10 things we learned at Summer Breeze 2017
We headed to Summer Breeze Open Air in Germany to worship at the altar of heavy metal. This is what happened...
Now in its 20th year, Germany’s Summer Breeze exists in the sweet spot between Download and Bloodstock – neither too big nor too underground. Around 40,000 people have made the pilgrimage to the site just outside the small town of Dinkelsbühl, deep in the Bavarian countryside, to see a mix of big name foreign imports (Korn, Megadeth and Amon Amarth are among the heavyweight names on the bill) and homegrown heroes, among them thrash icons Kreator and In Extremo. The sun is shining (mostly), the beer is flowing (definitely) and there’s three days of music unfurling in front of us. Let’s see what all this is about, shall we?
This is Nuclear Blast’s festival
Not literally, of course, but the organisers have opted to mark the iconic German label’s 30th anniversary by giving the whole of Friday’s main stage bill over to their bands. It’s a snapshot of just how broad the NB roster is: death metal (Memoriam), power metal (Sonata Arctica, the gloriously OTT Battle Beast), symphonic metal (Epica, Eluveitie), hardcore (Hatebreed), thrash metal (Kreator) and beyond. More importantly, it’s the sight of a label sticking two fingers up at anyone who says metal is fucked.
Revolving stages are the future
There are two main stages at Summer Breeze – the Summer Stage and (wait for it) the Breeze Stage. Except they’re one and the same. Crazy, huh? Thanks to the miracle of vorsprung durch technik, the stage itself rotates between bands, ensuring the next band on can get their shit ready behind the scenes and keep the tedious breaks between sets down to 10 minutes or so – something every other festival should take on board. Whatever will these crazy Germans think of next?
England 1 - Germany 1
When Amon Amarth instigated an outbreak of Epic Viking Rowing during their Bloodstock set this year, the British festival organisers threw down a challenge to their German counterparts on Twitter: “Bloodstock rowed hard for Amon Amarth… ENGLAND 1 - GERMANY 0.” “Challenge accepted!” came the reply. And did the Summer Breeze crowd rise to the challenge? Well, yes… and no. During Amon Amarth’s not-so-secret set on Wednesday evening, the massed ranks of German metalheads certainly levelled things. But their actual main stage show the following evening was a bit of a letdown in terms of air-rowing action. We’re going to call it a 1-1 draw. Of course, Germany will win on penalties like they always do.
In Extremo are the best band you’ve (probably) never heard
While Rammstein have rightly been clutched to the bosom of non-German speaking fans, why the same courtesy hasn’t been extended to countrymen In Extremo is kind of baffling. With pyros firing jets of flames hundreds of feet into the midnight air and all manner of fearsome-looking horns, bagpipes and harps onstage, their Teutonic folk-metal is batshit crazy and utterly brilliant.
The Brits are coming (sort of)
The UK presence on the Summer Breeze bill is pretty minimal, but those bands who do appear make it count. Architects' stellar late-night set appears to be mercifully free of the sort of dumb crowd behaviour that plagued their appearance at the Lowlands festival the following day, while Tesseract’s twisting prog-metal goes down surprisingly well in the baking afternoon sun. But then there’s not really much point pissing and moaning about the lack of British bands on the bill because…
There’s a whole parallel metal scene worth investigating
The large-scale snobbery from us Brits towards the German scene is up there with talk of the 1966 World Cup in terms of tired cultural clichés. Summer Breeze showcases a load of local bands who deserve an international look-in, from excellently-named bruisers Excrementory Grindfuckers to alt-rockers Long Distance Calling. Best of all is Turbo Bier, a bunch of snotty long-hairs whose songs revolve around boozing and partying.
The Black Food Stall
Things you’ll only find at a German metal festival: a food truck that sells nothing but black food. Think: black steak, black cheeseburgers, black chilli, black currywurst (a national German ‘delicacy’ that’s basically chopped up hotdog sausage covered in tomato sauce and chilli powder). It’s not naturally black, of course – more the dyed variety – but we suspect the end result will be the same. What goes in black comes out black…
Decapitated are the death metal band setting the pace
The Summer Breeze bill isn’t short of classy death metal, from Suffocation to the recently reunited Gorguts, but Decapitated walk away with the Best Band Of The Weekend (DM Division) honours. The horrific bus crash that killed drummer Vitek and put then-singer Covan in a coma will always cast a shadow over the Polish band, but their career since has been one long ‘fuck you’ in the face of tragedy. Their electrifying set on the second stage is the work of a band leaving darkness behind them and leading death metal into a bold new future.
Kreator are Germany’s greatest metal band
Yeah, the Scorpions, and sure, Rammstein. But the headlining status afforded to thrash veterans Kreator is a mark of just how important they are in the pantheon of German metal bands. If they’d been American rather than European, the Big Four would have to have been expanded to five – such is the importance of their landmark early albums Pleasure To Kill and Terrible Certainty. These days, they’re an unlikely German national treasure – if Mille Petrozza’s feral snarl has mellowed with age, the relentless march of their music hasn’t.
British festivals could take a lesson from Summer Breeze
As great as UK fests are, they haven’t quite nailed it when it comes to the whole shitty weather scenario, as anyone who has tried to wade through ten tons of mud in the middle of a biblical rainstorm can attest. With severe storm warnings predicted for the weekend, the festival organisers did everything they could to prevent the site from turning into the Somme, from laying down plenty of woodchip in advance to flashing helpful if slightly alarming storm warnings on the screens: ‘Please ensure your tents are tied down! Please take shelter in your cars!’ As it happened, the storms themselves were all mouth and no trousers, but it’s the thought that counts.