It's the 20th edition of Keep It True, so Born Again had to make their way over to Lauda Königshofen in Germany to witness this year's array of killer bands. Here are some of our highlights.
Friday 28th April
Keep It True has quite the reputation for showcasing the best of the best in the underground heavy metal scene. The two days of back to back performances generally always begin with a few new bands, handpicked by the festival organisers, if they are deemed worthy of playing for this most discerning crowd.
Satan’s Hallow have the surely daunting task of opening the entire festival early Friday afternoon. As always, the hall is full, both with people queuing for next years’ tickets and with front row warriors ready for action as the clock hits 1pm. We’re treated to Satan's Hallow's self-titled, debut album its entirety and it's given to us in a tight, high-energy performance that absolutely does it justice.
Lancaster-based Wytch Hazel have certainly earned their right to be on the Keep It True stage. Formed in 2011, the band have been extremely active, playing shows across the UK and Europe. With the new album Prelude released by Bad Omen Records, they stay true to their modus operandi. Taking influences from bands such as Jethro Tull and Wishbone Ash, whilst marrying them with a medieval charm and the spirit of NWOBHM. Wytch Hazel have achieved a sound that sets them apart from others in the current heavy metal scene.
Dressed in their usual attire of medieval inspired threads, they are without bassist Neil Corkery today, making the already considerable task of playing second on day one a little more challenging. However, as true musicians, they take the absence of the anchoring bass lines in their stride and carry on with the show, opening with Prelude's 'Freedom Battle'.
One of the great things about KIT is the dedication of its patrons; the hall is already full with old fans and those who want to see what Wytch Hazel is about. The band already have quite a vast back catalogue to choose from and make sure to include tracks from their early demo as well as their four track EP The Truth. Frontman/guitarist Colin Hendra is completely at home on the stage, showing off his song writing skills and vocal ability, backed by drummer Jack Spencer and second guitarist Alex Haslam. The set combines melodic instrumentals layered over with dual guitar harmonies and meaningful lyrics. One of their earliest songs 'Wytch Hazel' sees some of the crowd singing along with the chorus, before ending with 'The Truth'.
Majesty’s set goes down very well with the sizeable crowd that’s gathered. Oliver Weinsheimer takes time out from hectic festival organisation for a great guest appearance with the band, performing Shadows of Iga track 'Fight for Honour'.
The first dose of hard and heavy thrash come from Atrophy. Having only re-formed a couple of years back, they seem pumped for their upcoming performance at KIT. Filling the hall with speedy solos and frenetic drumming, they fire out tracks from their two studio albums Socialized Hate and Violent By Nature, the latter having been a regular in my tape deck during my thrash loving days. Fronting the band with a youthful exuberance, Brian Zimmerman barks out vocals, looking like he's thoroughly enjoying the show.
Q5’s hotly anticipated set opens with 'One Night in Hellas', a track from their 2016 album. Though not as well known as their 80s output, the old school, heavy metal sound is still there and it gets a good reaction. The band burst into three tracks from Steel the Light. Jonathan K has no problem hitting those high notes and the crowd does their best to match him. Despite some sound issues clouding their performance, the band put on a fantastic show and are clearly giving it their all as they bring this 1984 masterpiece to life. With only a couple of subtle line-up differences, Q5 and Nightshade are closely intertwined so it’s no surprise that three of their tracks are included in the set. Guitarists Rick Pierce and Dennis Turner are on top form with plenty of screaming solos. After a few more Q5 tracks the set closes with 'Steel the Light'. My hairs are standing on end when that iconic drum intro begins. This is the closest thing Q5 have to an anthem and it shows. They sound and look so full of energy, feeding off the screaming, fist pumping, air-guitaring crowd.
Medieval Steel return after their triumphant 2013 performance to a slightly less enthusiastic but still dedicated crowd. Every song from the 1984 self-titled EP is played to the delight of the fans. There’s a fair few newer songs in the set from 2014’s Dark Castle. The band sound and look comfortable with these tracks but they lack the punch of the earlier material. The hall explodes with energy as that famed intro to their true heavy metal anthem begins, hundreds of fists in the air.
Warriors of heavy metal, rejoice! Omen are no stranger to the European heavy metal festival circuit, a dependable act that you can rely on to bring a dose of US power metal to the house. As axeman Kenny Powell plunges into 'Death Rider' the booze-lubricated crowd is fully riled up, fists pumping the air, belting out the chorus along with Kevin Goocher (whose last KIT appearance with the band was in 2004!). The setlist is dominated by the albums Battlecry and Warning Of Danger, however their latest release Hammer Damage goes down a storm with the self-titled track, showing that heavy metal runs deep in the veins of Omen. Later in the set The Curse's 'Teeth Of Hydra' powers out through the pa system before the title track from their much loved first album Battle Cry, before bringing the force that is Omen to a thundering, singalong end with 'Die By The Blade'.
It seems that 2017 is the year for anniversaries. First there is of course the 20th Keep it True Anniversary, so who better to headline the first day than 'epic metal' band Manilla Road? They are embarking on a European tour to mark the 40 years that they have been active, and it's also the 30th anniversary of the 1987 album Mystification! So it's time to muster one last bit of energy for the final act of the night.
To mark the occasion at KIT, Mark Shelton and co enlisted the help of an old friend, in the form of ex drummer Randy 'Thrasher' Foxe to play a special set for the first half. Seeing as his time in the band spanned several albums, there was going to no shortage of song choices. After Crystal Logic, the Foxe era is a favourite amongst die hard fans, which includes the albums Open The Gates, Mystification and Courts Of Chaos. Opening with 'Astronomica', the crowd warms up slowly.
Manilla Road are a much loved band in the heavy metal scene, regarded as masters of their craft, with the dedicated Shelton at the helm since the 1970s. When latest drummer, Neudi, takes over the reigns of the drum kit, they commence an 'old school set'. Cracking open the second half with a 'Flaming Metal Systems', the crowd is singing along to the chorus with Brian Patrick. Shelton's guitar playing projects a smooth sound to our ears as he effortlessly travels the fretboard with melodic solos.
Following in this vein, Crystal Logic's 'The Ram' is next, picking up the energy of the crowd. It is their 40th anniversary show, so they would be mad not to include anything from the first few albums, which they do with 'The Empire' and 'Queen Of The Black Coast'. Of course as they are nearing the end of their set 'Necropolis' makes an appearance. A tune which has been played many a time at heavy metal nights across the globe. Even if you didn't know who Manilla Road were, you'd know this song. This is evident as the whole crowd is now singing along.
Bringing the set to a close, they return to the anniversary for Mystification and bang out 'Masque Of Red Death', leaving us to down the dregs of our now warm beer cups.
Saturday 29th April
There’s no time for hangovers at Keep It True. The masses emerge bleary eyed and a little subdued early on Saturday morning to prepare for another full day of back to back killer acts. Soon enough the beer (and champagne) is flowing and spirits are rising.
Thanks to the 2016 release of The Armour of Ire, there has been a massive amount of anticipation for Saturday’s opening act. Eternal Champion managed to catapult from relative obscurity onto what seemed like almost everyone's album of the year lists in an impressively short period of time. Of course, the powers that be at KIT picked up on this and so here we all are at 11:59am awaiting something special. Somewhat unpredictably, the intro to 2015 single 'Retaliator' begins to play. There is so much expectation in the air and the hall is absolutely full as the band members take their places on stage. In true warrior fashion, Jason Tarpey takes to the front of the stage with sword in hand, raised to the crowd. Those distinctive vocals ring out across the room and it’s immediately clear this show will be so worth the hype.
'The Armour of Ire' became one of the most talked about single releases of the past year so there’s a huge surge of excitement as that catchy opening riff begins. The band command attention in a way that so few newer bands manage to. Totally in control of their performance in every way, they deliver perfect musicianship without sacrificing any presence or character.
Any band that can conjure the atmosphere of ancient battles, warriors and indeed champions is sure to capture the imagination of the audience at KIT. With swords, war horns, battle cawing and the fierceness of music itself, Eternal Champion are certainly one of those bands. During set finale 'I Am The Hammer', the entire crowd chants along and it really feels like we could be in the midst of the war march of some ancient civilisation. This does not, in any way, feel like a Saturday morning.
It’s a US heavy day today, quite a treat for us European fans as it’s not often we get so many American visitors in one sitting. Visigoth give us yet another fantastic demonstration of exactly how a band should command the stage. It’s a short but incredibly impressive set with every member of the band completely engaged in their performance. Jake Roger’s vocals absolutely soar to the back of the hall from the first to the last note. A set mostly made up of tracks from their debut full length, The Revenant King, gives us plenty of the twin guitar goodness that they’ve become known for. Blood Sacrifice gets off to a ballad-like start with Jamison Palmer’s emotion filled solo but the rest of the band soon get involved with a thundering and choppy rhythm section whipping the crowd into a frenzy. The power coming from this band is genuinely incredible. A cover of Randy’s 'The Beast' is a surprising treat. It’s refreshing to see a band so in tune with each other, presenting a united and co-ordinated visual performance. Bringing the set to a close, the bouncy melodies of 'The Revenant King' has both the band and crowd head-banging in unison. It’s such a catchy sing-along track with vocal parts written to showcase Rogers’ talents to their absolute fullest potential. The band is joined by Eternal Champion’s Tarpey to bring the set to an utterly storming close.
No one was sure what to expect from Devil In Disguise, a tribute to the long dormant Glacier. Nevertheless, there’s been a lot of excitement around it since the announcement in November. Original vocalist Mike Podrybau is on top form, managing the vocals fantastically despite it being 32 years since he was last active with the band. The rest of the band do a great job in bringing the Glacier material to life whilst allowing most of the focus to be on Mike, the only original member on stage today. Every song from that iconic 1985 EP is played to the delight of fans, most of whom never expected to be able to experience these tracks in a live setting. The previously unreleased 'Live For the Whip' is an unexpected surprise with the band really stepping it up and seeming particularly confident in their playing.
Following a hiatus of nearly 30 years, Traitors Gate reformed with their longest standing line-up to bring us a reunion show at Brofest back in February. Unfortunately for fans who've made their way to KIT, Dave Mclean had to step down from frontman duties due to his burgeoning career in politics. However, any doubts we had about replacement Sy Davies (ex Mayhem Messiah) are banished as soon as they start.
After a full-on USA heavy metal attack starting with Atrophy the previous day, now is the time for some classic NWOBHM straight out of Pontypool. This is their first ever German appearance, and Steve, Paul, Andy and Sy seem to be incredibly grateful to be there, whilst also coming across as quietly confident in their material. And so they should be! The 1985 EP Devil Takes The High Road is regarded as a masterpiece of its time, emerging as it did at a point when the NWOBHM movement was in decline.
Mixed in with the old classic tracks are several unknown ones, with 'Devil Rides Again' standing out the most. Of course they end their set with the title track from the EP which gets the crowd singing along with fists in the air.
Three piece Night Demon are next to take the stage. Their low headcount has no effect on their ability to smash out song after song with a punchy attitude and tight execution. They each have such a distinct on stage personality as they blast through a long and varied set of tracks from each of their three releases. Jarvis Leatherby kills it with both bass and vocal duties whilst maintaining a continuously energetic presence as the front man of the band. Armand Anthony looks like he couldn’t be having more fun, bouncing around the stage in a way which makes his excellent guitar work look totally effortless as Dusty Squire provides a constantly focused and powerful backbone to the band. A final cover of 'Wasted Years' ends things on a high with Anthony handling Iron Maiden’s extensive guitar responsibilities commendably.
Returning to Keep It True for the third time is quite an accolade for any band to have. This Saturday afternoon, Atlantean Kodex prove to us once again that they worthy of it. Epic has become such an overused term but it is one of the only words which I feel can do justice to a Kodex show. Opening with the melancholic, ten-minute-long 'Enthroned in Clouds and Fire' sets the tone from the beginning. They are a band who demand engagement from their audience and as always, their performance is dramatic, powerful and totally absorbing. Their eponymous track 'The Atlantean Kodex' is played in two parts at different times during the set, giving the crowd even more opportunity to sing their hearts out alongside Marcus Becker.
Guitarists Michael Koch and Manuel Trummer take the front of the stage alongside Florian Kreuzer on bass to deliver the crushing opening of 'Pilgrim' which turns out to be a real crowd pleaser with their ever-loyal fan base singing every lyric and guitar melody. The next three tracks, all from their 2013 full-length The White Goddess go down just as well. 'The Heresiarch' sends chills down my spine. Witnessing them live feels like a mutual connection between band and audience rather than simply watching a performance.
*Follow link for a full review of the Ashbury performance plus an interview with Rob Davis.*
Fifth Angel are a bit of an anomaly within the heavy metal scene. They’ve been around, on and off since 1983 but they’ve only graced the stage a total of three times with two of those being at Keep It True. It’s been seven long years since they were last in this hall and with only one show in between, it would be reasonable to assume that the band would be a bit rusty. We soon find out that this couldn’t be further from the truth. Perhaps not wanting to change a winning formula, the setlist is almost exactly the same as in 2010 and it’s just as much of a treat the second time around.
The band explode onto the stage, brimming with energy from the first note of 'The Night'. Jeffrey McCormack of Q5 is a powerhouse on the drums, doing justice to both Ken Mary (unfortunately unable to attend due to injury) and the Fifth Angel material. The two opening tracks of their self-titled 1986 release are executed perfectly with Peter Orullian on vocals not missing a note. The final 20 seconds of 'In The Fallout' pushes it towards being one of the highlights of the set as Orullian and Kendall Bechtel match each other in an incredible vocal and guitar solo outro. Ed Archer and Bechtel take the limelight for 'Seven Hours' as the rest of the band take a bit of a step back and the crowd provide backing vocals at full volume.
The set is a fantastic selection of tracks from both records covering all the bases and giving fans exactly what they want. There is no messing around, Fifth Angel give a tight and professional performance from start to finish playing these songs exactly as they were written back in the 80s. They don’t falter or let the quality drop for a single moment. There’s such a sense of excitement in the darkened hall as classics like 'Midnight Love', 'Fifth Angel' and 'Cry Out The Fools' keep the crowd fired up and screaming along. A stunning solo intro to 'Wings Of Destiny' mesmerises the room and the resulting chanting from the crowd paired with the huge sound coming from the stage makes it feel like we’re standing in a stadium rather than a sports hall. Fifth Angel finish their set, as in 2010, with a cover of UFO’s 'Lights Out' allowing John Macko to have a bit of fun with some groovy bass lines.
It's so hard to believe that we’ve just watched a band who have played three shows across their entire career. I’m left wondering if they’ve been spending these past seven years solely practising for their next festival performance. All too often, bands that haven’t played together since the 80s reunite for dreadful one off festival shows as they just aren’t able to perform like they used to. Fifth Angel couldn’t be further from that. They’re right up there with the most regularly touring bands around.
For many people in attendance, the resurrection of Cirith Ungol and their first ever appearance in Europe was the main reason for attending an already stellar KIT line-up, and by the time the sky had darkened and the thick thunderheads of dry ice risen expectantly on stage, we had already been treated to a relentless string of great performances: would the headline act live up to the hype?
Happily, it quickly becomes clear that every drop of anticipation will be rewarded. The band open with 'I'm Alive' before striding like a woken titan into a series of songs plucked from each one of their mighty albums. The sound they deliver is chillingly faithful to the records: that effortless lurching from upbeat catchiness to ultra-heavy darkness, all laced together by the unique screeching of Tim Baker, delivered like only days had passed since the studio recordings. He may strike a kindly, unassuming figure on and off stage, but as soon as he begins screaming out those familiar lyrics, he has everyone in his thrall.
The setlist left no Cirith Ungol fan unsatisfied, and the roaring crowd singalongs to monuments such as 'Black Machine', 'Finger of Scorn', 'Chaos Rising' and others must have made the band feel very at home. It's clear they are having a great time, especially Rob Garven who never seems to stop beaming behind the drum kit. This performance is a huge privilege to witness and the shining jewel amongst jewels in a great 20th anniversary Keep It True weekend.
Louise Dornan- Satan's Hollow, Majesty, Q5, Medieval Steel, Eternal Champion, Visigoth, Devil In Disguise, Night Demon, Atlantean Kodex, Fifth Angel
M Godding- Wytch Hazel, Atrophy, Omen, Manilla Road, Traitors Gate, Ashbury
James Ashbey- Cirith Ungol
Live Photography: Christophe Vernimmen
We asked some fellow heavy metal maniacs what they love the most about KIT:
"KIT is the best festival lineup since they have literally made almost all my reunion dreams come true during the ten years I've attended the fest."- Kine Susann Montazami
"My favourite thing about KIT: Fifth Angel! Flawless set, super tight, excellent guitar playing and harmonies, the whole band were amazing and they really delivered, and it was their 3rd gig ever! Other things love about KIT aside from the bands are the metal market (never lets me down with LPs), how friendly everyone is and the camaraderie of the whole KIT family! Ashbury out of 10!"- Gary Smith
"I've been attending KIT for 11 straight years and is always like trying to fit two elephants in a Volkswagen Beetle. One elephant is the best informed classic metal lineup in the world and the other is the beautiful people I hang out with at the parking/camping space in between bands. The Beetle is the 48 hours that the festival lasts."- Giorgos Tasis
"What's so great about Keep it True is not just the music but the great atmosphere. You get to meet all these great people from all over the world. It's a who's who of the underground heavy metal community where you get the chance to meet and have a chat and a beer with a lot of people you're only in contact with online the rest of the year."- Daniel Berg
"Cirith Ungol were so unreal that I still doubt if it actually happened or if I was passed out in the fields and just dreamt it all."- Tom Rentor
"I love KIT, because of it's very unique atmosphere, everybody here is a total metalhead. The line-up is always great, I think there's every year at least one band you never thought you would see live. And due to it's early date (late April), it's the first festival of the year where you can have a proper campground party and meet all your buddies from all over the world again."- Danny Keck
"My favourite thing about KIT is how you can meet people from all around the world who all love the same thing. There's so much love and fun in that festival and everyone can be you friend."- Margaux Kroemmer
"The festival is always great but this year was something else. Fifth Angel totally blew me away, Cirith Ungol were amazing, excellent live Glacier set, saw one of the best Manilla Road shows I've ever witnessed and spent the weekend hanging out with great people from all over the place... Wish I could do it all over again."- Amy Erika Takura
And lastly, a collection of quotes from various passersby throughout the weekend; describe KIT in one sentence!
"Getting a chance to see bands you'd never see anywhere else."
"Seeing all my best friends from all over the world."
"The passion of the fans here. Everyone is so dedicated to the music."
"The big shows that no one else has booked before."
"The chance to see so many bands from the US who never come to Europe."
"Finding new bands who are always top class."
"The fact that it's not just Germans who come. I meet people from every corner of the earth."
"Spending time getting loads of great merch and records."
"Being able to meet and hang out with bands I consider idols."
"Hearing music I like playing from people's car parties and asking them who it is. I've found so many new bands."
"Heavy metal champagne breakfasts!"
Fan photos courtesy of: Louise Dornan, M. Godding, Shana van Cauwerberghe, Apostolos Papadimitriou, Alexandra Galopin, Paul McMonagle & Thomas Brock