Keep It True XIX
29-30 April, 2016
Too long have I let my inability to organise a piss up in a brewery, much less my own life, get in the way of attending this festival. Although it had been on my radar for a while, it was KIT X’s staggering roster of bands that made me feel my first pangs of intense jealousy towards those making the pilgrimage that year. But when they announced Fates Warning – Awaken the Guardian line-up – for their 2016 headliner, I simply had to go.
In a rare victory over the dreaded rota, I managed to wangle the Thursday off. And so I was met at the airport by my friend and chaperone for the weekend, the lovely O.W.K. The tunes were on, I cracked open my first beer (Bavarian, of course), and we were off!
A little word about Königshofen – nestled in the beautiful Tauber Valley, it is the quaint, picturesque sort of place you would expect your middle aged neighbours to choose for their cycling holiday. Once a year however, the town is transformed by a slow procession of denim-and-leather clad, beer toting barbarians, making their way along Germany’s Romantic Road to this heavy metal Mecca. And this year, one of those barbarians was finally ME!
28/04/16: Warm-up Party
After we settled into our hotel (complete with a beer garden, Koi pond and a suspicious looking garden gnome), there was just enough time for a swift couple before heading over to the warm up party.
We got there around 10pm and the party was already very much in full swing. The KIT Crew had transformed a leisure centre in the middle of nowhere into a heavy metal paradise. Our charming host and DJ, Thorsten Hepp, played all the anthems, and the idea to project old footage on one of the walls was inspired – definitely ramped up the ambience, and for a KIT virgin like me, was a glimpse of things to come.
It wasn’t long before we clocked two unassuming gentlemen stood at the back of the room – instantly recognisable as Tim Baker and Rob Garven from the mighty Cirith Ungol. Having just seen them was excitement enough for me, and I had already started to get a bit of a panic sweat on. Then I was tapped on the shoulder, turned around, and was nose to nose with Mr. Baker himself. I was at my uncoolest best: I shook his hand, forgot to let go, and then announced that I was feeling nauseous. My childhood hero, then, clearly bemused by my obvious starstruckedness (starstrickenness?!), smiled, delved into his pocked and fished me out a sticker! Absolute legend.
A couple of beers later, O.W.K. got a little bit giddy, as Kenn Nardi from Anacrusis had just walked in. Now, we had spent a good hour in the car
arguing about Anacrusis, as I’ve never really been a massive fan (shock, horror, etc, I know). Being at my drunken best, though, I felt the need to inform Kenn of this crucial fact. And because he is the nicest, most humble man in metal, this somehow led to a chat about the band, his solo stuff, USPM, and even a sing-off to Queen of the Reich. We had an absolute blast, and I was privileged to gain a small insight into the life of this fascinating man. I chatted his ear off all weekend, mostly discussing important things like cats, Sia and how I think my dog is my soulmate.
Bumped into some old friends, made some new ones, and somewhere along this blurry, beer-soaked timeline, they projected the poster for next year onto the wall – which definitely had a ‘best of Keep it True’ vibe to it. Rather cryptically, the top billing was left simply as ‘Big Epic Headliner’ – there is almost no doubt in my mind that this will be Cirith Ungol.
29/04/16: Day 1
- Tokyo Blade
- Rock Goddess
- The Rods
- Secret Band
Doors were at 11am, and by the time we got there, there was an enormous queue already. The set up this year was a bit different than the last years’, I’m told, but this year, you walked through the merchandise tent (which was like all my Christmases come at once) to get in. The venue itself, Tauber-Franken-Halle, is an indoor sports hall, with a viewing gallery to each side – pretty perfect really. You can buy beer and food inside, and all the signing sessions were inside as well, which meant nobody really had to miss any of the bands. The most important task as soon as I was in, however, was to obtain my ticket for next year. And I’m jolly glad I did, because it’s already sold out!
I was really looking forward to Northern Irish metallers, Terminus, after The Reaper’s Spiral, their impressive full length from last year. And they did not disappoint at all. Despite it being broad daylight, they managed to put on a solid, enthusiastic set. I love the Manilla Road-y vibe that these guys give off – definitely a worthy addition to the billing.
And then from newcomers, to the metal masters from the North – Mythra. What a show! I don’t think there was a single person in the room that didn’t rock out to the classics like Warrior of Time and Death and Destiny.
Night of the Blade was a pretty special album for me when I was a kid, so I was thrilled to bits that this would be Tokyo Blade‘s line-up for the festival. I knew from the opening strains of Someone to Love that this was going to be a special show, and it was. Although the singer made some mistakes, I’m sure that once they sort through their teething problems this won’t be an issue at all. Perhaps the only real disappointment for me was that they didn’t play Warrior of the Rising Sun, a personal favourite.
The ‘Secret Band‘: it had been known that this would be an American band, and in the month running up to the festival, the most consistent whisper had been of Ross the Boss playing old Manowar stuff. I think most people know my feelings about this band, and although I had always planned to write about them here, their significance to me remains historical only. Having fervently hoped it would be Glacier or Hittman, I was quite put out by this increasingly likely rumour. But Ross the Boss, and the impressive young singer (I’m told he is called Mike Cotoia, I must investigate him further!) he brought in tow, showed the room why Manowar are revered as they are. Hearing those anthems played in this intimate setting gave me goosebumps. A completely magical hour.
I didn’t envy Razor, having to go on after Ross, but they were as good as, if not better than expected: fast, loud, heavy and delivered an oldschool set with attitude.
30/04/16: Day 2
- Dexter Ward
- Savage Master
- Iron Cross
- Kenn Nardi
- Praying Mantis
- Heir Apparent
- Fates Warning
Metalian, the young Canadians were exceptional. I always love it when a band look like they’re having fun, and these were just a pleasure to watch. Dexter Ward also delivered an energetic performance, and I should become more acquainted with their work.
Savage Master were perhaps the band I enjoyed the least. Musically they aren’t bad at all, but something about the vocals grates on my very last nerve. Luckily, I was distracted, standing in the long queue for the Fates Warning signing session, the only one I really wanted to go to.
We had purchased our limited edition Night on Brocken ‘fire’ splatter vinyl, and O.W.K. being even more ridiculous than me, had come armed with a choice of gold or silver marker pens. Meeting my hero, John Arch, was a complete honour, and luckily, I managed not to say anything too cringey (although Frank Aresti did recall the time I nearly got us arrested at their London gig almost ten years ago).
And then Iron Cross. Wow. This was one of the most special bands of the weekend. Their self-titled is one of the best USPM albums ever written, so to hear it brought to life was a dream come true. Four wise old men of metal weaving a tale of magic. Unexpectedly, they dedicated a seriously badass cover of Killed by Death to Lemmy. IC Brotherhood was a moving tribute to Mike Skelton, and really did their fallen comrade proud. Definitely felt this one in my bones.
Ski (formerly of Deadly Blessing) was like a heavy metal tornado! Absolutely blitzed the set – I almost needed a change of pants when he nailed the high notes on Cry of Medusa. He proceeded to take off nearly everything he had on and chuck it into the crowd, which was met with great enthusiasm. Towards the end of his striptease he was left dressed in what I can only describe as a star-spangled horror show – which was appropriate, really, as he finished with American Metal by Lizzy Borden. Ace!!
I had promised my new BFF Kenn Nardi to be front and centre for his set. It was so interesting to watch Kenn Nardi the professional – his meticulousness and attention to detail during the (slightly long) sound check helped achieve a near perfect sound throughout the set. He played a mix of Anacrusis and his solo stuff, which I found much more enjoyable, and somehow even the older stuff that I had been so dismissive of seemed so much bigger and more complex than my little pea brain could comprehend. Hearing the little harmonics on the intro to Grateful made my hairs stand on end! Perhaps the most endearing thing was when the singer of Mayfair, the Austrian band they had been touring with, was invited to perform Sound the Alarm with them. Absolutely adorable. And I’m totally converted, although it has been pointed out that I might be a little biased now that I know Kenn loves kitties.
With all the hype over it being thirty years of Awaken the Guardian, I had almost forgotten that it was also the same for Graceful Inheritance, a white collar USPM must-have. And boy, did Heir Apparent give it their absolute all. Between them, guitarist Terry Gorle and Derek Peace on the bass delivered a spectacular, heartfelt performance. And their new vocalist, Will Shaw, did a fantastic job too, almost indiscernible from the record. As they played Keeper of the Reign, I could feel a lump of burning emotion in my throat, and the finisher – Another Candle – was almost too much. Power metal how it ought to be done, ladies and gentlemen.
And then finally, what I made the journey for. As most of my friends know, Fates Warning is a band very dear to me and I love all their eras. But the John Arch albums are about as close to perfection as I think a band can achieve. And Awaken the Guardian
is one of those records after which music never sounded the same to me again. So when I heard the first notes to Sorceress a chill ran through me. They proceeded to play the album in its entirety, of course, and during Fata Morgana, perhaps one of my favourite songs of all time, I felt the hot tears finally spill down my face, and I sobbed right into Guardian, stood in rapt attention, like most of the room, completely captivated by John Arch. Frank Aresti and Jim Matheos’ command of their guitars was so precise and elegant, and the pristine execution of Time Long Past was utterly bewitching.
Their encores were perfect. I knew that they had played Apparition and Damnation at KIT (as Arch/Matheos), so I wasn’t surprised when these were the first. But then Arch asked what night it was…. and it dawned on me that it really was Walpurgis Night! Night on Brocken. On Walpurgis Night. With John Arch. AMAZING! They finished with a rousing rendition of Epitaph, and I screamed along till I could hardly speak.
And suddenly, it was all over. Completely overwhelmed, I turned around and announced to a friend – “this really was the best day of my life” – and promptly burst into tears again. Not a single person ridiculed me, and most understood, even gave me a cuddle. And that’s when I knew I had finally found my home.
From the organisation, to the intimate setting, to the friendliest crew, and the nicest crowd, this really is the best festival I’ve ever been too. What it has done for the survival of true metal, particularly USPM, is nothing short of staggering – bringing those bands back from the dead, that never got the recognition they truly deserved.
And even as I’m writing this, I feel all teary again, because I really can’t believe that it’s over. But I can’t be that sad – for the first time in my life, I have an actual, physical ticket – only one year to go until I’m reunited with my Heavy Metal Family in Das liebliche Taubertal!