An 8am departure was followed by 3+ hours of driving. A stop at our host's house, a few drinks and a drive over left us at the gates ready for a busy day. We had a constant stream of metal ahead of us and I couldn't have been any more excited. One important fact about Sweden Rock is that every band gets at least an hour; most get 90 minutes. This is unlike other festivals where opening acts get 30 or 45. That means every band has time to play what is effectively a full set.
The German Powerwolf hit first: a curious blend of power metal, goth attire and cheese. I liked some songs, but others, such as Resurrection By Erection were a bit too much for me. Erik loved them though and he was happy to catch the band.
90 minutes later we returned to the Rock Stage for Arch Enemy. This was my fourth time seeing the band, the first with Alissa. She's a great frontwoman, confident and strong, commanding the crowd with her blue hair and eyebrows. The daytime crowd was good and energetic. This was my first time seeing the band in over 15 years and the setlist featured new records entirely: 7 of the 15 songs were from the last two albums. That's good depending on which camp you find yourself in. As a fan of all three eras, it was a bit of a downer for me. They were great, though and I was thrilled to see them again.
Erik needed a nap, so Berny and I moved over to the adjacent Festival Stage to see Amon Amarth. My third time was similiar to the last time in 2016. The new record, Berserker just came out and while I like it, I prefer the prior album. Unlike Arch Enemy, these guys only played three from the newest one: two being my least-liked ones. In all though, nine albums were represented by their set, quite impressive, and the stage show was as fun and exciting and entertaining as always. Johan Hegg was having fun and the crowd was into it, though we didn't get particularly close, sadly. But, at one point, the group of guys around me all sat down and started "rowing" a fictional Viking ship. Of course, I had to jump in to that romp, silly as it might be.
The day was hardly over, and the sun shone high in the sky still when Tenacious D arrived another 15 minutes hence. I had seen both Amon Amarth and Arch Enemy several times before, but never the Jack Black and Kyle Gass monstrosity. I was excited but I wasn't sure what to expect.
A recorded intro, some new songs and a catchy song from the last good record started out the show, but it wasn't great. That totally changed as Sax-A-Boom started. Those familiar with the band were then treated to a sequence of sing-along songs and the crowd did not fail in its response. We all roared during Beelzeboss, Kielbasa and Tribute with the latter being a hilariously-fun jaunt.
The duo, alongside three other musicians, played several more, culminating in the expected Fuck Her Gently with thousands chanting the absurd lyrics alongside Black. It was fucking awesome and memorable and a strange highlight in a day filled with pure metal. (Well, they did play The Metal, so it's not out of place.)
Def Leppard followed. I had seen them once, over 26 years ago. Joe Elliot's voice struggled but the rest of the band sounded great, just like a studio recording. I was tired, but didn't particularly care. They played Rock Of Ages and the Hysteria songs everyone loves, and the crowd was rocking during Sugar, but I just used the time to get a bite to eat and recuperate before the midnight start of my 11th and final Slayer show.
Muscling my way to the front was easy. The first portion of the show had some newer songs and I just wasn't feeling it. Evil Has No Boundaries was great, but the band wasn't super tight and I just couldn't get into the newer material. Gemini was a surprise but the crowd wasn't feeling it. In fact, the post-2000 material went over rather well with them.
But after Mandatory, Chemical and Payback, I was treated to three in a row from Seasons including Temptation, a song I truly never expected to hear. Slayer has always been good with that.
Those last six songs were no surprise, but they rocked and the fiery stage was just remarkable. The crowd was frenzied. The pit was healthy. I was thrashing about in no way a 43-year-old should. Several of those songs have been played all 11 times I've seen the band and so their appearance on a setlist look unimpressive, but that's a deceiving statistic. The band was on top of their game, as good as decades earlier. Paul remains a machine. Kerry remains Kerry. But the finale: both the last song and what followed - were what will stick with me the longest.
As Angel Of Death wound down and my neck hurt from doing what must be done during that song, the band did the usual run of tossing out picks and drum sticks to the crowd. They lingered longer than usual but one by one, all left the stage. All but one. Tom Araya, bassist, vocalist, founder and reason behind the band's decision to call it quits looked out at the crowd. Somber. Silent.
We were all chanting, yelling thanks, giving devil horns. But Araya simply looked at us, absorbing what Sweden looks like, as it's the last time he'll see it from that perspective. And then he approached the mic. The frenzied crowd, eager to hear his usual goodbye, witnessed a completely different side of Tom. "You guys, I'm gonna really fucking miss."
Wait. What?! What is this in my eye? I turn to see others suffering the same ocular affliction! Crying? There's no crying at a Slayer show!!!
Tom turned and walked off stage, older than ever, thinner than I recall, and my favorite live band is done, with only a handful of currently-scheduled concerts remaining. It was as poignant as when I learned of Jeff Hanneman's death. Slayer has been part of my life since 1989. As a young teen, a college student, my unfocused 20s, parental 30s and European 40s. From NY to Maine to Sweden. I've seen them play in three countries and alongside some of the best bands in the world and they remain my favorite live act.
At least they were. And they went out on top, never slowing down, giving in, going commercial or putting forth anything less than 100%. And while their predictability has truly been something to count on, Araya shocked me in their final goodbye - and it's something I'll never forget.
We walked about a mile to get picked up and got home around 2:30. By the time we turned in, the sun was starting to illuminate the sky. A fantastic day, perhaps the best metal day ever.
I didn't sleep well but that mattered not. We began with some breakfast, some booze and a brief drive to the show. We missed Night Flight Orchestra, but they were one of the few acts to only have an hour-set. Thus, we arrived a bit later on day two. Erik wanted to see Easy Action but I was more interested in the next band: Uli Jon Roth. It was either them or Candlemass and I'm glad I chose the former Scorpion. The bright, warm sun was glowing as I drank my beer from atop the hill. The blend of 70s rock and three-guitar harmonies was really quite cool and while I wasn't familiar with most material, a few songs stood out. Of course, We'll Burn The Sky was spectacular, and I simply had to get close for that one. As I walked away, a Swede mentioned essentially, "it doesn't get better than that." It didn't. But a good All Along The Watchtower cover and The Sails Of Charon were standouts.
But this was an emotional time for me. The beautiful day and impending winds of change (heh) made me nostalgic for where I am in life and how goddamn lucky I am to be here. It was a cool moment and I may remember the feeling more than any song he actually played.
Next would be ZZ Top and so we headed there to catch them, but a few songs in, boredom set in and we escaped to the small tent. And what a good choice that was. Just beginning as we arrived was a Swedish act called Hällas. The young band took little time to impress me with dual harmonies, silky soft vocals and a '70s vibe that mesmerized. I absolutely loved this band and this may have been the biggest surprise of the entire festival. These guys are phenomenal and I will remember this chance discovery for a long time.
A half hour later we were back at the Sweden Stage for a band I'd never seen before. At The Gates arrived with title tracks from the last three albums. All three are killer, but godDAMN did people lose their minds during Slaughter Of The Soul. It was out of control, with the Swedish followers knowing every word. But as the setlist progressed into newer material, however good, that excitement diminished only to be reignited by another SotS song. I don't think they dove farther back into their catalogue than that, odd, considering it was a 'hometown' show, but every old song just drove the masses into a refreshing frenzy that nullified any boredom caused by newer material. However, that dichotomy of enthusiasm felt at odds with things. As good as new records may be, why go on with people still stuck in the past?
At one point, Jonas spoke, "Ni gillar metal? Vi gillar inte metal!" "Do you all like metal? We don't like metal!" He grimaced as the boos arrived before continuing with, "Vi älskar metal!!!" "We love metal!" I understood a lot this time around, which was quite nice.
The energy created by Suicide Nation into Blinded By Fear was just immense and the pit during the latter was among the best of the festival. Yes, it even rivaled Slayer. It was just fucking awesome.
However, rather than finish the show then, they continued with the finale of their comeback album. While the end is memorable, the rest felt anticlimactic from the mammoth songs that preceded it. Fortunately, when the end did arrive, it was majestic and epic sounding. And as the members left the stage, a pair of guitarists stayed, performing the spectacular ending. The crowd had now morphed from pit of fucking awesomeness to dancing arm in arm. Scandinavian camaraderie can be a strange beast sometimes.
Another half an hour later, we witnessed it. KISS. We scaled around the edge to get somewhat close and saw a band that was even cheesier than I had imagined. Oh man, it was really just so bad. Sure, there were memorable songs. But I never knew Paul Stanley was so...effeminate. "OK, Thweeden, do you luv rock and roll?" He sounded like a 70-year old, lifetime smoking woman.
But...Erik wanted to see them and he loved it. Berny got lost halway through and it took him a good half hour to find us. It was then that I realized they were playing for two hours instead of 90 minutes. OMG...it took forever. But, I can't deny that they put on a kick-ass show. Risers that lifted Simmons way up into the air. Stanley flying on a zip line. Pyros. More confetti than a NYC NYE event. It was a spectacle and probably cost half of my entry price. But the chicks loved it, Erik loved it and it was entertaining. Now I can say I've seen them. Yay.
As we left, we passed Dream Theater, whom I've seen eight times, and Gorgoroth, who didn't throw out any sheep heads...to my knowledge. It was a long drive home and another shitty sleep to follow!
As quickly as we arrived, it felt like things were wrapping up. It was a sad concept. To counter it, we simply began to drink at 11am. Always a sound choice.
We finished a few bottles of wine before even heading out. Oh, it was going to be a good day. After meeting up with some of Erik's old friends, we headed towards this Swedish Viking band, Brothers Of Metal. Looked cheesy, but after a song or two, I thought they were good enough to approach. Head down, front and center I did, beer in hand and metal in the air. They were surprisingly good, all eight members! Three singers, guitars everywhere and nonsensical Viking attires - but the music was solid!
Close enough to enjoy it, they launched into some really catchy, memorable songs like Yggdrasil, Gods Of War and that Mead Song. The singers told us all to crouch down during the latter, as they chanted, "Mead...Another!" Sure, why not? The words repeated, growing in intensity. "Hollllld," the singer commanded, charismatic, overweight and drunk himself. As the chants reached fever pitch, we all launched into an absurd viking dance, another truly memorable moment of the festival.
The songs were great, and I got lost trying to find Berny and Erik. Somehow, Berny had no recollection of the Mead Song. I'm pretty sure he passed out.
Onto Demons & Wizards! The supergroup from two decades ago have gotten back together and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to see them! I got up front but will say that they are a better studio band than a live one. Twice they played covers: Iced Earth followed a Blind Guardian song. The first pair was just OK, but the second, with Valhalla, was great, especially considering I never saw the German band play live.
Highlights included all songs from the first album and the final two songs were simply the best: the speedy Blood On My Hands and the epic Fiddler On The Green. These tunes sounded just phenomenal and made the entire set worth it in the end.
Saxon followed and while I wasn't familiar with much of their material, they really kicked ass, even 40 years after starting. Being drunk didn't hurt things, but the songs were solid and I had a great time as they blended traditional rock with riffy metal.
We headed over to see HammerFall, not realizing how many people would be there for the local band. Muscling forward only worked so much but a bathroom requirement set us back and we watched the remainder of the show from afar, not a poor decision. Drinks in hand, cheesy, catchy tunes blaring, my third time seeing them was a fun jaunt, improved by another round of drinks. We were quite far from the stage at this point and no good pictures were to be taken...with the exception of drunken photos of ourselves. They ended at quarter-to-nine, still sunny and bright outside.
At this point we split up. Berny saw Hank Von Hell and Erik scooted off to see Rainbow. I stayed with the former but was quietly relaxing, waiting for the end. And as the set ended, not particularly bad, I expected to leave the venue. But there was more. Erik called us and told us to return to the small tent.
Most bands were done but a Swedish act remained. The Bones played poppy punk and we were in no rush to leave. They ran for about an hour, an upbeat and fun band with a young, mixed crowd to bounce around alogside. It was unnecessary but altogether a lot of fun and I wish they could have played longer.
Now after midnight, Sweden Rock had now wrapped up just as quickly as it had begun. We sustained our inebriation for virtually the entire day and went home for a final night of restless sleep. It very well may be my first and only Sweden Rock, unless the campaign for Tjugo Tjugo bears fruit. Either way, it was a spectacular festival. The bands were the best on the first day but the camaraderie was the best on the final one. Just wonderful. I'll leave you with a video montage of some of the highlights that I recorded on my phone. They hardly capture the essence of the awesomeness - but it'll have to do.