Dubai Desert Rock Festival has been around for a number of years now and is the largest festival of its kind in the area. Now that's not saying a whole lot, seeing as there are very few rock festivals in the Middle East, but DDRF has always, in a way, hosted a good line-up of international bands for the general public to be entertained by. There are two parts to the latter sentence I would like to pin point and explain, with the first being "in a way". Well, by looking at past line-ups you would understand. For example, one year we had Megadeth and Testament sharing the bill with 3 Doors Down and Reel Big Fish. I believe that says enough about the strange mix which the organizers like to provide. The second part is the "general public" statement. I haven't been to a large amount of concerts outside of the Middle East, but I'm pretty sure that this is the only heavy metal / hard rock festival you can go to in the world and see a reasonable amount of gangster wannabes hanging around. The organisers probably don't mind, seeing as they get more money, but it's just way too weird to see some hairy dude in a Cannibal Corpse shirt standing next to a 50 Cent look-alike.
So to say that DDRF is a strange event would be putting it nicely, but I'm willing to put up with it this year because of the organisers constantly claiming that this is going to be the heaviest year ever, thus crowning the day "Metal Lives" (sigh).
The first two bands to warm up the crowd, much of which was either inside (placed nicely in front of the bar) or outside waiting to get in, were the winners of a competition to play at DDRF and Full Force in Germany. The Egyptian band, Scarab, was supposedly a death metal act and, depending on who you talk to, was either really bad or reasonable. Having to miss Scarab due to the longest line I've ever had the misfortune to stand in, I luckily made it in for Hatred, who certainly got energy flowing through the crowd with some thrashy power metal. Their singer was extremely proficient, able to handle the growls and some high screams. Hatred definitely left with some new fans.
Now on to the local favourites, Nervecell, who have certainly grown in stature from their regular touring and even a slot at Wacken in 2008. This and their larger repertoire has definitely allowed them to up their game and given them more confidence which really shows through, with songs like "Human Chaos" and "Demean" getting good crowd reaction and even a sing along. One of their better performances, I'm sure.
Next up on the bill was August Burns Red. Hopefully you readers will understand me when I say that I promptly busied myself in another (any) activity that would detract from having to listen to metalcore. From what I did hear, it was metalcore at its most annoying and mediocre. But isn't it all?
The beast that is Chimaira was up next to hopefully destroy the few souls who had not yet been in the pits. Despite never being a big Chimaira fan, I found them to be quite a spectacle live; smashing their way through song after song at a steady but powerful pace, the crowd got beat down with "Power Trip", brutalized with "Resurrection" and dominated with "Pure Hatred". A great set which made me want to carry on listening to Hunter, a great showman if I might add, use his charisma on the crowd and then slap 'em in the face as another song crashed down upon them.
Although Opeth was a band that only a minority of people, including myself, wanted to see and specifically went along to DDR to experience, I was surprised to see the crowd warmed to them so quickly -- but then again, what self respecting metal head wouldn't go slightly ballistic upon hearing "Ghost of Perdition" bearing down upon them? Now, maybe I'm just a pessimist, but for me seeing Opeth was always going to turn out to be a slight letdown no matter how much I like them. I mainly put this down to the fact that they have so many damn songs that are so god damn long! Going to a concert with only Opeth may give them enough time to play a larger amount of songs and thus allow the audience a chance to hear their favourites, but due to the fact that they had a 40 minute slot really only allows for a maximum of about five songs and it just wasn't enough.
Arch Enemy, the second to last band of the day (but second to no one), came on to wake the few stragglers who had fallen under a drowsy spell thanks to Mikael Akerfeldt and co. -- and wake them they did; causing a stir with each song, from "Dead Eyes See No Future" to... well, any other song by Arch Enemy that is worth listening to really! It was a great show to say the least, with each member seeming to be able to hold their own on stage and get the metal troops in front of them rallied.
After such a number of great bands, to tell you the truth, Motorhead was a letdown. Although they are greats and I have an unbelievably large amount of respect for them, it was a bit pathetic. Maybe it was the fact that the sound, which had been playing up all night, made Lemmy's vocals even more gravelly and incoherent; or maybe it was the fact that most of the drunk people who had been making the most noise were all passed out, and the rest of the crowd was hanging on out of pure 'I can't leave until I hear "Ace of Spades"' ideology (this was pretty much my reason). The first few songs that were played you wouldn't have known unless you were an avid listener of Motorhead, which really set the scene for the rest of the 50 or so minutes they were on for.
I don't expect many people to understand what a big day Desert Rock is to metalheads living in the UAE. It's more than just a concert; it's a one time a year gathering of virtually every metalhead in this tiny country, it's the only time you can walk down the mall near where the event is held and see a plethora of band T-shirts, and although we are all mixed in, not just ethnicity, but also metal genre preferences, we can all headbang in unity for a single day in March.