Friday, December 17th
The Effenaar is an ultra-modern concert hall with a large main stage area on the upper level, and a smaller club room downstairs. Like most things Dutch, it was clean and well-designed, though considering the event was mostly full on Friday and completely sold-out on Saturday, even good feng shui couldn’t overcome the cattle-car effect of trying to get from room to room. People from this region are large and assertive, so shoving past others proved to be the only reliable way to move around.
The best and most enjoyable way to skirt the crowd was to stop at one of the handful of vendor tables. These guys were not fooling around with their stock, as just about everything was interesting, rare, or both. An original copy of Absu’s first 7-inch was held for a moment in these trembling hands, but it was priced accordingly and not negotiable considering the current euro-to-dollar ratio. In any case, browsing and marveling was a good way to start the day as the smaller opening bands thanklessly played on.
Texas’ warhorse Helstar appeared on the club stage just after 7pm and offered a rousing set to a crowd of people who seemed to be hearing them for the first time. The reaction was positive but tentative as singer James Rivera and crew played a selection of tightly executed heavy metal hymns. Rivera’s voice was strong and sharp with hints of Dio in places, and he broke out his whistle register at all the right moments. While the band is best known for their 1989 minor classic Nosferatu, the audience was actually more responsive to their more recent output. Perhaps it was a question of album distribution, but no matter; Helstar might not have been the heaviest band on the bill, but they made up for it in showmanship and proficiency.
Pestilence appeared on the main stage, but it was an odd night for the veteran quartet. Apparently it is not the most rewarding experience for Dutch bands to play The Netherlands, and fan reaction was noticeably muted despite the large number of people in the room. Guitarist Patrick Uterwijk and bassist Jeroen Paul Thesseling did their best to keep things lively, but it was clear that mainman Patrick Mameli was not feeling the magic. While the band didn’t miss any marks in terms of performance, the set felt detached and almost drudgerous in places. It was a far cry from their memorable appearance in Austin earlier this year, but that night featured a crowd who didn’t take them for granted. “Out of the Body” predictably got a rise out of the room, but overall the whole thing felt like a drag. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, but fests can be weird that way.
Regular readers will notice an dearth of doom metal coverage in this column, and while that’s not bound to change, a set from Dutch doomsters The 11th Hour was worth talking about. This band features members of Gorefest, including erstwhile drummer and band leader Ed Warby, who is cast against type here by playing guitar and singing. Officium Triste vocalist Pim Blankenstein offset Warby’s dulcet tones with a death growl that prevented the set from becoming too saccharine. This band is Warby’s brainchild, and while the performance itself was solid and the sound was great, it also felt contrived at times. Doom metal hasn’t grown much since the early days of Candlemass, and it has become more self-absorbed and literal in the meantime. As in this case, the music succeeds when it is carefully executed, but the lyrics tend to be melodramatic and obvious. Thus, despite Warby’s heartfelt and competent voice, the words he sang revealed a transparent device. It didn’t prevent the band from making a big impression, mind you; the guitar tone alone was to die for. Fans of bands like Anathema would get a lot from The 11th Hour, but death metal traditionalists should probably keep moving.
Speaking of death metal traditionalism, Repugnant was on next but to less fanfare than expected. The group seemed like they had just gotten to the venue, and they seemed nervous and disarmed. Snowstorms had already shut down railways near Amsterdam, so they may have had a harrowing journey in order to arrive before set time. Frontman Mary Goore (one of the worst stage names ever) sported a Misfits-style mohawk and a distracted expression as he struggled to get a decent sound out of the backline amplifier, but the band finally had to start to make the most of their allotted stage time. Goore’s guitar cut out all together during the second song, but he gamely stayed on track with his vocals and played along with second guitarist (who looked to be Hampe Death of Invidious) like nothing was amiss. It didn’t work as well when he was due to play a lead in or a solo, but generally if something goes wrong during a festival appearance it’s sink or swim.
The band took a few minutes between songs to suss out the problem, and while they got the wayward guitar running, its tone was brittle and overloud. It ironically sounded better with just the single guitar and bass, but by then it was too late to fix. Repugnant managed to harness some energy through the second half of their regrettably short set, and newcomer bassist G. Grotesque and drummer E. Forcas were particularly ferocious in their efforts to wring something good out of a challenging situation. Just about everything was culled from their sole album, Epitome of Darkness, but they didn’t get to play their great cover of Morbid’s “Another Vision”. While this fetid foursome definitely gets an “A” for effort, it was too bad the show couldn’t have been more locked in. Perhaps next time the circumstances will be more favorable.
Mayhem closed out the night, but jet lag and a desire for greasy late night food precluded any viewing. At least their vocalist Attila played it straight and didn’t dress up like a Christmas tree. Acts aside, the first day of the Eindhoven Metal Meeting was a good one. Everything was orderly and on schedule, and the atmosphere was friendly and festive. Day two promised more of the same, except with more people as Saturday was completely sold out.
For more info: Austin fans are invited to follow this link for more live coverage from Eindhoven Metal Meeting 2010.