MUSKELROCK FESTIVAL
Tyrolen, Sweden / May 28-30, 2015
Words: TK Smith

Weather-wise it’s a gamble to host a festival this time of year in Sweden. It can be warm and pleasant with the occasional afternoon rain shower, or it can be soaking wet and bitterly cold. This year’s Muskelrock festival (2015) in Tyrolen was a mixed bag that leaned more on the cold, wet, and rainy side. The festival property sits lakeside, 7 kilometers south of Alvesta, a sleepy hamlet two hours north (driving) of Malmö. When it’s not home to Muskelrock, the site is a family-centered carnival with rides, games and food. Camping is available for the more adventurous festival attendees and the local train stop makes for easy transportation to Copenhagen’s international airport. Upon arriving, the sun was shining, the grass was green and the roaring sound of feedback awoke the neighboring cows. Two festival stages (one covered, one open air) kept the bands running on time while vendors from Germany, Sweden and the UK set up tents selling t-shirts, vinyl and local cuisine.

A land of Vikings and Thor worshippers titled the first day, appropriately, THORSDAG. Rise Above recording artist Saturn made the trip from Borås and Ulricehamn to kick off the festivities with a balanced showcase of volume, power, passion and imagination. Their brand of metal harkened back to the days of Budgie, UFO, Deep Purple and Rainbow - a sonic buffet with all the right fixins’. Both Deadheads (SWE) and Demon Head (DEN) kept the rain at bay with loud guitars and shaking rhythm. Deadheads lean a bit more toward Hellacopters territory while Demon Head keep the spirit of Thunder and Lightning-era Thin Lizzy alive and well. Surprise of the day was recently signed Travelin’ Jack (Charming Man Records) who’s high-energy show included spandex, glitter and old school twin guitar galloping. “Home Sweet Home” still echoes in our head weeks later. An afternoon slot was booked for a ‘secret’ performer that led to a wide range of speculation. All jaws dropped when the 72-year old Arthur Brown jumped on stage screaming, “I am the god of Hellfire.”

Headlining Thorsday was US metal titans The Rods. Armed with an arsenal of classic ‘80s metal, the three-piece tore into a set cherry picked to feature new tracks alongside time-proven fan favorites. “Let Them Eat Metal”, “Born To Rock”, “The Night Lives To Rock” and “Violation” set the pace while “Wild Dogs”, “Hurricane”, “Crank It Up” and “Powerlover” made a fitting tribute to their legacy. A highlight of the set was when two teenage female fans joined the band in a spirited “She’s So Tight”. The ‘after hours’ slot was filled by Berlin-based Heat who combined ‘70s hard rock with bits of prog and psych into an intoxicating stew. On a bitterly cold Sweden night they were the added warmth to send a rain-soaked crowd home content and eager for more. Heat posted on their Facebook page, “Back from Muskelrock! Thank you for the dirt, rain, cold, hangover, great people and bands.”

FRIDAY morning started the day early with the movie premiere of I Am Thor. The documentary followed Canadian Jon Mikl Thor through his 40-year career as the first heavy metal bodybuilder on the scene. The movie pumped the early risers for Thor’s headline billing later in the day. A cavalcade of young metal bands filled the early and mid afternoon with fisted chants. Female-led Tyranex launched an incredible assault with tight, melodic steel. Old school UK band Tyrant brought back the NWOBHM sound with originals dating back to 1981. Ice Age raged with classic thrash while Night brought a tasty modern edge to heavy rock. Interesting to find out The Doobie Brothers were one of their influences. During one of the many sporadic rain showers Enforcer, one of Sweden’s leading metal exports, destroyed the outdoor the stage with a frantic, high-voltage power surge filled with smoke, flash and a flurry of guitar soloing.

As the sun set, the mighty Thor ruled supreme! Powered by guitarist Steve Price and backed by Sweden’s Bullet, a well-aged Jon Mikl Thor stole the night with “Warriors of the Universe”, “Rock City” and “Thunder on the Tundra”. Mid-way through the set, Thor shouted from the stage, “Let me take you back to 1984 when Thor ruled the universe.” A burst of smoke and fire exploded from stage and out walked Iron Thor (from the German tribute band) flanked by two scantily clad vixens. Old and new Thor raised hammers to the heavens to the roar of the crowd. After their flexing match, Bullet, joined by their vocalist Hell Hofer, took over the stage for an abbreviated Storm of Blades set. “Dusk Til Dawn”, “Riding High” and “Bite The Bullet” echoed through the misty midnight air. Vidunder was on our top list to see live. In the wee hours of the morning they managed to rouse the faithful with their ‘70s-inspired psychedelic rock. Having added an organ player their sound has broadened and matured. Well worth the late night stamina.

SATURDAY was magic. Honeymoon Disease was on fire from the moment the festival was open for business. Dressed in yellow and denim (Sweden’s national colors) they blazed through 50-minutes of groovy rock’n’roll that was part Status Quo part Joan Jett. They also won the award for best facial hair of the festival. With no rest for the wicked, Finnish band Speedtrap brought a powerdose of heavy rock and long hair followed by Steelwings resurrected from 1989. “Stand Up and Shout Loud” never sounded better. Fans of guitarist Tom Sutton lined up early to catch his new project Night Viper. Recently signed to Svart Records, the five-piece played through their entire arsenal of expertly-crafted heavy metal. The day got better and better as Hypnos plugged in for an hour of heavy boogie metal. Enormous fans of the band, had us standing in the cold rain with a dedicated ‘horns up’ salute. Crusher label mates Spiders continued the love-fest with Ann-Sofie Hoyles every bit the front woman needed to save rock from a corporate takeover.

Arizona-based Ashbury were genuinely surprised by their popularity. They recorded their one and only album Endless Skies in 1983 and now, 30 years later, are one of the hottest tickets on the European rock festival circuit. Back in the ‘80s, their record label shelved the album, which combined elements of Dan Fogelberg, Jethro Tull and Wishbone Ash. The few remaining copies disappeared until the Internet found it and labeled it a classic! The music continues to hold up. The texture of their live set proved freshly radiant with elegant emotion. As evening set in, top bands battled for attention. Czech band Citron with a legacy of 40 years laid waste to the outdoor crowd while Horizont (filling in for Blues Pills) turned the indoor stage into a full-on arena show complete with UFO’s “Rock Bottom” as an encore. For those looking for an alternative musical experience the festival hosted the Nattentaltet featuring Norwegian proggers Vaerket and power trio Nightmare City. Canadian comeback kids Anvil closed the festival with a promising set that turned into an endurance test at the rain, wind and cold threatened to shut them down.

Website: Muskelrock Festival