Bangalore Open Air 2024 Review: The Metal Fest Scales Up

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At a time when festivals run a myriad of problems in even getting off the ground, Bangalore Open Air (BOA) has struggled, stumbled but ultimately sustained to remain the only metal festival in India. The festival has a clear understanding of their audience and the kind of turnout they expect and plot their moves accordingly – from venue size to food and beverage and more.

The 10th edition of Bangalore Open Air was ambitiously announced as a two-day festival on February 9th and 10th – a Friday and Saturday – featuring metal heavyweights like Kreator (who headlined the first-ever edition in 2012) and In Flames, Watain and Decapitated. Indian bands repping included longtime friends of the festival, like Kryptos (who have played six editions now), Godless (three-time performers) and Speedtrip (their second appearance, this time promoting their new album Apocalyptic Killzone). Indian metal draws at BOA also extended to Mumbai’s Zygnema, Kolkata’s Chronic Xorn and the relatively new local death metallers Moral Collapse.

Two more international bands added a more inclusive streak to BOA this year, with Spain’s modern metallers Ankor (which has a female vocalist and drummer) and the all-female, Switzerland-origin heavy metallers Burning Witches.

Held at the Bits Club in Hennur, this wasn’t too far out for most already residing in Northern Bengaluru, which was a plus. While a face-painting stall was set up for anyone who wanted corpsepaint, the bars were designed with logos of two beloved pubs – Styx and Purple Haze. As it turns out, BOA founder Salman U. Syed got his first footing in the music industry in the city when he was a DJ at Purple Haze, famously known for metal and rock playing around the clock.

Fans could also pay reverence to British heavy metal legends Iron Maiden at BOA, with a model Ed Force One airplane and a life-size figure of the mascot Eddie from the Somewhere in Time cyborg days. Truly, there’s a festival atmosphere like few others in the country in terms of bringing together a smaller community of metalheads who just want to pound down their beer, run circles in the moshpit and even raise inverted crosses during Watain’s infernal set.

Among many other differences, one aspect that makes BOA stand out compared to other multi-genre music festivals is that metalheads actually settle quite decently for what comes their way. They do go around freely running their mouths about the lack of heavy music on multi-genre festivals, but they most assuredly get behind an all-metal festival like BOA, coming in from all parts of the country and even the larger subcontinent.

The likes of Moral Collapse, Speedtrip and Kryptos mounted a formidable metal charge early in the afternoon on day one and Ankor had their work cut out for them winning over a new audience during their India debut. Melding metal, rock and electronic influences, vocalist Jessie Williams probably broke a record for the number of times anyone’s asked the crowd to dance at a metal festival. We mean that in a good way, because Ankor’s set may not have been for everyone, but it definitely allowed BOA to push further with modern acts. From alt-rock to blastbeats to big breakdowns, Ankor lay it all out.

Decapitated’s vocalist Rasta on stage at Bangalore Open Air 2024. Photo: Mohit Sharma

When setup for Decapitated began, there was something amiss about the Polish tech-death metallers’ return to India since 2011 – the drumkit wasn’t being touched at all. As it turns out, the tumultuous journey of Decapitated was seeing another challenge. Drummer James Stewart was denied a visa, while the rest of the band members’ equipment didn’t reach them after they landed in India. Overnight, they were borrowing gear and having Stewart record live drums for an hour-long set so that they made BOA happen.

By any fan’s estimate, it was not how they’d wanted to see or hear them. The reception is understandably a bit muted but eventually, the moshpits get going and everyone’s adjusted their senses. It took some getting used to but about four songs in, you knew you were still getting the tech-death juggernaut that is Decapitated. From “Day 69” to “Iconoclast” and everything in between, guitarist Vogg, vocalist Rasta and bassist Paweł Pasek hoped that the crowd would be understanding. After all, they played to a much larger audience than their last gig in the country more than a decade ago at Deccan Rock festival.

Kreator live at Bangalore Open Air 2024. Photo: Rithvik AR

It was the exact opposite for Kreator, the German thrash metal headliners who had played at the inaugural BOA in 2012. From an inflated ghoulish figure’s head looming over in the backdrop to red-robed skeletons suspended from the stage ceiling, plus pyro and more, Kreator had come to deliver a performance that lived up to their 42-year legacy

With songs like the fist-pumping “Hate Uber Alles” to” Enemy of God,” it’s explosive stuff. Kreator have been around since the early Eighties and their Teutonic thrash metal assault was faultless, even as confetti and streamers poured out (a first for BOA, perhaps). Between crowd chants and crowdsurfing, frontman Mille Petrozza said he’s really seen the festival grow and find that India “has a really fucking powerful metal scene.” From “666 – World Divided” to “Hordes of Chaos” to “Phantom Antichrist” Kreator were thundering.

On day two, attendees returned but in sparser numbers at first, braving the Saturday heat to catch Chronic Xorn – who previewed material from their upcoming album I Create I Destroy – and Godless. While the latter powered through a few sound issues to deliver a crushing performance, Mumbai’s Zygnema were in turbo mode from the get-go. From wall of deaths to circle pits, the crowd was spurred on by frontman Jimmy Bhore’s egging. Among their first gigs with bassist Somesh Panicker, Zygnema tore through and even offered up a new song called “Iconic,” which marked a new direction for the Mumbai band.

Mumbai metallers Zygnema live at Bangalore Open Air 2024. Photo: Mohit Sharma

Although new to the country, Burning Witches proved that heavy metal is the best unifier. Plenty of calls to pump fists and raise horns were all that was needed to break the ice, with songs like “Dance with the Devil” and their title track “Burning Witches” also in the mix. They threw in a cover of Dio’s iconic “Holy Diver” as well, to seal the deal.

If Kreator had brought massive stage production on day one, it was Swedish black metallers Watain’s turn to scale things up on day two. From bones to tridents to flags and a torch that was lit and then passed into the crowd, Watain were all about creating a netherworld at Bangalore Open Air. Some bands send beach balls into the crowd at a festival. Watain sent in inverted crosses for the crowd to brandish and break apart over their visceral music, with the late evening chill adding to their satanic intent.

Watain on stage at Bangalore Open Air 2024. Photo: Mohit Sharma

The band’s setlist included everything from “The Howling” to “Sworn to the Dark” to “On Horns Impaled” and “Waters of Ain.” Vocalist Erik Danielsson spoke a bit about what it was like being in the “ancient country and civilization” of India and how it took them 25 years to get here. He added on stage, “But we’re finally here. It’s a great honor to be in this land tonight. We come from the distant north and we’ve brought much history and secrets as well. It is our hope that these secrets will be shared.”

A whole other side of Sweden emerged next, with In Flames came out to the ominous, acoustic “The Beginning Of All Things That Will End.” While key members Anders Friden and guitarist Björn Gelotte are Swedish, In Flames have gradually become a supergroup of sorts now. At BOA, they had American guitarist Chris Broderick (known for his work with Megadeth and Jag Panzer), drummer Tanner Wayne  (who’s previously been part of post-hardcore bands like Scary Kids Scaring Kids and Chiodos) and bassist Liam Wilson (from The Dillinger Escape Plan, Azusa and John Frum).

The crowd during In Flames’ set at Bangalore Open Air 2024. Photo: Mohit Sharma

In Flames got the crowd into a frenzy just by doing what they do best – delivering frenetic, yet polished and incisive melodic metal. Friden’s “Scream for me Bangalore!” was a good way to break the ice as well, but he went one step further by admonishing the audience to put down their phones and get in the pit. Everything from “Pinball Map” to “Paralyzed” and “Behind Space” were eaten up by the crowd and In Flames stayed in the Nineties to bring out “Food for the Gods.”

One of their breakthrough songs in their career, “Cloud Connected” had the whole crowd moving, followed by “The Quiet Place.”  “State of Slow Decay” is just as face-melting as you’d expect and Friden asked the crowd to give him the biggest circle put as they closed out the festival with songs like “The Mirror’s Truth,” “I Am Above” and “Take This Life.”

With the next edition already announced to be another two-day event – on February 7th and 8th, 2025 – Bangalore Open Air might just carry on unchallenged in the metal festival space for a while. They’re growing in their own time and on a different scale compared to other recognizable music festivals, but they still show promise.  

Photos by Mohit Sharma and Rithvik AR

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