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Gig Review: Bangalore Open Air 2013

Despite a last-minute cancellation by Sodom, BOA’s selection of metal from around the world sets a benchmark

Anurag Tagat Jul 10, 2013
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American heavy metallers Iced Earth during their headline set at Bangalore Open Air 2013. Photo: Prashin Jagger

American heavy metallers Iced Earth during their headline set at Bangalore Open Air 2013. Photo: Prashin Jagger

Bangalore Open Air 2013, Saturday, July 6th, Hotel Jayamahal Palace Grounds: “Bangalore: The Metal Capital of India” read the back of a Bangalore Open Air festival T-shirt. While few argued that any city with lower entertainment taxes could have matched Bengaluru, the city folks gathered at Bangalore Open Air (BOA) made sure that not many could disagree. For its second edition, BOA shifted base from Acharya Institute of Technology, to set up stages at Hotel Jayamahal Palace (which also hosted the Great Indian Octoberfest) this year. The hotel, usually reserved for weddings, looked like a hybrid between a castle and a palace, and opened its green lawns for a sea of black who steadily invaded the grounds for their dose of metal.

Think back to the biggest lineup of metal bands you’ve seen. Now look at the poster for Bangalore Open Air 2013. The second edition of BOA promised just two Indian metal bands (Mumbai extreme metallers Demonic Resurrection and Bengaluru heavy metal veterans Millennium, the latter however canceled, owing to their guitarist Rohit Chaturvedi’s commitment to join Kryptos on their Coils Around Europe Tour) and six international bands. It was the exact opposite of last year, where two international acts (Kreator and SuidAkrA) and six Indian metal bands performed. One night prior to the event, it seemed like BOA’s luck was mirroring last year, when German thrash metallers Sodom canceled their appearance, citing dissatisfaction with their performance contract. Last year, Iced Earth pulled out due to visa issues, though this year organizers put skeptics to rest by making sure they posted photographic evidence of every band, including Iced Earth, checking in to their hotels in Bengaluru.

If a successful show meant one that started on time, BOA was a roaring success. Even as Demonic Resurrection kicked off their early evening set at 4pm at the Ronnie James Dio stage, just across the palace building were Animals as Leaders soundchecking, who drew about a hundred fans cheering for them as they tested their gear at the Jeff Hanneman stage, which had just hosted Wacken Metal Battle India finalists Devoid and Sycorax (more on who won later) for an early set performed to an audience of less than hundred people.

In fact, Sycorax began playing even before gates were opened. Queuing outside were about 500 metalheads, in band T-shirts which suggested that most of them came to see Lamb of God, Opeth, Gojira or even last year’s headliners, Kreator than any of the bands on the current lineup. There were even a few in Sodom T-shirts, who didn’t look too disappointed about the German thrash metal band’s last-minute cancellation. BOA could’ve used Sodom’s thrash attack, considering they had every other kind of metal covered – from the technical/progressive metal of Animals as Leaders and Leprous to old school favorites Ihsahn and Iced Earth, to Swedish melo-death metal band Dark Tranquillity, making their second visit to the country. Even then, there was the silver lining – that Sodom’s cancellation would mean extended sets from the bands on the bill.

Demonic Resurrection frontman Sahil Makhija was all praise for the festival, regardless of the few sound glitches his band encountered. “I didn’t get to watch these bands live when I was a kid,” said Makhija, as his band powered through “Dismembering the Fallen,” “Apocalyptic Dawn” and closed with “Unrelenting Surge of Vengeance,” when the Demonstealer gave his guitar a rest and windmilled through, much to the delight of the 500-odd crowd that had showed up so far.

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Sticking close to the schedule, within half a minute of one band finishing on the Dio stage, the band over at the Jeff Hanneman Stage would start. A small gap in the hedge between the two stages served as a pathway, with fans running from DR to catch Animals As Leaders (AAL), who started their set with “Waves of Babies.” Guitarist Tosin Abasi had the widest smile on his face when he greeted the audience. Of course, for a technical prog metal fan, it’s not about moshing or even headbanging. It’s about keeping time with drummer Matt Garstka, seeing Abasi blur scales, use eight fingers and duel with fellow eight-string warrior Javier Reyes. Said Abasi, “We’re very happy to be here, who knew India had metalheads?” as AAL ripped through “Tempting Time,” “Cylindrical Sea” and “Isolated Incidents.” Garstka got a roar of approval from his audience when Abasi fittingly announced, “Our drummer is so metal he kicked through the kick drum,” just as a new one was being installed. What came next was a build up to more metal-oriented songs such as “An Infinite Regression” and the set closer, “CAFO” which finally led fans to break into a mosh. Watching AAL made one realize that you didn’t even need to know the songs; it was just the technical wizardry to behold. Even the old school metalhead, clad in ill-fitting leather jacket or patch-adorned denim vest, was willing to give tech metal a shot. 

A wise programmer put Norwegian prog metallers Leprous on next, who would later carry on to play as the backing band for Ihsahn. Leprous performed some brutally impressive prog rock, between eight-string and six-string guitars playing epic riffs and vocalist-keyboardist Einar Solberg’s ability to smash down on a keyboard in the most intense fashion. Unfortunately, they played the shortest set at BOA, with just four songs (even though that’s long enough for a prog metal band, which are known for songs that clock in no less than six minutes). As they headed off stage for a short break, there was a change in the weather. It wasn’t just the sun setting, but dark clouds gathered and a light drizzle came in as Ihsahn almost discretely took to stage. “We brought in the Norwegian weather with us,” Ihsahn joked, as a murder of crows and kites started circling the ground above. It doesn’t get creepier that the song Ihsahn played for that setting was called “Arrival.” The hour-long set didn’t include any Emperor songs, but packed in new songs from Eremita and made sure every die hard black metal fan was left with open jaws. 

Swedish melodic death metal band Dark Tranquillity's Mikael Stanne. Photo: Prashin Jagger

Swedish melodic death metal band Dark Tranquillity’s Mikael Stanne. Photo: Prashin Jagger

Though Dark Tranquillity’s set suffered from sound setbacks repeatedly, the Swedish band made optimum use of visuals; projecting lyric on screen as well as music videos for the songs they played. Vocalist Mikael Stanne, who was just warming up to the crowd with songs such as “Terminus” and “Zero Distance” was soon awkwardly explaining himself. “We seem to have these technical difficulties that I love,” Stanne says. Their brief 10 minute break showed a bit of restlessness and tiredness at the same time from the crowd, who stepped out to hit the stalls, only to find little band merch (no Animals as Leaders merch had arrived, while Ihsahn, DT and DR merch went on sale only after Leprous’s set) and food that quickly ran out in supply by the time Dark Tranquillity finished with “The Fatalist.” It wasn’t so much a low point during the festival, but it was perhaps the moment most attendees seemed fatigued. Although DT filled the Jeff Hanneman stage to its capacity, the die hard fans were only in the first four or five rows, cheering every bit of stage banter and headbanging to every song off their latest album, Construct

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Iced Earth’s opening music of the track “1776” was turned up loud and clear seconds after DT closed. They were the final band to go on stage. By now, few were moping about what kind of set Sodom would have played. Instead, people jumped over the hedge and some even cartwheeled into the ground as Iced Earth opened with “Dystopia.” There were no mosh pits yet, but fists began punching the air and clap-alongs started in the mellow bridges without the band even asking for them. Guitarist Jon Schaffer and vocalist Stu Block led the show, providing double vocals on songs such as “I Died For You.” Oddly, Block asked the crowd not to put up the devil’s horns, but a “V,” which is one of the band’s favorite moves for the song. With V’s waving in the air, Block pulled out a Guy Fawkes mask later on. Iced Earth’s entire set confirmed why they were the headlining band. As the biggest name on the posters, Iced Earth make sure they play heavy metal that just can’t be ignored. To accentuate things, they were the only band at BOA to play with a massive backdrop featuring Iced Earth artwork, so it looked as epic as it sounded. By the end of five songs, even cops couldn’t resist giving a slight bob, although they couldn’t palate the faster material like “Boiling Point.” To add to the euphoria of their set, Block added, “We’re counting down the days till we come back to rock India.” If that news didn’t get all the members from the 3,500-odd fans that filled the main stage as Iced Earth closed, the band threw in their title song “Iced Earth,” all blazing with solos and double bass drumming.  

And while the festival ended on a high, the flood lights went on and Darjeeling death metallers Sycorax, one of the two Wacken Metal Battle finalists who opened the day’s proceedings at 4pm, seated themselves down on the grass, waiting for the winner to be announced. Devoid, who were strong favorites, did emerge winners, though Sycorax didn’t seem to have been given an update.

Barring that, BOA set a precedent for itself and all-day metal festivals in India. In its second edition, there’s been a marked improvement in production values and the amount of money pumped in to draw crowds that follow international bands. While more can be done for Indian metal on a stage like this, the organizers probably wanted to follow the money to see if it gave returns. With more than 3,000 people showing up, BOA upped the game for anyone bringing metal bands down to India. Where other festivals have faltered, BOA has mostly learned from its mistakes – if any – from last year and put on a moderate success. 

 

Photos: Prashin Jagger

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