SOS FESTIVAL XI – Part II: Manchester, UK

 

Sunday

It’s an indisputable fact that it’s never too early for metal, a fact more than embodied by Avarus who have the unenviable task of getting everybody’s head banging on a Sunday noon with some genuinely impressive metalcore. I’m not normally a fan of metalcore so that last sentence still makes me feel slightly confused and somehow vulnerable. Reminiscent of times of Avenged Sevenfold they show some serious promise. A young band they need to work on their stage performance, turning their backs to the audience between songs and a lack of direct stage banter did let them down somewhat, hopefully, that will come with time and confidence as musically they’ve got it.

Avarus

Between main stage sets we were treated to the talents of Collibus’s Gemma Fox, joined by bandmate Stephen Platt on electric guitar. Gemma still has one of the best voices in the business and it’s always an absolute pleasure to hear her in such intimate surroundings. Hearing her songs stripped down and laid bare along with covers such as The show must go on, and ‘Wrecking Ball’ is always enough to give you goosebumps. Hopefully next year we’ll be treated to the full Collibus experience on the main stage.

Quiet the Thief on the main stage are a bit disappointing, they have clearly been doing it a while as the stage banter is there, but a flat static performance of middle of the road dad rock to a small crowd just falls flat. At times it’s out and out boring, with only the frontman putting in the effort.

Midnight Prophecy bring back the energy to the main stage and it’s clear they really want to be Iron Maiden, they want to be Iron Maiden so much it hurts. Nothing wrong with that of course, if you’re going to choose someone to emulate then it might as well be one of the best. However, I spent most of their set thinking about which Iron Maiden song their current track reminded me of the most, and that was a little too distracting. They’re great performers, bags of energy and a pleasure to watch, and definitely one of my kid’s favourites of the weekend. Singer Craig Cairns has great energy and there’s plenty of movement on stage, but they do need a little touch of something different to make them sound unique, at times it was like watching iron maiden from a parallel universe where all their songs had been written about something else, it would be nice to see them push the envelope a little, at least enough that I wasn’t plagued with the notion of working out which Maiden song this reminded me of.

Delivering a show-stopping performance Voodoo Blood blew the metaphorical ceiling off the venue. I’ve seen them before and they never fail to impress but they’ve really gone from strength to strength over the last year. All hail the groove, blues power is in the house and the house might not remain standing. Their performance was off the charts, singer Kimberley cavorting around the stage, frequently running into and around the audience, leaving punters in palpable anticipation as to what might happen next. Their set is one of vast chaotic energy all held together with one of the most impressive rhythm section going, drums which at time rivaled John Bonham himself, and basslines which make you need to dance along, one of the most exciting live bands I’ve seen in some considerable time.

Making a welcome return to SOS was Liz Owen, who sadly had to pull out of last year’s festival at short notice, it’s always a pleasure to see Liz who is one of my favourite singer-songwriters ever since hearing her at a private gig many years ago she’s someone whose career I’ve followed with interest. Sublime guitar, a frankly gorgeous voice make Liz a pleasure to see anywhere.

Dorja on the main stage are impressive, slow and sensual rock, it takes its time, which may not be to everyone’s taste, indeed the crowd seemed divided with people I would have expected to love it being confused as to why they couldn’t and those who wouldn’t loving it. They have a big smooth sound to their brand of rock, which has a very 80’s feel to it at times. Considering the band consist of very attractive women, it was quite humorous to note that when they came on stage the bar area immediately evacuated of men, as they all gathered around the stage, we can be such simple creatures. Musically they were absolutely flawless, I’m a big fan of Led Zeppelin and it has to be said that their cover of whole lotta love was one of the best I’ve ever heard.

By every objective standard, I should have disliked Fragile Things, a style of hard rock which I’ve not been able to listen to for a long time after spending a good few years as a rock DJ in nightclubs. The only problem was they played their set with so much charisma it totally won me over. Good vocals, decent energy to them, they weren’t original and had a distinctly commercial sound, but that sound is laden with enough catchy hooks and a real sing-along quality it was difficult not to get caught up in their energy, so I did get caught up in it all and thoroughly enjoyed the set.

I’d heard the name Ryders Creed a lot over the past year, a band from around my old stomping grounds who were making a name for themselves rather quickly. Their recent debut album was a good solid debut showing real promise, but I was a bit surprised at how high they were up on the bill. Considering that last year I’d not heard of them and they’d only just had a debut out. As soon as they started playing, however, I knew. Putting on a show which was on par with the amazing Voodoo Blood earlier everyone in the crowd was just caught up in the energy of their live performance. Whilst the debut is a pretty good album and got great reviews, it’s clear that live is where they shine and where they’re forming a reputation as one of the best bands on the circuit. In every way, shape and form Ryders Creed absolutely dominated that stage, catchy riffs and hooks, tremendous energy and stage presence combined with their charisma and on-stage chemistry they personally tied by my reckoning with Voodoo Blood for band of the weekend, amongst some very stiff competition. I have to see them again soon.

Falling Red are a 80’s influenced hair metal band, of all the metal genre’s it has to be said that 80’s hair metal was one of my least favourite, I had some time for some of the harder acts of that style like Motley Crue but in general I was more than happy when Grunge came around and swept it all away. I was therefore somewhat trepidatious when going to see them on stage, luckily for me they had a more modern harder edge to their sound I could appreciate amongst all the catchy riffs, and anthemic songs, in fact, I’m fairly certain the intro to one of their songs was territory by Sepultura. Sure they threw in the cheesy ballad but for a band of a genre, I can’t stand they put on a show that I could actually enjoy, no mean feat.

Bringing the 11th edition of SOSfest to a close were Massive Wagons, a band whose star is very much on the rise lately. Massive Wagons put on a blinder of a performance fuelled in no small part by their frontman Barry Mills, you can’t help but wonder what on earth they must be feeding Barry to have that much energy, having seen him earlier in the press room sporting an ‘eat thunder, shit lightning’ t-shirt I suspect it’s not far from the truth. Like the unexpectedly viable offspring of an unholy union between Bon Scott and The Tasmanian Devil, Barry owns that stage like few performers could dream. Which wouldn’t count for much except the Wagons deliver the goods too with a catchy mix of Hard Rock and charisma that had the crowd hooked immediately, hits like ‘Ratio’ and ‘Tokyo’ and some great songs from their forthcoming album Full Nelson they closed the curtain on SOS in style.

With SOS XI being by far the most successful to date, and next year’s XII being confirmed, despite some speculation this might be its last, I left the festival with the kids without the usual sadness one has after a festival closes. The happiness and sheer joy of the festival were more than enough to counter that, and the excitement of looking forward and speculating to next year’s taking over immediately.

Over the years, despite its small stature SOS has played incubator to a number of bands who are now playing much bigger venues and tours. It’s always great to see the bands playing as there’ll generally be plenty of bands that’ll I’ll see there for the first time. To see the happiness of families with their kids enjoying rock and metal for the first time, and knowing that with festivals like SOS doing so much at grassroots for the metal scene the future of music is alive and well.

SOS FESTIVAL 2018 PART I REVIEW 

WORDS BY RICH PRICE

PHOTOS BY RICH, HOLLY AND DAN PRICE