Nürburgring, Germany, June 6-8, 2008

The annual Rock Am Ring Festival in Germany and its sister event Rock Im Park, which features the same bands on the same weekend, only the days they play are changed, have become an incredible happening for music fans from central Europe. Three days, three stages and many bands make up for a giant festival, which sports some Metal bands as well, although it is not the main focus.

(Note from Metal Express Radio Management: It is, of course, quite impossible for one person to see and capture every band on the festival. Also, Metal Express Radio was only there for two of the three days. So this review includes a selection of bands that Metal Express Radio was able to see, and far from complete. If your favorite band from the billing isn’t featured here, that’s why. Also, some photos had to be taken from quite a distance as Metal Express Radio did not get an official photo pass, so if the quality is somewhat less than you are used to, please cut us some slack. It is still better than having none, right?).

The three days were of different interests for the Metal fan. The main portion of Metal was delivered on Saturday on the main stage, the least interesting seemed Sunday. In combination, this could have been a nice Metal fest if they had compiled all Hard Rockin’ bands to one stage, on two days. Pity they did not, as there were some fillers in between, if judged from the perspective of a Metal fan. That also made for an unusual crowd with different preferences, only for the headliners did most of the 85,000 people unite in front of one stage, which was an impressive amount of people!


OpethThe stage with the biggest Metal share was the Suzuki Alterna stage, the second biggest stage of the festival. The band that started the day was Opeth from Sweden, a Country singer Mikael Akerfeldt introduced being best known for “Abba, Roxette and … Opeth”.

Although it was bright and the sun was still shining, something that would change considerably later, Opeth tried their best to excite the crowd. Apart from a few hundred fans, they fought a losing battle. The extremely Progressive, diverse and intelligent compositions were obviously demanding too much from the average person in the audience, although the band did the best they could to impress. In that light, the selection of the only track without clean vocals from their new album Watershed was probably not the best choice, although the fans loved it. And what is not to love, as the sound was great, the performance solid, although little stage acting was going on. The selection of “Baying Of The Hounds” from Ghost Reveries was a good choice, as the clean singing and acoustic parts probably won over a fan or two to the Opeth camp. At the end of the day, it was a solid gig with five songs being played, which is the most the band can do with 40 minutes playing time.

Serj On the main stage, Serj Tankian of System Of A Down fame performed another solo gig of his current tour. His current omnipresence makes the impression as if he plays every festival and every venue in Europe at least once. The band came clothed in black, while Serj wore a white jacket and hat; so business as usual. The setlist also was pretty much the same as always, still no System Of A Down songs, but the usual version of “Holiday In Cambodia” was performed. One must say that though the selection of that song for its political implications is understandable, and the track itself is good and a great tune for a live set; but Serj’s voice does not really fit to it. In total, it was a good, but somewhat routine, gig for Serj Tankian and the band, which did not bother many as it was a first time for most in the crowd. What put this gig in the winner section of the festival is the entertainment qualities of frontman Serj, who was constantly moving, making fun, and generally amusing the crowd, which stood in sharp contrast to the political messages his songs convey.

SerjAnother thing was apparent during this gig: The main stage was of incredible dimensions and could have held a full Symphonic Orchestra — or four. Almost every band hardly used more than a fourth of the space, and still had plenty of space to act. It may be that there were so many people that they need a huge stage, but one where the musicians need a compass to find their instruments?

cacbreit The start of the heavier part of the day was Coheed And Cambria. Although hyped to be the next big thing in hard music – no complaints here as many would be inclined to join in the chorus for that – people seemed strangely unfamiliar to the U.S. outfit around bandleader Claudio Sanchez. But, the band was about to change that and the setlist was a brilliant best of selection fit for the task to convince the Rock Am Ring crowd.

cac3 Starting with “No World For Tomorrow,” the band played the most catchy tunes and none of the really complicated parts, but tried to put as many great choruses into the set as possible. With every song they played, the audience grew more and more enthusiastic. Coheed And Cambria definitely were one of the winners of the day, and of the festival. Well done and definitely worth seeing when they are around in your area!

Setlist: No World For Tomorrow, Gravemakers And Gunslingers, Ten Speed, A Favor House Atlantic, Feathers, In Keeping Secrets Of Silence Earth, The Running Free, Welcome Home

In the beginning, there was Sepultura. Then there was friction, and it became Seputura minus Max, and Soulfly. There there was a bit more unity and agreement again, and it became Cavalera Conspiracy. And then … well, then the two brothers played Rock Am Ring.

cavalera Having just released their first album, Inflikted, only few in the crowd knew what to expect. But it is Max Cavalera after all, so the mixture of Thrash, Groove, and Tribal influences remains the same. Once that was clear, the Cavaleras celebrated a triumphant return and the audience was rewarded with three Sepultura songs: “Refuse/Resist”, “Arise” and “Roots Bloody Roots.” The great gig included the inevitable Brazilian flag, too. Some things in life never change … and that sometimes is just fine!

Bullet For My Valentine were up next, and although at the same time Rage Against The Machine were performing on the main stage, it seemed as if hardly anybody left to see the much bigger act on the other side of the festival grounds. Of course, with the distance between the stages it was either Bullet and the band afterwards, or Rage Against. The decision to stay for Bullet was a good one, as the band played a tight and convincing gig. It seems they have gained a lot of practice and professionalism during their recent touring, as in spite of their age they performed like festival veterans. With an hour playing time, the gig was almost as long as an ordinary show during their last tour, which was the aim of much criticism. On a festival like this, an hour is the perfect playing time as the band performed about a dozen tracks of equally high quality picked across the three releases, with a slight emphasis on The Poison in the beginning, and featuring more tracks from Scream Aim Fire towards the end. Although they did not play a Metallica cover song, a resemblance to the Masters of Metal who would headline the next day was obvious. Not the worst band to be compared with.

lemmy An institution in Metal, or better: in Rock n’ Roll, as Lemmy does not grow tired to correct, Motörhead entered the stage as the last band of the day. Their performance was as it always is, but since the band began to play around midnight, which was when it finally began to rain, many people rather went to see the inside of their tent than to witness Lemmy, and be miserable. Since “Ace Of Spades” was not left for last, but played somewhere in the middle of the set, almost everybody seemed to be content though. Sorry, Lemmy, but after a long day, with another two ahead, people probably thought they could catch you again on your next tour. Quite understandable.


Day two was Center Stage day as almost every band on the main stage was Metal of some kind. It started at 2.30 pm with Alpha Galates, who played a lot harder than on their debut album, almost dipping into Noise Rock with a lot of improvisation, feedback, and general chaos. The guys had thirty minutes on the main stage. Later, Saxon would have 40 minutes in the tent, the third and smallest stage of the festival. Somebody needs to explain the fine art of deciding which band plays where, and when. But more on that will come later …

alter bridge So the first big act on the Center Stage was Alter Bridge. Although the band only released two albums, they can look back on their Creed history for fame. Or could have, as many fans expected them to at least play a song or two from Creed, which they did not. But, their more guitar-oriented style was more fitting to the overall billing of the day anyway, and songs like “Blackbird” and the opening song “Find The Real” were good stuff to warm up the audience.

disturbed One of the highlights of the festival was Disturbed. Chicago’s successful rockers just released a new album called Indestructible, to which the stage design bore witness. The fiery guy from the cover was printed on a huge backdrop that dwarfed the band. Singer David Draiman was rolled onto the stage in restrictions like seen in the movie The Silence Of The Lambs, and once he was freed, started a cannonade of hits to smash into the crowd. Starting with “Perfect Insanity,” the band at first ignored their new album as most of the audience was surely not familiar with it, since it was only released a week before. Smart thinking, and no problem since “Just Stop,” “Stupify,” and “The Game” pleased the crowd and were sung by thousands of voices. Another highlight was “10,000 Fists,” and the sight of that was literally breathtaking.

disturbed Towards the end, the band finally played a song from their new album called “Inside The Fire” before they ended the set with “Stricken.” Singer David made the crowd cheer “We are Disturbed” and left the crowd in flames … for In Flames. During the last years, the Swedish band has become bigger and bigger, almost unnoticed they passed by many other Metal hopefuls. A first indication was when they headlined the Bang Your Head Festival, and another one was their place high up on the main stage billing of this giant event. Although one might have expected that they were too heavy for this more or less mainstream festival, the reaction they received from the crowd was astonishing.

in flames Starting with “Cloud Connected,” the audience was quite enthusiastic. In retrospect, it seemed okay that the band made no compromises to their setlist, but retained several of their harder tracks from the last releases in the set, although one might have expected that they would go for a mellower approach. “The Mirror’s Truth” and “Leeches” taught everybody otherwise, and some dips into the past with “Clayman,” “Only For The Weak,” and “Graveland” where Anders Friden could forget about clean vocals, were still greeted happily. Of course, In Flames could not leave without playing their hits, so they did. “The Quiet Place” and “Take This Life” were embedded into a total of 13 songs, which they performed within the sixty minutes playing time the band were allowed. Overall, a good set and a warm welcome for one of the hardest bands of the festival.

Setlist: Cloud Connected, Mirror’s Truth, Leeches, Clayman, The Quite Place, Transparent, Only For The Weak, Graveland, Alias, Disconnected, Come Clarity, Take This Life, My Sweet Shadow.

Now it was time to forfeit the first tracks of the next band on the Center Stage in order to reach the Coca Cola Soundwave Tent. The first band of the day performing there after five hours of amateur band contesting was Australia’s new hopefuls Airbourne, and that was something many Rock fans did not want to miss.

airbourne Astonishingly, the tent was packed in spite of the competition on the other stages. With the debut album only just released, the word has gotten around that this may as well be the most hopeful rising star from down under. With 25 minutes time, the band managed to play six songs, which pulled everybody present over to the Airbourne camp. Many AC/DC shirts were visible — no surprise since the Rock of Airbourne cannot hide its roots, which are from that most successful Australian band ever, and Rose Tattoo who would play Rock Am Ring two hours later, too. The four guys played a sweaty set, partly due to the hot air inside the tent, and made everybody dance. When Joel O’ Keeffe climbed the side of the stage to perform his solo a dozen feet above the crowd, there was no holding back. Of course, it is not new, but who cares? At Rock Am Ring, certainly nobody in the tent did!

Setlist: Stand Up For Rock n’ Roll, Girls In Black, Diamonds In The Rough. Cheap Wine And Cheaper Women, Too Much, Too Young, Too Fast, Runnin’ Wild

nightwish Back to the Center Stage … Nightwish were, of course, in the middle of the set. It seems the set contained no surprises except that Anette Olzon wore something that suspiciously looked like a knitted dress. Did she have too much free time lately? Other than that it was all pretty standard. The main part was made up by songs from the latest album, A Dark Passion Play, and except for Folk parts with a flute and bag pipe, there was hardly anything gripping and interesting during the sixty minutes of Nightwish. The reaction from the crowd was reserved, but it may well be that it was mainly due to the exhausting sets of the previous bands. Anyway, many seemed content to listen and enjoy than to cheer and provide some feedback for the musicians on stage. Not a bad set, but probably the band where most of the people had a beer break to get back some strength – which they would need.

If one has a soft spot for Punk Rock of the American Melodic type, The Offspring was probably the right band to see. Short songs – and many of them – overly sweet choruses, and an action-packed performance. Nice. Even if one was not familiar with their music, this kind of Rock never fails to excite a crowd, and the smash hit “Pretty Fly (For A White Boy)” was sung by thousands of voices. Still, towards the end of the set the anticipation for the headliner grew, so when Offspring’s set ended, people saw it with mixed feelings. But in the end, it was one of the biggest names in Metal ever to come.

The talk was, of course, about Metallica. After several mediocre releases and the soul strip in the movie Some Kind Of Monster, inspiring hope was in their follower’s hearts to hear and see about the latest sets the band had played. No St. Anger stuff, only a few from the Load and Reload era, but a lot of classic Metallica tracks from which their fame was built.

When one takes a look at the recent setlists and the one from Rock Am Ring, it is obvious that Metallica have put some effort into the order of songs. There is a rough frame with some landmarks around, from which they arrange the other songs. The opening trio of “Creeping Death,” which blew the audience away right from the start, and “For Whom The Bell Tolls” and “Ride The Lightning” was perfect to warm up the masses. This part of the set has b een unchanged recently, and it works very well.

Metallica Another older song from the first four albums is up next, in this case “Harvester Of Sorrow” before “Bleeding Me” tapped into the post-black album phase. “Bleeding Me” received a warm welcome. With time, the weaker albums of Metallica get better and are seen for what they are: good Rock albums, just not at the same level as the earlier Metallica outputs. James Hetfield walked up the stage so that he stood before the giant screen, which was used as backdrop for the stage, and left nothing to be desired. That was true throughout the whole set, the band seemed to be happy to play those songs and it felt as if Metallica completed their journey and returned to where they started and what they did so well. Even tracks from the debut were performed with convincing enthusiasm. No surprise that heavy stuff like “No Remorse,” which was not known to everybody in this mainstream crowd, was still exciting. One couldn’t avoid being drawn into the music by the sheer fun the band had playing. Of course, a few things were unusual, as it seems Lars Ulrich likes to stand up a lot as he finished almost every song … walking around his orange drum kit, while hitting the hi hats. And Robert Trujillo will probably not learn the upright walk anymore in his life time. That was much more fitting with Suicidal Tendencies than with Metallica, but it being his style James even made fun of that and playfully mocked Robert on stage.

The only weak song of the day was “Devil’s Dance,” which the band plays regularly now. It is a rather uninspired track from Reload, and the album offers several better songs, but the band let this track cool down the audience only slightly before “And Justice For All” got everybody singing again. Several more old tracks followed before finally the Black Album was honored. Many fans were waiting for that, and although the old fans still despise it, Metallica simply cannot play a set without “Nothing Else Matters.” “Sad But True” and “Enter Sandman” were also featured, just interrupted by the usual break out of a war with sirens, bombs bursting, and machine gun fire to introduce “One.” It is one of their most emotional songs with the lyrics based on the famous and horrifying book Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo. If you have not read it yet, pick it up.

The encore saw the band start with a riff hardly anybody recognized: Saxon’s “Princess Of The Night.” James even sang a few lines from the chorus to greet the NWoBHM heroes who were playing the same festival, but on a smaller stage that day. James remembered that in the early days of Metallica, they had opened for Saxon and played one of their first shows ever. Now they are headlining, and Saxon are banned to 40 minutes in the Coca Cola Soundwave tent. Nobody said that life was fair. But, then the four guys lead the crowd into a final frenzy with a cover version of Misfits’ “Die, Die My Darling,” and the surprise pick “Motorbreath” before the crowd got to singing one more time during “Seek And Destroy.”

Metallica was a fitting headliner of the day, and a highlight of the festival. When their new album is going to be released in September, it may be that fans are all in for a surprise. Is this band really able to turn everything around and release another classic album to be? After this performance one thing seems certain: they will not deliver a second St. Anger.

Overall, Rock Am Ring was a nice festival with a very diverse selection of bands and styles. There was something to be found for everybody, although maybe not enough of their preferred styles for some. A broad musical horizon really helps, but this even has become a happening of several days of camping and having fun with the music, taking second place for many. So they just pick the few bands they want to see and use the rest of the time as holiday hanging at the camping sites and having fun with their friends.

RAROne thing was quite annoying, though. In front of the main stage the area was divided into sections. In the front, the space was mainly for VIP guests. As much as it is clear that sponsors help finance the event, it is not justified to restrict the paying customers to about 30 meters further away from the stage. Behind that area was another section fenced of with security seeing to it that only a certain amount of people would enter that section, which was at least 50 meter deep, too.

So the big crowd began so far away from the stage that one could hardly make out the people any more and had to rely on the giant screens to see the action. Millions probably saw the Metallica gig better than the people present as MTV broadcasted the concert live to the homes of the fans and will rerun excerpts from time to time. If one pays for a concert and is not allowed to get anywhere close to the stage, that just does not seem right, does it?

On top of things, if one wanted to leave the fenced of section, one could only do that forward to the side and had to go all the way around the area to get back in. Of course, back in on the festival grounds, by no means back into the restricted area. It makes one wonder what the organizers wanted to achieve with that, as it seemed the barrier had the potential to cause more harm and induce anger than a normal festival setup could have done.


  • 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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