Festivals are an integral part of modern music conception in any genre and metal is no exception. However, the largest metal festivals are already insanely overburdened and over-attended, turning what might otherwise be a fun and fascinating experience into one that is often challenging. Luckily, a counter movement of sorts to the sparsity which used to exist around Wacken or Download Festival has been building and the number of smaller festivals, focused on a genre of music or a specific location, has risen in the past few years. Doing away with massive main stages and overwrought lineups, these festivals exchange quantity for quality. Their lineups can also be large but the curation tends to be more aggressive, whether we’re talking of a veteran festival like Roadburn or Be Prog! My Friend.
The end result is a festival experience which is less about the “traditional” tenets of festivals (i.e, alcohol, dirt and camping) and more geared towards music appreciation and discovery. While you’ll still find massive mosh pits at some of these, the surrounding environs of most will be quite different than those which you might envision for metal festivals. As a veteran of these more “traditional” festivals, let me tell you that this pleases me verily. True, the experience of waking up in a field of mud instead of a campsite (thanks Brutal Assault 2010!) or discovering that a public toilet had been dragged through half the camping grounds (thanks Hellfest 2009!) is not something I would like to repeat. Therefore, it’s nice to be living in a time where appreciating and getting to know a large number of bands has been made possible without the somewhat lackluster realities which had been attached to festivals in the past.
That being said, where should one go? How to navigate the sheer number of festivals now available for the metal fan? With the aim of helping you sort through this vast variety, we’ve compiled the following primer. It’s by no means extensive; it’s simply impossible to write about all of the festivals we would have liked to mention. We focused on those we’ll be attending and on those who have the most attractive setlists in our eyes. That being said, do feel free to share more great festivals with us in the comments and please enjoy this, our selection of festivals for 2017. – Eden.
Be Prog! My Friend – Barcelona, Spain – 30th of June – 1st of July
In the wonderful, coastal city of Barcelona, a true progressive metal festival has been living for a few years now. Unlike another festival toting the “progressive” moniker, Be Prog! Is fully dedicated to living up to its promise. With alumni including Pain of Salvation, TesseracT, Devin Townsend, Meshuggah, Riverside, Leprous and many more, this young festival already has an impressive pedigree to couple with its fantastic location.
This year, Be Prog will be hosting a truly unique show: one of Mike Portnoy’s only runthroughs of the entire Twelve Step Suite. We’re yet unclear on what the lineup will be (it will be revealed when he plays the first show in February) but it’s been dubbed a “supergroup” so you can expect some familiar names. Accompanying Portnoy will be legends like Anathema, Marillion, and Ulver, alongside up and comers like Caligula’s Horse and Animals as Leaders. The festival also has more bands to announce so you can expect this roster to increase even further very soon. To top it all off, it isn’t an open air festival so you can expect many of the disadvantages of that (camping, sound quality, food choices etc.) to be completely absent from this affair coupled with the numerous advantages of hosting a festival inside a major city.
I’ll also be attending this year so hop on over to Barcelona (truly one of the most beautiful cities in the world) and say hey! Oh, and also listen to amazing bands which represent the cream of the crop of progressive metal today.
Heavy Scotland – Edinburgh, Scotland – 1st-2nd April
Making its debut in the summer of 2017 at the legendary Edinburgh Corn Exchange venue, Heavy Scotland promises to usher in a new age of darkness for Scottish festival goers – and I mean that as a compliment. With a titanic line-up already confirmed, you could say that the organisers know how to make the best first impression.
Some of the acts appearing to inaugurate what could possibly be one of the UK’s next top metal festivals include: Arch Enemy, Behemoth, Fleshgod Apocalypse, Grave, Dyscarnate, Sodomized Cadaver, Blaze Bayley, Havok, Shiraz Lane, Disposable and Centrilia. Furthermore, the event is hosted by Femke Fatale – the most tattooed person on the planet, arguably.
As you can see from the aforementioned acts, Heavy Scotland definitely lives up to the ‘heavy’ part of its moniker. And as us Scots are the best fans in the world when it comes to enthusiasm for live music, expect this to be more happening than your dad.
Eaux Claires – Eau Claire, WI – June 16 & 17
Located outside of the bustle of the small western Wisconsin city where Eaux Claires takes its namesake, the festival co-curated indie rock favorites Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and Aaron Dessner (The National) has a distinct feel that captures exactly what should be important in a festival environment. The setting takes advantage of the lush woods of Wisconsin, feeling like a summer camp getaway for those who opt for camping instead of shuttling daily from a hotel (do the camping). It’s simply all about “getting away from it all,” and it succeeds.
Though the lineup has yet to be announced (any day now…), it’s a given that Eaux Claires 2017 will continue with eclecticism and feature an assortment of up-and-coming artists, established genre staples, a few classics, and some surprises. Years past have seen the likes of Sturgill Simpson and Vince Staples ahead of their respective breakouts, but also some rising talents like Deafheaven, Phox, Shabazz Palaces and Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Bigger draws like Spoon, The Melvins, and Erykah Badu are commingled with veterans like Mavis Staples, Charles Bradley, and Bruce Hornsby. While last year’s attendees were rumoring that Justin Vernon collaborator Kanye West was going to shake things up, we merely got a surprise appearance from Chance the Rapper (aw shucks).
It reminds me of the days when Pitchfork’s festival was worth a damn (i.e. when people would play electric guitars). The festival grounds themselves have a similar layout – two large stages span a massive green space, and two smaller stages found nestled atop a hill just a small walk through the woods away, with plenty of space to explore. There’s bound to be a number of deliberations of who to see, when to head over to the next stage, and when to squeeze in a bite from the plethora of food trucks, but that’s as stressful as it gets – it’s an appropriately chill and carefree environment. Visual art exhibits, sculptures, literary readings, and maybe even a scavenger hunt allow for worthwhile considerations outside the musical realm.
If you weren’t an early bird (I wasn’t), keep your eyes peeled for the next round of tickets (and lineup announcement) here.
Complexity Fest – Haarlem, Netherlands – February 25
This is a sore one for me to write as I have had to cancel my plans for attending this truly outrageous show. Billing themselves as representing the “complex side” of heavy music, Complexity are offering one of the most eclectic and stunning mixtures of extreme music, ever. All crammed into one day in a glorious venue in Haarlem. Without blowing too much smoke up their arse, there is literally something for everyone involved with Heavy Blog at this.
Seriously, what the fuck even is this lineup? Gorod and Obscura meet every tech-death need at the top of the bill and are guaranteed to melt frets and faces in equal measures. Ihsahn too, just in case the pedigree of this lineup was ever in question (it wasn’t). The man, myth and legend tops the bill with the likes of Agent Fresco directly below. The Icelandic mood setters are maybe the “softest” touch on the lineup but their inclusion only serves to give more credit to the actual complexity of this lineup – hur hur. Did I mention Uneven Structure? I may not share the same boner for them as my colleagues do but I ain’t too thick to recognise talent when it’s placed alongside some of my favourite underground bands of the day.
For the basement dwellers like myself, Complexity is every missed birthday and Christmas present rolled up into one big, oily spliff, ready to be injected straight into the drug hole. Noiseriff megalodons Frontierer will trade blows with proto-grinders Beaten To Death in a battle for the most entertaining and brutal sets of the day, for sure. Unless Cryptopsy and Suffocation bring their A-game, which’ll leave the title up for grabs in a fatal four-way. 100% death metal royalty and they don’t even top the bill.
There are still bands on this lineup that I haven’t checked out and I’m sure I won’t enjoy all of them, but that’s the point. The festival isn’t designed for one listener in mind. Dip your chocolate grind in someone else’s prognut butter. Get freaky.
Ritual Festival – Leeds, UK – April 8
Now established as the UK’s best extreme metal festival (according to me, suck it), Ritual Festival could have struggled to top last year’s stellar lineup but naw. They’ve only gone and smashed fuck out of it with their 2017 bill. With a heavy focus on underground UK acts, Ritual are blooding the best of the melting pot that is the UK scene alongside acts well versed in the dark art of destructive live shows. Prepare your anus Leeds.
Ihsahn will plunder the UK as well as the Netherlands in early 2017, serving up the uniquely crushing music that barely needs an introduction these days. The same goes for the remaining “big” names on the bill. Anaal Nathrakh, All Pigs Must Die and Misery Index each represent the upper echelon of their respective subgenres, crossing wires of intensity and execution with killer proficiency. It would be criminal to leave early and miss any of these acts. Similarly, arriving late should be punishable by a hundred hours in the gulags.
As I mentioned earlier, Ritual is a soapbox for the freshest, nastiest talent around. The Afternoon Gentlemen, Corrupt Moral Altar and Conjurer are but three young acts on this stacked lineup that ply their trade shredding strings, skin and souls. While not quite as diverse a lineup as Complexity, this is still a cacophonous clusterfuck of grind, doom, sludge and death. If there was ever a show that gave you your five-a-day of extreme music, this would be it.
It’s hard to put a finger on the pulse of extreme music in the UK because new releases are flying out just as fast as the blasts that will destroy ear cavities at this show. The Ritual festival bookings go a long way towards showcasing just how murky and fantastic the underground scene is at home right now. And there’s even a set from the smoke drenched goodness of Bossk. Should one need to relax and rip a bong or four. Or twenty.
Roadburn Festival – Tilburg, The Netherlands – April 20th – April 23rd
Roadburn is one of the most unique festivals out there and has been for years. It has an emphasis on artist curation, selecting a curator for many of its years and setting them loose on the metal community. While that means that their setlist is variable, with many types of artists coming together under the Roadburn roof, they tend to keep close to the stoner and doom genres. However, you can also find plenty of other influences; post metal has been using Roadburn as its headquarters for the past few years as well with bands like Cult of Luna figuring prominently in the lists. Roadburn also has a penchant for unique shows. Ulver have made it a tradition to release albums during it, playing them in full before the albums’ release (this year, they’ll be releasing The Assassination of Julius Caesar there). Acoustic shows are also common with 2017 featuring SubRosa Subdued, an acoustic show by the highly successful, experimental doom band SubRosa.
The rest of their setlist, consisting of “normal” performances is also amazing. Inter Arma, Oathbreaker and Schammasch complete a trio of up and coming artists dabbling in and around the black metal sound while Perturbator and Carpenter Brut mark an interesting foray by Roadburn into the growing overlap between metal and synthwave. Also worth nothing is a performance by Zeal and Ardor, a one man project that took the metal scene by storm last year with his intriguing blend between black metal and gospel. More veteran artists are also heavily in attendance this year, including Chelsea Wolfe, Baroness, My Dying Bride, Wolves in the Throne Room and many, many more.
Roadburn also has their own unique aesthetic and the surroundings are always filled with interesting work from comic book artists, the artist in resistance for the year (GNOD for 2017) and more. It’s more than just a musical festival; it’s a gathering dedicated to a whole range of artforms. It remains a dream of mine to attend one year; perhaps the next one? In the meantime, if you’re able, Roadburn displays a unique opportunity for consuming a hefty and excellent amount of music in a few days. It is also one of the most stylized festivals around, making it especially attractive for purveyors of the type of metal which is on display.