29.9.2023 Euroblast – DAY 1 @ Essigfabrik, Cologne 

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Characterized by its unique lineup and familiar atmosphere among visitors and staff, Euroblast is a festival that gathers not only the most influential bands of the broader progressive scene but also offers insight into lesser-known acts that have just as much to offer as the more commercially accomplished. Keeping that in mind, every day holds a surprise for any connoisseur of progressive rock and metal. This year promised to be a special edition due to the festival’s 15th anniversary. This year’s Euroblast took place from September 20th to October 1st, 2023 at Essigfabrik in Cologne. For anyone who identifies as a proghead, Euroblast is a name that should at the very least sound familiar and a must-visit festival!

Euroblast‘s first day included bands like DISILLUSION, MANKIND, GGGOLDDD, SHEER CEREBRAL POWER, THIS WILL DESTROY YOU, ICE SEALED EYES, THE OCEAN, and more…

Situated on the outer perimeter of the beautiful city of Cologne, the grounds of a former vinegar factory host one of the most interesting festivals in the progressive metal sphere. Over three days, bands from around the world perform on two stages. The larger stage is located to the right, just next to the entrance, comprising a larger hall and two main bar areas. The second stage is situated in a cellar behind the main venue, only a couple of minutes’ walk from the other. The cellar stage, however, has limited capacity but still offers a special atmosphere. The downside is that you’ll need to be quick to secure a good viewing spot for the band’s performance. Overall, this shouldn’t be much of a problem since the running order is carefully planned to minimize overlaps between bands, both planned and unplanned.

The festival’s first day kicked off on the main stage with the German quintet DISILLUSION, a progressive metal outlet with over 20 years of experience, whose style set them apart from most bands because of the unique tone of vocalist, guitarist, and main composer Andy Schmidt‘s, accompanied by a fair amount of melodic death metal accents. Their set-list consisted mainly of songs from their latest album “Ayam” which could very well be defined as their opus magnum. This last full-length album elegantly fuses all the elements that have permeated their style since their debut effort back in 2003. From the emotive lyrics to quieter acoustic transitions, and into explosive melodies, DISILLUSION distinguish themselves from the rest by their heartfelt compositions, something that was also clear in their solid performance.

Next in line, it was time to explore some up-and-coming acts and with the Belgian MANKIND, we ventured into the more unfamiliar territories of the festival right at the start. The band surprised us with a pristine fresh sound of clean vocals that created catchy melodies with tastefully composed rhythm guitars. Coincidentally, the band from Antwerp released their debut album, “Last of Us,” on the same day. We were excited to listen to some of these newly released songs and made us want to discover the whole record.

GGGOLDDD from The Netherlands followed with a heart-wrenching performance. It’s the second time we’ve had the chance to see them live and the passion for their art truly is consistent over time. Out of elements from dark ambient, post-rock, and electronic rock, GGGOLDDD creates a soundscape that at times feels overwhelmingly dark but ends up being pleasantly nuanced by Milena Eva‘s clear voice filled with emotion. Upon further digging into the band, it becomes clear the singer’s personal experience fuels this band’s music. They earnestly portray Milena Eva‘s experience with sexual assault through the best medium one could hope for in such unfortunate circumstances, through art. Their music is not only to be listened intently but also understood and deeply felt.

We made our way into the cellar stage and tried to find a good spot to watch SHEER CEREBRAL POWER. While at first glance, it might seem that their music could easily be labeled as ’70s or ’80s progressive rock, it didn’t take long to recognize there is something more about them, somewhat of an underlying intention that is difficult to pinpoint. At the latest, when vocalist John Jones acknowledged the greatness of guitarist Azhar Kamal‘s compositions and time signatures, we realized there was something more going on. Kamal’s unique approach to drawing inspiration and both, his compositional process as well as his practical application, make the multicultural quartet of SHEER CEREBRAL POWER, truly a phenomenon of their own. This band is the first jewel we’ve found in the promised treasure chest that is Euroblast.

Back to the main stage, it was a bit difficult to make our way to the front row since people had gathered well in advance to wait for the experimental/post-rock outlet THIS WILL DESTROY YOU. Known for their instrumental approach, the band builds a landscape that takes the listener over gently and carries them like an ocean wave. It must be intentional that the lighting was kept to a minimum during their performance because with their music, there wasn’t much to see in the traditional sense, but there was an entire world to be felt.

This is music that can truly transport you to a different world in a matter of seconds. Once you close your eyes and decide to listen to their dreamlike melodies that build up into distortion, it eventually sweeps you off your feet. The comparison to an ocean wave seems appropriate, as the gentle embrace of the water can abruptly change into an aggressive wave and fully envelop you.

Once again, we found ourselves running quickly from the main stage into the cellar to catch ICE SEALED EYES. We were met with the largest crowd at the smaller stage so far, making it quite challenging to make our way past the entrance. Fortunately, the crowd was constantly shifting from right to left, front to back, providing a brief window for us to squeeze in (which might have been a sign of what was to come). It could be the combination of emotional vocal melodies with intense riffs and brutal breakdowns that electrified the audience, creating one of the most active crowds I’ve witnessed in such a compact space, and I mean this in the best way possible.

At one point, I bravely (or perhaps foolishly – you be the judge) ventured to the front of the stage to capture some photos of the band in action. Just then, a brutal breakdown surged through the crowd, sweeping me off my feet and propelling me onto the stage’s edge. My right shin and left inner knee took a hard hit, making it nearly impossible to stand up again. Luckily, the adrenaline from the music seemed to keep the pain in check after hitting the ground, although I ended up with a noticeable swelling, resembling half a tennis ball.

Considering I’m not the best example of a NewCore follower, it’s worth mentioning that this band and their performance now hold a special place in my heart (and my shin). This event will undoubtedly remain a memorable one for me. It was unquestionably one of the most energetic performances of the entire festival and a remarkable discovery. I had to cut my ICE SEALED EYES experience short due to the pain situation and was pleasantly surprised to find that I could receive medical assistance at the festival’s main entrance. I was properly bandaged up, though it now felt like I had a second knee due to the swelling. After taking a higher-dose analgesic, I limped my way to the main stage to see THE OCEAN, one of the bands I had been most excited to see.

It is the third time I have had the opportunity to see THE OCEAN live in a span of 10 years. It’s important to highlight the growth they have experienced over time, and this growth has been crucial to their increased commercial success. Founded in 2002 by guitarist and songwriter Robin Staps, THE OCEAN has had many musicians come and go, but the ever-evolving spirit has endured.

Their approach is multifaceted in the sense that certain passages could fit into the realm of hard rock but evolve into harder riffs that combine to create progressive sequences. The vocal variety, including clean singing and growling, is complemented by lyrical eloquence that greatly rewards dedicated listeners during the live experience.

Another remarkable aspect of their performance is the contagious energy emanating from every member of the band on stage. Particularly, frontman Loïc Rossetti‘s engagement with the music remains palpable throughout their entire set, as well as his unique way of connecting with the crowd, transferring his euphoria.

The first night of Euroblast was no exception to his trademark move of stepping off the stage to crowd surf while singing. It’s worth noting that this has come at a cost to his health in the past (in early 2022, he broke both legs while attempting to jump into the crowd during their North American tour). Far from being a live gimmick, it seems like he is driven by a physical need, a need to connect with the crowd in this particular way. It appears to be a desire greater than the fear of another accident occurring. The crowd made sure to hold him securely and responded warmly.

Due to the physical pain resulting from my very close “encounter” with the cellar stage (specifically, the floor) during ICE SEALED EYES‘ performance, I was compelled to shorten my visit that night and had to hurry to properly attend to my injury. However, based on past Euroblast experiences, I can tell you that the afterparties are nothing short of fantastic and offer one of the friendliest atmospheres in the scene. We hope that next year we’ll have the opportunity to go into further detail about it. All-in-all, it was a wonderful start to a festival that, even within its first hours, promised to be one for the books.

Text and photos by Michelle Rosales