Report by: Roel and Tabitha
Pictures by: Ingrid
After a short discussion with Ingrid, months before the actual festival, I (Roel) decided to go to the Dong Open Air 2023 festival. It has a nice timeslot in the festival agenda and I actually had some free hours to spend.
We started off early in the morning in The Netherlands in full expectancy of a nice festival with some friends. Especially the presence of co-author Tabitha was more than welcome. The vibe was full on good when we picked her up and started making our way down. Once at the hill we were greeted with the biggest of hospitality (we even got to take our car up). The tent area was already filling, and the way the festival was set up was the same as the previous years. A tent area in the bowl of the hill and a festival area on the lip of it (near the always present art piece HALLENHAUS by Observatorium).
This Open Air setting works well as the lip of the bowl makes for a great resting place when you want to see the bands, but don’t feel like standing or being in front. It also provides a nice little market area (and on the camping area near the entrance to the festival some running water toilets and showers).
After setting our tents up on the edge of the camping terrain (and a few beers) we went to the festival area to grab our wristbands and to see the first band. Luckily, we didn’t have to stand in line for ours and we could just walk to a press ticket pick up. Cause even though the wristband line wasn’t as big as the last couple of years, it still would have taken most of the playtime of the first band to get one.
After yet another beer we started to make our way from the backstage towards the podium to watch Call of Charon. Finally, a band that is going to warm us up for all the others yet to come. People where obviously elated that the bands and sounds started. Something I could completely agree with. The infusion of metalcore and death metal these guys make is infectious, but the crowd is still dripping in. So during the playing, the crowd gets bigger and the beers start flowing. The guys could still improve in their performance (stop staring at the neck of the guitar guys), but it was solid nonetheless. At this point I myself started to notice that I was getting red, so I started putting on some sun lotion. A motion I have made myself do many a times during the festival. Because man, was that sun burning throughout the festival.
As the mood in the front of the festival was turning up, so was the mood at the back of the festival. People were drinking beers, catching up on good old times and kids were playing. The average age of the festival being pressed down by the enormous amount of kids at it. A phenomenon at current festivals that I (Roel) detest but will not start discussing in this review. (If you catch me in real life, I’ll be more than happy to explain this extensively).
Having forgotten the time by the random talks with old acquaintances we needed to catch another band. That band was Angus McSix, a spinoff of the band Gloryhammer. It still lives and breathes the same energy and vibes as it, but apparently with better behaving bandmembers. The crowd loves the playfulness and outfits worn by the band. I myself am not a big fan and just stand at the edge to look at the silliness occurring before my eyes. Something I (Roel) will catch myself doing a couple of times during the festival.
The silliness only attracts me for so long, so I go back to the tent to eat something and take a little nap. After the little nap (in which I missed one band completely) it’s time for headliners. First up being Eluveitie. A band that fuses folklore, silly songs and metal. Also a band that has been around for a very long time and which I have seen many a times during my youthful years. I was shocked to see that most of the members were replaced by a younger version of themselves. This, happily for me, didn’t mean that the level of expertise was gone. I could still enjoy the songs and loved hearing this type of music again. Something that would roll over into the next band.
Epica (not having changed line up as much as Eluveitie) was an epic adventure of music played by professionals. The show was a well-oiled machine of epic keyboards (dang that round keyboard is awesome), great singing and a great balance of old and new songs. Especially during the old songs my heart sang, and I got glimpses of myself in the past. A young fellow, exploring the world of metal with an open heart, a tight wallet, a preoccupation with female fronted metal bands and living in one of the world’s best nations for this type of music. I have seen Epica in their dark ages and now saw them again having flourished into this beast of a band. A very good live experience.
After the last notes of music, we should have gone to bed to get some sleep and start fresh in the morning. I (Roel) did otherwise and went to the afterparty in a tent on the other side of the festival area. This was a bad decision, the afterparty didn’t feel right and was an absolute sausage fest. The party felt forced and after a short while I end up going to bed with a tiredness that would follow me till the end of the next day. Hence, I will leave the second day of the festival in the capable hands of fellow Writer Tabitha.
Some people had a mandatory Corona-festival break – I had a Corona & having a baby-festival break. So finally, after 4 years, I could visit my 12th edition of Dong Open Air!
So needless to say, I was as excited as a Wacken-first timer and eager to enjoy every single bit of the festival. After the very enjoyable Thursday as described by co-author (Prins) Roel, we were more or less fresh enough to actually attend the first performance of the day by Damn!escape. Not because we were so eager to see this band or because we are such hardworking reporters, but simply because Roel promised the band when chatting with them in the backstage the night before. However, all in all we did not regret our promise, because Damn!escape actually performed a nice and energetic performance, that gathered quiet the crowd and set the tone for the day. Keep it up, guys (but less talking next time please)!
After this hard work we were very proud of ourselves and treated ourselves to (another) round of beers. Speaking of beers – the pils at Dong Open Air is, as Germans like to say: “Naja”. Luckily, they also had a special beer and an alt version on the tap. What was really missing however, especially considering the weather, was a cocktail bar. I would have thrown my money at it for a caipirinha or a cuba libre, but alas, a Lemmy (whisky-coke, for the n00bs) was the best they could do… Maybe it was for the best however, as this way, at least I didn’t get very drunk..
So, where was I? Ah yes, bands. Let’s have some good old Black-Post-Rock-Melo-Death metal in the middle of the sunny summer day: Außerwelt. But damn, the boys from Münster almost managed to darken the sun with their relentless blackened assault, evoking an atmosphere of darkness and mystique. That is one to keep on your radar/Spotify.
To be honest I’m a bit allergic to bands with names that sound too much like they are nu-metal bands with whiny vocalists, short haired band members and too many sneakers. So when I hear a band name like “Words of Farewell”, I tend to stay away, but credits to myself, I didn’t, and ended up pleasantly surprised. Because World of Farewell does indeed have longhaired musicians that know how to play their instruments. The (bald) frontman with arms like tree trunks and an energy that would make my four-year-old look sluggish, radiated enthusiasm and produced much appreciated vocals. We thoroughly enjoyed their performance and we agreed it was definitely the surprise of the day.
We watched Diablo Swing Orchestra from afar and decided this was not our thing, even though you have to give them point for originality. Of course, our dedicated boss and photographer Ingrid took some cool pics for you, and did love the energy and vibe this band presented.
Us Dutchies have to stick together, which is why of course we attended the show by death metal veterans, Asphyx (founded in 1987, the year of my birth, I might add). Under the guidance of Martin van Drunen with his signature vocals, the band delivered a crushing performance that shook the very foundation of the festival grounds. Solid. LAAOUWGH!
In preparation of Dong Open Air, I listened to the special Dong playlist on Spotify. There were pleasant surprises (Like Kanonenfieber – more about that later) and also plenty of skips (From Fall to Spring…yikes!). One of the songs that I thought was quite catchy was by the band that was to play next on the Dong mountain – Hämatom (Tanz auf dem Vulkan). So I was quite open minded when it came to the performance of this ultra-German band..but as the show progressed, I was..confused? Shocked? Maybe a bit repulsed? The crowd seemed to eat it up (just like the fireworks did their banner), but their music and performance style did absolutely not resonate with me/us. Seriously, a drumsurf (drummer on a platform crowsurfing)? Does it get more silly? We decided that it must be a cultural difference that made us shake our heads in disapproval where the large audience was shaking their heads in enjoyment. Or maybe we are just too trve for all of that “firlefanz”.
The headliner of the day, Saltatio Mortis, received a similar resonance from the audience as well as from yours truly. Lots of pyro, bagpipes and moshing. That pretty much sums it up.
After enjoying quite a few drinks with old and new friends in the backstage area, we decided to check out the afterparty with DJ Benne. The music was not so much to our taste and therefore we decided that 2.30 am is a decent time to retire to bed (especially at our age).
**Day 3: Saturday**
Shower time! After two days of dust and beer, we were pretty ready to clean ourselves up. What better way than with a nice cold shower? Kudos for the Dong organisation to make this possible – it can’t be easy, hauling enough water up the mountain. After this, we were fresh and ready for our last festival day on the mountain.
This must be a Metal-Exposure premier – attending every first performance of the day! Because on Saturday, we could definitely not miss Hans Lazer Alien Slam. Their electrifying mix of space-themed metal proved to be a success, even for the sleepy and slightly hung over Dong audience. But even though this was the first show of the day, there was a considerable audience with high participation levels. One can definitely understand why the organisation put this band up first – to draw the crowd to the festival site. It worked.
It would be the second time we attended a show because we promised the band to be there, in this case it would be our fellow countrymen from Disquiet. The crowd had because of a high winds warning, unfortunately, thinned out quite a bit after HLAS, but during the show more and more people joined the death/thrash fun. So much so, that frontman Sean Maia started to initiate a Wall of Death..which, apparently, is not allowed anymore. (We also didn’t get that memo.) Instead, there would be a decent circle pit and some more good old head banging. Yes, you might’ve seen this band (or some like it) many times already, but some things just work out and you don’t change a winning horse, do you?
After honouring our promise and having enjoyed doing it, we decided to head back to our tents for some beer drinking, napping and other things that people in their mid-thirties do. We heard enough from From Fall to Spring to be content not to be any closer to the stage. If you ask me (Tabitha), rap and metal are like mint and chocolate – two things that one might enjoy separately but put together just make you want to throw up.
But for Motorjesus we would return to the festival area. Injecting a dose of adrenaline into the festival, Motorjesus delivered an energetic show, embracing the spirit of heavy metal and rock.
As I mentioned before, Kanonenfieber was one of the nice surprises in the Dong playlist. The WWI-themed black/death metal band captivated me with their lyrics and their melodic yet unforgiving sound. Expectations were high – and met. Because even though the band played at the middle of a nice summer’s day, I got goose bumps. The masked musicians transported the audience to the mud and agony of the battle fields of the Great War, their Zeppelin-Backdrop symbolically being lowered just like the Hindenburg, as their solid performance came to an end. More of this, please!
After the show of Kanonenfieber it was time for a little meal again. Having another nice falafel, we watched the show of Insomium from afar. These Finnish guys did their thing well and the crowd was very enthusiastic. Something they would be the entire evening. This being the evening with (in my honest opinion) the best line up. Three well known internationally acclaimed (Death) metal bands after each other that actually don’t bite each other in style. Something Dong may do more often.
As the sun set on the hallowed grounds of Dong Open Air 2023 and rains started to pour down, fans eagerly awaited the highly anticipated performance of Swedish death metal veterans, Hypocrisy. Known for their unique blend of melodic and aggressive sound, the band did not disappoint: Hypocrisy‘s performance was nothing short of spectacular. With their unwavering energy, flawless musicianship, and deep connection with the crowd, they solidified their status as one of the genre’s most formidable live acts. For both longtime followers and newfound admirers, the show served as a reminder of the timeless power of death metal and a testament to Hypocrisy’s enduring legacy in the metal world.
Last but not least it was time for yet another Finnish band, Amorphis. And boy did they deliver. A band I (Roel) haven’t watched in ages because I wasn’t impressed by their shows, delivered an outstanding performance with good vocals and well attuned growls. Amorphis’ melodic death metal was the excellent ending of a night of Death metal. The beer flowed and so did the music through my bones. I thoroughly enjoyed the melancholic set, so I will watch this band again at festivals to come.
As every evening we ended up at the afterparty of DJ Benne. After many shenanigans and the end of our beer (and to be honest at this point stronger alcohol) tokens, it was time to get some sleep. The wind had picked up considerably making the sleeping quite difficult as the tents got flexed quite a bit. This was part of the high winds warning at the start of the day. After a short night we woke up early, packed our things (Roel’s tent and soberness being slightly damaged) and went down the mountain again. Thus ending our stay at Neukirchen-Vluyn.
In conclusion, Dong Open Air 2023 was a festival filled with electrifying performances and memorable moments. The event showcased a diverse lineup of bands, catering to different tastes within the metal community. From the energetic and infectious sets of bands like Damn!escape and Words of Farewell to the darker and mystique-filled performances by Außerwelt and Kanonenfieber, there was something for every metal enthusiast.
Notable headliners like Eluveitie and Epica brought their A-game, delivering powerful and captivating shows that left the crowd spellbound. Asphyx, the Dutch death metal veterans, also made a significant impact with their crushing performance, evoking an enthusiastic response from the audience.
While some bands like Hämatom might not have resonated with everyone, the festival’s diverse lineup ensured that there was something for every taste, whether it be traditional metal, blackened assault, or epic folk-infused melodies.
Dong Open Air 2023 was, as it always has been, a celebration of music, friendship, and the enduring spirit of the metal community, making it a festival worth attending for any metal enthusiast, young and old.