Inside the Mystic Festival Experience – Part One

It has been the third year that I am covering the Mystic Festival in Gdansk. This festival is our magazine’s lifeblood. Standing as one of the most significant events in the Tri-City area, alongside Open’er. Four days of blistering metal for every conceivable taste, set against the gritty, industrial charm of Gdansk Shipyard. The elements – whether friendly or fierce – can’t dampen the spirits of thousands of headbangers who’ve trekked from across Poland, Europe and even beyond.

The festival’s been around for a quarter-century, And there’s a clear division between the pre-COVID era and the current times, with the festival now firmly rooted in the Gdansk Shipyard. For the metal aficionado, it’s a pilgrimage. As a journalist, it demands meticulous planning, an iron constitution, and the flexibility to pivot when things inevitably go awry. The last day was a logistical challenge, with the Main Stage and Desert Stage shows clashing like titans, forcing impossible choices. But isn’t that the essence of a festival? The agonizing decisions, the physical toll, and the spontaneous moments of sheer, unfiltered magic?

Thankfully, the organizers provide a cozy press tent where we can recharge, eat, drink, and rest. This respite is much needed in what feels like a marathon of music and movement.

I missed the warm-up day, which meant no Body Count or Fear Factory for me. But come Thursday, I was geared up and ready to dive into the madness. With my schedule swinging from my neck and my camera kit weighing me down, I focused on the Main, Park, and Desert Stages – each offering its own slice of musical heaven. Drizzly Grizzly’s Sabbath Stage was a sardine can of humanity, and I usually find the Shrine Stage at B90 doesn’t align with my musical tastes. While this meant I might miss out on discovering new bands, it was a necessary trade-off to stay on track.

I kicked off my Mystic Festival experience with Ampacity on the Desert Stage. A few songs and several photos later, I was off to see Gutalax. Nothing could have prepared me for what awaited there. Fans decked out in white protective suits, brandishing toilet paper and brushes, along with a myriad of balloons and inflatable toys, created a bizarre yet captivating scene. I braced for the worst – expecting a deluge of weird bodily fluids – but was instead treated to a joyful eccentric spectacle. The band contributed to the festivities by launching toilet paper into the crowd with an automatic dispenser. Metal, it seems, can indeed bring fun and joy to the soul despite the handful of ultras catholic protesting at the gate of the festival!

I then roamed back to the Desert Stage to catch Massive Wagon’s set – a raucous display of middle fingers thrown in good spirit at anyone and everyone. What I love about this stage is the intimacy; we’re close enough to feel the energy of the band, and the programming is top-notch. These aren’t the headliners, but every act is worth your time. It’s not all niche metal either; expect a diverse mix of rock, alternative, and post-punk rather than just death metal.

Then it was off to the Main Stage for Blackgold, a band with an intriguing blend of hip-hop and metal. All the members wore masks, adding a layer of mystery to their performance. While their set was enjoyable, it wasn’t exceptional and left me feeling indifferent. Their music, despite this combination, didn’t leave a lasting mark on me.

Next, the German trio Kadavar delivered an electrifying show steeped in 70s rock vibes, a throwback that resonated deeply with me.

As the day progressed, I made my way to see Thy Art is Murder. Their brutal performance was a stark contrast to the nostalgia of Kadavar, showcasing the festival’s diverse offerings. The band from Australia was very lively on stage, engaging with the audience and inviting them to the traditional wall of death.

Sodom, another classic thrash band, delivered a performance that lived up to their legendary status on the Park Stage, gratifying us with their all-time classics such as “Sodomized” and “Agent Orange”. The ultra-conservative crowd a mere hundred meters away grew more and more offended.

Bruce Dickinson, best known as Iron Maiden’s frontman, gave us a spectacular performance despite his canceled show a few days ago, demonstrating his enduring prowess and stage presence. His voice was as powerful as ever.

Biohazard took the stage next, their hardcore punk energy invigorating the crowd. I then managed to catch Skálmöld, a band I had been eager to see again since I first encountered them. Their blend of Viking metal and Icelandic folklore was as captivating as ever, quickly reminding me why I got hooked on them initially.

The day concluded for me with Machine Head, whose intense set left the audience in awe. It was a fitting end to a day packed with diverse metal genres, each performance adding a unique flavor to the festival.

It was an intense first day, but unlike the first time I covered the festival, I was prepared. Armed with a well-thought-out plan, I navigated the labyrinth of stages and performances without a hitch. The experience from previous years paid off.

Not only made it made my job easier but also allowed me to immerse myself fully in the music and the atmosphere, enhancing my ability to convey the essence of each performance I have planned to attend. The first day set a high bar, but I was ready for whatever the rest of the festival had in store.

Stay tuned! Part Two & Three are yet to come!

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