Vagos Open Air 2015 Review – Portugal28th August 2015
Since its origin in 2009, Vagos Open Air has had a steady increase in the quality of bands and the quantity of public every year. Last year we were treated to the first three-day edition of arguably one of the greatest metal festivals of the Iberian Peninsula, and already three days seem too short for the potential it displays. The city of Vagos continues to be as peaceful and welcoming as always: the people are friendly, that bars are plenty, the prices are inviting and the surrounding infrastructures are very good. There was free camping available on the amazing river bank location, Quinta do Ega – whether in the shade under the trees, or in the sun on the grass – with enough room for everyone to set up their tent comfortably. The weather this time of year was perfect for a music festival, with plenty of sun and a refreshing breeze coming from the sea. Furthermore, not only can you enjoy the bands that start playing at 3 or 4 PM, but you can also either visit the beach in the morning or go sightseeing in places like Febres, where there are almost deserted lagoons just waiting for you to get some rest before you spend the next 10 hours or so headbanging.
The first day started with Scar For Life, a Portuguese band that brought a somewhat generic metal sound to the stage. As it is with most opening acts of a big festival, Scar For Life served as a guinea pig for the festival staff to test the sound in a live context, and the result was not pretty. Although Scar For Life were trying to make the best of it by infusing every second of it with as much energy as possible, the truth is that it failed because neither the band nor the crew seemed ready. There were notable flaws in the sound, with the drums overpowering the guitars, the bass spiking in volume and the vocals too low for most of the show. As for the band, they were sloppy and could probably use more rehearsals in order to avoid sounding so unprepared. Still, it wasn’t all bad – it could have been Filii Nigrantium Infernalium, but we’ll get to that later.
Moonshade, the second band of the day, was a pleasant surprise. Despite being a relatively unknown band, this Portuguese quintet was as professional as expected of a band acquainted with bigger stages. Playing a modern melodic death metal sound with some symphonic elements, they seemed destined for greater things. Pedro Quelhas, Daniel Laureano and Ricardo Pereira (who displayed a powerful vocal performance) were able to give out one of the best sounds of the festival. Moonshade opened up with “Lenore”, and although most of the crowd did not seem to know them, their aggressive but orchestral side caught the attention of almost everyone. The band followed with “Dawn of a New Era”, “Genesis 3.5” and “Fall to Oblivion”, closing with the crushing “Goddess Eternal”. What apparently resonated with the audience was that this was a powerful band that took their music seriously. They saw the opportunity to take on some fans and decided to rehearse their asses off and prepare for what was their most important show up until now.
Vildhjarta started what could be considered as the festival’s mid card and their mash up of djent and progressive metal took the intensity to another level. Their gigantic riffs, complex structures and powerful drums had everybody stomping away in the mosh pit, and although their behaviour was somewhat distant (almost as if they were bored), the audience was ecstatic to hear such tracks as “Dagger” and “Shadow” played live just for them. As with Moonshade, Vildhjarta had an almost perfect sound and they made sure to use it wisely. All in all this was a good show that left people more excited than tired, and the band’s core of devoted followers provided for an amazing ambient.
Heaven Shall Burn brought the party with them, proving to be one of the most energetic and explosive gigs of the festival as well as the friendliest. Their sound is always hard to describe, but death metal with metalcore influences is always the way to go. They were fast, loud, extremely technical and with a groove that we would not get to see again during the entire weekend. They kicked off with the amazing “Counterweight” followed by “Profane Believers” and “Land of the Upright Ones”, so the fans were treated to the most brutal noises of the day from the get go. The sound was tight and the band exuded confidence in their abilities, which translated into one of the most impressive shows from a technical standpoint, and as the band continued to provide hit after hit the crowd was ecstatic and responsive. The highlight however happened when Heaven Shall Burn decided to ask a little girl onto to the stage, letting her share the limelight with the band and giving her a memory that she will hold onto to forever. The show ended with “Endzeit”, “The Disease” and the always amazing “Like Gods Among Mortals”. Overall it was one of the best concerts of the festival, not only because of the music, but also because Heaven Shall Burn were able to show what it’s like to be a part of the metal family.
Amorphis was the band that everyone wanted to see, not because it was a first (they already played one gig at a previous edition of this festival), but because they were doing the anniversary tour of the legendary album “Tales From The Thousand Lakes” from 1994. There was also some curiosity on how Tomi Joutsen would bring that record’s vocals to life. Starting with “Into Hiding”, it instantly became a mystical gig that people will remember forever. There is something special about listening to that classic in a live setting in the same order in which so many of us listened to throughout the years. It gets even more special when the sound is perfect (kudos to the staff) and the musicians love what they’re doing. Their commitment was astounding and Tomi did a wonderful job. However, the show wasn’t over after “Tales From The Thousand Lakes” and we were treated to some old school death metal sounds, including a cover from Abhorrence of “Vulgar Necrolatry” that got the crowd into a crazy mosh frenzy and a couple of tracks from “Elegy”, with the crowd going specially crazy over “My Kantele”. “Folk Of The North” (of the EP “Black Winter Day”) finished this old-school trip that showed, without a shadow of a doubt, that Amorphis gave the best show of the first day.
Lastly we got to experience Within Temptation. As the usual hits of “Paradise (What About Us?)” and “Faster” were heard, it was quickly noticeable from the start that the audience had become significantly larger. However, this was a different public – younger, containing more families, and seemingly not meshing too well with the crowd from the previous concerts. It was fair to say that they were there to see Within Temptation and nothing more. They responded well to the energy given forth by Sharon, but the rest of the band was either bored or purposely staying out of the way for Sharon’s performance. The gig included some more recent tracks but some classics as well, like the closers “Mother Earth” and “Ice Queen”. There were however some completely out of character tracks for a festival of that nature, such as the horrific cover of Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness”, the hilariously ridiculous collaboration with MTV’s Pimp My Ride star Xzibit in “And We Run” and the other always weird duet with Mina Caputo, formerly known as Keith Caputo – having both parts been played by videos projected in the background. This concert was suitable for such an event as Rock in Rio, but in Vagos Open Air it is expected something a little more metal and a little less pop.
The second day brought a cold strong wind, allowing for the masses suffering from the dreaded hangovers to withstand the first concerts of the day with a little less discomfort.
W.A.K.O were the first band of the day. The classic Portuguese sound of thrash/death/groove may not be all that innovative, but tracks such as “Abyss”, “Extispicium” and the closer “The Shadows Collapse Within” were loud and heavy enough to wake up the first batch of headbangers of the day. Luckily for them the Portuguese crowd already treats them like a national cult band (no doubt due to their complete dedication to touring all over the country) and W.A.K.O was a decent introduction for what would be one of the most interesting surprises of the day straight out of Spain.
Mutant Squad brought with them tracks from their 2013 record “Titanomakhia” and just one from their 2012 EP “Social Misfits”. The Spaniards received a warm welcome, mainly because the crowd was thirsty for some good old-school thrash metal, and Mutant Squad delivered the goods. Tracks like the opener “Overdose”, “Remember” and the brutal closer “Mutants Will Rise” put a not very large but certainly passionate about thrash crowd into a mosh frenzy.
Up next was Destruction, and it actually hurts to talk about this gig. After the thrash introduction that was Mutant Squad, the crowd was ready to go into a bloody mosh revolution. Instead, and through no fault of their won, Destruction gave a poor concert. The sound was terrible, the drums overpowered everything, the vocals were non-existing, half of the sound coming from the guitar was inaudible and the bass was just not there. In fact, the sound given to the Germans was so bad that most of the tracks were unrecognizable to the larger audience. About halfway through the concert the sound actually became average, so the fans were able to enjoy “Carnivore”, “Tormentor” and “Total Desaster”. Of course the actual total disaster would happen during the closer “Bestial Invasion”, when the entire power went out and Destruction were left playing with no electrical energy, but that didn’t stop them – they kept on playing and the crowd carried on with the moshing. However, this needs to be a wakeup call for the organization, since this is the kind of thing that cannot happen if the festival is to continue to grow, because most bands, especially big acts, do not enjoy these kinds of shenanigans.
One of the most awaited moments of the festival had arrived. It was time for Tom G. Warrior and the amazing Triptykon. Not only was the crowd about to be gifted with tracks from both “Eparistea Daimones” and “Melana Chasmata”, but we also had some surprises right from the start. The crushing opener “Procreation (Of The Wicked)” brought everyone to a time when Tom was still the leader of Celtic Frost, but that wasn’t the last of it: during the concert the crowd was offered the classic “Circle Of The Tyrants” and “The Usurper”. The sound was perfect (which made the previous gig even more infuriating) and the sharp equilibrium between the guitars, bass and drums created a devastating atmosphere that went from chaotic black metal to introspective moments of overwhelming doom. There was not a single moment that wasn’t technically perfect, and as the show went on so did the surprises for the fans, as we were treated to a Hellhammer cover of “Messiah”. The concert ended with the thundering “The Prolonging”, and as the band disappeared we listened religiously to the sounds of “Winter” by Celtic Frost. This was a perfect gig where the musicians were completely in sync with the audience, who expressed a level of awe not yet seen in this year’s edition.
The hour was at hand. A guitar god was to enter the stage with his band Black Label Society, and we were about to be welcomed into their family. The audience was greeted with a mashup of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin with the “Whole Lotta Sabbath” intro, and after that it was time to see the giant Zakk Wylde in action. From the first chord that was strummed on one of his several guitars (that he kept switching throughout the show), we witnessed full-on American Rock & Roll in its finest and purest form. Heavy, technical, fast, with a clarity of sound so far new to this edition, making the crowd go wild in worshipping Zakk Wylde. The audience got their money’s worth through all the hits, from “Stillborn”, to “Suicide Messiah”, “Concrete Jungle” and “Goodspeed Hellbound”. Since Black Label Society are not just about the tracks and Zakk Wylde is the king of showmanship, the guitar deity left the crowd speechless with his technical gifts in full force with an astounding guitar solo that lasted almost five minutes. However, Zakk isn’t just about the guitar and one of the most surprising moments came when the front man sat at the piano and showed some additional chops. Heavy, theatrical, fast and technical, this is what people wanted to see and will remember for years.
Late was the hour when Venom took to the stage, but when they did, they took it by force. These guys may be somewhat old but they can still headbang with the best of them, spitting out classics like “Black Metal”, “Witching Hour”, “Warhead” and “Countess Bathory”. These were the tracks that everyone wanted to see Cronos bring to life with full force. On the other hand, if someone was expecting the more recent tracks to be boring, they should know that even a track like “Long Haired Punks” got the crowd excited. Venom are a force to be reckoned with and proved to be one of the highlights of the second day. Rage and Cronos, particularly the latter, displayed an attitude that puts many younger musicians to shame, and Danté (Danny Needhma) gave his own show with an energetic theatrical performance on his custom set of drums that left the audience smiling away. Venom brought the old school crowd with them in one of the hallmarks of Vagos Open Air: younger crowds, older metalheads and even families all mixed together, creating this atmosphere of comradery not seen in other metal festivals. Venom are living proof that metal transcends generations.
The aftershow was provided by the Portuguese guests Filii Nigrantium Infernalium, and I am still trying to determine what it is that makes people like this band. The sound is basic, the themes are ridiculous, the jokes are bad and just plain stupid (really, the jokes read like a 12-year-old metalhead’s school journal) and the front man sounds like Muppets having sex while inhaling helium. Honestly, their timeslot could have been given to a real band that actually cares about what they’re doing. Instead, we had a couple of middle aged metalheads trying to see which one could screw up their instrument the most. It was truly awful, and how anyone can enjoy this is beyond me.
2 days of intense partying and great gigs were finally starting to weigh heavily on everyone’s bodies, so it took a little longer for people to get out of their tents and find their way to the stage. This might be why Midnight Priest did not have a huge audience waiting for them when they started their show. Nevertheless, the crowd quickly gathered in front of the stage when they started playing “Thunderbay”. Between the cliché riffs of King Diamond, Iron Maiden and Running Wild, Midnight Priest found a way into the hearts of Portuguese fans (you can never say a metal fan does not appreciate a retro sound), so it was without surprise that hits like “Rainha da Magia Negra” and “À Boleia com o Diabo” got people headbanging and moshing. Although the band was provided with great sound by the staff, they didn’t take full advantage of it. The guitars were ok (even if the solos were clumsy as hell) and the drums were competent. However, the new front man is not up to the task. His voice is weak and incredibly annoying when trying to reach higher notes. Of course the fans won’t mind, since they’re not known for demanding technical perfection from Midnight Priest, but when they play live the shtick gets old really fast.
Ne Obliviscaris took the prize for longest trip to Portugal. All the way from Australia they came, armed with their unique brand of progressive metal, two voices, excellent guitars and a surprisingly strong violin. The show started with “Devour Me, Colossus (Part I): Blackholes” and from there on it was a surprising display of total chemistry connecting all band members. Between the clean and harsh vocals, the violin intertwining perfectly with the guitars and the excellent rhythms of the drums, no fan was left disappointed. While some feared that the band’s sound would not translate perfectly into a live setting, after the closer “And Plague Flowers The Kaleidoscope” the fans knew they got their money’s worth with a very good show.
Alestorm are not known for being a serious band. The proof is that they are a pirate folk metal band whose backdrop contains pictures of banana-ducks. The sound was heavy and clear, perfect for a folk metal gig, and the crowd was really excited and showed it by moshing, dancing, crowd surfing, singing along and generally acting like drunken pirates. The band was in an excellent mood, joking around with the audience and generally having fun. The crowd got to hear some great classics like “Walk The Plank”, “That Famous Ol’ Spiced”, “Wenches and Mead”, “Captain Morgan’s Revenge” and the anthem “Rum”. Surprisingly, the highlight of the show was obviously a rubber chicken that found its way onto the stage thrown by some drunken fan. Now the only obvious response was to use it as a pick and for the vocalist to spend some time squeezing it and worshiping it. This was a classic folk metal concert and the fans seemed to love every single minute of it.
Kobi Farhi might not be Jesus (because, as stated, he is no virgin) but the band he leads sure brings everyone together under a message of love through metal. Orphaned Land took to the stage when the sun was starting to set on the horizon, which made their usual ritualistic performance even more majestic. The sound was perfect and the band took full advantage of it. Classics such as “Sapari”, “The Kiss of Babylon (The Sins)”, “Ocean Land (The Revelation)” and “Olat Ha’tamid” brought with them sounds from the Middle East that were absolutely refreshing to hear amidst the usual aggression and violence of a metal festival. The fans sang along, danced and almost fell into a trance with each word from Kobi, a front man in every sense. After the show was over several people were commenting on how they would have loved to see the band play for another 30 minutes, and that is probably the greatest compliment that Orphaned Land could have received.
We all know Overkill are especially energetic on stage, and we all know that Bobby Blitz would probably kick our asses any day of the week, but still we feel overwhelmed by the amount of energy these old timers have in them. From the opening chords of “Armorist” we’re shown what thrash metal is all about: speed, power, aggression and a discharge of emotions that no other metal genre can achieve. The segment composed by “Hammerhead”, “Electric Rattlesnake” and “Powersurge” turned the usual moshpit into a huge circlepit. The classics “Rotten to the Core”, “Horrorscope” and “Hello From The Gutter” got the old school crowd going, and the more recent ones “Ironbound” and “Bring Me The Night” showed that they still got it. Overkill and Bobby Blitz were fun to be with as always, and after a couple of words they plunged right into the closing tracks “Elimination” and “Fuck You”, a fitting end to the greatest discharge of energy of the entire festival.
Bloodbath might be the band most people were curious about, due to the recent change in line up. The departure of Mikael Åkerfeldt from Opeth and the arrival of Nick Holmes from Paradise Lost had left the fans wondering if the new man in the front would be able to bring the darkness to a live setting in a satisfactory way. Wearing black vests with “dried blood” all over them, Nick Holmes and company looked perfect for the part when they opened the show with the new anthem “Let The Stillborn Come To Me”, followed by “Metal Abortion” and “So You Die”. The ambience was grim and heavy with a very distant Nick Holmes, and although some people might have preferred a more talkative and crowd-involved Nick, his distance was more in tune with the aura of the band itself. The sound throughout the show was great and the setting provided by the lights was suited for a band that relies heavily on their imagery. The gig could have perfectly ended on a strong note with “Like Fire” and “Mock The Cross”, but they wanted to give something extra with a crushing encore of two classics: “Eaten” and “Cry My Name”.
Vagos Open Air 2015 was coming to an end, but there was one more treat for the fans. The guest band Ironsword, one of Portugal’s dearest old school heavy metal acts, was back and the fans wanted to see how they were doing. Unfortunately, Ironsword were not ready for this. Although they had a crisp sound at their disposition, they dropped the ball: a drummer that couldn’t find a rhythm, a vocalist whose voice was terrible and seemed just worn out, and tired old riffs that seem mildly interesting on record but were simply clichés in a live setting. This is not the goodbye that the people deserved. Few stayed for the beginning of the show and even less stayed for the ending.
All in all, Vagos Open Air 2015 can be considered a success. The bands were great (one mistake or another cannot erase what was overall a great experience), the ambient of the festival was magnificent (the camping areas were, as always, great fun), the facilities were improved and most importantly, Vagos is still a wonderful place to be in a metal festival. The surrounding area is great, the people are friendly, the weather is generally pleasant and the staff is helpful. Vagos Open Air, we will return in 2016 and hopefully we can keep seeing the steady growth in quality that is the trademark of this wonderful festival.[robo-gallery id=”16718″]