Devistone 2017 is a ‘rock & roll resort’ lasting four days and hosting more than 50 bands over 5 stages located in the mesmerising river valley of Anykščiai, a Lithuanian town rich in myths and folktales.* Camping, chilling and sleepless nights dancing to Raketkanon, Alcest, Oathbreaker, Dollkraut, Oranssi Pazuzu, Sólstafir, Zeal & Ardor, Heaven Shall Burn, Satyricon and many more... To me Devilstone is special not only due to its killer line-up, beautiful location and diverse cultural programming, but also because the event takes place in my home country. Thus, I’d like to start this humble review with a brief introduction to Lithuania and its extreme music scene.
Lithuania was occupied by both Nazi Germany and Soviets. During the last 27 years of independence the deep dark wound that years of terror, the destruction of civil liberties, mass expulsions and persecutions left has only started to heal… In January 2017 the United Nations reclassified Lithuania as a Northern European country. “I am an Eastern European trash no more” – I’d take the piss out of myself in front of my British mates… The purely geopolitical move did not make us any more (or less) Northern though…
As the country is fighting its socio-economic and political anxieties, some of us are finding strength and refuge in music. From the Singing Revolution and a political movement led by musicians in the struggle for independence to the underground punk/metal-hardcore scene embracing anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-homophobic beliefs, music has long been known (and feared) for its subversive power. When I was a teenager, listening to alternative music had real life risks in Lithuania. Involvement in the extreme music scene meant a literal fight for freedom of expression and thought as one had to stand their ground mentally and physically against gangsters and neo-Nazis. Consequently, for many of us, hardcore-metalheads, music means more than entertainment or aural pleasure. It carries political notions. It is an escape from the mundane and a chance for the less privileged to create, transcend and be a part of a community. Ultimately, it is about passion… and Devilstone proves itself to be a celebration built by and for real enthusiasts!
The 9th edition of Devilstone has exceeded my expectations sonically and culturally. With the largest number of foreign visitors attending this year, football, foosball, skateboard ramp, Kubb, table tennis, art exhibitions, performances, workshops, a chance to get a piercing, play a piano, perform on stage anything from MC to a stand-up comedy, paint, swim in the river or join a discussion on topics such as women in music or the impact of alcohol consumption on the scene (both very valid issues in the Lithuanian social context), Devilstone grew into a multifaceted cultural experience rather than simply a fest. In contrast to many European indoor festivals with no such programming, Devilstone’s non-musical activities alone render a verdict 10/10. Engaging the audience from head to toe, the festival immediately set the bar high. But now let’s move onto sonic highlights of the fest!
Raketkanon © Dainius Dambrauskas
Belgians Raketkanon are known for their crazy wild live shows. Here in Devilstone it is cold and raining, but we couldn’t care less! The band proves its notorious reputation to the fullest. The drummer brings the heat by going on stage naked wearing only a transparent raincoat, whereas the singer jumps off the stage raving shoulder to shoulder with the equally mental Devilstone audience. Songs are sung in a language that the vocals has invented himself, but that does not stop the crowd from singing along… and stage diving! Thundering, weighty guitar groans and drones intertwining with luscious synth and weird electronic noises suit the weather and location perfectly. With a hedonistic pleasure we drink greedily this Belgian cocktail of noise rock blended with punk attitude. I say ‘punk’ since these guys are not afraid of mocking themselves. Yet they are doing it with a mesmerizing grace and style. Raketkanon feels original, earthy and refreshing in both their sound and attitude.
Next on the East Stage are Raketkanon’s fellow country(wo)men Oathbreaker. Much to our dismay, Oathbreaker do not sound right. I don’t know who to nail to a cross for seriously messing up their set, but Caro’s vocals is too low, guitars are muddy… Hopefully the drummer is enjoying his pummelling drumming… Overall, Oathbreaker are not convincing. Each song from ‘Rheia’ is performed following the very same structure and lacks genuine emotion. It could be the sound to blame, but only the last song (‘Glimpse of the unseen’ from the album 'Mælstrøm’) stands out for its dynamics and organic feel.
Alcest © Dainius Dambrauskas
A series of unfortunate events happen to Alcest. The flight of French blackgazers is massively delayed while their instruments do not arrive. Despite all trials and tribulations, Alcest borrow instruments from Devilstoners and give one of their best shows ever. Humbled and apologetic for the delay, they remain confident to deliver. The electrifying connection between the crowd and the band is nearly impossible to word. The supportive audience is jumping enthusiastically (due to the delay Alcest are playing at 3am) and humming to dreamy shoegazy Alcestian soundscapes. What strikes me most is the gentleness of Zero’s (guitar) back vocals, accompanying Neige’s ethereal clean singing.
Veiled in lashings of smoke of the West Stage Icelandic rockers Sólstafir bring atmospheric soundscapes on. Graceful guitars and restrained drums create a nostalgic mood in the amphitheatre surrounded by woods. The emotive clean vocal performance adds depth to cinematic melodic lines. Having said that, Solstafir’s unique sound is undermined by a rather disengaging stage-presence where all the moves and words seem pretentious and thespian.
Sólstafir © Dainius Dambrauskas
Oranssi Pazuzu are one of the biggest highlights of the fest. The performance of the Finnish psychedelic black metallers takes us from the woods of Anykščiai into the woods of Twin Peaks. A mindfucking dream world it is. My mate compares Orassi Pazuzu to King Crimson, ‘except the vocals is much better and hardcore’, - he adds. I agree and complement the band further, - Oranssi Pazuzu manage to produce linear soundscapes that are highly complex and layered. Their jazzy groove and noise elements have a strong hypnotic effect. Titled as the most cosmic black metal band, Oranssi Pazuzu not only maintain a level of sustained intensity throughout the show, - with each riff, beat and haunting synth tone endlessly evolving, the Finns are getting better, bolder and more bizarre.
At night we discover Dollkraut, an electronic kraut wave outfit from Netherlands. Both nostalgic and futuristic Dollkraut produce soundtrack for an intergalactic battle in a Sci-fi movie. Spacey Kraftwerky melodies are exactly what we need at 2am. Highly danceable and joyous Dollkraut make an excellent headliner - the crowd begs for one more song and gets it (thank you stage managers!).
The night is far from over. Those having an adrenaline rush join the Turbo Stage to dance to 4x4 beats selected by the local electronic music heroes Shn and Mantas T (Partyzanai). Both DJs stay true to their sound, which is basically techno, and metalheads do seem to enjoy it. Voila!
Heaven Shall Burn © Dainius Dambrauskas
I used to listen to Heaven Shall Burn when I was 15. This sunny Saturday evening I came to realise that the German quintet’s anger, melodic death metal riffs and throat-shredding screams are as charming as 15 years ago. Mosh, circle pit, rowing in unison – Heaven Shall Burn savagery ignite the crowd!
Norwegian black metallers Satyricon put a brilliant performance. The vocals sounds brasher and rawer live, guitars feel punchy, blastbeats are galloping. Nonetheless, high expectations lead to higher disappointments. Satyricon do not tell a story nor surprise us. The only surprise is that the Norwegians invite the audience to their next gig in Russia. Sorry folks, but Russia is not that close nor easily accessible (e.g. we need visas).
Zeal & Ardor © Vytenis Jurevičius
Zeal & Ardor are one of the bands that do not confine to genre boundaries. And while nowadays almost every other band is titled as genre-bending/genre-blurring, soundscapes of Zeal & Ardor are truly unorthodox. Blues and soul melodies and chants, Satanic vibes, provoking lyrics and black metal infused riffs are conquering the hearts of loyal Devilstoners. Special credits should be given to the backing vocals of Denis Wagner, a zesty topping to Zeal & Ardor’s sound. Indeed, not many bands make such a great use of back vocals and even fewer have such strong overpowering voices. The last song is of course ‘Devil Is Fine.’ This thematically perfect song sounds both catchy and punishing live. The crowd knows lyrics by heart and doesn’t want to let the Americans (or I should say Swiss-Americans) go. Zeal & Ardor should become the face of the festival! First, all is undertaken with great zeal at Devilstone. Secondly, damn, yeah Devil(stone) is fine!
Suicideoscope are my local favourites. Playing the last on the Barbablu stage, Lithuanians deliver a long set of dark experimental lo-fi electronica. Self-titled as post-industrial gloomgaze and sadcore (a part of their description on bandcamp), three frontmen of Suicideoscope (yes, there are 3 vocals!) lyrically address social issues and existential dread. I keep my eyes glued to live drums by Lukas Jankauskas. So immediately impressive, Lukas demonstrates professional musicianship and unusual arrangements.
Let’s admit, we are hammered on Sunday. But here come Timid Kooky to cheer us up and wash away the pain. This brand new Lithuanian band shows clear references to Primus. Even the bassist’s leg is moving alike. Psychedelic and delivering high entertainment Timid Kooky is a flawless finale to the fest.
We feel tired but happy. 4 days and 3 nights in this wild (in every sense of the word) open-air proved that Lithuanians truly know how to persevere and rejoice. Devilstone has woken our primal selves up. Like mythical beasts inhabiting the Lithuanian forests we are burning on fire, eager to know what the 10th Devilstone will bring about! But for now, I must note that there was a tanker truck load of more bands/artists/DJs on the bill that I haven’t paid respect to due to time and space constraints. My humble verdict – Devilstone is a thought-provoking and adventurous place for discovery. Being primarily a metal festival, the event challenges genre boundaries and conceptions sonically and culturally. The quality of the music and activities on display is testament to zeal (and ardor) of the promoters. I’m feeling extremely grateful for all the effort organisers, volunteers, artists and passionate mélomanes put in to make this monumental experience happen.
*There is a legend about a stone located in Anykščiai. The devil planned to destroy the church by dropping this huge stone on it.