ROSS BAKER’S SONISPHERE
The opening day of Sonisphere was thrash day with the Big Four making their debut together on U.K. soil.
While British NWOBHM favourites Diamond Head opened the Apollo Stage, I opted instead to check out hip young Grungers Japanese Voyeurs who have drawn comparisons to Hole and Babes In Toyland. Fronted by the helium voiced Romily Alice, their brand of dirge pop is angular and takes some getting used to but you can’t deny the nastiness of the guitars that cut through the likes of “Get Hole” and “Milk Teeth”. While The ‘Voyeurs won’t please everyone, at least they stand out which is more than can be said for the tame melodic hardcore that Watford mob Lower Than Atlantis had to offer. Their uninspired bleatings mean it’s time to haul my way over to the Apollo stage to check out the first of the big four: the mighty Anthrax.
Yet it was clear that despite having new material on the way, the band were only firing on 50 percent of their game. Vocalist Joey Belladonna was not in the best of voice tonight, sounding somewhat hoarse in places and with guitarist Scott Ian absent due to attending the birth of his first child, the band lacks their usual stage presence. Sepultura man Andreas Kisser ably deputised for Ian, giving the band a much needed kick and although numbers like “Only” and catchy newbie “Fight ‘Em Till You Can’t” were strong contributions, the band lacked the power and cohesiveness you associate with these New Yorkers.
Thank God for Megadeth then who delivered the first memorable performance of the day with a set of blistering solos and melodic fretwork. Despite not being incredibly vocal between songs, Dave Mustaine and company rolled out an impressive set surprisingly opening with underrated hit “Trust”. The interplay between Mustaine and lead guitarist Chris Broderick is fantastic and with Shawn Drover’s tight playing behind the kit, this is the strongest line up the band has had since Messers Friedman and Menza were part of Megadeth. New track “Public Enemy No.1” is unleashed before the sing-a-long classic of “Á Tout Le Monde” and speed metal powerhouse “Holy Wars… The Punishment Due” brings an end to a robust showing.
Slayer was even better with Exodus man Gary Holt replacing Jeff Hanneman while Hanneman continues his recovery from a bizarre flesh eating virus. Holt and Kerry King trade blistering solos and the band played a couple of surprise tracks namely “Dittohead” and satanic anthem “Black Magic”. Despite no longer being able to headbang, Tom Araya clearly still loves playing live, grinning from ear to ear and there appears to be plenty of life in the band despite the “by numbers” nature of their last album.
It was now time for one of Metal’s biggest ever acts to grace the stage once again. As the theme tune to “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” cranked up you could feel the anticipation in the audience and when Metallica threw down the opening one, two of “Hit The Lights” and “Master Of Puppets”, Knebworth was completely under their spell. Kirk Hammett’s solos send shivers down the spine and Lars Ulrich guns and thrashes away behind the drums like they insulted his family. Playing a greatest hits set spanning all of their albums ‘Tallica could do little wrong, however it would be nice to see them play a set without “Enter Sandman” for a change. The encore began with all the Big Four getting together for a rendition of Diamond Head’s “Am I Evil” with Diamond Head man Brian Tattler looking like the cat that got the cream. It was touching to see James Hetfield embrace old enemy Dave Mustaine showing they have buried the hatchet. Metallica signed off with a titanic “Creeping Death” sending the fans home happy and setting the bar extremely high for Saturday’s acts to follow.
Following Metallica, it was off to watch Killing Joke slay the Bohemia tent with their powerful post punk. Jaz Coleman remains as unbalanced as ever, giving their gigs the feeling of danger that most acts could only dream of with “Requiem” sounding massive. Following them were barn dance covers act Hayseed Dixie who, despite their initial charm, failed to lure many of the audience away from the beer tent.
Saturday saw Pop Punk kings Bad Religion deliver a strong set on the Apollo stage which kept the crowd’s spirits up, despite the arrival of a few showers but band of the night honours went to British Djent metallers Tesseract who produced a blinder of a performance in a packed Bohemia tent which should have won them a fair few new fans. Miss them on their September tour at your peril. Likewise their former tour mates Periphery delivered a powerful set of prog metal demonstrating that the U.K. is starting to produce some extremely interesting newcomers who should give the American acts a run for their money.
Over on the Jägermeister stage Slam Cartel put on an accomplished showing with some soaring choruses and powerful guitars. Opening with a cover of Talking Heads “Once In A Lifetime” was a bold move but this is an act you should be hearing a lot more from in the future.
One disappointment on Saturday was Gojira. Not the band themselves but the jobsworth security who were trying not to let people in when there was clearly adequate capacity within the Bohemia tent. Gojira may have been packed but there were plenty of other occasions when this approach was adopted which seemed farcical. While the band sounded decent, it was time instead to catch up with The Mars Volta who were in an indulgent mood. M.A. can be hit and miss live when they are in full jazz rock freak-out mode. Although they can be engrossing, there were moments of chin-stroking indulgence this time around.
One band that demonstrated showmanship as well as heaviness were Norwegian black metallers Watain who put on a powerful performance on the Bohemia stage full of fire and blastbeats. As well as being the most extreme band on the bill they were up there with the most entertaining. They certainly gave punters something more powerful to digest rather than the pop rock of Biffy Clyro over on the Apollo stage.
Sunday was back to being a wall to wall rush between bands, starting with a roaring set by Arch Enemy on the Apollo stage. Having failed to really impress on their last couple of outings, A.E. curtailed the guitar histrionics to deliver an aggressive set of melodic death metal.
Likewise Mastodon proved to be an ever evolving beast with numbers from “Crack The Skye” sounding huge. The problem is that they had a tendency to allow their indulgent side to rear its head more times than necessary with some lengthy wig-out sections when you wished they would just have exercised their thunderous power and taken the direct approach a bit more often.
Following a touching two minute silence to commemorate the passing of Slipknot’s Paul Gray, it was up to In Flames to lighten the mood. The Swedes deliver a decent set without being spectacular. When they’re on their game they are fantastic but numbers like “The Quiet Place” with its whiny clean vocals pale in comparison to the likes of “Trigger” and the soaring “Take This Life”.
Aussies Airbourne are much more fun. Joel O’Keeffe did his usual climb to the top of the stage soloing effortlessly from atop the Saturn stage and hedonistic numbers like “Cheap Wine and Cheaper Women” and “Stand Up For Rock ‘N’ Roll” are the perfect soundtrack to partying in the sunshine!
This was still better than the below par performance turned out by Mötörhead. Lemmy looked unwell onstage which was no surprise considering the tragic passing of former ‘Head guitarist Würzel the night before. While they ran through their numbers and held it together, it was clear Lemmy was understandably distracted looking and appeared to be feeling the effects of a heavy night.
Back on the Saturn stage, Opeth put in another mighty shift with the charming Mikael Åkerfeldt getting the audience to headbang to silence which was hilarious. From the delicate “Face Of Melinda” to the brutality of “Masters Apprentice” they held Knebworth in the palm of their hands. It’s a wonder a progressive and heavy act like Opeth have such a mass appeal nowadays but if anyone deserves it they do.
Instead of hitting the frat boy nonsense that was Limp Bizkit’s set it was over to comedic genius Bill Bailey who proved a breath of fresh air even though the weather was against us again. It was touching to see the audience laughing hysterically then pogo-ing like a herd of Kangaroos to songs about supermarkets and his cover of “Scarborough Fair” in the style of Rammstein was fantastic. More please.
That left Slipknot the task of closing the weekend playing a set which lent heavily on their eponymous debut. The Iowa wrecking crew were in top form with vocalist Corey Taylor calling their set “a celebration” in tribute to the late Paul Gray. Wearing their original red boiler suits, this was a nostalgic but relevant performance from one of metal’s most talked about acts. Love them or hate them, you couldn’t deny they put on a hell of a show. “Purity” “Duality” and “Surfacing” were scathing assaults on the senses and it was genuinely touching to see the reaction when Gray’s mask and boiler suit were placed onstage with the band. Let’s hope that, contrary to rumours, this is not the last we see of these masked lunatics. A powerful and exciting way to close a very memorable festival.