Another celebration of rock music which has survived the intermission of the pandemic, Skogsröjet, took over the bygning of Rejmyre in Sweden for two days under powerful sun and glowering humid clouds. It has around 4-5000 spectators and two stages. The NRM team who drove over to Sweden were delighted to see Skogsröjet back on the calendar. It’s a friendly and generally well run festival with strong acts, experienced staff, and a pleasant crowd. The food and merch is also good. More time between bands would certainly benefit the artists, for although the two stages are only a few hundred yards apart, it takes several hundred people quite a while to move a few hundred yards. And with the style of music being generally consistent, I dare say many people had to choose between seeing the end of one artist they loved and the start of the next. A «Tack så hemskt mycket» from us to our hosts, and look forward to seeing you next year.
We checked out nine of the artists, including a special performance by headliners W.A.S.P., which was only their second performance since 2019. Did Blackie Lawless deliver? Find out below!
Text: Alex Maines
Foto: Anne-Marie Forker
Friday, 29th July
Eclipse took the second stage late in the afternoon. An expectant crowd was waiting for them, getting larger as the set progressed. It was fast-paced, the first four tracks running on to each other with barely a breath between. Erik Mårtensson was on fine form, with a powerful delivery on «Saturday Night» and sharing the centre stage for a guitar duet with guitarist Magnus Henriksson. Victor Crusner took the lead on the opening phrases of «Battlegrounds» off the 2012 album «Bleed and Scream», a lilting delivery which carried the song, giving it the feeling of a sea shanty with more edges. «The Masquerade» from «Paradigm» was one of the highpoints, a well received, heavier number, as the middle part of the set gave the band a chance to show some versatility after the earlier more conventional hard rock numbers. «The Downfall of Eden» from 2017’s «Monumentum» was arguably the most serious, soulful number in the set, and the audience joined in throughout. «Our absolute favourite», declared Mårtensson – fair comment. The later «Black Rain» gave drummer Philip Crusner his chance to show off, with a series of rich fills and breaks before and during the final guitar solo. A high quality, flawless set, full of energy, good humour, and rock’n’roll. (4/6)
Danko Jones returned to the festival after last playing here in 2018. Given the main stage for their set, lead singer, the eponymous Danko expressed his gratitude and delight «It’s great to be back at this festival. This is where the real rock and rollers go… all the music here is vetted by real rock and rollers.» It was a popular, fast-paced set, driven along by drummer Rich Knox, with John Calabrese’s bass playing on «I Gotta Rock» getting the reasonable sized crown in the mood early, and they clapped along enthusiastically to numbers such as «Crazy» and «I’m in a Band». Nice to see you, Danko. What’s up with your elbow? (3.5/6)
Michael Schenker, on the smaller stage with Michael Schenker Group, greeted the dense crowd – «Hallo everybody, I’ve no idea how we ended up on this stage, but here we are!» So started an understandably guitar-focused set by a man who can legitimately be called a legend of his craft, and who has continually produced and created since his late teenage years with Scorpions. After the lively instrumental «Into the Arena» (including some passages which sounded like Bach), Rob McAuley took the stage to provide the vocals for the duration. He’s a truly fine vocalist, but neither he nor the audience were in any doubt who people had come to see, and he stepped back from the centre stage whenever he could. Schenker dazzled from the word go. In «Cry for the Nations», we got not one but two guitar solos, both exceptional. It was a set full of UFO covers, but this just gave Schenker space to play and play. The guitar work on «Lights Out» and «Let it Roll» were particularly worth mentioning, with interesting modal passages and lightning-fast playing of long melodic lines. «Rock Bottom» also featured an extensive instrumental passage at its heart, a (welcome?) break from the traditional rock song structure. There, Schenker rolled out a varied and dynamic extemporisation, with changes in pace and focus on melody, but also including some curious percussive effects. Of his own work, «Sail the Darkness» from the group’s 2021 album «Immortal» stood out for sheer musical inventiveness. The «A King Has Gone» from his latest record, «Universal», a song written about the life and death of Ronnie James Dio, was less impressive. Overall, what to say of the set? Adventurous, sure, musically interesting, yes, by and large that too. However, in the view of the undersigned, it leaned towards being too long-winded at times. This is the risk with a band which is a vehicle for a single musician, especially a guitarist, even one as talented as Schenker. For all the man’s brilliance, the undersigned would have had «less as more», and the musicianship would have stood out even more. (4.5/6)
Så kommer vi til fredagens hovedretter’n – Europe. In a festival stuffed with local talent, there had to be a Swedish headliner – it’s only fair. The band took the stage to sounding thunder and an orchestral intro. The band still take themselves seriously, as they should. They started with «Walk the Earth» from their 2017 album of the same name, reminiscent of «Kashmir» by Led Zeppelin, full of rhythm and atmosphere, and giving front-man Joey Tempest the earliest possible chance to get the crowd involved, gesturing to for them to raise their hands into the beam of light which played out over the crowd on the line «hands held high», which they duly did. In this way, Mic Michaeli also got to show his role in the band early, his keyboards providing the dense textures of this excellent, newer piece. «Rock the Night», from their triple-platinum international breakthrough «The Final Countdown» album, followed. «Skogsröjet, you look great!» declared Tempest, with the notes of John Norum’s first full-intensity solo still ringing in our ears, with another, bluesier effort to follow on «Scream of Anger». Next, the gentle hit «Carrie», in a strange change of pace, and perhaps a bit of an uncomfortable moment for Norum who had left the band in 1986 because of his dislike of the band’s musical direction, not rejoining until 2003. The set, however, was probably to his overall liking, with only four songs from the 1988 album, «Out of This World». Ironic then that he was given a guitar with the wrong tuning at the start of «Sign of the Times» from that record. Not that he didn’t play well – he did. In fact, the band generally were on good form for a set which leaned heavily on their earlier career, with tracks like «Open Your Heart» while also including singles from later records, like «Firebox». John Levén was a commanding presence, stage right, never more than on «Superstitious» (which was embellished with a section from «Here I Go Again» by Whitesnake), with Ian Haugland on drums keeping the set moving. So, it was something of tour through their most prominent work. As if to underline that point, the set finished with a rousing rendition of «Cherokee» and the inevitable finale, «The Final Countdown», which has become a concert (and club) staple, cutting across generations from those who remember it to those who have found it now. Kitsch? Perhaps, but the audience went nuts. (4/6)
Saturday, 30th July
Fy faen, could it get any hotter? 28 degrees as we reached the festival on Saturday afternoon, catching the closing minutes of Treat‘s set, which sounded excellent – tight and full of energy – someone to see in full at another event.
We had arrived in good time for Nestor‘s performance, justly slated for the main stage. The band have been working hard this summer, promoting their «Kids in a Ghost Town» record, well-named because they had indeed once been kids in ghost town, as vocalist Tobias Gustavsson explained in between lines in their opening number «On the Run» (you thought it was called «Call the Police», didn’t you). The packed audience knew all the words and clapped along happily, with Gustavsson conducting, and Jonny Wemmenstedt’s guitar-playing enriched every track, dazzling with melodic lines on «Tomorrow» and even lifting the rather predictable «Perfect Ten». «Signed in Blood», a song about the forming of the band, gave bassist Marcus Åblad his standout moment. Martin Frejinger (keys) added catchy riffs, especially on «These Days», but also had to duck for cover after Gustavsson threw his mic stand into the air and it landed on the keyboards. Mattias Carlsson on drums was a constant and unshowy presence, but don’t underestimate his technical skill, as not a beat was out of place in a fast-moving set of largely upbeat numbers. Gustavsson has every song as a chance to show off his vocals, their range, power, clarity, and emotional subtlety too. His duet work on «Tomorrow» was excellent – and the audience agreed. Never let anyone tell you that this is kitsch or pastiche. These are real musicians at the top of their game, and while their music evokes an era, it also stands on its own, as a heavier track like «Firesign» shows, or the closing number, the more serious ballad «It Ain’t Me». Here Gustavsson’s vocals were on another level, a clear declaration of intent, that they are a serious band, here to stay. (5/6)
Michael Monroe is the real deal, a rock’n’roll star to the tips of his bright red faux cowboy boots. The undersigned will be pleased if he can pull off a quarter of the moves this man can when he reaches his age, like doing the splits, standing on the pit rail while singing, or climbing up the stage rig to try to hang off the PA. There’s a whole western vibe, with cowboy hats and tassled jackets (did you not check the forecast?) in the crowd and a spaghetti western film music montage to usher the man on. «Well, well, well!» grins Monroe and without further hesitation kicks off a high energy set of fairly short songs in a traditional rock’n’roll mould, but not relying on his back catalogue too much. «Last Train to Tokyo» from his 2019 record «One Man Gang» featured early in the set, as did «I Live Too Fast to Die Young!» from his latest record of the same name, and «Murder the Summer of Love». None of this works without a decent band, something which a man of his pedigree understands, and you couldn’t fault them, especially the front line, Steve Conte and Rich Jones, both of whom had solos, but whose presence was understandably understated compared with their live-wire front man, who even had a sax solo on «Trick of the Wrist» from the «Sensory Overdrive» record. The encore was «Dead, Jail or Rock ‘n’ Roll» – I suspect the latter has been keeping him away from the other two for most of his life. Whether you like the style of the music or not, there’s no questioning the commitment or quality. (4.5/6)
«Please welcome the metal queen of the world, Doro Pesch!» so drummer and long-time band member Johnny Dee welcomed Doro to the stage. The crowd was on the thinner side at the start, a side-effect of the festival planners’ decision to back-to-back bands on each stage, giving no «migration time» for the audience, in the opinion of the undersigned. By the time of the short punchy solo on «Earthshaker Rock», the audience had filled out nicely, so it was fair comment when she said «You guys look great». Shame they weren’t in better voice, as the audience completely missed their cue when Doro tried to get them to join in on the chorus for the catchy «East Meets West». The set leaned heavily and understandably on her past as the front of Warlock, with more than half of the set from that band’s oeuvre. Like Monroe, Pesch has kept up her condition and showed no signs of tiring as she ranged and cavorted around the front of the stage, her voice still powerful and flexible. Only two tracks from her later solo work «Forever Warriors» – as someone admittedly wedded to her fans, she knew what they wanted to hear. (3.5/6)
Udo Dirkschneider, Doro’s countryman, had taken one leaf out of her book, providing a set taken entirely from his time with Accept, but could perhaps have taken another. The man is of course a legend, and his sheer presence almost seems in keeping with that, but the coarse high-pitched vocals and the largely static performance don’t really do him or his back catalogue any favours, despite the very positive audience response. As soon as «Breaker» segued into «Midnight Mover», they were already clapping along in time, like they knew what was coming next. A good metal-style guitar solo for Andrey Smirnov, and Dirkschneider greeted the crowd «Good to be back after being away for so long». The encore was, of course, the classic «Balls to the Wall». (2.5/6)
A montage of snippets of early W.A.S.P. hits warmed the audience up before the band came on stage. It was clearly intended to be the climax of the event. This was one of only two concerts the band had played in Europe this year, and there was notable anticipation. The undersigned saw a number of ice hockey and football-style shirts among the festival crowd with «B Lawless» and a number on the back. When the band did come up, they stood around the kit, getting their mojo together, before Blackie Lawless stamped onto the stage. Lawless was an imposing, glowering, taciturn presence throughout, dressed largely in black apart from some strange white boots (just look at the photos – the undersigned has no words). He spoke only briefly to the crowd with links between songs, or later on when directing sections of the crowd to sing along. His voice has quite a different character at different pitches. For the better part of the show, we got the usual fierce metal vocal style. To be picky, it seemed that the higher end was weaker than in earlier performances, and needed more support from Mike Duda’s strong backing vocals. On the other hand, at the lower end, in the slower numbers, the voice was sonorous and rich, full of character and emotion. It wasn’t the longest set. It started with «On Your Knees» from their debut, segueing into «Inside the Electric Circus». A cover of The Who’s «The Real Me» followed and fit really well, with Duda’s bass playing, of a high standard throughout, particularly impressive here. Although there weren’t many pieces played, with two «joined» tracks, a number contained extended musical passages, giving guitarist Douglas Blair – who deserves special mention across the whole event – opportunity to show off his talent. His finest moment, and longest, came midway through the first half, in «The Idol» from the 1992 «The Crimson Idol» album. It’s a soulful piece, full of melancholy and yearning, feelings the guitar playing needs to express and reinforce. Blair did not disappoint, either in the central solo, the bridge of the song, or where he picked up the same themes at the close, weaving and dancing with his guitar as the music flowed out of the instrument, as he did throughout the show, standing still only when the music stopped. After around fifty minutes and only seven numbers, including the second half-and-half of «Hellion» and «I Don’t Need No Doctor» (which went down especially well), Lawless bid the crowd «goodnight» and the band departed. Some minutes passed, and they returned for two more tracks from «The Crimson Idol». The audience was brought back to full attention by the sound of a chainsaw introducing «Chainsaw Charlie (Murders in the New Morgue)», the pounding bass-pedal work of Aquiles Priester upping the pace. Here was probably the best drumming of the show. Next came a substantial performance of «The Great Misconceptions of Me» with multiple repeats of the chorus, intensity growing. The crowd joined in on the “I don’t wanna be”s, and for the undersigned, this was Lawless’s most powerful vocal performance of the evening, however loud and raw his singing was otherwise. Once the final tones had faded into the Rejmyre woodland, Lawless again said «goodnight» and a much longer paused followed. The undersigned has to say that the intermission was certainly starting to turn into an «awkward silence» by the time the band returned for the unashamed crowd-pleasers «Wild Child» and «I Wanna be Somebody», which got the reaction you’d expect, hands raised in applause all the way to the treeline. W.A.S.P. have multiple Swedish gigs scheduled for next year. Lawless had asked, earlier, «Sweden, are you ready?» Looks like they are. (5/6)