The rock-festival calendar is largely defined by two elements: the lazy summer months and the long-awaited fall-festivals such as Old Grave Festival. But Bucharest’s Metal Gates is putting in the work to maintain a thriving rock music festival scene in Romania even as the seasons’ change and the skies get gloomier. Quantic Club hosted another impressive line-up, this year’s event exceeded expectations and more.
It’s heartening to see that the organisers (Final Step Productions), have invested care to make sure that its lineup isn’t just a copycat of a summer metal-fests, nor concentrated on big names for maximum commercial success. There’s a particular focus on small acts that are booked alongside bigger names to ensure the underground scene is nourished by this festival.
To start, this year’s iteration only went for two days rather than the usual three and reduced the duelling stage setup to just one band at a time with a short change-over. There was also the garden, where the merch tents were installed, but the stage was the centrepiece. Personally, I found the venue a little bit crowded but having a good, expansive vibe.
I’m sounding just a little bit too enthusiastic for my own good. In truth, Metal Gates 2019 wasn’t perfect, but it was bloody brilliant, if not some way beyond it. I don’t think I have ever been to a more genuinely cosy indoor festival, and I’ve been to a great many excellent festivals over the years.
The bands on the bill were a great mix of styles (maybe a little bit too mixed), not just metal that you might think. You could be there for an advertised social event, but also for Hamferd`s melodic doom metal, the raw blues and thoughtful songwriting of Antimatter, the frankly, disturbing scenes of Taake, black-metal heroes Ancient, and Dark Tranquility.
Molybaron opens the fest with their tremendous blend of (mostly) groovy alt-rock riffs. Combining influences from Ireland and France, Molybaron has a rock sound that is familiar but has its own identity as a band who simply create something that is both listenable and entertaining. With references to acts like Queens Of The Stone Age with a touch of southern rock and blues, this is a band worth checking out.
Molybaron has a definite, modern sound to their music while retaining older influences. The familiarity of the songs eventually dissipates into a catchy pace.
Gathering their setlist from the latest album, ”Molybaron”, released in 2017, they brilliantly manage to mix beauty, majesty and virtuosity. Mixing up the heavier elements of “Moly” and “Animals”, and adding sporadic touches of groove makes for a truly stunning display of catchy-rock with blissful crescendos. All in all, Molybaron are a fantastic way to start off the third Metal Gates festival.
In an attempt to expand their sound, Belgium doom/death metallers Marche Funèbre have explored traditional views of the genre with longer song structures and plenty of dissonant work alongside the more familiar work. Going for the grandiose segment of their sound, the band brings out plenty of familiar elements. The mood goes from introspective to depressive and back again while all in the same song. This is accomplished while never losing the integrity of the song that’s being played. All songs have this epic, melancholic feeling to them that is incredibly appealing. The music is tight and flawlessly executed. I was pretty impressed by the vocals because they have a clear personality. The guitars have the right amount of distortion and also harmony when required. I think the pattern doesn’t follow the traditional lead/rhythm roles and even have a few solos from time to time. The bass plays its crucial role following the drums. The drummer is rather creative, giving only brief glimpses into his true potential. It’s moments like this show that leave a sweet sensation to your ears as you start dissecting the different things going on in their music.
Taine is a band renowned among the metal veterans on the local ground. The show marked twenty years since the release of the LP “Cealata Parte”, and followed the exact structure of the album. In fact, it was a rather melancholic feeling listening to all those old songs, for me at least, and the truth is that they don’t lose their metal vibe. It was a true metal show, “eye-catching” as the band would say. Songs as “Avoid the Pain” and “Pierdut” were an instant supply of power for the crowd.
Hamferð was the highlight of the evening, for me. This Faroese band describes how doom metal should sound. Their name reminds of epiphanies and their music is even more idealistic. An overall oppressive atmosphere occasionally flirting with a glimpse of hope, is a short description of the feeling that this band creates on stage. The instrumentation always feels beautiful and evocative, and the vocal performance is otherworldly.
The riffs absolutely crawl beneath your skin, leaving a constant thunder of hanging notes in the background, which is crushingly heavy, yet somehow soothing. The guitars are fantastic; always weepy and sombre leading a message of suffering and sadness even if you don’t know the lyrics. Often it’s either subtle or none too complicated, but that’s just as it should be – obscure, but still beautifully melodic. Simply put, the guitars you will find on “Deyðir varðar” (the “eclipse” song) are about as close to perfection for this genre as you will ever find. On stage was also Costin Chioreanu which painted as the band played, this giving the moment even more meaning.
Unbelievably perfectly suited for Quantic Club, Ancient was showing us that they must have been doing something right in order to get noticed before all the gothic silliness and fake teeth that would later come to define them, unfortunately. Before all of that, there was “Svartalvheim”, that showed this band’s talent. The evening benefits from menacing riffs and a demonic bass-heaviness that easily helps them stand out among other new bands the world of black metal.
They blended new and old songs, creating a great atmosphere. The songs chosen for the night presents some of the more aggressive and angular riffing, thus giving the feeling of intensity. Looking back, sixteen years apart, (I first saw them in 2003 in Timisoara), this was a show that was worth my attention.
A Pale Horse Named Death to approach a mix of doom and gothic metal, that was very enjoyable for a live show. They are a band every Type O Negative fan needs to know. While Sal Abruscato may always be known for being the original drummer for Type O Negative and Life Of Agony, he’s getting more credit for himself as the mastermind behind A Pale Horse Named Death. Songs like “Love the Ones You Hate” and “Die Alone” offers diversity and dark, heavy, and emotional music and, as Sal affirms: “It’s our signature combination of seemingly depressing and dark musical tones with unexpectedly pretty melodies. It allows you to drift off and zone out.”
Dark Tranquillity was the last band on stage on Saturday and the headliner for the first fest day. They are one of the bands from which the Gothenburg melodic death metal sound originated; along with In Flames and At The Gates; they helped create the expansive sub-genre of melodic death metal. Across their long career, they have never disappointed with any of their releases. On a dark stage, the band performed a vivid, fast-paced show. Dark Tranquillity has prominent keyboard and synth riffs and there is no shortage of absolutely amazing guitar riffs and authentic percussion. Dark Tranquillity has mastered the art of harmonizing just when necessary and the use of multiple guitar parts to embody the sound. With all of the instruments working as one giant sound-machine, this show was absolutely massive for this first festival night. All of these musicians are extremely technically proficient and this was shown definitely on this occasion. There were well-known songs like “Clearing Skies” and the newer “Atoma”, but the main reason the crowd was electrified was the old and recurrent songs like ”Monochromatic Stains” and “Lost to Apathy”.
At this point in their career, Dark Tranquillity has nothing to prove to anyone. They have their legions of fans for a reason. These guys will continue to create great new music, exceeding expectations each time.
There are gigs you never want to end, tonight was one of them: every pair of hands applauded what can only be described as an enjoyable evening.
Soon, the review for day two will follow.