Open your heart to metal and it will deliver you, like a randomly addressed letter into the most unexpected situations.
Last night we slept with a strangers dog between us…
This whole adventure came to life because a girl we never met took ten minutes to use the toilet.
Let me explain; we’d come on holiday by mistake. Well not quite by mistake, but certainly on impulse. We had travelled to Northern France to see my favourite band, Gorod play at a small one day festival in the delightful named town of Saints-en-Gohelle. Arranging to stay in a hotel about 10 miles from the venue. We assumed, like typical Londoners, that we’d be able to take a bus or some other similar mode of public transport to the show. The last bus, it transpired departed at 5.15pm. It was already 6 o’clock and we were drunk, well not quite drunk but certainly beyond the legal driving capacity. So we took a taxi, which to our horror decimated our funds to the tune of 35 Euros. An amount which we were immensely reticent to pay twice.
Fortunately, due to the length of time the unknown, unnamed girl was spending in the lavatory, Naomi got chatting with a delightful French woman named Juliette, who was at the show with her husband. They lived very close to our Hotel and kindly offered us a lift back.
We rewarded their kindness with a dozen bottles of English beer and exchanged contact details. Over the following year and a half, they invited us to stay with them, but sadly we were not able to fulfill their invitations.
However 3 months ago, Juliette messaged us with the news that her and Guillaume were part of the organising committee for another bigger 2 day festival in the same area. And would we like to stay with them, attended the festival and write about our experiences for The Circle Pit. This time around, fate and diaries both aligned and we were able, much to our delight, to attend.
So travel arrangements were made, passports packed and plumbing emergencies notwithstanding, we made the trip via the shuttle and arrived, breathless, confused but happy in the stylishly named town of La Couture. We were greeted like long lost friends by Guillaume, Juliet and their wag-tastically happy Spaniel, Sally.
Despite the last hour and oppressively tired eyes, we ate, drank and smoked; in some ways renewing, in others establishing our friendship. But as is ever the way with friends made through Metal, the feeling prevails that you may not know their minds but you implicitly know their hearts.
The clock ticked on and tiredness over-whelmed us all. Our bed being fashioned on the floor of their conservatory/dining room we settled down to sleep. But not before Sally, all grunts and snuffles; wiggled her way in between Naomi and I. And so we fell asleep, her canine snores lulling us into the welcoming arms of Orpheus.
All because of a constipated girl we never met.
We awake to the sound of a giggling child. The boy in question, Liam, the son of our hosts, is wreathed in the unlimited novelty of finding two strangers sleeping on the floor of his home. Indeed he appears to be on the verge of laughing his way out of his Minion slippers, propelled purely by mirth. After being allowed to rise we breakfast on some seriously chocolatey cereal and delicious coffee; a ubiquity in France and head off towards the festival.
Now, honesty time. I’m due to interview some genuine metal legends this weekend: Bill Steer of Carcass and the whole of Obituary, but due a variety of circumstances, most of them too inane to detail, I have not written a single question for either. But, fear not Gentle reader I have a plan, or more precisely I have an intention. To let fate take its course and allow synchronicity its full sphere of influence and let the questions come to me, absorbed out of the atmosphere. And if it is one thing France has a shit load of, its atmosphere.
Gohelle-Fest is quite a unique proposition. Its motivation is both historical and ecological in its focus. It is celebrating the mining heritage of the region along with rejoicing in local cuisine, local artists and a distinctly progressive attitude to refuse management. The application of a Metallic intensity to practical ecology is perhaps exactly what this perennially floundering idea needs.
So, having brought you up to speed, you find me in the Merch Tent surrounded by volunteers, all heartily engaged folding and rolling t-shirts, with the smell of a robust regional cheese, rolling like an encroaching tide across the car park towards me.
The music is kicked off by Yrzen, who claim to be Folk metal, but in truth their aesthetic is a little confused. Both their look and sound is equal parts thrash, power, prog and folk. They are fairly proficient at each of these without ever weaving them together into a convincing tableau.
They buck the instinctive linguistic trend within metal and sing in French, which without being mean is probably the most interesting thing about them. Please don’t misunderstand, they are not an awful band; they are enthusiastic and know what shape a song should roughly take, its just that they never seem to push their particular envelope anywhere but the middle of the road, but also lack the song writing prowess to be truly effective.
But as far as opening bands go, I’ve certainly had far more onerous experiences.
Next up is Nirrnaeth, a Blackened Thrash four piece from France. They start out as slightly off kilter yet remain highly entertaining despite their looseness. Although having said this, as their set progresses their sound coalesces into something approaching the sharply defined spear that you want from any off-shoot of Black Metal.
Although fairly static throughout their time on stage, they are possessed of a palpable sense of entitlement. They emphasise this aura of belonging by closing with a string of highly emphatic riff based chargers. They might not be the most original band you’ll ever see, but it goes to show that well placed, quiet arrogance can really enhance a modest talent.
The reason for the M in the heavily punctuated name of M:Pire Of Evil is because this the current vehicle of choice for Black Metal originator, Mantas out of Venom.. Their music is mostly brusque and savage thrash with blackened edges. They are a mature bunch and use every moment of their experience as they squeeze every ounce of brutality out of what is fairly predictable material.
But predictability aside, this 3 piece know precisely what they are doing and make a fucking racket doing it, so I’m immediately predisposed to like them. Add to this the fact that their bassist looks like Death from The Bill & Ted sequel and you’ll find its difficult not to like them too.
Each element of the show is jaw achingly trad, from the lace-up leather trousers to the “Bring Hell To The Holy” segways between songs. Even though they are more Heretic Lay Preacher than Judas Priest, they are a true exemplar of the maxim that charisma overcomes a multitude of sins. Even though I’m certain M:Pire Of Evil don’t give a fuck if they sin, in fact I’m sure they actively seek out opportunities to do so. As it should be.
They finish their set by inviting a pair of flag wielding French patriots up on-stage to bellow along to the chorus of their final number. Once again playing a trump card at the most opportune moment; experience over precision, wins every time.
The overarching ambience of this festival is one of local pride and hard work. The number of stalls and concessions in the metal market presciently reflects the number of people in attendance. A piece of consideration which neatly circumvents the festival trope of watching forlorn entrepreneurs staring wistfully the the fistfuls of money being handed over for drinks at the bar.
The venue is a very large sports hall, with a substantial stage installed at one end. I believe the hall was designed with conversion into a concert space, in mind. So the 60 foot high rig never seems incongruous in the setting. One particular benefit of this setting is a set of giant stone bleachers, which run the entire length of one side of the hall. They afford the considerable luxury of providing the extreme metal fan with comfortable seat. Which after 10 hours of standing up and flashing the horns, comes as a delirium inducing treat.
It’s taken me a dozen years to realise that I quite enjoy Folk Metal, admittedly as a detour on the road to Prog than its own unique destination. So when time rolls around for Eluveitie to take the stage I am very keen to see what this 8 strong Swiss group have up their rustic sleeves. If I am to be frank, their set is a game of two halves, or more precisely three thirds.
When their music is being driven by their lead singer Chrigel Glanzmann, their focus is intense and bombastic, incorporating a bewildering array of instruments into a powerful, focused jubilant music. But when Anna Murphy takes over vocal duties for the central 25 minutes of their set, their primary drive seemed lost and their Folk elements become reedy and somewhat simplistic.
However Eluveitie tick a lot of boxes and it is easy to see why they are currently surfing a wave of popularity fueled success; They certainly know how to write songs in multiple formats, they create ethereal and diverting melodies, hey have a fascinating line in parochial instrumentation, they present extravagantly, use simple arrangements and are (on the whole) an attractive bunch.
It all hangs together very well, but one can’t really shake the impression that most of their set can be described as The Coors with added testosterone and that however impeccably presented, it’s basically Pop music.
But they have flair, style, a kicking drummer and enough technique to allow them to bounce off numerous styles without ever loosing their footing. They purvey a high quality brand of entertainment. Its just not all to my taste.
Obituary, as head-liners take the stage at the usual time for festivals on mainland Europe, 11.45pm. Undeterred by the late stage time, they grind, growl and sear their way through a set full of classics. Their stage style is silent but deadly, preferring to let their music do the talking. And boy does it scream. Their traditional mid tempo Death Metal assault is almost without compare. The rounded and subtly nuanced guitar tone of Trevor Peres, is a genuine honour to experience.
I have wanted to see Obituary live for almost as long as I have been into Metal and so for it to finally come to fruition is a pleasure almost beyond words. Not even eyelids leaden by a 19 hour day can spoil this experience of me. So, in a word, Brills!!.
– John Whitmore