The Dutch festival season ‘officially’ kicked off on Saturday (31 May) with the Iron Maiden-headlined FortaRock Festival. Taking place in the Dutch city of Nijmegen, roughly 30,000 revellers descended on the Goffertpark for a day of pure heavy metal and hard rock. All Things Loud were present, taking in 13 of the day’s 18 bands. Read on to see what we thought of the 2014 edition of FortaRock.

The day kicked off at noon sharp, with a powerful 30-minute set from Amsterdam metalcore quintet The Charm The Fury. Performing songs from their recent debut album A Shade of My Former Self, frontwoman Caroline Westendorp ensured the relatively large crowd remained active by encouraging plenty of moshpits and taking breaks between songs to engage in conversation with the crowd. Their set was relatively short, yet that didn’t take away from the sheer power of Westendorp’s screams and the rest of the bands brilliant skill. Right after their set ended, the Vandenberg’s Moonkings took to the main stage, performing for a decent sized crowd of all ages. The band, fronted by Adje Vandenberg, sound and look like a like mix of Bon Jovi and Aerosmith with long hair, sprawling solo’s and howling vocals. Being first up on the main stage is always a hard task for any band, but Adje Vandenberg and his Moonkings certainly managed to pull it off. Over in the Tent a few minutes later were the Swedish sextet Ghost. Fronted by Papa Emeritus II, the band was easily one of the highlights of the day. With a frontman dressed as a satanic priest, and 5 instrumentalists dressed in monk dress with black masks, anonymity is a key driving force in what makes their live show so exhilarating. Opening song Year Zero saw the powerful riffs and crazy lighting take centre stage, before Emeritus asked the crowd to sing along during set closer Monstrance Clock. Introducing the song, Emeritus said “anyone who doesn’t know the lyrics to the next song, please f*ck off” before quickly saying “I’m only f*cking with you. To keep this all solemn and sh*t you’ve got to sing along”. Their music wasn’t overtly heavy, nor too soft. It was just right for this kind of festival, and the crowd reaction certainly proved that. By the time they hit the stage at Pinkpop Festival next week Monday, it’ll be a whole new type of crowd to entertain, and a challenge which Ghost will certainly make the most of.

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Following Ghost’s set, it was Trivium’s turn to take to the main stage. The Floridian group combine thrash, heavy metal and traditional metalcore to create catchy-yet-monstrous songs. Set highlight In Waves sparked several pits and various crowdsurfers, before the band swiftly left the stage. Over on the Monster Energy Stage, Skillet performed a 45-minute set which, although being musically impressive, still felt slightly out of place at this festival. Their mix of Christian rock and alternative rock (with some metal influence) feels better placed at the Warped Tour. However, aspects such as the female drummer/backing vocalist and the additional cellist and violinist made the set stylistically varied and interesting, compared to the metal riffs of other bands on the bill. Swedish rockers Sabaton followed on the main stage, opening with church-organ/pagan metal anthem Ghost Division. Their 50-minute long set featured plenty of crowd interaction between vocalist Joakim Broden and the gradually increasing crowd. You could say that Sabaton are a very “typical” Scandinavian metal band, singing about historical battles, ghosts and making music which encompasses church-elements and deep, booming vocals. Fulfilling all these stereotypes doesn’t take away from the fact that they know how to work a crowd, though. Frontman Broden almost leaped into the crowd at one point on request from various crowd members, before claiming “if I go in, I’ll never come back”.

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Following Sabaton’s storming set, it was Deafheaven’s turn on the Monster Energy Stage. Opening with 9-minute shoegaze/black metal epic Sunbather, the band just missed the mark with the crowd easily losing interest. On record, Deafheaven sound exhilarating and hypnotic, something which they didn’t manage to pull off live. Over in the Tent, French metallers Gojira also had trouble pulling off a great performance. A lot of their songs sounded similar and dragged on a bit too much. They were energetic, but something just didn’t seem right about their set. That’s a shame, because on record their songs sound full of promise. Alter Bridge took to the Main Stage afterwards, playing one of the strongest sets of the day. Frontman-extraordinaire Myles Kennedy knew exactly how to get the crowd going, building up the set slowly until the set climaxed with the anthemic Metalingus.  Blackbird, which featured an extract from the Beatles song of the same name, was another highlight towards the end of the set, before the band closed on AB III’s Isolation. After this, Swedish blues-rockers Graveyard took the Monster Energy Stage by storm with a sprawling and raw 50-minute set. The band combined pure rock and blues with raw vocals and powerful riffs to entertain a big crowd, which gradually increased as the Main Stage crowd slowly filtered out.

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Slayer took to the Main Stage after Graveyard’s set finished, playing to a massive crowd. Even though Slayer are considered one of the ‘Big Four’ metal bands, it becomes harder to distinguish between different songs after a while. Yes, the riffs are powerful, menacing and heavy, but everything starts sounding the same after a short while. Raining Blood was one of the set highlights, before a massive Heineken-based backdrop featuring former guitarist Jeff Hannemann’s name emblazoned upon it appeared out of nowhere, in tribute to his passing last year. Another of the ‘Big Four’, Anthrax, took to the Monster Energy Stage after Slayer, combining power-metal, punk rock and hip hop elements in a 55-minute set which got the crowd ready for headliners Iron Maiden. By putting Anthrax on the smallest stage, it made the show quite intimate yet also a bit odd considering the relative popularity of the band. By the time Anthrax were done, there was a 10-minute break so that everyone could get to the Main Stage for headliners Iron Maiden. With no one on at the same time, the crowd was packed to the rafters. The crowd had to deal with a 10-minute delay before the pre-show music faded out and the big screens started playing videos of the Arctic. The stage set-up itself was Arctic themed, with vocalist Bruce Dickinson regularly running atop the ‘glaciers’ surrounding the six-piece. Opening with Moonchild, the band rocketed through a “greatest hits” of 17 songs, encompassing classics such as The Number of the Beast, Run to the Hills and Fear of the Dark, before closing on the spectacular Sanctuary. Iron Maiden have been touring the world for almost 3 years now with this current tour, the Maiden England Tour. Dickinson informed the crowd that the tour was almost over, and that a lot of these songs will probably never be played again. Despite the amazing pyrotechnics, fireworks and overall set-up, the start of the set was marred with sound problems. Dickinson’s vocals were inaudible at some points (to which he expressed his own frustration), something which was a recurring issue for almost every set performed on the day. Iron Maiden’s live show is clearly not just about the music, with the visual side of things being just as important. Video interludes from TV shows such as The Prisoner and changing backgrounds on stage (all depicting band mascot Eddie in different situations) all made the show a spectacular experience. If you’re yet to see Iron Maiden live, make sure you do it soon. One day the band will be no more, and you don’t want to regret not seeing them.

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FortaRock 2014 was a clear success, which will make 2015’s edition hard to beat. Rumours are already circling that the likes of Foo Fighters or Metallica could headline, both of whom are perfect for this one-day event!

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