CONCOURS-CIRCUIT 2004 : "Heaven & Hell"

This band competition was probably one of the most interesting musical experiences I ever lived! Compared to the previous editions this one was simply huge. Not only did the "Metal" genre (in fact every hard music possible, from Punk to Death Metal) get its own final (other editions were mixing Metal with Pop/Rock and electro, giving no chance to a “Metal” band to win), but the quality level was mind-blowing. Some bands who didn't even reach the 2nd step are better than anything I've ever heard in this part of Belgium. This was the heavenly side of things. Having to choose among all those quality bands was the real hell and brought a lot of frustration, some regrets and some strong discussions with the other members of the various jurys I took part.
25 bands were selected from 60 demos received. Thus 5 evenings were needed to let all bands play, 12 bands were selected for the next round and only 6 of them got to the final step.
The final fest was a bit ternished by anonymous narrow-minded morons who believe a fair competition is a competition that gives the first prize to “their” favourite band. The same guys are whining because the “Metal” genre(s) aren’t popular or recognized in our society, but they proved they are the ones who create boundaries. Sad.

First round :

Tamines
Arlon
Rixensart
Brainle-l'alleud
Lodelinsart

Second Round

Drogenbos
Liege

Final Round

Brussels

September 25th, Tamines

That first evening was fun, I just couldn't drink too much since I was leaving the morning after for holidays and it was quite an achievement since I knew guys in every band and the atmosphere was great with no real competition between bands helping one another and supporting everyone like it won't be the case each time.
First band to open this competition : MYSTICA. Nice surprise compared to the last time I had the opportunity to see them live, delivering a listenable and catchy Black Metal with vocals that are more accessible than the usual shrieks. Moreover, the singer's attitude on stage has more sobriey than usual. A couple of killer songs, mainly the last one if I remember well.
8-RED follows, playing mostly tunes from their album released many years ago on Diehard records (Denmark). This is the only time a band with an official album is allowed to compete here, since 8-RED disbanded a long time ago and only the original singer remains from the old line-up. Their kind of Power-Groove Metal is less Hardcore than before and really cool to hear. But this sounds a bit old-dated though.
MIRROR OF DARKNESS are one of the very few (2!) Heavy Metal bands of the whole competition, very inspired by the boring wave of Power Metal bands, they showed a lot of quality in the musicianship and were quite at ease on stage. Biggest problem come from the singer, sometimes out of tune, and having a stupid attitude, a bit like Bruce Dickinson, playing with the nose of a guitarist, then putting his arm around the neck of the other axeman during a solo… I know it fits the genre but it looks childish.
THE BOMBSHELL CREW had their first gig that night. Formed of 2 ex-TRINACRIA, former MINDTRAP singer and a professional drummer, those guys were the big surprise that day. In a few month's time, they managed to write some catchy tunes that sound like a mix of several american Nu Metal bands mixing aggressive rapped vocals with melodic choruses and really interesting music.
IFA closed the night with their ultra energetic set of violent Metal that always remind me of SLIPKNOT without the stupid attitude. A lot of simplicity and sincerity, sheer power and great tunes.
We thought we had faced the best that night…

October 2nd, Arlon

The town was on our way back from holidays and we were quite excited to get some real beer and good music… Beer sucked, bands raged!
KILL MY DRUMMER weren't lucky that day… not only is it slightly difficult to start, but it's even harder when you get into trouble with the soundman during the soundcheck in front of the audience… Anyway, this young band delivered some complex hardcore that unfortunately didn't appeal to us, lacking of experience despite a good songwriting…
FOLCORE featured among the numerous surprises of the day, alternating Death/Grind with Folk or Ska passages, lotsa changes and thus, huge originality
When I saw DOGMEAT approaching the stage, I thought we were about to find our second "loser" band of the day… I was already thinking we needed bad bands to decrease our problems for our final choice, and those young teenagers looked like they would get eaten alive after a few notes. Holy fuck, we all were blown by the quality, the performance and the spontaneity of those "kids"! If it can be somewhat labelled as Nu Metal, believe me, it works out without getting boring or too commercial… like another guy from the jury said : "I see them next year touring in a van, if one of them gets a driving licence"! 'nuff said!
SHAH-MAT were the professional band that should not been there, not only did they want to be in the Pop/Rock competition (they played heavier for the competition!), but the band is made of "professional" musicians with pro gear and so on… anyway, SHAH-MAT doesn't really shine by their musical aspects, mainly because their female singer is totally amazing! I like to compare her voice to SKUNK ANANZIE's… and her attitude onstage is very energetic, sometimes repetitive but despite this band didn't appeal to me that much, that girl is brilliant and seems very cool out of stage as well… almost bewitching!
To end the night, a pure shocking band! THE INVISIBLE FROG (T.I.F.) are a two-piece act, a furious guitarist facing a manic drummer,who as I just said, was facing his mate (well, at that time!), not the audience which means we could see him play way better. The thing could have been called Grindcore, considering the drummer's work, but guitars were too original and the guitarists gestures did the show and everybody got blown away by that sonic onslaught. Pure fuckin' entertainment!

October 16th Rixensart

Hard to be there while I could have been all week-end on vacation "de luxe" with my girlfriend and her colleagues, drinking champagne from 8 am!
Anyway the evening started with a killer surprise, a Death Metal band like I have never heard in this part of Belgium and I'm quite unsure I have ever heard such a good Death band in the whole country! CATARRHAL are into the brutal side of things but their tunes have many breaks, catchy parts and many details that make them sound very professional.
Only disappointment came from the Death fans who didn't respect the other bands and the most stupid attitude came from a guy who played this competition 2 years ago and fucked up onstage because of the pressure!!! The guy is cool but showed how narrow-minded some fans sometimes are…
JIGSAW were difficult to label but what really stroke me was the singer's voice, often reminiscent of Mike Patton in FAITH NO MORE. And the guy is really gifted. The whole band is very powerful but I couldn't make up my mind and still can't say if music and vocals fit together. I hope I can check 'em out again very soon cos there was much talent on stage…
SKEPTICAL MINDS didn't appeal to me at all. Music was simplistic and repetitive which ain't really a bad point (think to RAMMSTEIN for instance) but it didn't fit the melodic female vocals I think. The girl, who looked way younger than she actually is, has a very nice voice but lack of power and diversity and seemed to be out-of-tune a couple of times…
I'm ashamed but I don't remember much of KOOKS… It was I think a kind of aggressive Hardcore, but nothing really interesting… it wasn't bad either or I would remember…
F.A.K.E. were disappointed two years ago for not reaching the finals… it seems they worked hard the past two years to make sure they get their piece of the pie this time. Their unexpected chance this time came from the drunken dumbass I talked about earlier (a cool guy when sober!) who harrassed F.A.K.E.' singer during the soundcheck… it's hard to know how to react when you're trying to show a good image in front of people who have the power of life and death concerning the rest of the competition, and no band can be sure we won't abuse of this power for some fake reasons (oups, sorry)… the guy reacted the right way, asking the guy to show some respect but never insulting him - which didn't work at first. But when the show started, and after some slow and cool singing, the music started to get really aggressive and singing followed, unleashing amazing rage, looking the trouble-maker eye-to-eye, middle-fingering him with such anger, the poor prick left the place right before he would have shit his pants!
F.A.K.E. are maybe a band that will be labelled as Nu Metal but the singer's work is amazing, so much feeling transformed into rage, finding the right tones to mix melody and pure anger, fitting the music perfectly…

October 22nd Braine l'Alleud

I missed half the set of DEWBACK but it was enough to claim they were the best Hardcore band of the whole competition! I had seen the singer helping out SHAH-MAT on one (great) track and already thought the guy was pretty professional on stage and he proved me right with DEWBACK, too bad the level of this competition was too high and they didn't go further
DOLLSEX impressed me thanx to the great PA that helped the band sounding even more aggressive than they already are. Their ultra-violent Metal is backed by some great scratching, bringing a bit of originality. I'm surprised to see how professional those guys behave, having a big stand with stickers, posters,…
When I entered the place for the next band, my girlfriend told me to forget my prejudices, meaning that the soundcheck was very promising… hell, STORMY NIGHT is a band trapped into early 80's Heavy Metal with most clichés you can imagine, the kind of gig that makes me laugh to death… but the fact is those guys have an amazing talent, mainly the singer who sounds pretty much like Bruce Dickinson but with more talent and daring! Never have I heard him out-of-tune and a few songs remained in my head the whole evening. I don't know if that style is still very popular here but I know worst bands get signed and sell like crazy in Germany and Italy!
BOMB TRIGGER did few to me, the impressive singer yelling his Hardcore on the same tone, it became very monotonous after a short while. The band shows experience but variation is needed to get to the next step.
To close the night, SEASICK delivered some Punkish Rock 'n' Roll with great originality. This band could have taken part to both competitions (Metal as well as Pop/Rock) and it would have worked out great on both… and I know many people disagreed with the fact that band was on the "Metal" competition, I'm sorry they deserved as much to be there as a Grindcore band would have! Period!
It's of course hard to describe that kind of performance but it was insane and bloody original, the singer/guitar player is totally weird and probably comes from outer space, all musicians having some specificities and special behaviour adding something to the show… mainly the drummer and bassplayer (seems cool and funny) were outstanding… and if this wasn't enough, there was that sick female singer who came to scream like a beast "I am a man", what a song, I can't get enough!

October 23rd Lodelinsart

Before the night started, we were already swamped into deep shit, having already seen too many killer bands and crossing fingers, hoping to get weak performances that night… What's happening in this country, for fuck' sake?!! There was nothing serious for 20 years and now you kick in a trash can and hundreds of killer bands get out of it!!! So here we go…
NO-LOKOST had just played for us less than a couple of weeks ago, a real cool gig but the more this competition was going on, the more I was believing they would have no chance to compete… Of course they proved me wrong, probably thanx to the PA and maybe the fact I could concentrate on the set since I wasn't working like the first time I saw them. Unlike most swedish bands with their New wave of boring Thrash Metal, NO-LOKOST are re-inventing the genre giving their Thrash Metal a fuckin' aggressive skin, flirting with Death Metal and having a few Hardcore touches here and there just to give some diversity. The guitarist/singer manages looking cool and bloody mean, aggressive (again) at the same time. One more band to add to my list!
CHILI KUMQUAT had their fans, very young that is and it helped them doing their set despite the sound problems their singer was facing. From what I could hear, those guys were quite professional and vocals seem to have tons of great variation. Musically, it's about some Fusion Nu Metal from what I remember. No doubt this band deserved to go further… But the fact their singer run like a mad bull (some said he was running after the soundman but I'm not sure it's true) a few seconds after the show's end and the fact they would have shorten their soundcheck (singer's soundcheck was done before any other instrument were onstage!) made us thing they had to improve their behaviour… one of us organizing festivals himself said he wouldn't book a band with such a weird attitude… I think we fucked up here and behaved like a bunch of hypocrites, trying to find reasons to ban some bands and I know some other members from the jury ain't proud afterwards…
I was ready for a weak band, at last! Having received the demo of SET THE TONE a couple of years ago, and despite that demo was quite promising, I didn't expect them to have improved that much. The band delivers some kind of aggressive Stoner with Hardcore vocals! Imagine Black Sabbath playing Hardcore with Power Groove heaviness! Fuckin' original and impressive!
CANDY FLOSS had no chance playing after STT… they had no chance at all with their anonymous Metalcore. Guitars had no interesting riffing and despite the singer was moving like crazy, there was nothing great to be found… that's just my opinion of course…
The last band of the competition is named X-RATED (contact :
x-rated@kynet.be
)and I want to personally apology for not being able to have them on the next step. Once again I'm not the only one to have been frustrated and ashamed when that band was eliminated from the competition later that night. Maybe they knew there were many killer bands, but they really deserved more… Those guys could be described as a kind of crossing between Meshuggah (guitars) and Hardcore (drums and singing), really impressive and finally a real mix of Metal and Hardcore, way more interesting than that boring Metalcore trend…

Followed hours of madness, having almost 20 bands deserving their place in the next round of the competition. I must admit, I didn't feel confortable seeing a band such X-RATED fail without getting really bad criticism against them… And believe me, that kind of injustice we couldn't avoid, haunted me long after the decision… I hope they forgive us one day… or best, I hope they'll be back next year!

October 29th Drogenbos

Probably the worst night of the whole competition when everything went wrong, some members of the new jury cancelled a few hours before (for some good reasons I think) and their replacements weren't aware of all the rules, mainly the fact that the "Metal" category was covering every kind of Hard music… add the pretentious organisator whose ego is to simplicity what democracy is to the USA… Don't forget to add a very bad sound, getting worse with time instead of improving… Thanx to the organisators of the competition who cleared things straight afterwards so that no band had to suffer from what could have turn into a mess.
8-RED opened and played with more convictions than the first time, the new 2nd guitarist having only one show and a couple of rehearsals under his belt and already delivering some cool backing vocals as well. Sure, the band still needs a bit of work to go further, originality or whatever, but we had a very good time which was the most important I think.
DOLLSEX had a near escape and should be eternally thankful to THE INVISIBLE FROG for temporarily splitting up which is the only reason why they could get back in the competition. The surprise of the first show was gone and I already noticed that band wasn't really that killer. They have a great style, great musicianship and know their thing perfectly, but except for a couple of great tunes, you have the feeling to hear the same thing again and again. You expect more killer riffing, great breaks and whatever would kick you in the face, and finally it's just more screaming and heaviness. They might go places with their stage shows, but they surely can't release an album that would place Belgium on the map.
I had told several people that there would be some bands that would fuck things up big time and it was the case of DOGMEAT, after an excellent first performance, I guess those young boys (and girl) had too much pressure and it freezed them, keeping them static and obviously confused. I don't think the problem came from the fact the surprise effect didn't play this time. Probably they didn't feel confortable far from their area and there was too much pressure. Sad but they will be back I'm sure.
THE BOMBSHELL CREW played their second gig of their carreer and I wasn't disappointed even if the sound didn't help them at all. Those guys have penned down some amazing tunes and there won't be long until they can compete with major international bands of their kind!
CATARRHAL won't be any disappointment either. Being a Death Metal band in such a competition probably makes its members don't care too much, being sure of having no chance, moreover with such a filthy sound! This second show was even more exciting for me considering I had listened to their demo a lot since their first appearance. Too bad the sound sucked once again, we couldn't hear the blastbeats (yes, mr organisator it's also called Grinding parts!)
SKEPTICAL MINDS were the less interesting band of the day. Despite they have a lot of qualities I still consider their music as too cold and lacking of variation. Moreover the young singer seemed terrified. Maybe I'm wrong but it didn't work out at all.

November 6th Liege

The guys of F.A.K.E. are used to open at this competition! 3 Times out of 4! They're cursed, but they've decided to change their fate tonight and deliver an impressive show. Not much to add, they're perfect.
NO-LOKOST performed for the third time in one month and I finally understand really what they're about (see above). The band has decided to play some new songs and singer/guitarist decides very soon to sing without guitar which was a big mistake, considering he is so impressive when doing both! I take this opportunity to say they're one of both bands selected for the "super final of BMU" competion happening in the flemish part of the country.
FOLCORE were another disappointment (after DOGMEAT). This time I think the band didn't play a different way, but if we were really seduced by the originality the first time, we could concentrate more on their musical level and I found out a lot of things weren't really clear, there were some mistakes here and there. Those guys need to rehearse some more cos they haven't chosen an easy style… But I love the shit!
SEASICK made an even bigger impression on me. The guys are sick and somehow weird. The singer/guitarist manages to be very entertaining while being quite distant, hiding his emotions. It might disturb some people at first but it's an image, and in this category image has its say!
SET THE TONE owned the stage… Once again, I was crushed by the power of those guys. They should have been selected for the final stage of the competition… but that's the way, the level was too high and the styles too different to get 100% cohesive decisions. Next time I hope.
SHAH-MAT play the same kind of professional set with their singer doing the show. Still nothing really special aside her. Very tight musicians but they're helped by tapes and I don't like that too much.

I was expecting a very long and frustrating gathering and it occured to be really cool. I personally got what I wanted (and didn't really expect), or almost… tough decisions were made but most things were clear except for one band maybe…

November 20th Brussels

The big day at last! I got the opportunity to attend some cool soundchecks, mostly CATARRHAL (their best sound of the day) and THE BOMBSHELL CREW at least the preparation of the drums kit, done such a professional way, I have never seen that before… all this done with fun and simplicity.
THE BOMBSHELL CREW had the hard task of opening, while the place was still half empty… frustrating after having dreamt of that day for a couple of weeks (way more I guess!). This third show was the really best. The stage being slightly bigger than the previous ones, the singer moved a lot, really at ease all the time. When he asked the audience to stand up, everybody agreed instantly and the show was already a success. Those guys have a bright future for sure.
DOLLSEX played on the big stage, delivering the same ultra-violent set, I appreciated even less than before. Their "scratch-man" was happy to announce he was a brand new father, but unfortunately he tried to speak too much and he occured to be a real pain in the ass. The second time he did so, several members shouted to him a nice "shut up" and the show was ruined… that's what I thought…
SEASICK set the place on fire, as I would later hear, "everybody got out with a big smile" killer!
I was afraid CATARRHAL fucked up on such a big stage and they blown everything away. Despite a bad sound for the first half of the set, the guys were really at ease, singer and bassist moving a lot from beginning to end. It's like the guys didn't care and thus had no pressure. Despite they got almost no price, a lot of people admit they were great in their genre.
SHAH-MAT had work even harder for this show, adding tons of new elements in their tapes and I have to admit it gave their music another dimension. I was still under the spell of their singer whose voice got no bad reaction during the whole competition.
Last in line, F.A.K.E. did their job brilliantly even if the singer seemed slightly impressed often hiding more than usual behind both hands… He does that quite often but it was hard to see his face which was frustrating cos this guy puts so much feeling in his voice it's always great to watch his face and his lips transforming during the songs… but they proved their place was there, closing that long competition on the big stage!

I won't give too many details on what happens next simply because we were too many (around 30) to decide and several groups were created and each group chose one guy for the final decisions.
All I can add is there was absolutely no pressure and I felt very frustrated since I had 4 bands that could not lose for my opinion… there were only three prizes and my choices didn't match perfectly the other's…
And the winner is :

1) SEASICK
2) F.A.K.E.
3) DOLLSEX

F.A.K.E. also got the prize from the audience

I wish CATARRHAL and BOMBSHELL CREW were part of the party but I think they were quite happy to get this far.

Now, my deepest thoughts go out to the guys of SEASICK who couldn't really appreciate their victory. The attitude of a part of the audience and later a bunch of brainwashed morons on the net was really disgusting. Considering SEASICK' style was not "Metal" enough (no they weren't dressed like MANOWAR and didn't sing about killing, sodomy or beating girls), rumors about corruption and such stupid bullshit spreaded like fuck. Both my fave bands didn't do it but SEASICK deserved being there and deserved having their price. Show some respect !

Steph