Rock am Ring is over. The final (hungover) visitors have stumbled out of Nürburg with little left intact, the stages are well on their way to becoming fully deconstructed and the Nürburgring is very nearly back in its original state. Dates for the German bash’s 2019 edition may have already been pencilled in (7 through 9 June, with first headliners Die Ärzte) by its eager Live Nation team, but first we look back one last time as we unveil our definitive Rock am Ring Top 20. These are the twenty performances which stood out head and shoulders above the rest and left an impact on the All Things Loud team, all of whom covered a combined total of nearly 40 performances and spent the best part of the last two days arguing and deliberating about the end result.
Visual gimmicks, huh? Every now and then, a band comes along who take control of a visual aesthetic so well that the only forward for them is to make it far more grandiose than ever before. The Swedes in Avatar are one such band, taking their absolutely mental circus freakshow look to a royal level on new album Avatar Country. It’s an album full of grandeur, pomp and circumstance, all of which are underpinned by visceral riffs and pummelling rhythms. Live, it’s just as big. During their set on the Alternastage, guitarist Jonas Jarlsby played the character of the much maligned king, with the start of the show revolving solely around him as he found himself perched atop a platform. Frontman Johannes Eckerström subsequently served as the manic circus master, controlling his band and the crowd like a deranged puppeteer in ways which words cannot do justice. The crowd may have been too small (try playing at the same time as Rise Against), but the live show was far from it: big, momentous and hypnotic.
19 GRETA VAN FLEET
There’s something extremely special about Greta van Fleet, the band who opened Rock am Ring’s first day with a powerful set on the Seat Volcano Stage. The quartet have been described by many as the heir to rock music’s dying throne, like the kind of band who can do it all without much difficulty. Over the course of their thirty minute set, Josh Kiszka and co. lived up to this hype with a blistering mix of Led Zeppelin-esque melodies, slick guitar work and cavernous percussion. It’s no wonder that hit track Highway Tune has received the amount of praise it does, because live Greta van Fleet take it to the next level in a way which most of their forefathers would revel in. If Led Zeppelin had been around today, then Greta van Fleet would be out there on the road with them, slowly taking the reigns.
18 WALKING ON CARS
Irish pop rockers Walking on Cars took to the stage at exactly the right moment, following hot on the heels of some torrential rain which had ravaged Nürburg the entire night prior. Frontman Patrick Sheehy is a master at his craft, working the crowd in slick fashion as he switched between an acoustic guitar, drum pads and multiple trips up and down the Jared Leto Ego Trip Catwalk. The German crowds absolutely lapped it up, with each song kicking up the emotional intensity by a few notches as the set culminated on a powerful Speeding Car. There’s an as-yet-unannounced sophomore album on the way, and if the reaction to their Rock am Ring live show is anything to go by then it looks like it can only go onwards and upwards for the band.
No matter how you feel, there will always be a German metal band to accompany your mood. Caliban are the kind of group who enable people to rock the fuck out in many ways by means of their gritty guitar lines, crushing rhythms and frontman Andreas Dörner’s brutal vocals. Their set at Rock am Ring may not have pulled as big of a crowd as the band may have hoped – largely due to clashes with Foo Fighters and Bilderbuch – but they still made the most of it as they left the crowd reeling in their own self-destruction. Set highlight Paralyzed left no stone unturned and took no prisoners, two things which Caliban are more than capable of doing in ways only they know how.
16 THY ART IS MURDER
You may be surprised to find out that one of Australia’s biggest deathcore exports, Thy Art is Murder, have never appeared at Rock am Ring. CJ McMahon and co. have long been one of Down Under’s most brutal and visceral deathcore exports, performing in Germany a total of 90 times as they continue to capitalise on the success of new album Dear Desolation, the first to come from the Sydnesians since McMahon rejoined the band on vocal duties. Despite pulling a small crowd, Thy Art is Murder managed to cause enough carnage to last a lifetime thanks to the likes of grisly set opener Dear Desolation, set closer Reign of Darkness and an intriguing cover of Rammstein’s Du Hast. Deathcore may have seen better days, but if there’s anyone out there still flying the flag, then it’s Thy Art is Murder.
15 THE BLOODY BEETROOTS
What do you get when you cross classic hard rock, EDM and ecstasy? The Bloody Betroots, that’s what. The Italian dance rock group (spearheaded by Sir Bob Cornelius Rifo) have slowly but surely become a household name in their field since the release of Romborama in 2009. Their growth increased tenfold on the release of Jet collaboration My Name is Thunder, a track which stood out head and shoulders above the rest during the group’s set at Rock am Ring. Jet frontman Nic Cester may not have been there in person, but his spirit lived on through the track’s performance as Rifo and his band electrified the Crater Stage’s packed field.
14 STONE SOUR
If Thirty Seconds to Mars’ headline set on the neighbouring Volcano Stage didn’t float your boat, then Stone Sour‘s live spectacle on the Crater Stage served as the place to be. Just like Jared Leto, Stone Sour’s Corey Taylor is a born and bred frontman who takes no prisoners and lives it out to the fullest from the word go. New album Hydrograd is a career-defining mission statement, and it was that record’s pivotal track – Song #3 – which served as the strongest moment in the set. Fabuless brought the show to an end far earlier than many would have hoped for, which is testament to the incredibly high quality of the band’s production-heavy live show. Stone Sour are the kind of band who you need to see live.
13 BODY COUNT FT. ICE-T
“My name is Ice motherfucking T, bitches!” uttered Body Count ringleader Ice-T at the start of his band’s set on the Beck’s Crater Stage. Ice and his band need no introduction whatsoever, relying on more than just a brutal back catalogue to hammer home their powerful political opinions and visceral lyrical missives. A cover of Slayer’s Raining Blood kicked off proceedings, instantly setting the tone for the carnage which was about to follow. There ain’t no party like an Ice-T party, and the frontman made this known from the moment he set foot on that stage and looked out over the baying masses. It was on the double-whammy finale of Talk Shit, Get Shot and Cop Killer that the show reached its peak, with the German crowd absolutely laying in to one another in the midst of multiple mosh pits.
12 BURY TOMORROW
Bury Tomorrow are one of of the UK’s most promising metalcore outfits, with last year’s signing to Sony Music subsidiary Music for Nations marking the first step in an extremely bright future for Dani Wynter-Bates and co. Bury Tomorrow have long been a band who do incredibly well on German soil, proving this once more as they pulled a sizeable crowd to the Beck’s Crater Stage at the early hour of 2pm. Being first on can prove a daunting challenge for any band, even more so when the stage you’re taking to is on the hallowed Nürburgring asphalt. Luckily for the band, they managed to prove any and all doubters wrong, even treating the crowd to cuts from upcoming new album Black Flame, including brand new single Knife of Gold. The future is bright for Bury Tomorrow, and the crowds wil undoubtedly double and triple in size as time passes.
11 THIRTY SECONDS TO MARS
Friday headliners Thirty Seconds to Mars are the kind of band whose popularity in Germany knows no bounds, so the decision to book them as a bill topper came as a surprise to absolutely no one. Jared Leto is the ideal showman, although you’ll only truly appreciate this if you get over the fact that Thirty Seconds to Mars have never been more of a Jared Leto project than they are today. He commandeers the stage like he was born on one, with his brother Shannon perched on the drums in front of the band’s sole item of production: a LED screen. Together with balloons, confetti and a barrage of fireworks, this screen served as the only real visual accompaniment to the band’s live show. Then again, who needs production when you have Jared Leto? Set opener Up in the Air set the tone instantly, despite the band taking to the stage twenty minutes late and cutting the set down by two songs. It was on fan favourite The Kill that the show really hit its peak, before an impressive fireworks display following Closer to the Edge sent fans away with an enormous feeling of satisfaction.
10 NOTHING MORE
Nothing More frontman Jonny Hawkins is the kind of man who wouldn’t wear a shirt even if you tried to force it over his head. He’s also the kind of man whose onstage energy knows absolutely no bounds from start to finish. During his band’s set on the Crater Stage (which was in support of last year’s The Stories We Tell Ourselves), Hawkins bounded about the stage with a sense of relentlessly youthful optimism and pizazz, combining them with brutal vocals and pummelling percussion courtesy of his very own mini drum set-up, one which looks like something out of a Star Wars scrap heap. The set saw highlights in the stadium-ready Go to War and buzzing Don’t Stop, both of which are lifted from an album which saw the band reel in a GRAMMY nomination. By the end of the show, it became pretty clear that Nothing More would turn out to become the biggest surprise of the day.
Babymetal: as a metal fan, you either love them or you hate them. Their sickly sweet blend of J-Pop and heavy metal is something which marked a turning point for both genres when the band initially emerged, even if it did leave a sour taste in The live show is centred on a so-called metal resistance, featuring dystopian warrior dances (choreographed to the millimeter, as you do) and mysterious outfits which looked like something out of a lost Doctor Who episode. New single Distortion is the first track to be taken from their upcoming new album, although it quickly became evident that the majority of the set would not place much focus on it, save for fellow newbies Tattoo and Road to Resistance. It was fan favourite Gimme Chocolate!! which garnered the biggest reception, with fans left right and centre (plenty of whom were in costume) going wild. If Distortion is a solid indicator of Babymetal’s conceptual sophomore album, then fans will most definitely be in for a treat.
8 AVENGED SEVENFOLD
Long gone are the days where hard rock and heavy metal bands didn’t take their live shows seriously. Since the late 1980s, the heavier artists within rock music’s overarching world have become frontrunners in putting on live shows which pull out all the stops from a production perspective. First we had endless pyrotechnics, and then we had stages of increasingly different shapes and sizes. Now, we have the luxury of the video screen. Avenged Sevenfold are a band who have made wonderful use of all the aforementioned in previous years, with the stage show surrounding new album The Stage their most ambitious yet. Their 12-song headline set on the Beck’s Crater Stage drew from across the group’s bombastic back catalogue, with theatrical frontman M Shadows leading the pack from the word go. Set opener The Stage, modern rock anthem Hail to the King and the grim Nightmare served as the set’s three most exciting moments, leaving the 30,000-strong crowd wholly satisfied at its close.
7 NOTHING BUT THIEVES
There’s something incredibly special about Nothing But Thieves. Southend-on-Sea’s hottest musical export since Busted took on the Volcano Stage in the simmering Sunday afternoon heat in front of one of their biggest German crowds to date. Last year, the band well and truly became one of alternative rock’s most exciting success stories, much down to their infectious tunes and frontman Conor Mason’s incredibly impressive vocal range. New album Broken Machine, which came out last year, featured heavily during the quintet’s forty minute set, alongside a spellbinding cover of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song. Radio hit Sorry, the riff-heavy Ban All the Music and powerful Amsterdam all stood out, with Mason commanding the crowd with effortless ease. This November, the band will return to Europe for their biggest headline tour to date, which is once again testament to the hard work and determination they’ve put into their careers thus far. World domination, anyone?
6 DON BROCO
Essex’s Don Broco marked their second consecutive appearance at Rock am Ring by taking the Alternastage by storm with cuts from new album Technology. It’s a record which has elevated Rob Damiani and co. to the highest heights of Britain’s alternative music climate, something you’ll find difficult to disagree with once you see them live. Frontman Damiani instantly sent the crowd into a sweltering frenzy, opening on the pulsating Everybody and destructive Pretty. The quartet (a quintet live thanks to the addition of Adam Marc) gave Nüburg everything they had, and it paid off. Don Broco are the kind of band whose capabilities and potential reach far beyond the intimate surroundings of the Alternastage, and anyone who didn’t make it down to their set most certainly missed out. They’ve already encountered the sweet taste of success back home in the UK, but on the mainland they’re still working their way up to a comparable level. Don Broco have, in that sense, still got a long way to go, but they’re prepared to take them with you every step of the way.
2017 was a disappointing year for Gorillaz, despite the fact that they’d released their first full studio album in seven years. Humanz served as the follow-up to 2010’s The Fall, however its over-emphasis on guest stars, sparse beats and minimal emotive impact ensured that the album largely left a sour taste in many a fan’s mouth. It may have spawned a sold-out European tour and plenty of streaming hits (among them album highlight Andromeda), but many saw the record as a step backwards instead of their usual quantum leap forward. Enter The Now Now, the brand new follow-up to Humanz, which is due later this month. It’s an album largely devoid of special guests and Humanz’ hip-hop sheen, both of which have made way for ringleader Damon Albarn and his knack for simple, groovy songwriting. During the group’s greatest hits set at Rock am Ring, Albarn allowed for seven The Now Now songs to receive only their second ever live outings, with a mere three Humanz cuts rearing their ugly heads. The highlight of these seven new songs was the pensive Magic City, which already sounded like a Gorillaz classic in the making. The rest of the show, which is supported by an enormous live band and larger than life video screen, drew heavily from across the entire Gorillaz world, including set opener M1A1, the infectious Superfast Jellyfish (featuring De La Soul) and classic fan favourites Feel Good Inc., Kids With Guns and Clint Eastwood. Gorillaz were the final band to share their multi-faceted musical talents with Rock am Ring, serving as the perfect finale to what was an incredibly successful weekend.
4 FOO FIGHTERS
If there’s anything which Dave Grohl has proven time upon time again, then it’s that nothing can (or will) ever stand in his way. Three years ago, an unfortunate leg break saw him perform in his now-famous wheelchair, almost repeating the incident a few weeks ago in the US. This time round, Grohl is ill, and it’s noticeable. Recounting the story of how he “fucked up his throat” in front of 70,000 Rock am Ring visitors, Grohl explained that his young daughter passed on the bug when asking him for a kiss. It’s lead to Grohl sounding groggy and roughed up, two things you would never expect from the nicest man in music. Not that you’d have noticed, though, had Grohl not made the effort to mention it on multiple occasions. Nevertheless, Grohl and his band (Taylor Hawkins, Chris Shiflett, Pat Smear, Nate Mendel and new addition Rami Jaffee) powered on through a shortened greatest hits set, one which shed a light on some of the most iconic songs in rock music history. Set opener All My Life instantly sent the crowd into a limb-flailing frenzy, with Grohl running across the stage like a madman with a cause. Despite illness, he managed to work the crowd like magic, interspersing the music with short stories and some good old banter. The show hit its peak on the momentous Best of You, allowing the crowd to wail at the top of their lungs once again as the show neared its end on Everlong (via the newer Times Like These and a cover of the Faces’ Stay With Me). Even when not at his best, Dave Grohl is the ideal frontman and the kind of musician you can never get tired of seeing or hearing.
3 PARKWAY DRIVE
From Byron Bay to the world’s biggest stages: it can only be Parkway Drive. Winston McCall and co. have, over the years, made sonic switches so subtle and intricate that their explosion into mainstream consciousness couldn’t have come any sooner. It was on 2015’s Ire where things really started careering forward at rapid pace, with its accompanying tour ambitious enough for them to really put a stamp on the whole modern hard rock genre. There’s not one band out there who possess the ability to work up as much of a frenzy as Parkway Drive do, and on new album Reverence this has only become more and more evident. The live show which accompanies Reverence is an absolute force to be reckoned, featuring more pyrotechnics than Guy Fawkes could ever dream of owning, as well as drummer Ben Gordon strapped to a revolving circular platform. Throw some absolute bangers into the mix, and you have the perfect live show. Set opener Wishing Wells was enough to send the packed Crater Stage field on fire, setting the tone for the following hour. It was an hour which relied heavily on Reverence’s highlights (Prey, The Void, Absolute Power) just as much as it harked back to the band’s early days (Carrion, to name but one). Reverence is not even a month old, but it’s already proven to be the start of Parkway Drive’s most ambitious era yet. Rock am Ring was an absolutely memorable testament to their ongoing hard work and perseverance, and it looks like the glass ceiling has well and truly smashed into the tiniest of shards.
When you think of bands who possess the ability to turn a field of thousands into an absolute warzone of euphoria, then Muse tend to show up pretty high (if not at the top) every time. And that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise either, because Matt Bellamy and co. have long been hailed absolute festival kings with an impressive and sprawling back catalogue to boot. The Teignmouth trio are currently in between album campaigns as they gear up the follow-up to 2015’s Drones, an album which showed the world that their visual capabilities know absolutely no bounds. Just try the trailer for their upcoming Drones World Tour film for size. Even when the band have to stick to the restrictions of a festival stage, they manage to pull out all of the stops and treat crowds to a show which often serves as the pinnacle of live performance. Set opener Thought Contagion is classic, riff-heavy Muse, making way for a blistering Psycho and older cut Hysteria. This opening trio of songs was enough to send Nürburg into a frenzy, with the crowd well and truly in the palm of Matt Bellamy’s hands as he and his band powered through an hour and a half of non-stop hits. Muse’s Rock am Ring set had it all, from poppier fan favourites (Undisclosed Desires, Dig Down, Madness) and heavier surprises (Stockholm Syndrome, Take a Bow, The 2nd Law: Unsustainable) through to the biggest hits (Uprising, Time is Running Out, Knights of Cydonia). Regardless of what Muse pull out of the bag on their upcoming new record, you can bet your bottom dollar that it’ll be contain at least three enormous festival hits and come with a live show which will undoubtedly blow your mind. Because that’s what Muse do best: blow minds.
1 ENTER SHIKARI
For those unaware: Enter Shikari are the kind of band who thrive on taking risks and diving headfirst into the deepest, darkest depths of the unknown. Does it pay off? In short, yes. At least 99% of the time, that is. Their set on Rock am Ring’s Crater Stage marked the St Albans quarter’s first festival set of 2018, something which was imminently noticeable in frontman Rou Reynolds’ expression of highly strung nerves. Despite this, though, it proved to be not just the best performance of the opening day, but also the best performance of the entire weekend. You see, live music is never meant to be note for note perfect. It never runs without a hitch, and it’s most certainly never without the absence of nerves. That’s because live music is supposed to be real, and it’s supposed to show the world who the real people are behind the music, music which might just help someone feel a little bit more at ease with the world around them. Nürburg’s packed crowds most definitely lapped up Enter Shikari’s visceral tunes from the moment set opener The Sights kicked into gear, its ‘woke pop’ constructions sending Rock am Ring into a synth-laden frenzy long before the first old school ‘hit’ even contemplated rearing its head. Over the course of an hour, Enter Shikari managed to keep the crowd second guessing continuously, with Reynolds bounding about the stage like an ecstatic child who consumed too much sugar. He’s so incredibly good at working a crowd, engaging with absolutely everybody who so much as falls into his line of sight. Set highlight Destabilise made a long-awaited return to the band’s set, featuring alongside new cuts Rabble Rouser and Live Outside, as well as a medley of older hits. This medley came in the shape of a so-called Quickfire Round, in which the band played four songs in eight minutes: Sorry, You’re Not a Winner, Sssnakepit, …Meltdown and The Jester. Energy levels never stagnated for the course of these eight minutes, much less for the rest of the hour. There’s a reason why bands like Enter Shikari will remain iconic and constantly return to the biggest stages, and their set at Rock am Ring was a great example of this.
Rock am Ring will return from 7 to 9 June 2019. Below you can listen to a playlist featuring music from all of the above acts.