Dans le cadre de ses nombreuses collaborations, Thorium Mag vous emmène en voyage aux 4 coins du monde, dans les langues de Shakespeare ou de Molière. Aujourd’hui Vanessa de 3rd Eye vous parle de son expérience dans un festival Suédois hors du commun, le Muskelrock.
Since visiting Sweden and Denmark in 2013 and 2014, I promised myself that my next trip would involve somewhere more touristy and less Scandinavian, like a tropical beach. Of course, all thoughts of a relaxing vacation are thrown out the window once festival lineups are announced. It wasn’t only that some of my favorite bands would be playing Muskelrock (May 28th-30th) this year, but rather the strange attraction I seem to have to Sweden that convinced me to go.
My first impression of Sweden was slightly on the negative side; in Stockholm I felt like a complete outsider, or worse, like a stereotypical North American tourist and in Uppsala, nary a Swede spoke to us foreigners despite being at a metal show. In spite of all that, it seems I’m always raving about Sweden. From efficient public transportation to “lagom” and most importantly, the amount of bands that this country produces, I can’t get enough.
After a grueling flight to Copenhagen, we made the two-hour journey to Alvesta by train to finally arrive Thursday afternoon. As the sun disappeared behind the clouds and we felt the first raindrops hit our heads, we realized how much we underestimated the weather and how poorly we had packed. Luckily we did remember to buy some whiskey at the Systembolaget, so we took a few shots to warm up and off we were to the Tyrolen entrance to get our bracelets.
Muskelrock happens to be hosted at Tyrolen, a charming 1960s amusement park that managed to retain a quirky, vintage vibe with folky murals and carnival games. Tyrolen is located in a big field; the whole lot encircled by a wooden fence. The grounds reminded me of a county fair with battered merchant booths, hanging garden lights, and old school pinball machines. Bands played an hour apart on either of two stages; the outdoor Venedig stage or the covered Rotundan.
As Jacob Hector, one of the Muskelrock organizers, explained to me, “Tyrolen was built in 1962 and was a really popular place to go and dance and watch concerts […] Often [there were] 2000-3000 people coming to Tyrolen on a Saturday night and a lot of famous Swedish bands from that period played here. In the 70s there was a lot of fighting between different gangs and the ordinary people started to get tired and they had to close down the park in 1976. Our organization is called Tyrolens Vänner (Friends of Tyrolen) and we started to buy and save the abandoned park in 2007. Jacob Hector, who used to be the tour manager for Bullet and Hampus Klang, the guitar player in Bullet, are the two persons who had the idea to start up the festival.”
Having attended various festivals across Europe while touring with Bullet inspired the two to create one of their own, “We wanted to start the festival of our dreams. When we bought Tyrolen we had the perfect place for the festival and we started to plan. From the beginning we mostly booked bands we knew in Sweden and the name was supposed to be Svenska Metallens Hjältar (Heroes of the Swedish Metal). When we started to book bands everything felt so good so we wanted to make it really special and wanted to bring some cool names that had never been to Sweden before. One of our old heroes, whom we’ve been listening to for many years, was Thor and we contacted him and invited him to the festival. We got Thor, the king of muscle rock, on our side and then we decided to name the festival Muskelrock and put his picture on the poster.”
Since the very first year, the organizers have sought to showcase big and small Swedish bands alike, ranging from death to doom to classic rock as well as foreign bands that don’t often get the opportunity to play Swedish crowds. This year the roster included: ‘80s thrashers Ice Age (SE), classic rock brothers, Rob and Randy Davis of Ashbury (US), my personal faves Morbus Chron (SE) and Tribulation (SE), Canadian heavy metal band Anvil, Bullet (SE), Thor (CA), Dread Sovereign (IE), Antichrist (SE) and much more.
“It’s a very special place to start with, and we really work hard to do a good festival with good food, great music and a friendly atmosphere. We try to book acts that you usually can’t see in Sweden and we try to surprise the audience with funny things that you don’t expect. As organizers, we start with a meeting after the summer when we talk about good bands that we want to invite and we try to enlist a good mixture of heavy metal, doom, rock ‘n’ roll and the related genres. Then Jacob [tries] to book all the bands and we listen to a lot of demos, always looking for new bands and old bands that we want to pay tribute to.” Hector explained.
I got the chance to watch so many bands that week that I’ve chosen to focus on the moments that stood out most. My Thursday evening consisted of Saturn (SE), a progressive rock/metal band that left more of an impression on me live than what I had listened to back home. Then somewhere between the Natur (US) and Portrait (SE) shows, I crossed a tiny foot bridge over a watery ditch and stumbled into a circus tent outside the Tyrolen grounds. Inside the red tent, which seemingly appeared out of nowhere, heads bounced in unison to the sound of dirty, doomy, blackened riffs. It was like the whole tent was in a state of synchronicity during this secret, undisclosed show. I remember a girl telling me “Oh, this must be Occulta”. It turns out the band is indeed called Occvlta and they are from Germany. They had played a show with Natur and Antichrist the previous night in Copenhagen and were invited by Muskelrock organizers that week, possibly even that same day.
Back inside the festival grounds, we walked passed the Venedig stage several times before the man in the red kimono and Kabuki-style makeup caught my eye. I stopped to take a better look and realized that the (other) secret show was none other than the God of Hellfire himself, Arthur Brown! We caught him halfway through his cover of “I Put a Spell on You”, dancing and grooving, having the time of his life.
Although it was passed 9:00pm, the sun’s rays continued to struggle against the rainy clouds, during Brown’s performance. For his grand finale – the seminal 1968 single, “Fire” – a woman danced across the stage in a fiery red cape and bejeweled headdress, while all together the crowd sang, “Fire, I’ll take you to burn. Fire, I’ll take you to learn. I’ll see you burn.”
Next I caught Antichrist, an old school thrash band from the nearby town of Växjö. They seemed to have garnered a loyal fan base despite having only released a full length in 2011, Forbidden World. The hitherto peaceful crowd was at its rowdiest during Antichrist, for the first time there was some mild moshing and violent head banging. I ended my first night in Sweden watching Heat, a German psych/prog/rock band whose 2014 album Labyrinth is not to miss.
By 1:30am I called it quits and trudged through the muddy field in search of my tent. I will spare you the details of that night, but I admit that I was completely defeated by the freezing rain, jet lag, and never-setting sun. Much to my embarrassment, at 5am that morning I called the hotel in Alvesta to book a room for the remainder of the festival. I could not fathom enduring a festival without some sleep.
The next morning we walked on the main road discovering the surrounding area, lush farmland and homey cottages. We visited the nearby church and graveyard, where the townspeople and festival organizers had set up a few tables selling coffee and baked goods.
As Hector explained, the community supports the festival despite the chaos it creates, “99% of the people think it’s funny and then there are a few who think it’s horrible. We work together with some different associations from the area and it gives a lot of extra money to them and also a lot of interesting meetings. It’s great that our visitors can go to the church and eat cookies made by the old ladies in the village and that they meet and talk to each other. I think it’s good for everyone. But some think it’s too much noise and are scared of all the strange people who [walk] around in the village. Probably there [are] always attendees like that around festivals.”
We took Friday afternoon easy, rested in the sun while getting to know our fellow campmates (we kept our tent as a home-based). We met a globetrotting Australian and some of his Swedish acquaintances, young locals sitting around a circle sharing a bottle of Explorer vodka and Elderflower Fanta. We weren’t surprised when we found out that four of them were in a death metal band called Gravestone. None of them could understand why we would travel from Canada to attend what they consider a small, local festival. Hanging out by the tent with these new friends was one of best times I had; sharing and exchanging so easily with other music fans was uplifting.
At 9:00pm, I was finally revived by Alan Averill’s (of Primordial fame) wails of despair, when he took the stage as his newest reinvention, doom metal trio Dread Sovereign. The crowd swayed as one through their slow and sinister set. For me, it was a perfect build-up to the next scheduled performance, Morbus Chron, a young Swedish genre-defying band with death metal origins.
I haven’t stopped listening to Morbus Chron’s Sweven since it came out in early 2014, it quickly became one of my favorite pieces of music (I’m impatiently waiting for their next release). Since they do not tour a great deal, I never expected to see them in Canada so I was completely beside myself when they appeared on stage at 10:00pm.
It felt like they played Sweven in its entirety; from “Chains” to one of my favorites, “It Stretches in the Hollow” with a few songs from their debut album Sleepers in the Rift. Morbus Chron’s hypnotic melodies and Robert Andersson’s tormented shrieks mesmerize me in a way that transports me completely, something akin to an out of body experience. Long after they had packed their gear and the crowds had dispersed, I still stood in the front of the stage not wanting to accept that this moment was over.
Enforcer (SE) were next, but after my rather emotional experience with Morbus, I was not in the mood for the more light-hearted speed metal and over-the-top pyrotechnics.
There is a drunken blank in my memory but the next thing I remember is arguing with a cab driver on our way back to the hotel and somehow becoming friends with two of the passengers. Best friends since childhood, JB and AW traveled from Stockholm to attend their first Muskelrock. At 2:00am we wandered together around Alvesta in a desperate search for food until we found a massive white tent in the middle of town. We randomly landed on a western/rock ‘n’ roll themed BBQ dance party. Over our hamburgers, we discussed the broad and rich landscape of Swedish music. AW introduced me to another great act, 60’s prog/folk artist, Pugh Rogefeldt – the 1969 album Ja, dä ä dä comes highly recommended.
It’s Saturday afternoon, we are well rested but hungover, ready for the final day of this magical festival. Much to my disappointment, we hear that Blues Pills (SE/FR/US) wouldn’t be playing after all for reasons I never found out. Horisont (SE) played instead and although AW & JB praised them as an amazing classic rock band, I missed them. We watched Night Viper (SE) and Spiders (SE), a band whose catchy 70’s, glam rock sound seemed a perfect fit for the festival. Vocalist, Ann-Sofie Hoyle was captivating and infused with energy, her performance of “Mad Dog” had an Iggy Pop-like quality, which I liked.
By 8:00pm, it seemed like every single person at Muskelrock had reunited in front of the outdoor Venedig stage to watch Ashbury. The Arizona band has seen its fan base renewed in the last couple of years, with younger generations of listeners discovering their epic 1983 album, Endless Skies. Indeed, almost every fan in the crowd could be heard singing along to every song on the album. The sun made another rare appearance during “The Warning” and for the first time in three days, I smelled the sweet aroma of marijuana. The brothers Davis barely twitched when someone in the crowd yelled, “Ashbury might just be the greatest band in the world!”
Finally, I saw Tribulation for the fourth time in the last year; needless to say they still managed to impress me. Tribulation are a unique band that are capable of reinventing themselves with every release. In my opinion, their 2015 The Children of the Night and 2013 The Formulas of Death are two groundbreaking albums of our time.
We ended our list night at Muskelrock back at the Gravestone campsite, drinking ourselves into a blissful oblivion. We laughed, we hugged, and promised we’d keep in touch.
It took me two months to finish this review and one of the reasons why is that Muskelrock was such a beautiful experience that reminiscing on it too long makes me too nostalgic. Being there felt like some sort of perfect fusion of the 60’s hippy vibe, 70’s rock ‘n’ roll, heavy metal and all its subgenres. We met amazing people, enjoyed great bands and got to see the less touristy side of Sweden. All my compliments to Tyrolens Vänner and volunteers for organizing such a legendary festival while managing to keep it on a human scale without any commercial bs. If Goat (SE) and Salem’s Pot (SE) or maybe Vampire (SE) are included in the 2016 lineup, I’ll find my way back to Muskelrock next year. In the words of Jacob Hector, “Heavy metal will never die!”
Some things I completely missed or did not cover in this article: The Heavy Metal Market which had a great selection of vinyl dealers, the screening of the “I Am Thor” documentary, the Saturday auction, the strongman, the really good Pizzagram pizza.
Auteure: Vanessa C