see all the photos from this event here
Wave Gotik Treffen
Friday May 13 - Monday May 16 2005
~ review and photos by Uncle Nemesis
Part four: Montag
Monday looks like a Parkbühne day to me. A swift glance at the WGT schedule reveals that the principal shows happening elsewhere around Leipzig today encompass folk-metal bagpipe bands, bangin' EBM, an acoustic gig by Anne Clark, mystical-schmystical neo-folk, and something called a 'Lacrimosa Spezial'. Humph. In my book, there is absolutely nothing spezial about Lacrimosa. So, the Parkbühne it is, then.
Ah, this is more like it. The sun is out, the crowd is relaxed and good-humoured, the schwarzbier goes down a treat, and the band on the stage is On The Floor. They're essentially a metal band in black, one of the many almost-but-not-quite crossover bands that seem to exist these days on the fringes of both the goth and metal scenes, without quite being part of either. They're OK in a workmanlike way, rumbling through a selection of rocky songs that never really get as far as grabbing my attention, but which work fine as background music for beer-drinking. The end on a cover of the Sisters' 'Floorshow', which actually sounds pretty good. The song, always rather weedy and under-produced in its original form, lends itself well to a full-band rock treatment. But you know how it is: when your best song is someone else's song, what does that say about the band?
Nebelhexe appears to be one of several musical enterprises put together by Norwegian vocalist, occultist, and all-round maid o' mysticism, Andrea Haugen. What little I know about her comes from the biography on her website, where I learn with amusement that 'many of her letters to the media have been printed in the biggest Norwegian tabloid papers and magazines'. As claims to fame go, that's quite endearingly bizarre. (I had a letter printed in the Gloucestershire Echo once. How about that, eh?) Nebelhexe turns out to be a folk-rock project in which the folk, fortunately, is kept distinctly subordinate to the rock. And, even more fortunately, the rock is assertive, pointed, and played with a certain alternative attitude, so the whole experience is much less hippyish than I was expecting. Against the odds, I find myself rather enjoying what Nebelhexe do. Andrea Haugen herself has a gritty, Patti Smith-esque vocal style, which lends the songs a certain abrasive charm, and her stage presence, when she's not waving her arms around in front of her face in some sort of mystical hand-jive, has a certain implacable here-I-stand-I-can-do-no-other coolness about it. One unexpected point to note is that Nebelhexe's keyboard player turns out to be the same person I saw on this very stage last year, playing keyboards for Diva Destruction. I recognised her mysterious, secret smile. She still knows where the bodies are buried, and she still isn't telling.
Now it's time for, in the words of Umbra Et Imago's frontman, 'the guys from Fields Of The Nephilim'. NFD are, of course, the latest in a long line of bands formed from assorted ex-sidemen of legendary underachiever Carl McCoy. Shall we count them? Last Rites, Saints Of Eden, Sensorium, and, of course, the daddy of 'em all, Rubicon - a band which, curiously, nobody ever mentions now. They've certainly been airbrushed out of NFD's history, although NFD are just as much ex-Rubicon as they are ex-Nephilim. Aside from the McCoy connection, of course, all these bands have one other thing in common: none of them ever gained any real success. It seems the only Nephilim-related band anyone's interested in is the one that's got Carl McCoy in it - and, after so many years of inaction, procrastination, and 'disputes' with assorted record labels, nobody's expecting old Mr Welding Goggles to get off his arse any time soon. (On a point of information, the official Nephilim website touts a new album for release in 'early 2005'. Well, check the calendar and draw your own conclusions!) All of which means that NFD have it all to play for. The back of the net is beckoning, and the goalie's gone home. They've really got to score.
And here's a surprise. For all the fuss about the band's ancestry, NFD don't actually sound like the Nephilim. Oh, they've got that essential big rock bulldozer sound, sure enough, and the vocals sound like Bob's been sprinkling gravel on his cornflakes. But the overall style is far more contemporary than I was expecting. There are even splinters and squiggles of electronics in the mix, which gives the entire racket a lift, and punts the NFD noise unceremoniously into the twenty-first century. But the principal factor about NFD's music is that it's a massive, horseshoe-in-the-boxing-glove wallop of sound. It's always controlled, always on target, but there's no denying the sheer power of the band. The set is all the band's own material. No old faves from the flour power days. A few diehard Neph-heads down the front seem a little disappointed by this, but I think the band have made the right decision to junk the oldies. Let McCoy keep 'em; after all, what else has the poor old bugger got these days? Bob hollers and roars, toting the mic stand like a dreadlocked Rod Stewart, and has a guitar strapped on him by a scurrying roadie (you know you're a rock star when someone else straps on your guitar for you) in order to slash out yet more bastard-strength chords. At these points, the solid block of noise kicked out by NFD's three-pronged guitar assault (as Kerrang! might have it) becomes positively scary. I must admit that I wasn't expecting this: I'd assumed that NFD would simply recycle the Neph thing. The N-word crops up so frequently in the band's publicity, and seems to be such a major part of the band's identity, that it never occurred to me that they'd have any real style of their own. But NFD turn out to be a much more spiky and contemporary proposition than that. Good work, fellas.
Contrast time again. There follows an excursion into the realms of medievalism - well, up to a point. Qntal use a mish-mash of modern rock and medieval folk instruments to create a sound that veers between delicate, borne-on-the-breeze folkie ballads to robust rhythmic workouts. Naturally, it's the robust rhythmic workouts that hit the spot with me. The milder stuff tends to get dangerously close to the hippy-dippy noodling zone for my taste, and the female vocals - which I'm sure are often described by more sympathetic reviewers as 'pure' and 'soaring' - sometimes sound a bit too much like a junior choirboy taking his first solo in front of a benignly smiling Bishop. Qntal, in short, are not the sort of band to get a dodgy old punk like me applauding heartily. Except, at the very end of the set, they do - because, all of a sudden, the drummer piles into his kit like an octopus on overdrive, and the band hammers to the finish on a big, bad, drums-with-everything number that sounds far more forceful and exciting than most of the previous material. Well, that was good. We'll have more of that stuff next time, if you please.
Skeletal Family are in an odd position these days. Still best known for their 80s incarnation, they're now making a definite move forward. This, of course, is a good thing - sure, the band could've played the retro-nostalgia circuit for a while yet, but let's face it, there's no long-term future in the past. But this does mean that anyone who expects Skeletal Family simply to play all their golden smasheroonies of yesteryear will be disappointed. The band have a new album out, new songs in the set, and they're obviously intent on making a mark in the here and now. The lads tread implacably into position, purposeful as ever. The music cranks up. And then a small tornado hits the stage in the form of vocalist Claire, who leaps and twirls and aims herself at the audience like a glam-punk missile. Skeletal Family have obviously decided to play it fast and furious today, and that's fine by me. The band slam into the songs, whacking out the riffs like cricketers intent on scoring a six with every swing of the bat. 'All My Best Friends' is a big, bad, riff-heavy grind, and - significantly, given Skeletal Family's obvious intention to move forward - gets an enthusiastic reaction from the crowd. That's a good sign. I had wondered how the new material would go down with an audience who, if they know Skeletal Family at all, must surely know them by and large as an 'old band'. But it seems the band's here-and-now reinvention of themselves is working. There aren't even any petulant cries for the old songs, although some of these do make an appearance in the set. 'She Cries Alone' is its usual freaked-out slice of drama, 'Black Ju Ju' a genuine 'Kapow!' moment, as Claire leaps up from the stage as if she's been in training to be a human explosion. The ingredients of the Skeletal Family brew are simple, but they're effective. Masses of energy, a big, scuzzed-up post-punky sound, and songs that hit the spot. That's all you need, really, isn't it?
And now, not for the first time, I find myself standing bemused amid a crowd of cheering fans. For much of this audience, Chamber are clearly Top Band, yet I've never heard of them before. They're one of those outfits which seems to be all about the frontman - in this case, a genial chap in a crisp black outfit, backed by a mostly female ensemble in which classical stringed instruments loom large. Genial Chap jokes and joshes with the audience, and the band launch into....well, how can I describe this? Chamber's principal musical idea is, essentially, to play neo-classical power ballads. Big, grandiose songs, sung in a rich, rolling baritone, with the strings swooping dramatically behind frantically strummed guitar. The band are well-drilled and note-perfect, although it's noticeable that with the exception of the tousle-headed guitarist over on stage left, who seems to be the official second in command and is thus allowed to step up to the front occasionally, all the musicians stay dutifully in the background and allow the singer to strike his commanding poses centre stage. Which, I may say, he does with great aplomb. It's all perfectly impressive in an objective manner - clearly, the band are well-rehearsed, unfailingly professional, and the singer knows his audience well and is keen to put on a show. His fruity, resonant voice, as warm as sunlight, wraps itself around the crowd like a comfortable blanket. But I'm not entirely convinced. I keep waiting for an unexpected sharp edge to reveal itself, something raw and ragged to crash in to the overall smoothness of the sound. Alas, it never quite happens. When at last the set comes to its grand finale, I can't help thinking that I've just witnessed a gothic version of Neil Diamond.
Now the evening is drawing in. It's getting close to last-band time. Not just the last band of the day, but the last band of this year's Wave Gotik Treffen. And a sussuration of anticipation rustles through the audience, for Frank The Baptist has a devoted and enthusiastic following of fans in Germany these days - a development which, I suspect, has taken Frank himself aback a bit. He wanders out on stage, an unassuming figure in his trademark titfer, glancing around with a bemused gaze. He looks endearingly like a character from a Mark Twain novel, wide eyed in the big city. There's no big intro. Nobody says 'Awright Leipzig! Y'all ready to rock?' Just a beat from the drummer and the band start up. And...it's great. The songs roll out into the dusk, atmospheric and immediate, drawing everyone in. The characteristic lilt and tumble of the music connects immediately, and all around the crowd people are suddenly wearing foolish grins and singing along. That's how Frank The Baptist's music works: it worms its way into the head, the heart, the feet, and very probably the spleen and pancreas, too, and here, in this island of light and sound amid the trees, the essential magic is definitely present and correct.
It's all in the songs. There is no grandstanding show - the musicians simply stay on their marks and play. And that's all that needs to happen. That might make for a dull gig in the hands of lesser artists, but when you've got good songs all you need to do is step up and play 'em - as we saw on Friday, when Escape With Romeo pulled off the same trick with similar effortless, magisterial cool. Frank himself adopts a feet-apart, I-shall-not-be-moved stance at the microphone. The closest he gets to a crowd-pleasing freak-out is when he occasionally leans back and throws a sidelong glance at his fretboard. His hat casts a shadow over his eyes, making him look like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, as the music roils around him and the choruses spiral up and up. 'Signing Off' - which Frank introduces with a cautionary tale about being clapped in the clink for a night - lets go a glorious release of tension as the nimble rhythm of the intro gives way to the big rush of the band stomping on the gas pedal. Frank's trademark 'Woah woah!' interjections fire out into the night like sudden vocal fireworks. 'Queen Frostine' is a romp, the guitars effortlessly batting the riff to and fro as the crowd becomes one delightedly swaying mass.
Well, almost. I notice, amid the enthusiastically bopping Frank-fans, one or two diehard deathrockers wearing unimpressed expressions, and maybe this illustrates a point worth mentioning. Curiously, given that Frank The Baptist is an alt-rock artist of consummate quality, up to now he's been marketed almost exclusively to the deathrock scene. Because of this, I suspect a few members of the deathrock contingent were expecting the band to deliver a typical mohawks 'n' mayhem spooky-punky experience tonight - which, of course, is not at all the area Frank inhabits. This is not, perhaps, the time to ponder the wisdom of putting all Frank The Baptist's career-eggs into the deathrock basket. But I do hope Frank understands his wide appeal and great potential, and doesn't allow himself to be shunted into a corner, while the big prize goes unclaimed elsewhere. At this stage, I suspect he's so knocked out with the level of success he's achieved already that any notions of conquering new (and perhaps more appropriate) territories just don't compute. But sooner or later, someone's going to have to give this one some thought. Because this stuff is just too good to be fenced off from the world at large.
'Silver Is The Colour!' shouts a voice in the crowd. 'That's Silver Is Her Colour, actually,' corrects Frank, all of a sudden scoolmasterish. But, yes, the band do play it, and this, perhaps, is the highlight of a set positively stuffed with good things. The guitar slashes out that riff, the vocal soars into to the trees - I glance up, and there, in the blue-black sky, the moon hangs hazy and silver above the stage as if someone's just ushered in the night's special guest. It's a strangely poignant coincidence (because I doubt whether the band knew the moon would rise just as they played its theme song) but it serves to underline the atmosphere of almost otherworldly celebration that Frank The Baptist somehow conjure up tonight.
Then, that's it. The band say their final goodbyes; the lights go down. In the park outside the venue, the crowd hangs around, reluctant to let the evening go. The beer stalls are still serving and the wurst is still sizzling into the night. But it's time for us to sizzle into the night, too. That was the 14th Wave Gotik Treffen - and, as ever, it feels like the aftermath of a rich and sumptuous banquet. We're stuffed and sated with all those courses, sweet and savoury and everything in between. Yet I'm sure everyone here would cheerfully eat it all again.
And indeed we will - next year.