It’s early July, and for Metal fans in and around Czechia, that means one thing: it’s time for Masters of Rock. This year’s incarnation marks the 18th time that promoter Pragokoncert’s largest summer festival took place in the small town of Vizovice in the east of Czechia, close to the borders of Slovakia and Poland. For this reason, the festival can be considered the Czech version of Wacken, as the small town’s usual population of about 5.000 people swells to 25.000 for a few days every summer when Masters of Rock happens.
Traditionally taking place at the distillery of Rudolf Jelínek, famous for its high-quality Slivovitz (plum brandy), Masters of Rock has been sporting impressive lineups at affordable prices over the past years, and the 2022 edition is no exception. After the festival was cancelled for two years in a row due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Masters of Rock finally returned to Vizovice in 2022 with a bang, as the festival billing was topped by the biggest headlining act Masters of Rock has ever seen: the legendary Judas Priest.
I was beyond excited to return to one of my absolute favorite festivals, and one that is only a three-hour drive away from my hometown of Vienna, Austria. Since Masters of Rock is also known for its emphasis on melodic Metal and Hard Rock bands (while still featuring notable Extreme Metal acts as well), this is easily the perfect festival for my personal taste, and I am happy to share my experiences at the 2022 edition of Masters of Rock in the following paragraphs.
THURSDAY, 7 July 2022
The first festival day started quite early for me, with a show of Czech local heroes Sebastien, who took to the stage after opening act Fleret, also from Czechia. Sebastien, fronted by charismatic singer George Rain, who shares his first name with not only Serenity singer Georg Neuhauser but also a bit of his looks, underwent somewhat of a change in recent years. Initially starting out as a slightly more progressive Metal band, singing primarily in English, the band has shifted its focus to a more local approach. These days, the lyrics of Sebastien come mainly in Czech, and the songwriting seems a bit stripped down and more geared towards the Czech audience. This is an interesting change in direction, but one the Czech audience seemed to enjoy quite a bit. At this particular show, the band also received some support on the lead vocals as singer Viktorie Surmova, known as the leading lady of her band “Surma,” joined Sebastien on stage, adding extra colour to the sound of the band that proved a welcome addition.
The young Swedish band Mister Misery was up next and tried to add a layer of darkness to the otherwise sunny day in Czechia with their brand of “Horror Metal” before Blues Pills, also from Sweden, took an entirely different musical direction. Carried by the powerful and soulful vocals of frontwoman Elin Larsson, the band delivered earthy old-school 70s rock in fitting stage outfits and with the necessary musical oomph. While a bit of an unusual style for the festival, the band nonetheless complemented the billing well. The groovy rock songs like “Bye Bye Birdy” certainly appealed to a considerable audience.
The festival remained firmly in female hands throughout the next act to grace the Ronnie James Dio stage with Germany’s Beyond The Black. Led by breakout singer Jennifer Haben, who is currently only 27-years-old, and has fronted the group since their inception in 2014. The band also features Chris Hermsdörfer (formerly of Visions of Atlantis, Serenity) on guitar and is supported by a high-class backing band. Singer Jennifer delivered an engaging performance of cuts like “When Angels Fall,” “Heart of the Hurricane,” and the title track of the eponymously named debut album “Songs of Love and Death” from 2015. It was easy to see that the band had a lot of touring experience under their belt at this time, which made for a fun experience for band and fans alike, complemented by a strong visual stage production.
Things then took another turn to the darker side of metal as Amorphis hit the stage. It might have been a bit too early for the band’s atmospheric sound to truly achieve their maximum effect. Still, the exceptional vocals of singer Tomi Joutsen, which constantly alternate between deep growls and smooth baritone cleans, are always an eye- (or rather an ear-) catcher. The band delivered cuts like “Northwards,” “On the Dark Waters,” and the epic “House of Sleep” as a closer and proved a welcome change of pace after the highly melodic start into the first festival day.
If one goes to a festival in Czechia, there is a distinct possibility that one will also see a band named “Citron” on the bill. Initially formed in 1976, Citron is one of the biggest rock and metal acts from Czechia and is still immensely popular in their home country to this day. However, their performance at this year’s Masters of Rock carried somewhat of a bittersweet note, as drummer Radim Pařízek, the last remaining member of the band’s original lineup, passed away in 2021. This year’s performance of the band was therefore dedicated to his memory.
The festival then continued on a Hard Rock trajectory, with Finnish Monster Rockers Lordi taking to the stage in their opulent costumes, firing off easy-going rock songs much in the vein of band leader Mr. Lordi’s main inspiration, the legendary Kiss. While the straightforward rock of the band has never quite been my cup of tea, it’s hard to deny that the band has a huge following in Czechia. Therefore, was able to elicit a tremendous response from the crowd with songs like “Naked In My Cellar,” “Dynamite Tonite,” “Not The Nicest Guy,” or the catchy “Devil Is a Loser.” With music, lyrics, and optics somewhere between Kiss, Steel Panther, and Gwar, the band has an undeniable appeal. Their mega smash hit (courtesy of Eurovision) “Hard Rock Hallelujah” certainly is a certified banger that leaves you asking yourself, just like the last song in the set: “Would You Love a Monsterman?”
After all the more melodic performances thus far, the first festival day would, however, end on quite a bang. Thanks to the double dose of heavier metal in the shape of German Metalcore veterans Heaven Shall Burn, and legendary Brazilian Groove metallers Sepultura. The latter unfortunately had to perform sans guitarist Andreas Kisser, whose wife Patricia sadly passed away from cancer only a few days earlier. Kisser had already been replaced on tour earlier in June by guitarist Jean Patton of Project46 to join his family in this difficult situation. As the show must go on, the band fronted by the ever-impressive Derrick Green delivered a slew of bona fide metal classics such as “Arise,” “Refuse/Resist,” and the inevitable closer “Roots Bloody Roots.” They also had time to sprinkle in some more recent cuts from their 2021 album “Sepulquarta” like “Slave New World,” “Cut-Throat,” and “Ratamahatta.”
Thus concluded the first day of Masters of Rock 2022. Incidentally, the only festival day this year that would see a “deadliner” act perform late at night in Sepultura with their starting time at 00:50 in the morning. The remaining days’ lineups would not allow such a late performance – notably due to the extensive extra working time needed to set up and take down the impressive stage production of Saturday’s monster headlining act. Still, we will get to that in a bit.
FRIDAY, 8 July 2022
The program on day number two started quite early with local heroes Forrest Jump opening the festival before German rockers Andy Rocks (aptly named after leading lady Andrea Weiß) took to the stage – but the first of two big surprises came in the shape of Melodic Metallers Neonfly from the UK, who once again delivered a heartwarming performance of songs like “Heart of the Sun,” “Steal The World” and “This World Is Burning,” carried by the charismatic and energetic antics of frontman Willy Norton (who once again climbed the stage rigging during the show) as well as a literally fiery display (of fire breathing) by guitarist Frederick Thunder. Ending with the strong closer “Morning Star” from their 2011 debut album “Outshine the Sun,” Neonfly once again gave a strong statement of their class at Masters of Rock festival.
The second big surprise followed in the shape of the Russian Heavy Metal act Amalgama. While still relatively unknown in Europe, the band has been around since the early 2000s, particularly in light of recent events, and seems to be leaning more towards the European market. Amalgama’s performance certainly showed their long experience. They surprisingly had one of the best live sounds of the entire festival. They were topped by the impressive vocals of frontman Vlad Ivoylov, who delivered an almost flawless performance of classical Heavy Metal vocals that do not need to shy away from comparisons with legends of the genre. The band’s setlist featured a lot of tracks from their freshly minted 2022 album “Brothers in Rock,” such as “Wild Wind,” “Dream,” and “Dark Night.” And if the high production values and great vocal performance were not enough, Amalgama was supported by Delain guitar virtuoso Timo Somers for this show, which added an extra touch of international flair to the performance. Apart from the “evil clown” mascot, the band also had on stage and keytar. Regardless of what may be happening on the political side of things, in terms of the arts, this is a band that deserves to be checked out.
The billing featured another Russian act, Black Sonic Pearls and German Death Metallers Nothgard, whose performances we mostly missed. Festival promoter George Daron invited the journalists present at the festival to the traditional tour of (and tasting at) the Rudolf Jelínek distillery. There, we learned that the company became one of the world’s biggest exporters of spirits as the family of Rudolf Jelínek was Jewish, and the company, therefore, was one of the first big exporters of kosher spirits across the world. Unfortunately, Rudolf Jelínek himself did not survive the horrors of the Second World War, as he died in the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1944. However, his company survived through his sons and still exists today, producing and exporting the R. Jelínek spirits – of which we were also granted a taste (or two) by festival promoter George Daron himself, from his own private reserve.
After the distillery tour, we rejoined the proceedings in front of the main stage. Swiss rockers Shakra just ended their set, opening the stage up for German/English hard rock legends Pink Cream 69, featuring band leader Alfred Koffler on guitars and the ever-charismatic David Readman on vocals. Old-school classic rock songs like “Welcome the Night,” “Lost in Illusions,” and “Talk to the Moon” were delivered with conviction. Just like the show closer “Shame,” a solid, if not incredibly flashy performance – but certainly one that entertained.
What followed could easily be considered the secret headliner of the day: Disco-Power-Metallers Beast in Black, fronted by the incomparable Yannis Papadopoulos, were up next and started in strong fashion with “Blade Runner” from their latest outing “Dark Connection,” followed by “From Hell With Love” from the 2019 album of the same name. While the first two songs went down without a hitch, unfortunately, the PA party gave out during the third song, “Beast In Black,” giving both bands and fans a bit of a hard time. Fortunately, the band recovered quickly (even though singer Yannis, as he later told us, would have to perform the rest of the set without any monitor sound and rely solely on the sound from the front speakers, which was an impressive feat) and delivered a nice mix of songs from their three albums to date. The party-hungry crowd ate it up and celebrated tracks like “Born Again,” “Cry Out For A Hero,” and “Moonlight Rendevouz” just like the uber-catchy closer trio of “One Night In Tokyo,” mega-smash-hit “Blind and Frozen,” and “End of the World.” The band sure knew to impress with a perfectly synchronized stage performance, excellent song material, and energetic performance.
From the modern Metal antics of Beast in Black, the festival did a complete one-eighty, taking us back in time to the glory days of Hard Rock, with supergroup The Dead Daisies up next. Currently featuring the incomparable Doug Aldrich on guitars and living legend Glenn Hughes on Vocals and Bass, the show was just a complete master class in “how real musicians do it.” Old school to the core, the veterans delivered their own cuts like “Long Way to Go,” “Dead and Gone,” and “Radiance,” as well as a few covers of bona fide classics such as CCR’s “Fortunate Son” and Deep Purple’s “Mistreated,” with Glenn Hughes’ charismatic vocals and wailing screams dominating the sound. This show was just pure class, and when the set ended with covers of “Midnight Moses” and the legendary Deep Purple track “Burn,” there was nothing else to do but to stand up and applaud these legends of the business for a job well done and a history lesson in rock music.
However, the day was not yet done. Italian Gothic Metallers Lacuna Coil, fronted by the ever-charming Cristina Scabbia, who recently turned 50 years old, which one would never guess seeing her live and in person, were tasked with filling the headlining slot for the day. It’s hard to believe that the band has been going strong now since 1999 when they released their debut album “In A Reverie,” – but Lacuna Coil is showing no signs of slowing down. The band’s set on this night featured their most recent album, “Black Anima,” quite heavily, with tracks “Sword of Anger,” “Reckless,” “Apocalypse,” “Veneficium,” “Layers of Time,” and “Now or Never” all making the cut. Added to that were a few older tracks like “My Demons,” “Delirium,” and the Depeche Mode cover “Enjoy The Silence” before going to their encore set, which included “Our Truth,” “House of Shame,” “Heaven’s a Lie” from the 2002 album “Comalies” and “Nothing Stands in Our Way” from 2014’s “Broken Crown Halo.”
SATURDAY, 9 July 2022
Thus the third festival day arrived, which was to be “the big one.” Opened by Brazil-based Thrash ladies Nervosa in their recently revamped lineup, Norwegian folk metal band Trollfest would follow and arguably win the award for most ridiculous outfits of the festival, performing in pink flamingo costumes. Their entertaining performance of songs like “Dance Like a Pink Flamingo,” “Pina Colada,” “All Drinks on Me,” and even a cover of Britney Spears’ “Toxic;” certainly got the crowd into an early party mood. Their performance did bode well for the Swedes of Civil War, who were up next.
Civil War is comprised in large parts of former Sabaton members and these days fronted by Kelly Sundown Carpenter. Currently promoting their new album “Invaders,” which was, therefore, featured quite frequently in the band’s setlist, in the shape of songs like the eponymous title track, “Slaughterhouse 5,” and “Battle of Life.” At the same time, cuts like “Saint Patrick’s Day,” “I Will Rule The Universe,” and “Rome Is Falling” also found their way into the show. With a great crowd reaction and a solid performance, including fantastic multi-layered backing vocals provided by the instrumentalists, this was an excellent showcase of what these musicians can do when no longer confined to the songwriting restrictions and requirements of their former band.
Californian Thrashers Death Angel were up next and featured bangers like “The Dream Calls for Blood,” and “Humanicide” on their short but intense setlist before 2019 Grammy winners High on Fire took over to provide a Stoner/Sludge metal interlude in the festival billing. The remainder of the evening, however, was safely in melodic Metal and Rock hands as German happy-go-lucky Power Metallers Axxis, fronted by the uniquely charismatic Bernhard Weiss, took the audience on a welcome journey through their extensive band back catalogue. Their set featured some more recent tracks, such as the opener “Monster Hero” from the 2018 album of the same name, but focused mainly on older songs like “Blood Angel” from 2007’s “Doom of Destiny” and many absolute band classics such as “Heaven in Black,” “My Little Princess,” “Living in a World” and of course “Kingdom of the Night.” While frequent and welcome guests at festivals in the Czech republic, Axxis, unfortunately, had to battle with some sound issues throughout their set as the mix turned out a bit less than ideal. Nonetheless, the band’s exuberant fun and sheer joy of being on stage still shone through during the entire performance.
However, nothing could prepare the festival crowd for what came next. As a gigantic inflatable rubber duck assumed its shape on the stage, fans of piratey folk metal knew their time had finally come: it was time for Alestorm – and a huge, huge party. Inflatable sharks, rubber boats, and myriads of crowd surfers (including some naked ones!) turned the audience area into a veritable pit of debauchery and decadence. All this certainly to the great amusement of master of ceremonies Chris Bowes, as the popularity of his band seems unbroken after the band’s image had seemingly taken a bit of a hit in the wake of some unsavory chat conversations surfacing online in 2021. But apologies go a long way, and it seems Mr. Bowes and his band(s) have been granted a second lease on life by the fans – and what a life it is! The audience reaction during party songs (and well, that’s pretty much every Alestorm song) like “Mexico,” Taio Cruz’s cover “Hangover,” and the new “Seventh Rum of a Seventh Rum.” Of course, Alestorm went into their classics like “Drink” and “F***d With an Anchor,” which were second to none, driving the Czech audience into a sheer frenzy, and turned this early evening gig into a true headlining show in its own right.
A tough act to follow, but Swiss Hard Rock veterans Gotthard managed it with ease. Their traditional approach to the, dare I say, Bon Jovi-esque school of stadium rock songwriting was a distinct enough change from the party Metal of Alestorm to be an entertaining and musically top-quality performance. Singer Nic Maeder celebrated his tenth anniversary with the band with songs like “Top of the World,” “Feel What I Feel,” “Master of Illusion,” “Starlight,” and his own debut track for the band, “Remember It’s Me.” The set featured the emotional “One Life, One Soul” as a standout track, which always brings up memories of legendary former singer Steve Lee, who sadly passed away in 2010 in a freak motorcycle accident, before finally closing strong on sing-a-long party bangers “Mountain Mama,” “Lift U Up,” “Anytime Anywhere,” and “Quinn the Eskimo” as an encore.
Finally, the hour had come. After some party Metal with Alestorm and good old Rock’n’Roll with Gotthard, it was time to hear the words “The Priest is back!” resound throughout the R. Jelínek distillery area. Heavy Metal founding fathers Judas Priest hit the stage. These legends brought a tremendous setlist to celebrate their “50 Metal Years” anniversary. They kicked off with a triple banger of “One Shot at Glory” from “Painkiller,” followed by “Lightning Strike” from the band’s most recent outing “Firepower,” and legendary track “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming.” Other bands would die to have even only one of those songs in their setlist, but Priest were just getting started. Czechia fans enjoyed “Freewheel Burning” and “Turbo Lover,” which were received with a raucous reaction. Singer Rob Halford proved to be in great vocal condition on this night as well, especially considering he is celebrating his 71st birthday in August 2022, and showed why he is the Metal God by leading the band and crowd through a lesson in Heavy Metal history with tracks “Hell Patrol,” “The Sentinel,” the atmospheric “Victim of Changes” and of course the two legendary Priest covers “The Green Manalishi” and Joan Baez’ “Diamonds & Rust.”
Finally, the uber-classic and definition of Heavy Metal itself, “Painkiller,” closed out the regular part of the set. It wouldn’t be a Judas Priest performance without a motorcycle. Therefore, in true form, master Halford returned to the stage on a bike to kick off the encore part with “Electric Eye” before finishing on a high note (or rather, several thereof – literally and figuratively) with the triplet of “Hell Bent For Leather,” “Breaking the Law” and “Living After Midnight.” What an impressive showcase of one of the all-time greatest acts in Heavy Metal – one can only stand in amazement and applaud in awe.
SUNDAY, 10 July 2022
Three days of festival and party had certainly left their mark on the audience at this point. The early morning bands on the final festival day, Czech local heroes Gate Crasher and Arakain, Finnish Glam Rock band Shiraz Lane and instrumental Post-Rockers Long Distance Calling, had their work cut out for them in revitalizing the crowd and getting the Czech fans ready for the final set of bands at Masters of Rock 2022.
While an argument could be made that I might be a bit biased here, I am convinced that none other than the Austro-French-Italian Symphonic Metal act Visions of Atlantis sounded the true wake-up call on this Sunday afternoon. They were delivering what could arguably be considered the defining performance of their careers up to this point. Supported by the Bohemian Symphony Orchestra Prague under conductor Martin Šanda, the band took the stage and fans by storm. They were exclusively plowing through the strong song material of the band’s most recent albums “The Deep and The Dark” (2018), “Wanderers” (2019), and the brand new “Pirates” (2022) while foregoing any throwbacks to older albums. But in doing so, the band proved that the “new” Visions of Atlantis have finally surpassed the band’s past successes and are certainly a force to be reckoned with in the international Symphonic Metal scene. Whether it’s new songs like “Master the Hurricane,” “Clocks,” “Melancholy Angel,” or closer “Legion of the Seas,” the live qualities of the band’s new album material were on full-on display here. Tracks from 2019’s “Wanderers” album like the power ballad “Nothing Lasts Forever,” “A Journey to Remember,” and “A Life of Our Own,” as well as the title track of the 2018 album “The Deep and the Dark” (naturally a nice throwback for me, as I happened to be the vocalist on said album) rounded off the set perfectly. A great selection of songs, a highly energetic performance by the entire band in their new pirate-themed costumes, and standout showcases by vocalists Clementine Delauney and Michele Guaitoli turned this performance into one of the highlights of the entire festival.
Unfortunately, German Power Metal group Orden Ogan could not make it to their scheduled performance at the festival, as one band member tested positive for Covid-19 just a day earlier, which resulted in the entire day’s schedule being bumped up a bit. That meant it was time for the next veritable Death and Thrash Metal inferno. Canadian Deathers Kataklysm were next to hit the stage, thundering through tracks like “Focused to the Destroy You,” “As I Slither,” and “Elevate.”Bay Area Thrash legends Exodus soon followed, who gave “A Lesson in Violence.” Gary Holt and his band delivered a mix of new material in the shape of cuts like “The Years of Death and Dying” and “Blood In, Blood Out,” as well as band classics like “Bonded by Blood,” “Toxic Waltz,” and “Strike of the Beast.”
Finally, Californian Thrashers Testament, fronted by a highly motivated Chuck Billy, provided one of the heaviest and, at the same time, technically most proficient sets of the entire festival. This came with a bit of surprise with a band featuring names like Alex Skolnick on guitars, Steve DiGiorgio on Bass, and, as of late, the legendary Dave Lombardo on drums. My word, what a lineup! Said lineup would also not disappoint in its delivery of songs like “The Pale King,” “Practice What You Preach,” “Souls of Black,” “Into the Pit,” and “Alone in the Dark,” and proved a worthy co-headliner for the last festival day.
The final headlining slot went to Finnish Symphonic Metal grandmasters Nightwish. Ever since former After Forever singer Floor Jansen took over the lead vocalist position from predecessor Anette Olzon, Nightwish have certainly been on an upward trajectory again. As far as their live shows are concerned, with the solid vocal and optical presence of Floor Jansen being a definite upgrade to the previous lineup. Nonetheless, with four full days of festival and concerts in their bones, the audience seemed to slowly grow a little bit tired. The final spark would not quite jump over as brightly as it could have during the band’s performance. Tracks included from all eras of the band like the Tarja-era “Planet Hell,” “Dark Chest of Wonders,” and “Nemo” or the Anette-era “Storytime,” “I Want My Tears Back,” and “Last Ride of the Day,” as well as current-era songs like “Noise,” “Élan” or “How’s the Heart.” Personally, I find myself also missing former bassist Marco Hietala’s charismatic vocals in the sonic mix. However, multi-instrumentalist Troy Donockley is doing an admirable job providing some backing vocals for Floor Jansen. It’s not quite the same as the lead vocal duels of days past.
Nonetheless, the band’s set included some true highlights, such as the return of mega ballad “Sleeping Sun” and the epic duo of “Ghost Love Score” and “The Greatest Show on Earth” to close out the show. At this point in their career, I feel Nightwish are simply unable to deliver a bad performance. While this one did not quite reach the same goosebump-inducing level I experienced at their show at Masters of Rock in 2015, this was still a proper headlining performance and an excellent closer to a great festival experience.
Thus concludes my recount of Masters of Rock 2022, where the Priest was Czech – and I, for one, will be looking forward to the Masters of Rock 2023 lineup announcements with eager anticipation.