Concert Reviews

Rockfels Festival 2015 Hot

Written by James Gaden     October 16, 2015    
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Two years ago the HiRock Festival shook the middle Rhine valley, where the mystic Lorelei Rock overlooking St Goarshausen, is located. In August, Germany's most beautiful concert venue called again and thousands of music-lovers flocked to that legendary place to become part of Germany's newest Rock and Metal feast, Rockfels.

For me, getting to the venue on Friday 07 August (a tropically hot summer day) was a two-hour drive (without AC!) to the most memorable place I've ever visited. If you ever have the chance to go there, do so! I got over the river Rhine via the ferry and up to the venue, which is located in the mountains where the first thing that caught my eyes were the hundreds of queuing people, holding tickets in their hands. Later on I found out that all tickets had to be exchanged against festival wristbands but still all tickets had to be scanned...organizational overkill! Then, when I tried to get my press-pass I found myself waiting for almost forty minutes (and missed Serious Black and half of Axxis.) because the press accreditation list obviously got lost. However, the very young girls at the counter tried their best and when I eventually received my press package I was happily surprised; a great-looking lanyard, a rain-poncho (surely no need for that this weekend), a festival guide, a map, schedule and a couple of drink-vouchers. This was much more impressive...

So, I was only able to listen to Serious Black from outside: a band I had been really looking forward to seeing. From what I heard, the band delivered a great start for the festival. Singer Urban Breed and his fellas didn't mind the heat and Rocked their hearts out and powerfully presented songs including 'I Seek No Other Life', 'Temple Of The Sun', 'Older And Wiser' and 'Sealing My Fate'.

Second on the list, Axxis; a guarantee for fun, quality and tornado-like movements by singer Bernhard Weiss all the way through the set. I got in during their fourth song and therefore missed the opportunity to take pictures. So I just enjoyed the show and inhaled the mood of the festival... I have no idea how the band managed to give more than one hundred percent that day. Rob Schomaker played like a God while having fun with the photographers and let the soil vibrate with his extremely fat bass-sound. Weiss jumped and whirled all over the stage like a high-voltage-tornado while Axxis' newest member, six-string maestro Stefan Weber, just happily smiled his way through the set, convincing with impressive light-fingeredness. The entire band showed limitless team spirit on stage, their performance stronger than ever. Old classics like 'Living In A World', 'Little Look Back' or 'Little War' mixed with more modern tracks like 'Heavy Rain', pounding 'Tales Of Glory Island' or 'Hall Of Fame' emerged in a perfectly presented set. After thirty years, Axxis still gave everything they've got for their fans. Finishing with 'Kingdom Of The Night', it was a fitting climax to a great set.

It was either Axxis' energy or the gleaming fireball up in the sky that killed one of the amps and it took the crew about thirty minutes to replace the broken device. If Dragonforce could play any faster than they already do, they would have been able to make up for the loss of time. But instead their set is cut down to four songs. The Brits took the cutback with fortitude. Herman Li and Sam Totman showed off their typically frenetic guitar work and finger-stunts: it was quite a miracle their fret-boards weren't set on fire that day during the four songs comprising 'Fury And The Storm', 'Three Hammers', 'Symphony Of The Night' and 'Through The Fire And The Flames'. The two fastest guitarists I've ever seen fooled around on stage while bass-monster Fred Leclerq covered all corners of the stage and banged his head like there was no tomorrow. Gee Anzalone was impressive as the new animal behind the shooting gallery too! Altogether a great show with a good mix and vocal sound. Dragonforce sound a lot more convincing live than they do on record.

Next act, the Red Hot Chilli Pipers (yes, you read that correctly!) filled my heart with horror in the run-up to the festival. I don't really need to hear Classic Rock songs on bagpipes... So I took the chance to get a desperately-needed drink without losing eyesight with the stage. The Scots definitely controlled the crowd: sudatory sit-down-jump-up-raise-your-glass-games are joyfully played along by the by now half undressed audience. Songs like 'Smoke On The Water', 'We Will Rock You', 'Thunderstruck' or 'Gimme All Your Lovin'' got "kilt". Really! Their performance might be a nice show-act by good musicians with fun choreography and great outfits but in that line-up it all appeared a bit like a joke. I'm not too sad the Pipers also had to cut back their set because the screaming sound of bagpipes "interpreting" some of the world's most amazing Rock songs sent unpleasant shivers down my spine. Next please...


However, before the fantastic, Danish Melodic Rock formation Pretty Maids would conquer the stage, I took a look around. Approximately half of the 4.000 present people were still hiding in the cooling shade of the trees on top of the hill since every other corner of the venue gets mercilessly struck by intense, glaring sunlight...

So, at about 6:30 Ronnie Atkins, Ken Hammer, Rene Shades, Morten Sandager and Allan Tschicaja filled the hot air with their booming sound and intoxicating mix of hymns and masterpieces. Good old killer songs like 'Mother Of All Lies', 'Red, Hot And Heavy', 'Rodeo' and 'Back to Back' were mixed with the more recent 'Nuclear Boomerang', 'Pandemonium' and 'Little Drops Of Heaven'. Pink Floyd's 'Another Brick In The Wall' served as a brilliant intro for 'I.N.V.U.'. Then the crowd enthusiastically joined in with encore 'Future World' and it became clear to me that the goosebumps-creating 60 minutes of Pretty Maids set would forever remain in my memory. The legendary Scandinavians were pitch perfect in every sense and it was somewhat disappointing that the venue wasn't as packed as it should have been for them.


It's slowly getting dark and the earth starts to breathe again after we had passed the 40°C mark during the day. At 8:00 Swiss monster Rockers Gotthard let their magic commence. A massive, silver Cadillac-front that covered Hena Habegger's drum-riser, along with the numerous Marshall amps with effectively-added "bullet-holes" made the stage look incredible. 'Bang!', title-track from their latest record resounded from the PA and once again I'm extremely impressed by the perfectly balanced sound (and had been during the entire day). The Gotthard guys seem to have obviously finally overcome the tragic loss of former lead singer Steve Lee, top-class vocalist Nic Maeder is nothing but smiles. Their performance was one huge party: wonderful audience interaction accompanying the exceedingly likeable bunch of Hard Rockers. Leo Leoni presented himself in better shape than ever, playing his guitar in every possible position without losing grip once, while in the rhythm section Marc Lynn added vitality to the big-picture with a permanent smile and calming influence contrasting with the enormous power of Habegger. Freddy Scherer, second guitar-God here, Leoni and Maeder used the catwalk in the most persuasive manner; together, alone but always as friends. Guest-musician Ernesto Ghezzi was probably the most energetic keyboarder you can imagine. It's pure joy watching them... Not to mention that their set was a massive feast for the ears, including 'Sister Moon', 'Master Of Illusion', 'Hush', 'Lift 'U Up', 'Ride On' and 'Remember It's Me'. No matter from which era, no matter what kind of song, the band gave everything and received an ecstatic response in return. For 'Starlight' about 20-25 fans were invited to join the six-piece on stage which posed problems for the security guys for a moment! One of Gotthard's monster hits 'Anytime, Anywhere' ends their stage-time and I seriously wondered who was actually headlining... This was 70 minutes that could have lasted forever. An absolutely epic performance....


The light show was on for Hammerfall, darkness having swallowed the heat of the day. I can't deny, I'm not the biggest Hammerfall fan, mainly because most of their albums have sounded rather "samey" to me. However, the Swedish band gave the stage their very personal look in style of their most recent release '(r)Evolution'. Album-opener 'Hector's Hymn' blasted from the speakers to get matters underway and a very well-rehearsed band is show a lot of movement, interaction and highest energy-levels. However, something seemed to be wrong with the mic since singer Joacim Cans ran back to the stage crew again and again during the first three songs and appeared to be somewhat pissed off by something! Thus it was only after 'Any Means Necessary' and 'Renegade', that 'B.Y.H.' was the first song the entire band was able to fire at the audience with full-force. Oscar Dronjak jumped and whirled himself and his Flying V all over the stage like a maniac, posed for pictures and channeled his sophisticated guitar-skills to the vibrating amps. Together with the others, Pontus Norgren, David Wallin and Frederik Larsson, the band certainly created a harmonious impression. They sought contact with the fans by coming to the very front of the stage again and again – highly appreciated by the sweaty mob we had become during the day! 'Blood Bound', 'Live Life Loud', '400 Meter Medley', 'Threshold' and 'Last Man Standing' are among the well-chosen tracks for this appearance. At least one track from each album was played, including Hammerfall's obligatory band-hymn 'Let The Hammer Fall'. The two tracks in the encore, 'Bushido' and absolutely gigantic 'Hearts On Fire' crowned the beyond-powerful and great show. Even though I will very likely never become a huge fan of this Scandinavian Power Metal institution, I was absolutely amazed by their performance.

Day one of Rockfels 2015 ended with a weather-warning for the campers: heavy thunderstorms and lightening could strike during the night... I was obviously not the only one thinking "Rain would be awesome now...." but I kept my fingers crossed for those who didn't have solid walls around them for the next few hours. Luckily the thunderstorms only turned out to be a couple of lightning flashes but they brought some clouds to protect us all from that damn hot planet up there for day two of the Festival.

This began the same way the first day ended; with an announcement from the organizer. Mantar, a Doom-Metal and Punk band from Hamburg, had cancelled their appearance at short notice. Surprisingly this caused quite some elation amongst the Rockers present... Even more happiness was garnered as Beyond The Black were announced to play longer instead. What a good start into the day!

The Symphonic Metal band from southern Germany were new to me and was absolutely stunned from the first moment when very young and delicate-looking lead-singer Jennifer Haben opened her mouth: her very "un-girly" timbre sending a wake-up call through the air. All around me, I saw positively surprised faces and heard murmuring about the band's quality. Their sound is massive and brilliant (thumbs up for the sound engineers once again) and all members' musical abilities were outstanding. I also adored the darker and heavier touches some of their songs contained. Nils Lesser and Christopher Hummels evinced marvellous skill on their six-strings while the rest of the band created a perfectly balanced wall of sound. 'In The Shadows', 'When Angels Fall', album title-track 'Songs Of Love And Death' and unbelievable Motörhead cover 'Love Me Forever' sent shivers of delight down my spine. My deepest respect for this through-and-through top-class band and performance, and certainly a band to look out for in the future.

Brainstorm, another German Power Metal band, poured more oil onto the bonfire of high-quality Rock and Metal. Another band I knew very little about beforehand and found myself intensively digging into their material after the festival. The five guys performed solid and refreshingly-written Power Metal. Front-man Andy B. Franck and his friends delivered a genius show with a lot of funny introductions. 'Worlds Are Coming Through', 'Firesoul', 'Fire Walk With Me', 'Falling Spiral Down' and my personal favs 'Shiver', 'Shiva's Tears' and 'How Do You Feel' (encore) catapulted Brainstorm into the center of everybody's attention. The Rockfels had awakened and was ready to jump and celebrate all day long.


Pink Cream 69 then revealed a more than mind-blowing treasure chest of old and new songs in front of about 6.000 head-banging music-lovers. Singer David Readman is still at the peak of his vocal prowess and conquered every centimeter of the stage like a lunatic. Bass player Dennis Ward and guitarist Uwe Reitenauer were a bit more static leaving more space for Readman! Other guitarist Alfred Koffler shined with incredible solos and Chris Schmidt "mistreated" all present drum-heads and cymbals with enormous power. The band constantly kicked ass with 'Keep Your Eye On The Twisted', 'Hell's Gone Crazy', 'Talk To The Moon', 'Do You Like It Like That', 'Welcome The Night' or 'Lost In Illusion' and didn't seem to wane at any point during their set. Another highly impressive performance from a long-established band!


The moment Finnish monster Rockers Lordi came up on stage the sky turned dark. But with their almighty Shock-Rock and their stunning costumes they scared the clouds away! Tomi "Mr. Lordi" Putaansuu spreads his enormous bat wings and immediately the crowd is under his spell. "Es ist scheiße heiß!" ("It's fuckin' hot!"), he grunts in devilish voice; "What if they would have had to play Friday?" I thought. Their killer-performance started with 'Nailed By The Hammer Of Frankenstein' and continued with a brilliantly-sounding set of 'Hard Rock Hallelujah', 'Deadache', 'Blood Red Sandman', 'It Snows In Hell' and also Alice Cooper's 'He's Back'. The show ended in a lyrical massacre, comprising 'Who's Your Daddy' (of course with the scary baby doll shooting confetti out of her mouth...) and 'Would You Love A Monsterman'. The show seemed to end way too soon. It was pure joy listening and watching them... should I be alarmed!?


I wasn't really looking forward to seeing U.D.O. since I normally can't stand Dirkschneider's voice but the band's incredible performance might change my mind! The German Rock institution announced beforehand that after their tour, all Accept songs would be banned from their concerts so luckily I had the chance to hear them live once again. After the intro and a very loud 'The German Tank Is Back' I turned my head to the crowd and my heart skipped a beat: where had all those people come from all of a sudden? The venue was packed, I mean, really packed and the entire mob looked like they were on happy-pills. What an energy! Dirkschneider, Wienhold, Smirnov and Heikkinen totally got the crowd under their spell and showed genuine fun on stage; probably the happiest band of the entire festival. U.D.O. also decided to share a best of mix of songs and take the stage with brute force and sound: the last remnants of confetti blown off the stage. 'King Of Mean', 'Decadent' and frenetically celebrated 'Metal Machine' came across just as powerful as Accept-classics like 'Metal Heart' and 'Balls To The Wall' when even Mr. Lordi appears again to support the massively strong performance of the German Metal legends. I revoke everything I had said about U.D.O. before. THIS was stunning!


Unfortunately Saxon didn't manage to keep this level up. The band's currently on their 35th Anniversary tour and I expected an epic performance but instead singer Peter "Biff" Byford appeared to be in a really bad mood. Technical issues with the mic certainly don't help in such a situation, I suppose, but it was not just him. Even guitarist Doug Scarratt doesn't seem to enjoy himself at all and – apart from Tim "Nibbs" Carter who works his bass undeviatingly with a smile – the entire band performance came across as really tense and barely showed any love for what they do. Musically the set is well-chosen and played, 'Power And The Glory', 'Princess Of The Night', 'Crusader', 'Wheels Of Steel', 'Battering Ram' (from the imminent album of the same name) and the encore 'Denim And Leather' didn't leave me cold but there was no spark to set the audience on fire here. Very sad!

Today's headliner band was Helloween. 'Walls Of Jericho' introduced their fantastic performance in front of an impressive stage construction, picking out the central theme of their newest album 'My God Given Right' with that enormous head of the statue of liberty and impressively printed back-drops, stunningly illuminated. The guys from Hamburg immediately revived the party. Everybody at the Lorelei went wild while Andi Deris and Markus Grosskopf used the size of the stage at its full capacity; these guys could probably make a football-field look too small! With imperturbable vigour, they animated the crowd to sing along and raise their hands while they delivered a one-of-a-kind headliner show. Whoever controlled the lightshow was a God as well, I'd like to mention here! Perfectly matching colouring and effects throughout the set. Songs including 'Eagle Fly Free', 'Steel Tomorrow', 'Straight Out Of Hell', 'If I Could Fly', 'Power' along with two of the most recently produced tracks, the ultra-catchy 'My God-Given Right' and brilliant 'Lost In America', came across as indisputable master of goose-bump creating masterpieces. 'Keeper Of The Seven Keys' (which is fervently sung along by all attendees), 'Future World' and 'I Want Out' closed a magnificent performance. Helloween were a most worthy headline – and closing act for Rockfels 2015.


Overall, my conclusions about the Festival were extremely positive. The organisation was very fine in the end (apart from some un-/misinformed members of the staff, the ticket/ accreditation chaos at the beginning). The security people were extraordinarily helpful and friendly, food and drinks were of a good quality and mostly reasonably priced (water for 3€ is a BIT pricey though!).

The next Rockfels is already planned for June 10th and 11th 2016 (definitely make a note of this!). Ulrich Lautenschläger (organiser and head of Rockfels) and his crew deserve a massive thank you for their fantastic work and efforts. This, my friends, was absolutely outstanding! Come and join us all next year at a fabulous location above the beautiful river Rhine.

Julia Braun

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