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Derby 29/30August 2003


Friday 29th:

Saxon Blaze Power Quest 5th Man Down

Saturday 30th:

Main Room: Nightwish Paradise Lost Edguy Masterplan Saracen Dragonforce Mercury Rain

First time for me to the 'UK Metalfest'. This is fast becoming a good festival to get a chance to see all those European bands that never normally come to the UK. Last Year they had Blind Guardian, this year we have the first ever UK show for Nightwish, and a second visit for Edguy (who replaced Hammerfall in the line-up when they had to withdraw).

Friday night saw 5th Man Down open proceedings, but I was too busy gassing to old acquaintances and I missed them. I didn’t make the same mistake for Power Quest though – the UK based power metal band, who blasted their way through 5 songs from their debut album with gusto and aplomb. Superb quality of music, and a very good frontman ensured that they received a good reception. They have recently signed to Now and Then records (a departure in style for this AOR / Melodic rock outfit), and their second album is recorded and almost ready to go. Mark Ashton (boss of N&T) was very upbeat about the album when I spoke to him later and obviously really does believe that this is an excellent signing for the label.

Next up Blaze - no review of this set I’m afraid, as it’s really not my thing. Had a much better time filling up with Boddingtons and chatting to Mark Ashton and Bob Catley.

Headline for the night - Saxon and the best way to describe them is to quote a well-known advertising slogan: “It does exactly what it says on the tin! You know what to expect with Biff & co, and they never fail to provide. Song after familiar song of great riffing, solid rhythm (Nibbs Carter on bass is simply stunning - the Angus Young of bassists), and Biff wailing 'wheeeeeeels, wheels of steel' or something similar. Great classic back catalogue, ‘Strong Arm Of The Law’, ‘Denim & Leather’, ‘The Bands Played On’, ‘747’, ‘Princess Of The Night’ (the list goes on and on) plus some good new songs - the cover of ‘Court Of The Crimson King’ really works well. Great end to the evening and I couldn’t stop humming the bass riff from ‘Strong Arm...’ until the next morning.

Saturday dawned (but not too early), and I decided early on to give the Darwin suite a wide berth for the whole day – some of the sounds coming out of there were really not my thing. You can guess from the band names what I mean.

First up in the main room were Mercury Rain, who seemed to be trying to be a Nightwish clone – but failed. The female vocals were just not up to the job I’m afraid, although the music was solid enough. Maybe it was just an off day, so I won’t judge too harshly.

Dragonforce next, and they rocked big time. Herman ‘Shred’ Li had his guitar strings almost smoking from the speed he was playing, ably assisted by Sam Totman on the second 6-string. ZP on vocals was in fine form, and some of the local glassware must have been in danger from the high notes. Keyboards seemed to be lost in the mix sometimes, but a much better result than the disaster that befell them at Sweden. Only 5 songs - I really need to get to see a full set by these guys as they are something special. Likewise, they also need to keep the momentum going and get some more material recorded to keep the interest levels up.

A somewhat odd inclusion followed, with Saracen’s blend of pomp, prog and hard rock not quite fitting into the scheme of things. Very enjoyable set nonetheless, and highly noticeable that their new songs from the ‘Red Sky’ album were just as good as the old favourites such as the anthemic ‘Follow The Piper’. Rob Bendelow showed that he can still produce great songs and a great live performance.

By now, the previous night’s imbibing was taking it’s toll and a food break was in order, so I skipped most of Jorn Lande’s Masterplan in favour of an Aussie beef burger from the Walkabout. Their set was predictably the loudest of the day – and much as everyone tells me what a great vocalist he is, I cannot bring myself to enjoy it at the ridiculous volume levels he insists on. Maybe if he turned the gain down, and let everyone hear how good he really can be… but then again, maybe that’s why it’s always turned up (old cynic I may be).

Late addition to the bill Edguy followed. Unfamiliar with their own material, I do have the 2 excellent Avantasia albums by Tobias Sammet and I was very interested to see if Edguy could match that quality. Match it they did, with a great set, and Tobias proved to be a fantastic frontman, easily getting the best out of the crowd. He promised that Edguy would return to the UK on every tour, and I sincerely hope they do. The fact that Tobi is only 25, and has already achieved so much bodes very well for the future. Testament to their success on the day was seen by the fact that there wasn’t a single Edguy album left for sale on any of the CD stalls about 30 minutes after they finished (I know, because I searched them all and there had been plenty before).

Paradise Lost.. good sound, good songs, but poor delivery! Very little attempt to get the crowd going, and very static. Seemed more like enthusiasm lost. A shame, as they still have much to offer the power metal scene if they can rekindle their appetite.

To the main event then, Nightwish, a band I recently got into (and now have all 5 albums) making their first UK appearance. Described, unflatteringly, by someone there as 'Iron Maiden with Leslie Garrat', they really are a lot more than that. Yes, Tarja sings in a style that can only be described as operatic, but it fits perfectly with the music they write and she is an incredible sight on stage in flowing white gown and long dark hair, headbanging away and urging the crowd on. Many songs from the latest album ‘Century’s Child’, but plenty of earlier material as well. A cover of Ozzy’s ‘Crazy Train’ thrown in for good measure. Finishing with one of their best songs ‘Wishmaster’, the encore then provided a sight that no-one will ever believe if you tell them - a room full of metal fans clapping and headbanging to ‘Walking In The Air’ (yes, as in Aled Jones). Surreal doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling. Final song was another excellent cover of Gary Moore’s ‘Over The Hills’, and Nightwish have conquered England.

They easily sold out the Mean Fiddler in London the following night, a friend of mine who was there saying there were loads of people outside trying to get tickets. I guess they’ll be back soon too.

Review: Ian Pollard

Jason Ritchie's view:

After a 'lovely' five hour drive up from Farnham it was into the metal zone! First time at Bloodstock, now into its third year and what a great atmposphere! Lots of CD stalls (including RPM, Earache, Now & Then etc), cheap drinks (well compared to London) and err average food :( A near sell out (2,000 capacity I believe) and a good mix of ages from 10/11 year olds right up to the more 'mature' rocker.

Star studded crowd included Magnum's Bob Catley, Jess Cox (Tygers of Pan Tang/Noise Records), the legendary Batttttty (all round UFO fanatic), a smattering of Total Rock people plus journos from Power Play and Fireworks. But most importantly it was full of metal fans from classic metal to prog metal to death metal.

But onto the music! Power Quest were simply superb. A tight set with their vocalist getting very much into the music and creating a stage presence for himself (very Danny Vaughn at times!). Same set as London on Monday including 'Wings Of Forever' and the classic 'Far Away'. Their new album will be crucial to their next step up and judging by the audience reaction they are building a good fanbase. Now Blaze...after hearing him murder Led Zep's 'Dazed and Confuesed' I am afraid it was time for a 'Diet Coke break' as they say on the television. He puts his all into each show but it just don't grab me at all and sadly I can never see him getting better... Solid backing band but I've yet to be convinced.

Saxon were again on fine form and for sheer classic metal you can't beat them at the moment (until Judas Priest come along next year!). Plenty of new era material ('Solid Ball Or Rock') mixed with classics like '747(Strangers in the Night)', 'Wheels of Steel', 'Crusader' and 'Denim & Leather'. Sheer class with Biff Byford on fine vocal form and the twin guitar assault working well. Long may they continue...

Great night of metal and here's to next year :)

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