Festival Report 2011

Text: Tobias Nilsson Photo: Lunah Lauridsen

So, Rockharz was the second new festival experience for us this year.
The first one was Metalfest, which is actually where we learnt about Rockharz from posters hanging around the place, and looking at the line-up they were advertising I can only say one thing; boy am I glad we saw it!
For one thing, it was hosting the sole Hypocrisy concert of the year, and besides that it had several of our dearest bands playing as well, like Týr, Turisas and Amorphis among several others.
On top of all of this, the location and timing couldn’t have been better as we were driving by the place on our annual tour to Metalcamp, and Rockharz was placed during the weekend (Thursday-Saturday) before this festival. The metal gods were truly smiling down on us!

The weather-reports we were receiving at home did not bode well however, so a heavy packing of exchange clothes was in order as the skies promised rain, rain and even more rain. But a little water as never killed anyone has it?
Well, upon arrival the sun was out and the sky had a pleasant hue of blue. We also managed to secure a spot close to the entrance of the festival area, so life was looking good again. Shortly before, we had been in the nearby town Ballenstedt stocking up on supplies, and we were now ready to take on the world of metal!
The festival area was easily navigated, and we were happy that there were only two stages, lying next to each other, which made overlapping of bands impossible. So, we weren’t going to have to choose one favourite over another, that’s always welcome.
Another welcome discovery was that the place was spacious enough, and even though the festival had a visitor limit around the 10000 (it wasn’t sold out as far as I know), the place never felt truly crowded. Ok, I actually don’t think everyone showed up the first day either, at least it felt to me like the bands of Friday and Saturday had larger crowds attending, but maybe they were just more popular. Unlikely, but possible; to us, the bands were pretty well divided out over all of the days.

Given the fact that the festival had the size it did, and its placing in a remote agricultural area of the Harz district (hence the name) of central Germany, it didn’t surprise me that we seemed to be the only foreign guest, not counting some of the bands of course, and our presence indeed did surprise some of the other people around. One guy, who seemed utterly in shock, stuttered out something like; ”But, but, but, this is a German festival. You can’t come here if you’re not German!”
From his expression I gathered that he did not mean what he said in a bad way, but only as an expression of surprise to see someone who wasn’t a native visiting the place. At least, we all had a good laugh about it before both parties went on our merry ways.
All in all, the feeling I got from the people we met was that of a welcoming and hospitable nature, and although everyone wished to excuse their bad English, conversations were mostly smooth and easy; this went both for other visitors and the festival workers.

The distance to town and the location of our camp didn’t really encourage many trips, but if a break from the festival surroundings was in order, you could always take the short hike across the fields and up the hill to the place called The Devil's wossname (sorry, again my German comes in short I’m afraid, and my memory was obviously too full for the translation I was given by one of the other guests), which was a natural (although you wouldn’t know it from the look of it) stone formation which someone had cut a quite steep and extremely narrow staircase into, after which they had placed a cross on the top. I personally didn’t come all the way up, but even from the height that I did get to I got a good birds-eye view of the festival and camping area.
Down at the site there were the usual fashion, music and food vendors; I did find two sorts of food which appealed more to me than the usual German festival grub though. One was a plate of fried potato slices and fried mushrooms (with an optional herb or garlic sauce), and the other was a proper kebab maker, with an emphasis on proper here! No large amounts of cold bread filled to the brim with sauerkraut here, this was a nice roll of thin bread, acceptable salad and a large quantity of meat; yum!

I’ve already mentioned that the first thing we fell in love with concerning the festival was the line-up, but to expand a little on that the festival had 46 bands during the three official days of festival (there was a pre-party during the Wednesday with more bands which we didn’t attend) of several different genres, ranging from power metal to hardcore, from death and grindcore to pagan and Viking stuff, and then some. Many of them were of course German, which was very popular with the native audience (especially J.B.O. and In Extremo), but there were also quite a few name-worthy foreigners among them; not repeating what I’ve written earlier, I can safely say you have probably heard of, among others, Tarja, Dark Tranquillity and Hammerfall, am I right?
Did I mention it was one of the sweetest line-up’s we had seen all year?

But not everything can go right for any old festival, now can it? This truth was also present at Rockharz, though I’m happy to say there wasn’t much to bother me. The one thing I can mention was a seriously bad one though, and that was that some of the bands had some serious problems with the soundcheck, causing great delays at times. The sound outward worked fine, but apparently they couldn’t hear each other on stage, making it impossible to stay on the same beat as each other. The worst example of this was, much to my dismay, Týr who had to cut out half of their set due to running late with the soundcheck. And they only had 40 minutes to begin with!
A less proud moment of mine was getting a teeny weeny bit too many of the cheap, cold beers on the first day, and subsequently missing out on the Amorphis concert, but let’s not dwell on this...

But yes, apart from this mostly everything was to my liking I must admit. A definite highlight was the weather; quite contrary to what we had been told by the meteorologists sunshine and (sometimes extreme) heat prevailed, and rain only visited us during the last three bands and the night of Thursday.
Musically, Týr could have been a win, had they not lost so much time. Instead, the best show for me was, without a doubt Turisas. I’ve always enjoyed their shows, but this was something above the ordinary, and my only regret is that it was over too soon. Hypocrisy and Dark Tranquillity are definitely worth mentioning as well, both delivering high quality gigs, while Haggard’s concert and J.B.O.’s version of Raining Blood were the biggest positive surprises for me.
The biggest surprise, I have not decided if it was a positive one or not, was the guy who walked in on the last day with a small trolley with an amp on and out of the blue started playing metal classics on his Hello Kitty guitar in the worst possible way! Entertainment for drunk people, but not good…
I also liked that at the end of the festival, or the day after to be precise, you could by a cheap (one euro) souvenir in the way of an aerial photo made into a poster of the festival and camping area. Cool idea.

Sifting through the reviews, you will also notice that Rockharz introduced us to a host of new bands of which we knew nothing or little, but with the common factor that we had not seen them before. Some were of course more worth collecting than others; to name some of the good ones I would first like to return to a name already mentioned, namely Haggard, which was a very positive surprise indeed! Other fun/interesting/worth mentioning acts include Saltatio Mortis, Powerwolf and Månegarm to name a few.

Well, as you gather, my meeting with Rockharz was a very positive one (hopefully for both of us), and I must confess that I am rapidly becoming a fan of these smaller German festivals. Let’s see what they have for us next year…

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