Austria's biggest Rock Festival: Nova Rock 2016 - a report

Another year has passed, new bands were founded, new records released and a lot of gras had the chance to grow again - until now. The Austrian festival scene was busy as well. 2016 is a memorable year for Nova Rock, since there were a lot of changes. For the first time, Thursday - the day of arrival - was filled with performances in front of a motivated crowd as well (be it only on the Bluestage). Speaking of the crowd, 2016 marked a new attendance record with a sick 180.000 visitors in 4 days on the Burgenland fields. Additionally your wallet was relieved since Nova Rock was the first Austrian festival featuring a cashless payment system. Neat! The weather gods (or maybe the flying Spaghetti-Monster) promised good weather, but as we all know that doesn't mean much ... This year's lineup featuring Korn, Volbeat, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and many more promised a great time.

Thursday (Day 1)

After approx. 6 hours of travel and a massive waiting queue in front of the highway exit "Nickelsdorf" this year's Nova Rock was ready to beginn. The agenda was filled with the following bands which exclusively played on the Bluestage: A Caustic Fate, Skillet, Breaking Benjamin, Puscifer, Amon Amarth, Billy Talent and Korn. Since we had the honor of interviewing Skillet we had to skip the first band of the day unfortunately. So the day started musically as it started with the interview. With Skillet.

Despite being the first festival day and a reduced amount of musical selection tons of people gathered inside and behind the first wave-breaker. Maybe part of the crowd was already present when the American band first performed at Nova Rock and wanted to make sure they hadn't decreased in quality or maybe wanted to be surprised by the well-known band. Whatever was the reason people were in the crowd, when Skillet took to the stage the crowd went nuts. John Cooper and his boys and girls took to the stage and created a good atmosphere from minute one. Despite the huge amount of bands inside this genre the band managed to stand out (which wasn't only because of the Cellos used at the beginning). A visible stand out of the band e.g. is the unusual band lineup. Playing the guitar and keyboard is the wife of Frontman/Bassist and badass musician Korey Cooper. Blonde bombshell Jen Ledger rocks the drums. Alltogether Skillet creates their one of a kind sound, which thrilled the crowd already during the Afternoon.

Breaking Benjamin
Already dealing with Alternative Rock the next band in the same genre took to the stage: Breaking Benjamin. The band which had been newly founded in 2014 - keeping their former frontman Benjamin Burnley as a constant - reworked their sound and presented themselves with a fresh lineup. Motivated to the brim the American boy started their performance and tried to spread their magic among the crowd. But it wasn't as easy as Skillet made it look ... Breaking Benjamin's performance was solid and without noticable flaws, the sound however showed a more simpler side which only connected with parts of the audience. To create a memorable performance sympathetic characters alone aren't enough unfortunately. This being their first Nova Rock didn't help either. For their next time someone should tell the boys that they are free to have a little bit more fun on stage and cut the "cool" poses.

After some Alternative Rock it was time to change the genre. The band in charge of that change: Puscifer. The muscial project of Maynard James Keenan - known as the frontman of Tool - played in front of a different stageset. The stage's background was decorated with a wrestling ring which was surrounded by musicians who were partly wearing leather masks. The band performed a mixture of Downbeat and electronic music. During the gig the frontman and the female vocalist alternated between standing in the ring inlcuding leather masks and mysterious guestures and performing outside of the ring. Additionally to the weird atmosphere which was created by the performance two half naked (what else) dancers appeared on stage and danced minimalistic to the music. As if it wasn't enough another guy wearing Wrestling Attire was pulled on stage to further underline the effect. Really an irritating performance of this specific musical project. Let's put it clear: Colorful leather masks are nice and all, but they didn't match the music at all! Trying to create a mystical atmosphere ... failed since irritation surpassed awe (unless you were already drunk). A truly interchangeable performance which was more questionable than amazing.

Amon Amarth
Joyfully to most of the attendees the Swedish band Amon Amarth took over and -being the first metal act of the day - started thrashing like crazy. The stageset was decorated with a gigantic flag which was guarded by two big dragon figures. Typical Amon Amarth. They opened their gig - as usual for the Viking-Metalheads - with "The Pursuit Of Vikings" which seems to be their go-to opener for years now. A choice one can apprechiate since the song grabs the audience every time and puts them in Amon Amarth mood. This time was no exception, similar to Slayer at Rockavaria (as reported by us). It doesn't matter if you've seen certain bands several times already or not, if the quality and motivation is right the fans join in. This Thursday was no exception: The Swedish band performed one song after the other, be it classics like "Death In Fire" or new songs like "War Of The Gods" and made the crowd go nuts. A truly well-done performance from Johan Hegg and his Vikings.

Billy Talent
After the Swedish combo another change of genre was in order. The crowd in front of the Bluestage had grown even larger and was waiting in excitement for the Canadian heroes of Billy Talent to take to the stage. With "Devil In A Midnihgt Mass" the quatrain stormed the stage and created a loose atmosphere with their classic. The guys have years of experience when it comes to connecting with their audience - mostly the female parts of it. No matter if old or new songs, the crowd cheered the band from beginning to end. Stage experience and charisma - which the band around Benjamin Kowalewicz has plenty of- pay off during live performances. Being the direct opener for Korn, the Canadians proofed to be a worthy act and got the crowd in the right mood.

Whoever thought the tension before a concert couldn't be bigger before Billy Talent started playing probably didn't experience the wait for Korn being part of a huge crowd. After what felt like an eternity the lights finally went out, the background music went silent and Jonathan Davis and his bandmates took to the stage. They opened their show with "Right Now" off their 2003 record "Take A Look In The Mirror" and got the crowd moving, setting a high standard for their gig right from the start. Their stage presence and musical perfection was on point, as you would expect from a band that is seen as a co-creator of a genre. Of course more muscial classics followed: "Here To Stay", "Falling Away From Me", "Somebody Someone" or "Did My Time" - to only name a few - completed their setlist and with it a memorable evening. Korn had been going through highs and lows during the past few years. Therefore it was even nicer to see that even after more than 20 years of being a big name in the metal scene they still can deliver a great show. Authentic, mighty and happy - the American Nu-Metal giant showed at the opening day why the deserve to keep being booked as headliners of big festivals.

Korn closed a diversified first festival day at the Burgenlandish Nova Rock and definately fed a desire for more. Alltogether Thursday was muscially varied which - for better or worse - copied over to the weather. From 30 degrees Celcius and merciless Sunshine, pleasant climate, to light and not so light raining - the weather kept changing, which however didn't affectthe festival attendees.

Friday (Day 2)

After a surprisingly (and relatively) relaxing night the second festival day - well technically the first with all three stages open - was about to begin. After the sheer endless showerline was conquered and half a breakfast pizza refilled the power reserves the music could start again. Friday offered a lot more diversity as the previous day. The Bluestage lineup consisted of the following bands: Bones (UK), White Miles, Vintage Trouble, LaBrassBanda, Editors, Garbage, The Offspring, Wanda and the Late Night Special: EAV. On the Redstage which was open for the first time on Friday the following bands performed: Bloodsucking Zombies From Outter Space, Tesseract, Atreyu, Skindred, Children Of Bodom, Trivium, Bullet For My Valentine and Disturbed.

Friday mostly had me standing at Redstage, for starters: Atreyu - who to the delight of the crowd were able to play during clear sunshine. The Americans are at this point a staple in the Metalcore Scene who despite a lot of potential in the German-speaking countries were only able to gather average success. This year's Nova Rock performance showed once again that the boys around Alex Varkatzas haven't lost their mojo. They know exactly how to differ from other bands muscially. The vocal performance of Alex on this Friday however was something to criticize, since he failed to hit more than just a couple of notes. If you look past that however it was a good and enjoyable gig during the late Afternoon.

Directly after Atreyu the boys of Skindred started shredding. Who didn't know they guys from England until now were in for a ride! The band has a lot of strengths but sticking to one genre isn't one of them. Starting with Metal and Reggae and going towards Punk (and even some other things) the band likes to influence their music with anything they feel like liking at the moment. And it just happens that the Burgenland liked that very much. The entertained the crowd with their anything but boring sound and created true festival atmosphere.

Children of Bodom
Since the band denied all photographers to take pictures of their concert there is only one logical conclusion: no photos, no review! Thanks a lot ... NOT!

After the non-photogenic Finnish band Trivium took to the stage, a band from the sunny Orlando. The cheers from the crowd (mostly the female part) were a clear indicator for the band's popularity. The band's growing popularity isn't something new since they apparently strike the right cord for the younger metal audience. They certainly don't have to hide frrom a crowd since their sound combines Metalcore with thrashy influences which makes the whole thing that much more exotic. They played a solid gig on the Redstage which was something to take note of both instrumental as well as vocally. Matthew Heafy and his mates could have offered a bit more action but instead they entertained their audience with skulls with glowing pink eyes as a visual highlight on stage - this is how we like it!

Bullet For My Valentine
More Metalcore on the Redstage as the lineup continued with the Brits from Bullet For My Valentine. An interesting change from harder music to a more melodic sound mixed with strong tones and hard rock influences which works very well. Bullet For My Valentine have created their own style over the years which has a high recall value. No surprise then that Matthew Tuck and his guys performed a sweet show with pyrotechnic which gathered cheers - especially from the female part of the crowd - and created a lot of movement in the crowd. All in all a very good performance which was visually and musically awesome - more like that please!

After Bullet For My Valentine it was finally Headliner time which meant the ever popular Disturbed. The American band's fans were already patiently waiting for the heroes of the evening and they started out with their biggest hits: "Ten Thousand Fists". You may be able to guess how many fists were raised in the air. Despite the big fan base the band sometimes struggles: One guy's favorite band is boring and bland sound for other people. The more surprising was the energetic performance to start of the concert. Vocally frontman David Draiman performed a forceful and clean piece of work which got you wishing for more. Quickly the atmosphere rose up and even quicker cooled down again since the songs after "Ten Thousand Fists" didn't life up to the same level. The rest of the concert was kinda tiring and less innovative - noted exception "Down With The Sickness". All in all a pretty disappointing experience for a band headlining. Here's to hoping that Volbeat on Saturday fares better.

To end the day as the first Late Night Act 2016 everyone welcome the guys from the "Ersten Allgemeinen Verunsicherung". But before they started, Nova Rock's organizer Eward Tatar announced the first Late Night Act for 2017. What was already announced on Facebook was announced - again - at 1 AM via videomessage of the artist: The Hoff is back! As it already was the case in 2014, 2017 will be the return of David Hasselhoff to Austria in order to entertain the attendees late at night. After the great announcement EAV finally took to the stage. The Austrians out of the Steiermark were gleefully looking forward to their performance in the Burgenland and were overwelmed by the size of the crowd which had gathered in front of the Bluestage at this late hour to listen to Pop-Rockers. The band had been told that usually there were a couple of thousand in attendance for the Late Night Show as Thomas Spitzer mentioned. The view they got from the stage however amazed the band. But enough of the spoken word, finally the real show started. Cheerfully the guys entertained the crowd with their goofy and funny vocals. Since major parts of the crowd were already drunk and the atmosphere loosened up accordingly, EAV fit the mood incredibly well. They were tons of fun and with Burli and Co. they ended the musical part of the second festival day and opened up the party for the night in style.

Alltogether the second festival day - technically the first "real" day - was a pretty mixed bag. Musically Redstage was focused on Core genres which made it easier for fans of those genres to see their favorites. In terms of quality and organzing however there was more variety. Especially enfuriating was the photo ban for Children Of Bodom, since they would have been a genre switch. Regarding the weather the second day was solid (the Pastafari probably behaved accordingly) which made the day a lot more comfortable.

Saturday (Day 3)

Again batteries were recharged by half a pizza for breakfast. Despite the notable temperatures of the morning weather prognosis for Saturday were noticably worse. Noon however whould have none of that. Today's band programm was pretty loaded. Bluestage offered the following: Attila, Slaves (UK), Periphery, Caliban, August Burns Red, Dropkick Murphys, Alice Cooper and Volbeat. While Redstage offered these bands: Viech, Krautschädl, Zebrahead, Tom Odell, Steve 'N' Seagulls, Alligatoah, Seiler & Speer, Cypress Hill and the Late Night Special Austrofred.

Today's concert-starter was in the Afternoon by the Punk Rockers of Zebrahead. Despite the early hours - for festival standards - the guys from Orange County took to the Redstage in a good mood and with tons of mischief in the head. Musically it was already predetermined that the Zebraheads would create a party mood. As a special highlight the Californians invited two attendees on stage who were dressed as Pikachu and Pig. If this was a staged segment or an improvised action due to the "animalistic" appearance of the attendees will remain a mystery. It was definately entertaining since the two attendees were ordered to shotgun a beer while the guitarist had a blast playing with Pikachu's tail during the act. Phallic Phase - Freud would call that. Truely a bunch of manchildren. After the beer-tail spectacle Ali Tabatabaeee motivated the crowd to bless the music with a circle pit. A lot of respect for the entertainment during the Afternoon!

A quick change of stage later and one was enjoying Periphery on the Bluestage. Fans of more diversified sounds were right at home here. Periphery is a relatively new band on the metal market, which originally gained a certain following on Youtube. Misha Mansor, the creative head and founder of the band was able to provide musically vision, taste and talent which paid off in the end. With their own version of Metalcore - which features heavy progressive influences - the band is able ot create and transport a variety of moods without loosing authenticity. Simply watching their live performance was a blast since their passion was palpable. A very impressive band - not only on stage but also backstage during the interview (we had the pleasure of conducting an interview).

The Bluestage continued to feature the Core genre. To switch it up though a German band was up to the task to smash the crowd over the head with their sound. The boys started with a lot of ruckus and played one of their softer songs - a classic example of Metalcore which switched between growls and clear-vocals. One could discribe this as a start suitable for the masses but a weak start nevertheless, which didn't pick up with the second song - which got the front of the crowd into "deforesting the festival" mood as frontman Andreas Dörner put it. The third song "24 Years" finally featured the true Caliban power. Heated up by a Wall of Death - with a single suicidal banana in the middle - the crowd finally got into the gig and stayed with it for the rest of the performance. Despite the start hickups the German band delivered a smashing performance - just as Caliban always does.

Dropkick Murphys
We swithced from Core to the American (crazy) Irish Dropkick Murphys. The band is known for having a lot of fun at their shows which they demonstrated once more here at Pannonia Fields. With their own special way the guys rocked the stage as if there was no tomorrow. The bagpipes couldn't be missed of course which gives their sound - a mix of Irish Folk and Punk Rock - the signature touch and which got - not only the girl's - skirts flying. Al Barr, Ken Casey and company let loose on stage and celebrated together with the crowd. The result: Fun, goofs and a touch of madness. A great musical mixup on this Saturday which had you at least smiling.

Alice Cooper
After the goofballs of Dropkick Murphys everything was prepared for the performance of rock legend Alice Cooper in style. As tradition dictates the stage was covered in an overdimensional paintings of him which was raised with a bang at the begin of the show. And the show began: With loud ruckus the band started and proofed why people still pay money to see Alice Cooper live. Darkly intriguing Cooper presented himself with dark make up, wildly backcombed hair and black-white striped pants including a beltbuckle which seemed to be bigger than the man himself. Musically as vocally the shock rocker was top notch and connected with the crowd with a solid selection of songs - "Feed My Frankenstein", "Poison" or "School's Out" are only a couple of examples. Classics aside the show good old Alice pulled off was something to be seen - nothing new for him but everytime you see it still impressive. No surprise there: A lot of smoke and pyrotechnic. A special highlight of the show was the extended guitar solo by Nita Strauss - the talented female guitar player of the band. In mindnumbing speed she performed one solo after the next - making some guitar majestros turn pale in the process. A true example of female talent - respect! Alltogether the performance was one of the highlights of the whole festival which also connected with the masses.

Cypress Hill
Before it was time for the day's headliner the Redstage featured Cypress Hill. And so much up front. The guys rocked the stage in a way it knocked your hat of your head. With an energy - normally reserved for your local power plant - B-Real, Sen Dog, DJ Muggs and Eric Bobo took to the stage and showed the other bands what it means to be true musical entertainers. Despite being more of an outsider with their sound (Hip Hop meets Crossover) at the festival they showed no signs of unease and delivered an awesome show.

As headliner of the evening Volbeat started a little late on Bluestage. The Danish band couldn't complain about the crowd since it was truely packed full. Everyone was eager for the veils on stage to be lifted and see Michael Poulsen and his boys take to the stage. As one is used to regarding Volbeat they went all out muiscally and definately connected with the masses. The classic Volbeat hits helped of course. Despite the exitement of the crowd one should note that the band has lost some of its charm by now. At their peak, Volbeat could connect with fans of diverse subgenres of Rock or Metal. By now that's a bit more difficult, since their sound has lost some of its variety over the years and grows more and more shallow after listening to it repeatedly. Nevertheless the band conquered their headliner responsibilities with ease and appeased their fans.

Despite the pleasantly warm start into the third day at Pannonia Fields it ended rather uncomfortable. Once the rain started it didn't let off. An easy dribble turned into bigger and bigger raindrops who challenged ones good mood. The concerts definately helped to get over the wet cold. Despite the weather the third day followed suit with the days before: some highlights, some disappointments and despite that a lot on offer.

Sunday (Day 4)

After a rainy night the fourth and final festival day started dry. Despite having the usual advanced-festival-blues I soldiered on and the exitement for the final bands was high as ever. Today featured a lot of variety again. Bluestage's final day lineup: The Struts, Graham Candy, Gary Clark Jr., Mono & Nikitaman, NOFX, K.I.Z., Deftones and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Redstage offered the following: Wendi's Böhmische Blasmusik, Dragony, Drescher, The Amity Affliction, We Came As Romans, Behemoth, Killswitch Engage, Heven Shall Burn and Twisted Sister.

The Amity Afflicition
The day started with the artists of The Amity Afflicition. Redstage presented itself amply crowded despite early afternoon and everyone waited for the Australians' performance. With an impressive stage presence they performed their show and connected immediately with the crowd. The balance of clear-vocals and growls added to their melodic and simmultanious hard sound. No surprise their that the girls in the front of the crowd (and further back) melted away as their heroes were standing on stage, well, the exitment might not be due to the musical performance alone. No matter if it was the music or the visuals or a combination of both, The Amity Affliction performed definately noteworthy.

Cannonball Ride
A short switch to the Red Bull Stage had us listening to the Upper Austrian band Cannonball Ride. With a short delay they started in front of a small crowd. Once the nice guys start playing no ear remains untouched. Despite their truely original style the musician's show left something to be desired, the it-factor simply was missing. A sound performance but not truly great yet - a pitty.

We Came As Romans
During the Cannonball Ride gig we switched back to Redstage to see the guys of We Came As Romans. Since the last festival day on this stage was mostly dedicated to Core bands, this made the individual gigs even more interesting. After The Amity Affliction had already delivered a great show the crowd was eager to see what the American band would deliver. Oh boy, they delivered! With sheer endless energy they shredded like crazy. The Americans didn't have to hide behind the Australians.
Good job!

After We Came As Romans the Death Metal combo from Poland switched up the genres. True to form the stage and the artists themselves were clad in style - self marketing and recall value are everything. Despite the lush optics they didn't disappoint musically. Hard and catchy they shredded their songs. Bands like Behemoth and co probably deforested some trees that afternoon. The crowd's reaction however was mixed when it came to the Polish sound. Some people liked it and got a lot of movement going others however just stood there and didn't really know what to do with the performance. However the Polish performance was catchy, in style and a welcome variety.

Killswitch Engage
After that stylistic exception we're back at good old Metalcore with one of its most classical members: Killswitch Engage. Their lates record "Incarnate" was released only recently and had created a lot of buzz around the band. No surprise there that the American band was featured on a couple of festivals. Once Jesse Leach and his men finally took to the Redstage at Nova Rock the crowd immediately lost their shit. It almost felt like the whole day was nothing but waiting for this gig. Killswitch Engage didn't dissapoint and gave it their all. No wonder that fans liked "Incarnate" that much. Despite the sheer amount of Metalcore bands who had played the last couple of days, none could touch Killswitch Engage.

Heaven Shall Burn
Who thought that the highlight of Metalcore at this festival was already reached was wrong and didn't see the performance of Heaven Shall Burn on the Redstage. Despite Killswitch Engage delivered a great show, the German Heaven Shall Burn heated up the crowd - and not only metaphorically. A flame here, a flame there, Heaven Shall Burn aimed to be as cozy on stage as possible. The signature red shirt on Marcus Bischoff was also visible - a true signature of the band. The guys didn't only fire a couple of flames during their performance but musically they delivered as well with their classic Metalcore with melodic influences. A great gig which - as a reward - featured a double rainbow (natures way to mosh?). Heaven Shall Burn don't have to hide from international Metalcore greats since they obviously have enough potential to be one of the greats themselves.

Twisted Sister
After a reconstruction break it was time for a true legend: Twisted Sister were about to perform. Today's gig was of special note since this tour is supposed to be the band's last one. True to the motto "Fourty And Fuck It" the guys around Daniel Schneider went all out. Despite the advanced age the frontman jumped all over the stage like a much younger man - or a rubber ball. Since a goodbye tour is supposed to be memorable there were more than a couple of musical and pyrotechnical spikes. More than a couple even: Fire seems to be a known identity to the guys as the pyros were frequent and impressive. Despite the show elements the music is supposed to be front and center. And after so many years the bandmembers cleary know what they're doing. Daniel Schneider's vocals and John Fench's guitar skills were on point. No surprise there that the old guys connected with the crowd. A great performance by the New Yorkers who offered not only a great show but also a great musical performance. It has been an honor to be part of the goodbye tour.

Red Hot Chilli Peppers
To close the day and the whole festival the Red Hot Chilli Peppers played their gig - longingly awaited by the crowd. Since there wasn't another band playing simultaniously for once on the other stage a crowd of - what felt like - every festival attendee at once gathered in front of the Bluestage to see THE headliner of Nova Rock. A little late the Californian band took to the stage showered by deafening cheers from the crowd. The stage set for Anthony Kiedis, Michael Balzary, Chad Smith and Josh Klinghoffer was something very special: In the middle of the stage was a big, half round LED screen, which was surrounded by several other smaller, round LCD screens. The lights surrounding the screens was so bright, that you would want to rock your shades despite the late hour. During the performance the screen showed a mix of live-impressions and other recordings which captured the spirit of the Funk which the Red Hot Chilli Peppers as usal were able to create perfectly. Regarding songs the band went all out and played a mix of new songs and classics which almost everyone knows by heart. No Red Hot Chilli Peppers show is complete without songs like "By The Way" or "Californication" and created a storm of enthusiasm with the crowd. Between the classics a couple of bass solos - huge part of the special sound of the band - were played. All in all the peppers performed a concert worthy of a headliner. Not only do they offer a lot musically, but after all these years they still show a lot of fun and vigor on stage. They jump around the stage like kids and do their thing, just as they are supposed to do.

To end the festival the  attendees were treated (not for the first time) to massive fireworks. It started out slow but quickly grew bigger and more impressive, which gave the end of the festival a truely festive vibe. Closings like this should be standard since they give the special it-factor to a festival and create memories for the attendees who look back on the bands with fondness. Besides the end of the festival today's bands showed a stronger side and made sure the last day was something special.

Festival Conclusion
This was the 12th time Nova Rock was held in Burgenland at Nickelsdorf. 2016 marked the first time (except 2005) that the festival was held on four and not three days - the first day however only featuring bands on the Bluestage. As usual the promotor gathered a variety of different bands who performed for the attendees. Starting with Hip Hop to Crossover to Alternative Rock til Death Metal everything an attendee could hope for was part of the lineup. Apart from the bands the usual lineup was available as well: a Singer- and Songwriter stage, the Ottakringer barrel including a small stage, the funfair featuring a Ferris Wheel, several rides and a bungee jump tower. If you wanted to have fun besides music the festival had you covered. Culinarily you had tons of options as well. Apart from the food you can find on any festival there was the "Genussarena Burgenland" which had been catering to the attendees the year before as well. Bio-Strawberries, reginal meat dishes and much more could be had there. Special mention to one of the pizza stands (woodstove pizza) which didn't server your typical festival pizza but actual well-made quality pizza. A lot of restaurants would have problems to serve a pizza like this, since it was really tasty which might be why the queue in front of the stand grew longer and longer during the festival. The weather was kind of average this year. There were hot phases but also rainy and clouded phases, but nothing took over. It could have been worse, as it was for the festival the last couple of years. This made Nova Rock 2016 a rounded up thing. Good atmosphere, good music and tons of fun made up a successful festival year for Nickelsdorf.

Pictures: Manuel Miksche

Text: Conny Pläsken

Translation: Rich Winterstetter