Armed with a bar-fridge of Monster, and a desire to party, we battled against various weather conditions and unforeseen difficulties amidst the standard festival chaos. This year, the annual event that is Rock the River presented a diverse selection of music across three stages, catering towards fans of metal, alternative, and electronic music. With the metal stage resembling a large Black Label beer truck, dedicated metalheads roamed the grounds expectantly.
On Saturday, the metal stage was three hours behind schedule and subsequently, sets were cut short. Submitting to the extreme heat, most were in no mood to complain and the late and general disorganised approach to the running of the metal stage left people feeling bothered and confused. Those that were hopeful continued with smiles on their faces, and the rest of us remained slightly less optimistic. The day was filled with excessive mic-feedback, shared looks of apprehension and entirely too many complaints; along with a lack of set-lists lying around and the set times changing more often than they should, general slip-ups ensued.
De Wallen opened the stage with a somewhat overly eager attitude, and were shortly followed by Wakato, who I could not display much interest in due to their weird vocal style, which in my honest opinion, made them sound like a bunch of trainees. Mora Mortem then took to the stage and delivered some raw brutality, the vocalist forcing energy into the crowd. My level of skepticism declined as the day progressed and a variety of sub-genres began to occupy the stage.
Gaining momentum, Messiah Complex played a fast and ferocious set; their songs a delight to the senses. Playing together as a tight unit, they delivered their own brand of raw, innovative and entertaining deathcore. After performing a Whitechapel cover, there was suddenly an overwhelming increase in the energy of their performance. Though perhaps dimmed by the light of the more established acts on the bill, one should not underestimate the importance of this act, which possesses an extraordinary vocalist and drummer.
The headlining act for the night, Zombies Ate My Girlfriend, took to the stage in their usual dramatic attire. The vocalist effortlessly entered demonic mode and transcended the conventional limits of his voice – a truly remarkable sight to behold. The drummer played with the diligence only evident of immense self discipline, and a cover of The Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the UK” made for a decent set.
Next up, Infanteria, who are close to the imminent release of their debut album Isolated Existence did their thing. I expected a powerful and well-attended show – unfortunately, the crowd had diminished and did not share in the enjoyment of watching a fine and accomplished set.
The wind on Sunday offered some form of respite from the sweltering heat, yet proved to be a disaster for the sound. Hellucifix started their set on schedule, the previous band having backed out. Their hooks and nooks are perhaps generic, but with an impressively skilled bassist and general fun-loving mentality, they delivered a groovy set laden with sludge. Though they only have a couple of shows under their belt, they proved to be entertaining, having improved leaps and bounds from when I previously saw them.
Following shortly after were Take Hand, a hardcore band who performed something not too far removed from what the average metalhead may expect. Hardcore being a division of punk music, one can expect simple riffs, almost frantic drumming, with shouted and almost screamed vocal lines delivered over the music. Energetic and soft in sound, they performed well, with dominant choruses filled with highly emotional screams. Later, Wargrave’s mediocre and lacklustre set proved all too well that they lacked cohesion.
Well into the night, Bulletscript lifted my mood with an engaging and energetic performance. The vocals supplemented their set well, backed by an impressive drummer. They put in an immense amount of effort into entertaining the crowd, and did so very well. And then the power went out. For what reason, we will never know.
On Monday, we were met with howling winds, and generally unpleasant weather. There was an overall increase in people in attendance and a general air of excitement for New Years. Beeldenstorm played a well-rounded set and I gained immense respect for the vocalist battling the wind and nicely asking the crowd to gather closer around the stage. Young and full of vigour, they have a bright future in the South African metal community.
Megalodon played next in blistering heat. Comparatively being more technical than the majority of the other bands, they would have fit better playing a later time slot. Armed with bottles of water and ignoring whole licks that were eaten by the howling wind, I managed to enjoy the show. The vocalist screamed with such powerful conviction that one was left in terror. They deserve due praise for their ability to execute such technical music with a great display of masterful proficiency.
Playing a well-deserved night-time slot, Ing was near the top of my list of must-see-bands.
They are a thrash outfit that released their album, Ingquisition, in late 2012 which established them as one of the most deserving acts to play the stage at Rock the River. Challenged by infuriating amounts of feedback, they stood on stage with mature determination and went the extra mile to immerse themselves in their performance much to the crowd’s delight.
Playing after the traditional ringing in of the New Year, Sexodus is a tribute band to one of the greatest thrash-outfits of all time, Exodus. They presented a full, accomplished and confident show. The vocalist did well to send us into the New Year, with the guitarists playing tasty solos, keeping everyone’s spirits high and festive.
In essence, the bands put in an immense amount of effort, most unfortunately having to deal with sound conditions that were less than favourable. Ignoring a couple of failed stage-dives and a constantly fluctuating attendance, we should appreciate the possibilities that our country offers – in an open and dusty field, people worked together towards a good festival and an entertaining atmosphere.