Levski Stadium, Sofia, Bulgaria
Day 1: The Big Four Day (Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax)
It is a very sad emotion to have to start this live report of a great two-day station in the capital of Bulgaria, Sofia, with the fact that we missed Anthrax due to outer factors. It doesn’t really matter how and why, but the part where we were reaching near the stadium and listening to ”Indians” made us lose all joy we had about the opportunity to witness the Big Four of thrash metal all together, for the first time in history. To make matters worse, the song would break and a part of ”Heaven And Hell” by Black Sabbath was heard, as the ultimate tribute to Ronnie James Dio, whom Anthrax used to love very much, as all metalheads around the world. We finally managed to get inside with the help of a head security guy (wherever you are, thank you mate) and we were ready to see what was coming next).
Megadeth has always been a band that would raise controversy, as far as live appearance is concerned. It is widely known that Dave Mustaine isn’t the best singer in the world and he sometimes really spoils it on stage. But that evening we were lucky to see him in shape, just like the rest band. Lucky I said? Wrong! The weather decided to play games with us and just when the first riff of ”Holy Wars…The Punishment Due” started the massacre, the skies opened and for the next minutes all Bulgaria was in the middle of a tremendous tropical storm, including stonefall (we’re talking about real stones, just like the size of a ping-pong ball). Fans didn’t seem to lose morale and as long as ”Hangar 18” followed, the party had started for good. Chris Broderick proves why he’s worth standing next to Dave Mustaine and the crazy solos mangle our minds.
”Wake Up Dead” is the next one and though we understand that they ain’t gonna play the whole ”Rust In Peace” album, this legendary song keeps us headbanging, and to make matters better, comes ”Head Crusher” from the great new album ”Endgame”,where all fans start training their necks, just like Broderick does without playing when ”In My Darkest Hour” enters. He stands alongside Mustaine, banging his head and hitting his knee with his fist. Epic moment for sure, Megadeth are family again and this is much more important than seeing them live. The vocals are ok, the guitars are cutting wood and the rhythm section is amazing. Next comes ”Skin O’ My Teeth”, things seem to ease a bit and ”A Tout Le Monde” shows us that the setlist is going to consist from as much albums as they can present. But it’s time to move on to something faster after this short break.
To be honest, I never believed I would see Megadeth and they would play ”Hook In Mouth”. Thrash is alive in our hearts and around us all and no matter the sky’s outburst, we ain’t gonna give up until the end. ”Trust” is the next one and the first feeling when you listen to it is that despite it ain’t that fast, it’s a song that stood the test of time very easily, a necessary live classic. ”Sweating Bullets” marks the best Dave Mustaine of that evening. It’s a song that he always gets theatrical and can’t be missing from the band’s live set. From the same album ”Countdown To Extinction”, next was ”Symphony Of Destruction”, one of the three most recognizable Megadeth songs. It’s about ten times better in a live occasion and this was proved once again.
For the end, David Ellefson starts the legendary ”Peace Sells” and we know it’s going to be the perfect ending for the band. It’s so nice to see him back in the band, together with Shawn Drover they are the best rhythm section Megadeth has had for over ten years. Mustaine and Broderick weave giant riffs and as soon as the song ends, they play ”Holy Wars…The Punishment Due” from the beginning, instrumentally without many words. ”Next thing you know they’ll take my thoughts away” says Dave and the show is over. Megadeth showed heart, soul, and power and provided sweat and honesty to all fans. They left the stage happy from the response of the crowd. Warm up was done, time for more.
It was time for Slayer, the masters of extreme sound to be the next act. They started with the title track from the new album called ”World Painted Blood” which disappointed me a lot. At first, the sound isn’t that good, at least Tom Araya is in shape, the vocals are perfect and we can hear his screams clearly even in big distance. ”Jihad” is the second track and the sound is not improving at all, I can barely listen to Dave Lombardo torturing the drum kit, and as far as guitarists Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King are concerned, the strong air seems to take away their riffs and solos. At least ”War Ensemble” fixes things a bit and some movement starts getting through although Bulgarians aren’t the craziest fans you have ever seen.
”Hate Worldwide” was the first song from the new album that was available for fans to listen, so they couldn’t help but playing it live. Then came the best moment of Slayer that evening with the title track from ”Seasons In The Abyss”, an epic tune that is always welcome in concerts. The Slayer trademark ”Angel Of Death” was played in the middle of the set (another thing that spoilled the whole thing) and the crowd starts getting warmed, though it’s the first time I don’t have the urge to be in action in a Slayer gig. Something’s missing for sure, and ”Beauty Through Order” makes matters much worse. This can’t be the Slayer I grew up with, lived with, loved a lot and made a big part of my existence.
Fortunately, they decide to play ”Disciple” and things get much better from this point and on. Araya is really like a monster in a cage. His operation on the neck doesn’t allow him to be as active and energetic as he’d wish, but still he’s a frontman that when he’s in shape, nothing can stop him. Seeing him smile a lot is a little awkward but makes us happy too, while he’s dressed in the national team of Chile uniform. ”Mandatory Suicide” never misses from a Slayer concert and the groove goes on, until ”Chemical Warfare” marks the suprise of the day, as I personally didn’t expect it. But of course, noone can deny moving his ass on that, including me and my friends of course.
For the end they left the monument called ”South Of Heaven”. The scream ”Before you see the light you must die” is one of the stepping stones of our music and Araya keeps smiling threateningly to all of us. Last was ”Raining Blood” where a large moshpit (at last) was created and Slayer leave the stage thanking all the people for the response. It was the fourth time I saw them and I really expected much more. Be it the sound, the fact that Megadeth were much better, the feeling that they were on the stage just to do their part and leave… I don’t know if something of these is really true, but they left me with a bitter taste of unfilled satisfaction and the will to see them live soon, so that I’ll have my joy back.
Metallica were the last to play and they simply proved why they were the headliners of this colossal festival. The familiar intro of ”The Ecstasy Of Gold”, taken from the film ”The Good, The Bad And The Ugly” prepares the ground and it’s ”Creeping Death” that starts the party. The sound is superb and all fans scream ”Die, Die, Die” in the end of the song. Shortly after that, ”For Whom The Bell Tolls” makes the place move left to right, up and down and ”Fuel” puts some more fire into the atmosphere. Many fans may not like it, but it works perfect in gigs, and straight after that, ”Harvester Of Sorrow” brings many smiles on our faces. I personally hadn’t heard this since I first saw them in 1993. It’s amazing how fast years pass by and some thing remain the same.
”Fade To Black” was presented in the best way I’ve listened to it, featuring the acoustic intro played by James Hetfield. The band is in great mood and shape, the fans can’t believe their eyes and Metallica have won the game before it even started. It’s time for some new songs from ”Death Magnetic” to be presented with ”That Was Just Your Life” and ”Cyanide” showing us that they can be played much better live than in the studio. Hetfield dedicates the next one to all the other bands of The Big Four alliance and it’s ”Sad But True” that grooves us constantly, before ”Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” enters, just to be one of the best moments of the night. It’s a song that should never miss from the set and it’s very pleasant that we heard it once again.
”All Nightmare Long” was the last song we heard from the new album. And the best in my opinion. I consider ”One” the ultimate metal song of all times, but when it comes to see it live it’s really something else. The intro with the gunfires and explosions is really something else, and this time they played it so great that for the first time in a Metallica show, I almost burst into tears. I’ll always be that 7 year old child that once listened to ”…And Justice For All” and then it all changed. Period. ”Master Of Puppets” will always be one of the best songs ever written and this specific album will always remain the best in Metallica fans’ hearts. Then Apocalypse was born, as I listened to ”Blackened” in a hellish thrashing way. I didn’t believe my ears, it’s still so fresh after 22 years. Shock and awe and everybody is frenzied with no defenses.
”Nothing Else Matters” is a song which brought many fans to our music. Liking it or not, it has remained a classic throughout the years, so you just sit and enjoy without many words. Then Hetfield stands down, the video walls are upon him, showing a pick in his hands with the logos of the four groups and on the back writing Big Four! Then starts ”Enter Sandman” where on the main riff fires explode and the normal set closes triumphantly. It was not the time for them to leave though, but something strange happened. The roadies are on fire, setting the stage for something else. I see them carrying extra percussion, making room for the drums of Lars Ulrich. The truth was revealed a little later when Metallica come out again and they invite all Big Four members on the stage to play Diamond Head’s ”Am I Evil?”.
It’s so surreal to see all those giants of our music embracing each other, especially the moment when Lars and James hug Dave Mustaine remained in history for life, with Mustaine almost ready to cry. Friends will always be friends for life, no matter the controversies. Unfortunately only Dave Lombardo was representing Slayer but that was nothing in front of what we witnessed. As Hetfield said when the song was over, after thanking all the bands, ”I will never forget this, for sure”. It was about time for some ”Kill ‘Em All” stuff with ”Hit The Lights” (!!!) coming first to thrash our necks and backs, and then, ”Seek And Destroy” to end the night in pure satisfaction and fullness. We witnessed the three giants of thrash metal (as we missed Anthrax) and this was history on its own. I expected more especially from Slayer and I really didn’t believe that there would be such big difference between Metallica and the other bands. As I learned, in Greece things were more balanced. With high hopes for the next day, we went to rest our corpses, as there was more to come.
Day 2: Rammstein, Manowar, Alice In Chains, Stone Sour
This time we managed to be on time and what more should we be asking, since when we entered the stadium, Stone Sour started their show with ”Mission Statement”. Corey Taylor in perfect shape and mood, his vocals were excellent and accompanied by a steady band, he enabled us to start the party from early evening. Next was ”Reborn” from the ”Come What(ever) May” album that brought some movement to the crowd and followed by ”Made Of Scars”, showed us that nonetheless, we were going to have much fun. Corey’s fellow mate in Slipknot James Root managed to headbang himself during the whole show, the rest members were excellent and the new song called ”The Bitter End” was a great sample of the following album, about to be released rather soon.
Stone Sour continue without hesitation with ”Your God”, the crowd is really taken by Corey, which seems to have a lot of fun and can’t hide his smile from his face. It’s great to see him enjoying it, since he lost his brother in Slipknot Paul Gray recently. ”Through Glass” is the most characteristic song of the band, with the whole stadium singing along and proving that this tune is going to haunt many generations to come. It was time for one more new song called ”Digital”, also as great as ”The Bitter End”. And then came my favourite one, ”Get Inside”, a neckbreaker that makes you want to kick everyone in the face. Last two songs were ”Hell And Consequences” and of course ”30/30-150”, that closed the idea setlist for the group. Their presence was great and we surely had a great time. I’d love to see them again in a full setlist. Until then, I’m very glad they didn’t let me down.
Alice In Chains was by far the greatest joy we could have these two days. Their fans know that they are much better live, but what we witnessed was beyond any imagination and expectation. Just as they entered, ”Them Bones” made our jaws drop to the floor. Unbelievable energy deriving from all over the place, the band works like an atomic clock and ”Dam That River” continues our insanity. They are not a band, this is a four men army ready to defend its pride at all costs. ”Rain When I Die” eliminates everything inside me and since then, I feel that whatever I’ll witness the rest of the night ain’t gonna make me feel anything. Starting with the first three songs of the glorious album ”Dirt” was the best they could do and we were waiting for the rest to come.
”Check My Brain” from the last amazing album ”Black Gives Way To Blue” was played much heavier than in the album, William Duvall is probably the best singer change in the history of music. This guy sings with everything he’s got, he’s so full of ambition and self esteem that makes the band seem unreachable by everything. He’s a gift for the band and all the fans of rock and metal music. Sean Kinney starts the drum intro for ”Again”, which also sounds much better live. Alice In Chains are invincible in all ways, nobody can believe their eyes or ears and the also new one ”A Looking In View” eases things a bit. It’s moments like these that make people whose life flows a lot around music happy. Mike Inez is a bass beast, excellent rhythm section, clear sound and the show goes on.
The gigantic riff of ”We Die Young” brings apart the deconstruction of ourselves, some childhood memories where in the beginning of the ’90s, we started discovering the band with its first album ”Facelift”. Of course, this one goes together with ”Man In The Box” and the whole stadium is levitating in the rhythms of the quarter. Jerry Cantrell is and will forever be one of the most loveable musicians, humble and concentrated in his guitar, riffing and soloing with absolute professionalism. Few people know that he’s been alongside Ozzy Osbourne for some time in the beginning of the ’00s (as Mike Inez did in the beginning of the ’90s). He’s a true leader of a band that reformed because they simply wanted to pay tribute to their fellow mate Layne Staley and they show what anyone can do when he’s dedicated to his duty.
A rather emotional moment was when ”Would?” was heard, probably the one and only song that will make people have chills in their hearts. The bass intro by Mike Inez is so recognizable, all people around me smile and sing as if it was the last song. Actually, in the older years they used to end their shows with this, but not in Sofia. For it was ”Rooster” that ended the show. A superb composition with the crowd going ”oooohh oooooooooh” in the beginning and Duvall proving why the band chose him to replace the huge Layne Staley. Well folks, not only he’s into Layne’s shoes, but he also noone complained about his loss. This guy makes you feel blessed to be a fan of music. Alice In Chains unfortunately ended and if we knew what was coming up next, we’d rather them playing one more hour.
Manowar has always been something special for millions of people. They have been acknowledged of bringing certain and special emotions to their fans, especially in the ’80s. They have been know for playing the loudest gigs on earth. They have been known for their diehard fans who follow them for about three decades, no matter the negative comments. This time Manowar managed to lose even their most faithful followers. What we saw was an atrocity without any moral codes or respect to the fans. Rumours that they were angry with the promoters is a pathetic excuse, because their name was not on the festival t-shirts. You are Manowar, go out and play for your fans and make everybody shut their mouth with your music. Instead of this, we could barely be tolerant to this roaming circus with Joey DeMaio in the leading role.
For the history, Manowar started the setlist with the self titled song, then they played ”A Call To Arms” and then ”Kings Of Metal”. Obviously they considered better between the songs to test the crowd’s vocal abilities like ”aaaaaaah” or ”oooooooooh” or even ”eeeeeeeeeh” than playing some more songs. Eric Adams’ voice was barely heard, Karl Logan was struggling to be concentrated to what he did and only the HERO drummer Donnie Hammzik seemed to realize his duty. Hats off to him for his pounding drumming. ”Warriors Of The World United” was the next one and straight after that ”Thunder In The Sky” was played, but all in vein, as the game was lost from the first moments. ”Hail And Kill” was played awfully and for the end came the worst part of the night.
Joey DeMaio decided it was time to show how great Bulgarian he speaks. With the help of a headphone he declared a long speech, in which the only thing understood was the name of Ronnie James Dio. What made matters worse was that they played ”Heaven And Hell” by Black Sabbath to honour him. I bet my ass that if Dio could, he would raise from his grave just to beat them up. Why would I have to see this happening? Total disrespect and humiliation of the name Manowar. At least you could respect the fans and your 30 year legacy and just play without talking. But no, you had to prove you’re more metal than all, that only you love our music and that your ego is above all. You are simply pathetic.
Rammstein was more than redemption after all these. We had to see something like this in order to wake up a bit and come to a straight line, as the crooked feelings after Manowar still had an effect on all crowd. Rammstein started in a very majestic way with ”Rammlied”, with first the German flag appearing and as soon as it disappeared, the picture of Till Lindemann dressed like a lady and singing like a cyborg was something that brought awe to the crowd. They continue with ”B” and ”Weidmanns Heil” from the new album ”Liebe Ist Fur Alle Da” and sure the new songs are much better live, though I can’t say that I liked the new material very much. ”Keine Lust” was the first song not included on the new album and its heavy riff made the people bang their heads constantly, accompanied by ”Feuer Frei” that turned the night into day with the special pyro show. Trully unique!
It was time after the first shock for three more new songs to be represented, starting with ”Wiener Blut” being the first one, ”Fruhling In Paris” being the second and ”Ich Tu Dir Weh” being the third (and best of the new album in my humble opinion). The show is amazing, the band plays hard, fast and they show that they are into the most metal phase of their career, the guitarists throw molten riffs in our heads like anvils, the bassist and drummer create a pounding rhythm section, the keyboard player is the main attraction of the band, sometimes stealing the glory from Lindemann, whose energetic and theatrical presence gathers all our energy and unleashes it back to make us stun and obey to his will. Rammstein respect their crowd and they give even their last drop of sweat for about 35.000 people.
The first hit of Rammstein was ”Du Riechst So Gut”, so it was great to listen to it and travel many years back when everyone was wondering why these people sing in German and they will not have any success.
Congratulations, you hit the spot know-it-alls. ”Benzin” was the only track from ”Rosenrot” to be played and again there was much fire since Lindemann brought a large gasoline reactor and created a large source of light. Despite the fact that I try to focus on music, somebody has to see this in order to believe it. Rammstein march into the rhythms of ”Links 2 3 4” which they play so heavy, that only the keyboard intro of ”Du Hast” could make us stay still. If there is one way to really enjoy this song is live, though we all complain if we listen to it in clubs. There is a reason why some things happen and this is a HUGE song in all ways.
One of the best moments was in ”Pussy” where we all wondered what they would do, so in the end of the song Lindemann climbs in a huge penis-like shaped object which threw white feathers to the crowd. An orgasmic moment for sure, which was the last song of the normal set. Rammstein returned five minutes later to play ”Sonne” and remind us why ”Mutter” is the best album they ever did and will ever do. ”Haifisch” was one more of the new album, one of the good songs of the last release, and it was ”Ich Will” that closed the two-day Bulgarian adventure. Everybody is singing, clenching fists in the air and waving goodbye to the group, which falls to its knees and salutes the warm Bulgarian people. We surely will never forget this experience, which had great and awful moments, many hundreds of kilometres, a driver that didn’t know where he was stepping and a safe return to Greece. If we would do it again? Count us in for sure!
Report by: Aggelos “Redneck” Katsouras
Photos by: Sonisphere Festivals Official Website