While fans of Dance, Electro, and Hip-Hop were heading down south for the MEO Sudoeste Festival, metalheads from Portugal and beyond were heading north, to Quinta do Ega in Vagos. Since the festival officially became known as Vagos Open Air in 2009, a trip to the Quinta do Ega has become an annual pilgrimage for metal fans. This year, for the first time, Vagos Open Air became a three day festival, from Friday 08 August to Sunday 10 August, when this little park became a Meco* for metaldom as Vagos Open Air welcomed a host of Portuguese and European metal bands.
The great thing about Vagos Open Air is the sheer friendliness of the crowd and of the bands. Everyone is there for the music and for the fun, no matter how much beer gets consumed. Although sometimes it seems like the opening scenes of The Terminator are being reenacted, except with plastic beer glasses underfoot instead of human skulls, there was never any trouble that I saw, and the four (yes, four) policemen on duty over the weekend had little or nothing to do. There were all kinds of people at Vagos, from old crusties like me to kids no more than six or seven on their parents’ shoulders and waving their arms in the air. Offstage the bands were also great, whether sitting patiently during autograph sessions, having their photo taken with anyone that wanted it, or amiably wandering among the crowd chatting with fans.
It’s always difficult to be the first band to perform, especially when half of the crowd is still queuing up to get their wristbands, but the festival opened with a rip-roaring set from Gates of Hell, a Portuguese band from Porto that were really well received, stirring the crowd into a frenzy of circle pits and walls of death. Fresh and exciting, Gates of Hell played songs from their last album, Critical Obsession, with verve and enthusiasm. The lead singer, Raça, made a commanding figure, strutting around the stage like he owned it and firing up the crowd until by the end of a set that was really too short, Gates of Hell were greeted with cheers and a sea of hands raised in the air.
Set list: Phenomenal Syndrome, Into My Destruction, Constructive Misery, Face Your Fears, Embracing The Reality, Critical Obsession.
After the energy of Gates of Hell, the next band to hit the stage was the Portuguese band Kandia. Fronted by the smouldering Nya Cruz, and with a new album and a new line-up, Kandia gave a reserved performance compared to Gates of Hell, but with a completely different style, influenced by bands as diverse as from Pink Floyd to Opeth, or A Perfect Circle, Tool and Metallica. Despite being full of energy, and playing a number of songs from their last album, All is Gone, Kandia never seemed to fully capture the spirit of the crowd, although the performance of their single Scars raised a few more arms. Partly I think this was because of the delay in setting up the stage from one band to another, so the crowd wanders off to do their own thing until the next band turns up, all unannounced. This was a shame, because the performance of the band was good and the new line-up left no room for doubt as Kandia being filled with quality musicians.
Set list: Caution, New Breed, Done With You, Our Final Day, Scars, Deviant, Blow, Karma.
The first international band of the day was Sylosis, from England, in fact both of the English bands to perform at Vagos Open Air this year, Sylosis and Paradise Lost on the last day, acquitted themselves admirably. This thrash metal band from Reading gave a performance of the highest quality, buoying up the audience with a mixture of songs from each of their three albums. Mixed with a self-deprecating commentary from founder and lead singer Josh Middleton, Sylosis gave a performance that was filled with speed and aggression. The concert marked the last performance with the band of drummer Rob Callard, who according to Josh was abandoning the band to follow a solo career covering the songs of Mariah Carey. Bursts of humour like this really enamoured the audience to Sylosis, and for their first visit to Portugal, and of course to Vagos Open Air, they were made to feel really welcome. Before they left, to give Rob what was surely a rousing send-off, there was still time to excite the audience withAltered States of Consciousness and Empyreal, from their Edge of the Earth album.
Set list: Fear the World, The Blackest Skyline, Conclusion of an Age, All Is Not Well, Teras, Altered States of Consciousness, Empyreal, Part 1.
Following the energy of Sylosis, the festival was treated to the Swedish melodic death metal band,Soilwork. This band hadn’t been to Portugal for about 10 years, according to the lead singer Björn Strid, and for that they were made really welcome by the crowd, who always appreciate the bands that come to Vagos. With their own peculiar brand of melodic death metal, Soilwork soothed the audience with a range of songs from albums old and new. One of the highlights of the concert was the Spectrum of Eternity, from the album The Living Infinite, and the energy of the live band, and especially of Björn Strid was infectious.
Set list: This Momentary Bliss, Like the Average Stalker, Overload, Nerve, Spectrum of Eternity, Parasite Blues, Bastard Chain, Let This River Flow, Tongue, Follow the Hollow, Stabbing the Drama.
*I know what you’re thinking, this is just a self-indulgent reference to the best beach in Portugal.