Holland’s NEUROTIC DEATHFEST Review w/Videos
Holland’s Neurotic Deathfest, held in the pleasant city of Tilburg each year, is fast becoming a major death metal event not just in Europe but in the world. Not only are the line-ups world class (last year it was Immolation, Napalm Death, Pestilence, Bolt Thrower and Carcass, plus tons of others, this year we had Atheist, Macabre, At The Gates, Obituary, Hail Of Bullets and Autopsy, plus any number of other bands, not least of all Master, Necrophagia and Grave) but the venue itself, the 013, is spacious, well designed and superb for allowing fans to see the stage clearly and from a number of different aspects. For this reason Slayer and Megadeth have played there recently, and Morbid Angel is booked in soon.
With the legendary Autopsy, one of my all time favourite bands ever, headlining on the Saturday night I felt as though I wanted Friday night to go as quickly as possible but by the time At The Gates hit the main stage at 22:30, and the beers had been flowing, I didn’t want the evening to end. Earlier on Master had played a fine set of the kind of bludgeoning death metal that Paul Speckmann is so renowned for. One of the original fathers of death metal, Speckmann cuts an imposing figure onstage and his band sounded great. Classics like ‘Master’, ‘Pay To Die’ and ‘Funeral Bitch’ got the admittedly small crowd banging its collective heads nicely.
After Master finished it was time to hit the bar and then it was time to see Florida technical death metal legends Atheist. This is a band whose earlier music I really like, whether in its earliest form as R.A.V.A.G.E. or on the first and second albums – Piece Of Time and Unquestionable Presence – both classics of progressive death metal which were hugely influential to bands such as Death and Cynic. Sadly though, Atheist’s latest album, Jupiter, cannot even be compared with those older classics and the tracks they played live didn’t work, just as they didn’t in the studio. Even older tracks didn’t come across too well on Friday night and main man Kelly Schaefer looked to be struggling to get the vibe across to the fairly static crowd. You win some, you lose some. It was time to hit the bar again and get ready for Hail Of Bullets.
I managed to secure a place in the front row to see Dutch death metallers Hail Of Bullets. Fronted by yet another death metal legend, the charismatic ex-Pestilence and Bolt Thrower and still current Asphyx frontman, Martin Van Drunen, the band play straightforward blistering death metal. The 45 year old Van Drunen has great stage presence and his vocals are still as grating and distinctive as ever. Opening with ‘Operation Z’, the first track from sophomore effort On Divine Winds, Hail Of Bullets ripped through their 45 minute set with minimal fuss and maximum brutality – check out the footage.
After recovering from Hail Of Bullets with several plastic cups of the local red wine, it was time to go to the main hall for the evening’s headliners – At The Gates. This being the second or third time I had seen them since the band’s reformation and seemingly endless round of festival performances, I knew what to expect and wasn’t disappointed. Thankfully drawing much from their earlier (and in my opinion) better albums, ATG, really got the pit going with a perfect display of Swedish death metal. Vocalist Tomas Lindberg used the whole of the stage and his punkish exuberance to inflame the hundreds of sweaty metalheads slamming in the pit below him. A fine show, but I can’t help get the feeling that this band either need to write some new music or hang up their ATG-branded hi-tops for good. Some things can go a bit stale – look at the Carcass reunion – and it would surely be best to go out on a high.
And high I was at this point. So it was back to the hotel to sleep off the beer, wine and Jack Daniel’s.
Bands kicked off again on Saturday at 15:45 but it wasn’t until 18:15 that I left the bars of Tilburg to watch Macabre play the main hall. Macabre is a band that has released some cult records in the last 24 years. Sadly, the tracks they played off the great records – Grim Reality, Gloom, Sinister Slaughter – couldn’t save the set from the awful songs they played from new album Grim Scary Tales. I felt vaguely embarrassed watching these guys playing bizarre folk music. It was painful to see the bewildered crowd not really knowing what to do. I knew what to do – I went to another stage to watch Italian grindcore outfit Cripple Bastards who put on a blazing show of lethal aural aggression. Vocalist Giulio The Bastard looked utterly insane during the set, and it was disappointing that the smallish crowd didn’t go as insane as him, though Cripple Bastards were probably a bit too hardcore punk for what is clearly a more death metal crowd.
Having been gutted to miss Grave due to a last minute change in the scheduling I watched a few very uninspiring minutes of Necrophagia, complete with guitarist who clearly has a mandate to try to look as much like Phil Anselmo as possible, before heading to the main stage for Obituary. There’s not a lot I can say about this band that hasn’t been said before of course – trademark Celtic Frost-tuned rhythm guitars, sledgehammer drums and the still brutal-as-fuck vocals from John Tardy. The Floridan death metallers opened with my favourite ever track of theirs ‘Find The Arise’, a track originally written when they were Xecutioner, and there were no weak points at all in their hour long set. Bass guitar was supplied by former Death and Massacre plucker, Terry Butler, who didn’t move an inch.
So, the bit I and so many others had been waiting for arrived at 22:30 on Saturday night – Autopsy opened their set with a storming rendition of ‘Charred Remains’ from their classic debut Severed Survival and went on to play tracks from Mental Funeral, Acts Of The Unspeakable, the Fiend For Blood EP, latest EP The Tomb Within, and also a new track from their upcoming new full-lengther Macabre Eternal. Danny Corralles and Eric Cutler’s buzzsaw guitars and Chris Reifert – surely on a par with Speckmann and Schuldiner for death metal cult status – absolutely spot-on behind the kit, the band played a brutal set of pure gruelling death metal. Joe Trevisano (formerly Joe Allen – Abscess, Von) now plays bass for Autopsy and while he was pretty much static on stage, happy to leave it to the imposing Cutler and gargantuan Corralles to run around as best they could, his bass was nicely up in the mix and added to the heaviness of the music. Reifert, even behind a drumkit, is a fine frontman, and his incredible musicianship was reinforced to me during this show. Absolutely awesome.
So, with Autopsy over it was time to use up my drinks tokens on some more Jack Daniel’s and cokes (feeding my already extremely pissed mate Lee another few beers as well) and wander back to the hotel, pizza in hand, knowing that I had just witnessed one of the all-time greatest death metal bands that night, and had experienced yet another excellently organised Neurotic Deathfest. Long may it continue.