Fall of Summer Festival 2017 - Lake Torcy, France 8 - 9 September

Gaahl slowly stalked around the stage effortlessly holding notes so long I wondered if he really was powered by red wine and Satan...

Torn mud-covered Stockings, Crepe in hand throwing up next to the Louvre while tourists stared at me waiting in line to catch a glimpse of the Mona Lisa. This was about as romantic as my trip to Paris got and this was me in the beautiful aftermath of France’s Fall of Summer Festival 2017, the 4th Edition. Situated 30km from Paris, at Lake Torcy this festival is small but mighty and oh boy did the line-up this year pack a punch! The main draw cards for me, were the infamous Coven, Venom and Orange Goblin but where do you start when the entire line-up consists of Metal Royalty like Cattle Decapitation, Demolition Hammer, Blasphemy, Gaahls Wyrd and Primordial.

We decided to start with Beer, food and to take a look around. The festival is made up of two stages. It's perfect, every time a band finished on the Blackwaters stage which had the picturesque backdrop of lake Torcy, you slid down the hill straight to the next band on the Sanctuary stage. We never had to miss a band! (Unless we were chugging whisky in the VIP area to get out of the torrential rain downpours) The festival was very well organised, mostly volunteer run and the setup was fantastic. Torcyflete was the winner of the festival, food wise. Local cheese melted into grilled potatoes and stirred in with bits of bacon... hungry yet? I bought two! But there was also a vegetarian/vegan food stall which made different meals for sale each day. The craft beers on offer from local breweries were delicious! There was an 8% triple that I was guzzling like water, not to mention the appropriately named official Fall of Summer beer, the 'Impale- Ale' crafted by Brasserie de l’Etre. The metal markets were incredibly broad with over 20 stalls selling everything from rare patches and handmade leather work, to records and jewellery. I certainly made some purchases from the 'Season of Mist’ stall.

Adorned with ponchos and a pocket full of drink tokens, we started day one early, with Lithuanian quartet Au-Dessus. Although these hooded gents are quite young, their style of post black metal merging into atmospheric sludge brought a crowd for their French debut and impressed most. The slicing of a finger, causing the sudden cancellation of England’s Doom, brought us some Tech-Death with Italy’s Hideous Divinity who were on tour with Cattle Decapitation and Broken Hope. Stepping in on the Sanctuary stage they were a worthy replacement, playing an energetic show to a sleepy crowd. Vocalist Enrico H, while encouraging the zombies to cheer, wasn’t impressed and yelled out “If you were all a pizza, you would be an Ananas Pizza, now scream louder!” Which of course made everyone go nuts, I mean, no one wants to be a fucking pineapple pizza!

Next up were French Death metal beasts, Necrowretch. Arriving to the scene in 2008, they are known for aiding in the revival of old-school blackened death metal in the French scene. Their set was fast, ferocious and renewed my faith in young bands being able to set this genre straight again. Then it was time for some old school German Heavy Metal Breakdowns, with Grave Digger, who performed classic after classic including ‘Hallelujah’, ‘Season of the Witch’ and ‘Ex-Kalibur’ Vocalist Chris Boltendahl looks as though he never left the 80’s, in Beetlejuice-estque jeans and a battle jacket sporting his own bands back patch. He can play air guitar better than most and grins at the crowd through wrinkles made from many years of smiling as they finish off the set with ‘Heavy Metal Breakdown’.

Cattle Decapitation put on one of the best sets of the day and starting the first pit, it seemed like everyone was awake by now. Banners on either side of the stage with a new version of the recycle sign, theirs being a human placing the world in a bin. They’re known for their strong message against abuse of the environment, the consumption of and mistreatment of animals and their music definitely reflects their beliefs. The unmistakeable tongue rolls of Vocalist Travis Ryan mixed with the lyrical content of ‘Clandestine Ways (Krocodil Rot)” were enough to scare me into eating vegetarian for the rest of the festival. After pushing the boundaries of extreme metal for the last 19 years, Cattle Decapitation sure knew how to fill up a muddy field.

Then… the downpour continued and continued and continued. I was doing well keeping moderately dry under my hood until the wind knocked about 10 litres of water off a tent and literally drenched me. I believe that was when the “no fucks given” and the “lets skull whisky” ideas started. Just in time to set the scene for French Progressive rock greats Magma who were a bombardment of weird beauty. They’ve had over fifty different members in the band since they started in 1969 and have claimed to start careers for many French Jazz musicians. Their music is an eclectic mix of off beats, technical musicianship, bizarre vocal harmonies and xylophone breakdowns. Magma even have their own lyrical language called Kobaïan which of course sets an eerie vibe when you have hundreds of fans singing in a made up language. Unfortunately they didn’t play to many people as this was the time when the rain and the wind was at its worst, so people went in for cover. Continuing with the Jazz vibes were Norway’s Shining, performing their individual style of Black- Jazz fusion and by this time the stage was being showered in sideways rain and the band were slipping around quite a lot. But if these guys can play and film a show on the icy cliff edges of Norway’s TrollTunga (look up the video) then they sure knew how to survive a wet festival stage. Now for something completely different, we headed to the beach stage for more Norwegian weirdness for Gaal’s Wyrd. Gaahl ‘Kristian Eivind Espedal’ is the former vocalist for Gorgoroth and God Seed, which is probably why this set consisted of mostly covers from those bands. This time he wasn’t covered in spikes or blood, just his classic corpse paint and his piercing vocals calling out over the lake. He slowly stalked around the stage effortlessly holding notes so long I wondered if he really was powered by red wine and Satan. Sliding back down the hill we were met by the total ear-slaughter of Canadian extreme metal kings Blasphemy. It was great for the crowd to hear some of their older music like ‘Fallen Angel of Doom’, considering this album pretty much set the bar for blackened- death in the early nineties. This show was nothing short of what should be expected from a Blasphemy performance, bullets and chains wrapped around their bodies, all motionless, sporting sunglasses, they spin through a set that would make your grandma cower in horror.

Shortly after a few quick rounds of shots and twenty new facebook friends later, it was time for the headliner of the evening, Ireland’s Primordial. The Captivating vocals of Alan ‘A.A. NemtheangaAveril have anyone watching, completely on their toes. I had only seen them in play in a smaller venue before and to be watching them on an open air stage was a much better atmosphere for such a band that can hit home with every lyric. They have truly created their own space in metal today and have added that little magic of Celtic charm. Their sound even managed to drag the dripping mess of festival goers out of their tents and to the front of the stage for their final song, ‘Empire Falls’ which literally sent chills down everyone’s spines, it wasn’t the rain this time. I would like to say this was when we went to bed, but instead we continued to have one hell of an after party, I’m pretty sure I shared some embarrassing stories with Gaahl who didn’t seem very impressed, met nearly every person at the festival and slid down hills about five times. Racing to meet my buddies for an uber back to the hotel, I see them, yell out and just as they turn to look at me, I proceed to go literally ass up into a ditch. A ditch full of yummy wet, sloppy piss mud, all over me, in my mouth, mud mask and all. Of course a roar of laughter ensued, followed by 4 different ubers that wouldn't take us due to my muddy attire. My friends were in fits of laughter watching me clean mud out of my eyes to be able to see, who needs enemies when you have friends like mine.

I woke up in an actual bed, with My little Pony in French on the TV, I was handed a Jager bomb and a coffee, festival life truly couldn’t get any better than that. I also woke up with a stack of about 20 special Fall of Summer festival cups, note to self, this is not Wacken, don’t drunk-collect them as you cant cash them in. On the bright side, my share house actually has cups now! After allowing a sleep in, (it was going to be a big day) we rolled in, to catch the last of Swedish doom metal icons Count Raven, we grabbed a crepe and settled in on the hill to let them soothe our headaches away. After a trip backstage to meet up with the guys from Coven for beers and a chat, I was ready for some Italian Speed. Bulldozer cut to the chase unleashing hell on France, vocalist A.C. Wild stands at a blood dripped alter in his signature vampire cape. This band have so many great songs and they play them all! From ‘Ilona the Very Best’, to my favourite ‘Whisky Time’ and of course, ‘Fallen Angel’. Considering when they arrived on the scene they were dubbed a Venom clone band it was interesting to see them on the same bill as Venom. Finally after a 21 year hiatus and only reforming in 2016, was American thrashers Demolition Hammer, the entire festival came out to see them and so did the sun! With Steve Reynolds on vocals, James Reily and Derek Sykes on guitars and new member, Angel Cotte on drums, playing like he was always in the band, Demolition hammer are better than ever. They were a massive part of the East coast thrash scene in the eighties and they have made some killer music. They played a lot off their 1992 Album ‘Epidemic of Violence’ which was enough to make any fan lose their mind so it’s no wonder a beautiful, thrashy circle pit stayed constant for most of their set. Steve screams at the audience, calling us all sick, twisted, mother-fuckers, we agree as he tells us there is only one way to end a Demolition Hammer set, and that’s with a bullet to the head. Then with that, they left the crowd to hammer each other with ‘.44 Calibre Brain Surgery’.

I had a beer in my hand, the sun was gleaming down on us and Orange Goblin were playing to a very happy crowd. Ben Ward is such an amazing front man, he engages everyone, all the way to the top of the hill, places each side in cheering competitions and even creates a wall of death. Now don’t get me wrong, but I thought seeing a French wall of death would be something close to watching a fishmonger throw a bunch of tired fish into a basket, but these guys nailed it! The crowd parted all the way up to the back and then the fun continued with the most crowd surfers of the festival, including one guy dressed in a full Viking outfit, surfing complete with his staff. Orange Goblin always get people in the mood for partying and especially when they play songs like ‘The Devil’s Whip’ and ‘Red Tide Rising’, every butt was wiggling. ‘They come back (Harvest of Skulls)’ got a great sing-along, we all love a good song about zombies. Ben Spits water into the air and hands out beers to his fans, thanking the audience profusely, he is like the guy next door who looks scary, but is happy to lend you a cup of sugar and make you a cup of tea.

Unfortunately I had to make some sacrifices to secure my position as close as possible for the long awaited set by the notorious Pioneers of darkness and Psychedelic-Occult Rock, Coven. Fronted by one of the most beautiful women to ever grace this Earth, Jinx Dawson together with her new band of masked men had the entirety of Fall of Summer in awe of something most people missed in the late sixties. While waiting for the ritual to begin, I spoke to some fans in the front row with me, one girl whose mother used to play Coven to her as a child, I saw tears welling in her eyes throughout the performance as we exchanged many smiles. A free standing coffin is mid stage while all band members stand hooded and mysterious. With an intro using part of ‘Black Mass’, the engrossed crowd chants to “Save us Lord Satan, Satan! Beelzebub! Leviathon! Asmodeus! Abaddon!" Jinx slowly wanders out of her coffin draped in black mesh and with a sparkling mask covering her face, they play on into ‘Out of Luck’. After she is unmasked, we set our eyes on the woman that captivated us, many moons ago and who has clearly found the fountain of youth. Jinx leads the band through most songs from the 1969, flower-power shocking Album ‘Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls’, including ‘Black Sabbath’, ‘Wicked Woman’, ‘Coven in Charring Cross’ and when the spirited guitars of ‘White Witch of Rose Hall’ start, you could say we were dancing ecstatically. Jinx’s vocals are nothing short of spectacular and considering when this album was recorded, she was a 17 year old, studying opera, her pipes have sure lasted the test of time. With a new line-up of musicians in the band, hand picked by Jinx herself, we have Ricktor Ravensbrück and Chris Wild on guitars and Milo Kovacevic on bass, Alex Kercheval on keys and Johnny Concannon on drums behind her. Together with these new members, they produced a sound and performance that resurrected Coven more than we could have ever imagined. Finishing off their set with ‘Blood on the Snow’ they left us with a twinkle in our eyes as we held our horns high for their rightful owner, our mother of metal. We paid our respects from one left hand path to another, beware, Coven are back, or did they even ever leave us?

I was a little shaky, after a set like that, so I took some advice from Bulldozer and it was “Fucking Whisky Time!” Then we joined the thousands of others on the banks of Lake Torcy to see a group who have influenced many bands and genre’s over the span of their career. Venom! Fireworks, flashing strobes, flame-throwers and a man who needs no introduction, Cronos on vocals and bass, this show had it all. Joined by Stuart "La Rage" Dixon on guitars and Danny "Dante" Needham on drums they churned out a smashing classic Venom set. When the heavy breathing of ‘Buried Alive’ started, we knew what was coming, the lights reflect off the bald top of Cronos’ skullet as he speaks out through gritted teeth “As they lower me down to that, hole in the ground”, in this moment, we let ourselves go. They speed through everything from ‘Welcome to Hell’ to ‘Countess Bathory’ then came back for an encore to you guessed it, ‘Black Metal!’

To end the weekend, Septicflesh sent us to bed with their Symphonic Greek lullabies of doom and gloom. Adorned in their leather-plated armour, dreadlocks and straps they play to an exhaustedly wasted group of patrons. They wind-milled their way through a mostly post-reunion set list including ‘Pyramid God’, ‘The Vampire of Nazarath’ and tucked us in with ‘Prometheus’.

Meanwhile at the edge of the festival an after party of all sorts was blooming, with Orange Goblin’s Ben Ward as DJ for the evening, this was a great time to say goodbye to friends, old and new and dance the night away. I remember partying until the bars were out of booze and the sun was coming up and somehow made it back to the hotel in one piece.

Back to the city of light after a very embarrassing mud covered journey through the French metro system, we said goodbye to the sparking lights of the Eiffel Tower. We went home to scrub our boots and try and get "Countessssssss Bathoryyyy" out of our heads.

Summer had fallen and it was time to go home.

 

Photo of Jinx Dawson of Coven, courtesy of Leonor Ananké, Fall of Summer