Since 2013 I attend the metal festival FortaRock in Nijmegen. Like I do with most of the shows I attend, I go on my own and make new friends while we’re all rockin’ out. The weather has been glorious every time and no band has ever disappointed in their performance (save for a ridiculously horrible Slayer last year). This year was no different, except for one thing: this year my girlfriend went along with me, which was an interesting experience.
I’ve been a metalhead for roughly ten years now and I have grown to appreciate a wide variety of metal genres, amongst which are genres that have screaming vocals. It started as a search for music that expressed what I felt when I was a snotty teenager, but it grew to an exploration of an artform that is confrontational, introspective, aggressive, sweet, emotional, invigorating and mystifying.
Screaming vocals are something you get used to as a listener, and it took me a about half a year to really enjoy Slipknot, after some ‘groundwork’ was laid by the likes of Linken Park and Papa Roach, whom occasionally incorporate screams in their songs. After Slipknot, melodic death metal bands like the early In Flames and Insomnium, but also folk metal giants like Eluveitie, took my enjoyment of screams further.
Over the years I have attended quite a few shows in a number of different venues, ranging in size from a small hall in a youth centre to huge festival terrains like the one FortaRock is set in. Headbanging, moshpits, walls of death, windmilling, crowdsurfing – I know the deal. People move to any type of metal, and the movements rarely are very gracious or varied. There is a certain violent release of energy in all of it, but at its core that release is nothing but positive. It’s an expression of love of the music, of being moved by the music in every sense of the word. At least, that’s how I feel.
Here’s the final bit of premise in this article: my girlfriend does not listen to any type of metal at all and has never been to anything remotely like a metal show. She wanted to give it a go at FortaRock 2015. OK. Fine by me.
At nine o’clock in the morning we take the Metalbus, which is a special bus service that takes people to metal festivals in a few places in Europe, and brings them back when the festivals are over. It is filled with merry metalheads, some of whom are already working their way through a six-pack, and Slipknot’s latest album, .5 The Gray Chapter, is blasting through the speakers. The cd is scratched at a few places, though, so two songs are only played partly and one song is skipped entirely. Also, for some reason, it is the only cd someone brought for the trip, which means we get treated to The Gray Chapter at least six times. I glance over to my girlfriend and she doesn’t seem to mind the music. As she gets to know the songs, I can actually see her tapping her feet to the rhythm.
At the venue, the Goffertpark, we are treated to a green field and a glorious sky, with cosy festival grounds in between lush trees. For a day out, this could not be more perfect. The festival is not as big as it was the previous years, but that makes the whole thing feel more like one big feast instead of like three parties of varying sizes. People waiting for one band to play at the second or third stage can see and hear the performance on the main stage, and vice versa. People only need to choose between the shows on the second or third stage, which are performed simultaneous.
‘Our’ program is rather relaxed. We (well, I, because I know almost all of the bands on the festival ticket) planned to see Sylosis, Papa Roach and Slipknot, and everything in between is just chillin’ in the grass, enjoying meals from different food stalls and drinking copious amounts of water. We use one cup that we refill from the toilet sink, so we don’t have to keep paying for water or wait in line. It’s kind of cheating, but on a hot day in Dutch climate, you have to drink as much water as you can. And a day like this one, with truly not one cloud in the sky, makes for one hell of a hot day.
The first band on our program, Sylosis, is a band that showcases amazing technical, fast-paced metal in a cool, tight performance. Their singer only does screaming vocals (apart from a few lines in their song Mercy), so for my girlfriend the musicianship was the most enjoyable. There is a video on Facebook, posted by the band, showing them performing their show and some of the crowd reactions. We’re in there, front and centre. Her, with big black sunglasses, standing completely still, while every head around her is banging in slow motion to the music. Me, screaming, basically in her ear, along with the songs.
Papa Roach makes for a completely different show. Again we stand in front, only now we both jump around and dance on the many different songs the band throws at us. Papa Roach is the band that first drew me into metal, so their show is a trip down puberty memory lane for me. For my girlfriend, it’s a whole new experience. When ADHD-energetic frontman Jacoby Shaddix asks the crowd to scream, throw fists in the air, and jump up and down, she passionately goes along with it. Still no headbanging, but we’re definitely having the same, great big pile of fun.
Seeing Slipknot, though, was nothing less than a blast for the both of us. We stood quite far from the stage because we couldn’t find a decent spot where my girlfriend could see the show. Luckily, she could stand on a table at the back, and I could stand in front of her for a change. That way, we both got to enjoy the frantic stage show of the nine guys from Des Moines, Iowa, that form Slipknot. They have a big stage set-up, with more than enough space for their drummer, two percussionists, sampler, turntabler, bassist, two guitar players and singer. There’s frequent use of pyrotechnics, too; as if there’s not enough fire in their performance as it is.
Their show is hard to describe, because it really must be seen. It’s immersive, cathartic musical theatre, performed with adrenaline and rocket fuel. Everyone sings and screams along, jumps, and pumps fists in the air, just for the fun of it. Every word from frontman Correy Taylor is answered by screams of frantic fans, who all follow every suggestion from the charismatic masked singer.
The music might sound violent, but the people are anything but. Like I said before: every scream and fist pumping in the air is just release of energy from the music. Even a moshpit and a wall of death are simply that: release. It’s mass catharsis that is chaotic and explosive at its combustion, and leads to a complete relaxation of the crowd. In between the songs, people are just hanging out. There’s just appreciation of music and having a good time, and that makes for an amazing festival atmosphere.
That is what my girlfriend particularly loved about FortaRock: everyone is chilled out and has a good time. Even before we saw Slipknot’s show, she was looking up festivals we could go to in the summer, like Graspop Metal Meeting in Belgium. A metal festival seems to be very much to her liking. I could not be happier. And I suggest, dear reader, to give a festival like that a try, too. You might never know how much fun you could have!