At seventy-three years old, Ozzy Osbourne has virtually nothing left to accomplish and even less to prove. TV personality, singer/songwriter, occasional actor and co-founder of an entire genre of music, if there’s anyone in the world of hard rock and metal who deserves to put their feet up with a pair of comfy slippers and a hot cup of cocoa then it’s the lovable Brummie seemingly incapable of using a television remote control.
The final day of a festival is often filled with many emotions: a wonderful weekend sadly coming to an end; another day spent celebrating brilliant innovative and life affirming music; hours spent trying to dry your tent out… So it again proved with Sunday at Download.
Leaden skies greet the hordes either nursing hangovers of epic proportions or gathering their belongings for the trudge back to cars and the dreaded long trip home. It’s cold on the field so a bit of warming up is required. Bacon rolls and coffee do part of the job but Dead Daisies do the rest in a punchy late morning slot that has a much bigger crowd than perhaps even they were expecting. Dead Daisies inhabit that strange world where it is perpetually 1986, eternally sun-soaked California and every band is the last gang in town, riding steel horses into sunsets or the arms of star crossed maidens. As you have probably guessed, I thought it was terrific and an object lesson in how to warm up a crowd.
Sweden’s h.e.a.t. have gathered plenty of plaudits for their two albums of 80’s inspired rock and from this performance it’s easy to see why – they are pumped full of energy and chutzpah and have a genuine love of big tunes and even bigger riffs. It may not be the most original sound of the day but it does the job very nicely indeed. Finland’s Von Hertzen Brothers finish the morning off in predictably brilliant fashion with vocalist Mikko Von Hertzen channelling his best John Travolta via a natty white suit that he does well not to get covered in the ubiquitous festival mud. The VHB brand of rock is so packed full of intelligence and hummable tunes, particularly the peerless ‘Flowers and Rust’, it does make you scratch your head as to why these guys aren’t absolutely massive but their time will come…..Please make it so.
Backyard Babies’ raucous and efficient cock rock gives way to the studied and equally efficient metal of Mark Tremonti who does Alter Bridge without the tunes (if you’re not a convert) and Alter Bridge with added metal (if you are). I’m in the latter camp, as are most of an appreciative if slightly wet crowd on the main stage. The new songs from his second album, Cauterize seem to stand up equally well with the more familiar tunes from All I Was (both Fret12) too. Boxes ticked, job done.
Blackberry Smoke are the perfect band for a warm sunset, cold beers and a barbecue, so the presence of rain, wind, rain and some more rain probably didn’t help their cause but I found their performance compelling in an insouciant and entirely charming way. Billy Idol, by contrast, is a bit of a man for all seasons and you can tell why: he has an arsenal of hits that most bands would give their right arm for. You have to pinch yourself that this is 2015 and not 1985 but Idol turns in an effortless performance of crowd pleasers that you know and love- of course there’s ‘White Wedding’ and ‘Rebel Yell’ but it’s ‘Flesh for Fantasy’ and ‘Eyes Without a Face’ that are the standout tunes. Idol has this look of a man who won the lottery, the football pools and the EuroMillions over one weekend – he simply cannot quite believe that he is still the draw that he is – and, even more brilliant, no one in the crowd seems to begrudge him one iota of his considerable success. Bless him.
In much the same way that people gripe about Cavalera Conspiracy and how it’s not the REAL Sepultura (yawn, boring, get over it) so there is a similar constituency that seems to surround former Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash and his latest incarnation with Myles Kennedy from Alter Bridge. Honestly, I don’t know what the problem is: what’s not to love about an artist playing a blinding set of classic song after classic song peppered with huge tune after huge tune from his latest solo records? I tell you what’s not to love: nothing. Slash clearly writes mega tunes in his sleep and his set is one hour of aural bliss. The 55,000 or so on the main field lap it up like a horde of very thirsty Pavlovian dogs. And rightly so.
Likewise, the same old situation (song pun entirely intended) for LA’s Motley Crue. Crue, midway through a thoroughly deserved and valedictory world tour to say farewell are another act that many can’t seem to wait to sneer at. “It would be better if Vince Neil could sing better”- kids, Vince Neil hasn’t been able to sing since 1981. This isn’t the point at all. Crue are about the glamour, the sleaze, the rock, the roll, the girls, girls, girls. They bring a show that is part rock opera, part vaudeville, all fire and brimstone. Of course they are absurd and ridiculous- THAT IS THE WHOLE POINT. It is absolutely silly and absolutely brilliant- all at the same time.
And so we come, finally, inexorably, to the self-styled hottest band in the world, Kiss. Arriving on site in a fully badged up Kiss-copter, the New York quartet turn this corner of a foreign field into a veritable circus of pomp, circumstance and old style rock n roll. There are stadium rock shows and then there is a Kiss show. There isn’t one second that passes by in this blistering set where there isn’t something going on – fireworks, drum risers, zip wires, crowd singalongs, flame throwing, blood vomiting all in glorious technicolour and all set to a soundtrack that you know and love. As an end to the best music festival I know, it is both fitting and invigorating.
I’ve booked my place for next year already.
Guns N’Roses, Aerosmith, Whitesnake, Def Leppard, Iron Maiden, ‘Nothing Else Matters’, Skid Row, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Bon Jovi, Billy Idol, Faith No More, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Nine Inch Nails, Bowling For Soup, Korn, Slipknot… who was it for you? Who was your Gateway band? Maybe the list I’ve given shows my age a bit, but it makes a point. For people to get to their Indian’s and Portal’s or even their Behemoth’s and Winterfylleth there needs to be something to guide them on their way and introduce them to the fold.
And just because we’ve (and I don’t mean Ghost Cult, per se) have decided there’s a “cool” line in the sand and the “mainstream” is above that line and therefore not worthy, or kvlt or true enough, doesn’t mean that it corresponds that there isn’t quality, valid, exciting and interesting music going on in the more commercial arena of our rock and metal world.
It also doesn’t mean there always is…
Perhaps Black Veil Brides IV (Lava/Universal Republic) is the wrong album to be having that discussion on, and perhaps that discussion should take place around Avenged Sevenfold, or more pertinently Mastodon, or Slipknot. Though what about non-Killswitch Engage “metalcore” and bands with slopey fringes and bits of emo? See, it’s OK to talk Mastodon, they were underground who got popular, and it’s OK to talk Slipknot, they’re allowed, but not Trivium. “We” have decided they’re not “real”. And we definitely can’t talk Black Veil Brides. They’re girlfriend metal. All image. Style over substance. All their fans are teenagers… I have a one word answer to that. Kiss. OK, all their fans may no longer be teenagers, but they were forty years ago. The biggest whores to image and commerciality are classic, timeless legends. Also, the more observant of you will have noticed the Motley Crue-dipped-in-tar look has quietly been banished to the back of the BVB wardrobe.
OK, context set, bullshit blustered, let’s address the album at hand. If you’ve consciously avoided Black Veil Brides, or never strayed onto rock radio or video stations, their sound is well established by now and there are no surprises in that respect. There are smatterings of more recent Disturbed and a load of metalcore-lite (but with the thrashy bits removed), all combined with Andy Biersack’s clean baritone that sounds slightly out of place, and, well, a little short of the presence you’d expect from a voice fronting one of rock’s big bands. He’s not even a David Draiman let alone an Axl Rose.
Where IV also falls down is that it doesn’t have the stand out track, the big anthem, that its predecessors had, as even best of the bunch, ‘Drag Me To The Grave’ falls short compared to the not-as-good-as-the-Poison-song-of-the-same-name ‘Fallen Angels’, or their best song, and genuine quality rock anthem ‘In The End’. Without that big single to hang the album on, we’re left with a bunch of samey songs that are perfectly decent in their own right, but don’t make you raise your fist and yell…
While it is worth noting that BVB may be a gateway band for the many and the millions, it’s also worth noting that this is not the album to pitch this particular argument on. When considering the context of “mainstream” rock/metal albums, this doesn’t have the songs of a Ten Thousand Fists (Disturbed – Reprise), the swagger of a Hail To The King (Avenged Sevenfold – Warners), the intelligence of a Once More ‘round The Sun (Mastodon – Reprise) or the depth and genius of The Black Parade (My Chemical Romance – Reprise). It’ll do well for them, of that I’m sure, but in the annals of time it won’t even be held up as the first, second or even third best, Black Veil Brides album to date, let alone achieve any status higher than that.