This diary starts and ends in the middle of nowhere, after we had already been on the road for 5 weeks…
April 24th – Vinnitsya, Ukraine
We reached the border at 4 A.M. It was cold as fuck, although we had just been going east. I thought the notion that everything would just turn grey and desolate as soon as you entered Russia or Ukraine was a cliché, but it was really like that. We drove through the dawn, endless fields to the left and right of the rug road, and it was raining cats and dogs. This is the end of the world I was thinking, but I was wrong, you could go on eastward for another 10.000 miles, before you would eventually reach the real end of the world, Vladivostok… It was light outside when we reached L’viv, the first major city in Ukraine, and a completely different world, compared to Poland.. run-down houses, Kyrillian letters, grim-looking inhabitants and flooded streets. We asked some people for the way to Vinnitsya, and got scornful looks for a response. If you grew up and spent your life in this place, how could you possibly not be miserable, I was thinking to myself, to excuse the Ukrainians’ conduct.
Some 6 hours later we arrived at our destination. We met up with the promoter, a crooked, old guy, defeated by life, hopeless and nervous, but very kind at the same time. He took us to the venue, a huge old building that looked like a socialist school from the outside. We were led upstairs, through endless corridors that looked like the ministry of truth in Orwell’s ‘1984’, and threw our gear into a small backstage room. I peered into some other rooms, and all of a sudden I stumbled onto a stage… holy shit, were we really supposed to play here? I was looking down from a 20 x 20m theater stage into a huge concert hall, all equipped with brown leather chairs. Huge chandeliers and large red velvet curtains were hanging from the ceiling.
The show was awesome. Some people were seated but most of them were standing up in the space between the first row of seats and the stage, teenagers completely going wild, celebrating our every movement and chord and word. After the show we sold only 3 T-shirts, but signed more than a hundred 1 Grihvna bills, the Ukrainian currency. “People don’t have money to buy shirts here”, the promoter said, “tomorrow in Kiev will be different”.
We spent the night at an army “hostel”, barracks would have been a more appropriate term. Getting there turned out to be tricky, since the dirt paths that led up to it were completely flooded. The “hostel” was an eery place, with soldiers in uniforms patrolling the hallways. We were prompted not to make any noise, in order not to get in trouble with them. All we wanted was to sleep anyway, after a 22 hour drive. The food was delicious Russian fare. The bathroom floor, however, was covered with a 25cm deep layer of excrement and piss which you had to wade through in order to reach the toilets. We decided to hold our shit and piss out of the windows of our bedrooms.
April 25th – Kiev, Ukraine
Kiev is probably even closer to hell than any other place in this country we had seen before: 6-lane freeways, huge, grey soviet skyscrapers, endless traffic jams… a bustling city, home to 5 million people, a magnet for all those poor existences that we saw along the rural roads on the way to Vinnitsya, for all those looking for work, for something other than the drabness of life in the Ukrainian countryside. After another awesome show in a huge historic concert hall, we went to the promoter’s place to sleep. The elevator in this charmingly run-down edifice, a paradigm of social realism, eventually arrived at the 26th floor, after tense minutes of terror and claustrophobia. The surprise came when we stepped into the apartment: a big, luxurious flat with whirlpool, huge flat-screen TV and a number of different sleeping rooms. The shower with radio and massage jets felt great, I smelled like a leprosy patient after 3 days without showering… we spent the night playing guitar hero with 10 Russians who were drunk out of their minds, while the promoter’s wife prepared joints and Pelmeni. Beautiful.
April 26th – Kiev to Constanta, 1400 km driving
The Kiev promoter was a weird guy. I have not seen him smile even once in the 24 hours that we spent with him, he had this natural expression of submission in his facial features, the saddest eyes I have ever seen, and it seemed like he was constantly questioning the worthiness of his own existence, flirting with suicide. But at the same time he was not only very helpful and generous to us, he was also rich. He didn’t have to work and evaded questions about what he was doing in life with his typical mélange of courtesy and coldness. What was his business, where did all his money come from? Traficking? Drugs, women, arms..? We were discussing it in the van. We would never find out.
Another night drive was ahead of us and the sheer thought of it made me shudder. I was still sick and sleepless, my cough had not gotten any better in the last 10 days, and the smoke-infested venues and apartments didn’t help. We left Kiev around 3 PM. The sun was shining bright and immersed the Ukrainian landscape into an entirely different light. There were lakes, all of a sudden, families picknicking in the countryside and herons in the air, there were green hills and lush forests and a beautiful sunset to top it off, and finally it seemed like the contrast between the immense beauty of the women in this country and the utter ugliness of the environment that bore and bred them was not so stark anymore. Soviet T-34 tanks lined the roads, cenotaphs to the millions of existences that lost their lives here some 60 years ago. Shortly before the Romanian border we stopped at a gypsy roadside village and had a massive barbecue dinner… We sat in an open wooden hut under a black sky full of stars, accompanied by friendly dogs waiting for their share of the feast.
I woke up from an hour of light sleep in erect position when we reached the border. I felt dead sick. My lungs were about to exlode, or implode, I didn’t know, from all the dry heat in the van, I was coughing blood and my throat felt like I had been eating iron swarf. The roads had been in terrible condition and we had already been driving for 12 hours, with 12 more to go. There is nothing worse than being dead tired and not being able to sleep.
The first Ukrainian border official was friendly. He openly asked us for a CD as a gift, so we bribed him with a Fogdiver CD and he was happy. The next guys were assholes. They disappeared with our passports for half an hour without a word. There was some trouble because of a temporary passport. Whatfuckingever, clearly they wanted money and we were not willing to pay. Time passed slowly. Eventually we were allowed to pass and reached the Romanian part of the border, which turned out to be even worse. My memories are obliterated with pain, sickness and headaches, but we must have been stuck there for several hours. When we finally entered Romania, we were rewarded with an incredible sunrise in the Transylvanian mountains. The mountain passes in the inscrutable Carpatian forest offered spectacular views, and the vampires had already gone to bed when we crossed Transylvania.
April 27th – Constanta, Romania
After another 600 km, we reached Constanta around 2 PM – a poor, decrepit city on the Romanian Black Sea coast. Despite all the rotten houses, there was some charme to it. Some old buildings were telling stories of ages of long-gone splendor. The promoter took us to his friend Marius’ house, where we were supposed to stay. The place was infested with the smell of not old, but dead people. A gush of brown vomit came out of the tap when I turned it on. It seemed like nobody had been living there for many years, but in fact, Marius and his girlfriend were neither old nor dead and had been living here for many years; apparently without running water. With the bright sunlight coming through the windows and the glass door that led to the balcony littered with debris, the place had an aura of grace and rotten beauty. The paint was peeling from the walls, but the ceiling had some beautiful stucco. The heating wasn’t working either, and we soon learned that in all of Constanta, there is only hot water between 6 and 7 AM; when people go to work.
We rested for an hour after the terrible drive and then went to the venue around 6. We were drunk after just a few bottles of Romanian beer out in the sun, not having eaten properly in the past 24 hours. The venue was a shitty concrete hall with a dysfunctional PA and a 6-channel Behringer mixer. Even more annoying was the fact that the owner, a tall, fat, ugly, toothless guy who looked like a torture chamber assistant turned out to be a major dickhead. He was outright lying to us when he said he didn’t get paid for the hall, which he put forth as an excuse for not wanting to move his subwoofers to the stage, and he tried to put all the blame on the promoter’s shoulders. “You have to accept this, Romania is a fucked-up country” he said, and I scoffed back, “no, Romania is a beautiful country, but you are a fucked-up stubborn asshole”. It didn’t help. Sometimes you have to accept that there are dicks in the world and that you need them, or their place, and that there is nothing you can do about it, apart from destroying their property after you have used it…
We were supposed to play at 10.30 and were on stage 2 hours later. There were some 80 kids in the house and it was a grim show. The sound was terrible, the PA was fried and those Romanian kids were going through their windmill routines in the bleak concrete hall. I was coughing like a dying man throughout the whole show. We unleashed mayhem and took the place apart anyways.
The promoter and his friends were incredibly nice people who went to great pains to make it comfortable for us. They bought drinks and food, offered us their homes, their weed, their everything, and in the few hours we spent together we became friends. It was amazing to see how much respect they had for us and for what we are doing, and how thankful they were that we came to their city, to Constanta, Romania, to play for them and their friends. Meeting people like them is the reason why despite all the discomfort, despite all the horrible driving, despite sickness and days without sleep and showers, I still prefer this kind of touring to a sleeper bus tour: You actually have a chance to connect with people in other ways then just business, you see how they live, what they eat, what they do, they take you to places you would never get to see on your own, they cook for you and teach you things about their country and their customs and lives.
April 28th, Varna, Bulgaria
The next morning we went to the Black Sea coast to do an interview for Romanian television. It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining and huge waves were crashing ashore. After lunch at Mihail’s place, we left these awesome guys to drive to Bulgaria. Clouds gathered above the eery, deserted landscape… we passed through ghost villages that seemed abandoned, and only sometimes you would see a few gypsies on the side of the road, selling tin. These people, originally from India and discriminated for centuries, are so poor that they are stealing street signs to sell the tin. They live in awful ghettos under miserable conditions and completely devoid of hope for change, since they are so poorly organized. Only few of them speak the traditional Roma language, most of them don’t speak any Bulgarian, and literally noone can read or write.
We reached Varna late and met up with the promoter at the cathedral. Another close-mouthed guy that seemed to live the life of a fish more than the life of a human being… The bar where we were supposed to play was already crowded with people when we arrived. It was the smallest stage we have ever played, there was no way to set up our lights here. The 4 channel mixing desk was on the stage and our soundguy Julien almost lost his mind when he tried to convince them that they have to move it… In the end everything sounded surprisingly big and now that we had set up and soundchecked we decided to play first. The place was full when we started at 9. Some people came up to me and told me they had been driving 400 km to see the show… we set the place on fire and played a 50 minutes power-set. By the end of it I felt like I was dying. My throat was getting worse and I was sure I had a fever. But finally, after days of few or no sleep, I got 10 hours of sleep tonight.
April 28th – april 30th days off, Varna, Bulgaria
Chronic Tracheitis is what I have. The doctor at the local hospital gave me intimidating Bulgarian antibiotics and I spent most of the first day off sleeping at a guy’s house who we met at the show, the night before. They turned out to be really cool be people living in a cosy place, so we all ended up crashing there for the coming days as well. A crazy party was raging almost non-stop for the 3 rainy days we spent in Varna, whilst I was mainly resting in bed trying to cure my disease. Drunk members of The Ocean would stumble into my room at any time of day or night to fall over the big bed that was blocking the entrance. Georgi, the guy who we were staying with, was a Bulgarian English teacher, and his house was permanently full of people: Bulgarian English students and English Bulgarian students, who were battling themselves about who were the more serious drinkers. I couldn’t tell. One night Georgi himself threw up all over his bed and wall in the new apartment where he had just moved in. His friends had to clean and undress him and put him to bed. Another night Jona was so drunk he fell down in the pedestrian zone of the city and immediately fell asleep, until Mike poured salt all over him and spread his ass-cheeks to sit on his face. There was this girl who was obsessed with dogs, she would show up with her terrible-smelling cuties a few times throughout the day. She cooked tasty potato soup. One night, she and the boys found a cardboard box in the streets with 3 puppies inside, one of them was already dead. The other 2 were taken to Georgi’s place and found a new home on his balcony, where they ate and shat, and in all of our hearts, where they still reside.
May 1st – Bucharest, Romania
Romanian dictator Chaucescu decided to put Romania on the world’s map by giving order to construct what should become the biggest building in the world, from money that neither himself nor the Romanian people ever had. Second in size only to the Pentagon, the only reason why it did not end up as the world’s biggest is that his architects miscalculated. The monstrous edifice can be seen from almost any place in Bucharest, but you only get an idea of its dimensions when you’re standing right in front of this menacing monument of totalitarianism. Modern day’s Romanian government is discussing controversially what to do with this building – to tear it down would be the cheapest option, since the maintenance costs are tremendous, but it is a part of the country’s grim history and in the end, the most famous thing about Romania, so they can’t really do that. So instead, they are renting parts of the building to whoever has money, mainly porn producers, who embrace the all-marble interior…
Other than that, Bucharest is a place that is gruesome and intriguing at the same time. A city of 4 million legal and an unknown number of illegal inhabitants, Bucharest has all features of a modern European capital – but nowhere else is the gap between rich and poor as vast and obnoxious as here. Lamborghini cars are driving through streets lined with huge decayed concrete skyscrapers from socialist times, Roma children without shoes are begging for money in front of fancy cafes, and every part of the city but the centre seems like an enormous construction site.
We arrived at the venue called “Live Metal Club” in the afternoon. The PA was decent and it looked like a cool place. There was no backstage so we were just hanging out in front of the club after soundcheck, it was the first really nice and hot day. Some 60 kids turned up – it was May 1st, a big public holiday in Romania and Bulgaria, and everybody had gone to the sea or to the mountains, the promoter said. Bad timing and even worse, it wouldn’t be much better tomorrow in Sofia, since most people in both countries were using the chance of May 1st being on a Thursday for an extended holiday weekend. After 4 days off it felt so good to play again that we completely raised hell tonight. The show was brutal, everybody was right in front of the stage. We played an encore and the kids carried Mike around the room for the entire duration of “Queen of the Food-Chain”.
May 2nd – Sofia, Bulgaria
I have travelled around the globe and have seen a lot of poverty, a lot of vile, desperate places and a lot of misery and human suffering; in India, Vietnam, Bolivia, Syria or Honduras…. but the border town of Ruse, Bulgaria must be the grimmest place I have ever seen, if only from the safe distance of a car driving by. Ruse must have emerged from a massive concrete cemetery with endless rows of empty, abandoned graves, stacked upon one another inside terrifying uniform skyscrapers – a cemetery where nobody wanted to be buried, for being buried in a place like this, all positive memories of a lifetime must essentially fade into oblivion. And so the dead rose back to life in a last feeble flaming-up of defiance, just to leave this hell, to find themselves a more dignified place to die and rot in the buildings on top of their graves.
When we drove into Sofia after a 5 hours drive through stunning scenery, we found another abandoned city, but the difference to Ruse appeared to be that this one had been abandoned recently, and that it never had been a cemetery. The trees were green and we saw parks and beautiful old buildings – but no people out in the streets, and all the shops were closed. There had been a mass exodus to the countryside for the extended weekend, and only the helpless who couldn’t afford to leave the city for a few days had remained in town. About 30 of those helpless existences showed up to our show tonight. We had fun anyway, enjoyed a gorgeous dinner and got some good sleep at a nice hotel in the frighteningly empty centre of town.
May 3rd – Sofia – Athens
The color of the hills changed from lush light green to Mediterranean olive green as we ventured down South towards the Bulgarian-Greek border. We picked up Hannes at the Thessaloniki airport and drove straight on to Athens, only stopping once at a nice roadside Taverna for some gorgeous Greek Salad and huge platters of Tsatsiki and bread with olive-oil under a sky full of stars.
May 5fth – Athens, Greece
‘Precambrian’ had been album of the month in Metal Hammer and No. 2 in Rock Hard Greece, so our expectations were high – and we were not let down… 3 nights in a good hotel and we played one of the biggest venues in town, called Gagarin 205. There was a catering company taking care of our every needs all night long. The show was incredible and a bunch of people said it was the best sound they had ever heard in this venue. We got greeted with roaring excitement as we entered the stage, and played an 80 minutes set, including 2 encores, to some 300 excited kids. People were calling for “Fogdiver” and “Fluxion” songs and I felt bad for not being able to play more songs in the end. We sold shiploads of mercy and spent a good hour talking to fans after the show, who had been waiting for us to come to Greece for years. Some of them had travelled all the way down from the far North of Greece for this one single show… amazing.
May 6th – Skopje, Macedonia
We had a warm welcome to Skopje and were taken to a traditional Macedonian restaurant for dinner, where waitresses brought plate after plate of salad, fried cheese, eggplant pastries and meat for the other boys. We ate until we burst basically, and every time I said to myself “this is gonna be the last refill”, I succumbed anew to the seducing platters of food that those waitresses just wouldn’t stop bringing to our table, over and over again… after the feast it was hard to stand up, not even talking about playing and moving around. If there was not the merciless rule of the click, we surely would have played 50% slower today. The show was really cool, but we were too fat to play an encore.
We had to leave right after the show to drive to Zagreb, some 800 km further north. When we reached the Serbian border at around 3 AM, it was raining heavily. The customs officers disappeared with our passports for what seemed an eternity, and when they came back they told us we would have to go back to the Macedonian part of the border to get our customs papers stamped. So we did, and an hour later we were back at the Serbian border with stamped papers… but now those guys didn’t want to deal with us anymore, and sent us over to the truck customs station. After another hour we were told that we did not have the right transit papers for Serbia, and that they could not admit us into the country.
I have to mention at this point that prior to this tour, I had gone through the pain of getting what they call a ‘carnet A.T.A.’, a detailed list of all the equipment we have with us. I had to fill out a seemingly endless array of forms to get it, in the most official and most useless and complicated manner, some 30 fucking pages of bureaucracy, each page stamped and signed at least 3 times by 2 different german customs authorities – but all this bullshit paperwork was for nothing, it was not good enough for those fucks, they wanted to see transit papers. This miserable border chump in his shitty sailor uniform was telling us we’d have to wait for his boss, he’d be the only one to decide what to do with us now, and he wouldn’t show up until 8 AM. I gave up at this point, sick of fighting, sick of yelling and cursing, sick of begging for a gun to shoot all of these pricks in the face. I laid down on the wet van floor and immediately fell asleep. I was awoken by Julien cursing in French, and had no idea how much time had passed. It was daylight outside, but the rain was still pouring down. My clothes were damp and my back hurt. The van started to move. We were in Serbia. The boss, the king of the pricks, never showed up in the end, but guess what: after a few hours they decided that we did not need those transit papers in the end, and just filled out regular import papers. And then they made us pay some 10 billion Serbian Kroners or whatever the fuck their shit money is called, for parking at the fucking border! Imagine that: these toad-faced cunts hold you up for fucking hours for nothing, and then, the crown of humiliation, they make you pay for being held up, for waiting, at their mercy, for them to allow you to enter their country!
May 8th – Split, Croatia
Moraines, last night’s support band, are something like Croatia’s Pelican. They guided us to Split, since we were to play this second Croatian show together with them as well. Croatia is an immensely beautiful country. We saw countless waterfalls along the roads, massive cascades of water falling from white limestone cliffs into dark turquoise lakes, lush green forests and out-of-this-world landscapes of the Dinaric Karst. After soundcheck, we took a long walk through the city of Split, and found it to be a vibrant, young city with cool bars and nightclubs alongside some pretty stretches of city beach. The audience was really cool tonight, there was a lot more movement going on than in Zagreb, although it was less crowded… We played Nazca and Austerity as an encore and got completely shitfaced afterwards… Jona had bought about 5 grams of weed and we knew we had to smoke it all tonight since we would cross the border the next day… so we ended up blazing 3 giant 7-paper joints after the show, until everybody was stoned out of their minds, and hit the bed around 5 AM, when the party was still raging downstairs. I slept in the hallway and was awoken by a drunk fat chick claiming my mattress in the morning… told her to fuck off and went back to sleep.
May 10th – Belgrade, Serbia
One of the most memorable impressions from this tour is border facilities, at any time of day and night – large buildings, asphalt lanes, gates, stop signs, checkpoints, flashing traffic lights, grim looking officers… we have spent countless hours waiting, at the mercy of some bull-necked asshole in a uniform, to be admitted into another country, we have been mocked and humiliated, and we have cast countless curses; feeble, helpless attempts to make all the useless waiting, the lack of sleep for nothing, a little more bearable.
Today we were turned down at the Italian-Croatian border. Transit papers, again. We were given the option to either turn around and go back, or to hire a logistics company to put all our gear into boxes and then accompany us on the way through Croatia and back to Serbia, for the price of 800 Euro. Furthermore, we were threatened to be charged with felony because the bitch in blue at the last Croatian border had refused to stamp our papers. We decided to give them the middle finger and turn around. An hour later we reached an alternative small rural border crossing and tried our luck again. There was just one guy at the whole border crossing, but he must have been very happy to see us come along and bring some excitement into his pitiful life… a rock band! There must be drugs somewhere in this van! And so he went to get his dog, but the cute little furry thing didn’t really look like a trained police dog and generally seemed more interested in our food than in drugs. The cop made him sniff every item that was inside the car, and even took off the covers of the fuse compartment… Finally, after 2 hours, he gave up. No drugs. He wanted a CD now and I told him to fuck off. It took another hour to get those papers signed. This time we told them that we would play in Zagreb (Croatia) tonight to avoid another transit papers issue, while we were actually playing in Belgrade (Serbia). The Zagreb venue, where we had played 3 days before, was informed and confirmed our treason by phone. This was the only way to handle this.
We arrived in Belgrade at about 11PM. There were heaps of people drinking outside of the venue, the famous SKC Living Room. The only place for shows in Belgrade at that time, it was hard to imagine that bands like Katatonia had played here and that Mike Patton would play here in July – there was no stage at all, no lighting, and the whole place really looked like a big living room. But there was something to it that made it special, and as soon as we started to play, I felt that this was gonna be awesome. The audience was right in front of us on the floor, they had no chance to escape from what was to come. After all this border bullshit, after almost cancelling the show for not being allowed to enter the country, we had so much frustration and aggression pent up inside of us that it was the biggest relief to be able to play now, to play hard, to beat our guitars, and to beat the people standing in the first row, with our guitars, mic stands and fists, in a frenzy of violence and unleashed energy. The audience was very responsive and we later found out that there were some diehard fans among them, people who had followed us since Islands / Tides; people who knew every word of almost every song, and who had been waiting for us to come to Serbia for years.
Playing shows like this one, playing to these kids on a fucking floor, is the reward for all the horse shit, all the countless hours at borders, all the lack of sleep and feeling completely beat up; playing shows like this one is what makes it all fucking worth it in the end. The lady at the bar kept serving us shots of rakia, a Serbian schnapps, and the madness went on until 6 AM. Somehow the latent violent vibes that had been in the air all the time were still there, even after the show… there was a broken basin in the bathroom all of a sudden, and on the way to the hotel we all started hitting each other and spitting in each other’s faces and hair for the sheer pleasure of it… it felt great.
We were a complete disgrace at the hostel, I felt sorry for the promoter. A few hours later, team hangover woke up in a gruesome collective moan… I had bruisers and scratches all over my body, and this terrible pain inside my chest. I didn’t remember where that was coming from, probably from the mayhem after the show, when I threw my bag at Jona and didn’t let go of it, so I kind of threw myself away, crashed into a traffic light and fell down hard on the asphalt… it turned out to be a broken rib which I had scored, just 5 days before the beginning of our first US tour ever. Good times.