RAMfest in Review

RAMfest has been and gone, but certainly is not forgotten in the minds of everyone who attended. The Metal4Africa stage was an absolute riot with a stellar sound and lighting rig, as well as a great and varied selection of bands. Two stalwarts of the Cape Town metal community, George van der Riet and Pieter Roodt give their opinions on the acts that they caught on the weekend that was.

The RAMfest crowd during Mind Assault
It’s Friday night, the drink has been flowing, and I find myself piggy-backing on a friend, running down to the metal tent with the “Death Groove Mvng Cvlt” of A Walk With With Wicked trailing behind to go and support veteran death metallers Mind Assault. It’s no secret how much effort, time and energy the boys from Mind Assault have put into the local metal scene in the last couple of years; the very existence of a dedicated Metal4Africa stage at Ramfest being proof of that. At the back of my mind, I know this is going to be a good show; Mind Assault always bring out the big guns for special occasions like this; little did I know exactly how big these guns were. They were fucking huge. The crowd was massive, moshing and headbanging, the sound was impeccable, and quite possibly at the best I’ve ever heard them. They brilliantly played through a set of old favourites as well as some newer tracks from their recently released EP, Metal Rites. The show ended with spectacular flair as one of the Burlesque Beasties shot sparks from vocalist Jacques’s chest into the crowd with an angle-grinder, while he roared into the microphone. Yes, you read that right.

Mind Assault
Mind Assault
I left the tent with my neck thoroughly aching and my mind very much assaulted.

Tombstone Pete was a rare gem in the metal tent, and a very good start to Saturday’s proceedings. Pete is a one man instrumental band, playing his own unique brand of acoustic and percussive tunes. His sunny yet crass disposition really adds to the seemingly effortless performance, as he threw in some hilarious quips between songs. Not being metal, he obviously drew a varied crowd. I was quite amused how various indie kids and hippies flocked to the metal tent to hear his curiously soft melodies. His easy listening but cheerful songs helped lift spirits on the lazy and hot Saturday afternoon, and I was pleased to have finally seen and heard this care-free bard.

Haggis and Bong
Haggis and Bong
After a day of scorching sun and dusty, dry air, the brave metal souls started to pick up their sunburned bodies and made a pilgrimage from their tents to the Metal4Africa stage for a night of pure mayhem. The masses gathered to a stage sporting guys in Scottish kilts and awesome looking Braveheart-esque face paint. What’s more is that there were 3 of them carrying bag pipes! This all but captured the attention of the slowly gathering crowd.
The band in question calls themselves Haggis and Bong, a Celtic fusion band. The moment they started playing I was blown away. What was particularly impressive was how they managed to make really good metal music with just 3 bagpipes, a bass player and a drummer. No guitars involved. The band was professional and put on a great show. It was refreshing to see something new and out of the box. I would recommend this band to anyone who has the chance to see them, purely because they are doing something different. The face paint and uniforms show that the band is serious about what they do; it’s this approach to what you believe in that adds a certain credibility and enjoyability to a show. One criticism that I do have is that after a while the bagpipes start to bore into one’s head and become a bit annoying, but that was just a minor issue in an otherwise mind blowing performance.

After Haggis and Bong warmed up the crowd sufficiently, Symphonic Schizophrenia arrived to stoke the flames even further. I have been an apt follower of Symphonic Schizophrenia for almost 3 years now and this is has been their most interesting show to date. Their music style is instrumental experimental progressive metal with blazing fast leads and amazing melodies that will screw with your head.
For Ramfest, the band had a few interesting additions to their normal show. Besides playing in lab coats like they usually do there was an extremely eerie clown that brought Bruce Sonnekus (lead guitar) his guitars between songs whenever he needed to switch. They also had a baby doll without a head that Nico Botha (bass) would play around with on stage whenever he had nothing to do. They also added a new song to their set which was even more dynamic and energetic than their other pieces. The introduction to the song was a metal version of the South African national anthem that managed to get people in the crowd singing along. They are by far the most technical band in SA and they perform on a level that boggles the mind. Unfortunately, because of this technicality they tend to have a few hiccups, like Bruce stepping on his guitar cable while caught up in the moment; however by the end of their set, they managed to impress the audience so much that the crowd unanimously started chanting for an encore and would not take no for an answer! A most impressive gesture considering the deadening effect the brutal sun had on people by that time and also considering that they were one of the earlier bands playing.

Every now and then a band comes out of nowhere and just blows your mind. A few months ago that’s what Juggernaught did for me and judging by the response of the Ramfest crowd, I’m convinced that they did the same for them. The response from the crowd was overwhelming, people were going nuts like I have rarely seen before and were sporting smiles so wide that they almost fell of their owners faces. Juggernaught, for those of you who do not know, play a rough blend of southern metal, blues and classic rock, mixed into a dirty combination. They sell themselves as “Hairy, whiskey guzzling, guitar slingin’ men, who play hairy, whiskey guzzling, guitar slingin’ music.” And they don’t just say it either. They completely live the description with beards long enough to graze their nipples. Despite their rough and sloppy appearance, they delivered their music with the utmost professionalism. Their songs were well performed, well written and played with spirit and passion. The only downside to their show was the low turnout, despite their furious marketing efforts. I would have loved to see at least double the amount of people who were actually there.

There is one local band, very aptly named after a prehistoric, over the top, bad ass party animal; Sabretooth. They’re retro, they’re flamboyant and they party hard. They have quite a dedicated following who showed up in support, and the rest of the crowd also got into their 80s inspired, neo-classical grooving. All their members are very accomplished musicians, and there is no shortage of lightning fast guitar solos, keyboard solos, intense drumming and melodic vocals. One gripe I do have about their performance however is the fact that they tend to look more like a 80s wax-statue band on stage at times. Granted, they do play some complex bits and they do have those awesome fans on stage, but their live performance needs way more energy. Two rather enjoyable parts from their set were the covers they performed; a Steel Panther number and a Van Halen classic, “Jump”. Both were well received by the crowd and despite my lethargy from the day, it got me moving and plastered a great big grin on my face.

Theatre Runs Red was the absolute highlight of the festival. Whenever they come down to grace Cape Town with their brutal presence, I make an effort to see them. The best aspect of the band is the all out black metal stage presence they possess. They dress in full corpse paint, and they also command the “I will fuck you up” attitude on stage. The music is equally brutal and executed flawlessly. What is more amazing about this band is the vocalist. In a genre that is predominantly lead by males it is very refreshing to see a woman on stage for once, and she’s not just for show either; Ebony Aberdein (vocalist) has a voice that sounds like it comes from the deepest pits of Hell and she will not only give any male vocalist a run for their money, but will blow them completely out of the water. The Ramfest crowd seemed to appreciate the band as much, if not more, than the rest of the metal acts of the day.

Theatre Runs Red
Theatre Runs Red
Throughout the festival the Black Orchid Beasties were all over the place showing off their trade. During the day you could see one of the guys dressed as a devil with horns, fiendish beard, red body paint and to top it all off, walking on 2 metre stilts! He was followed around by two topless body painted girls (I don’t know the official term for it,) who were respectively dressed as an angel and a devil. In between the metal acts, the Beasties did their masterful burlesque dances that we all know so well by now. At night, they drew large crowds outside the metal tent with their fire playing acts that seemed to mesmerize all those who were observing. Whether it was the fire that was doing the mesmerizing or the artfully painted topless girls remains debatable. After this festival I have gained new found respect for what they are doing. There was a huge debate a few months ago between people who believe the Beasties to be nothing more than strippers and the ones who argue that what they do is an artful representation of their sexuality. I have always seen it as a form of art, but after Ramfest my appreciation for the form has sufficiently deepened. Keep up the good work girls!

All things considered, A Walk With The Wicked is pretty damn wicked. They are a hard working, professional and dedicated group of musicians who have made something quite unique here in South Africa – a death metal band that doesn’t suck. They’re work ethic was showcased by a merch stall they set up in the metal tent, with various bits of eye candy to entice the passing metal-heads. On to their show. Personally I would’ve liked to see more people in the crowd when they were playing, but those who were there were dedicated. A solid performance from them saw the crowd really getting into the “Death Groove”, and again, sound-wise it was excellent. These boys really have a knack for getting the hair spinning and the fists pumping. After the show a friend of mine who hadn’t seen them perform before walked up to me, eyes bulging, and said simply, “Wow. Just wow, man.” I must say, I concurred.

A Walk With the Wicked
A Walk With the Wicked
It’s late on Saturday night. I have been thoroughly disappointed by the shenanigans on the main stage, and I hear that there is a rarity about to take place on the metal stage; an industrial/EBM metal band by the name of Axxon. I go and stand right up front, having no other choice really as I’m surrounded by about five other people. As the chest-thumping drum beat falls in and the crushing guitars ring out, I look around me to see more and more people migrating to the metal stage. Despite it being about 1AM, I can see people really enjoying themselves. The songs were catchy, yet brutal and the band played very well as a unit, despite some technical hiccups. I found myself getting lost in the hard beats and stomping up clouds of dust. I unfortunately missed their last song due to my body telling me to calm the hell down and go get some water, but I did leave knowing I definitely want to experience these guys again.

Axxon
Axxon
Photos by Dauline Coetsee and Bernadette Burger.