Keep it True XX
28-29 April 2017
Well, what an emotional rollercoaster the past few days have been.
The only way I can truly describe the existential crisis in which I found myself heading out to KIT XX is to start with a little context. Every junior doctor in the UK dreams of their ‘number’ – a national training number – the chance, indeed, the only chance, to train in your chosen specialty. Once a year, a ruthless selection process takes place, and most candidates will have spent all their working lives trying to distinguish themselves from the rest.
There I was, the day before I was due to fly, sat on the floor in my pyjamas (standard), buzzing with KIT fever, lovingly placing freshly laundered t-shirts into my suitcase. And then I got the call that the interview outcomes were out. With a few frantic clicks at my computer, it rapidly became apparent: I hadn’t got a job.
I felt like I couldn’t leave my house, much less the country. I sat there in my laundry fort, feeling like a lost little child. The thought of repeating the interview process again was nauseating, and I was exhausted just thinking about it.
But after some persuasion, and a firm promise that the job would not be spoken of for the duration of the weekend, I decided to go anyway, and it was indeed a sight for sore eyes when, upon touchdown in Munich, I was greeted by the lovely O.W.K. bearing, as is now our festival tradition, a warm leberkäs roll and a bottle of helles. A seven hour exclusively USPM playlist had been handpicked for our journey, and as we pootled northward, singing along to Shok Paris, Exxplorer and Black Knight, I could already feel my jaw unclench, as the weight of the past few months left me.
27/04/17 Warm-Up Party
Well, what can I say about it other than: best party ever.
This year, we stayed slightly further away in Igersheim, in gorgeous little apartments overlooking the church steeple, whose address literally translated to ‘Duck Alley’. Its quaint proximity to church bells is something I would come to loathe by morning. It was a bit more of a trek to Dittigheim, but did mean that we could take the train, which was relatively painless.
For one night a year the wonderful Thorsten Mor Hepp and crew transform the sports hall at Dittigheim (where the old KITs were once held) into a little hive of debauchery – cars in the parking lot blare out a mish-mash of metal, sizzling steaks give off the most mouth-watering aroma, and familiar faces that I get to see so rarely pop up for a cuddle and a chat. It’s on a much smaller, more intimate scale, sort of like being round your mate’s house for a drink and a boogie.
They served the most delicious keller-bier that I was guzzling by the gallon (far more drinkable than the actual festival beer), and as always, our ace DJ was on fire! And after a couple of whiskey & cokes (that were served fresh out of someone’s car boot), I couldn’t resist throwing a few shapes on the dancefloor. It was such a good night that I had to be ushered into our taxi like an errant school girl, pouting because I couldn’t stay until the end.
28/04/17: Day 1
- Satan’s Hallow
- Wytch Hazel
- Medieval Steel
- Demolition Hammer
- Manilla Road
Okay I think we should get all the logistics and girlie moaning out of the way before we get into the serious metal talk.
I’ll start with the key positive change – one no longer had to navigate the merchandise
tent in order to enter the main building. This was a definite improvement, although with a line-up like this one, it was pretty difficult to actually devote any real time to browsing. There were many things that I thought I’d come back to later, and simply never got the chance. Overall a better experience though, without being nudged and jostled by transient crowds at every stand, and I picked up some great stuff.
Now for the moaning. We arrived at midday, which I thought was respectably early, considering that bands didn’t start till 13:00. Although I had made it my first mission, I was still met by a serpentine queue to buy tickets to next year (this was different to last year when you could simply buy it from the merch stand). It seemed endless, with every turn you were somehow no closer to the desk. We then heard that the merch guys were also selling tickets, so my friend went to investigate, and got the last one. I watched in horror as the queue I had stood in so patiently, for all of Satan’s Hallow and most of Wytch Hazel, suddenly dissipated.
Remember that existential crisis, yes? Well – it gets worse. I had not secured a ticket for KIT XXI.
The other Friday issue was the sound. I had initially thought it was just teething problems with Satan’s Hallow, as I am all too well acquainted with how difficult it can be to perfectly mix female fronted bands, but the problem seemed to last almost the entire day. We found a sweet spot just right of the sound-desk where things sounded quite respectable, but I am curious as to what exactly went wrong.
Anyway, back to the music. Satan’s Hallow, Underground Power Records’ wild card from Chicago were a nice little opener to the festival. They had a great old-school vibe, with impressive melodic lady-vocals. I especially liked that they pandered to none of the gimmicks that a lot of traditional female-fronted bands do. The music spoke for itself, so much so that their debut record was sold out by the end of the weekend.
The young lads from Wytch Hazel truly did the Isles proud. I absolutely loved Prelude last year, and I was looking forward to seeing what they’d be like on stage, having only seen them perform an acoustic set before. I was slightly disappointed when I realised that they had arrived without a bassist, but about half a song in, that genuinely didn’t seem to matter. Anthems like Freedom Battle and More than Conquerors went down a storm, and in their eccentric folksy way, they charmed the audience into forgetting they were a man down.
One band I was desperate to see was Q5, and they were a real treat. They looked and sounded every bit the experienced bunch of musicians that they are, and vocalist Jonathan Scott K really brought that electric, North American sass to the stage. Lonely Lady is one of my favourite songs ever, and I was delighted to finally hear it on stage, even if I personally felt that they brought it out too early. Tunes like Ain’t No Way To Treat a Lady and Teenage Runaway were so reminiscent of AC/DC – uncanny. They finished, of course, with a spine-tingling rendition of Steel the Light. For me, they were one of the best to play on Friday.
Most people were waiting for Medieval Steel to play that song, but I really like the whole EP, the demo, and the other bits and bobs that they cobbled together and released. So for me, it was actually pretty cool to watch that stuff played out. I particularly enjoyed Warlords and To Kill A King. Voices like Bobby Franklin’s have become a rare commodity, and his has aged incredibly well.
They brought the house down with Medieval Steel, the whole hall echoed with the off-key, beer-fuelled chants of the entire audience. Oh, and for those of you who insisted on peeing in my cornflakes by telling me that it wasn’t as good as last time, I couldn’t care less. Hearing one of the greatest heavy metal anthems played out, in absolute perfection, was a moment of pure steel, and I will store that ebullient feeling of complete euphoria for the dark days that lie ahead.
Hammer Damage was one of my greatest disappointments of last year, and I had been hearing mostly negative reviews about their recent live performances, so I was somewhat apprehensive about seeing Omen. And it just goes to show that you should trust no-one’s ears but your own because, dear God, they were mindblowing. I watched their set from up in the gallery (or as I have fondly christened it, the vomitorium), and I fear I may run out of superlatives if I had to describe their set in any great detail.
It concerned the physician in me somewhat that an armour-clad Kevin Goocher appeared to be limping for most of the set – but there was absolutely nothing wrong with his voice. And watching the legend Kenny Powell bend that axe to his will was a real delight. To have remained at the helm of this great band for over thirty years, facing adversity and loss, and still come out and deliver a performance that could break your back, is no small feat. It’s hard to pick favourites from their set, but I especially enjoyed The Axeman, Ruby Eyes and Warning of Danger. Slightly bizarrely, Goocher’s daughter joined them for Battle Cry – didn’t detract from the performance (lady looks good and can definitely sing), but certainly didn’t add anything. They closed with a hard-as-nails rendition of Die by the Blade. Just too good to believe.
It had been such a wonderful day, so many lovely people plied me with beer, hugs, and the heavy metal conversation that I am so starved of at home. Despite the events of the previous 48 hours, I couldn’t help not giving a sh*t, and walked around in a happy, smiley daze. In my dreamy state, Manilla Road were just the perfect band to sustain the high. I know a lot of people were moaning about how long they would be playing for – at almost two hours. Well, to be honest, it felt like about five minutes!
They played two sets – the first with Randy ‘Thrasher’ Foxe on drums, and the second with Neudi. It seemed as if the first set was handpicked for my mood, right from the beginning. The familiar lines – ‘Magik can save the soul/ and set the spirit free/ It’s not just fantasy’, suddenly seemed so poignant and full with meaning. I’ve often said that my ‘happy place’ is somewhere in the front row of a Manilla Road gig watching The Ninth Wave. Well – here we had, back-to-back – Mystification, Dragon Star and The Ninth Wave. I pretty much had an out of body experience.
The Neudi set was quite Crystal Logic heavy (no complaints here!), though they did trot out a couple of serious oldies as promised – The Empire and Queen of the Black Coast. Finished with Open the Gates and Masque of the Red Death. I think I looked like the heart-eyes emoji by the end. Utterly satisfied (even if Witches Brew was missed – we can’t have everything).
29/04/17: Day 2
- Eternal Champion
- Devil in Disguise
- Traitors Gate
- Night Demon
- Atlantean Kodex
- Fifth Angel
- Cirith Ungol
Saturday morning: hell on earth. I could no longer discern if the clanging was from the church bells or in my head. I plodded through a shower, and attempted breakfast, not sure which end of my gastrointestinal tract would protest first. This was not good, with Eternal Champion due to start at midday, I was still not confident I could string a whole sentence together.
Regardless, like a little trooper, I made it, and rather delicately took my position somewhere near the front. Eternal Champion had commanded a pretty respectable audience considering the hour. I have never been able to honestly tell how seriously these young Texans take themselves, and when frontman Jason Tarpey began brandishing a sword as they opened with Retaliator, I was less sure than ever. They played a neat little set, and finished with their strongest song – I am the Hammer. By the end, I was feeling so ropey, that not even the sight of a shirtless, sweat-slickened Tarpey was doing the job.
It was at this point that I was introduced to something wonderful – Germany’s best kept secret: Vomex-A. I hadn’t even heard of it, or its active ingredient, but wow! Despite the proprietary name that sounds like it ought to be weaponised, one of these little guys washed down with a glug of KIT Brew saved my weekend. Totally brought some home with me.
Just as well that I was feeling refreshed again, because Visigoth were incredible – the biggest surprise of the weekend. Great energy, and what an amazing voice. It was quite sweet to watch the camaraderie and mutual respect between the two young American bands, with Tarpey coming out again to help close their set with The Revenant King. Definitely a band to keep an eye on.
There are a lot of sad stories in metal, but the story of Sam Easley strikes me as particularly tragic. That he didn’t live to see the beautiful reissue of the Glacier EP, nor to take his rightful place on stage that afternoon, is simply heart-breaking. It was, I thought, rather tasteful that they chose to play under the moniker Devil in Disguise, as a tribute to Glacier, although singer Mike Podrybau did feature prominently on the original EP (gosh it’s so hard to keep track of who sang what on that record!). He could barely speak between songs, but his singing voice held remarkably well. I wasn’t expecting them to play anything off the demo (the later one), so I was thrilled to bits when they played Eastern Guns. They also played an unreleased tune – Live for the Whip, which was a nice touch. Vendetta was so ace, and totally should have been their last song. For me, I reckon that was the closest I’m ever going to get to seeing Glacier, and I am thrilled to have been a part of it.
Atlantean Kodex: can this band ever disappoint me? In a word – no.
They opened with Enthroned in Clouds and Fire, and, in departure from convention, began to play The Atlantean Kodex. However, they stopped midway, and I wondered if they were really intending on skipping the best bit. They picked a great set, not compromising on the song selections, despite a relatively short playing time, for a band with some fairly long songs! The creepy bit towards the end of Heresiarch – ‘oh brilliant one, who wanders the black abyss….’ – much like every other time I’ve seen them, simply punched me in the guts. So brutally beautiful. And after a rendition of Twelve Stars and an Azure Gown that brought a tear to many an eye, they returned to The Atlantean Kodex and finished with aplomb. I did grab a copy of their Annihilation of Bavaria gig from a couple of years ago, and, as I haven’t peeked yet, can only hope that my drunken shenanigans have not been recorded for posterity.
So, after AK, I was window-shopping in the market tent when I was approached by a quiet, pleasant sort of gentleman, who introduced himself to me and I became rather excited. This was because I suddenly found myself exchanging pleasantries with the lovely Göran from Quicksand Dream (have I told you I love them? Buy their record NOW!). I think this is the only reason I can allow myself for missing the first magical moments of Ashbury. Sincerest apologies to anyone I might have accidentally shoved, but when I heard The Warning start up, I knew I had to be in the building.
If there ever was a band whose essence I could bottle up and save for my children and grandchildren, it would be these KIT veterans. What the Davis brothers created that evening was nothing short of pure magic, and I am sure I was not alone in feeling the hot tears start to well up as they took us on a journey back in time, pristinely executing every beautiful gem off their 1983 classic Endless Skies.
They also previewed some of their new material which was actually very decent, and fit in quite nicely with the vibe of the set, then came back for a heavy finish with Vengeance. For me this was the most emotional set of the weekend, and I am not sure that I will ever see such heartfelt, musical, spiritual perfection on stage again.
Fifth Angel came on like a hurricane, and stormed straight into The Night and In The Fallout, with the very worthy Peter Orullian taking up vocal duties – totally nailed that high note every time on Shout it Out. And I almost dropped my drink when they played my favourite song: Seven Hours – amazing.
Somewhere in the middle of Fifth Angel, I started feeling uneasy again. The front few rows had become a battle-zone. Despite the chill in the air outside, inside was stifling, KIT-brew victims were lurching in and out of the crowd like zombies, and horrifyingly, someone had even been sick indoors. I suddenly felt way too warm to stay inside and had to get out.
Once I had gulped down some cool air, I found myself a clean patch of grass, right outside the back door, and there, under the starry night, amidst the detritus and beer casualties, I sat with a perfect view of the rest of their show. All on my own, singing along to Midnight Love, Wings of Destiny and Cry Out the Fools – I felt just like a kid again, and somehow, the experience was even more special for it. I hopped back in just as they finished with UFO’s Lights Out. Every bit as good as I had hoped.
And then, chuff me. Cirith Ungol.
The standard KIT ruined archway stage prop suddenly seemed as if it had always been made for them, particularly with the addition of actual praying skeletons flanking each side of the stage. Then, in a shroud of smoke and mist, the legends of heavy metal came before their first European audience.
From the very first note that he sang, there was a mutual consensus around the room in the nodding of heads and raising of eyebrows – Tim Baker sounded incredible. That unearthly voice was every bit as eerie to listen to live as it is on the records, and his almost calm stage presence was, I thought, suitably unsettling.
Everything was just perfect. Rob Garven was a beast on the drums. And how lucky were we that the amazing Greg Lindstrom was also present, accompanying the great Jim Barraza on guitar, and Night Demon’s Jarvis Leatherby (who is perhaps singlehandedly responsible for bringing the band back to the stage) on bass.
I cannot quite describe the bizarre mix of emotions I felt – from the flushed excitement of Atom Smasher, to the cold chill of Chaos Rising. And the rush of blood to the head with their encore that could knock a man dead: Master of the Pit – King of the Dead – Cirith Ungol. What an unbelievable performance – I still can’t quite take in that it actually happened.
Thanks to the hard work and dedication of Oliver Weinsheimer and co., every year we make our pilgrimage to the Tauber Valley – the coming together of a beautiful, close-knit family, linking arms and celebrating what we hold most dear: music. I wish I could go back to that lonely, cranky kid, pale from the blue glare of the computer screen, and tell her that it gets so much better – dreams really do come true.
And for me, a week later, another dream came true. After battling a nasty cold, a gruesome set of night shifts, and severe post-KIT depression, I found out that in the second round of offers, it had happened for me: I got a number.
So I haven’t got a ticket for KIT XXI, I don’t even know where I’ll be living in April. But one thing I am absolutely confident of is that I’ll be there – I will find my way back home again.