Vagos Open Air 2010

By on 9 August 2010

With Vagos‘ debut edition last year featuring Dark Tranquillity, Katatonia, Amon Amarth and The Gathering, and the predecessor of sorts that was the Alliance Fest offering Anathema, Marduk, Arch Enemy and Finntroll, it’s clear that this Portuguese festival is a haven for those classic, established bands of the 90s, and Vagos 2010 wasn’t an exception. Offering among others My Dying Bride, Meshuggah, Amorphis and the reunited Carcass while mixing in some of the best local talent, it brought together old fans and new kids to the peaceful lakeside setting of Calvão, right next to the town of Vagos, for a weekend of memory lane treks and pure metal.

Day 1

Unfortunately for young thrashers Prayers Of Sanity, Portuguese Wacken Metal Battle winners this year, and up-and-coming rockers Miss Lava, someone thinks it’s a good idea to open ONE booth and lump both ticket and media accreditation queues into one fuckin’ enormous waiting line, so it’s from outside the venue (a converted football dirtground) that their tunes are heard. Local folk metal gang Gwydion are the ones taking the stage already when we finally gain access to the dusty but spacious arena, and the visual shock is almost too much to take. Iberian vikings, wearing fur, under the sweltering 40º heat of your typical August afternoon in Portugal are disbelief suspended for just a little bit more than it should, and the music itself would need to kick ass much harder than it does for it to work. Generic keyboard-led Finntroll melodies with battle cries and let’s-dance bits might be all the rage in mainstream metal these days, but Gwydion still need to work harder at them to be relevant in any way. Especially when Ensiferum are cruelly slotted right afterwards – even if they don’t set Vagos on fire either, experience alone (well, and better songs, too) allows them to kick up a bigger sandstorm among the faithful folk brigade with much less of a circus erected around them. Bassist Sammi Hinkka, even with his instrument unplugged during half the first song, is clearly the most excited band member, and the fiery bearded man’s antics contrast with an uncharacteristic immobility of his bandmates during an overall lukewarm performance.

With the last remnants of the burning sun (and of all that happy folk too, a nastier writer might say) finally gone, the atmosphere appropriately turns instantly bleak as Halifax’s purveyors of all things doomy and gloomy start to cast their lengthy shadows on stage. The worryingly modern opening tandem of ‘Fall With Me’ and ‘Bring Me Victory’ soon morphs into old-school heaven, as My Dying Bride embark on a mindblowing revisitation of nearly all their albums. ‘Turn Loose The Swans’, ‘The Cry Of Mankind’, ‘Like Gods Of The Sun’, ‘She Is The Dark’ and ‘The Dreadful Hours’ are all seemingly torn from the very soul of suffering frontman Aaron Stainthorpe,  who seems to be in a particularly inspired mood, but even bigger highlights are the nostalgia-drenched rendition of ‘Vast Choirs’, from 1990’s ‘Towards The Sinister’ demo and a short version of ‘The Whore, The Cook And The Mother’, from their underrated ahead-of-its-time masterpiece ‘34.788%… Complete’. Benefiting from the best sound so far, balanced and powerful, My Dying Bride leave a deep mark on the enraptured crowd. There’s certainly time to think about their show, as Meshuggah take what feels like six weeks to complete their soundcheck. It’s worth it, though. The only thing more frustrating than a regular band with a bad live sound is Meshuggah with a bad live sound, but that seems to be something that will fortunately never exist. As the Swedes launch into ‘Rational Gaze’, every head on the site turns in awe, as it seems that someone is just playing the CD, such is the clarity and the precision of the sound. Their setlist could have  favoured a few of their more varied tracks, but such is the musicianship on display that one can’t help but be transfixed by it. As monsters the size of ‘Bleed’ or ‘Future Breed Machine’ stomp on Vagos like an enraged elephant, it’s cool to watch the crowd from the higher stands on the side – some bob their heads frantically trying to keep up with Tomas Haake’s head-fucking cross-rhythms, some headbang regardless, some are just too impressed to even move, but not one takes their eyes off the action. It would have been a proverbial perfect closer, were it not for the fact that Vagos is still far from closed even without bands on stage – action moves to the merch tent, where DJ Nelson Santos rocks the place down with his hair-raising set.


 

Day 2

No worries getting in this time, fortunately so, as more queues would have meant missing The Firstborn, one of the most exciting Portuguese bands right now. Still riding high on the epic songs of 2008’s ‘The Noble Search’ (no matter how many times you hear it, ‘Flesh To The Crows’ is always a beast of a song), vocalist Bruno Fernandes (who shows up with a guitar, adding extra beef to the sound) and his gang put on a short but intense show. Accompanied by sitar player Luis Simões and with Process Of Guilt’s Hugo Santos on stage for a couple of songs as a guest star, it’s cream of the Portuguese metal crop kicking off the day. Last local band of the weekend are Oblique Rain, and while their KatatonOpethian melancho-prog meanderings work very well on record, they’ve yet to find the correct attitude on stage. Passive and weak, their finely crafted songs lose the emotional weight they carry on an excellent album like last year’s ‘October Dawn’, and a rather large section of the crowd decide resting in the shade is more comforting than withstanding the heat for this. Ghost Brigade fortunately up the ante with the completely opposite approach – although their songs feature lots of sensitive singing parts and more than a little of prog-like developments, they rock out for most of the time. Guitarist Tommi Kiviniemi, for example, acts for all the world like he’s playing in a death metal band, a committed performance alongside the other axeman, Wille Naukkarinen, both allowing for frontman Manne Ikonen to just stick to his brilliant singing ability. Appropriately clad in a Xysma  (Finland’s best kept secret) t-shirt, Manne doesn’t move much, but his lungs infuse songs like ‘Rails At The River’ or ‘Into The Black Light’ with a strongly emotional character, even more than on record.

Although Tomi Joutsen also boasts a fucking impressive pair of pipes (soft singing, rocking screams, growling, you name it, he does it) and he also gives continuity to the Xysma tribute theme (belt buckle, this one), that’s where the similarities end. The Amorphis frontman has come a long way since his shy beginnings with the band, and he now owns the stage. Holding on to his hair dryer-like custom mic, his long dreadlocks look like agitated live snakes as the man jumps, sways, runs and instigates the dedicated audience, all this without missing a note of the varied setlist. Hell, when Amorphis are able to cram ‘Into Hiding’, ‘The Castaway’, ‘Black Winter Day’, ‘Against Widows’, ‘Song Of The Troubled One’ and ‘My Kantele’ into a 2010 setlist, “varied” might be an understatement, but that’s exactly what they do. Old and new cohabit peacefully as the great Esa Holopainen runs the riff show, and there’s even time for an audience singalong on ‘House Of Sleep’. As the last chords of ‘My Kantele’ die out, the celebratory feeling is such that the temptation to just go back to the car to listen to old Amorphis albums is great. Kamelot, however, are up shortly after. Probably the most divisive of the headliners, the American melodic metallers don’t leave anyone indifferent. Either you hate them and go yawn somewhere far away or have dinner, or you really, really love them and sing along with every song. Rationality is somewhere in the middle, and even plagued by sound problems,  their concert is unspectacular but solid and enjoyable nevertheless. The rapport Kamelot have with their fans tonight is remarkable, lifting so-so songs like the new ‘The Great Pandemonium’ to a more respectable status and great songs like ‘March Of Mephisto’ into the stratosphere. Someone needs to tell Roy “Khan” to shut up a bit between songs, though. Finally, after a bit of soundcheck comedy by roadie Hans Nagtegaal, the moment that most of the crowd has been expecting is upon us. Everything has been said about Carcass‘ reunion shows, but it’s always an extra rush to experience them among an audience that hasn’t been graced by their presence yet. It has been sixteen years since Carcass visited this small country on the edge of Europe, and everyone goes understandably apeshit as soon as ‘Corporeal Jigsore Quandary’ rears  its deformed head. Bill and Jeff are not only in great spirits, but in great shape as well, and as the band rips through ‘Incarnated Solvent Abuse’, ‘Reek Of Putrefaction’ or ‘Genital Grinder’ to deliriously frenetic crowd reactions, one thing becomes clear, even to the most hardened anti-nostalgia critic – if, two years after reuniting, the magic is still so palpably there, maybe it wouldn’t hurt to keep going and see what happens. Here’s some hoping.

 

As for Vagos, may it keep going, and growing, as well. There’s a space in between the big mainstream festivals and the selective extreme underground events to be explored, and this festival is doing that with wonderful results, even within the limitations of a marginal market such as Portugal. Get on a cheap flight next year to bake under the sun while listening to all those 90s bands you loved, you won’t regret it.

Click here for the complete Vagos Open Air 2010 photo gallery

About Miranda Yardley

I'm Miranda. Bite me.

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