Rock the River Retrospective

We set out from Bellville in the heat of day on Friday. Odd, I know, but hell, the gates opened on Friday, and we had nothing keeping us home. When we arrived however, we were greeted by an insane amount of cars. The organizers had a slick running check-in / ticketing station outside the festival grounds, leading to a long queue of fellow festivalgoers. Once inside, we immediately found a spot and attempted to set up camp. However the wind put a halt to that. Across from us, the guys and girl from Suiderbees were desperately trying to set up their gazebo and needless to say, we all had to wait till much later for the wind to die down before setting up became a viable option. While waiting, we got to exploring the festival setup. The stages seemed close together, but concerns of the acts “bleeding” into one another were quelled on Saturday when the bands started up. If I have one complaint about the venue, it’s that there were not any toilets where we were camping – the closest being near the stage area entrance. And there was no natural shade. Thankfully, I had my trusty black sombrero! The night was spent chilling with friends and bands alike.

Friday Afternoon - Suiderbees facing BEESPOESBRUTAL windSaturday morning dawned… Literally. By 8 AM, the sun was already toasty, and we were guzzling water and energy drinks, slathering up with sunscreen and preparing to head down to the stage. At the metal stage we were greeted with campus rock outfit Four a Penny. Probably the “softest” of the days’ bands, but a good start nonetheless. The rest of the afternoon had a great selection of bands, showcasing several different styles of rock and metal. From the deathcore stylings of The Impalement Theory to the melodic death antics of Sindulgence (who performed an amazing cover of System of a Down‘s “Toxicity”), to the classic thrash grooving of …ING.

The Impalement Theory - Murder by VoxThe stage really got heavy when, as the sun started fading, Wildernessking appeared. I must say, Wildernessking are the only local band to stay black metal without needing corpsepaint and their progressive sounds helped inch the sun down. Next up were industrial/EBM rebels, Axxon. Although they were one of the wildcard bands on the stage they didn’t disappoint and pulled in a crowd that stayed for most of the night. Vocalist Stephen Green throwing in some clean singing was a surprise, but not at all an unwelcome one, and hearing them cover Rammstein‘s “Sonne” was an audible treat! They also announced that their first single, Bite Your Tounge, is on the horizon. Definitely one to keep tabs on!

Marching Dead: what can I say? They haven’t been on stage in a good while, and it showed, but this didn’t stop Igor and the guys from giving it their all and managing to keep the crowd going. Next up were power metallers Strident. Their set was the highlight of Saturday night for me, opening with “Metal or Death”, knighting three deserving fans (and their new bassist Sylus). They also unleashed a new song upon festival, “March”, and even had a surprise for Manowar fans, covering “Hand of Doom”. Lead guitarist Neill Schoeman truly shined here, riffing like a beast on his axe! Not to mention a faster, more powerful than usual performance of the tongue-in-cheek “Power Metal From Space”.

Strident - Winds Of PowerThe crowd dissipated slightly as The Warinsane arrived and almost broke the stage with sheer neck snapping brutality! The fence around the stage was nearly ripped out of its concrete blocks, and I was shocked not to find the ground soaked with blood! The crowd had a bit of a break as Crow Black Sky were setting up. They may have taken longer than any other band to set-up, but it was worth the wait. Crow Black Sky rang in 2012 in a blaze of fire and explosions. Their set was truly a spectacle to behold, with skulls strewn across stage and the band in Behemoth-inspired armour. After such a long day and night, we retreated back to camp. Bodies beginning to break, we still had to survive a whole second day!

Crow Black Sky - Burning their way to 2012On Sunday morning, under the baking sun (yes, it was a hot day again) we could see a slew of campers packing up and leaving. Apparently some of them thought it was one night only, and others just couldn’t take it anymore. But not the seasoned metalheads or the M4A crew. We were going strong! Sunday afternoon was, on the whole, more relaxed than Saturday with more of an alternative feel. The crowds also dwindled during the day. I blame hangovers, and the sun. Nevertheless, the performing bands still put their best foot forward, and really gave it their all.

I have to make an honourable mention of The Summer Underground – with these hard rockers performing the hardest for the smallest crowd. The stage picked up again at 19:00 with Terminatryx. These experimental industrialists, brought the crowds crawling back to the stage. Once again I saw why. Every time Terminatryx get on stage, they do not disappoint! Make sure to catch them at Summerfest ’12 later this month. Hot on their heels was balls-to-the-wall metal outfit, Bulletscript. They got heads rolling again, with their relentless riffing and blasting drums. Joe gave his farewell this evening, making way for his replacement George, It will be interesting to see what the band does going forward following this change.

Bulletscript - Praying to the Metal GodsNight had fallen, and next up were heavy metal stalwarts Mind Assault: the Sunday night highlight for me. Coming on stage wearing South African flag “kilts” and dropping black S.A flags behind the stage, this was likely the most politically charged set I’ve seen from these guys. And they played two new songs! It was a powerful performance, much respect to these guys for keeping metal alive in this country, even in the face of adversity. Next up were new kids on the block, Wargrave. These thrashers were great to see and are another band to keep tabs on. I’m sure they’ll rise to headline status before too long! The last band on the bill was the indomitable Suiderbees. Their brand of brutal death metal sapped the crowd of every last drop of energy they had left.

Mind Assault - Black SundayEvery band on the bill filled a great slot to make the stage varied enough to keep drifters close. They all put their best performances forth, even with widespread monitoring trouble and it made me proud to be a metalhead in this country. Be sure to check out the pics on the Metal4Africa facebook page. And don’t forget about Metal4Africa Summerfest ’12 just around the corner!