Knebworth, Stately homes, pastures green, and for 3 days in July, home to an army of over 50,000 devil horn throwing punters gathered for all that is good and unholy from the world of Heavy Metal.
Friday saw The Prodigy headline, who seem to play more rock than dance festivals these days. It was also the first of Anthrax’s 2 appearances that weekend, playing the ‘Among the Living’ album and a main stage appearance on the Saturday. Saturday also saw Swedish band ‘Ghost’ play the Apollo stage, the band dressed entirely in robes and masks, and the singer dressed as some kind of ‘Anti Pope’, they play a sort of Orchestral Satanic Pop Metal that is at once theatrical, whimsical and even catchy. I have no idea how serious they are or if it’s all a bit tongue in cheek, but it’s totally entertaining. Especially as the singer sounds exactly like ‘Gru’ from ‘Despicable Me’ with ‘mittle European villain eccent’.
Frank Turner plays a stormer of a set with rousing acoustic driven folk punk sing-alongs. His inclusion plays tribute to the diversity of the line up – Dropkick Murphys, Gary Numan, even Chas and Dave all play this weekend, taking apart the myth that “Metal” fans are closed minded.
The Deftones also play a well received set, but for some reason I just can’t get into them. I should like them, they’re different and innovative but…meh. ‘My own summer’ is a great tune though.
Next up, the music is put aside while a WWI dogfight takes place in the skies above, organised and flown by Iron Maidens’ Bruce Dickenson in a German Triplane, with members of The Great War Display Team . It’s an interesting and spectacular gear shift to the day.
Slayer take the Saturn stage to blast through their impressive back catalogue. It’s always a bit weird seeing Slayer in daylight but it doesn’t diminish the power of ‘War Ensemble’ or ‘Dead Skin Mask’. The backdrop falls away for ‘Angel of Death’ to reveal a new backdrop: “Hanneman 1964-2013” (in the style of a Heineken logo) in tribute of their former guitarist. A fitting end to a great set.
Which just leaves Iron Maiden to bring the night to a close. With a massive ice themed stage set, and slightly hammy theatrics, it would be easy to poke fun at Maiden, but try telling that to their die hard fans. Maiden deliver and then some, with songs like ‘Number of the beast,’ ‘Can I Play with Madness’ and ‘Fear of the dark’ getting every Devil Horn raised and every throat singing. Truly epic.
Sunday sees The Devin Townsend Project bring their epic songs to the main stage. Devin, he of goofy metal expressions and unbridled joy for the music he makes, is an unstoppable force of musical invention and charisma. Who else would start their set with an announcement that “This is weird and I need to pee”. Devin seems to be having so much fun that he pops back onstage regularly throughout the day to introduce bands and generally have a laugh.
Aussie nutcases Airbourne take the stage next, with Joel O’Keefe singing, and soloing like it’s last day on earth. Playing a blue collar, hard working no nonsense brand of rock n’roll, that owes no small amount to AC/DC, Airbourne are more fun than you could ask for. With stage antics that include opening beer cans with his head, or climbing the lighting rig to solo atop it, there’s no let up in the energy.
The Dropkick Murphys, have a similar repertoire of hard drinking, hard living songs, albeit from the perspective of Irish American Bostonians. Punk, Irish Trad and AC/DC (again) all get thrown in the mix that makes for a set that brings the air of a dark boozy Boston bar out into the open fields. ‘Rose Tattoo’ ‘Black Velvet Band’ and ‘Shipping up to Boston’ (made famous by it’s use in the film ‘The Departed’) are all greeted with fists raised.
If the previous 2 bands were fuelled by hedonistic abandon, Mastodon are on a different kind of trip altogether. Playing dense intricate arrangements that power over everything before it, they truly are impressive. At times it feels like meditation, you literally lose yourself in the density of it all, and if your attention wanders you have to find your way back inside. Which is not intended as a criticism, Mastodon are worth the effort and have tunes aplenty, but wow, those rehearsals must take some time.
Therapy take the Bohemia stage to play their album ‘Infernal love’ in it’s entirety. Having already done so in previous years with (the superior) ‘Troublegum’. ‘Stories’ is a great single, but apart from that the album does indulge itself perhaps a little much, and I’ve been a Therapy fan since they played my college bar back in “the day”. Still they finish off with a couple of golden oldies, and play with the same intensity as always so fair play.
Alice in Chains are the penultimate band of the night, and have a back catalogue most other bands would kill for. However it never really seems to take off, singer William Duvall is having a ball, but Layne Stanley doesn’t seem entirely into it. Regardless, it’s great to sing along to soaring anthems like “Would”, “Man in a Box” and “Rooster”.
Which just leaves one small band to finish: METALLICA. Playing a set almost entirely voted for by fans, which as it turns out to be, almost exactly the same as every other Metallica setlist – ‘One’ check, ‘Enter Sandman’ check. We also get new song ‘Lords of Summer’ plus a rousing version of Thin Lizzys’ ‘Whiskey in the Jar’ before an encore of ‘..And Justice for all’ and ‘Seek and Destroy’. Metallica have come from the underground, entered the mainstream and it seems now they’re through to the other side, where they can do what they want on a grand scale. Roll out the greatest hits every summer? sure, record an avant garde almost unlistenable album with Lou Reed? why not. Which makes them not only one of the most interesting metal bands around but also the last of their kind. There will never be another rock band this big, or this magnificent.
In closing I want to say well done to Sonisphere, bar a few hiccups it’s a really well run festival, good atmosphere, friendly staff. Sure the beer and food’s expensive, but the line up and fun factor makes it worth the trip.
Till next time. \m/
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