Review: Nova Rock 2016 – Part One

4 days, 180.000 fans, over 100 bands.

This year’s Nova Rock festival at Pannonia Fields II in Nickelsdorf, Austria broke the attendance record of the previous years. Luckily, the weather wasn’t as bad as the forecast predicted, with only a few showers interrupting but in no way spoiling the fun. A nice change from the usual Nova Rock heat and/or crazy thunderstorms.

Day 1

Starting a day early, Thursday is the official warm-up day of the festival. Although it’s Blue Stage only on this first day, the fans are in no way lacking enthusiasm. Local to the county of Burgenland, Austrian ‘rockcore’ band A Caustic Fate (★★★) opens the stage as first band of Nova Rock, entertaining a small but steadily growing crowd.

American Christian rock band Skillet (★★★★) are next, and although a bit of rain sets in, the band led by singer and bassist John Cooper has no trouble cheering on the crowd. In fact, the entire band, especially guitarist Korey, own the stage – jumping, prancing, and encouraging sing-a-longs. It’s not always easy being one of the first bands on the first day of a huge festival but Skillet definitely passed the test with flying colors.

The next band has long been anticipated. Breaking Benjamin (★★★) are in Europe for the very first time. Frontman Benjamin Burnley is so afraid of flying, he traveled by ship for 9 days. The fans thank him and his band, although the highlight of their set relies on a cover medley of Star Wars’ The Imperial March, Metallica’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, and Walk by Pantera, it’s not really necessary, but good for the more casual listener.

Maynard James Keenan, known for his work with the bands Tool and A Perfect Circle, introduces his project Puscifer (★★★★). Alongside vocalist and guitarist Carina Round, their odd performance featuring a wrestling-ring and wrestlers that could easily distract from the captivating sound, it doesn’t. As confused as the audience is in the first few minutes of their set, Puscifer convince, and deliver an early highlight.

Next up, the Vikings, Amon Amarth (★★★★) featuring dragons on stage. Making it to #1 of the Austrian Album charts, it’s no surprise the crowd welcomes them echoing the roar of singer Johan Hegg. The long hairs are flying, the fists are raised. This is what Nova Rock dreams are made of. With fan-favorites such as The Pursuit of Vikings, First Kill, Destroyer of the Universe and Guardians of Asgaard, Amon Amarth set just the right mood as the sun sets behind the clouds over Pannonia Fields.

Festival veterans Billy Talent (★★★★) deliver the finest punk rock as always. The crowd is jumping, sing-screaming along, even to the new songs from their upcoming album Afraid of Heights. Thanks to their pretty much constant touring, with regular visits to Austria, their fanbase is big, and loyal – and you can tell. It’s always nice to witness the fun, whether it’s due to alcohol, the music, or a combination of the two. Everyone is having a good time, and Billy Talent are providing the soundtrack to the party.

As the warm-up day at the Blue Stage comes to an end, Korn (★★★★★) warms up a shivering and slightly wet crowd. The Californian nu-metal pioneers are confident on stage, unsurprisingly, delivering songs from their impressive repertoire; Blind and Twist are the ultimate highlight of the set, but the industrial sound of Here To Stay is still well-received. Technical problems put a bit of a dampener on the otherwise solid set but the band puts on a brave face, the fans ignore it, and Korn continue to serve magic until the clock strikes 1am.

Day 2

The Red Stage is open! As always, day two is off to a slow start so when Tesseract (★★★) play at 2.50pm, over half of the people in front of the stage seem to still be asleep. The band from Milton Keynes, England doesn’t mind though and plays a strong set.

Over on the Blue Stage, it’s time to dance. Vintage Trouble (★★★★★) turn out to be one of the highlights of the festival. Vocalist Ty Taylor, alongside his band, are so charming and animated that they wrap the audience around their fingers. Ty wins over the audience with his undeniable stage presence but also with his incredibly strong voice which the band accompanies perfectly with a mix of blues, soul, rock’n’roll and R&B – no one in attendance is standing still.

Atreyu (★★★★) have no trouble motivating the festival crowd either. The Orange County quintet are a delight to watch on stage. Despite kicking off their set with Doomsday, it’s definitely not a doomsday for neither band nor the crowd. Singer Alex Varkatzas climbs and walks into the crowd on several occasions and sings with them, while the band continue to hype up the fans from the stage. It’s a set that leaves you with a smile, even if you’re not familiar with the songs.

The fun, positive atmosphere continues with Skindred (★★★★) from South Wales. Their energetic live performances are legendary, and their set at Nova Rock proves why. Benji Webbe’s dreads are flying as he belts his lyrics into the mic, and the crowd sing along. After almost every song there’s a banter that raises everyone’s spirits even more.

Editors (★★★★), seem slightly out of place with their more indie, post-punk sound, fail to attract a huge crowd but their set is a nice change to the heavy guitars and screaming. Nothing wrong with a bit of chilling out and swaying to the spheric sounds and Tom Smith’s deep voice. There are classics like Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors, Munich, and Papillon, all of which has the crowd singing, clapping, and dancing.

90s-alternative legends Garbage (★★★★) continue on the Blue Stage, playing pretty much all their cult classics. Special, I Think I’m Paranoid, Push It and Only Happy When It Rains make it feel even more like a flashback friday. That, and Shirley Manson’s ageless appearance and performance. Not only did their new album Strange Little Birds celebrate its release on this Nova Rock Friday, the new songs fit right in with the rest of the set.

Trivium (★★★★★) are always a welcome sight at any festival. They always deliver, they always provide a good time, to fans and casual listener alike. Matthew Heafy smiles and sticks out his tongue, between roaring into the microphone and demanding the audience to ‘Open up the fucking pits!‘ an order which the crowd, of course, complies with enthusiasm. Definitely the highlight of the Red Stage.

As always, festival regulars The Offspring (★★★★) draw a huge crowd. It’s just good old simple punkrock fun. Although Dexter Holland & Co. didn’t deliver any new material, there’s no actual need for it when literally everyone knows the lyrics to all the songs and just enjoys drunkenly yelling them into the night.

Bullet For My Valentine (★★★) also scores with the classics but the newer songs lack a little something. Frontman Matthew Tuck pays homage to Lemmy by wearing a Motörhead shirt, and also to his drummer Michael Thomas, who plays several drum solos – only stopping once he’s happy with the crowd’s response. Overall a solid set, and the fans are happy.

Disturbed (★★★★) finish Day 2 on the Red Stage while Austrian bands Wanda (★★★) and The EAV (★★★★) still entertain the Blue Stage. Disturbed, currently leading the Austrian Single Charts with their The Sound of Silence cover, undoubtedly know how to grip the audience. David Draiman walks around on stage intimidatingly, almost like in slow motion, his hands constantly raised with a fist, something that makes him seem like an authority figure announcing his dominance. Somehow though, he’s still charming, It’s the band’s first time on tour since their reunion, and it’s a celebration.

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