in Lauda-Königshofen, Germany, April 4, 2008

HELSTAR (Live at KEEP IT TRUE FESTIVAL X in Lauda-Königshofen, Germany, April 4, 2008)
Photo: Frank Jaeger

The tenth anniversary of the Keep It True Festival, which has become one of the leading underground Metal events in Europe, promised nothing less than one of the best billings that ever came a Metal fan’s way. Traditional Heavy Metal, Power Metal, and a bit of Prog, Speed, Thrash, and NWoBHM was a mixture that made fans come from all over Europe — one guy even made the trip all the way from Australia.

Compared to the other nine festivals before, there were only a few things that changed. First of all, the festival was completely sold out months before the event. Tickets were available on eBay, or the days before the event on the Keep It True Web site from people who couldn’t make it, but none could be bought on site. This was the first time K.I.T. was a two-day event, and it marked the festival with the best sound quality, as that was a constant point of criticism from the attendees. It seems the guys now have found a sound technician who can deal with the bad acoustical environment the sports arena provides.

What did not change were the other pillars on which the success of the festival is based: low ticket prices with 30 Euro (about $47) for the two day event; affordable food and drink prices; and a free Metal market on both days with lots of rare and new CDs and vinyl albums for the connoisseur to browse through and drop a lot of money on too!

The first day started with Battleroar, a band from Greece with an Italian singer. Melodic Power Metal, often fast, not too far away from early Omen with Fantasy themes — a great opening band for the crowd. Song titles like “Sword Brothers,” “Warlord Of Mars,” and Robert E. Howard’s Conan-based “Sword Of Crom” made the audience, although still scarce, enjoy the gig thoroughly, and the improved sound quality was gratefully noticed for the first time. A special mention is deserved by singer Marco Concoreggi, whose voice was nothing less than brilliant and who delivered the cliché-ridden lyrics in an old fashioned, but convincing way that raised brows and caused fans to start banging heads within the 40 minutes of their gig.

asia The style changed considerably for the next two bands. First, there was Strikemaster from Mexico. The band seemed very young still, and the style was everything but original, but instead of rampaging through a series of Death and Violence tracks, the band showed maturity for some changes in tempo, which made the gig quite good. Nobody understood much of the bellowed lyrics, and the introductions of the songs were at least half in Spanish, which made them anonymous, but the band showed energy and enthusiasm. After the show, the three guys who travelled far to come to Germany and who had one of the most professional back drops of both days on stage (even when it looked like being transported in folded form in one of the musician’s suitcases – which it probably was) were frequently seen in the crowd talking, banging and obviously enjoying themselves and the event considerably.

Even though Strikemaster were not the winners of the day, they had one advantage against Merciless Death: They were first. Because Merciless Death are also a Thrash band, and if there is a point of criticism to be voiced, it is that the two heaviest bands had to play one after the other. So Merciless Death met a crowd that just enjoyed 45 minutes of a relentless Thrash assault, and thus were the band meeting the least enthusiasm from the crowd. Their old school Bay Area Thrash similar to Dark Angel, Exodus, early Death Angel, and Vio-Lence suffered from weak vocals and a general lack of musical variety. While that is probably okay when enjoyed via speakers at home, live too many songs just seemed similar. Many fans used the time to do some shopping on the Metal market instead of paying close attention to the band.

Then it was time for the return of a legend, at least a small one: Sentinel Beast, playing their first European show ever. 22 years ago, the band released their one and only official album called Depths Of Death via Roadrunner Records. Also based on early Californian Thrash, Sentinel Beast incorporated a more melodic, Power Metal-like element into their style, and with that were a welcome change to the two prior bands. The center of the band and also the only remaining original member, was Debbie Gunn, one of the few females fronting a band during the male-dominated eighties’ Bay Area scene (the only others of some fame were Dawn Crosby of Détente, and Nicole Lee of Znowhite, a band Debbie would record with later, too). Debbie did not look much like a Metal singer, but would not stand out from a typical Thursday morning crowd at the local supermarket, and her voice has not changed over the last two decades. She was, and is, everything but one of those artificially artistic nightingales fronting the modern Gothic and Power-scene, but can still shout like her male contemporary counterparts did in the early days. With a hyperactive, bare chested young bass player as a side kick, the performance was very entertaining. The ultra-fast, Punk-influenced Iron Maiden cover version of “Phantom Of The Opera” was surprisingly not left for last, but was embedded in the middle of the set just before the band hymn “Sentinel Beast.” When Sentinel Beast left the stage a bit earlier than their playing time would have allowed, the audience was all smiles. One of the unexpected winners of the day, and certainly one of the bands from whom a new release is eagerly awaited by all who witnessed the show.

Setlist: Depths Of Death, Mourir, Dogs Of War, Corpse, Forbidden Territories (new song), Phantom Of The Opera (Iron Maiden Cover), Sentinel Beast, Evil Is The Night; encore: Tonight (Demo track)

German traditional Metal band Metal Inquisitor was next. No easy task after the thoroughly satisfying gig of Sentinel Beast, and even more difficult by the fact that singer El Rojo fell sick the day before and could not perform. The band, instead of cancelling the gig, decided to do a couple of songs with one of the guitar players, Blumi, on vocals. Since he – as he himself admitted freely – was everything but an adequate replacement, they performed only a few songs from their two albums to date, but even then the fast “Run For Your Life” and “Daze Of Avalon” were received nicely. But, the surprises were yet to come. First, the band played the Judas Priest cover song “Invader” with the singer of a German Priest cover band, then a song from the Polish Metal band Open Fire called “Twardy Jak Ska’a” that was also included on the Metal Inquisitor debut album The Apparition. But after that, NWoBHM legend Jess Cox from Tygers Of Pan Tang entered the stage and performed “Euthanasia” from Tygers’ first album Wild Cat from 1980. And to top things off, Brian Ross of NWoBHM masters Satan helped the band and sang “Trial By Fire,” originally released on Satan’s debut album Court In The Act in 1983. The presence of those British Metal vocal legends was not even known to the crowd, so everybody who did not watch the band was sorry afterwards to have missed it. Since the billing for Keep It True XI still lacks a few bands, including two headliners each day, rumors spread fast after the show. Both bands would be nice to see.

asia Before the top triumvirate of bands, for which everybody was waiting came, another old U.S.A. band had one hour to perform: Attacker. Astonishingly, to many fans this Power Metal outfit was quite unknown. At least that is the only imaginable reason why the audience was quieter and less enthusiastic than before. The band did do everything in their power to make the set worthwhile: Good sound, excellent setlist, and a lively performance. The vocals were always the unique part of their sound, so it is still a love it or hate it element, but their fans were definitely happy that they played their debut album Battle At Helm’s Deep in their entirety. To loosen the crowd up, a cover version of Saxon’s “Denim And Leather” was included in the set that gained more interest the longer the band played. Definitely a winner, and on Saturday there was hardly an Attacker album any more to be found at the Metal market.

Omen had their best years during the eighties, up until the 1988 album, Escape To Nowhere, which marked the turn of fate for one of the most melodic Power Metal bands ever, who can be counted towards the godfathers of the U.S.A. Power Metal scene as we know it today. Were the first three albums and the EP Nightmares nothing but masterpieces, the 1988 release and the two later albums were disappointing. So Omen could either be a highlight of the day, or a disaster, depending on their selection of songs. Of course, at a Keep It True the saying is “the older, the better,” and Omen obviously knew that. Their whole set was contained solely of songs from before 1988, and their gig was a Power Metal triumph, not the least due to stand-in singer George Call from Aska who replaced Kevin Goocher who needed surgery and was in hospital at the time. George’s voice actually fit the old songs brilliantly, even better than current singer Kevin’s does. Bandleader and guitarist Kenny Powell was always active and supported the mostly short, but also incredibly catchy tunes superbly. Their sixty minutes playing time went way too fast for the crowd, and with the exception of one new song, which evoked mixed feelings, every song hit home. This gig was as good as it was nostalgic.

Setlist: The Curse, Dragon’s Breath, Warning Of Danger, Death Rider, Ruby Eyes Of The Serpent, Don’t Fear The Night, Voices (new song), The Axeman, Into The Arena, Battle Cry, Teeth Of The Hydra, Die By The Blade

asia Texas cult band Helstar had promised to play their album Remnants Of War entirely. Although this was obviously done to satisfy the organizers and not necessarily a choice of the band – a verbal remark by singer James Rivera told as much, their performance did not suffer from that fact. And the bangers in the hall witnessed a very exclusive setlist that was happily greeted by their fans, and received with mixed feelings by those who had not seen Helstar lately. To give the organizers of K.I.T. credit, Helstar had played several Festivals and shows in the recent years, more than one would assume a band that only found together to play a gig from time to time could manage. So in order to deliver something special, a principle at K.I.T., their greatest album was picked to make the setlist unique. The drawback was that only a few songs could be played in addition, and Helstar could easily have played another hour, but even with only a handful of tracks other than the Remnants Of War songs, the show was extremely entertaining. James Rivera, who just parted ways with Vicious Rumors in an ugly fashion, showed no strain in his voice singing those songs again after two and a half decades, and the other members of the original line-up played tight as if they had never stopped. From the intro “Unidos Por Tristesa” to the final Remnants track “Angel Of Death” and the following “King Is Dead,” the band delivered a memorable set. One new track called “Tormentor” from their last Best Of album, the strange choice “Dracula’s Castle” and an entirely new track called “Caress Of Death” were greeted not only with interest, but the crowd went crazy again when they played “Run With The Pack” and “Baptized In Blood.”

Setlist: Unidas Por Tristesa, Remnants Of War, Conquest, Evil Reign, Destroyer, Suicidal Nightmare, Dark Queen, Face The Wicked One, Angel Of Death, The King Is Dead, Tormentor, Dracula’s Castle, Caress Of Death (new song), Run With The Pack, Baptized In Blood

Even after Omen and Helstar, the final band was awaited with more than just interest. Titan Force, Harry ‘The Tyrant’ Conklin’s band after he departed from Jag Panzer, had only released two albums, but their status with Prog/Power Fans does not reflect the little output they had. With 90 minutes playing time, the band would have been able to play both their albums completely, but surprisingly Titan Force placed three unreleased songs from their original demos amidst the set, which were in no way worse than the songs that were put on the albums. Mixing the tracks from both releases nicely, the biggest impression was made by The Tyrant. If ever a singer could be called perfect, Harry Conklin would certainly be the one. Or as someone in the crowd remarked ‘Why do they call Rob Halford the Metal God again?’ Hitting every note effortlessly, although the compositions are among the more demanding, the singer made everyone in the hall listen in awe, even the undecided or indifferent who just stayed to hear a song or two due to the lateness of the hour, as Titan Force entered the stage only around midnight. It was also Harry Conklin’s birthday, and his performance and the resulting cheering of the crowd probably was his best birthday present this day, even though he received an exclusive artwork from the K.I.T. crew with his face on the K.I.T. X monster. When the show was over, over a thousand happy Metalheads left the hall, not knowing that Harry would have something up his sleeve still … but that happened on day 2 of Keep It True X.

Setlist: Small Price To Pay, Winner/Loser, Darkness (Demo), Chase Your Dreams, Master Of Disguise, Lord Of Desire, Wings Of Rage, Eyes Of The Young, Will O’ The Wisp, Only The Strong (Demo), Fields Of Valor, Shadow Of A Promise, Bright Red (Demo), Fool On The Run; Encore: New Age Rebels, Blaze Of Glory


  • Frank Jaeger

    Frank was a reviewer here at Metal Express Radio, based out of Bavaria, Germany. He has worked in the games industry for more than 20 years, now on the manufacturing side, before on the publishing end. Before this, he edited and handled the layout for a city mag in northern Germany ... maybe that is why he love being part of anything published. Frank got hooked on Metal at the age of 14 when a friend introduced him to AC/DC. They were listening to The Beatles, Madness, and The Police, and he decided they should move on. Well, they did, Back in Black became Frank's first Metal album, and since Germany is reasonably close to England, they had some small New Waves Of British Heavy Metal washing up on their shores: Tygers Of Pan Tang, Samson, Gillan, Iron Maiden, Saxon, Sweet Savage, Diamond Head, etc. If he had to pick his favorite styles, Prog and Power Metal would be at the top of the list.

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