Brutal Assault. I couldn’t think of a more fitting name myself. Arriving to the massive fortress in the middle of spacey and somewhat desolate Czech Republic, sun shining relentlessly through the dense clouds, I realized Metaldays were over and I was no longer at the beach. It was finally time to change from a bikini into some boots and jeans.
Reaching the festival itself was a long, albeit not a perilous journey. Heavy Eurotrip vibes were felt. It’s good we visited in the summer, when it’s nice.
It might seem weird to those less versed in modern Slavic culture that Croatians feel more at home in Czech Republic than in Slovenia. Slovenians have long ago decided to drop the red, carpeted walls, develop an economy and ally themselves with western Europe, and that’s perfectly okay. We have, however, not. Sitting on the questionably clean seats of a vintage, overcrowded train convinced me we were going in the right direction.
Overcrowded is one of the words you can use to summarize this festival, among others. The colossal fortress of Josefov proved to be the ideal place for a festival…of some 10-12 thousand people. As you might already know, the event was sold out this year, surely breaking the already substantial suggested capacity of 15 thousand. This was both a minor and a major issue.
One one hand, of course I don’t mind crowds, never had a problem pushing through for a few minutes to reach the front, even carrying a beer (now, carrying several already counts as an Olympic discipline). But having to push through to get literally anywhere was a bit tedious. The queues at the entrance only seemed long, but moved quickly. Once you entered the festival was whole different story. Getting from any point A to any point B, even if it’s a 300m distance, required tactics, careful planning and an agility+luck roll. If you were seeing a concert at the Main stage and wanted to head to Obscure stage next, that will take you between 20 and 30 minutes. 15 if you hurry and knock a few people over in your carnage. The crowd at Obscure stage was annoying, the crowd at the Octagon stage was downright dangerous. When the small, open but walled space between two fortress hallways filled to the brim, there was no going back or forth. You’re trying to get to the meet&greet of a band you like? You need to time it just between two Octagon acts if you intend to pass through.
The longest wait was probably at the official merch stand (the main one, there are two!) but I’ll readily excuse that considering the service was exceptional. The staff are serving one customer at a time, giving you their full attention for as long as it takes you to decide on your purchase. The girl who served me first spent 5 minutes digging out “BRUTAL ASSault” panties in every color so I can line them up and decide, then she brought me several sizes of a shirt to try on, and even took a picture of me so I can see what it looks like since there was no mirror. I felt like I was shopping at Versace.
The merchandise itself was next level. Towels, welcome mats, so many T-shirt designs you’ll lose your mind deciding. I marched up to the stand thinking I was sure of my purchase. I wanted me some festival leggings. With all due respect to Metaldays and their lovely designs, that’s what I have a problem with. The designs are lovely. Brutal Assault leggings have an area of effect power to give everyone in your vicinity a migraine. That sounds much more like something I’d wear.
I didn’t end up buying them. They’re lit, but nowhere near €50 lit. I know it’s an epic item, enchanted, no less. But what do we say to the gods of pricey shopping? Not today. I went with a reasonably priced crop top instead (I’m lying, it’s not a crop top, it’s a shirt for children aged 7-8).
The worst queue of all times was trying to get a coffee after seeing Gutalax, conveniently slotted at 10:30am sharp. Seems like everyone else had the same idea and the measly 4-5 spots you could get coffee at were stormed. The road leading from the fortress towards the small town adjacent to it (Jaromer – The perfectly geometric hamlet of metalheads and minorities) had plenty of food and drink stands, all at a fraction of the festival prices. Now that was a place to go when you required some sustenance. Honestly, I’ve never trusted anyone more than the old Chinese lady who fed me fried noodles in the middle of the street there. A breakfast menu combo including a full meal, coffee and dessert for 5 euros? Yes, please. A massive coffee-banana shake, complete with whipped cream on top, for €3? Starbucks who?
Overall, it wasn’t an easy task to get a decent non-alcoholic drink at the festival site. The first few days I was taking a medication that conflicts with alcohol, so sadly, beer wasn’t an option. My other options included: Water (that might or might not be there), coffee (which I’ve once received PRE-SUGARED. Who does that?!), tea (which was delicious and appropriately priced), Coca-Cola or an alcohol-free “lemonade” from the Absinthe lemonade stand (which was actually a cup of orange juice with a lemon squeezed in, but they did add pieces of watermelon. You win some, you lose some).
Meanwhile, beer was aplenty and dirt cheap, as it should be.
The medication I was taking was because of a minor surgery I’ve had less than 24 hours before leaving for the festival (to quote a friend, “wow, you fucking trooper”). My biggest fear was the open wound getting reinfected. I was instructed by my doctor to clean the wound when showering, by pointing a shower head at it. Which I would’ve done, if there was a damn shower head. But no, ladies and gentlemen, all those years of making fun of Americans for having fixed shower heads and saying I’ve never seen that monstrosity in Europe came right back at me. Brutal Assault served us an Auschwitz-worthy shower experience.
(Massive thanks to the medical team for taking me in and helping with cleaning the wound even though they’re only responsible for emergencies – you’re the best.)
Another little thing that really bothered me, and I don’t think this is an issue open for discussion in the current year, is the language problem. Most Czechs don’t speak very good English, which is their absolute right and nobody’s forcing them to (staff in relevant positions speaking English would be practical though). But I don’t see an excuse for not translating your menu if your service is aimed at foreigners. Like, I’m personally offering to come to the festival site several days earlier and translate all your shit out of pure OCD. And heck, I’m a Slav, I’ve had a much easier time figuring out what the hell I’m eating compared to the average British or German guest. If you want that £, you gotta make them feel welcome, man, not like they’re intruding on a festival made by Czechs, for Czechs (and an occasional Pole). The traditional Czech festival dishes, although difficult to decipher, were out-of-this-world delicious. No skinny bitch food there, I put on a full 2 kilos during my stay in the land of greasy and fried. No complaints from my heart, minor ones from my arteries. <3
As somebody with a professional background in hospitality, I can tell you it’s the little things that make or break it. When someone says they’ve had a bad time at a festival, it’s because the small inconveniences piled up and now seem huge. That wasn’t the case with BA though, we’ve had an overall wonderful time and the inconveniences were truly minor compared to what they gave us in return.
It’s been a very long time since I’ve wept uncontrollably at a concert. The personal bond with the people on stage must be tremendous for that to happen. Brutal Assault gave me the opportunity to witness my Queen, my role model and my favourite female artist of all times – Jinx Dawson of Coven. A lot more than 13 cultists held a secret meeting that day.
One thing stands as a fact – not enough people know about Coven. The chronically overlooked, constantly imitated, always having their joke repeated louder by someone else, Coven are the first metal band. Literally the first metal band. Flashing the horns on an ominous, satanic-imagery filled cover of an album called “Witchcraft destroys minds and reaps souls”, they recorded all that groundbreaking, progressive music when Jinx was only 18 and released the record in 1969 (During NIxon, mind you). After a series of unfortunate circumstances, Black Sabbath beat them to the well-deserved fame and Coven was revered all these years only by a relatively small number of the most devout connoisseurs of the dark arts.
The performance was intimate and magickal. Jinx loomed menacingly, in all her glory, same as she ever was. She carries a consistent, powerful energy at any age and it brought me to tears. I wasn’t alone, the girl in front of me was also visibly elevated by the events transpiring. This performance shook us all to the core.
The second most relevant and mind-blowing gig was surely Electric Wizard. The elusive Doom legends have graced us with their presence, came and left without a trace. No merch was seen, nothing thrown off stage at the end, you’ve seen them, but who will believe you? Only you can be sure and cherish the memory forever. Your grand kids will ask: “Have you really seen Electric Wizard back in your day?” And you’ll reply “I might have!”
While I’m infinitely grateful they substituted The Obsessed with Belzebong, a Polish stoner doom band so terrific and monumental they stand at the very top of the genre, touching shoulders with Sleep and Wizard, I’m also infinitely devastated they slotted them at the exact same time as Therion. 13 year old me and the current me were very conflicted. I decided to put my festival chrono-acrobatic skills to the test and try to make it to both shows. I reached Therion just in time to see a glimpse and say goodbye. Was slightly cross about that, then my friend assured me; “No, Helen, this was just the right amount of Therion. You see, after Belzebong I was ready to start shooting heroin, but Therion calmed me down and now I just wanna have a beer”.
I don’t think I really understood what he meant until I heard Windhand and after the first riff, a crack pipe suddenly materialized in my hand. Just two days before we’ve seen them at BA, they played an intimate, small club gig in our hometown of Zagreb. Unfortunately, we were already camped at the fortress when that happened and couldn’t attend. I’d like to urge the band to give us another chance as soon as possible, we’d love to host them properly, when most of the city’s doom fans are actually in town.
Another band I was seriously looking forward to seeing was Anaal Nathrakh, who had an issue with their flight, causing them to switch slots with Combichrist. I was quite a CC fan back in the day when they were touring with Rammstein and playing decent beats. The musical and visual direction their albums took in the following years left me angry and wanting to slap them. Not punch, just bitchslap, preferably with a dead fish. Proof you can’t trust Americans with anything, ever. I was unsure if I’ll stay up long enough to catch their late-night rendezvous planned for 01:30am (I’m a pensioner, not a party animal, leave me alone. My idea of fun is standing perfectly still at your concert, then writing shit about you in my article).
But then I found myself in a unforeseen predicament. After the Gutalax show that same morning, me and another guy dove to catch a drumstick. He got the stick, I got a mild concussion. After spending an hour or two trying not to collapse, it started to rain and I said ‘fuck it’, went to my tent and righteously passed the fuck out. When I awoke, I had no idea where or when was I. Ah yes, Brutal Assault, 7:55pm. FUCK, I missed Anaal! Wait, I didn’t, they switched slots. I still get to see Anaal, woke up just in time for Rotting Christ AND I skipped Combichrist! Could this evening get any better?
Sidenote: The Anaal Nathrakh slot switch resulted in three British bands playing one after another, which means we endured several consecutive hours of hearing “Roight then!” after every song, occasionally interrupted by “Oy, cheers!”. I tried to break it up during Napalm Death by catching a few minutes of the amazing Eskhaton but only got “Naw, yeah!” after each track.
Some closing words. Brutal Assault has been a blast and I’m definitely coming back next year, not just because it’s the 25th anniversary. One thing I can really trust BA on is that, unlike Metaldays, they will deliver the bands we can count on. While MD is more like “look at this great new band!”, BA is like “I gotchu fam”. MD is like “Welcome, metalheads!”, BA is like “Here’s your metal, you fucks”.
I like both. I think you need to be an adaptable person who fits into every situation to survive in this world so I’m doing just that. Can’t shower for 4 days? Well then I won’t, la vida loca, damn. Food expensive? Drink beer instead. Gypsies stole your stuff? Go steal it back. In this world, you either eat the ass or the ass eats you. And remember, you’re only young once. Rock’n’roll, kids, rock’n’roll.