Wacken Metal Battle Belgium 2023 Semi Final West-Vlaanderen
-- Wacken Metal Battle Belgium 2023 Semi Final West-Vlaanderen --
Review written by Stijn “Metal Shredder” Daneels with assistance from Marjolein “Mrs. Metal Shredder” Deduytschaever. Pictures by Stijn “Metal Shredder” Daneels.
Since 2018 I’ve been participating as a jury member of the Wacken Metal Battle Belgium. The contest to choose one Belgian metal act to represent our humble, tricolored country during the Wacken Metal Battle itself. After three years of no metal battles, this year the Wacken Metal Battle Belgium has made its triumphant return and Saturday February 19 2023 we went to the bar Verlichte Geest in Roeselare to check out the first six live contestants. Six bands entered, two bands left for the finals.
Before we begin, we would like to give an honorable mention to Malfested. This up-and-coming death metal band was scheduled to participate in this round of the battle but they couldn’t make it because one of their guitarist had a COVID-19 infection. Too bad, since their material impressed both me (when I reviewed their debut album ) and David (when he reviewed the band’s second album ).
Fortunately, some of Malfested’s band members, including vocalist Arne, came over to check out the other five contestants and they had a great time being there. As for Malfested, I hope they’ll be competing next year (unless they get signed to a record label, which would be even better). And now it’s time to discuss the contestants who did perform live that night.
The first live contestant was Deafcon, a band I’ve been following since 2017 and who I last saw live during the currently final edition of Evil Or Die Fest in late 2019 (I really hope to see that festival come back in the future).
Deafcon’s style is straight-forward, Motörhead inspired rock n’ roll with a huge emphasis on speed, melodic solos and snarly vocals. Even the way how frontman David played his bass (more like a rhythm guitar instead of how a bass is usually played) was very reminiscent of this iconic British rock band.
That being said, however, Deafcon still missed some things. For one, it all felt a bit too gimmicky, like the band decided to look and sound like Motörhead without having a lot of individuality of their own. Also they lacked the catchiness and overall flamboyance of Motörhead, I believe Deafcon relied too much on speed without putting in some nuance. I believe they could play some nice bluesy tunes along with the speed metal stuff.
Also, I think Deafcon could’ve acted a bit livelier on stage (although they did come loose more during the latter part of their show), especially guitarist David Seys should’ve showed off his solos some more, he shouldn’t have been stuck to his side of the stage so much and should’ve been put in front and engaging with the crowd when he was jamming his sweet solos. Even though I’ve ranked Deafcon the lowest of the five bands who performed during this round of the Metal Battle, I still enjoyed their show and so did the people in attendance.
Next up was Unravel, a very young band who recently contacted me to check out their debut album “Closure” and although I didn’t give it a lot of attention initially, their performance during the Metal Battle did entice me to check out their material on record.
And their material was quite unique to be honest. Using metalcore as a basis, the band added melody & prog complexities and clean female vocals to the mix. Add to that old-school hardcore male vocals and the vicious main guitar riffs and you had yourself a sound that felt familiar yet more complex and multi-faceted than what you would expect from metalcore.
There were, however, still some rough edges that I noticed during Unravel’s performance. First off, the opening felt too long, it began with a sample and then some instrumentals before the full band finally jumped into action after about 2 or 3 minutes. For me, I would simply keep either the sample or the instrumentals and then go all out. I also felt that vocalist Gaëlle didn’t sing with all her intensity (according to Unravel, this was because this was one of her first gigs using in-ear plugs and she hadn’t yet fully adapted the volume of her voice to match) and that she and her colleague Gilles could still add some extra dynamics to their dual vocal work. With that I mean that I believe they can interchange the vocal duties more frequently than they’re doing right now and maybe a couple more duets.
Still, even with those few rough edges, Unravel genuinely impressed me, metalcore isn’t my favorite subgenre (I enjoy it the most when I see it performed live) but in the case of Unravel I’m very curious to see how this band will evolve. Unravel’s style mixes metalcore brutality with melodic and clean modern metal and spiced with prog. An original take on both metal subgenres that is now unravelling before us.
The third contestant of this round of the Metal Battle was Hope Erodes. Another band I’ve been following for several years now but who’d recently become much more active in terms of gigs and after seeing them live last year at Asgaard Gentbrugge (supporting Primal Creation) and during this particular show, it wasn’t hard to see what drives them.
Like Unravel before them, Hope Erodes is a metalcore band and while their sound wasn’t as original or as complex as Unravel, they more than made up for that with their sheer stage presence and tightly knitted songs. Hope Erodes’s style was as harmony between melodic metal & head-on extreme metalcore.
Where Hope Erodes really took the cake that night was in their presentation. They took the effort to decorate the stage with banners and they used smoke effects very effectively (in fact, they were the only band that night to really put on a visual show). Not only that, but the band used every inch of the stage to scream and jam around and vocalist Koen frequently jumped off the stage to get up close and personal with the crowd while the other members jammed their riffs while the smoke erupted from underneath them creating a sweet visual effect. And all this visual flair and raw energy caused the crowd to eat it all up! There was frequent headbanging, moshing and screaming and this further amplified the bond between the band and the crowd.
For me, Hope Erodes was the best act of the night (and therefore I gave them my jury vote) and that’s saying something given the overall quality of the competition. Hope Erodes’ sound was balanced and this combined with the band’s relentless energy & high chemistry between them and the crowd made sure everyone had an awesome time. Add to that the aforementioned effective use of stage banners and smoke effects and it all resulted in Hope Erodes looking badass, sounding badass and badass enough to move on to bigger things. Hope Erodes may have had some rather underwhelming years before this, but they’ve now finally managed to become a well-oiled wrecking machine.
The fourth band to compete at this round of the Metal Battle was World Decay. A band I hadn’t heard of before except for when I showcased their song “Queen Of Ice” earlier this month as part of Belgian metal band of the day. The comments did tell me to keep my eye out on this up and coming act so I was looking forward to my first live encounter with World Decay.
And World Decay’s sound was quite straightforward, old-school thrash metal inspired by the likes of Toxic Holocaust and Exodus. Their sound features frequent tempo changes, shrieking vocals, melodic guitars, all backed by rhythmic drums and heavy bass. Unfortunately, the band didn’t have the same powerful stage presence as some of the other contestants that night. That doesn’t mean the band stood still on stage, frontman Ben in particular banged his head like crazy and frequently fist-bumped with the folks in front of crowd. All in all, World Decay delivered a solid performance that night in Roeselare, nothing more and certainly nothing less.
That being said, however, I did take the time to listen to their “Blackened Soil” EP when writing this review and I felt their recorded material to be very enjoyable and well-recommended to thrash metal lovers. The only thing left for them to do, is to more properly translate the intensity of their recorded stuff to a live audience. Crank up the energy, crank up the power, use the stage more effectively and I promise you that World Decay could become a thrash force to be reckoned with.
The final performance of this round of the Metal Battle was Promise Down, clearly one of the hardest working Belgian underground rock acts in the past two years given the number of shows they’ve done in 2022 and how many they still have scheduled to do later this year. Last year Promise Down competed and won at the Gullegem Metal Fest battle to earn a spot on this year’s edition of said festival so I was curious to see them compete during this prestigious Metal Battle.
Promise Down’s style is, like Deafcon who played earlier, inspired by Motörhead but also has touches of Mötley Crüe and AC/DC. The result was a catchy and hot-blooded rock n’ roll sound driven by multiple guitar solos, commanding vocals, high emphasis on bass and smooth drum beats. One thing that I’ve always enjoyed about Promise Down is their flamboyant stage presence and this performance was no exception. Frontman William in particular not only sang with conviction but also used body language to fluently convey the message. The other guys also had a blast on stage and as always the camaraderie between the members of Promise Down was convincing and it smoothly seeped through towards the crowd.
One thing that negatively impacted my rating of Promise Down during the Metal Battle was the way they ended their performance. Usually they end their show very memorably with the song “Furious Masturbator” that ends with frontman William shooting heart-shaped confetti or spraying a water bottle during the song’s “climax.” Now, I can understand that they don’t want to end every show the exact same way so I wouldn’t have minded that they ended this specific gig with some short jam session while thanking the people for checking them out. But this time, however, the show ended rather suddenly as if they were playing overtime.
While this Promise Down gig wasn’t the most engaging one I’ve seen from the band thus far, I was still happy to see them perform during that night in Roeselare. Promise Down knows how to entertain a crowd using nothing but pure rock n’ roll flair and I believe they’ve still got many fruitful years ahead of them.
My personal ranking:
1 Hope Erodes (JURY WINNER)2 Promise Down
3 Unravel (AUDIENCE WINNER)
4 World Decay
Both Hope Erodes and Unravel managed to claim a spot for the finals Saturday May 27 in Zingem.
And so that concluded the first live round of the Wacken Metal Battle Belgium 2023. It wasn’t an easy night to judge, but I’m thankful to see each of the constants shine on that humble Verlichte Geest stage and after talking to all the bands after the contest they unanimously agreed that it was a very fun night. Both on and off stage. Now let’s see who will become the six other acts to join Hope Erodes and Unravel during the finals. One thing’s for certain, it’s going to be one hell of a battle.}