Ten years is one hell of a good run for any music festival, but for one with the DIY, underground origins of Ghostfest, it’s a monumental achievement. Beginning in Leeds in 2005, the festival has showcased the best in UK underground metal and hardcore every year (except 2007) with more than a few international acts along for the ride. Early fests featured artists as diverse as Bring Me The Horizon, Cult of Luna and The Berzerker, but since 2009 the emphasis has strongly been on deathcore and hardcore with beatdowns and neck tatts the order of the day.
Venturing out of Leeds for the first time this year with a show in Bristol, the future for Ghostfest appeared rosy but a mid-week announcement that this year’s event would likely be the last had undeniably cast a shade over proceedings. That being said, there was a strong turnout at the Motion and Marble Factory (also the venue for the revered Temples Festival) with the audience determined to enjoy a full day of seriously angry music.
After a delay caused by, of all things, deer on the motorway, the savage death metal-cum-hardcore of Venom Prison rattles the rafters of the Warehouse stage (actually a cow shed) before Casey do their best to enthral with an intriguing set of eerie post-hardcore heavily reliant on wavering guitar-led ambience as well as obligatory crushing riffs. They’re not quite there yet but the ideas are good. Up next are the energetic and impassioned Blood Youth who play as if they’re headlining Wembley despite only having one EP to their name, with tracks such as the anthemic ‘Failure’ calling to mind a more emotive Modern Life is War.
Over on the Marble stage, the furious black metal style assault of Oathbreaker goes over the heads of the br00tal kids in the crowd, but for those who stick around, their utterly furious barrage of Converge-meets-Wolves In The Throne Room noise is nothing short of spellbinding, with frontwoman Caro Tanghe’s hunched over Sadako (evil girl from The Ring) impression a perfect visual contrast to the restless energy of the guitarist and bassist.
And now for something completely different…
Is Ghostfest really the place for an acoustic set from a small girl playing Fall Out Boy covers as well as her own material? You bet your longsleeve Nails shirt it is, as a visibly nervous Siana Sweeney aka Seafoal takes the stage and proceeds to wow all in attendance with her simply stunning voice and gentle guitar playing. A nice bit of backing ambience from a friend on electric guitar helps the songs come to life and although only thirty or so people are present, the change of pace is welcome, the voice a tonic, and her appearance on the bill wholly justified.
French manga obsessives Rise Of The Northstar are a big draw for many here today and as a result, it’s virtually impossible to get anywhere near their set over on the Marble stage but they certainly give it their all, with bouncy riffs and hip-hop laced vocals jostling for prominence. Unfortunately a muddy sound neuters their impact somewhat which is a shame, for tracks such as ‘Demonstrating My Saiya Style’ have the potential to sound absolutely massive.
Ghostfest crowds love a good beatdown and Southampton wrecking crew Desolated have them in spades. Unfortunately that’s all they’ve really got going for them and the repeated bass drops are like catnip for that curious species armspinner pitwanker who get their kicks from punching innocent bystanders. Sadly, their cretinous behaviour mars several of today’s sets.
The large Motion stage is where Heart Of A Coward looks most at home with their powerful, if slightly generic metalcore sounding huge, with vocalist Jamie Graham working the crowd like a pro. However, said crowd is surprisingly sparse for a band that has packed the tent at Download not too long ago. That’s possibly because the cowshed (sorry, Warehouse) stage is filling up in anticipation for the visceral deathcore of Martyr Defiled, who play one of the sets of the day as cuts from last year’s No Hope. No Morality (Century Media) cut a swath through the throng and prove just how far the Lincoln lads have come since their below-par early days.
Having said that, they don’t draw nearly as many punters as reunited deathcore daddies Despised Icon, who deliver a systematic pummelling over on Motion as the poseurs and imitators in attendance are well and truly crushed. The dual vocal assault of Alexandrie Erian and Steve Marois may have been derided in the past, but it’s in the live environment where their presence is really felt. Plus you simply can’t fuck with tracks as brutal yet well-crafted as ‘A Fractured Hand’ and ‘In the Arms of Perdition.’ How long they’ll stick around for is anyone’s guess, but their existence is proof that the dreaded ‘D’ word isn’t so dirty after all.
After Emmure, the only logical band to close proceedings is Hatebreed, an act pretty much every band on the bill owes their existence to. Jamey Jasta’s band of brothers are a lean, mean, metallic hardcore machine and are one of the few acts to transcend the bridge between metal and hardcore, something they achieve not only with their sheer professionalism, but by having a set of seriously catchy yet hard hitting anthems that fans of Slayer and Agnostic Front can dig equally. Tonight’s set has an air of triumphalism about it, with a career-spanning setlist that has heads banging, arms flailing and fists pumping from front to back.
If this does prove to be the last Ghostfest, it will be a cause for sorrow. The vast majority of the bands here are hard working, don’t rely on major labels, and constantly have to put up with arseholes claiming they’re “not metal” because they wear bandanas instead of face-paint. However, there is the lingering sense that it may have run its course. A glance at the bills for previous events shows a troubling recycling of acts, with some bands seemingly guaranteed a place on the line-up year-in-year-out. With such a vibrant hardcore scene in the UK and beyond, there is certainly a deep pool for the organisers to dip into. The reasons for the ominous announcement concerning the fest’s future are still unknown at time of going to press so it wouldn’t be appropriate to speculate. So if this does prove to be Ghostfest’s last stand, it certainly went out with a massive fucking bang.
WORDS BY JAMES CONWAY
PHOTOS BY STEVE WATKINS