Day 2 of my trip to Graspop Metal Meeting began with me making it to the main stage just in time to be reliably informed that Municipal Waste were going to f*** me up before they promptly left the stage. I can’t help but think they probably should have opened with that one.
Halestorm were the first band I saw more than ten seconds of though, and it must be said they drew a very impressive crowd for so early in the day. More importantly though, they came good on delivering what the crowd was there for with a solid performance. Lzzy Hale is clearly a fantastic frontwoman and had the crowd woken up and engaged pretty much instantaneously. It helps that even for a band who haven’t been around all that long, they have a number of killer tracks which they are able to pull off well. They are however guilty of a running theme of the festival in seemingly not realising that they aren’t headliners. Halestorm are a young band with a short set and so could have done without a 5 minute drum solo midway through, which made the crowd quite spectacularly lose interest. I then spent most of the rest of the set wondering how Lzzy Hale managed to get a Golden Gods award for her guitar playing when not only is she clearly not the best guitarist in rock right now, but she isn’t even the best guitarist in her own band. They managed to recapture the crowd with their last song I Miss The Misery though, which left a far more positive impression than they otherwise might have had. 7/10
Pennywise however did not seem to leave much of an impression upon anyone, as far as I could see, unless it was a negative one and it wasn’t difficult to tell why. Their stage presence was virtually non-existent and their playing felt rushed and sloppy, as the seemed to hope that laying fast songs could allow them to get away with this.
The lead singer and guitarist spent most of the time in between the songs making jokes to each other which just fell completely flat on the audience. The fast-paced songs which make up most of Pennywise‘s discography do at least suit the festival atmosphere well, but to be honest that really was the band’s only saving grace and even the two covers they did of songs which are far more well-known than any of their own failed to get much of a reaction from me or the rest of the crowd. 4/10
It’s interesting how much bands can vary in popularity between countries. A week ago Skindred were sub-headlining the second stage at Download, yet at Graspop they ended up going on in the middle of the day on their smallest stage. Still, I personally wasn’t going to complain about that because it meant that they didn’t clash with anyone else I wanted to see, and as always they put in a killer performance. We clearly weren’t the only ones there who felt that Skindred could have done with being further up the bill as the stage was packed out for them. Skindred have been a stellar live act for a number of years now and today was no exception. Benji was his usual flamboyant self and an expert at getting the crowd moving, while Skindred with every new album are able to add more and more great songs to their live repertoire. Again though, they perhaps could have done with a little less speech-making from Benji and a little more actual music, but it didn’t spoil the show on this occasion. I don’t know if Skindred will crack the European market anytime soon, but performances like this certainly won’t hurt their cause. 8/10
Another band you sort of have to wonder what they need to do to get themselves higher up the bill is Killswitch Engage. With the release of another new and fantastic album under their belt, I would have thought that they would certainly have enough to be playing an evening slot at the very least. However, they did come out in what proved to be the last of the day’s sunshine and put in the best performance of the festival so far. Organisers take note! They had bags of energy with every member apart from the drummer making full use of the entire stage, but never at the expense of the music as they proceeded to just nail every single song. Adam D was fantastically entertaining as usual and Jessie Leach was on terrific form as well. I was happy to see that the band were prepared to throw in a fair few new songs and they definitely held their ground against the old classics. Every song was pulled off with aplomb and I can’t imagine that one person walked away from that show without a great big smile on their faces. 9/10
Testament therefore had a pretty tough act to follow, but they managed to still make a good show out of it. They also were very much not helped by the weather which chose that moment to take a pretty epic turn for the worse. Testament battled on regardless though and definitely won the crowd over with a relentless set which showcased everything that is good about them, so you have to give them a lot of credit for that. Whilst they rose to their challenge well, they just didn’t have that extra little bit that made seeing them a truly special experience; but they were definitely worth sticking around in the rain for. 7/10
The rain had stopped by the time that Dropkick Murphys took to the stage and found a crowd that was incredibly receptive to their fusion of punk and Irish folk music. And who wouldn’t be when it works so well in a festival setting? Of course it is possible that the reason so many people turned up was just to gloat at Belgium’s triumph over Ireland in the football earlier that day, but if that was the case then Dropkick Murphys soon put the focus back on their music where it rightly belonged. I was also pleasantly surprised to see that there were a very large number of people in the crowd who clearly knew more of their back catalogue than I’m Shipping Up To Boston. It’s not exactly difficult to enjoy Dropkick Murphys regardless of how many songs you know though, as the band who were celebrating 20 years showed a great mix of energy and experience to get the whole crowd dancing and singing along. 8/10
I know that they’re quite a popular band to hate among many in the metal world, but Bullet For My Valentine by all accounts should be a great band to see live. Yes their songs are generic and often overplayed, but in a festival setting in particular that’s the sort of thing that should work well, even if it is on a bit of a guilty pleasure level for many. However, when it comes down to it, there really is no other way to say it: BFMV are just boring! Nobody in the band has any stage presence whatsoever and they spend almost the entire show stood static behind their microphones waiting for their singing parts. The pyrotechnics seem like a massive token effort which really doesn’t help with anything other than warming the crowd up a bit on what was turning into a very cold evening. They are saved by their songs, which most of the crowd knew and were able to sing along to, and the fact that they can at least play them well. But put it this way, when the most entertaining bit of a band’s set is the moment you realise the band’s new bassist looks like Jack Whitehall, it doesn’t exactly show the band in that great a light. 6/10
Needless to say, I didn’t think twice about making sure I sacrificed BFMV to get myself a great spot for Ghost. In fact, I would recommend that anyone does the same because Ghost are one of the best live bands around and their show at the London Palladium in March still holds top spot for best gig so far this year. This time around however, Ghost were not quite up to their usual standard. This is not to say that they were in any way bad. It’s just that they set such a high standard that a very good performance like this was actually ends up being below expectations. Nothing was majorly wrong, it was just that Papa Emiritus was slightly off and even down at the front there were clearly chunks of the crowd that they just weren’t able to connect with. Still though, if on a bad day they still end up being better than most other bands at the festival, that shows you what a great act they really are. And let’s face it, when a man in a Cardinal’s outfit and a weird mask spends the last few minutes before the last song talking about orgasms, what isn’t to love? 8/10
After coming together with Ghost, I quickly made my escape from the main stages to go see Rival Sons. Not because I’m a particularly big fan of them or anything, but because (unpopular opinion alert) Slayer are terrible. Rival Sons were well worth seeing on their own merit however, and I have to say I very much regret not checking them out a bit more thoroughly beforehand. They’re a very tight-knit band who may not do anything spectacular but clearly write good songs and know how to perform them well. If anything, I’m probably being slightly harsh on them with my rating because not knowing their songs and being far away does detract from the experience to some extent. But either way, their performance definitely earned Rival Sons a new fan if nothing else. 7/10
With the next band I may have made a bit of an error because my most difficult clash of the festival was next and I had to choose between Nightwish and Gojira. I chose the former mostly because I felt I would have more of a chance to see the latter, but my friend who did the opposite assured me that they were the best band he’d seen so far. As with Ghost though, it isn’t as if Nightwish were bad. In fact, they were very good, and they’ve been very good whenever I’ve seen them before, but they just never seem to reach the truly special category for me. They are another band too who could have done with taking a little less time faffing around between songs too in my view, as it added little to the atmosphere and essentially just meant that they played fewer songs. Still, the songs they did play went down very well despite the fact that I know many people who would be against them playing a set so heavily weighted in favour of their newer material, and they always bring a good stage show to proceedings as well. What was great about Nightwish‘s show in particular though was the way that they were able to create such a great atmosphere when they were playing their songs, even if this was sometimes spoiled by elongated gaps in between. 8/10
On the other side of the coin to Skindred are Volbeat, by which I mean that this is a band who are much bigger on the continent than they are in the UK; and indeed they were considered a strange choice of headliner by many people I knew when I mentioned Graspop to them. If you are sat there raising your eyebrows at this idea however, do yourself a favour and go and see them. You’ll soon realise that they more than merit their headline status, because they were just phenomenal. Everything you would want from a live show was here pretty much. Stage show, great songs, talented musicians and a frontman who gets the mix of engaging the crowd but not being a complete and utter dick spot on. Again, I can only say I wish I knew a little more of their material beforehand, but in this case it really didn’t make much of a difference because I still thoroughly enjoyed even those songs I didn’t know. After constant drizzle since the early evening and falling temperatures, I should have been thoroughly miserable by all accounts at this stage of the evening but Volbeat ensured I wasn’t. I don’t know what this band has to do to make it in the UK, but I certainly hope that their upcoming tour with Alter Bridge will help them get a spot headlining a UK festival soon! 9/10