Balkan Metal Meet 2024 Festival Wrap


Feeding Frenzy: Balkan Metal Meet 2024 Festival Wrap


We love a metal road trip at Slow Dragon Music. The first one for 2024 involved heading to Tirana, Albania for the country’s debut Balkan Metal Meeting…

It has to be said, this was quite the alien location. Still haunted by the brutal spectre of paranoid, isolationist communism, it’s not like anywhere else we’ve been before. Despite the welcoming locals it was hard not to feel… watched? It’s difficult to place. Everything appeared nice enough, but a little extra slice of caution seemed sensible.


BMM:DAY ONE

By gig day, we realised this wasn’t the only cultural difference.

Things started off a little slow (by no means the pace of the billed bands). With doors down for 18:30, and start time an hour later, we began to get a little worried about more rumoured band cancellations when doors opened at 19:45. This didn’t phase Tirana’s own metal contingent, though, as they sauntered along to catch up with friends in laid back fashion. “I guess it will start some time soon… Or later..?



It was fairly surprising to see, once we were inside, that there still wasn’t any kind of rush to kick off. At 20:15, the opening band for both nights, Italian groove metallers Dosgamos, began a three-quarter-hour set and we were left feeling perplexed on how the rest of the set-times would look. A punchy, rocky, 90’s vibe, driven by the lads, flooded the venue and crowd alike as the space filled up nicely throughout the opening set. (Watching the vocalist clamber about the stage, I wondered if that’s how he got his arm in a cast – Slow Dragon).

Coming from a country that’s held the smoking ban for two decades now, the clag of nicotine in the air is very noticeable. It adds to that 90’s feel in a less than complimentary aesthetic, but hey, when in Rome, (or Tirana, insert sketchy political joke – AVZD). It’s also worth mentioning that, at the venue, Tunel, in the centre of town, a small bottle of Peroni cost a ‘whopping’ 500 lek, pints elsewhere (e.g. Perla Tattoo and Bar) coming in about 350.



Hailing from Pristina, Kosovo’s Frisson, cranked up the death and doom with thunderous force missioned by pounding bass lines.

Physically, they were much more laid back, but presented an equally more intense sound. Notable songs included the ferocious Abuse for Rank, alongside Anonymous and The Eyes of God. Singer Ilir Brajshori came off stage for the last song and encouraged a larger pit, incorporating half the standing punters. “One more song”, it seems, sounds the same in any language. With a ‘scheduled’ remaining time of 130 minutes, and a few bands still to go, however, it was not happening.


Feeding Frenzy: Balkan Metal Meet 2024 Festival Wrap



Before we even reach the third act, we spot the first pit casualty, receiving some make-do cranial medical treatment in the neighbouring cinema-style seat.

Rome’s Aetheris (previously Gravestone) are up next. After a turnstile of drummers, and a bit of nervous(?) pre-set, crowd pacing, stick twirling Gemma Sofia Salvatori, announced as their newest member, goes on stage for their first gig and she storms it. Their sound is a wall of noodling keys and guitars with a gothic blackened inflection on death metal. Fitting all six members on the stage is clearly a struggle, as one of the guitarists makes frequent visits to the dance floor. Crowd pleaser Flagellation, from 2017’s Proud To Be Dead album (under Gravestone), engulfs the room with a symphonic lure reminiscent of an Argento classic.



Swedish tour buddies Riket and Frantic Amber closed the first day, with Riket first up. These guys were one of the solid favourites at SDM across the whole weekend. There was no mistaking the sweeping Nordic sound, as it poured its own kind of blackened metal over affairs. A song about suffering stood out in what was a considerably shorter set of the night, the title possibly translating to “Fucked Up”, perhaps a description of the song or what the band were going to do to the absorbent crowd. Regardless, they awakened the punters from outside the building, and the floor began to beat again.



First day headliners, Frantic Amber, seemed to be up against it this week.

They started their trip with cancelled flights, followed by technical difficulties amidst their first song. It wasn’t a great start to their tour, yet, despite it all, they recovered quickly. It was clear the Swedish quartet have stacked up festival experience, and nothing would stop them. Their visually crafted performance waved the thrash flag the highest out of all the first day acts. Pushed for time, they crammed a mix of new and old songs (Lagertha from 2019’s Bellatrix album proved to be a popular choice) into what seemed to be the shortest set of the night. It was effective, though, and set everyone up for round two.


BMM: DAY TWO


Since we had the time, we whipped round some local sights and museums. A few of these make for grim reading, but they are definitely something one should know about. With hours to spare, it would have been rude not to. Much like day one of the fest, the run up to entry on the second night was very relaxed. It appeared that one of the scheduled acts (Blax) would not be in attendance. Nevertheless, it was soon time to rock, and we were looking forward to some longer sets, coaxing us into the after party (and my birthday – AVZD). Sure that things would finish a few hours before we need to leave our hotel, we prepared for the blissful potential agony of the day to come.

In a somewhat alien move, as mentioned above, Dosgamos opened the second day as well as the first. They seemed a little less energetic at the start, but also tighter. This could be as they  landed on a better sound this time around. The crowd seemed to pick up on this, with a surge of bodies to the front, or maybe we were just a bit more limbered up. As this is reportedly about the only time each year this type of event occurs in Tirana, initial kinks are to be expected. This is a reminder, though, to always give a band a second chance, because, on round 2, they stormed it.



Since Thirst Prayer were missing, it looked like the second night would now be a four-band affair.

We welcomed to the stage Ironwill. Coming from their album Breakout, a song called Sad Night was another standout track. At some point in their career, this band clearly ingested the book of classic rock stage moves, which made the relentless red lighting even more frustrating when trying to capture live moments. They also gave out a free shirt and a copy of their own comic, a pretty sweet trick indeed!


Feeding Frenzy: Balkan Metal Meet 2024 Festival Wrap



One of the cancelled performances turned out to be a gift in disguise, as Blax were replaced with the surprise addition of locals, Morgu, It couldn’t have gone better, and we were kind of left wondering why they weren’t billed in the first place… Delivering a no-holds-barred, aggressive assault of phenomenal, doomy black metal, they showed all the panache of an act deserving much bigger stages. The crowd were very into this, with everyone down the front, screaming like maniacs.



The final act: Godiva hit the stage, and out came the greasepaint!

They brought some twenty-plus years old, Portuguese, Gothic death metal to the Balkans, heating things up as the festival closed. Singer Pedro Faria had the audience in his hands from the start, and man, were we putty. Godiva always put on a good show whether their stage is small or large, but this night you couldn’t help thinking that they are made for bigger stages and bigger things. Symphonic, cinematic, and outright outrageous, we were bustled through the usual numbers, but nothing felt stale. And just before the whole thing came to an end, another 90’s jolt to the collective chest came in a stellar cover of ye ‘olde Zombie’s Superbeast! A great way to cross the finish line!

For the Balkans Metal Meet, this was their first edition in Albania, the event having somewhat of a nomadic approach. They hit Romania just this month, and take the event to Bulgaria in June. You can keep up to date on their Facebook page.


FOR THE ROAD WARRIORS…

If our adventures have you searching flights for the next Balkan Metal Meeting, or if you’re travelling further afield this summer for festivals, then check out these Heavy Metal Travel Tips – AVZD

SUPPORT THE BANDS

Nothing drives me madder than travelling afar to see some great bands and watching fellow country peeps sit in the bar area, or in their tents, rather than watching the bands. Yeah, yeah, each to their own and all that….
…Maybe they’re tired and need to recharge.
… Maybe they don’t like that one band.
…Maybe they’ve seen them before.
Ffs, you’ve travelled halfway around the planet to see live music, don’t spend half your time ignoring it and the other half peeing it away a way – you don’t know what you might miss.

CHARGE FORTH!

Whether you’re down the road, or you’ve got three days travel just to get to your hosts country, always take the opportunity to charge devices when you can. Take spare batteries and invest in a decent solar charging battery, too. Seems logical right, but you never know what’s going to go wrong so charge that 5% to max you out. You may feel in need of physical recharge after a week in a field somewhere, but batteries and your me(n)tal health should always be 100%.

USE YOUR NOODLE AND ALWAYS CHECK FOR A KETTLE

It’s 3am, and the over-priced burger bar has just closed. You’re a little worse for wear, and asking the Finnish police when supermarkets shut in Helsinki is not translating as well as you’d hoped! When booking hotels, always make sure your room has a kettle for late night noodleage. Cheapest food to buy in most countries or pack your own before departure. Large disposable coffee cups and stirrers make ideal makeshift ramen bowls and chopsticks too – no need for a night in the cells, and you’ve saved 20 euros for tomorrows drinks.

ID

We always waterproof our ID. Yeah, sounds kinda weird but you know those airport liquid zip bags you get? Handy place to store a passport or driving license when you’re in the inevitable thunderstorm at the Open Air Festival.

TRAVELLING WITH A MATE

Always duplicate docs. You sorted the campsite, your mate sorted the flights; make sure each other has a copy or access to any e-tickets etc. The only non-medicated essentials you need to get to the gig/festival is yourself, access to cash, ID, and your ticket, and seeing as most folk have this all on one device, it’s surely best to double up than miss out.


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Feeding Frenzy: Balkan Metal Meet 2024 Festival Wrap