Spotlight: Graspop Metal Meeting 2018

author KW date 30/05/18

Festival season is upon us, a time where millions of people travel far and wide to revel in their favourite bands, gallons of beer and great summer vibes. There are a ton of different festivals to choose from in the rock and metal landscapes, each with their own unique twists and locations, and in this feature we are going to cover one of the more promising, larger ones in Europe. Today, we are going on a metaphorical trip to Dessel, Belgium to have a look at Graspop Metal Meeting, a festival sure to peak the interest of all kinds of metal fans with its massive, diverse lineup and likely great beer selection (it is Belgium we are talking about here after all). As the organisers put it themselves: ”For the 23rd time, the Stenehei festival venue in Dessel will rock to its foundations! In keeping with a proud tradition, GMM2018 will bill the crème de la crème of a variety of heavy music genres ranging from hard rock to death metal, from black metal to punk, from metalcore to thrash and many more.”.

WHAT IS GRASPOP METAL MEETING?

Before I cover some of the practical stuff, I think most can agree that first thing’s first.. is the lineup any good? Well as you might have noticed, the lineup features massive icons in both heavy rock and metal such as Guns N’ Roses, Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest, A Perfect Circle, Marilyn Manson, Ghost, Parkway Drive, Limp Bizkit, Megadeth, Rise Against, Arch Enemy, Killswitch Engage etc. But as most people are probably more than familiar with most of these bigger names, I thought I would dig down into the bands written in smaller font and present the picks I personally think should not be missed if it can be helped:

Lower tier bands you cannot miss

Thursday, 21st of June:

Cancer Bats @ 15:40-16:20 on Jupiler Stage

With a brand new album released last month, this Canadian hardcore band should really kick the party off when the festival starts on the Thursday, with their fiery, attitude-driven hardcore. Drawing inspiration from both sludge metal, metalcore and Southern rock, using a similar sound to bands such as Converge, Every Time I Die and Hatebreed, this band should be the perfect soundtrack to chugging down beers in the summer sun and get the moshing going.

Heilung @ 22:00-23:00 at Metal Dome

Known for their highly unique concert experiences, this Scandinavian/German experimental folk-metal project have received high praise for their mesmerizing live shows, with their performance at Midgardsblot in 2017 being ranked as one of the best of the year in Metal Hammer. The magazine have also nominated them for this year’s Golden Gods Awards in the Best Underground Band category. Heilung use many different means of creating wholly unique visuals and sounds such as running water, human bones, swords, shields, frame drums and bronze rings. While not normally my goto genre of music, this set should at least be very interesting to behold.

Friday, 22nd of June:

Galactic Empire @ 12:00-12:40 at Marquee

Yes, this is indeed a Star Wars themed cover band. You cannot deny that the band rides their gimmick and current popularity of the franchise pretty hard, but they are saved by their incredible technical prowess and heavy, tech-metal compositions of classic, undying Star Wars themes. Dressed top to toe in costumes, this should be a fun nostalgia trip for any fan of either Star Wars or instrumental tech-metal.

Zeal & Ardor @ 14:00-14:45 at Metal Dome

Zeal & Ardor has started making noise throughout the metal community the last couple of years. Another highly experimental metal project, this one-man band by Manuel Gagneux, creates sonic landscapes like nothing you have ever heard before. Mixing black metal with Negro spirituals, a combination he somehow made work, this is another one of those bands that I think should be experienced even though that description might sound ridiculous to you, just because of the sheer creativity that goes into this project.

Septicflesh @ 17:45-18:35 at Marquee

Septicflesh from Greece have been releasing back to back bangers of hellish symphonic death metal albums for the last 10 years, and recently acquired the drumming services of ex-Decapitated drummer, Kerim “Krimh” Lechner, who is sure to fill your ears with all the double bass drumming and blast beats your heart desires. Their sound ranges from both Satan-summoning evil and beautiful, melodic string arrangements, so the show should be both neck-breaking and epic.

Neurosis @ 23:30-00:30 at Metal Dome

Legends in the post-metal genre, Neurosis is kind of a mandatory listen for anyone remotely interested in the expansive, atmospheric sounds of the genre. The music is both emotionally complex and sonically diverse, which should fit the late set time perfectly, as listening to this type of music in the darkness is most fitting. A set more for letting the mind flow rather than mosh, but that is sometimes needed too.

Saturday, 23rd of June:

Stray From The Path @ 11:30-12:10 on Main Stage 2

Though I believe Stray From The Path would be much better suited for a smaller stage with their politically charged, pissed off hardcore music, they were promoted to Main Stage 2 with the cancellation of P.O.D. But if anyone is going to beat the ever living shit out of your Saturday hangover, these New Yorkers are a pretty safe bet. Known for the absolute riot they cause in the crowds at their shows, Stray From The Path have recently delved into more “rapcore” sounds, with some clear similarities to Rage Against The Machine. So if that is a band that floats your boat, go check out Stray From The Path.

Batushka @ 13:15-14:00 at Marquee

The mysterious cultish black metal band that is Batushka recently delivered a sold out, fantastic performance at Atlas in Aarhus, Denmark (read our writer RUB’s thoughts here) with an almost hypnotic show. Candles lit all over the stage, chants and a heavy smell of incense are some of the things utilized to create a very complete experience, that I do not want to spoil too much. Batushka avoids the gimmick label by just having overall compelling black metal music and going all in on their theatrics, so definitely a band to check out, especially if you haven’t before.

Baroness @ 21:30-22:20 at Metal Dome

Baroness is a band that has been delving into lots of different sounds. Their earlier stuff was definitely heavier and more influenced by doom and sludge, yet since their release Yellow & Green the focus has been more on creating catchy, melodic hard rock that also incorporates psych influences. This doesn’t mean their music has gotten worse: in my humble opinion quite the opposite. Delivering a great performance at last year’s Copenhell with newly hired guitarist and backup vocalist Gina Gleason, I have high hopes that the appearance at Graspop will match or even surpass it, now that she has had more time to be more integrated into the band.

Sunday, 24th of June:

Employed To Serve @ 11:30-12:10 on Jupiler Stage

If Stray From The Path was in charge of the Saturday hangover cure, Employed To Serve should prove to be a worthy replacement for that job on the last day of the festival. Playing the first set of the Sunday, one word I would use to describe their music is: nasty. Their second album, “The Warmth of a Dying Sun”, released last year and delivered on all cylinders a pummelling mix of technical hardcore, grindcore, post-hardcore and sludge. Breakdowns, dissonance and sporadic outbursts are the key elements here, which should be a cocktail of destruction to anyone who is willing and dares to attend this early.

The Contortionist @ 15:45-16:30 at Metal Dome

A band that can truly call their music progressive, seeing as not one of their four studio albums sound alike, The Contortionist started out making giant waves in the modern progressive scene with their debut release, “Exoplanet”. Delivering an at the same time devastatingly heavy deathcore riffs and blissfully beautiful mix of sounds, the album still stands as a favourite in the tech/djent community. With the latest release, “Clairvoyant”, the band seems to have divided the fanbase a bit, as the heavy overtones of the debut are all but gone, and the atmospheric, post-rocky side has taken over. Still, the album was one of my favourites of 2017 and if the band can translate the vibes put forth from that album well in a live setting, the set is sure to be special.

TesseracT @ 17:30-18:15 at Metal Dome

Metal Dome is getting soaked in modern progressive metal greatness this Sunday, as TesseracT delivers the next performance at this stage. Another personal favourite of mine, TesseracT released two of my favourite albums of all time back to back in One and Altered State. Each very unique in their own respective rights, they helped cement TesseracT as one of the absolute kings of the djent movement of the 2010s. Almost inhumanly tight performances (akin to Meshuggah’s unbelievable live performances) and Dan Tompkins’ emotive vocals are sure to light Metal Dome on fire this Sunday.

Perturbator @ 21:20-22:20 at Metal Dome

I could probably go on and on and I had to be slightly picky about which bands to highlight, but to finish this section off I absolutely have to mention Perturbator. A clear outlier genre wise, as Perturbator is a French synthwave/darkwave producer, yet he has been showing up at other large metal festivals such as Brutal Assault. There is a good reason why his music resonates with the music fans that attend these kind of festivals. His take on the synthwave genre (electronic music highly drawing inspiration from 80s sounds and aesthetics) is dark and evil sounding, and clearly inspired by metal music in tone (not surprising, seeing as he has played guitar for several black metal bands in the past). His light shows are said to be insane, with pentagrams and stroboscopes running rampant. So if you’re not epileptic, this is the decadent dance party to seek out as one of the last acts of the festival.

So there you have it. Only a fraction of the huge lineup has been covered, so it might be a good idea to check out the other bands yourself. The set times can be found here.

Camping

Normal camping is included in the price and is located in an area called camping Boneyard next to the festival arena, where you pitch your own tent or rent a pre-pitched one. Standard stuff. However, there are more options for people perhaps looking for a more quiet and clean experience in the camping Skullotel area, located a bit further away but also providing small cabins with real beds (!!!) for festival goers who are tired of losing sleep in tents. Camping Metal Town provides spaces for motorhomes or caravans and camping Metal Park, located 15 km from the festival grounds, provides luxurious bungalows for several people.

Food & Drinks

Another important factor to any good festival is of course the selection of food and beverages. Graspop promises a wide range range of food in the festival arena, for example, French fries with mayonnaise, hamburgers, hotdogs, pancakes, pulled pork, wraps, juice, snack and more.

There is also the Food Truck zone, where different street food style trucks are located. The festival has also made a conscious choice to provide vegetarian, vegan, lactose and gluten-free options, so there is something for everyone.

Belgium is known for their great craft beers and these types of beers will of course also be present at the festival. Half-litre beers can be bought in the festival area, and if you want something a bit more exciting, speciality beers can be found on tap in the Belgian Beer Bar and the Classic Rock Café.

Like most festivals, you are not allowed to bring your own food and drinks into the festival arena. It should also be noted that the purchase of food and drinks are done through GMM Tokens which can be bought in pre-sale or at the festival. In pre-sale, one token is €2.50 and will net you one beer or soft drink, which should be very affordable compared to Danish prices. If you need more tokens at the festival, the price is €2.85.

Other

Graspop also includes several different stores and entertainment, such as the Festival Fair, where you can perhaps find a unique vinyl, t-shirt, earrings, patches etc. Metal Boulevard is the place where you can even get a haircut or a shave, and pick up some free earplugs while getting your hearing checked by professionals, which is the first time I have heard of such an initiative, which is admirable since keeping your hearing safe is very important if music is a massive part of your life. Signing sessions will also take place so you can get items signed by your favourite artists.

A big ferris wheel and bumper cars are also to be found on site, and if you feel like keeping the site clean while also getting a chance to win some great prizes, you can collect 20 cups or bottles and bring them to the Ducks of Trash stall to get a shot at the “hook-a-duck” game, that can net you backstage tours, Graspop merch and much more.

WHEN?

Graspop Metal Meeting 2018 runs from the 21st of June till the 24th of June this year. Tickets are available here.

WHERE?

The festival takes place in northern Belgium in the small town of Dessel, a town with approximately 10,000 inhabitants, closely located to the border to Holland.

HOW?

For anyone travelling to Belgium by plane, the closest airport to the festival site is Eindhoven Airport in Holland (about 45 km). Brussels Airport (95 km) and Amsterdam Airport (160 km) are also fine options if cheaper, but the longer travel with trains should be considered in both time and money as well.

There are free shuttle buses available from Mol station to the festival site during the festival, so if you’re example coming from Eindhoven, you should get a bus or a train to Mol station and then a shuttle to Dessel.

Bus rides from Scandinavia are also arranged by FestivalBussen. Availability can be checked here.

For people making a road trip out of it and taking the car, parking spaces are free and within walking distance to the festival.

WHY?

But why should you choose to make the trip to Belgium over any other big metal festival? I cannot speak of personal experience since I unfortunately have not had the apparent pleasure of going yet, but taking a quick glance at the Facebook reviews reveals that a lot of people seem to rate it very highly with the organization, sanitation, lineup and sound being central points of praise. It is yet to be seen if that will carry over to this year’s edition, but if they succeed, Graspop is shaping up to be another great place to be as a metalhead during the summer.

We of course haven’t covered everything there is to know about the festival so any missing information can be found on their website.

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