FESTIVAL REVIEW: Badgerfest 2019 Live at The Breadshed, Manchester

2019 see’s the third installment of what’s becoming an important event in the calendar for the discerning Heavy Metal connoisseur, BadgerFest. The brainchild of the undeniably hardest working man in the Manchester metal scene John Badger, If any qualification of that were needed, aside from it being reiterated by every band of the weekend, as well as their gratitude as to the smooth running, he’s also running the Drumming up Change in November whereby he’ll be playing the drums for the full sets of all ten bands. There’s hard-working and then there’s John Badger.

This little underground fest has been garnering some very serious hype in the underground circles for its previous two outings and I was eager to see if it could live up to the level of hype. This year’s festival is setting up shop in the Bread Shed venue, just at the back of the Flour and Flagon, down in the student part of Manchester, having previously been at rebellion. Street parking is shocking but with the Manchester Aquatics Centre car park only being a very short walk away, and not badly priced considering, all in all, this is a very convenient little festival to get to.

Over its day and a half of running Badgerfest will see 21 bands playing Its Mushroom Stage and slightly smaller Snakes Stage, no doubt 00’s legend Weebl & Bob would be proud of the naming convention.

Opening up the Friday evening were 40,000 Leagues who set the bar HIGH with a fantastic performance on the Mushroom Stage, It was clear everyone involved was having fun right from the start. Singer Nathan is a great frontman with a great voice and knows how to work a crowd, even sitting the crowd down in the final song for some quality Storytime.

Chugging riffs, nice Solo’s and a titanic feel to the drums courtesy of the sound meant that by the time 40,000 Leagues finished their impressive set a number of things were obvious: A) They would be a tough act to follow B) Badgerfest 2019 was going to be something special C) The sound was absolutely on point.

 

With regards to the sound recognising Paul Lord and Mark Strudwick from another local favourite SOS fest was immediately reassuring as that meant that It was pretty much guaranteed to be top quality throughout, and that coupled with the smooth organisation meant that the bands were free to let their performances shine. It was notable throughout just how relaxed the crew and bands were throughout everything.

Next up on the Snakes Stage was the Satanic Blues Rumble of Master Charger who was here to have a drink and a damn good boogie, plenty of enjoyable low-end stoner blues groove. The kind of music that when played at this volume acts like it has remote control of your spine and makes your head nod along.

Dakesis on the second stage was a sublime blend of Prog and Power Metal with a nice balance of technicality and musicality. Their set at times was beautiful, uplifting, powerful and epic. To the point where I apparently stopped making coherent notes and just to writing several times oh my god they can play/sing, cheers brain that’s been very useful. This was an excellent performance with an abundance of obvious on display it was difficult to believe they were just a 4-piece band. Their final song was ‘By the fading light’ a track which has finished their set for a number of years, but this would be the last time for many more years and was an emotional rendition.

Luna’s Call on the Snakes Stage was also technical but decided against beautiful and instead went with beastly. Their progressive Death Metal, shrouded in the darkness they were impressive, stop-start prog elements fused with blast beats and harsh vocal they were yet another impressive band. It’s at this point I thought to myself for the first but certainly not the last that John Badger really knows his bands, although my notepad expressed it with a few more expletives.

Five the Hierophant bought the psychedelics to the mushroom stage and were just jaw-dropping stunning. An otherworldly post-metal sonic landscape which had me scribbling adjectives as they weaved majestically through styles and emotions with a resonating tone through the sound which meant everything hit home at a fundamental level. Hypnotic, Majestic, jarring, dysfunctional, beautiful, their set was an absolute masterpiece that left my mind reeling.

After Desecration had to pull out owing to a family emergency a short changeover meant that Kinasis was a short notice promotion to headline the Friday. A quirky, twitchy, Jittery and dramatic performance added nervous energy to their Djent infused and quite technical death metal set, I’ll be honest after Five the Hierophant I wasn’t quite feeling it as well I might on another day, but nonetheless, a great finish to a day crammed full of quality bands.

Day 2, opened at 13:30 with the annoyingly spelled Portrayal of Ruinn, playing some good melodic deathcore, the highlight of their set was the frontman’s charismatic performance who interacted very well and very enthusiastically with the crowd, it garnered them a good crowd reaction.

First, on the Snakes Stage were Archetype playing some heavy as f*ck instrumental prog which is very much up my street, well maybe not my actual street as they’re from Wales, but you get the idea. To say I enjoyed their set would be an understatement, I loved their set, it was ace, I have merch to prove it. Their music has plenty to keep you interested, a big full sound with plenty of tone to it, good driving energy. The music was articulated well so that it was exciting at both a cerebral level and packed a punch to the gut when required.

Riptide is a band I’ve been looking forward to seeing for some time. A new wave of Thrash Metal band hailing from Huddersfield. The first half of the set was unfortunately marred by the curse of solid red lighting which made it somewhat difficult to see the full extent of the onstage energy, thrash should be bold and brash and well lit, and the sound wasn’t quite crisp enough which initially left me feeling a little underwhelmed initially, the curse of high expectations.

Fortunately, the lighting did improve, and when it did the onstage energy infected the room, the band running across the stage like they were trying to get their step count up to 10k for that half an hour. It became apparent the extent to which they almost literally embody the spirit of thrash became evident to all. Having supported Annihilator only days earlier, they’re a band hyped for bigger things, and it’s easy to see why, Thrash or Die, no compromise!

Introduced as ‘Yonner legends’, Wolfbastard is a force of nature, taking black metal and infusing it with a ferocious D-beat punk energy they absolutely smashed the stage. Replacing the usual northern darkness with northern humour and songs about being sick in the bath, drinking beer and anecdotes about certain things looking like a punched lasagne. Playing their first gig of the day before heading down the M6 to headline Unearthed Fest in Birmingham, who no doubt enjoyed them as much as the crowd loved them here.

Keeping up a head-spinning pace in-band change over times Zhora then started on the Mushroom stage. Playing progressive sludge, they had a big tone to their performance, playing with what felt like some interesting time signatures, but it was quite difficult to pinpoint the technicalities behind the wall of sound: When I say wall of sound their sound was as solid as a brick wall, like a relentless tone juggernaut, helped by the layering of four vocalists doing harsh vocals, the sound on Mushroom stage was perfect for them.

Having a short break is difficult to do, the relentless schedule with 22 bands spaced only 5 minutes apart can be a long day when reviewing, after a few hours of bouncing from band to band like a demented pinball and honestly I was beginning to feel it a little bit, I’d planned to grab something to eat around this time.

However, Beyond Salvation didn’t really care for my plans and insisted on being ace. It wasn’t just me who thought that they played to one of the biggest and packed out crowds thus far. Tight catchy riffs, great presence, on-stage energy and flow to their set, albeit with a somewhat questionable wardrobe. This was a great set with a modern take on traditional heavy metal this was a genuinely awesome set, much to the annoyance of my rumbling stomach.

Right then Sworn Amongst, please be even a bit rubbish, please I’m starving give me a reason to get some food. No, you’re also going to smash it! Okay then. Dammit Badger, with this band selection you’re really going to affect my waistline. I need something to eat but Sworn Amongst has so much energy I’m drawn to them, I’m not even that much of a fan of Metalcore but their huge energy and tight riffing are both hypnotic and infectious and I end up watching their full set too.

Next up was Barbarian Hermit, a band I’ve seen and enjoyed many times. It was nice to see a return of their sartorial elegance, they always put on a good show and today was no exception, but I did finally manage to force myself out halfway through their set to grab myself a falafel wrap from around the corner and return to catch Blanket. Therefore, despite Mr Badgers concerted effort to ensure I lost a lot of weight that day, I remain on the portly side of life.

Suitably fuelled, despite an annoying attempt at buying a coke from the flour and flagon. I return to catch Blankets set. Paying close to £4 for a pint of coke only to have it half-filled and the bloke behind the bar walk-off and ignore me was probably the only actual low point. I did take advantage of the newsagents around the corner offer of two cans for £1.30 and spent the difference on merch though, so all’s good.

Another discovery of the weekend, Blanket was exactly what was needed at that point in the day. I sat back in the photo pit and thoroughly enjoyed their set. Classing themselves as a Cinematic-Emo-Visual-Art-Rock Band there were several similarities to scene contemporaries such as Nordic Giants or even the Shoegaze side of Alcest. Watching them, shrouded in darkness backed by visuals, with their music was indeed as comforting and relaxing as being wrapped in a warm blanket. Indescribable but nonetheless brilliant, the musical equivalent of a long exhale.

In retrospect, it’s a damn good thing that I had refueled and caught my breath because what was to follow for the next half an hour was one of the most insane gigs I’ve been to. The Working Man defy description. I feel that the term WTF was probably coined at the exact same moment the band was created and they should remain intrinsically linked. Probably at the most superficial level, they have a Green Jelly kind of vibe to them. Musically they’re very good, the drumming especially, but they’re also very silly indeed, and I use the term very silly indeed with the maximum available Monty Python overtones possible.

There’s a fine line between genius and insanity, which side this was on remains unclear, this had to be seen to be believed: I saw it and I’m still not entirely sure I believe it myself. The fact it ended in some sort of on-stage orgy between an Old woman, a werewolf and a badger and any time eye contact was made in the audience it resulted in a shrug, a mouthed ‘I don’t know either’ coming from a very wide smile is probably description enough, but suffice to say if you EVER get the chance to see these live then do it, and then you too can be as confused as the rest of us, brilliant stuff. Their albums have had more than a few listens since making my way home.

Following on from that was Jonestown and there was a moment when the singers’ intense stare could either have been the result of psyching himself up for the show or he too was also trying to process what he’d just seen with The Working Man’s set. It did to be fair turn out to be the former as their performance was absolutely commanding in its intensity and vitality. I had more notes than that, but my notebook got absolutely destroyed later during Mortishead’s fierce set, so my notes from Jonestown’s set largely look like the bottom of a boot.

Mastiff followed that up well If I’ve used the term bludgeoning before then consider it redefined, this set was the definition of that, the music a mix of doomy sludge and hardcore punctuated with vocals aggressively barked at the audience. The band barely visible lit only by a static red light, their music brutal, stark and utterly uncompromising. Nice!

Having seen them a few times before it felt that with Mortishead largely shrouded behind red lights it was difficult to capture the full extent of their full-on industrial fused extreme metal. Don’t worry they have plenty of energy to go around, indeed they’re a band infused with such rabidity they might well be considered legitimately dangerous at close quarters. The most obvious (e.g. lamest) comparison I’ve read is probably early Slipknot, but it rings true, so I’ll agree with it.

Mortishead are great and have come a long way since I first saw them playing the new blood stage back in 2015, and again last year. It’s great seeing them progressing and playing in such a high position on this bill, they certainly deserve success as they’re great live. I shouldn’t have left my notebook on the barrier step though as it got royally f*cked with the bass player jumping about on it, I even got pictures of it happening, but didn’t realise at the time, now resembling a paper-mache boot print, I made an extra effort to remember what had happened.

Post-Metal, an often-overlooked genre elsewhere was well represented at Badgerfest. The final time with HYOM closing the Snakes stage, and after some initial technical difficulties, they were simply mesmerising, and no less intense than Mortishead but in different ways. Playing again to a big crowd, again helped by a huge sound and tone, was truly epic. Considering that every time I’ve seen them the line up seems to have changed somewhat it’s genuinely remarkable how tight they continue to be with their live performance. Their music is crushingly heavy yet retains a liberating quality that makes you feel free from the perversely uplifting sonic destruction they deliver.

The final band of the weekend were Hecate Enthroned, it’s been a while since I’ve seen them, but they have also changed line-up since then. I must say I think I prefer this one, their vocalist is decent enough and has plenty of banter with the crowd, mainly weight-related, although one of the best suggestions for the name of the third stage at next year’s festival being straight out of old school Bodger and Badger reference of the Mashed Potato I think has to be a winner.

When performing the vocals are savage and he absolutely nails it. Throughout the set there were plenty of mosh pits going on, circle pits push pits, etc. The music was tight and ensure that Badgerfest 2109 was going out on a high. Hecate put on a blistering set with new songs and a few going back to their very first album.

Overall this was a killer weekend, as stated by almost every band John Badger truly is the hardest working man in the Manchester metal scene and he really does know how to put on a metal festival. The dedication and hard work shone through every aspect of this still fledgeling festival. Almost every band were enthusing in their sets about how well run the festival was organised, and that also shone through in the quality of performance. Not only that but it’s also obvious that there was thought as to how the overflow of the line-up worked together and how one band followed another to keep the pace and momentum of the event too.

In a market with hundreds of festivals coming and going with frightening regularity, it’s great to see a Festival of this quality, especially a DIY one, which is obviously going to last. It’s a certainty that this is going to become a big quality event very soon. I’ve discovered more than a few bands this weekend too who are almost certainly destined for bigger things. I’d heard good things before I went and I was almost looking to be disappointed, nothing can be that good, but it was absolute quality, and worthy of the hype it’s generating. All hail the Badger, and roll on Badgerfest 2020!

WORDS AND PHOTOS BY RICH PRICE