Festival Report: Brutal Assault 2015
The four-day metal festival in Czech Republic featured two Indian bands making their debut on an international, several big name bands playing special sets, all firing up the scorching European summer
Brutal Assault – August 5th – 8th, 2015 – Fortress Josefov, Jaromer: Turns out the cardinal rule of summer festivals in Europe is the same thing columnist Mary Schmich and filmmaker Baz Luhrmann spoke about: Wear sunscreen. Four-day Czech Republic metal festival Brutal Assault truly lives up to its name, pummeling all senses, with temperatures going up to 36 degrees Celsius. Held at the old army fortress Josefov in Jaromer, which is over 100 kms from Prague, the venue could accommodate over 15,000 people.
Though there were signs that things were going to turn pretty nasty. Brutal Assault, which is now in its 20th year, sports the slogan “See You in Hell” and the fiery logo animation for the festival wasn’t an exaggeration. The sets at the festival started as early as 11 and going on until 3 am. So there’s some quiet time for about eight hours, sometimes less when a band like Dutch grind act Rectal Smegma takes to the stage on a scorching morning at 10:30 am, bringing their party grind to about 300 metalheads, who were terribly amused by the porno references, and the flying toilet rolls and giant inflatable penises going around the mosh area.
Divided among three stages – the Jagermeister Stage and Metalshop Stage hosted the big ticket bands and headliners like metallers Sepultura and Soulfly – both of whom packed in the biggest audience at the festival on the first and third day of the festival – alongside black metal topshots such as Mayhem and Marduk. The smaller tent Metalgate stage hosted the more diverse acts of the festival, ranging from electronic trio Atari Teenage Riot [still somehow sticking out like a sore thumb for their MCs and computer-generated music at a festival that was loud and heavy metal] to some trippy post-metal courtesy of American death/black act Agalloch, German post-rock band Lantlôs and Belgium doom-tinged metallers Amenra. Even post-hardcore bands such as Touche Amore had crowds singing along while death metallers such as Demilich [who are slated to perform at Trendslaughter Fest in Bengaluru later this year] and God Dethroned delivered tight, blistering sets.
Unlike Wacken Open Air in Germany, Brutal Assault is considered one of Czech Republic’s biggest metal festivals, but it’s a lot more diverse all around. The promoters certainly don’t care how much you love black metallers like Mayhem [who took to the stage for a post-midnight set that included “Freezing Moon”] or death metal favorites Cannibal Corpse [who drew in one of the biggest audiences on day two for a brutal-as-always set] or rather, despise modern metal. Although nu-metal band Ill Nino’s frontman Cristian Machado praised the festival for “not following trends,” we’re pretty sure any festival looking for a good turnout has to look into the best of the current lot.
More than modern metal bands such as UK prog metallers Monuments, Swedish djent band Vildhjarta and local Czech band Modern Day Babylon bringing in the prog fans, Brutal Assault was a big draw for featuring acts such as drone band Sunn O))), who were certainly the most surreal act on at 2 AM on day two, vocalist Atilla Csihar [who also handles vocals for Mayhem] putting on a suit made entirely from mirrors, screaming and shrieking over the heavy, repetitive guitars and synth that emerged from 12 (!) amplifiers on stage. The likes of industrial metallers Godflesh [who played as a two-member band with programmed drums off a laptop] and Swedish death metallers At the Gates, out with the universally-acclaimed album At War with Reality – their first in 19 years – were top notch in crushing, catchy riffs that had audiences moving. Even post-metal band Rosetta, playing on day four at the Jagermeister stage, made you forget about the harsh sun beating down on you.
The audience, mostly shirtless or in bikinis and festival merch short-shorts that had “Brutal ASSault” printed on the back, were most happy when they were hosed down by industrial hoses that came with a fire engine before a band started its set. The cheers directed towards the firefighters for providing heat relief usually transferred to the next band on stage – whether it was Brazilian all-female thrashers Nervosa, who were making their Europe debut on day two or Indian extreme metallers Demonic Resurrection, who took to the stage on day three. While DR, who first performed at Brutal Assault in 2010, even had the crowd singing along and requesting for songs such as “Dismembering the Fallen,” they made a big enough mark to have fans queuing up for their meet & greet session later. The band kicked off their set with “The Demon King,” the title track off their 2014 album, while they also dug into “Apocalyptic Dawn,” one of their claim-to-fames after it was featured on 2007 documentary Global Metal.
The previous day, Mumbai brutal death metal band Gutslit [see more photos here] had an even earlier slot, but it seems like the more brutal you were earlier in the morning, the better it worked. The band’s frontman Aditya Barve successfully got the crowds moving at 11 in the morning, while they debuted new material such as “Scaphism,” “Blood Eagle” and “Necktie Party.” Slam dancing around stage, the band’s bassist Gurdip Singh Narang was, as the band mentioned in their interview earlier this month, the face of the band – with fans spotting the turbaned man anywhere and running up to him for a photo.
Dusty and hot as it was, it didn’t stop metalheads from showing up in their finest black t-shirts, or even cosplaying – whether it was in black metal corpse-paint or people dressed up as Jesus Christ. As they roamed around downing beer and using the plastic cups to pour water from a nearby wash area to cool themselves off, it was easy to see this wasn’t the best way to withstand four days of music. While the sun only went down at around 9 PM, temperatures did get slightly bearable by 8 PM, when the bigger bands took to the stage.
Of course, you can’t be call your festival Brutal Assault without an enviable lineup of death metal bands, and that’s exactly what was delivered. From Cannibal Corpse to the flawless crushing set by German band Defeated Sanity on day four to tech-death band Cryptopsy. Although it wasn’t hyped as the biggest draw of the festival, legendary American death metal forerunners Death reunited for a tribute to founder Chuck Schuldiner, called Death To All. The band, comprising drummer Gene Hoglan, guitarist Bobby Koelble [both from the original lineup] and vocalist-guitarist Max Phelps [from prog band Cynic] and bassist Steve Di Giorgio [from thrash metal veterans Testament], ran through songs such as “Crystal Mountain,” “Leprosy,” and “Pull the Plug,” which amazed fans and first-time listeners alike about the authenticity of the set, sounding very close to the original death sound, despite different members.
For anyone who isn’t the biggest fan of the veteran metal bands such as Napalm Death, Annihilator, Kreator, Vader or Kataklysm [who, sadly, lost the attention of their audience to a flying remote-operated airplane performing stunts around the festival grounds] – there was American mathcore band The Dillinger Escape Plan. Wedged between pagan metal band Primordial and Napalm Death, Dillinger brought chaos like no other. Like a sonic slap on the face, the band frantically and violently stomped around stage, jumping off any object at a height while performing songs such as “When I Lost My Bet,” “Sunshine the Werewolf” and “43% Burnt” with mind-baffling accuracy. Frontman Greg Puciato climbed the stage scaffold a few times, but eventually found his place with the crowd. He even tossed his wireless mic into the crowd for a lucky fan to sing the words to “Milk Lizard,” who dutifully passed it back to the vocalist after the chorus. All this, with security and crowd barriers in the middle.
After meeting diehard fans from Poland, Germany and even Estonia, who have visited the festival regularly for nearly a decade now, it definitely feels like Brutal Assault will continue to grow in numbers, possibly shifting out of Josefov Fortress, while bringing in that right mix of the big veterans, modern metal wunderkinds and underground heroes. Not to forget, a good geographical representation from all over the world. One can only hope the European summer sun won’t be as harsh next year.