The 2nd edition of the Dubai Rock Fest took place at the Chi gardens, Al Nasr Leisureland, Dubai. Now, compared to the first edition of the festival, the lineup wasn’t commanding that big an audience, nonetheless, I yet expected the dedicated bunch of metalheads to show up, and much to my disappointment, I was looking at about 1000 people who were present for the glory of heavy metal in the UAE.

I got to the venue at about 6:00 pm, as that was the time announced for the doors to be open, and boy I didn’t wanna miss a single minute of this. Getting in at around 6:30 pm, I was pretty impressed by the stage setup . A stage backdrop of black curtains, with blue lights, and a single screen that showcased the artwork of each of the bands performing. This was way more than I had expected, for a gig of around 1000 to 1500 people. The crowd were getting pretty restless at that time, as the bars weren’t open, and speaking to the staff there, I was informed the bars were gonna be open at 8:00 pm. Now where there is Metal, there’s gotta be beers and shit loads of it. Finally, at about 7:45 pm the bars opened up, and just when I wanted to get a beer, I found myself in an endless cue of metalheads, waiting for theirs.

Just when I was about to reach the bar counter, I hear Sary, who was the MC for the night, announce the opening act, which was Ascendant. Now for those who don’t know; Ascendant are a 5 piece heavy metal band formed in 2012 in Dubai. Quite honestly, there is something about this band that gets better and better with every time you watch them. Ascendant played four of their originals, and decided to take a break, before returning for one last song. I guess due to some mess ups or their alloted time being up; that didn’t happen, and it wasn’t quite the appropriate ending to their set. Yet, for the four songs they played, the performance was packed with energy and enthusiasm, setting up the tone for the rest of the night brilliantly. Now these guys have an album coming out later this year, and if this performance was something to go by, I can’t wait till I get my hands on that record.

As Ascendant finished their set, the crowd again began to disperse to the bars. Classic metal anthems played between the sets. About twenty minutes to half an hour later, the intro of Demonic Resurrection starts playing, and everyone flocks up in front of the stage. This black/death metal band from India have been around for around 14 years now, winning the Metal Hammer Golden Gods award, and are about to play Wacken later this year. They
started their set with the track “Dismembering the Fallen”. and the pits went up. Chaos erupted before me, and the true feeling of being at a heavy metal festival finally did come alive. Initially, I did find some fuck ups with the sound of Sahil’s guitar , but I guess that was sorted by the time they played their second track. Demonic Resurrection played five tracks on the night, with one track from the upcoming album “The Demon King”. Also on their setlist was one of my personal favourites from the band, “Apocalyptic Dawn”, which featured on the Global Metal Documentary Soundtrack . The only disappointment for me was that their set wasn’t long enough. Much of the crowd did want them to play longer. As Demonic Resurrection, bid the stage and the crowd a farewell, the ritual followed of everyone rushing to the bars, to fuel themselves for the next band.

The third band for the night, was Heavenwood, who had travelled the furthest to perform at this year’s festival, all the way from Portugal. The 6 member Gothic Death metal band have been around since 1996, releasing 4 full length albums in that time. Quite honestly, I’m not an ardent Gothic Metal listener, apart from listening to old Nightwish stuff once in a while. But then again, I was told by some of my friends that they did manage to give these guys a listen, and weren’t disappointed by their work. What followed was, 45 minutes of amazing cohesion of symphony and distortion. Heavenwood’s set consisted of their originals, with brilliant composed synth integrating with growling vocals and heavy distortion and bass. What i loved about the band, was beautiful elements of Gothic Metal constructed beautifully with Death metal elements. This is not the music, where I was expecting a full blown 30 yard pit in front of me, but a good portion of the crowd were head-banging. Not the best artist of the night, but nonetheless enjoyable.

Next on the bill, were the Death/ Thrash Pioneers, Loudblast, all the way from France. Gojira might be the most famous French Band in the world, but its these guys who started off the damn thing in France. Formed in 1986, being influenced by American Thrash Giants, Slayer, Loudblast has gone on to release 8 albums, amidst a hiatus. Loudblast started off with their guttural sound, as good as a kick to your balls. After a break for the boys in the pit during Heavenwood, there was no respite for them during Loudblast. The sound just got a ton heavier. If you weren’t in the pits, you definitely were banging your head. These guys were worth the entire money the guys paid , for the entire gig. Circle pits went up, and shit got extreme to a level, where some bouncers at the venue had mistaken moshing for an actual fight taking place, till some guy had to knock some sense into them, as to how metalheads dance. For most who were present there, most got their moneys worth during these guys.

The second last band for the night, were Nightmare, who made their second coming to Dubai, following a highly successful show at the first edition of the festival, Dubai Rock Festival 2013. I was looking forward to these guys in particular. Last year at Dubai Rock Festival 2013, I had heard most of the artist playing, except Myrath and Nightmare, and both band did form a positive impression on me. So when it was announced that Nightmare would be returning back to Dubai for this year’s edition, they definitely had me excited. Owing to most of the lineup being Death Metal bands for 2014, I was always keen on a power/heavy metal band being a part of the lineup, as that is what got me into metal in the first place. Nightmare came back stronger this year. A much improved performance overall with a stronger sound. Their performace primarly consisted of originals, with songs from their latest album to some of the classics. Nightmare capped off a solid night, with a cover of the legendary Dio‘s “Holy Diver”.

It came to about 1:20-1:30 AM when Nightmare finished their set, and the stage was being set up for the last band of the night, the headliners, UAE’s own darlings Nervecell. Now many people were expecting a headliner of a higher pedigree. But for me, being completely unbiased Nervecell deserve it.
They’ve played across almost every major festival in Europe spanning more than a decade. Held it together as a band, and if there ever was a heavy metal festival, which better than one in your own backyard to headline. About 1:45 AM when Nervecell finally hit the stage. I have been following and watching these band as I grew up as a teen to now being 23 years old, I have witnessed this band playing from bar stages to the biggest stages at Dubai Desert Rock Festival 2009, to a pub in Mumbai, India. They sound much stronger in an open air venue, than in an enclosed one. Nervecell‘s set consisted of songs primarily of their last album Psychogenocide, and a couple of tracks of Preaching Venom namely, “Flesh & Memories” and “A Vicious Circle of Bloodshed”. At about 2:15 AM James, the vocalist of Nervecell announced that they would be playing their last couple of songs, which ended up being “Existence Ceased and Demean”. For the several years, I have seen this band live, it was hard for me to believe they would play a set without, what is according to me the Nervecell anthem at every gig, “Demolition”. Nervecell left the stage, having every member in the crowd screaming for them to comeback for one last song, which was “Demolition”. Thanks to our messed up venue rules in the UAE, they weren’t allowed to, even though I’m sure that was a part of their plans to comeback and play the song. Nevertheless, they capped off one hell of a night for the metalheads in UAE.

A lot of credit goes to DJ Storm and Denise for organizing this festival. Even though the bands weren’t as renowned as last year’s, every metalhead needs to understand the place we live in and the lack of sponsors to work with. We need to build this scene and this festival as year’s go on, and derive it into the festival we all wish it to be. To that, I hope I see a lot of people at next year’s edition of the festival, and a big good luck to making it bigger and bigger as the year’s go by.

Written by: Adrian.
Photos by: Alexandre

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