What better setting for a festival of heavy metal, punk and electronic music than the grounds of an 18th century fortress?

Brutal Assault, photo: CTK

Brutal Assault is one of the best-known festivals of heavy or extreme music in the Czech Republic – from black metal to hardcore punk. Every year, it takes place within the grounds of an 18th century fortress known as Josefov at the town of Jaroměř, near the Polish border. In fact it is on right now, with some 20,000 people attending this week to see more than 100 bands. In the past, bands like Motörhead performed there.

Brutal Assault,  photo: CTK

I was curious about the history: Brutal Assault’s Radek Pavlovič told me more about the festival this week.

“Brutal Assault started back in 1996 as a small event for maybe a few hundred people, so the festival has now been around for 21 years. Over this period, it has become one of the biggest metal festivals in Europe.”

It takes place in a town called Jaroměř, not far from Poland; is it true that Polish fans make up a large part of the audience?

“Yes. Up to around 70 percent of attendees come from abroad and many of them are from Poland. They don’t have a festival like ours, so for them it makes sense. It is quite appreciated by Polish fans.”

The website is in many languages, Russian, Italian, French, so you get people from all over…

“From all over Europe but even further abroad: I know fans from India or, for example, from Venezuela. With the political situation in Venezuela, they won’t be able to come this year, for instance. We have true fans from all over the world.”

“Up to 70 percent of attendees come from abroad, from all over Europe but also as far off as India or Venezuela.”

One of the things which made headlines this week is that the festival actually sold out in advance. No tickets are being offered on site. Has that happened before?

“We have come close to selling out the festival in the past, but this is the first time we did, in pre-sales. So we sold 20,000 tickets but the tickets also include the bands, crew, organisers and guests. Audience numbers have grown significantly since the festival was moved to its current location 10 years ago.”

This is a festival celebrating heavy music, in all kinds of offshoot genres in heavy metal and hardcore punk, electronic music and so on. If someone is a more ‘vanilla’ heavy metal or hard rock fan, more inclined to listen to AC/DC or Ozzy, will they still come into their own?

Master’s Hammer,  photo: CTK

“I think so. The point of the festival is to provide a stage for many different bands and styles and above all to bring up quality bands in the underground and to introduce them to new audiences. I think everyone will discover something for themselves, some new level of heavy music. We want fans to enjoy as much as possible.”

So it’s all good, regardless which end of the pool you get in at…

“Yeah, yes. Exactly.”

One of things about the concert area is that it is on the grounds of a fortress dating back to the 18th century, named after Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph II.

What does it add to the experience?

“When you think of most open-air festivals, this is very unusual: in most festivals you would have a stage or stages on a flat open field with very little else to see. That is not the case here. I think it adds a lot for the bands playing here. When Motorhead performed at Brutal Assault in 2011, the lead singer Lemmy only agreed to perform BECAUSE of the historic fortress. Lemmy was a fan of history and the fortress was something he wanted to see.”

“Motörhead performed at Brutal Assault especially because of the fortress: Lemmy was a history buff and for him that was the attraction of playing here.”

Are elements of the fortress used stylistically? Are they lit to reflect what is going on? Or is it simply a backdrop?

“It is more than a backdrop. We definitely try and incorporate elements and use corridors among the bastion walls as bars or chill-out areas or spots for meet-and-greets with bands. So we try to use it as much as possible.”

One of the big attractions this year is a Czechoslovak band originally called Master’s Hammer. A lot of people will be looking forward to them…

“Yes, this is a band with a long history that completely stopped playing live until recently. The lineup is also not all original members but also musicians who were part of the metal and rock scene here, who were also well-known. So old-school black metal fans in Europe, this will be an interesting show by a legendary band.”

Brutal Assault,  photo: CTK

My final question has to do with the overall ‘look’: it is in many ways what one would expect form a heavy metal festival or a festival of extreme music – when you visit the website you see dark imagery, a mix of gothic and earlier medieval motifs, specifically, these figures reminiscent of plague doctors with their beaks, or perhaps they are crow people or cultists. And they surround a zombie-like or very decrepit/undead Franz Joseph, so you are obviously poking fun at the Austro-Hungarian Empire of what the Czech lands were a part…

“It goes back to the history of the fortress again and the fact that Joseph II’s appearance is not that well-known or easily recognizable as Franz Joseph I.”

And not as iconic; is he sort of the mascot?

“Just for this year. It’s just a bit of fun. We do like the imagery to reflect the history of the location, next year’s artwork will touch upon it again, but differently.”