LIVE: Groezrock Festival 2017, Meerhout, Belgium

By Ashwin Bhandari

Unlike in the UK, Groezrock is one of the very few pre-summer festivals than can boast about its fantastic line up before the year has really begun. With last year’s icy cold weather dampening festival goers spirits, the atmosphere this time was mostly appropriate for t shirts and kakhi shorts in the day and comfortable hoodies in the evening.

The aforementioned unpleasant weather in 2016 however was so bad that the land took much longer to grow back than usual, meaning that two stages were noticeably omitted this year. On the plus side, this meant that for many people it meant they were far less timetable clashes, and smaller bands earlier on in the day such as Skyharbour had much bigger crowds than usual.

Belgium’s own Oathbreaker pull in a sizeable audience after mewithoutYou’s emotionally charged set on the main stage. The material from 2016’s ‘Rheia’ is incredibly punishing instrumentally, however the ethereal qualities of vocalist Caro Tanghe feel wasted on the Back to Basics stage. A real shame considering how immersive they can be in indoor venues. The crowd reaction is warm but in terms of musicianship this obviously isn’t one of their days.

The Menzingers also suffer from a few technical problems early on, however this doesn’t take away from their joyful atmosphere. While the material on their latest record ‘After The Party’ may be a melancholic reflection about growing up and the hardships of touring, they throw caution to the wind and dive on through courageous anthems such as ‘I Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore’ and ‘The Obituaries’. The chorus responses from the audience are sung so defiantly you they somewhat drown out the vocals in the PA, but it’s still satisfying to watch. Their risk taking attitude to emo and tight pop sensibilities really shows time and time again why they’re so well received in Europe.

A mere few days before this weekend, there was an initial fear of who would replace the almighty Turning Point after they announced that they would be pulling out of Groez and Outbreak Festival in Leeds. To some people’s disappointment, Brutality Will Prevail were brought in as the special guests, but truth be told they’re past the point of caring what anyone thinks of them. Vocalist Louis Gauthier may sound drastically different to former vocalist Ajay Jones, but the ferocity in his vocals on fan favourites such as ‘The Path’ and ‘Trapped Doors Moving Walls’ is undeniable. Cuts from their new album are indeed a return to the dissonant, metallic hardcore that we know and love yet burst with rejuvenated enthusiasm live. Couple that with a group of kids going in hard as nails for each song and you’ve got yourself a set that stands out as being one of the best things to happen at Groezrock this year, even if it wasn’t initially planned.

American black metal outfit, Deafheaven, were also a wonderfully unexpected addition to this year’s line up. Their blend of shoegaze, post rock and melodic riffs, married with vocalist George Clarke’s earth shattering screams as the sun set over Meerhout ensured a rollercoaster of euphoria. As they’re not really the sort of band you can sing along to, the more passionate fans mostly just mimicked Clarke’s movements or simply headbanged themselves into submission. With a Mogwai cover and a showcase of ‘Language Games’ from 2011’s Roads To Judah thrown into their set, their first time at Groezrock was beautifully cathartic.

Strike Anywhere’s blend of energetic skate punk, loaded with plenty of hits from their extensive discography almost feels like a staple of Groez at this point, but never feels stale.  At this point in their career they’re never going to really change much from their live set up but overall they still manage to stand their ground after all these years.

Moving back to the main stage, metalcore veterans Underoath serve up a deliciously nostalgic set, with audience members clearly coming out of pit retirement for anthems such as ‘Writing On The Walls’ and ‘In Regards To Myself’. Aaron Gillespie and Spencer Chamberlain’s voices accompany each other pitch perfectly tonight, despite little crowd interaction. The set is over as soon as it starts as it would have been impossible to perform their two most well known albums in full at a festival.  However when all is said and done, it would be hard to criticise them with such a heartfelt comeback.

AJJ’s formula of insightful folk punk brings a drunken house party atmosphere to the Watch Out stage. Their sets are known to be rowdy but even they are taken aback by the warm response of the Belgian. There’s also a surprisingly heavy element to their music live, with frontman Sean Bonnette coming close to breaking a string at any moment with his hard strumming patterns. A few barren stagedivers show their support, even during some of their slower songs might feel somewhat inappropriate for their music. Thankfully it doesn’t distract too much from their rousing social commentary and joyful singalongs.

With sets from In Hearts Wake and Anti Flag blasting from both sides of the festival, there’s surprisingly not that many people initially for the almighty Deftones. Tonight is a sonic feast for newcomers and long time fans of the seminal alt metal group, opening on on ‘Korea’, straight into ‘Elite’, and the crushingly tight ‘Diamond Eyes’. Frontman Chino Moreno’s stage presence is still charming as ever, making up for conventional stage banter with boisterous energy, often collapsing in fetal position for the heavier cuts.

Only the title track from ‘Gore’ is showcased tonight but it’s nice to see they’re not getting tired of playing their older hits time after time. ‘Rosemary’ and ‘Digital Bath’ are performed with almost blinding rays of purple and blue lights into the audience which greatly enhances the versatile atmosphere Deftones achieve with their live shows.  This is surprisingly one of their smaller shows on this entire tour, but their live shows are so influential it only made sense to have them steal the limelight tonight.

Not giving a damn about your weak, delicate hungover state from last night’s 4am afterparty, Bent Life solider on at the Watch Out stage early on. The bass drops and breakdown sections have kids punching the living daylights out of each other, although still retaining a sense of catchiness with some of the groovier riffs. It’s all the fun of a hardcore show back home, but with more people in Heavenshallburn shirts rather than XL Title Fight hoodies.

Arcane Roots, in comparison, are still just a very average band from Surrey, regardless of what continent they’re playing on. The band are giving it their all and their diverse range of musical endeavours bode well with the audience but sadly fail to be truly engaging.

With this year somewhat lacking in the traditional sprinklings of pop punk bands on the line up, Boston Manor step up up their game on the Watch Out stage. The blissful sing along choruses coupled with energetic riffs are not only wonderful to listen to from afar but prompt plenty of wholesome mic grabs and stage diving from their long time fans. Frontman Henry Cox has the audience by his finger tips, promoting all the angry finger pointing and posi jumps he can muster. Alongside their packed out acoustic set during Pennywise, it’s safe to say their venture to Groezrock did us Brits proud.

A return to the tough US brand of hardcore earlier in the day, Incendiary plunge into ‘Zeitgeist’. As with Bent Life, the sludgy guitar tones sound pissed off and louder than anything else here. You might even argue that they’re the heaviest band on this bill, which of course is noted by how many people are flailing their fists and knocking each other out to them. It’s hateful breakdown after breakdown for their set which to some people might get a bit dull after a while, but never with Incendiary. You just can’t top the belting end breakdown of ‘Primitive Rage’, as the audience clambers on top of each other to grab the microphone for the line “FORCING, A FUCKING, RECKONING”. Totally ahead of their peers, Incendiary are formidable, both on record and today.

Despite their somewhat corny vibe that they give off, it would be criminal to go to Groezrock and not go see H2O. Even if it’s just to hear them play a superb rendition of ‘The Waiting Room’ by Fugazi, the New York punks provide one of the most carefree and liberating sets of the weekend. It’s impossible not to sing along or even be tempted to join the overwhelming number of kids flinging themselves across the tent to anthems such as ‘1995’ and ‘Fairweather Friend’. Even when there’s people on stage for what seems like a fraction too long it never feels cringy or necessary to interrupt the masses of positive energy on display here. Of course, no H2o set would be complete without a total stage invasion during ‘What Happened’, leaving frontman Toby Morse to clamber onto the drumset to finish the set.  The unfortunate clash with Jeff Rosenstock during their set was heartbreaking but as stated before, you wouldn’t want to miss something this special and inclusive.

Surprisingly, while Gorilla Biscuits boded well on the same stage, they didn’t nearly have the same crowd reaction as H2o. This isn’t to say they disappointed, surging through most of ‘Start Today’ with a handful of covers like no tomorrow. As the last band on the Back To Basics stage this weekend they gave it their all, reigniting all the passion and defiance of the influential songs they wrote nearly 30 years ago.

Australian metalcore favourites, Parkway Drive, were given the daunting task of headlining not only last evening of Groezrock, but also as the only band left to perform out of everyone there. Their recent change in sound to a traditional rock sound hasn’t been entirely favourable by fans but their career spanning set is solid and packed with so many classics. Playing ‘Carrion’ and ‘Sleepwalkers’ so early on in the set is a bit of a risky move but the energy ceases to dissolve thought the entire show. This is everyone’s last chance to party and no one is taking it for granted, with push pits, circle pits, stagediving from the side stage and of course, crowd surfing as far as the eye can see.

Vocalist Winston Mccall has no trouble rousing people up to join in with arena rock “woah’s” and “hey’s”, shifting the band’s traditionally club based live show into a larger than life spectacle. A three minute upside down drum solo, Travis Barker style, cements that Parkway have transcended Impericon fame and fortune to a band that’s evolved into something much bigger than anyone anticipated. “Look over there in that tower and you can see my mum,” says Mccall, as the crowd cheers with genuine love and appreciation for tonight’s final two songs, ‘Crushed’ and ‘Bottom Feeder’.  No one ever expected Parkway to pull off a festival headline set in 2017, but against all odds, they passed with flying colours.

See you all next year!