This recent first weekend of April it finally happened. The first edition of Scotland’s own heavy/extreme metal festival, Heavy Scotland at the Corn Exchange in Scotland’s capital city Edinburgh, which is also very conveniently my home city. Much had been said beforehand about the festival and the bands that were booked, and there was a real air of anticipation and excitement. How busy was it going to be? How well was it going to be organised? Was the sound going to be any good? And a personal one, how much was the Corn Exchange going to charge us for a decent pint of beer?
After arriving early and spending the next 10 minutes or so trying to locate the press room, which had been changed at the last minute from its previously agreed location in the Corn Exchange, I made my way over to the main stage to find a spot near the front. Which at this point wasn’t difficult, as on both days the majority of the crowd gradually arrived at the venue throughout the day, but after the first band(s) had already performed. But a good 150 or so people were present to see our Belgian hostess for the weekend Femke Fatale introduce Scottish metallers Centrilia, who were a great opener for the first day. They were pumped and giving it all they had and being visibly impressed by the people present, the crowd being the biggest they’ve ever played for apparently. One thing was instantly clear, Centrilia’s heavy, beefy bass sound was going to be a trend throughout the weekend.
Next up were Welsh death metallers Sodomized Cadaver. Yes, the band name is outright silly, and so are their song titles and pretty much all of their stage banter “Hi we’re Sodomized Cadaver and this song is about sticking your dick in a cat”. But these guys can play and sound awesome, so who cares? There were bits during their set which reminded me of early days Carcass, with a similar groove and guitar solos. They had a lot of humour, which wasn’t to everybody’s liking, but the metal world is way too serious as it is really, and I do welcome a bit of humour.
Humour is something the next band, Dyscarnate, could have used a lot more of in order to cheer up their blistering set of very technical death metal. This 3-piece, who are the self-proclaimed “new kings of UK death” apparently (according to their stage banners), were certainly good and fitted the Heavy Scotland bill really well. They know how to play more than well, though I was missing some emotion and warmth as a 30 minutes set of full death metal technicality can get a bit tiring after a while. Still, it was great to see the skill and technical playing in action on the big stage, and the combination of the epilepsy inducing light show made it a good show.
After some issues on stage with overseas electricity plugs, power units and blowing fuses we were finally ready for the thrash metal attack that was Warbringer. Oh my, these guys arguably produced the best set of the weekend with huge energy levels, zillions of thrash riffs and a front man who knew how to please and engage a crowd. When you thought they’d get tired and finish their set, front man John Kevill announced “Lucky guys, 10 more minutes in the machine gun fire”, before they started another string of classic thrash metal songs, with the crowd starting the first big mosh pit of the day, including one of the few wall of deaths of the weekend. This was the first gig of their extensive European tour with fellow thrashers Havok, and you could tell how pumped and ready the guys were, resulting in one of the most talked about sets of the weekend.
Their tour partners Havok were up next, continuing the thrash assault. They were on par with Warbringer, but in my opinion only just. I think they missed the solo singer who was able to jump in the crowd and be all over the stage at once. Havok were still amazing though, it was great fun to see them in action, especially their bass player Nick Schendzielos, who is a legend among fans of bass players. Their set was full of fantastic riffs, speed and shredding and resulted in another good mosh pit.
Fleshgod Apocalypse were one of the first “big names” of the festival, though Havok arguably has some claim on that as well, but before they started their set of operatic theatric metal, drummer Francesco Paoli came on stage using crutches to apologise to the crowd for using technology to assist him with the kick drums, since he was still recovering from an operation he’d undergone a little while earlier. This was a really heart-warming thing to see and resulted in a big applause from the crowd. Their extreme brand of metal incorporates lots of very fast blastbeats and double bass drum drumming, opera vocals mixed with growling grunts, piano and plenty of theatrics, which was great to see, even though I’m not a huge fan of the band or their music. But they were entertaining and they played a flawless set, which could have done with a tiny bit better sound perhaps.
The penultimate band of Day 1 were Swedish death metal legends Grave, who were on top form. I believe this was only the band’s second appearance in Scotland. They produced a no nonsense set full of the type of death metal I like, the old school style. No tricks, no gimmicks, just blistering tight double kick drumming and awesome chugging riffing. I’m really glad I finally managed to get to see these old school legends!
Grave warmed us all up nicely for Headliner Number 1, the mighty Behemoth, probably the band who everyone present was there to see. Behemoth’s first show in Edinburgh. The last time the band played in Scotland was in December 2014 at Glasgow’s ABC, and it was a very special moment to see the band enter the stage again, being able to stand a lot closer to the stage than back in 2014 at the ABC. Their 12 song set was predominantly focused on the band’s last album The Satanist, with a final 3 songs taken from previous records (‘Ov Fire and the Void’, ‘Conquer All’ and ‘Chant for Eschaton 2000’). After a bit of theatrics by Nergal on stage as the band got ready (the good theatrics mind you!), they blasted into ‘Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel’, immediately stating their mission, which was to lay waste to Heavy Scotland’s first edition. Throughout their 1,5 hour-long set there wasn’t a dull moment, with the band playing fantastically clearly pleased to be united as a live unit again. ‘O Father O Satan O Sun!’ was received with absolute grandeur, not just by yours truly but by the whole Corn Exchange, the song itself being one of the best songs they’ve ever written (personal opinion, duh).
So that was a very successful Day 1. I couldn’t see anything but happy, smiling faces, especially after that monstrous set by Behemoth. Was Day 2 going to be as good?
The great thing about a big festival in your own city is the opportunity to sleep in your own bed, being woken up by your kids before spending a few hours of family time to then get going again for another day of various kinds of heaviness. Day 2 started off greatly with local boys Lucifer’s Corpus ripping into a heavy set full of Crowbar-like riffs. The had won the festival’s Battle of the Bands competition and they were very worthy winners, clearly demonstrating not being faced at all by the huge stage and doing what they do so well: down-tuned heavy riffing, pounding drumming both accompanied by some fat as fuck heavy bass sound. I’ve seen the band on numerous occasions in the past and always liked their style, but today they really impressed me greatly. Their singer Matt is a very impressive front man, with not only a great throat and set of lungs, but also with the confidence and crowd engagement a band like this needs on a stage this size.
Another local Edinburgh band were up next, the “very talented, very dreadlocked riff demons” Disposable, who continued with the thrash metal Warbringer and Havok started the previous day. Again a band with an awesomely heavy bass sound and with the added power riffing and fantastic stage banter they produced a very worthy and memorable set. In contrast to Lucifer’s Corpus I had actually never seen these guys before (whyyyy?), so I will definitely try and catch them again at their next Edinburgh gig.
“And now for something completely different” if Monty Python would have been the festival’s presenters. We were changing things completely as the heavy riffing and thrash were put on hold for a little bit while we witnessed a band who would have easily fitted in the hard rock era of Poison and Mötley Crüe. Finland’s Shiraz Lane were totally not what I was expecting at all (admittedly I hadn’t checked them out beforehand), and when they entered the stage I thought to myself that I was going to watch one song and have another burrito, but you know what? They ruled. The band certainly knows how to play and put on a great rock show. The singer was hitting notes so high I had to do a double take to make sure the band wasn’t fronted by a woman. They came, they saw, they rocked. Great stuff.
Evil Invaders couldn’t be more contrasting to Shiraz Lane, with their set of cheesy-as-fuck-over-the-top thrashing speed metal.a These bullet belt wearing Belgians (plus one German on guitar) even brought their own smoke/light boxes with them, together with their custom made microphone stands created another set many people were talking about for a long time afterwards. They played a total early Slayer rip off set, but they were so, so incredibly good (and fast!) that everything was forgiven. If anyone was still trying to recover from a hangover or lack of sleep, these guys were there to kick everyone into gear.
The next two bands/artists were not totally my thing again, at least that’s what I thought beforehand. But one thing Heavy Scotland has taught me is to go with the flow and watch some bands and be unexpectedly surprised. First up was the legendary former Wolfsbane and Iron Maiden front man Blaze Bayley with his band, putting down a reasonable good set of classic heavy metal, including some Iron Maiden covers (‘Futureal’, ‘The Clansman’ and ‘Man on the Edge’), and a Wolfsbane song in the encores (‘Manhunt’). It was nice to see some bright lights and therefore not many gimmicks, and to see Blaze working hard, singing well and really pleasing the vast numbers of fans who were singing along to all the songs. It is obvious Blaze is still as popular as ever based on the long queue of people lining up to meet the man himself afterwards. Where Blaze Bayley brought some classic heavy metal, Manchester based Ingested brought some brutal slam death metal. And I tried, I tried hard, but I didn’t like or “get” it at all. Compared to Grave the previous day this was a bit pile of undefinable noise with the sole purpose for people to fuck each other up to. Which was nicely demonstrated by the bloke in the toilet afterwards who tried to establish if his nose was broken or not after his visit to the mosh pit. I appreciate the technicality of the music, and that a lot of people love this kind of stuff, but I prefer my death metal slower, with more groove, basically more the old school way.
So it was burrito time for me, with some great veggie haggis, and with a lot of added spice and hotness. Then back into the venue hall to get a good spot for German thrash metal legends Destruction. Now, these guys were more than worth to watch as they delivered a more than solid set of old classics and newer tunes, all very effortlessly and professionally delivered by front man Schmier and his two colleagues. They went down a treat and the band themselves had a great time on stage too, with Schmier taking his time on more than one occasion to address the crowd, which was really nice.
The penultimate band of Day 2 brought us more theatrics again, as a huge number of musicians entered the stage all wearing troll ears. Finland’s Finntroll were another band I wasn’t overly familiar with, but their brand of folk black metal was entertaining and they brought Scotland a very solid set. Forgetting the slight silliness of the gimmicky ears, they were very tight and entertaining, showing why they are one of the current big players in the field of folk metal.
So, we’ve seen, heard, felt, experienced 15 bands so far and that just left us with Headliner Number 2, the mighty Arch Enemy, on tour after having just released their new live album and DVDa As The Stages Burn!. Overall there were less people present on Day 2 than on the first day of Heavy Scotland and it was noticeable less busy during Arch Enemy’s set when compared to the crowd that was present during Behemoth’s show, but the crowd that was there was presented a right spectacle. Arch Enemy are a well-oiled live machine, with a great stage back drop, performance and light show. Front woman Alissa White-Gluz was an absolute pleasure to watch, as she drew all eyes on her with her majestic performance. They certainly were a great headliner and final band to play this first edition of Heavy Scotland.
Overall it was a great two days of metal. Everything was very well organised and the sound was very good for the majority of the bands, and this was one of my biggest worries after having experienced bad sound at the Corn Exchange a couple of times in the past. The good thing of having all the bands on the one stage is of course you avoid bad clashes. But on the other hand if there is a band on you don’t really like or want to see then there isn’t much else to do. Still, for a first time it was a fantastic start, so well done to all the organisers and bring on edition number 2 next year!