Day 3 started with some actual nice weather for a change, so of course when it’s hot and sunny and you’re already exhausted from the previous two days, the obvious thing to do is to head out early to see the first band in one of the tents, right?
Well, as crazy an idea as that sounds, I stand by my decision because it meant I got to see an excellent performance from the recently reformed SikTh. I’m not overly convinced that having such a weird and technical band on first was necessarily the best of suggestions, but SikTh made the most of the small and at first relatively unenthusiastic crowd. It took a lot of effort to win most of them over, but they certainly succeeded in getting people going for the day ahead. What impressed me most though was the sound. Given the technical problems of the first day, I really was impressed with how well they set the sound up for the first act on, especially as SikTh are the kind of band where getting that slightly wrong really would matter. I must say, I’m exceptionally glad they’ve reformed at that I was able to see them. 7/10
Delain were the band on the main stage as SikTh finished, so we missed the start of their set, but to be honest I’m just disappointed that we didn’t miss all of it. I’d seen Delain before and they were rubbish then, but this was six years ago and I thought I’d give them the benefit of the doubt this time and see what they were like this time around. They have not improved however, and I can’t see myself making the same mistake in future. Their dull and monotonous songs were matched only by an equally boring performance which just added nothing to the experience and completely failed to gain any real reaction from the crowd. Even for one of the first bands on in the day this was not a crowd reaction anybody should be proud of. 4/10
The same definitely cannot be said for Sick Of It All. Despite only being there because they were drafted as last-minute replacements for Architects, you could have been fooled into thinking half the people there had bought tickets to the entire festival specifically to see them, so enthusiastic was the response. The band too didn’t seem like one who had only turned up at the last minute, but like one who really wanted to be there and absolutely belonged there. Energetic and engaging throughout, Sick Of It All‘s one major fault was that from my perspective (someone who didn’t know more than one or two songs beforehand) all of their songs sounded the same and consequently the initial excitement wore off when it all seemed to get a little too repetitive. Still, if this is the kind of band that gets brought to your festival as a back-up, it suggests your festival is really doing something right. 7/10
Overkill may not have been a bad band to see live, were it not for the fact that they obviously replaced their usual lead singer with a cross between a parrot and the Wicked Witch of the West. He sounded dreadful and he squawked and screeched his way through the set while somehow maintaining an arrogant persona throughout. Even without that though, the performance was just bad; laden with sloppy playing all over the place and a real sense that the band was trying just that little bit too hard and thought just a little too much of themselves. Combine that attitude with a bad show and it just becomes embarrassing, which (given that the highlight of the show was when the lead singer fell over after trying to do a cool move) is really the most fitting way to describe the show. When my friend asked me who I thought the worst band of the festival was, I said Overkill before he’d even finished the sentence. It wasn’t even close. 3/10
Thankfully I had elected to stay on the other side of the stage divide meaning that I had an excellent spot for Shinedown. They are another band where you sort of have to wonder about what they need to do in order to get a spot higher up on the bill. They were excellent from first to last playing a mixture of newer tracks and older crowd pleasers and getting the balance between engaging the crowd and playing through a decent selection of their discography absolutely spot on in my view. I have known Brent to go on a bit in between songs, but the only time he did this he ventured into the crowd itself to a great response and the whole stunt provided an excellent steady build up into the dynamic opening to Enemies, which got the whole crowd jumping despite the building heat. From this to getting everybody singing along to Second Chance, Shinedown proved that they could pull off songs of all varieties to excellent effect. I just wish they’d had a bit longer to show themselves off, to be honest. 9/10
They did have to make way for Heavy Metal legends Saxon though which, let’s face it, is hardly much of a step down. Saxon put in a very different kind of performance with far less energy, but that didn’t mean that they weren’t also very good. Saxon put their many years of experience to great use delivering song after song as well as if they were in the recording studio. And with such a rich back catalogue to choose from, you can definitely let your music do the talking. There was a bit of a stage show which came into play as the set progressed, which helped keep things fresh and interesting. Again, for Saxon I ended up staying on the other side of the barrier, but this time around I definitely envied those who did not. I sort of can’t believe it took me this long to see them for the first time, but rest assured I shall not be leaving it quite so long next time. 8/10
The reason we did stay put is because my friend wants Mark Tremonti‘s babies (and let’s face it, who can blame him for that). Tremonti are an act who also let their music do the talking and even though the band only has three albums to pick from, there still is plenty of good quality material to make that work. I personally was a little disappointed that they didn’t include more from their most recent album Dust, but given that it hasn’t been out all that long, they can definitely be forgiven for that. The main problem with the show though was less to do with the band themselves and more to do with the crowd. It seemed to me that most of the people there were just there because they’d heard of Mark Tremonti and when his band subsequently failed to play anything they actually knew, it just turned into a crowd-surfing fest meaning that those of us who do actually like their music had to spend the vast majority of the gig with our backs to them to prevent getting our necks broken. It was one of those times where I can’t put my finger on anything specifically wrong with the performance as-such; it’s just that they didn’t have that something extra required to keep the crowd’s interest. 7/10
Powerwolf had to be viewed from a distance because I’d never heard of them before the festival and again, food is necessary. With a name like Powerwolf though I could sort of guess what to expect, and whilst I could not have predicted the exact details, I had gotten the gist pretty right. Ridiculous personas ahoy! Powerwolf had it all – costumes, rituals and, it must be said, some pretty decent sounding songs. I imagine that seeing Powerwolf, for me, might be what it’s like to see Ghost live if you don’t already know their music. A bizarre cult-like experience that because of the tongue-in-cheek absurdity of it all did unfortunately leave me feeling a little isolated from it all because I wasn’t already a fan and I felt that they didn’t really do much to cater for that. This is something I feel I may need to rectify for next time, but for this time as soon as the original novelty wore off I found myself getting very bored very quickly. 6/10
I swear Anthrax are bloody stalking me, because they seem to appear at almost every festival I go to so long as they’re actually touring that year. Either that or I’m stalking them, it’s definitely one of the two. Whichever way round it is though, I’m not complaining because Anthrax are one of the most consistently good live bands around. They always bring a combination of energy and presence to every show and this time was no exception. I personally was very glad that they chose to do a few songs from their new album For All Kings, because I think it’s one of the best of the year, and the rest of the crowd seemed to respond warmly to them too, despite the fact that there must have been a decent chunk who would not have heard them before. The one criticism I have of Anthrax‘s set wasn’t the recent songs, it was the choice to play more obscure older ones at the expense of some of their real classics. Whatever they choose to play though, I cannot imagine a situation where I wouldn’t have a thoroughly good time at an Anthrax show. 8/10
I felt a little bit bad staying where I was instead of going over to the other stage for Trivium, but in my defence, I did see them back in March and I really wanted to get a decent spot for Maiden. It’s not as if Trivium were bad even from such a distance though, to be fair to them. Switching between old and new songs as if they were all as fresh as could be, Trivium put forward an interesting set which had a performance to match it. All members except the drummer were rushing about making full use of the stage to engage as much of the crowd as possible (including our side, which is not something I can remember any other band doing so far at the festival). Meanwhile Matt Heafy‘s charisma held everybody’s attention all the way through. The whole performance makes me wonder whether Trivium are festival headliners of the future, as they certainly seemed to have most of the elements there to make it work. I guess only time will tell on that front. It would have been great to have been closer, but still the show was a highly enjoyable experience. 8/10
What can I tell you about Iron Maiden that you don’t already know? Well for starters, Book of Souls songs sound a lot better live than they do on record. My response to the album was lukewarm, I have to say, but I am now very glad that I got to see some of those songs performed live, as it really did add something which felt though it was missing on the album itself. Despite being one of the main reasons why Book of Souls failed to really hit the spot with me, Bruce Dickinson was clearly back on top form tonight both as a singer and as a frontman, while the lengthy instrumental sections of lots of the Book of Souls songs gave the other members ample time in the spotlight. They got through enough of their classics to keep the crowd happy too, but the highlight of the show (and of the whole festival) for me was Blood Brothers, which Bruce dedicated to the victims of the attacks in Orlando, Paris and Brussels. A strange thing happened during that song. My friend got smoke from someone’s cigarette in his eyes and at the same time my contact lenses started playing up. We absolutely were NOT two grown men getting all teary over Iron Maiden. Nope, never happened! Wasted Years brought a perfect end to an almost perfect show. What more could a Metalhead ask for than two hours of Iron-F***ing-Maiden on a Sunday evening? 10/10
How on earth do you follow Iron Maiden? This was the problem which Twisted Sister needed to solve, as frontman Dee Snider pointed out himself. As unenviable a task as that undoubtedly is, Twisted Sister did as good a job as is reasonably possible. As much of a twat as he clearly is, Snider‘s charismatic side shines through as he gets the crowd singing their heart out to every song, even to the extent where they simply refused to shut up after they finished playing We’re Not Gonna Take It. I have criticised other bands at Graspop for not engaging with the audience, but with Twisted Sister the crowd participation really is what the show is all about and it was much better for it. Every member of the band added something to the performance though and Mike Portnoy took over drum duties from the late AJ Pero as if he’d been there for the whole forty years. I guess for such a talented drummer that isn’t much of a surprise, but it was odd watching him play relatively simple parts on a normal-sized drum kit for once. If I were in a band doing my last ever show in a country, that’s how I’d want to go out. Twisted Sister were better than almost every other band at Graspop this year, but they weren’t quite Iron Maiden so they get a 9.5/10 instead.
And so with a subsequent fireworks display came the end of a most awesome festival before the mundane reality of driving on a Belgian motorway for 3 hours just to sit in a queue for the ferry for 3 and a half hours got underway. I guess you can’t have everything in life but at Graspop you could get pretty darn close! Road trip to Belgium in June 2017 anyone?