Alcatraz 2019 – Day 1 (09-08-2019)

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Time to kick off day one of the 12th edition of the coziest metal festival ever, Alcatraz. Who has never been there doesn’t know what he is missing, great vibe, not too much side animation, a party bar El Presidio and some Alcatraz side characters and they added this year a third stage, La Morgue, with almost only Belgian bands. It seemed that the weather gods didn’t like what was going on, starting off on Friday with a lot of rain , then the sun came out and made it almost a tropical heat day , on Saturday a tornado-like day, and on Sunday a more cold day, what the hell was going on. It didn’t matter, we conquered it all !!! Let’s check out the music.

Crobot (****)

Based on their description, I had expected Crobot’s stage attire to be rather fancy. Instead, it was only their vocalist, Brandon Yeagley, whom had dressed a little fancy with a shiny jacket. Other than that, I can only say I was very pleasantly surprised by the band’s performance on a very rainy morning. Despite the rain, quite a few people gathered at the stage to see Crobot perform. With the rain making things a little more difficult for guitarist Chris Bishop (read more about that here), the band still put on one hell of a rock show. I was a little worried about Chris losing his guitar with the amount of guitar spins he was doing. Brandon, on the other hand, loved to swing the mic stand and have it balance itself back upright again. It was rather amusing to see, often wondering if he’d ever push it just too hard and knock it over. Which surprisingly never happened.

Near the end of their set, Chris made some distance between himself and Brandon, and then started backing towards him with his back bent forwards and Brandon ran towards him and jumped unto his back, after which Chris straightened up with Brandon still piggybacking him. Together they wandered the stage for some time while Chris was still playing the guitar before dropping Brandon back down. It all felt very fluid and thought through. Crobot played mainly their heavier songs for their show at Alcatraz, including some of their new releases, Low Life, Burn and Keep Me Down. A very nice surprise (in my opinion) was the partial cover of Toto’s Africa during the rain. They sure blessed that rain! Their attitude, music, performance… simply everything felt like a show worthy to be played later in the day for more people. But alas. Perhaps next time!

Nervosa (***)

Our Brazilian female friends of the thrash trio Nervosa had the daunting task to open The Swamp. They brought us somehow cliche thrash songs but on the early time of the day the audience that was already present took it with a lot of love. The Swamp was packed quite good, although the pouring rain was an extra factor to get the audience inside The Swamp. Nevertheless a good opener of the day.

Pic taken by Tom Van Meerssche, originally for Hellzine

Wayward Sons (** 1/2)

Pic taken by Tom Van Meerssche,
originally for Hellzine

As much as I wanted to enjoy Wayward Sons, it was very difficult for me to get into it. Their songs sounded quite solid when I went to preview Alcatraz’s bands, but live it just seemed rather dull, even with songs like Alive, Don’t Wanna Go and Small Talk. Their guitarist, Sam Wood, reminded me of what Dave Grohl might have looked like if he had kept his long hair but dyed it a lighter shade of blonde. The stage felt empty without any kind of backdrop. Can you imagine a main stage without a backdrop? To me it just didn’t make sense for Wayward Sons to play the mainstage.

The music was okay, but the stage performance felt very unorganized. Their performance made ‘Midlife Crisis Dads’ feel like a more accurate band name. The opening crowd was even smaller than Crobot’s crowd and it took quite a while for the crowd to gather to a more size-able strength. The vocals seemed to be rather low, like a vocalist with stage fright who doesn’t actually want to be heard. Besides that, unless their keyboard was supposed to sound like a guitar, it got lost somewhere in the sound of the guitars.

Thy Art Is Murder (** 1/2)

Thy Art Is Murder… Where do I even start? Musically, I can’t complain. They’re good at what they do. But when it comes to the stage presence? Oh boy… Everything just feels out of place. Their vocalist, Chris McMahon showed up on stage wearing a leopard print shirt. It stood out like a sore thumb. It draws the attention, but to what? McMahon does nothing entertaining in any way. He looks bored out of his mind. And that goes for the entire band for that matter. Everyone looks like they’re playing music that’s too easy for them or like they’ve lost their passion for music. Lack of emotional facial expressions make the performance very dull, despite the music being very aggressive and inviting to physically move around. Seeing Thy Art Is Murder on stage makes me think of those garage bands in which a father, his son and some of the son’s friends decide to start a band. With the exception of McMahon, the band members look very young, and that contrast further alienates me from the band.

Pic taken by Tom Van Meerssche, originally for Hellzine

However, despite my personal lack of interest due to the lackluster stage presence, the audience seems to enjoy the band. Lots of mosh pits and crowdsurfers emerge during the band’s setlist. There are quite a lot of people, or so it seems at first. The density of the crowd is not that high. People want to see the band, but appear to be in no rush to put in any effort to get close to the stage. What also bothered me was that they could have had a decent show, with songs like Death Squad Anthem and Reign of Darkness, and decided to ruin it by throwing a, albeit short, political rant and playing Make America Hate Again. Good job guys. But first off: You’re an Australian band, and second: You’re in Europe. Save the politics for some other time and place. We’re here for music.

Queensryche (****)

The gentlemen of Queensryche showed us that they are still alive, even more, they are better than ever. Who had ever thought that without Geoff Tate ‘The Ryche’ would sound so good. Just incredible performance of songs like Jet City Woman, Empire, Eyes Of A Stranger, even a very dared one I Am I passed by, which is not a typical song to play on a festival. This was a show to remember.

Sodom (***)

If there would have been a speed control during a Sodom gig, the flasher would had have more work than a stroboscope on stage. With a new line up, Franck Blackfire and Husky replaced Bernemann and Makka, Sodom found the new energy to continue their more than 30 years long career. They took you by your neck on a speedy thrashy rollercoaster. What a hell of a ride this was, but on the long road, I would have appreciated some variation in the songs. The thrash fans had the time of their life , so mission accomplished.

Pic taken by Tom Van Meerssche, originally for Hellzine

Cowboys And Aliens (** 1/2)

It seems the La Morgue stage wasn’t too kind to Cowboys & Aliens. If you didn’t care about hearing the vocals, the front was the place to be. But in the back, just outside of the tent, the vocals seemed way too loud. I’m certain it’s a location issue and other bands that played this stage suffered similar issues. I wish I could say that I enjoyed the performance regardless, but I can’t.

Pic taken by Alcatraz photographer Ann Kermans

Judging by his movements, the vocalist seemed drunk from the very start. Maybe it was an act, maybe it wasn’t. But it certainly came across as rather unprofessional. Based on what I had heard of their music before the show, they had potential, but the stage sound issues and their vocalist’s behavior (his singing was still okay) made the show rather unenjoyable. Though I did still mildly enjoy hearing Soaking, Sheep Bloody Sheep and Ghost In My Speaker.

Vio-Lence (***)

The thrashers of Vio-lence came over for an exclusive show. We were very curious about how Vio-lence would do it, as they have a typical eighties thrash sound. From the beginning they kicked ass, the singer with his special voice (you hate or love it) killed it. Phil Demmel was back in form after his departure from Machine Head. The only bad thing was the sound, in front of the stage we couldn’t hear the guitars, in the back of The Swamp the sound was better. Something we noticed also with other bands. Nevertheless , another eargasm for the thrash fanatics, not the first, not the last this weekend.

Pic taken by Alcatraz photographer Ann Kermans


Bill Byford is still going at this, even after 40 years. Somehow there are seems a couple of bands who are celebrating their long career on Alcatraz. Saxon brought us a special ‘Castles & Eagles’ show which was more a ‘best of’ with classics like Denim and Leather, Crusader and not to forget Princess Of The Night. While for me it sounded all somehow out-dated and I got the impression that they played too much on auto-pilot, the traditional heavy metal fans were blown away by their performance.

Pic taken by Alcatraz photographer Ann Kermans

Opeth (****)

The swedish progressive dudes of Opeth are a bit of a strange duck between these thrash bands and heavy metal bands on Alcatraz but hey this is how a festival should be, a bit of everything. Opeth delivered us a excellent show which was for a part of the audience maybe too difficult or too mellow. With their sarcastic humor they conquered the heart of the audience. Their setlist consisted most of the songs that we could find on their 2018 live-release ‘Gardens of the Titans’. With the fifteen minutes long Deliverance at the end it was clear that this was a excellent choice to end The Swamp and Alcatraz on a Friday. Time to go to sleep for a couple of hours before hitting the next day.

Pic taken by Alcatraz photographer Ann Kermans

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