This was back in May 2015, and unfortunately the festival was sold out... But shortly after the announcement a few extra tickets were put up for sale and I was lucky enough to get my hands on one!
With the festival finally arriving, I was pretty excited, as I began preparing to set out from Denmark to cross the 900 kilometres it took to get there. Disaster struck early Thursday morning, as I found out that the cooling system my the car was broken and leaking. Fortunately the local mechanic was able to help and poured some cooler thickener into the system with the hope that it would plug the holes. Being 5 hours late already, I did not have time to wait for him to get a new cooler and replace it, so against his advice, and with a solemn prayer to the Metal Gods, I took the chance and started driving, stopping every two hours to refill the cooler.
My prayers were heard and I made it to Lauda-Königshofen, Thursday evening just before midnight with a car that was still working. This late, the Tauber-Frankenhalle was a mansion in darkness and I drove right past it and out of town, before I realized I was too far gone and headed back to discover the festival area right at the beginning of the town. I got parked right next to the big hall and immediately decided to not set up the tent just yet, since the temperature was freezing and it was complete darkness. Instead I went to bed in the car and had a pretty ok night's sleep.
Waking up in the early hours of the morning, the whole area was a blanket of frost. It was so cold here, but I was pumped and ready for the festival. I had packed some warm clothes and set out to discover the town in winter gloves and a warm hat. I found a baker some way down the high street and when I got back to the festival area, people were starting to wake up.
I was in a mood to celebrate my arrival, so I brought out the Jack Daniels bottle to keep me warm. This decision, to bring along a whole bottle of Jack Daniels, would later prove to be a massive mistake on my part, but at that moment, there was no doubt in my mind, that it was the best decision ever. Against all odds, I had arrived and that was cause for a celebration.
I set up my small speaker on the hood of the car and with the music playing, consumed my breakfast bun with JD, while sitting on the hood of my car. I then set up the tent and started moving the most important stuff from the car to the tent for easy access.
By now a "Fleisch und wurst" shop (A shop on wheels selling grilled meat of all kind) had rolled onto the camping grounds and set up shop right in front of my tent. This was cause for another celebration and by now the sun was beginning to set in the sky, replacing the freezing morning cold with a comfortable warmth. The festival area was really cozy, with hills and greens everywhere. With the sun high in the sky, great music playing and a little drink, it was a feeling of perfection right there.
In the middle of the morning, I met up with Jørgen, who writes for The Power Of Metal and had notified me of the extra ticket sales way back in the day, so I felt I at least owed him a beer for helping me out. He turned up during the morning and we had a few beers, while talking all things metal. At one point, I ran to the portaloos close by, to empty my bladder, and shortly after returning to the car, a guy from the from the "Fleisch und Wurst" shop came over, to talk I assumed. He had a Manowar wallet just like mine and I was immediately impressed. However it turned out that it was in fact my own wallet, which had fallen out of my pocket during my mad run for the portaloo and this guy had seen it, picked it up from the grass and came over to hand it back to me. In hindsight, I should have seen this as a sign of things to come, but at the time, I simply hailed this most excellent dude and continued partying.
Meanwhile the music was playing from my small speakers and the Jack Daniels was also quickly evaporating. The small breakfast bun I had consumed was nowhere near enough to stand up to the amount of liquor being poured in, so after Jørgen left and I was just about to enter the festival area, I was hit by, let me call it a massive Jackhammer, which caused me to seek refuge in my tent, where I just had to lie down for a short while. Instead I passed out... and that short while turned out to be a bit longer than expected, as I awoke with a shock at a quarter past eight in the evening...
I cursed myself and my weak mind for drinking too much, as I scrambled around to locate stuff like my festival ticket and money. After a quick change of clothes, I couldn't find my wallet but after frantically backtracking my steps, found it on the floor of one of the camping ground portaloos (those damn portaloos). My festival ticket was gone too, but I was fortunate enough to be able to buy another one cheap, at the entrance. Things were not going well for me at this point... It was seriously far out.
Continuing to rain curses on myself, I made it to the festival hall, just as the secret band, I had so looked forward to seeing, were opening their set. There had been a rumor who it was and by now, it was clear that the secret band were none other than Ross The Boss and his band playing a set of Manowar classics. I had heard them play Sign of The Hammer, Metal Daze and Blood of My enemies from the outside and made it to the front of the crowd as they finished up a scorching version of Gates Of Valhalla.
The lead singer announced Secret of Steel as their next song, and standing there, in spite of my stupidity and obvious lack of self control, I felt absolutely heavenly as the main riff of the song blasted from Ross' guitar. With a complete lack of food since that early morning breakfast bun, I was not exactly in any shape to go nuts in the front rows, but this being vintage Manowar songs, there was really no other choice but to sing along, jump, play air guitar and raise my hands high in the air along with the rest of the crowd there.
The intensity of the concert peaked with the trilogy of Kill With Power, Thor, and March For Revenge and I spent all my remaining energy, relishing in the band's performance of these classics. The band really pulled of great versions of these songs and I was absolutely delighted to witness Thor and March For Revenge live, as these are a couple of my absolute favorites. I also met Benno(War) in the audience, which was a pretty cool moment. We seem to meet at every Manowar concert I go to in Germany. After a quick Hail, I was back at singing along to the band.
It was great to hear Dark Avenger too but it was a bit of a breather for me, before Hail And Kill and Battle Hymn ended an absolutely amazing show. The experience of Battle Hymn live was really a most extraordinary feeling of power and might being released, and everyone in the audience relished in this moment, as far as I could see.
While I was still mad at myself, I was at least happy that I hadn't slept through the entire night and felt somewhat relieved that I had enjoyed at least one great concert, in spite of having missed a handful others.
By now my body was closing down and I was feeling completely drained of power. I had to sit down on the floor to catch my breath and it was clear to me, that I was too wasted to do anything, other than go to bed on an empty stomach.
To say I was hungry when I woke up the next day would be the understatement of the year, and I headed down to invade the bakery as quickly as humanly possible and grabbed lots of cakes. This day I made sure that I made up for what I had missed the day before, both in respects to food and music. Scnitzels, steak im brot and sausages were consumed en masse throughout the day, along with lots of water and one single beer. Throughout the day, I walked from the hall to the city and back again, sucking in the great music and great weather in equal amounts, while thinking hard about the past days happenings. You could say I had a mental awakening in the idyllic, peaceful surroundings of Lauda Königshofen.
As the evening approached, I started getting ready for the main event, and as Heir Apparent were about to take the stage, I headed to the front of the crowd to get a good spot, with a plan to keep it for Fates Warning as well.
Heir Apparent proved to be a monumental, positive surprise. While I had listened intensely to both Graceful Inheritance and One Small Voice prior to the festival, the band's live performance really blew me away and brought the music to another level.
The sheer musicality of guitarist Terry Gorle, and bassist David Peace, was a sight to behold. I have never been so wow'ed by a couple of musicians, as these two, and I could only stand there with a big smile on my face for the whole concert and take in their performances. They were on a whole other level than everything that had come before. I was astounded, surprised and in complete awe. Especially mr. Gorle displayed such skill, determination and intensity that I have never seen anything quite like it. His coolness factor was completely off the scale. Seriously, I have never witnessed anything quite like this. It is quite hard to explain but his riffs, speed and control of his instrument made his performance completely enthralling. That the band had a superb sound, where each instrument was audible, only added to the experience.
Vocalist Will Shaw had a mean high pitch and the whole band delivered an unequaled and unforgettable performance.
For a small glimpse of this concert, check out this link, even if it comes nowhere close to capturing the feeling of being there.
Finally, the moment had come. Fates Warning would reunite with their Guardian line-up and play my favorite album of theirs. I had secured a spot in the third row and as the stage was being set up, excitement built within the audience. The huge cloth at the background now showed the landscape on the cover of Awaken The Guardian. Finally the lights went out and an intro began playing.
The band appeared on stage, as the opening notes of The Sorceress were playing from a tape. I was looking so much forward to this and had high hopes that John Arch's unique voice would still be intact, though I was doubtful, that he would still be able to reach those high notes from thirty years past. In several ways, it was quite an overwhelming experience to hear The Sorceress live and the audience went pretty mad with jumping and pushing, though the people next to me were quite still, which was a bit weird. Through the show, I moved further to the left and found a sweet spot next to some other guys, who were as into the songs as myself. That said, this was really such a unique show that I tried my best to hold back on the singing and jumping in order to consume as much of what was happening on stage as possible, since I knew I would only see it this once. That was of course bound to fail.
The band played the whole album chronologically.
To my surprise, Fates Warning had a sound which was much worse than Heir Apparent. Where, during the Heir Apparent show, I had been clearly able to hear each instrument, now as Fates Warning was playing, the sound had become muddled and the layers had washed together. The sound was not catastrophic, but it was not perfect either and that was a shame. However, it was not bad enough to ruin the concert for me in any way.
Anyway, back to The Sorceress. John Arch struggled a bit with this and I was starting to feel a little worried. He sounded slightly forced and his timing was not perfect, though it must be a nightmare to actually sing this song. My favorite moment of the song, where, during the last chorus, the song peaks through slight changes to the vocal melodies, was lost here and that was a shame. Though it was amazing to actually hear John Arch sing live and hear that his voice has been saved, at this moment, I had a feeling the concert could go either way.
Then the most amazing thing happened during Valley of The Dolls. It felt like John Arch started to relax and his voice got that amazing smoothness to it. Maybe he just needed to warm up a bit, but from here on out, he was just on fire and poured every bit of soul into his singing. The band performed this complex song with impressive skill.
The show hit its first peak with Fata Morgana where, after a short intermission, the song opened with the dual guitar attack of Frank Aresti and Jim Matheos, playing the opening solo in perfect union. John Arch totally nailed the opening vocal melody... twice... before entering the first verse, with a voice that was boiling over with confidence and power. This was one of several chilling moments during the concert and I will never forget the way John Arch sang that opening line, "Morrigan!!!...".
The feeling of witnessing this from the third row, front and center, is not possible to put into words, it was simply an immense feeling of happiness and awe that it was actually possible to render this song live, in a way that was so supremely convincing and satisfying. This was worth the whole trip and the concert was only three songs in. All my doubts had evaporated and were replaced by joy. It was truly magic what was happening.
The band was extremely tight and had excellent timing. Jim Matheos looked very happy to be there, as did the rest of the band. They were all clearly a force to be reckoned with. Joe DiBiase on bass was impressive throughout the show, even more so as he halfway through the show, in spite of the extreme heat, decided to wear a cap for the remainder of the show. It must have been boiling under that one. Steve Zimmerman on drums held the whole thing together with extreme power and great timing. The original ATG line up really came together to form a special unity.
As the monumental experience it was to hear Fata Morgana live ended, another took its place, as guitarists Jim Matheos and Frank Aresti came together at the center of the stage to perform a special introduction to the title track of the album, Guardian. They played a beautiful introduction before the song got underway with its massive, powerful, instrumental introduction. John Arch sang the slow parts in a voice that brought out the mystical energy of the song. The band really captured this song in all its glory and John Arch nailed my favorite moment of the song as he sang the line "I had a dream I was you, strong as the fire in my veins..." with feeling and conviction. That was another perfect moment in time and by the time the song reached its frantic conclusion, the whole audience was pumped and jumped and sang along.
Prelude To Ruin opened with another dual guitar attack and John Arch edged the audience on to participate in the opening vocal harmony. We were only happy to comply. "We are the root of the country" took on a whole new meaning live and John also nailed the "Time time time..." part of the song.
Nothing had prepared me for the burst of power, with which John sang the line "His frost bitten heart" during Giant's Lore. He went all in here and I could only stand with an open mouth, gaping at the stage for a short while, before forming a wide grin, as the timing was perfect and the rest of the band picked up this powerful burst of emotion and went with it, bringing it to full fruition. This was yet another timeless moment.
The instrumental, Time Long Past was another special moment, as Jim Matheos played the opening solo, complemented by Joe DiBiase on acoustic guitar. As the song entered its second phase, Frank came closer and the two guitarists stood eye to eye as they synchronized in a dual guitar solo that was simply beyond beautiful.
What was next was eight minutes of pure magic, as the band launched into Exodus, my favorite song of the album. They played an amazing version of this song, so powerful and fulfilling, from the jump-inviting opening moments and through all its intricate parts, with the frantic middle section being a highlight of the entire concert.
Through the chorus, the entire audience sang along and the feeling was one of floating along somewhere on top of it all, "exiled..." never sounded quite this good..
The slow atmospheric part leading up to the peaking point of the song, had been building intensity and this was all let out by an astounding burst of power from John Arch as he wailed out a scream of epic proportions. In row three, I was blown away and proceeded to headbang maniacally, sing and jump along to the massively powerful part that ensued. The whole band really nailed this section and all together, Exodus was a triumphant display of tightness and musical glory.
This ended the live rendition of Awaken The Guardian and the first part of the show. After much shouting, the band came back and played four more songs, two of each of their first two albums.
My absolute favorite Fates Warning song was first, and as the band launched into The Apparition, I was taken away by the whole thing. I don't remember many details of the actual performance, since I performed the whole song myself from the third row, be it by playing air guitar, air drums and singing along, all the while jumping and headbanging with my hands in the air. It must have been quite a sight, but from where I was standing, I only heard the heavenly notes of the song, sounding exactly as they should and by the time the song reached its climax, it was truly a glorious feeling to be there to sing along with John Arch, who pointed at me at one point with a smile and raised a fist.
John Arch gave a heartfelt speech and he was clearly happy to be here and be a part of this special celebration of one of the great classics in music. He announced it to be a special moment in time and he captured the special family feeling, which was there, in his speech.
Next up was Damnation and this was the second song of the evening, where I felt that John didn't quite nail it. It was as if he started out to high and didn't catch the feeling of the song during its atmospheric opening moments, even if he tried hard to regain it as the song grew in power.
However, all was forgiven when he introduced the title track of Night on Bröcken and asked if we wanted to hear a song about Walpurgis Night. The guy in the front row, dead center, who had been going crazy with his hands in the air the entire show, just like me, clearly agreed vehemently with this and as the song started, you could feel his joy in the air just by looking at his reactions. It was a great song to hear live and it displayed an awesome amount of power. This was the nicest surprise of the evening, as I had not expected to hear this song.
Last but certainly not least, the band concluded the evening with the epic closer of The Spectre Within, Epitaph. It was a fitting conclusion to the concert and the complex song was performed with just the right amount of grandness.
When the show had ended, I shook hands with the guy who had been standing next to me for most of the last part of the concert. He was clearly as much into the music as me and I found myself giving this total stranger a big hug. As I looked around I was met with smiling faces, all displaying happiness and complete and utter fulfillment. This was really the core of the festival for me. Total strangers coming together by their love of music and sharing a glorious time. No words were necessary. It was clear from myself and the looks on the faces of those standing next to me that this experience was one to treasure.
Fates Warning had delivered a concert for the ages, one I will treasure and never forget.
Written By Steen
Online: Sunday, June 5, 2016