Last year, I performed at the newly re-branded Rock Castle festival in Moravsky Krumlov with my band Dragony. Since we enjoyed the experience so much, I decided to return to the beautiful medieval Czech town in 2022 with a more journalistic focus. This year’s Rock Castle ended up being the shortest of the three big metal festivals organized by promoter Pragokoncert in Czechia. Metalfest in Pilsen and Masters of Rock in Vizovice was extended to four days. It was notable, especially in respect of Metalfest Pilsen, which usually only last three days. However, it was bumped up to four days this year for the comeback edition after a two-year hiatus courtesy of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Nonetheless, Rock Castle festival has its unique charm, especially the familial atmosphere, smaller crowd, and of course, the fantastic location together unfold a considerable drawing power for Heavy Metal fans of all ages.
But how did the lineup in 2022 hold up?
18 August 2022 – Day 1
Rock Castle 2022 certainly suffered no shortage of high-caliber bands, but I found it to be particularly some of the smaller and lesser-known bands that provided some bona fide highlights of the festival. As a starting point, the performance of German crossover rockers April Art can be mentioned here. The band, fronted by Lisa Marie Watz, was not only convincing on a musical level but also displayed a well-developed sense of visual aesthetics, punctuated by matching outfits – all the way down to the lead singer’s hair.
Unfortunately, the weather gods did not seem to be in a particularly Heavy Metal mood on this first festival day. Right after the performance of German hardcore band Slope and just before Avantasia cast member Eric Martin (of Mr. Big) was scheduled to hit the stage with his solo program, the festival had to be stopped. The entire area was evacuated due to heavy winds, which unfortunately would have otherwise endangered the safety of the audience and performers alike. Fortunately, the worst of the storm passed in Moravksy Krumlov by night. Performances resumed after roughly a two-hour delay. Thankfully, due to the relaxed atmosphere and Czech regulations, none of the shows had to be cut due to the intermission, as the remaining acts delivered as scheduled.
We were, therefore, able to enjoy the fantastic singing – and loveable stage antics. Legendary Mr. Big vocalist Eric Martin, accompanied on stage only by his Avantasia bandmate Oliver Hartmann, as he performed a fun selection of some of his band’s biggest hits, such as “Superfantastic” and “Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy.” Of course, there was time for their biggest hits, “To Be With You” and “Wild World.” It is certainly a challenge to play at a big metal festival with only two acoustic guitars and two voices. Still, Mr. Martin and Mr. Hartmann succeeded admirably, heating the stage for German Hard Rockers Kissin’ Dynamite, who delivered one of the best performances of the entire festival. Even though the band members are still fairly young, Kissin’ Dynamite as a band has been around since 2006, and their experience as a live touring act was on full display at Rock Castle 2022. Thanks to their strong new album “Not the End of the Road,” the high-octane performance and energetic stage acting of frontman Hannes Braun and his band captured the audience easily. With tracks like “I’ve got the Fire,” “DNA,” “Yoko Ono,” and, of course, the uber-catchy title track of their latest album made for an awe-inspiring show that could be considered a strong calling card for the band to be granted festival headliner slots in the future.
A completely different kind of beast was up next with Peter Tägtgren’s Pain. Surrounded by an atmospheric laser- and light show, maestro Tägtgren, and his band put a lot of emphasis on creating a dark and trance-like atmosphere on the festival grounds. Befitting the band’s style – and thus delivered cuts like “Walking on Glass,” “Suicide Machine,” and “On and On.” Of course, the inevitable “Shut Your Mouth” in an appropriate fashion kicked in before the Faroese metal warriors of Tyr closed out the first festival day. The evening concluded with their trademark Pagan metal in the shape of songs like “Blood of Heroes,” “Hail to the Hammer,” “The Lay of Thyrm,” and epic closer “Hold the Heathen Hammer High.”
19 August 2022 – Day 2
Luckily, the weather on day two of Rock Castle 2022 proved a bit more enjoyable than the previous day. While Dragonhammer from Italy, unfortunately, had to cancel their performance due to travel issues that prevented them from making it to the festival in time, the banner of Power Metal would still fly high on this August eve. Barbara Black, Spanish performance artist and singer was responsible for the first visual highlight of the day. She was wearing her almost Mortal Kombat-inspired stage outfit, while originally Russia-based Heavy Metal outfit Amalgama once again impressed with the strong performance of singer Vladislav and special guest guitarist Timo Somers (formerly of Delain).
Virtuosic guitar wizardry, accompanied by one of the strongest voices in Heavy Metal today, was up next in the shape of Greek metallers Firewind. While I am personally still missing former keyboard player Bob Katsionis’ presence on both keyboards and guitars. The slimmed-down version of Firewind with only guitar god Gus G. (ex-Ozzy Osbourne) as the sole remaining axeman in the band, completed by (also Avantasia) singer Herbie Langhans still knew to rock. They left a more than solid impression on the Czech audience thanks to choice cuts such as “Welcome to the Empire,” “Head up High,” and “Mercenary Man.” Virtuoso Gus G’s phenomenal skills were fully displayed during “The Fire and the Fury.” Fans were treated to a guest appearance by Seven Spires vocalist Adrienne Cowan during a cover of the 80s dance classic “Maniac” before the Greek/German quartet concluded their set with the band classic “Falling to Pieces.”
A stylistic switch, albeit a relatively small one, towards Symphonic Metal would be up next, as Norwegian-based metallers Sirenia were up next. They delivered a welcome breather after the full-on Heavy Metal onslaught of Firewind moments before. Songs like “In Styx Embrace,” “The Last Call,” a cover of “Voyage, Voyage,” as well as “The Other Side” and “Path to Decay” enjoyed the audience, even though the time of day might still have been a bit too sunny for Sirenia’s music to unfold its atmospheric potential fully.
Back to pure Power Metal next – and what a show we got to witness by German outfit The Unity. Originally comprised of Gamma Ray-bandmembers Henjo Richter (guitar) and Michael Ehré (drums), as well as Stefan Ellehorst and Sascha Onnen on guitars and keyboards, respectively, and fronted by Italian Gianbattista Manenti. Meanwhile, the band welcomed former Edguy bass man Tobias Exxel into their ranks, which turned out a perfect fit for the band’s energetic live performances. With an infectious, positive attitude, the band rocked through a selection of songs from their three albums to date, such as “No Hero,” “No More Lies,” “You Don’t Walk Alone,” and “Never Forget.” An absolute festival highlight and certainly a welcome Power Metal appetizer for the big festival headliner to follow later that evening.
But before said headliner would take to the stage, it was time for some symphonic Death Metal, courtesy of Septicflesh. Always a guaranteed banger of a live show, the Greek metal outfit (including Austrian drummer Krimh Lechner) impressed once again with tracks like “Pyramid God,” “Neuromancer,” “The Vampire from Nazareth,” “Prometheus,” and “Dark Art.” Naturally, my personal highlight of the festival came next in the shape of headliners Avantasia. Tobias Sammet’s metal opera project has been a massive influence on my own musical development since its debut in 2001, and the production’s live appearance at Rock Castle 2022 was a strong enough selling argument by itself for me to want to make the trip to Moravsky Krumlov this year.
The band’s set this time around included some tried-and-true mainstays of their live shows such as “Twisted Mind,” “Reach Out for the Light,” “Dying for an Angel,” band-anthem “Avantasia.” As well as Meat Loaf tribute song “Mystery of a Blood Red Rose” also dived into several brand new tracks from their new album, “A Paranormal Evening with the Moonflower Society.” Songs included “The Wicked Rule the Night,” during which Avantasia newcomer Ralf Scheepers (of Primal Fear) gave his debut performance for Avantasia, and “The Moonflower Society,” featuring Magnum golden voice Bob Catley. The band seemed in an excellent mood. Underlined by the spirited banter of singers Eric Martin, who took over lead vocal duties on songs “What’s Left of Me” and “Dying for an Angel.” Norwegian Viking Jorn Lande once again left the audience in awe with stellar performances during songs like “The Scarecrow,” “Lucifer,” and “Let the Storm descend upon you,” during which he received further vocal support from Pretty Maids fronter Ronnie Atkins. Finally, the show was rounded off with further highlights in a fantastic performance of “Farewell” from the band’s debut album, starring Seven Spires singer Adrienne Cowan on lead vocals. The band’s first and standout charting single, “Lost in Space,” as well as the epic closer “Sign of the Cross,” which traditionally ended in a short rendition of the chorus from “The Seven Angels.” A more than worthy headliner with a fantastic two-and-a-half-hour performance.
20 August 2022 – Day 3
While the previous day’s strong lineup certainly proved a tough act to follow, there were still quite a few notable highlights to be discovered on the final day of Rock Castle 2022. Even though the weather, once again, put a slight dampener on the festivities, heavy rain (but thankfully no show stoppages) was an almost constant unwelcome guest on the last festival day. Nonetheless, Italians Secret Rule and Black Briar from Switzerland provided some very welcome performances for fans of female-fronted metal. At the same time, Chontaraz from Norway delivered an interesting amalgam of Dark and classic Heavy Metal – despite the lead singer’s corpse-paint makeup, suggesting a Black Metal sound instead.
Black Sonic Pearls from Russia also made a re-appearance at Rock Castle (after having already performed in Czechia at Masters of Rock earlier in the year), and Brazilian Deathers Krisiun were responsible for one of the heaviest shows on the final festival day. The main event, so to speak, however, was safely in German hands on this day, as legendary crossover band Guano Apes hit the stage for the epic festival final double impact, delivering their own band classics like “Open Your Eyes,” “We Use the Pain,” “Wash It Down,” and “Sunday Lover,” alongside some impressive covers like one of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” and of course their famous rendition of Alphaville’s “Big in Japan.” Finally, the band closed out their set with arguably their biggest hit, the 1997 snowboarding championship anthem “Lords of the Boards” from their legendary album “Proud like a God.”
Finally, it fell to German folk metallers Feuerschwanz to deliver the conclusive performance of the festival. If you’ve ever been to a band show, you know what to expect: highly entertaining renditions of catchy, medieval-folk music-inspired tunes. Songs such as “Untot im Drachenboot,” “Metfest,” and “Kampfzwerg,” but also a few surprising covers such as an interpretation of O-Zone’s “Dragostea Din Tei” and their latest masterpiece, an epic medieval version of Manowar’s “Warriors of the World United.” A fun, if a little unexpected, final headlining performance of Rock Castle 2022.
In conclusion, I can only highly recommend a visit to Rock Castle and Moravsky Krumlov. The picturesque little Moravian town and its castle serve as a fantastic backdrop for a Heavy Metal festival at relatively affordable prices, and a considerably smaller crowd than at the promoter’s flagship festival Masters of Rock, are additional strong arguments for a visit. However, if you prefer staying at a hotel over camping for your festival enjoyment, then be forewarned – the town itself offers limited accommodation possibilities. Most of which are unfortunately long and fully booked by the time Rock Castle festival rolls around. You will most likely need to look to one of the surrounding villages for rooms, which means that you will need to rely on taxis or drive to and from the festival area. Nonetheless, Rock Castle is highly recommended and worth a visit if the lineup is to your liking!