We’ve partnered with some of our favorite websites to bring you each scene’s best upcoming bands, diving beneath the surface to give you a glimpse of tomorrow. In this monthly check-in with our friend at The Obelisk, we get the scoop on Toundra, Slomatics, Temple Fang, and more underground stoner rock discoveries from the 2022 Freak Valley Festival. Oh, and read last month’s column here.
I’m in a valley. Specifically, I’m in a valley adjacent to the town of Netphen, Germany, standing on grounds that belong to the humanitarian organization AWO International. Surrounded by picturesque green hillsides, tucked-away from the bustle of Cologne an hour west, I’m at the 3,000-person Freak Valley Festival. Back after a two year break, the four day heavy-psych/stoner/blues open-air fest returned in June—I had never been before this moment. And I've never gone to some place for the first time and been made to feel more at home.
The setting was part of it. You could (existentially and literally) breathe (allergies permitting) in this gorgeous place, and when the German nightfall hit at 9 p.m., it was fully dark in time for the headliners. The trees around the fields, the stage, and the crowd were lit up; hippies, lone weirdos, hesher backpatch-types, and more than a handful of families congregated in reverence for the serenity of Spanish instrumentalists Toundra and the propulsive rampage of riffs delivered by High on Fire.
Heavy prog forerunners Elder—who'll be headlining events like this soon enough—were majestic as ever early on in the evening Saturday. Performing a few hours after Belfast’s who-needs-bass-when-the-guitars-are-this-heavy sci-fi crushers Slomatics, they both fit the bill.
Baroness, Pelican, Red Fang, and the almighty Fu Manchu headlined the four nights, but for me, the appeal of traveling to a festival is getting to see bands I normally couldn't. Argentinian atmospheric rockers IAH put on an early afternoon set that became a highlight of the weekend; cosmic peace-psych rockers Temple Fang oozed stage presence, rare for their kind of meandering, heavy kraut jams.
The Midnight Ghost Train reunited; hopefully they’ll keep it going. Greece’s Villagers of Ioannina City tackled “Age of Aquarius.” British metal band Green Lung delivered on the obviously-built-for-the-stage feel of their records. Geezer’s stoner-blues acid grooved while Portugal’s Madmess and France’s Djiin dug into divergent psychedelia, each offering instrumental surprises—in Djiin’s case, a harp—adding to the spirit of celebration for the whole thing. The Atomic Bitchwax speed-rocked everyone’s asses into the ground with a unique glee that can only come from my beloved Garden State of New Jersey.
Sounds like a lot? It was. Four long days, one stage. You could see everything, and I did.
Dutch traditionalists Supersonic Blues (who I’ve written about before here; and considering this is the second column, that’s saying something) set a mellow-heavy mood, which Nick Oliveri’s Mondo Generator shattered, with screamed-out takes on cuts from his time in Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age.
As for merch, I bought a large tote to take grocery shopping, because that's my rock 'n' roll lifestyle. Beer, it was everywhere. Coffee less so, but there was enough to keep attendees upright through four days of chicanery and sonic escapism. All sense of “real life” was led away into the forest to sit and wait for the flight home.
It was beautiful, let me tell you. Imagine a feedback loop of a thousand riffs cast into open air, positive and loud energy fed on and released by the crowd. There was more groove than anyone’s ass could ever hope to shake, though many tried. At the 2022 Freak Valley Festival, it was possible to live outside your own head. We glimpsed salvation. It was—wait for it—heavy.