I always enjoy going to Ieperfest in Summer. It’s one of the smaller festivals that’s always welcoming. Each edition feels like coming home, and I have been homesick for two years now. So when it was announced that the Ieper Hardcore Fest Winter Edition would finally take place, I naturally had to attend. It may not yet be the August edition, but it would be the perfect opportunity to see some long lost faces again, while enjoying a good ol’ slice of local and foreign hardcore music.
Low Life (**1/2)
Not to sound funny on purpose, but today’s honour of warming up the crowd would fall on the local Low Life. These H8000 gentleman bring us some nice hardcore vibes, which went somewhat underappreciated due to the still early hours. It wasn’t for the singer’s lack of trying to pump up the venue’s adrenaline levels though, but alas, to no avail. The slowly but steadily increasing crowd were still only walking in, greeting and chatting with friends they hadn’t seen in so long. The set consequently fell rather flat. Also sound mixing was just awful, to be honest, and really didn’t help their case. Still, it was better than just a playlist on the background while waiting for bands to take the stage.
Crucified enjoyed a bigger crowd than Low Life, but still got the same lukewarm reception. These gents from Kortrijk play a crusty version of hardcore/punk, giving an old school twist to their sound. I definitely enjoyed this at first, but as the set went on I admitted to an increasing lack of interest as I found the music growing more monotonous with each song. I missed conviction on their part and thus the set felt sluggish. The awakening kick I got at the start faded into a shoulder slump. I think maybe the light disinterest from the early crowd was too palpable to keep everyone’s motivation from faltering. Combine that with a stage that’s much larger than what they’re used to, and is therefor hard to dominate, and the turn this took isn’t very surprising. I think Crucified themselves would feel more at home in a small and tightly packed venue, and I’m fairly certain my enjoyment would have suffered less as well.
Works of the Flesh (**1/2)
The odd duck of the night would be the Antwerp death metal outfit, Works of the Flesh. I’m always down for a varied line-up, but not everyone shares my enthusiasm. And seeing as there’s hardly a more judgy scene than the hardcore scene (except perhaps the black metal scene), not everyone was on board with death metal being played at Ieper Hardcore Fest. Especially in combination with the other bands of the day. I thought Works of the Flesh were enjoyable enough, though the sound mixing was again ghastly.
Worst Doubt (***1/2)
When Worst Doubt came on was when the audience started to wake up. Well, that’s a bit of an understatement. Whereas the previous three bands had to play in front of a rather disinterested and dormant crowd, the venue all but exploded as soon as the Parisian hardcore outfit blasted out their first riff. Violent dancers instantly invaded the pit and scared the shit out of the other attendees, who rightly fled to the sides and back. Having been in those pits when I was still an intrepid lad, I know that anyone getting out of the way in order to avoid a spin kick to the face is making the right decision. There’s absolutely no shame in enjoying violent music form the confines of a safer spot. This leaves the pit empty for the larger part of the show however. I must say I wonder how hardcore bands feel about playing in front of a mostly empty dance floor, but such is the way with bigger venues. Anyway, I could certainly dig this set. Worst Doubt brought an onslaught of modern hardcore on which an enraged singer barked wildly like a rabid dog. The mood was one of aggression, and the dancers responded in kind.
Now, this is what a live set should look and sound like. I’d never seen the old school hardcore five-piece from Lokeren but I’d heard about their highly reputed live performances. And boy, is that reputation well-deserved. Mindwar was a sight to behold. The band’s stellar musicianship was undeniable, something I deduced from the tight-as-hell set despite the fact that these guys never even looked at each other. I didn’t notice any mistakes or pace corrections, which is quite rare. What’s more, Mindwar kept the pressure as high as possible, laying down song after song with nary a break. They didn’t give us nor themselves any room to breathe. The crowd took it in with the utmost pleasure and went nuts, throwing themselves left and right into the onlookers that had mistakenly huddled to the sides of the stage for safety, The pit was almost constantly swarming with crowd-killers and an unsurprising quantity of two-steppers. Needless to say, everyone involved enjoyed themselves from start to finish. Mindwar won me over for the spot of band of the day.
Up next was another band of local heroes: the metalcore outfit, Crowsview, who play something that very closely resembles All Out War, a band they are know to cite as one of their main inspirations. And even if you didn’t know this, it’s something you notice at once. I was already a bit wary of this since it’s not exactly my cup of tea. My suspicions only got confirmed when they started playing. I mean, it’s fine and all, but the drums are a bit uninspired and dreary and I found the vocals to be monotonous faster than I’d hoped. One moment that did stand out happened when the band decided to play a cover by Parisian hardcore legends, Kickback, and were joined by Arkangel singer, Baldur Vilmundarson.
Continuing the All Out War-style metalcore that Crowsview brought to the stage, the legendary Arkangel from Brussels dominated the stage and expectedly kept the pressure going. I had the sense this show was more of a family reunion rather than solely musical entertainment. Not only had everyone been letting out sighs of relief all day at this return to a sense of normalcy with sanitary restrictions lifted, but Arkangel‘s concert brought about an extra positive vibe of freedom to the venue. People climbing the stage to sing along with Baldur (sometimes overstaying their welcome a bit), the pit in near constant movement, and the singer even going as far as asking his kids to attend the show on stage; it all made for a very enjoyable laissez-faire. My only issue with this set was the sound mixing again: everything was way too loud, and you couldn’t always hear the strings correctly.
For the final performance of the day, the Englishmen from Malevolence crossed the Channel to bring us their sludgy metalcore. The crowd was densely packed, so it was clear everyone was here for them. Crowd antics were omnipresent as was to be expected. Crowd killers during build-ups, violent dancers on breakdowns, stage divers and two-steppers on skank beats; all the classics. What a party! Not everything is to everyone’s liking with Malevolence, however. On more than one occasion during the day did I catch people talking about how they’re not the biggest fans of guitarist Konan Hall‘s cleaner singing, while I myself were here mostly for that. Being a huge Crowbar fan, the sludgy, raspy clean singing is right up my alley. It pairs really well with the other, harsher tone of their music, and is a hard-hitting way of delivering deeper and more emotional messages in their lyrics. And damn, the man can sing. He hits almost every note so flawlessly that I can’t help but think he’s made haters change their minds about his singing style. In any case, I was totally sold.
Photo credits to kevienpictures.