Birmingham airport was nice and quiet for my ten am flight – a big Yates Wine Lodge has sprung up since my Munich trip last year, so I practiced quaffing Italian beer at £3.35 a throw. Security has subtly changed too – a guard selected me at random and gently grilled me about my destination. He was left knowing far more about Iron Maiden than he would probably ever want to. The Frankfurt flight was virtually empty, and I arrived at the packed and bedraggled ‘jewel’ in Lufthansa’s crown to the sight of multiple air con leaks. Lunched on beer and bratwurst, tasty but pricey, a disgraceful €10.30. I know it’s an airport, but I felt like I was personally paying for the air con repairs.

The main feature of the flight to Bologna was an alarming 5 minutes over the Alps, where the turbulence convinced me my number was up. This, err, ‘danger’ left as quickly as it had arrived, and before I knew it I was in Bologna town centre. It seemed like a really great idea to walk to the hotel and site with some lads from London and Preston, despite the searing heat – should really have got a taxi as I practically collapsed when I got there. A few beers revived me as I watched Spain thrash Russia in the Euro semi final.

Friday – Fear of the Dark

The TV weather forecast called for “scorchio” all day. An early start led me to walk to the site with a couple of ladies from Tuscany. Deciding it was unwise to begin queuing at 730 in the morning when it was really hot already, I walked back into the town centre for some sight-seeing. It’s a terrific-looking place that is quite unlike anywhere I have ever seen.

Saw the Two Towers, Piazza Nettuna, Piazza Maggiore, and visited the Basilica of San Petronio, which is the 5th biggest church in the world.

Later grabbed the festival bus, which was rammed with excited Maiden fans. Had a few €4 beers and checked out the staggering array of pirate t-shirts. I remember from Massive Attack in Milan that they have more interesting merchandise outside the venue, and picked up an event shirt for €15 that was just as good quality as the official stuff and didn’t have any silly goat imagery. Rhe arena opened at 12, and I was delighted to see that it’s a bowl like Milton Keynes, with a large banked grassy area at the back.

Miami’s Black Tide got the festival (and my 600th show since 1973!) going with a great 20 minute power metal set that included a good cover of ‘Hit the Lights’ (7)
Lauren Harris followed, but just because she’s cute and the bosses daughter, don’t think I will be saying anything nice about her tedious pub rock that would not even be on a bill at a festival in Stepney were it not for papa Steve (3).

The next band was far more enjoyable - Melbourne’s Airbourne played an energetic set that the crowd loved (7); featuring most of their ‘Runnin’ Wild’ debut, their AC/DC style rock was just what was required. It was by now 39 degrees in the arena (I know cos’ I asked at the first aid post, mildly concerned by my difficulty in breathing).

A mild breeze sprang up during Apocalyptica’s performance (6), which featured the usual cello shredding and intelligent covers – including an airing of Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ plus Metallica’s ‘Creeping Death’ and a ‘Nothing Else Matters’. The latter caused my Italian pals to go totally mental, I dread to think what it will be like when Hetfield and co pitch up here for real in a couple of weeks.

Realising that I was by now suffering from mild heatstroke, I listened to Rose Tattoo from the bar (4). Angry Anderson and the boys performed well but it felt a bit stale, especially so soon after the fresher style of Airbourne.

By now the cries of ‘Maiden’ ‘Maiden’ were constant, and I have to admit I felt a bit sorry for Californian screamo kids Avenged Sevenfold going on before Bruce and co.

They didn’t use the word ‘motherf’ until the second line of the first song, is this some sort of a record for an MTV band? The only positive things I can say about this third rate act is that they are not as bad as Fall Out Boy, and that ‘Second Heartbeat’ is a good song (3).

At 9 o’clock Winston Churchill’s Beaches speech rang out across the arena, and Iron Maiden began an absolutely stunning performance (10). Of all the times I have seen Maiden, this was the best show, even surpassing Hammersmith '05.

The crazed enthusiasm of the crowd became positively dangerous during ‘The Trooper’, and as crowd favourites poured out I realised it doesn’t get much better than this. I was delighted to hear ‘Rime of The Ancient Mariner’ live again, and the crowd for ‘Fear of the Dark’ was incredible.
Aces High/2 Minutes to Midnight/Revelations/ The Trooper/ Wasted Years/ The Number of the Beast/ Can I Play With Madness/ Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Powerslave/ Heaven Can Wait/ Run To the Hills/ Fear of the Dark/ Iron Maiden/  
Moonchild/The Clairvoyant/Hallowed Be Thy Name.

Saturday – The Red in the Sky is Ours
The TV weather forecast called for “scorchio” all day. There was therefore to be no rushing about, and I ambled up to the site armed with several litres of water purchased from a nearby supermercardo. Incidentally unlike England and Germany, the local traders did not increase their prices to exploit festival-goers – I paid 17c for a 2 litre bottle of water – probably less than from a Reading or Wacken shop?

Sadly the food at the festival was terrible – in the absence of a nice tortellini I tried a burger and chips, but the meat was practically still mooing. I found a shaded spot to begin today’s fun, and saw the last part of the set by Carolina Technical Death merchants Between the Buried and Me (7) – sounded pretty good, worth checking out.

Before you knew it Dillinger Escape Plan (8) were assaulting the crowd with some good old New Jersey math core. Greg Puciato was great; diving into the crowd on several occasions, although I think the set was a bit difficult for many of the early afternoon on lookers.

Oh my giddy aunt, it’s At the Gates! To have the opportunity to see the Goteborg guvnors live is something that I thought would never happen. Their fantastic set was rewarded with an encore, one of the few of the whole weekend (9).
Slaughter of the Soul/ Cold/ Raped by the light/Terminal Spirit Disease/Under A Serpent Sun/Suicide Nation/World of Lies/The Burning Darkness/Blinded by Fear/Kingdom Gone.
Testament’s (7) tidy thrash appealed hugely to the Slayer contingent as they partied like its 1986.’Into the Pit’ brought back memories of those halcyon days, and ‘Disciples of the Watch’ was a fabulous set closer.
I was worried that Meshuggah’s prog death (8) would be a little too eclectic for the crowd, but far from it – they have a terrific following here and delivered some strong tunes from the new CD plus a sprinkling of classics. One of my first actions back in England was to book up for the autumn tour, give it a go.
7 o’clock and the vile ‘Reality Asylum’ by Crass heralded the entrance of the best band from Liverpool ever – Carcass (9). As was the case with At the Gates, it took a while for it to sink in that I was actually present at a Carcass gig. Jeff Walker was frankly god-like as they attacked the crowd with stunning versions of the highpoints from the five albums; with the main focus on Necroticism and of course Heartwork the crowd went nearly as barmy as I did.

Buried Dreams/Corporeal Jigsore Quandry/Carnal Forge/Incarnate Solvent Abuse
/No Love Lost/Edge of Darkness/This Mortal Coil/Embodiment/Reek of Lutrefaction/Keep on Rotting in the Free World/Genital Grinder/Rotten To the Gore/ Death Certificate/Ruptured/Heartwork/Carneous

I only lasted two songs in the melee at the front, but this photo I took is quite good.

They also brought Ken Owen on to say hello; he can no longer play drums due to health problems. Prolonged exposure to this disturbing group would give anyone health problems, and we love them even more for that.
Regular readers have commented that I tend to be rather harsh when writing about Slayer (5) – suffice to say that having Los Angeles’ answer to Status Quo topping the bill over Carcass was disappointing but understandable from the crowd’s reaction. As usual there was nothing wrong with their set, but I swear that Kerry King played the same solo in every number I listened to. Definitely a welcome chance for an earlier night in preparation for Sunday’s final onslaught.

Sunday – The Green Manalishi (with the two-pronged crown)

The TV weather forecast called for “scorchio” all day.

First up today was The Sorrow (6), Austrian metalcorists about whom I remember very little.

Nightmare (5) and Infernal Poetry (6) also passed without incident. The latter act was Italian and good, as opposed to Fratello Metallo (2) who was Italian and rubbish. An old bloke dressed as a monk shouting in Italian. This lasted for 15 minutes and the crowd loved it.

Thank goodness Enslaved (6) followed this with an inspired Norwegian black metal set. Things improved further with a great set from Obituary (7) who were as good as you would expect. ‘Slowly We Rot’ and ‘Chopped in Half’ should be sung on works coach trips.

The sun ran off and hid as Morbid Angel (7) treated us to some even more serious Florida death – it was great to hear some ‘Altars of Madness’ classics like ‘Immortal Rites’ and ‘Evil Spells’. The crowd were particularly deranged for this lot, seem to have a great following here.

As does Yngwie Malmsteen (5). Although in the past I have admired rather than liked this guy, it’s great to hear Ripper Owen in the band – that guy is quality. The guitar solos came thick and fast, and I had some dinner.
From where I was crashed out, the sound for Iced Earth seemed a bit poor – so I moved to stage right and lo and behold it was great! Proving that replacing Ripper Owen with Matt Barlow was a fair move, the band gave us some ‘Pure Evil’ ‘10000 Strong’, ‘Dracula’ and ‘Coming Curse’. They also played 3 encores, culminating in ‘Iced Earth’ – one of the highlights of the weekend (9).

Okay that’s it – 24 bands, a similar number of beers, heat stroke – a very cool weekend was topped off by Birmingham’s magnificent Judas Priest (9) – better sound, a better set list and better vocals than in 2005, this was a brilliant set to close the festival. The set reached back as far as ‘Sinner’ and ‘Dissident Aggressor’, and finished the main set with an awesome ‘Painkiller’.
Dawn of Creation/ Prophecy/ Metal Gods/Eat Me Alive/Between the Hammer and the Anvil/ Devil's Child/Breaking the Law/Hell Patrol/Messenger of Death/Dissident Aggressor/Angel/ The Hellion / Electric Eye/Rock Hard, Ride Free/Sinner/Painkiller/Hell Bent for Leather/The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown)/You've Got Another Thing Coming.

Next year I am looking at Metal Camp in Slovenia, or the Legacy thing in Belgrade, or Sziget in Hungary. Probably easier to just pick wherever Opeth are playing, who were the only thing I was missing from this great weekend.

By Roy Evans