The last time I walked through the prison gates of the Alcatraz Festival was in 2015. This Saturday morning in August 2019, I arrive after a two-hour drive. Everything has changed. There are now three scenes. In four years, everything has become bigger, more populated, more … expensive.
First observation: 70 euros a day. Fortunately, the line-up is worth it.
On arrival, 54 euros for 20 tokens (a beer costs a token, we’re not going to go far), and 15 euros a locker. My wallet is already pulling the face.

A day at the Alcatraz Festival in Courtrai

Sanctuary begins on the main stage. The sound is so excruciating, that after three minutes, I run to “El Presidio”, a large bar arranged in the saloon style. The atmosphere is very nice.

I’m heading to Soilwork, having not been able to see them at the Metaldays last July. And I’m not disappointed. I find myself facing extremely talented musicians. It’s mostly the drummer who catches my eye. Bastian Thuusgard was only 25 when he joined the Swedish group in 2017. In only two years, the young danish seems to have found his mark.

A day at the Alcatraz Festival in Courtrai

Prong begins. I hope that the sound will be better this time. But that is not the case. I wonder about the reason for such a sound. But instead of feeling sorry for myself, I go to see Black Mirrors on the stage “La Morgue”, a charming little stage under a marquee. Intrigued by the “alternative rock shamanic psychedelia” (as they define themselves), I am pleasantly surprised by this hard and melodic rock at the same time. The singer is frantically agitated, as if in a trance. So that’s where the term “shamanic” comes from. Saying that she is influenced by Janis Joplin, I would compare her to a Cherrie Currie, in a less wise version. This group is a ball of energy, and imposes its own style.

All this energy has dug my belly. What am I going to find in a reasonable budget? Three euros a small cone of fries, seven euros for six spare-ribs, eight euros a (small) pizza. So my choice will be on french fries.

A quick walk to the toilets. And at the risk of being at odds with the comments of the festival-goers, I found them perfectly clean. To make sure it wasn’t a fluke, I still opened other doors. Same observation.

Thin Lizzy does not interest me at all, and “The Morgue” being a very nice place, I’m about to discover The Spirit. With a name like that, I expect a black metal band like the others. Especially since the German team is very young, since it has only been active since 2015. But from the first notes, I see a very convincing mix of blackened death, doom, even technical. The band produces more than black metal, it produces dark and obscure music, which takes to the guts. Small bonus for the set of lights, which further accentuates the dark side of their music.

A day at the Alcatraz Festival in Courtrai

In the direction of the Mayhem concert, a thought crosses my mind: why is the ground littered with plastic and metal waste? Garbages are rare, but there are somes. Then I realize that unfortunately, in 2019, there are still people who are unaware of the existence of biodegradable materials or, at least, reusable cups. I have to compare this plain to the pristine soil of Metaldays

But back to Mayhem. The band formed in 1984 and with a dark history, does not seem to have renewed its music, despite the frequent renewal of its members. After three songs, this black metal “old school” annoys me deeply. There are musical projects that must be courageous to stop when inspiration runs out. Head to the bar. Then head to the main stage.

Avatar is announced with great fanfare by the festival staff. The arrival of the members is very theatrical. Arriving halfway through the concert, I understand that even if the band’s music, multi-influenced, fails to convince me, the show is breathtaking. The band members I would define as “theatrical metal” all have an incredible stage presence. Pyrotechnics, fireworks, stagings, … It’s a feast for the eyes.

Again, it’s the drummer who transcends me the most. His game is not incredibly technical (in the complicated sense of the word), but what he does, he does it more than well.

A day at the Alcatraz Festival in Courtrai

The day ends under the sign of the tortured doom with the Belgians of Amenra. The crowd is rushing. The dark atmosphere is further accentuated by the fact that the concert takes place under a marquee. This concert is what you might call the “great Amenra”. Extremely gifted musicians, a singer with a transcendent voice. When the song “A solitary reign” sounds, my belly knots, and a tear drips down my cheek. And around me, the silence.

I come home after having a great day, with discoveries, and the sun for company. But the previously mentioned negative points darken the picture. High prices, too many crowds, a very bad sound on the main stage for the first concerts, …

Will the Alcatraz Festival soon turn into a new Graspop? Or will it manage to maintain its “proximity” festival look, also by making ecological commitments?