With every edition that takes place, Dark Bombastic Evening festival in Alba Iulia, Romania, sets a new standard for what a music festival should be all about: pure joy. The joy of listening to loved music, the joy of discovering new fantastic acts, the joy of meeting old friends and making new ones and the joy of relaxing. Especially the last one is something really rare at a festival. Usually I have to make a compromise between missing an act or two in order to relax, breathe and grab some food or running around like a headless chicken and having to time my toilet queue so I don’t miss much of band X or Y. But DBE has never aimed at a schedule full of headliners and a senseless starting time of few minutes after one barely wakes up from the night before. DBE has been about one stage, 3 afternoons that start when the temperatures cool down a bit and the coolest afterparty once the last sound echoed from the main speakers. Easy and doable. And most of all, enjoyable, so I am, once again, left with a bunch of memories and smiles that will wander through my head and on my face for the days to come and have already made it such a burden to go back to the office PC and focus on ‘real’ things. The DBE reality was too cool to just easily let go.

For those who might not have read about this special festival, you can see its history on their website http://www.darkbombasticevening.com and I can briefly tell you some logistics details: it takes place usually mid August, in the heart of Transylvania, Romania, in a town called Alba Iulia (although last year it was held close to Arad), inside the premises of a Roman-built citadel called Alba Carolina, thus offering festival goers plenty of chances at touristing around during the day. The festival lasts for 3 days, this year it had 5 bands per day all performing on one stage. On Wednesday, there was a short and cozy opening party with an acoustic solo show by the Swedish GRIFT, but since most of the attendees didn’t fit in (weather had the show moved indoors), Wednesday became a day of socializing and good times around the citadel walls. August in Romania can get rather hot, but weather was more kind than usual and treated us with bearable temperatures for most evenings. No comments about day times though, as I can only say it was an extreme bliss to have had booked a room with air conditioning and have a restaurant at the floor level of the hotel.

Placinta Moteasca with garlic sauce
Besides the amazing musical experiences and the unique crowd that this festival gathers together, there are several other aspects that make me drop anything else during this weekend and take the trip to Romania. For example, THE FOOD. I think they might serve hot dogs and one of the 3 stands, but that’s about it when it comes to ‘usual’ festival foods. Other than that, amazingly delicious homemade food and traditional food from the area. Checkout sarmale with polenta for example, or the gulas soup or other homemade dishes Romanian style, most of them being cooked on the spot. And on top of them all, those ‘Placinte Motesti’ (cheese filled dough, spread and cooked on hot plate and the topped with garlic sauce). Probably the highlight of the festival for most attendees, as I’ve never seen the people preparing them having had a chance to stand still. Another aspect is the fact that there’s one security guy who usually hangs out at the entrance and discretely checks to see if you have a wristband and says good bye on your way out. Nothing else…no paranoid guards in front of the stage or by the backstage entrance, no going thorough bag checks, no….no stress I guess. It’s such a relief to be able to feel the trust that builds during those days, even if probably some people might smuggle in a bit of this or that in a bottle, but at the end of the day they actually end up sharing it with anyone. So this relaxation right from the entrance makes it feel like you have crossed into a different kind of world where even the drunk people are way more pleasant than at most festivals with ridiculous alcohol prices and paranoia on enforcing all those rules that should make you feel safer. Kids and especially dogs are always a cute sight at an outdoors festival. I have mixed feelings about having four legged furry buddies exposed to loud sounds, but hopefully it being outdoor and the owners holding them away from the stage doesn’t lead to any ear damage for them. Another side that surprises me every year: seeing the festival organizer having the time to enjoy EVERY concert, from the first beat and usually until the end or at least until the song before last. In most cases, I know the people responsible with events barely get to catch their breath, having to run off after a couple or songs, or they’re dead wasted by the end of the shows. Again, DBE offers a different sight: a guy who started this due passion, keeps doing it out of passion and actually gets his own share during the event. Big thumbs up for that!

Oh, and did I mention that the festival has one stage? I probably did, and might do it several more times during the review but it’s still one of its biggest highlights. It also has a small camping area behind the stage, offering camping places also between the citadel walls. The sound and stage equipment was offered by Top Sound if I am not mistaken. And they usually do a good job as far as I can remember, but somehow this year they also topped themselves and with a few exceptions (when the soundguy was the band’s own engineer), the sound was absolutely flawless. So a big round of applause for this team as well.

Now, about the music. First of all, for me at least, usually a lot of names are not something I have listened to before. I might have stumbled upon the name or spotted a photo or two from other colleagues’ works, but never heard the music. And while the first years of DBE I was trying to do some pre-listening rounds, I lately learned that it’s so amazing to let yourself surprised by insane performances and sounds so I gave up that habit and I can usually say I know max 3-4 bands in advance. Evi Vine was the first act of the festival, a really spot-on act for opening an event like DBE. Eerie folk ambiental tunes, passionate voice that led the way to the dreamy mood of the whole DBE experience. People would sit on the grass in front of the stage and let themselves carried away by Evi’s stories. The dreamscape was interrupted by the second act, German post-metallers Der Weg Einer Freihet, a band who has previously performed at DBE and who has nicely developed ever since, accentuating the bombastic vibe of their black metal/post metal and pleasantly led by a good dose of skilled drumming. King Dude‘s folk set was not very inspiring after the previous intense concert, so I went on a quest to rediscover those amazing pies (Placinta Moteasca) named earlier and spent time chatting with friends. I think I can say I have a few ‘DBE’ friends, meaning people whom I meet only at this festival, but who are such a joy to be around and I am quite sure there’s a lot of similar cases. So, as a side note, thanks DBE for allowing this kind of beautiful friendships.

Salina Turda

Batsheba started promising and the setting seemed really fir for their doomy vibe, but for me personally the vocal was a complete turn off so I retreated by one of the walls and tried to focus mainly on the instruments. I know it was their last concert and I did see the Belgians put off a great show, investing their energy and talent into it, so it must be a pity for their fans that the band stops here (although I heard some rumours about the project Leviathan Speaks where the singer will continue performing). Afterwards, the evening ended with the British act And Also the Trees, a band with 40 years of career and an excellent skill at being different. I see them categorised as Post-Punk and/or New Wave, but I simply find them charming and very poetical on stage. Simon Huw Jones on vocals has the talent of creating a rather intimate atmosphere through his powerful, yet mellow singing and I felt really sorry when my body simply didn’t want to cooperate anymore and insisted it needed sleep within the next 20 minutes, hence I had to leave sometime half way through the show. I have to mention I had spent the previous two days driving (note to those who will consider joining the festival, while the highways are not a problem, driving through the smaller roads in Romania can turn out to be very challenging and might last way longer than expected. Keep that in mind when booking transportation). The advantage of going early to bed though was that I was able to visit the salt mine in Turda – http://salinaturda.eu/?lang=en – one location that I’ve always wished to check out, but every time I was in Alba Iulia I thought it was way too far to be doable in half a day. It is not and it’s a lovely and exciting way of spending a day away from the burning sun. I didn’t get to do it this time, but hopefully one day I’ll go with a bigger group and get to play some minigolf or table tennis among the gigantic salt walls. And you should do the same if you find yourself in the area. Or, use the days to visit the fortress and taste other local goodies.

After the trip to the mine and a well deserved nap, time for day two of DBE, started with more of those cozy vibes delivered by the German ambient dark folk act, Neun Welten. A very hunting vibe led by the charming voice of Anja Hövelmann, surely telling interesting stories from ages long gone or maybe yet to come. Unfortunately I only got to pay attention to a small part of their performance, as it had started earlier than on the schedule (even if announced in due time by the organizers) and then the rain started so I had to retreat under a tent where the chatter around me made it impossible to focus on the music. But I think rain was an appropriate background for the Neun Welten tunes. One of the main acts I wanted to see this year was the British act Five the Hierophant. One of the DBE ‘traditions’ is to have a couple of songs (or a very long song) being played during the changeover, on repeat, and  then, the next year, the band playing that song gets invited to play. This was the case of Five the Hierophant and it was with lots of curiosity I positioned myself in front of the stage. The guys were all dressed in black robes mainly obscuring their faces, and wondering if they’ll make it alive by the end of the show or they’ll burst up in flames. Luckily they dealt really well with the humid heat, and delivered one good dose of insanity and what they list as "Instrumental ritualistic soundscapes, a psychedelic fusion of black metal / jazz / post metal and ambient" in the ‘About’ section on their facebook page. Whatever combination of sounds one picks to describe, I find it less relevant. What mattered is that they were simply hypnotizing and the performance has been a great mood enhancer for me. Thanks Gods for people who mix in madness in their shows. The show demanded a quick visit to the merch stand to purchase their album.

Photo by iria Gonzo
Anna von Hausswolff singing through the crowd
Photo by Iria Gonzo

I must admit though that the upcoming act, Electric Moon, has taken the madness to new levels. With their long lasting songs that build from a shy idea into the deepest of ‘let me mess up with all your senses’, the trio was mesmerizing and led to a lot of frenetic head banging in the crowd. The simplicity of their stage presence made it so that all focus was on music and rightfully so, as any other distractions would have been redundant. The crystal clear sound mentioned earlier also contributed to making this one of the top performances of the festival. After getting back to Earth, and having some corn and the famous by now Placinta, I sat myself somewhere next to the sound tent to watch Death in Rome, who bring a new approach to classic songs and make a hitparade in neofolk manner out of tunes like Snap (or was it Technotronic?), Corona, Nirvana or Michael Jackson, all in a bombastic manner with very well suited background projections. I actually enjoyed the fact that they chose to not have any lights on stage and everyone was only a performing silhouette. Anna von Hausswolff led to lots of happy fans when it was announced to perform at the festival. I was not caught by her music prior to the event so I was really curious what it was all about. Once again I found myself in front of the stage…after a reaaaaally long changeover probably due technical issues. The issues didn’t seem solved during the first song when a really loud and annoying sound was making everything on stage redundant and accompanied a voice that seemed to be powerful and beautiful. Then I moved a tad back and met some friends. Friends who ‘ruined’ the coming songs by starting jokes related to Anna’s request that she needs a bit more organ (probably in the monitors). It was a bad choice of words…we were all in tears. Finally, I managed to focus on the last 3-4 songs and realize that the music is not bad at all and she does have a fantastic voice and presence, especially when she sang in a hunting and captivating manner for the last song while walking among the crowd. That gave me chills and I have to make sure to check out more of her stuff

As I have learned during one of the previous years, each evening of DBE ends up with Night Waves – meaning that an area of the festival, also enclosed by the fortress walls, turns into a dancing location where the DJ alternates between the good old kind of hits (anything from Madonna to whatever was popular in the 80s and 90s) and more modern or ‘hipster’ stuff like I heard it called, something less dancy in my opinion, unless dancing on a music without groove and only with rhythm counts. But it’s a matter of taste and in the end I didn’t really care and despite the long standing day, I managed to move continuously until like 4AM or so. And I would have stayed more but an accident led to beer being poured in my sandal and it led to a rather unpleasant sensation a little while after that. But it was a blast and for the few times when I looked around the dancing area, I noticed a lot of the band members were hanging out there as well, enjoying the evening. If one wants to stay and chat, the whole festival area remains open, lots of empty seats and green grass to put your ass on and debate any cosmic subject that might cross your mind. At least a good number of groups were doing so when I left in the morning.

Missed breakfast though, but that meant a good sized yummee lunch before heading out for the third and, sadly, last day of the event. Austrian atmospheric black metal act Ellende took first to the stage and I just realize that I got caught up in some conversations so I actually missed their show. All I recall was the thoughts about how annoying it must be if the black make up they used would start running into their eyes. Up next we were treated with black metal/rock/trance from Australia, by Tim Yatras and his project Germ. A pretty interesting mix of elements, with a lot of power and grief and anger at the same time and I must admit it was rather fascinating watching how Tim Yatras on drums (if I am not mistaken) has handled the heat plus both extreme and clean vocal duties all along the show (although I think he switched to guitar for one song). They didn’t have a long setlist, due their lengthy songs but this fact only allowed the compositions to properly reach the wanted intensity through the right journey. Up next we got a good wake up call with true Norwegian Black Metal brought to us by Mork, who I think was the first band announced for this year’s edition. The old school sound and attitude had a perfect timing for battery recharging and it was even more refreshing to actually hear the band interacting with the crowd in between songs and making the reference to the Transylvanian Hunger, which will probably always catch on. It felt like the volume has gained some levels during the show, but the sound was impeccable and it helped the four guys to deliver an awesome black metal show.

What came next on stage is rather impossible to put in words. First, the Finns in Dark Buddha Rising, who have performed at DBE few years ago, but back then I can only remember a guy pouring blood like liquid over his head for most of the show. From the 2018 performance I will remember that nothing made sense and it was fascinating. While for short times one might have been misled by the softer passages, most of the music was one of those soundtrack that can only accompany madness. But a very fascinating madness.

One barely had time to figure out what just happened on stage, then all of a sudden a bunch of people took over, decorated the microphones with feathers and leaves, brought up a bunch of interesting drums, a nicely dragon shaped keyboard frame and a lot of other decorations one couldn’t see unless you measure over 1.70 without heels. Not my case. Then silence took over and a big group of people, including the organisers, arrived on stage holding hands, making a circle and reciting a short little story. One person walked around the group, dispersing smoke towards everyone from his hand held device. And then…once again, a performance for which words are rather uselss. I had previously heard of Heilung after everyone who saw them at last year’s Midgarblot festival in Norway used a lot of WOW when speaking of their concert. So I was thrilled to hear they got announced for DBE, especially after seeing those images with the impressive costumes and stage show. But to actually witness it with your eyes and all other senses… no picture nor video can capture that. There’s no way to describe the journey induced by those shamanic rhythms, led both by voice and by drum beats and by all the visuals. Besides musicians, there were four warriors who painted their skin with black and who would have a fierce choreography during certain songs, choreography mixed with showing their ‘mean’ faces towards the crowd. For the ending song, they jumped down into the crowd and triggered an ever higher level of insanity in the dancing/jumping of the audience. I remember my feet hurting but I was not able to sit down (nor step off from the bench where I climbed to be able to grasp everything that happened on stage). These two ending rituals have turned the festival into a magical journey that has left almost everyone I spoke with quite speechless in the end. The bittersweet end, when you sit down, share some impressions, realise how sad it would be to go back to whatever real life represents for everyone and that you might not see most of those beautiful souls until next year. Or the year after, who knows. Oh, and you also notice a bride in the festival area. Not sure if it was related to the show or she happened to have ran away from her wedding to attend the concert.

Since I manage to write this review rather soon after the ending, I prefer to focus on the positive side: IT HAPPENED. And I witnessed it. And it was perfect. I’ll have plenty of time to be sad and nostalgic until the next edition of Dark Bombastic Evening. With thanks to Doru and Daiana for their effort of putting it together and to everyone else who made this possible, I’m willing to start praying if this is what it might take for the next DBE to take place next weekend. Just so that I can have some more of those placinte.

The images I posted were taken with my mobile phone. Another awesome thing about this festival is that there’s no press passes. Everyone pays the same for the ticket and everyone can bring whatever camera they wish to, film, photograph and so on (just mind the photographer who somehow gets stuck in the same spot in the middle of the stage-front for the whole festival). I used to do photograph the event, but the fascination for music and the joy of spending time with friends took over the burden of a heavy camera. And I don’t regret it. Especially since Romania has one of the most talented even photographers, Miluta Flueras, who also works in magic ways and by the time I finished this, he has already published hundreds of amazing photos from the event. So if you want to check them out, here’s the link to his albums