By Jay H Gorania
Images by Jay H. Gorania, Kevin Lerminiau, Isabelle Stricklesse, John Judkins, Joey Mack
June 1-7: Sweden, Germany, Poland, The Czech Republic, Slovakia
Getting out of the bathroom at a pit stop about an hour outside of Stockholm, I noticed the hell bus had left me. “How could they not notice I was gone,” I wondered. Normally, I’m an incredibly on-edge, high-strung kinda guy, but for some reason, I didn’t panic. The good-spirited beautiful twin teenaged girls who worked at the pit stop’s shop lent me their phone (guardian devils number three and four). Thankfully, I was a boy scout who learned to be prepared. In my manly fanny pack, I had Steve’s wife’s number in the US. I didn’t have any luck connecting with her or Steve, so I calmly sat at a picnic bench under a tree beneath the hot Swedish sun and ate some delicious Swedish meatballs the twins made for me. Luckily, I finally reached Steve’s wife who touched base with Steve, and the hell bus came back for me over an hour later (after the incident, head-counts became mandatory protocol).
Enjoying some downtime since we had a day off, Rosswog and Edgar shared drumming war stories, including the part ’n parcel rock star coolness involved in knocking down cymbals and toms while performing, and the subsequent lack of coolness involved in picking them up. Later, though, things weren’t so cool.
Rosswog was singled out by a bar’s door thug partly because he resembled the stereotype of a raging frat boy; however there was an undercurrent of prejudice at hand when the doorman (not a guardian devil) said, “We’re going to watch you. If anything happens, we’re coming after you.” In pockets, anti-Americanism spread its wings across the continent.
As we were pulling up to Warsaw, Poland, Steve reflected on being there in the post-Cold War/early ’90s era when fans unable to enter the venue were clawing at the windows. Like a starving dog salivating at the sight of a juicy rib-eye, such is the devotion of metalheads who once accessed metal only through buying photocopied magazine articles and poor-quality, third-generation bootleg cassettes. One fan in particular spoke about owning a CD player before any other kid on the block…in 1997. The amiable, numerous fans in Poland truly were maniacal, fueled by their passion and vodka that they were more than happy to share.
The Polish promoter hitched a ride to the next show in Wroclaw. On the bus, he and I were victimized by party animal Rosswog who was “stage diving” off the top of seats to the backdrop of Morbid Angel’s Formulas Fatal to the Flesh (the next night while secretly microwaving my perogies to hide them from the other heathens, I accidentally opened the bus door while we were rolling forward full steam ahead, nearly plunging out the door to what would have been a not-so-cool end to life).
Every band performed exceptionally well in Wroclaw, but Jucifer’s star shined especially bright that evening. Jucifer is the best band metalheads haven’t heard. Their recorded work explores soft and rough terrain, though compared to their live work, it’s comparatively more subtle, though no less moving. But live, their sludgy doom crashes like dense clouds colliding before swelling up to a unique punk/grind frenzy. Channeling something beyond themselves, Amber and Edgar are slaves to the unkempt demonic beast that comes alive when they hit the stage. Unfortunately, most sound dudes at venues don’t adequately capture Amber’s less frequently used melodic vocals, too often leaving the boards on auto-pilot fit for her vicious blackish rasps.
But in front of the Poles, Edgar mesmerized the crowd whether he was striking cymbals at a snail’s pace or hitting overdrive. Amber is more often discussed because of her stage presence and looks, but Edgar is equally possessed on stage and mind-blowing musically, coming across as Keith Moon on crack with the ability to blast with the best of them. In person, Amber is highly intelligent and kindhearted, exhibiting the classic beauty of a movie star. But in Wroclaw, she was undeniably intimidating, flailing her flaming red hair side-to-side like a pea-soup spewing Linda Blair… except…you know, hotter and not prepubescent.
Amber was ecstatic entering Prague. “I am on fire! I love Prague!” With gold-plated roofs, bridges and castles, the magnificent architecture juxtaposes the city’s modernity with its ancient background. In spite of its sophistication and affluence, horrid echoes of the past rang through as Steve and I visited a military shop where several posed pictures of Hitler were available. WWII memorabilia or propaganda? Inside the venue directly across the street, the crowd was sparse for the first two bands, perhaps explaining why our bus driver assumed it was okay to approach and interrupt Joey Mack’s banter while ComFail was onstage. “Where is spaghetti?”
(Replacing another crazy German bus driver, Fred was once stabbed while serving in the German Special Forces. Looking somewhat like Quiet Riot’s late singer Kevin DuBrow, Fred was frequently shirtless and wearing hiked-up shorts as he’d throw beach towels on regular sidewalks to do sit-ups or catch some rays. “There are no regrets on the path to hell,” he once exclaimed, for no apparent reason, with wide eyes and an unshakable glare. He was crazy, indeed; but he was cool on many levels.)
Moving along to Zilina, Slovakia, the venue was an underground pub that was once a WWII bunker. ComFail was notably explosive and violent, and probably to have some fun because the opening band and many on hand were straightedge, Joey told the crowd to “drink, do drugs and get laid!” At this point of the tour, Joey had focused his offstage downtrodden tendencies and redirected them to the live setting, much to the benefit of those in attendance. Like a snake shedding its skin, that part of it no longer wanted or needed, such is Joey’s performance. Overwhelmingly emotional, dark, hateful and intense (descriptions also befitting Steve Austin, a prime influence upon Joey).
But behind the merch table in the Slovakian bunker, a fan asked, presumably because I’m dark, if I knew Sepultura’s Derrick Green. Sorry, buddy. We don’t all know each other. And then a woman in her late 50s asked me to deliver a message to Michael J. Fox back in America (He’s originally Canadian…like me, but I’m an Indian-Canadian, as opposed to an American Indian, even though I’m also American. Nevermind). She insisted she knows the cure for Parkinson’s and that I deliver her message to Mr. Fox, a message that took her about half an hour or longer to scribble down. I can’t help cure Parkinson’s, poor lady, but I can sell you a shirt.
June 8-14: Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Italy, France
It was Joey’s turn to get lost while stepping off the hell bus, this time in the middle of Split, Croatia (not as desirable a place as Stockholm). Joey jumped off the bus at the venue, not knowing that the bus and our entire crew was quick to depart in another direction to relax at the beach. For hours, Joey walked the streets and even jumped in the back of a cop car to find us. Finally, hours later, he was back at the venue where we had arrived. Again, getting lost in Sweden is one thing, but Croatia isn’t exactly the best place to do so. When I first saw him, I was thrilled to see that he was okay. He wasn’t in the mood for chit chat. But he certainly channeled that negative energy onstage for a wild performance, one in which I unfortunately became involved with.
A belligerent drunk really didn’t need to throw his body so violently into mine at the edge of the pit, but there’s no excuse for the tit-for-tat, pushing match I got into with him. Joey eventually put the drunk in a head lock, calming things down, for sure (the same evening there were two other almost fights, including one in which I had to hide a wooden plank embedded with rusty nails from a little fat kid who presumably wanted to mug me).
But for many, the show was a raging drunkfest where fans were alternately battering each other and hugging, primarily for TITD. Numerous folks grabbed a mic or jumped on stage for a sing-a-long of TITD’s “Temple of the Morning Star” in what had to be one of the tour’s best shows, in spite of the horrible, cavernous sound in the cement-encased venue.
By evening’s end in Innsbruck, Austria, flag-waiving, soccer jersey-donning Spaniards left the town’s stadium storming the bar (peacefully, but not soberly) in celebration of Spain’s 4-1 victory over Russia in the European Championships. Fortunately things didn’t get violent, but the situation was volatile enough it could have gone either way.
Hangovers were ignored while crazy Fred drove like a madman through the winding Italian Alps to keep good time. The driving could have killed us, but no one cared because we were too appreciative of the picturesque, sharp, towering mountains shouldering glistening streams and lush greenery. On route, Steve reflected on a previous European tour when he was hospitalized because a fan swooped up on stage and bit him (metalheads aren’t fans, they’re Mike Tyson). The bus dipped down into Milan for a 500-plus outdoor gig where the fans were absolutely maniacal for TITD.
One fan in particular, resembling Rasputin, gave Steve one of his demos that was a document of his “descent into madness,” he almost whispered in an odd voice. The demo’s liner notes made mention of this artist meeting and offering Mike Patton another one of his demos. Apparently, as the liner notes state, Mike Patton “never contacted me. That sucks.” Fortunately, Rasputin of Italy didn’t bite Steve.
After missing a ride to the Colosseum in Rome, I found my own amusement with Four Question Marks guitarist Remi Cuveillier by feeding a dead ant to a living one. Also an amazing graphic artist (he’s done work with the likes of Unearth), Remi’s guitars were unfortunately buried in the mix throughout Europe. And while Francis Passini has a monstrous stage presence and a growl with a vast range, their similarities to Meshuggah are too prominent. They’ve yet to realize the potential they certainly have.
But following the ant feeding, the entertainment improved as the Die by the Wolf Fest was underway, including the highly energetic and aggressive metallic noise of The Orange Man Theory and the straight-ahead grind of Tsubo.
Unimpressed with the next evening’s sound in Marseille, France, Steve ended the set by saying, “Thank you, and thanks to the soundman for hanging out in the parking lot. I hope he gets hit by a car.”
There were several stops in France and terrible promos found their way on the bus, like that of a band that probably thought it was cool to form after going to a Down show (Down shirts, by the way, are worn everywhere in Europe. A very pleasant sight.). They were called Southern Drinkstruction (nice fucking name), an old school metal band with gruff vocals that I couldn’t logically comprehend as being “southern” metal (and it might be southern in style, but posters at a gig boasting a Hungarian “southern” doom band just didn’t make sense to me. Was it referring to southern Hungary? I don’t think so.). On the flipside, I stumbled across interesting French bands like the doomy post-metal act 1000 Vierges and the malevolent, icy cold black metallers Dwellers of the Twilight.