill and singer Johnny Solinger were their usual exuberant selves, but lead guitarist Dave Sabo and bassist Rachel Bolan were somewhat more subdued, Bolan seeming to go through the motions a bit even on his eternally tedious rendition of Psycho Therapy. The show felt a little like Skid Row on auto-pilot.

Only playing for 75 minutes when they had 90 available also indicated they weren't fully energised by the show. Sometimes this suggests the band didn't have enough material rehearsed for a festival with longer time slots, but they'd been doing a European headlining tour before their festival run, and this setlist was just the same one as those shows, with some songs dropped. Nevertheless, the songs they kept formed a strong, if unadventurous set, and new songs Let's Go and the excellent Kings of Demolition worked very well in a live setting. The pick of the older songs was a superb In A Darkened Room, but there was no room for anything from Subhuman Race this time around.

This set was nowhere near as successful as the last time they were at Sweden Rock, but given what they were up against, they probably did the best they could with the situation. Playing another couple of songs with the extra 15 minutes they had, and being a bit more energetic might have improved things.

Setlist: Slave To The Grind / Big Guns / Let's Go / Here I Am / 18 & Life / New Generation / Makin' A Mess / In A Darkened Room / Kings of Demolition / Psycho Therapy / I Remember You / Monkey Business // Get The Fuck Out / Youth Gone Wild


Written by Andy Lye
More: 2013, Blues, Doom Metal, Festivals, Hard/Heavy Rock, Heavy Metal, Power Metal, Rock, Thrash Metal, , , , , , , , , , ,

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