METALDAYS 2013 – Day 1 – Tolmin, Slovenia
Of all days, Valentine’s Day. That was the day the decision was made to attend MetalDays. A friend had found a killer deal on a flight – close to half of the cost of every other – and the decision was made to take the plunge on that day, of all days. It was my gift to myself. I love me. If not for that discovery, you wouldn’t be reading this right now. So blame a large-bearded man from Columbus, Ohio for all of this. Or thank him. I choose the latter. After reading this diatribe, however, you may be choosing the former.
After that was done, it was business as usual. This would be my fifth European trek in the last five years, so the preparation is pretty much down to a science. I have a huge checklist of everything I need to take, and it has yet to fail me.
Once all the prep work was done, it was off to Columbus the day prior to the flights. I live in Pittsburgh, which is about a three-hour drive to Columbus. A friend who was coming along and I crashed in Columbus the night before the flight, and it was off to the airport the next day.
The flight plan involved going to JFK in NYC, and then off for a very welcome diversion – Helsinki, Finland. For we had about an eight-hour layover, so it was off to meet up with a friend in Helsinki, and he was going to show us around. A nice drive through the city, accompanied by a stop to Record Shop X – a big record store chain in Finland – to grab some CDs. Lots of good stuff available, but it’s quite pricey. That awful 24% tax didn’t help in that department. We topped it off with an awesome home cooked meal, with my first taste of blood sausage, which was a resounding success! So after a nice taste of Finland, it was off to Ljubljana, Slovenia. By the way, don’t eat the Salmiakki. Unless you’re a glutton for punishment and/or a fan of strong black licorice. They even have it as an ice cream topping. Gross.
Ljubljana is the biggest city in Slovenia. In fact, it’s about the only technical "city", and it’s in the center of the country. Slovenia is very beautiful, with huge mountainous landscapes and crystal clear rivers.
The plan was to stay a night at a hostel, which ended up actually being quite nice, and there was no death involved. Big bonus! That evening, we had dinner at a very good restaurant named Sokal, which featured a lot of traditional Slovenian food, along with a slogan of "We offer you original Slovene dishes followed by our grandmother’s recipes". Look at the website here (http://www.gostilna-sokol.com/en/). There’s a grandma as soon as you go to the site! We all assumed, of course, that there was a grandmother slaving away in the kitchen to make all of the food. Or, my idea was that they had a grandma corpse becoming a marionette, like Bernie Lomax in the "Weekend at Bernie’s" movies. If you’re unfamiliar with those flicks, watch both of them. Think of movies that are so bad that they’re great. The food was top notch – especially the homemade cheese rolls. Highly recommended.
Dan Barkasi getting wet
The next day, the plan was to walk around and explore. The main stop was a big outdoor market filled with all kinds of random items – especially a lot of cool wooden toys and whatnot, which was quite neat. We had lunch at a small café, where the waiter was so keen on ignoring us that he sat down and had lunch himself while we were there. Hilarious. Food was decent, though, so whatever.
It was then time to embark on our journey to Tolmin, but on the way, we made a detour and stopped in Bled, which is a very scenic town with an old castle and a lot of beautiful views. Definitely worth the stop.
After we Bled for a while – bad, I know – it was off to Tolmin. We took the scenic route, which involved mountain roads that had more curves than a Vegas hooker with lots of plastic surgery. It was brutal, but a cool experience as well. We stopped at a nice restaurant outside of town, where I got a venison stew with potato dumplings that was to die for. Then it was onward to the apartment we were renting in Tolmin.
Another one of our friends staying with us arrived at the same time we did – talk about good timing – and we got settled. What a beautiful place, and the owner was as nice as can be. There was even a kitty wandering around the front yard who was an absolute sweetheart. I wanted to take the kitty, but somehow, TSA may have something to say about that.
On Sunday, we went and got our wristbands for the fest and wandered the festival grounds. You could walk around the market with all of the independent vendors, the second stage, and the beach bar. The area for the main stage was closed off. The beach bar is an incredible sight. It’s a beach – I know, no shit – on the banks of the Soča River. The water is clear, and the views are spectacular. It’s one of those picturesque places you wish you would never leave.
After hanging out there for a while and grabbing the mandatory festival-related merch on the way out, we had a nice dinner at a hotel restaurant, and relaxed for the rest of the evening. The music started tomorrow, so down time beforehand was definitely a good idea. Even if we all stayed up until about 4am acting goofy!
To begin, I should briefly describe the layout. After going through the festival entrance, the main stage is off by itself to the left, and the second stage is about a minute walk from that. The main stage is in more of an open field, while the second stage is in a tree covered area, which was nice as it provided shade from the hot temperatures. To get to the second stage, one has to walk through the vendor area, where you could pick up all kinds of stuff – from shirts and hoodies to carved wooden dildos. Interesting, to say the least! The setup worked nicely and it was never difficult to go from stage to stage.
CALDERAH live @ Metaldays 2013
(Photo: Dan Barkasi)
The first band of the fest was Calderah, a metallic hardcore band from Austria. G’day mate! Couldn’t resist dropping that "Dumb and Dumber" joke. The three-piece played an energetic set that kick-started the proceedings right. Calderah is definitely hardcore done right. Be sure to check out their EP. It’s a killer.
Chronosphere started immediately on the second stage after Calderah finished up on the main stage. These Greek thrashers really know how to rip. The new wave of thrash is hit and miss, however, Chronosphere are on the hit side of the equation. Sharp riffs and a ton of obvious passion, they tore through their 30-minute set, working up the crowd with ease. Check out their album "Envirusment".
Time for a bit of a break, and a slice of pizza sounded appetizing, and it certainly was. That would become a theme food-wise at the festival, as they sold out of almost every other food option by the first day and never re-stocked. It’s unfathomable how they miscalculated that one. MetalDays, definitely make sure that doesn’t happen again next year. Many people weren’t pleased.
AGAN live @ Metaldays 2013
(Photo: Dan Barkasi)
Next up was Slovenia’s own Agan, who play a unique style of nature-inspired atmospheric metal. They’re quite young, too, with members being around 15-years-old! A few songs were sampled before the fest, and the only material available was a few live clips, and they sounded very, very good. No recorded output from them as far as this guy knows. Who knew what to expect, right? Well, we got something special. These guys can flat out play. The songs are intricate and enveloping, and were performed with precision. Vocalist/guitarist Domen Duša has a powerful presence and some serious ability, as does the rest of this three-piece. Keep a keen eye, folks. The talent is obvious.
Avicularia, a Croatian avant-garde death metal group, was up next. Musically, they were decent enough, but the vocals were sort of inconsistent. Not bad, per say, as I enjoyed some parts, but some of the squeals simply didn’t fit with what they were trying to do. Most positively, they put on an entertaining show with a lot of stage presence and were worth watching. Just that one little stickler with Mr. Picky over here. Give them a go.
A brief two song stint of 4ARM was next. Wish it was more, but those nasty set splits always have a casualty. The brief watch of 4ARM was definitely awesome, however, as these Aussies know how to thrash! Anybody looking for some balls out thrash metal, you’d have to be dead to not dig these guys.
NEUROTECH live @ Metaldays 2013
(Photo: Dan Barkasi)
Neurotech was the reason for the short 4ARM set, being one of the best examples of heavy and catchy industrial metal this guy has heard in a long time. One of my most anticipated bands for all of MetalDays. The band started off with a fury, blasting through the first few songs and sounding absolutely perfect in doing so. Then, the problems came. The hard drive that contained their samples and whatnot crashed, so they had to end the set early. It was surprising to not have a live keyboardist playing those parts instead of using backing tracks. With no backup, a band of this style is pretty much toast. The few songs seen were amazing, but it’s a shame the set got cut drastically short. Still disappointed in that, but grateful for what I did get to see!
The Canyon Observer followed, and they were a definite standout. This is sludgy doom done right, with some monster riffs and a large stage presence. Another Slovenian band, too, from Ljubljana. Definitely having some good luck with the local fare!
SOILWORK live @ Metaldays 2013
(Photo: Dan Barkasi)
Off to the main stage to catch a little bit of Soilwork! The last time they came around in the US of A, their set was somewhat lackluster and the band really felt off. They were very good on Barge to Hell, so the hope was that it was just an off night. I was unable to watch all of their set due to a clash, but they were on their game from the four songs that were seen, which was quite relieving. Their latest release, the double album "The Living Infinite", was the primary source of material at the beginning of their set, energizing the band. Good show, and hopefully they keep this upturn going.
Melodic death metal act Darkest Horizon was clashing with Soilwork, hence the need to split sets. Having dug what was heard on their latest EP "Scattered Worlds", they were at the least worth giving a shot. A nice dose of a more modern, atmospheric melodeath was the result. Enjoyable, but somewhat unspectacular, as it felt as if I’ve seen this sort of thing a ton of times before. Nothing groundbreaking, but do their thing well, culminating in a good live show that’s worth catching.
Pretty much all of my friends decided to go to watch Ensiferum next, to which I’ve been very unimpressed with the last few times. Mouth of the Architect, however, was a direct clash. Having been wanting to see them for a good while now, the choice was easy.
A good decision it was! Mouth of the Architect plied their unique blend of atmospheric, sludge and doom without fail. A good stage show and all sorts of energy made this one hell of a set. Sort of funny how a band from Ohio – a neighboring state from where I live in the USA – somehow avoids me, and the first time seeing them is in Slovenia.
HAMMERCULT live @ Metaldays 2013
(Photo: Dan Barkasi)
Hammercult, hailing from Israel, followed. A death/thrash hybrid, these guys have been making a bit of a name for themselves since winning the Wacken Metal Battle in 2011. I was at that Wacken, but didn’t catch much of those bands. So now, the curiosity of what the buzz has been about was significant. Overall, they’re not too bad – heavy and fast, with a lot of movement on stage. However, there’s nothing that really stands out, either. Playing a sort of standard, bare bones death/thrash, it was nothing to do a backflip to. It also wasn’t all bad, though, as they did a good job at what they do. Not exactly living up to the hype, but they were enjoyable to a degree as well.
An old thrashtastic favorite was up next. Yes, I made up that word just now. Though I’m sure it’s been used before, but screw it, you didn’t think of it! The band in question would be none other than Overkill. Having seen these guys at least a dozen times, they’re one of the most respectable bands out there. Never compromising, and always putting on an amazing show. This time was no different. Bobby Blitz and co. thrashed the living hell out of Tolmin, and the crowd ate up every second. Mission accomplished for the Wrecking Crew.
BENEDICTION live @ Metaldays 2013
(Photo: Dan Barkasi)
Time for a change of pace, via some good old U.K. death metal. Benediction it is! Having seen them open for Bolt Thrower in Chicago twice in early June, a repeat of their crushing live show experienced on both of those dates was expected. Did they pull through? Yeah, with relative ease. Focused and unrelenting, Benediction played a good variety from their discography, and whipped the crowd into a crazy mosh pit in the process.
Once Benediction finished up, yours truly was spent. The only bands left were In Flames and Pentagram. In Flames have been toast for many years now – and sounded awful while walking out of the festival grounds – and Pentagram is one of those bands you see once because of Bobby Liebling’s wackiness, and that’s about it. Having done that a few years ago, it was time for some shuteye. Day one, survived!