Alcatraz 2021 – Day 1 (13/08/2021)

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Had you told me a year ago I would be partying with most of my friends at a three-day metal Summer festival without any restrictions this soon, I would have laughed in your face. Yet here we are. Okay, we had to be vaxxed or get tested beforehand but still. This actually happened. People could get their festival crews back together and drag themselves and their gear to a fresh green field, that just lay there waiting to be trampled into brown mush. We would be able to hug, high five, toast, dance, mosh, and enjoy live music once more. There have been a few smaller-scale festivals before this one, but those all had us tied to some form of restriction. Alcatraz is the first big Belgian festival to give us more or less the same freedom as before. And did that feel good. Read on for the full coverage of an incredible first day of pure catharsis.

Looks like we arrived just in time to catch some songs from Channel Zero’s (***) opening set. This midday set would consist of a selection of newer songs, keeping the classics for their second performance later that night. These songs have been written with Californian riffer, Mikey Doling. And while they did their best to perform the new set, I couldn’t get rid of the impression that I saw a different band than the one I was used to. These newer songs differ a lot from the older ones. Not that they are bad, but they just don’t have that extra sauce in them. That extra portion of anger, contrary to the their first three albums. Nevertheless, those who came out to have a big first party weren’t disappointed.

Black Mirrors (*****) show would be the second of many Belgian performances at this festival. As fun as that first Channel Zero set sounded, the Brussels heavy rock quartet were on a whole other level of quality. People were still streaming into the festival grounds but the Swamp stage, Alcatraz’ big marquee, was already quite packed and moving to the tight grooves brought to us by guitarists Pierre Lateur and Pierre Guillaume, bassist André Six and drummer Yannick Carpentier. Singer Marcella Di Troia swayed and swerved as she entranced us with her 70s rock-style singing, hitting all the notes exactly right. It’s fairly common to see good festival performances, but rare are the times when we can enjoy such precise musical craftsmanship.

Off to the Prison stage we went. There could be no better follow-up to Black Mirrors than the Swedish hard rocksters from Thundermother (****). A concert much along the same lines as the previous one, rocking out to catchy grooves was the main idea. Main stages notoriously suffer from poorer audio than marquees, what with sound engineers still calibrating at this time of day, and Thundermother was one of the unlucky early ones to play there, meaning their sound wasn’t the best. Still, it was far from the worst we’d hear during the three-day joyride we’d embarked on.

After Swedish hard rock, the time came for some Icelandic psychedelic rock. We’d heard so much praise about The Vintage Caravan (***) that it was hard to keep expectations in check. But here we went and… it was okay. I’m unsure if it was because we’d already seen two rock bands before or because we were expecting better, but the Nordic trio was a bit of a letdown. They played a good set, sure, but I spotted a few bored faces in the crowd towards the end of their set.

This report continues on page 2.

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