Brutal Assault 2016 – Review

Day 1 – Wednesday
I was pumped to have gotten to Brutal Assault! It is held within the confines of an ex-army fortress, Josefov, which is in Jaroměř, a couple of hours northwest of Prague by train, on the Polish border. I knew arriving Wednesday afternoon wasn’t the best, but I thought it would be a breeze setting up my tent, getting my festival wristband, getting beers using the cashless system (I lost my ATM card, so this was the only way I was going to be drinking at the festival!) and enjoying the bands.

Neurosis

I quickly set up my tent right on the hill across from the festival entrance, right before the rain. I came downhill to check in for the festival and seamlessly get in and get on with watching bands. It unfortunately turned out that I had to stand in line for 2 hours in a constant downpour to check in, without beer or an umbrella in hand. I did make new friends while searching for old ones. Finally, I got my wristband with the cashless chip attached, a schedule, and a brochure. I was on my way!

I walked onto the festival grounds mid-set of Devildriver and was able to catch some groove metal and relax a little. I was a bit down that I had missed Sadist from Italy and Goatwhore from USA, but I had to move on. Perhaps the rain had messed with the acoustics, but I had to sadly admit that I didn’t watch the whole Neurosis performance because the sound was nothing like it was at Maryland Deathfest a few years prior, and I didn’t want to taint that experience.

To support one of the two bands here from my city of Atlanta, I watched Mastodon, and tried to get into their now more melodic style. Next was Abbath, a black metal legend – “Abbath,” the crowd chanted that night and throughout the festival week.

The problem was, I couldn’t sleep, I was simply not as prepared for this brutal weather assault as I should have been – I mean, it is summer! (and I obviously don’t camp often enough) – so I had to think on my feet. I grabbed a few things and made my way back to the main street, finding out rather quickly that there is a shuttle bus that goes into the nearest big city, Hradec Králové, and drops people off at their pre-assigned hotels. I had to give it a shot – plus the bus was warm. Luckily, as I was searching for accommodation on my phone, I found someone who was going to a hotel I was interested in going to. I was able to secure a room for 12 euro a night for the rest of the week – the room includes two single beds that are lined up along the wall. It isn’t much, but it’s the best place to stay dry and keep warm.

Day 2 – Thursday

I got a bit of a late start this morning and went to the nearby mall to explore, pick up beers and provisions, and look for a new Czech SIM card. I got back to the hotel to get on the next shuttle bus back to the festival.

I got there in time to watch Aborted, a Belgian death metal band with piercing vocals and lightning-fast drums. Similar in genre, next up were The Black Dahlia Murder, a death metal band from Michigan. What stood out the most was the famous, or perhaps infamous, “Heartburn” tattoo across the vocalist Trevor Strnad’s stomach, which is allegedly because he gets a lot of heartburn. Immolation played next, again without their new guitarist, Alex Bouks – at Metaldays, they had announced that he was dealing with a medical emergency; I hope all is well now. I couldn’t wait to watch Exodus perform again – I was floored by their performance at Metaldays. Their thunderous thrash music erupted upon the entirety of the fortress and showed you just who’s boss – there is no denying that they are huge for a reason.

It was a tough act to follow, but French band Gojira played a progressive technical death metal set that was actually enough to convince me to give them a listen. “Gojira” is a Japanese pronunciation of “Gozilla,” which was their once original band name. The second act I couldn’t wait for was Ministry – it was my first time seeing these industrial legends, and they did not disappoint! – it was too bad that the set seemed too short. Then the Norwegian black metal band 1349 descended heavily upon the hungry crowd and sang them the best night-time lullaby they could dream of – strobes, pyrotechnics, clouds of smoke and all.

Day 3 – Friday

It’s always a good idea to account for traffic – a delayed 30-minute ride turned into an hour-long “I hope I don’t miss too many bands.” I got to the festival in time to catch some Swedish death metal by Grave, then indulge into some Canadian thrash metal by Voivod. The extreme metal band from Greece, Septic Flesh, played a solid set, all while a big red teddy bear was being tossed around – I guess you can only handle so much metal at once! I was hoping for even more extreme music, and figured Raised Fist would be angsty enough; however, it appeared to be more metalcore, and I was still hoping for more heavy music throughout the night – and I got it! Death metal path-makers from the southeast heavy metal capital Tampa, Florida, Obituary, made you nod on every down beat and really appreciate the roots of metal music. To follow up perfectly, well-known Swiss thrash band Coroner played up to the surrounding atmosphere – rainy and gloomy, blue and moody, soaked and thirsty for heavy riffs to warm up the soul.

In between bands, I picked up my new favorite meal – ¼ grilled chicken breast at one stall, and a side of mushrooms and mixed vegetables at another. I believe the vegan and vegetarian caterers were the same as at Obscene Extreme. The food was excellent, and the lines for the few varieties of Budweiser Budvar beer (the Czech version, not the American garbage) were never very long. A meal would run about 5 euro, and beer was 1.5 euro a cup, and the same with shots and the like. The token system was in place as at any other festival – 1.5 euro deposit per cup, which would have been great had I not kept losing my cups.

Today appeared to be quite the heavy line-up, with Satyricon following right up with more Norwegian black metal. Cattle Decapitation sang about just that – animal rights. The big acts just kept on tonight with Arch Enemy creating a tight (and honestly, a bit harsh and pushy) crowd – everyone wanted to see and hear Alissa’s growls. Meanwhile, Taake played on another stage, and I had to put them off for another time. Die Krupps from Düsseldorf, Germany got people to loosen up and party to their industrial/EBM music in the Metalgate tent. Rounding out the night was a Swedish death metal performance by Dark Funeral while it was pouring buckets of rain.

I made it through the rain, mud, cold, and crowd back to the shuttle bus, and couldn’t be happier to experience the warmth of the bus and the hotel room once I got there. Nothing better than a hot shower after a chilly night out!

Day 4 – Saturday

Finally, the sun came out! And with that, my mood and opinion of the festival improved, too – to me, the weather is a huge factor in festival enjoyment, however unpredictable it may be.

One of the four bands I watched on the main stage on the right, the Metalshop stage, was Ektomorf from Hungary, which I would describe as nu metal or groove metal – they were great to photograph, as they constantly jumped up and down, often in unison, and kept the crowd going in circles in the pit. Next were rap metal pioneers Stuck Mojo from my hometown, Atlanta – “To the fans ’cause we’re still rocking” summed it up quite well, as everyone kept their heads bobbing to the tunes.

I spent some time wandering through the passages of the fortress, trying new beers (I found I liked the dark beer the most, which was available only at certain stalls), running into friends, going on an underground candle-lit tunnel tour, trying to understand an art exhibit, admiring the rustic atmosphere, and picking up merch. There were more than 20 kinds of shirt designs to choose from, so even on the last day, shopping was easy. I came back to my tiny tent I had set up on the first day right across from the main entrance to drop off my goods. I had some beers with my photographer friends and I started a challenge – to fit 7 people into a 1-person tent without breaking it – and I succeeded! My good ol’ tent suffered only minor bruises, but stood right back up again after the debauchery. I wandered around the camping area where tents were set up around the perimeter of the fortress to get a better sense of the place and get even better photos. I could still hear the music coming from the two main stages, so I didn’t feel like I was missing out on the action, either.

Finally, at 8 pm, it was time to return for Agnostic Front – it was my first time seeing them, and I was really excited to see some real hardcore punk crossover thrash on the first main stage, the Jägermeister stage. Their energy was infectious, and neither the crowd nor the band members kept both feet on the ground for long.

Once everyone caught their breath after the set, the mood shifted into darkness, and people prepared for Polish black metal band Behemoth to envelop the whole of Brutal Assault, as the entirety of the main stage area was filled with people. It was at this show, too, that I ran into a friend from the US, someone I met at my first Maryland Deathfest in 2010, a Baltimore festival that became an annual religion for my best friend Amanda and I. Behemoth’s machine-gun drum attacks and guitar riffs combined with funeral-style vocals, fire blazes, and super acting, all on a dark and rainless night – it was a perfect musical storm. To continue down the shadowy path, atmospheric and melodic neighbors Mgła from the other side of Poland furthered the black metal evening on the same stage. They donned their usual uniform of all black – leather jackets, hoodies, and face masks – ensuring anonymity in the shadows of the night.

I thought the best of the night was already over, and I went up to the overlook part of the main stage area to grab a couple of beers and relax. Surprised I was, however, by Ufomammut – no, I could not remember how to spell their name, let alone pronounce it, for a good few months. The Italian psychedelic doom metal trio gave me what I felt the festival was lacking – music from my favorite genre. The space-like sounds, the thick and sludgy riffs, the laid-back atmosphere was just what was needed after four days of thrash, black metal, hardcore, death metal, and everything in between.

Since I was so taken over by Ufomammut, I didn’t pay attention to the schedule, so once they were done, I ran over to the Metalgate tent to catch the last few songs by Venom Inc, an ex-Venom trio, whom I saw earlier this year in Atlanta with Necrophagia and Sadistic Ritual. Next up were Swedish black metal band Valkyrja from Sweden, though I have to admit, I didn’t stay for very long as I was perfectly satisfied with everything I had heard tonight and this week, and I was exhausted. It was time to head back to pack up my tent and get on the last shuttle at 3 am, say my goodbyes, flirt with the shuttle coordinator once more, and get some shut-eye before leaving on a train back to Prague at noon.

Next year, I hope the wifi signal will actually work better so I can top up my cashless card, and I’ll be sure to bring cash for the non-cashless merch stands. I’ll also make time to watch an actual full-length film in the movie room, besides just staying warm and nodding off. I’ll also get in line earlier for the signing sessions, as the cut-off is strict and the lines are long. And yes, there better not be many lines – it is too small a festival for a long queue.

Until next time, Brutal Assault!

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