A Music Lover’s Dream: Amplifest 2022 – Weekend One
There are very few places on this earth that we eagerly await to go back to, year after year. And one of such places is Amplifest. Even though our professional history with the festival is somewhat short, our personal history runs much deeper, and it’s always with immense pleasure and a huge grin that we return to an event that is carefully curated and constructed by music lovers for music lovers. As individuals, we have been to almost all editions of Amplifest, and saw such renowned artists as Neurosis, Converge, Russian Circles, Chelsea Wolfe, Swans, Stephen O’Malley, William Basinski, Ben Frost, Marissa Nadler, Minsk, Mono, Pelican, Portrayal of Guilt, Deafkids, and so many others.
During the horrific era that was the pandemic, one single thought continuously crossed our minds – when will we return to the place that makes us whole? As fortune would have it, this year was to be the year that normal life would finally restart, and we would go back to Amplifest. What we didn’t expect was that we were in not for one, but two weekends of the best music that ever existed in our world. Not only that, but each weekend was comprised of three days. A lot of music was about to be digested and we want to tell you all about it.
One thing that Amplifest has gotten us used to is the concept of the surprise act. Meant to be something only unveiled when the artist sets foot on stage, it ends up becoming a treasure hunt of sorts, with everyone trying to figure out who is it being the big, mysterious question mark on the lineup. There are no clues, there are no hints, and normally, the surprise is left for the end of the event, to finish things off with a blast. This year, however, things worked out differently, and the very first act of the very first day of the very first weekend was the surprise act. And the surprise was the delightful British singer-songwriter A.A. Williams. Clad in dark purple lights, Williams and co. stepped on stage to present her brand-new record, As The Moon Rests, which had bee released that very day. So, it ended up being a record release party of sorts, where she played half of the new record, and few other pieces from her back catalogue, such as “Belong” and “Melt”. A rather enjoyable kickstart of the festival. Afterwards, we had the pleasure of seeing another British stalwart, the cello virtuoso Jo Quail, that returned to Portugal after ten years, and spread the magic of three of her records – From The Sea, Five Incantations and Exsolve. Not long after, the Portuguese Process of Guilt set the Bürostage on fire with songs from their brand-new record, Slaves Beneath the Sun, but the true heavy shit came with Vile Creature. As the Canadian power couple of Vic and KW stepped foot on the Beerfreaks Stage accompanied by live drummer Adam McGillivray, we could feel the intense excitement in the air. And like a goddamn bulldozer, Vile Creature distilled some of the nastiest and most potent, experimental sludge/doom we ever heard in our lives. We had already seen them once before – four months ago at Hellfest, in fact -, but this was by far an even greater experience. Playing indoors and making every sound reverberate on walls and bodies alike makes for a much better live experience, we think. In between bone-shattering riffs, KW conveyed messages of trans equality, while also checking in on the wellbeing of the audience and dedicating songs to lost loved ones. “Stay safe, stay vigilant, stay vengeful” was once again the motto unleashed, which made everything all the more special.
Amenra were up next at the Bürostage, and while there were initially going to perform what could be described as the “typical Amenra show”, the sudden lack of their bassist Tim de Gieter made for a change of plans. Not wanting to cancel their show, Amenra decided on performing a one-of-a-kind acoustic performance, one that is extremely rare to happen these days. But after the powerful tones we had heard earlier, we couldn’t really bear to stand still for an entire hour of acoustic renditions. Ironically, we got to see Midfwife at the Beerfreaks Stage after a well-deserved dinner break, and at that point, we were ready for some soothing and dreamy shoegaze. Performing for the first time in Portugal, Midwife lulled us through her brand-new record, Luminol, and at certain points, we closed our eyes and felt floating through an endless ocean of colours. She calls it heaven metal; we call it perfection. The night ended with a one-off performance by the mighty Dälek, who brought their epic new collection of experimental hip-hop tunes, Precipice. While the audience was in incredibly low numbers at this point, those who remained reveled in the spitting and incendiary rap of Will Brooks and the hazardous electronic beats of Mike Manteca. Fusing noise, hip hop and electronic music is the modus operandi of Dälek and also a testament to the eclecticism of Amplifest’s curation. What a fantastic way to end the first day of the festival.
We started off day two back at the Bürostage for a performance by Pallbearer. Rumbling bass and wailing guitars is a nice way to start the day, but we felt that it felt a bit short, as something seemed to be missing. That something may have been carefully provided by the atmospheric post-metal of Telepathy, who were also performing in Portugal for the first time. Although their show was shorter than expected, the group gave a solid performance and did not leave any reasons for complaint. Back at the Bürostage, we saw a continuation of that feeling with the progressive stoner melodies of Elder that, despite being elegant and expansive on a first live viewing, grow rapidly colder on subsequent observations. We do love the band though, but we wished their live performances had a bit more intensity. Not to worry too much, however, as intensity is Brutus’ middle name – if they had a first and last name anyhow. Between the Belgian trio’s impeccable and awe-inspiring performance, the spotlight that shone with all its might, and the vivid, shimmering ambience that the sound waves exuded, it came as no surprise when, at the purifying and emotionally overwhelming finale, the applause was heard, the warmest of the festival at that point, with an audience totally in awe to the huge multidisciplinary show that had taken place. If any doubts were left on Brutus’ capacity to deliver incredible, awe-inspiring performances, those doubts were shattered at that very moment. Special note to vocalist Stefanie Mannaerts – if Björk was a post-hardcore vocalist, this is undoubtedly what she would sound like.
We remained at the Bürostage to watch the coming of one of Finland’s most exotic and otherworldly exports, the enigmatic Oranssi Pazuzu. Dwelling in the realms of exploratory music, combining elements of black metal, psychedelic music, prog rock and the avantgarde, Oranssi Pazuzu are an authentic force to be reckoned with in the studio and on a stage. Performing songs from their brand-new and mesmerizing record, Mestarin kynsi, the Finnish quintet elevated the audience to a state of absolute, insane-driven euphoria. One can describe it all as being a very physical ordeal, as each band member constantly flung their bodies and instruments around, as if they were mere puppets being conducted by an unknown void entity. Ominous, hallucinatory, maddening but also strangely danceable – this was by far the best performance the festival saw during the entirety of this weekend. That’s not to say that others didn’t manage to grasp our minds and bodies in wondrous ways, but the Finns set the bar so damn high, it was almost impossible to reach it. Not even the colourful post-punk synthwave of Fotocrime over at the Beerfreaks Stage managed to get our thoughts out of that experience, and that is saying something. We had to recollect our thoughts. But how?
With our spirits aching for a reprieve, we ventured forth to the third day of the festival, back to the Bürostage for an astral reckoning. Three o’clock in the afternoon is definitely a strange hour for a pilgrimage provided by Wolves In The Throne Room, but we have seen some strange things in our lives before. Boasting a consistently magnificent discography, that had just been upgraded with the release of Primordial Arcana, the legendary North American atmospheric black metal band was about to set foot on a Portuguese stage after ten years. And let us tell you this much, it was a tad disappointing. We expected a grandiose spectacle of epic riffs, amazing set pieces and a wall of sound that pushed us against the corners of the room. What we got was four dudes playing black metal. It pains us to say this, as we are massive fans of the band, but the whole thing just felt off. The band didn’t seem to be enjoying themselves very much, the sound was particularly terrible and the lighting was too normal for a show such as this. Maybe it’s a weird complaint, but for a show that was highly anticipated by us, we left with a sour taste in our mouth. The sourness continued for a bit longer, as we returned to the Beerfreaks Stage and saw the incomprehensibility of Clothilde’s electronic soundscapes. Rolling back to the Bürostage in urgent need of a pick-me-up that would clean up the bad taste, we saw Birds In Row present their brand-new record, Gris Klein. We had already seen them in this very festival back in 2019, but it was still enjoyable to repeat the experience.
Caspian came right after, and there is little left to be said about their performances – serene and spiritual, filled with strobe lights and smoke, it is was like a soundtrack to the end of the world. But the end would not come just yet, we still had one last visit to the Bürostage to make before wrapping up Amplifest’s first weeked. That’s right, we had a date with Cult of Luna. Last time the Swedish post-metal sextet last stepped foot on Amplifest and Portugal was back in 2014. And if back then, their live performances were already world-class, now they were simply legendary. Talk about strobes and smoke, if there is a band that can create cinematic music in the studio and make it work in a live setting, its them. Commanded by the ever-present and towering vocalist/guitarist Johannes Persson, the band presented themes from their latest record, The Long Road North, such as “Cold Burn”, “Silver Arc”, and “Blood Upon Stone”, without foregoing some of their back catalogue, with songs such as “I: The Weapon”, “Dim”, and “The Silent Man” also making an appearance. We realize that stating Oranssi Pazuzu as the best sshow of the entire weekend may have been going a bit far – the truth is, both stand on the same level, in their own unique way. A tremendous way to end a fantastic first weekend, where we also got meet up with old friends, make new ones and find out about the secret act from the second weekend. But more on that some other time.
Words by Filipe Silva
Photos by Marta Rebelo