Europe, Part the second
In my never-ending, but futile, attempt to catch this blog up with the present, I'm reaching back into my admittedly faulty memory banks to the distant past of June, 2011 to recap our ongoing escapades in the Old Country. Read on if you like stories about idiots with guitars:
After MDF, we had a couple weeks of down time to get ready to head back to Europe for yet another round of festivals. Of course, Exhumed being Exhumed means that the only constant is change, so as Danny got ready to head off on an Intronaut tour, we were rehearsing with Mike (Deeds of Flesh, ex-Vile) Hamilton, a great drummer and an old friend. Mike and I had been jamming sporadically before MDF, knowing full well that Danny would have commitments elsewhere, so we were fairly well prepared. One of the great things about jamming with Mike for me personally (beyond the musical and personal stuff) is that he lives 15 minutes away from my house, not two hours away like Wes and Danny, or four hours away like Leon, or four-and-a-half hours away like the guys in Gravehill, Dekapitator and Cretin. So playing with Mike was making my life easier in many, many ways. Things came into clear focus musically once Wes got to my pad in Arroyo Grande, as he and Mike think about music in a way that is largely alike: in terms of sets of specific details that interlock to form a coherent whole – from the inside out as it were. On the other hand, your humble narrator tends to look at things first on the whole and then break that whole down into smaller details. At any rate, any lingering stuff was tightened down in the rehearsal room and it was time to return to Los Angeles to rehearse with Leon and board an excruciatingly early flight the following day.
We were lucky enough to be able to rehearse in the Dreaming Dead jam room (thanks Liz!) and crash nearby LAX in Malibu in order to hit the airport at 5 for a 7AM flight. Of course, the flight was delayed. After checking our bags and getting our boarding passes for our new flight on a new airline, we trudged back to Malibu to grab a bit more sleep and I hit the shower, figuring that I would just sleep on the plane. Needless to say, we eventually arrived in Amsterdam and found our driver, who was of course waiting at the gate of the old airline. Wires were uncrossed and we piled into the Sprinter van to head for the first show.
Everyone tells me it's difficult to book shows in Europe in the summer due to the festival circuit kind of devouring all the metal audiences and their hard-earned money, so we had to scramble to fill in any dates between Hellfest in France and Death Feast in Germany, and they predictably were a bit underwhelming. As to why we needed to fill in those dates, it's very simple. Every day we're on the road, it costs money, especially since we have to rent a van and a backline in Europe, so every day we're not playing we're just losing money. With the realities of being in an underground band and the state of the record industry in 2011, the days of simply receiving a cash advance from your label and not ever worrying about it are over, so we need to at least break even to consider doing any shows, especially in Europe, where it costs us about 4,500 dollars just to get over there. At any rate, we arrived ear;y June 17th and play a show the same night in Zaandam, Holland. We enjoyed a few jet-lagged beers in a quaint alley bar before the show, which started things off on a wacky note. The support band Kutschurf were hilarious, dressing in goofy masks and cooking a kebab onstage amongst other antics. Their girlfriends at the merch table were also really nice, trying to explain the band's dirty jokes which were delivered entirely in Dutch. Our set was less intentionally goofy, but a little rough, and we left directly from the venue to France for Hellfest.
The lineup for Hellfest was insane. We would only be there one day, but with Bolt Thrower, Hail Of Bullets, Severe Torture, UFO, Angel Witch, Sodom, Kreator, Municipal Waste, Thin Lizzy and the Scorpions all playing that day, we were determined to make it memorable. Angel Witch was already playing the main stage when were loading into the Rock Hard Tent (a tent that probably held 3,000 people) which bummed me out, but we had to take care of business first. Severe Torture was tearing it up when we got there and got situated with the help of our intrepid European label manager, Pip Soret. We managed to find our backstage area, a very fancy cubicle complete with 2 six packs of Hellfest beer, and a bottle of wine. A Jack Daniels representative stopped by and gave us JD shirts, harmonicas (!), and most importantly, a bottle of whiskey. Then Leon and I went to the press tent for a couple of interviews before the show.
I think I should stop with the blow-by-blow for a minute to describe the ridiculous scope of Hellfest. It's basically the size of a small city, that is to say, a small city inhabited exclusively by Rockers. There are two massive, side-by-side stages outside which alternate, as well as two huge tent stages, a walk-up reception area, a press tent, and a backstage area the size of a high school, complete with cold / hot catering areas, a guitar showroom, a cubicle for hairdressing and massage (yeah, what the fuck?!?!?!), a shower area (awkwardly located near the cold catering area) and most importantly: the artist bar. It's worth noting that there were bonfires and post-apocalyptic sculpture all over the festival grounds and that the artist bar was the only place that accepted Euros, rather than tickets which we did not have. Anyway, it was a bit of a mind-fuck being there. We felt very out-of-place and kind of like we were getting away with something just by being there.
We banged out a couple of interviews and then headed back to the stage to get ready to play. Hail of Bullets was just getting done as we were setting up, and it's always great to have a beer and a laugh with such excellent dudes. The show at Hellfest went really well, and things with Mike really clicked that afternoon, as we battered through our set exhausted but enthusiastically. We were done relatively early, in time for the 2nd disappointment of the day – UFO were finishing up on the main stage as we were loading out! We headed for the backstage to change and have some food and drinks undaunted. After breaking into the bottle of Jack, Wes and I headed out to catch Thin Lizzy, which was pretty enjoyable, despite the irreplaceably absent Phil Lynott and Gary Moore (R.I.P.). I was hoping to see John Sykes or Derek Robertson, but Scott Gorham kicked major ass and the guy from The Almighty did a pretty decent job on vocals. I caught a bit of the Sodom set, but it started to rain, so I slunk back into the backstage area for a jet-lag induced nap. About an hour and a half later Leon and Tony from 1349 (who I knew from our tour with Zyklon way back when) woke me up, I grabbed a snack and resumed drinking. We hit the artist bar for a bit, then went out to the show. I was curious to catch the Scorpions, since I love the early stuff, but they were playing “Winds of Change” as I was walking by, a song I cannot stand, so I kept going to the Rock Hard Tent to catch Bolt Thrower. Long story short, they were amazing. Their set list was a nice mix of old and new stuff, with the “World Eater / Cenotaph” medley getting Leon and I to headbang like high school kids. Then it was back to the bar. We hung out with the Hail of Bullets guys for a while, then they split, then we partied with Tony and some other Norwegians for a while. Dave Witte stopped by for a second which is always a pleasure, then the Norwegians split and we went down and drunkenly harassed the Bolt Thrower crew for a while like the fanboys we are. Then they left, and finally we were asked to leave the Artist Bar as they were closing. None too pleased, we made our way to the dressing room only to find that there was no booze left there either. Someone (Wes, I think) kicked the table over by accident, and we just started demolishing it for some reason. Then we knocked over some other stuff, tore some posters down off the wall and looked for our van in the dark. Of course, drunk, stupid and spent, we passed out immediately at the hotel, only to wake up early the next morning to head to the land of chocolates, waffles, and Trappist Ales, Belgium.
Amazingly, none of us were particularly hung over the next day, despite a pretty epic bout of alcohol abuse in France. That would change however... We had the next day (Monday) off, so the club, a killer rock/metal bar / venue / record store / hostel (yeah I know, pretty much heaven, right?!?) called De Rots in Antwerp offered to let us all stay upstairs an extra day, which was a big help. We piled in the gear and hung out for a few hours until Serial Butcher got started. They were a pretty killer Death Metal band in the Cannibal / Severe Torture vein and really nice guys. The show was small, but the vibe was really great. Everyone there was awesome and into it. We hung out with the bar staff and a guy from the great Last Days of Humanity and his girlfriend until about 5am, and kept partying until about 9:30 AM (!). Wes got up just as we headed to breakfast before crashing and burning. I got up at about 6:00pm the following day to help load our equipment out, since we were having too good of a time partying to actually load out after the show, realized that I was brutally hung over and went back to sleep until about 9 that night, when I finally woke up and grabbed a much needed shower. Leon, Mike and I left Wes at the bar with some beer money and headed out to get some dinner. We ended up at a really delicious South American steak house and enjoyed a very meaty meal. I wasn't intending to party too much, but we got back to the bar around 11 or so, and started drinking again. We closed the bar at about 3AM or so, and headed upstairs to the hostel area, where Wes and I polished off a bottle of Jameson's. Belgium nearly killed us...
We had two shows with The Black Dahlia Murder and Atheist on Wednesday and Thursday in Switzerland and Germany, before finishing up the week at Death Feast Open Air on Friday. The Black Dahlia guys were all cool dudes, and it was great to hang out with our buddies in Atheist again. To be honest, I was really burnt from Monday and Tuesday in Belgium, and was a bit useless both nights, but I did manage to get some laundry done in Germany and enjoy a couple of killer shows. It was a bit rough as they were just three band bills, so we played first every night, but the shows went pretty well and by Friday, I was feeling pretty much human again and ready to party at Death Feast. I wish I could have had more hijinks to describe during those two days, but after three days of ridiculous-level partying in a row, I laid pretty low offstage and slept and read a lot.
I was psyched for Friday because Ross Sewage, who of course did bass and vocals and co-wrote the lyrics for “Gore Metal” , was going to come onstage and sing “Casketkrusher” with us at Death Feast, as we were playing directly after Impaled. It was good to see those guys again and hang out for a bit. Apparently the dry, self-deprecating, cynical thing is a Bay Area trait, so it was nice to hang out with folks with a similar sense of humor. Death Feast was much more akin to the type of festival we're accustomed to: one backstage tent with beer and catering, porto-potties, one simple stage and about 2,500 Death Metal maniacs. We did a brief meet-and-greet for the Rock Hard Magazine guys and had a few beers there before getting ready for the show. We were a bit late arriving to the festival so we didn't get to set up our merch until way late in the day or see too many of the bands, but Impaled sounded groovy and killer from behind the stage. We got up and powered through the set pretty much on auto-pilot (in a good way) after the past week of playing and raging. It was a great ending to the trip. Ross came out and nailed the song, sounding really killer and making me wish he was singing all the old stuff with us, and the vibe was killer. We proceeded to get wasted and accidentally miss Malevolent Creation's set but emerged in time watch Dismember from the side of the stage and once again headbang like it was 1991 all over again. Good times.
All in all, it was a good trip, with Mike really stepping up to the plate and powering the machine forward. No lost or broken luggage, just Wes' pedal board was loaded incorrectly at Death Feast, but was eventually found and shipped back to the good ol' US and A. Aside from the braincells we wantonly destroyed, we headed back home relatively intact to start rehearsing for the US tour with Macabre, Cephalic Carnage, and Withered. But that, as they say, is a blog for another day.
Stay tuned for more exciting adventures featuring the usual gang of idiots.