A Swarm Of The Sun – The Woods

It has been three years since Scandinavian-based duo A Swarm Of The Sun released the critically acclaimed album The Rifts. The time taken between records serves them well, with each release being more absorbing than its predecessor. The Woods (both self-released/Version Studio) is no exception, taking the band down a distinctly bleaker path, with a slow and menacing atmosphere that evokes a sense of unease akin to the feeling being watched by something unseen and malevolent. Continue reading

Shattered Skies – Muted Neon

In the decade since Djent first hit the scene boasting algebraic riffs, yet also throwing back to the likes of Tangerine Dream’s spell-binding atmosphere. With Meshuggah being the catalyst and the lead that many of the scenes alumni would take inspiration, at the outset, it was a thriving community of bands and their ravenous fans. Continue reading

Muse – Simulation Theory

Over the years Muse have become the masters of reinvention, seemingly able to transform between albums and constantly keeping their fan base guessing as to what direction they would go next. Even with this fluctuating history, their eighth studio output Simulation Theory (Warner Bros.) was a high-stakes gamble, even for Muse. Continue reading

Etherius – Thread Of Life EP

When it comes to instrumental music, bands find themselves with the added challenge of how to captivate an audience without the charisma of a vocalist or a noticeable member fronting the band. It is not surprising then to discover the caliber of bands in the post-metal/post-rock community and the high bar they are setting fledgling ensembles that attempt to bring something new to the table. Continue reading

Bloodstock Festival: Day Three – Catton Hall, UK

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As the final day of Bloodstock 2015 begins, it is once again with the shock of no sign of rain once again. Someone, somewhere must have made some kind of sacrifice to some form of deity to ward off the rain and giving perfect sunshine for the entire weekend. No doubt the usual washout day will rear its head again next year, but for today, there is plenty of heavy metal to enjoy.

Kicking off proceedings for the day is one very annoying clash between atmospheric black metaller’s Agalloch on the main stage and British heavy metal masters Triaxis, who reward the rammed Sophie Tent by assuredly knocking the cobwebs of people’s hangovers away with a spectacular showcase of straightforward but massively enjoyable metal. New cuts like ‘Liberty’ and ‘Death Machine’ prove just as immediate and strong as fan-favourites like ‘Black Trinity’ as they show just why they one of the brightest lights on the British metal scene today, as today’s set feels hugely triumphant. The same can’t quite be said for the following The Izuna Drop who’s electronica bass drop tinged sounds are interesting in principle but doesn’t translate well today as a thin, curious crowd quickly empties even further.

For all the critics of the modern day incarnation of Sepultura (WAH! THERES NO MAX CAVALERA ITS NOT SEPULTURA!) they’re overlooking three important factors: Firstly Derrick Green has been a part of the band by now longer than Max ever was. Secondly the band that they are today is a very different beast to the Max incarnation; yes they play the hits like ‘Roots Bloody Root’ and ‘Refuse/Resist’ but with a somewhat different tone to those days. And thirdly, they still pack a hell of a punch, giving a strong, somewhat safe set with very few surprises (other than a brand new song aired) but one that is never less exciting than before, as the main stage crowd gives a huge response, especially to those aforementioned hits.

The likes of Agalloch and Belphegor may have suffered some of their atmospherics due to the sunshine on the main stage, so its fortunate for Saille that they perform to a darker, more intense Sophie tent, where their brooding, melodic brand of black metal is allowed its full impact. Mostly static but full of intensity, their vivid tales inspired but the likes of H.P. Lovecraft proof menacing but so captivating, and they have surely made a tonne of new friends in this instance.

You always know what you’re going to get with Cannibal Corpse, from the bludgeoning barrage of their music to the recognisable stage introductions (“This song is about shooting blood from your cock”) but it never withers in intensity, and today they are as strong and reliant as ever. The staggering amount of crowd surfers during this set tells you how well they have gone down today, and why they are such a firm live favourite.

It may be hot outside, it may be the evening of the last day, but people still want to have a bloody good time, and apparently a bit of a boogie. Good job French swing/death metal oddballs Trepalium are at hand with perhaps the surprise set of the entire weekend. Not a huge name by any means on these shores but they pack out the Sophie tent, and after a confusing sound-check, absolutely explode. Volatile death metal meets catchy, jazz like passages with stunning effect as the what could possibly be the biggest moshpit the tent has seen all weekend is surrounded by people dancing like loons to four sharply dressed musicians and a shirt-less, voodoo mask like painted nutter of a vocalist. An unexpected highlight as they prove one of the bands of the weekend.

Zakk  Wylde

Zakk Wylde

All three headliners this year were subject to vitriolic responses on the internet forums at their announcement, but today’s headliner Rob Zombie probably received the most flak. Coupled with the memory of recent, stripped back festival appearances not gaining plaudits and there is a swell of anticipation amongst excited fans and those who seem to be there simply wishing for a car crash performance. Not to mention the catastrophic stage problems that plagued Trivium and Within Temptation, there is a feeling that anything could happen; fortunately for the excited throng, all goes well this time around.

 

 

 

Rob Zombie, photo credit  Fiaz Farrelly

Rob Zombie, photo credit Fiaz Farrelly

 Rob Zombie, photo credit  Fiaz Farrelly

Rob Zombie, photo credit Fiaz Farrelly

Opening with a storming ‘Teenage Nosferatu Pussy’, Rob Zombie’s part b-movie horror flick, part cartoon brand of industrial metal proves an excellent festival closer which oozes fun. Zombie himself proves very charismatic (if at times forced) whilst the excellent pair of John 5 and Piggy D jostle and challenge for attention on stage, both giving show stealing, virtuoso performances and their own unique visuals. Coupled with such a strong arsenal of songs and it seems silly to think how it could have failed; although there seems to be reliance on a couple of famous covers to gather some momentum: an awkward rendition of James Brown’s ‘Get Up…’ and note perfect, nothing special renditions of ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ and ‘Schools Ou’” which surely take time away from songs people may have wanted to hear. That being said the likes of ‘Superbeast’, ‘More Human Than Human’ and a rarely aired ‘Pussy Liquor’ hit the spot, bringing the festivities to a euphoric close on the main stage (for those who still have energy and urging for a more claustrophobic disposition, Godflesh pack out the tent later on in the night).

 Rob Zombie, photo credit Fiaz Farrelly

Rob Zombie, photo credit Fiaz Farrelly

Over the weekend some issues reared their heads again, from the stage show suffering of black metal bands in broad daylight to the near comical amount of main stage difficulties which nearly derail many a set, but none of this can detract from a tremendous weekend that gave fantastic weather and even better bands.

See you in a year Catton Hall.

 

CHRIS TIPPELL and SARAH WORSLEY

Bloodstock Festival: Day Two- Catton Hall, UK

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With the Sophie Lancaster Stage headliners finishing late into the night, as well as other forms of entertainment in the arena or the Serpent’s Lair VIP Area (or for the less brave of course, beers at the tent), you’d be forgiven for thinking the atmosphere would be a little subdued on the Saturday, especially considering the scorching heat the day before. Far from it however, as Saturday greets all with even hotter weather (thankfully there are plenty of water stations and surprisingly small queues) and another day of some of the best and most exciting bands the metal world has to offer.

A relaxed and lazy morning means the days viewing kicks off in the Sophie tent with British death metallers Ageless Oblivion, whose dark atmospherics try to detract from the sunshine outside. Pulling in a strong crowd, they prove why they are one of the most exciting bands on the UK extreme metal scene, complete with unpredictability structures and relentless viciousness with hypnotic majesty.

The small size of the festival arena proves a blessing as Ageless Oblivion wrap up their set just as prog/tech metallers Xerath take to the main stage within seconds. With a large, attentive crowd Xerath prove that they are more than worthy of the upgrade from their last time here on the second stage, as their progressive tendencies hit the mark alongside a tonne of fat grooves, perfectly catering for all. The stage size does not seem to daunt them as they give a confident and crushing display.

Korpiklaani, photo credit Sabrina Ramdoyal

Korpiklaani, photo credit Sabrina Ramdoyal

Normally benefiting from people wanting to shelter from near monsoon conditions, its truly heart-warming to see masses of people supporting those bands that have come from far climes, especially when they are as good as the first of two Indonesian bands on the bill today, Jasad. As they take the stage they are greeted with a near packed tent and a euphoric response which clearly humbles them as the band can hardly contain their smiles throughout. Combined with brilliant death metal and frontman Mohammed Rohman’s sense of humour and this proves one of the most fun and triumphant sets of the weekend.

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Napalm Death, photo credit Sabrina Ramdoyal

Very few bands are as consistently brilliant both live and on record as Napalm Death so its unsurprising that they are consistently great form today, and the huge response they get from the crowd makes this a no surprises but incredible set.

It has to be pointed out the diversity that, appropriately, the Sophie Lancaster Stage presents over the weekend, brings some of the weekend’s greatest moments. Right near the top has to be the second Indonesian band of the day, Burgerkill as once again a packed out tent and the chaos that ensues proves truly heartening. The massive grins that adorn each member tells the story as the moshpits almost takes over the entire front of the tent. As Oaf’s Dom Lawson makes a guest appearance the importance of today for the band is abundantly clear, and they took it by storm.

Opeth, photo credit Fiaz Farrelly

Opeth, photo credit Fiaz Farrelly

Opeth are no strangers to the Ronnie Jamies Dio (main) stage, having headlined twice, once in the place of Heaven & Hell who cancelled due to the sad passing of the man for whom the stage is now named. They could play in a nightclub car park and still exude the same amount of beauty and brutality as they do co-headlining a festival. Love their progressive direction or loathe it, Opeth never fail to impress as ten thousand mesmerised fan sway to ‘The Devils Orchard’, then moments later headbang to ‘Deliverance’, showing symmetry with the bands diverse back catalogue.

Within Temptation, photo credit Fiaz Farrelly

Within Temptation, photo credit Fiaz Farrelly

To quote the mighty Taylor Swift – “haters gonna hate” – and those die-hard Bloodstockers who scoffed or spewed ignorant and hateful babble when Within Temptation were announced certainly did. They can be spotted a mile off, standing with their arms folded waiting for the Dutch symphonic metallers to suck harder than Lars’ drumming. But they don’t – so ha! Each song is performed with heart and soul, with the set culled mainly from the more recent Hydra (BMG/Universal) and The Unforgiving (Roadrunner) albums, and the unity the crowd feel with the band is a testament to their longevity. Sharon den Adel, who seemingly has danced in the blue flame of eternal life, rallies the crowd so that even when technical difficulties plague their penultimate song, the baying masses hang on her every note. Within Temptation bring a touch of flair and class to Derbyshine; utterly sublime.

Within Temptation, photo credit Fiaz Farrelly

Within Temptation, photo credit Fiaz Farrelly

 

Within Temptation, photo credit Fiaz Farrelly

Within Temptation, photo credit Fiaz Farrelly

Within Temptation, photo credit Fiaz Farrelly

Within Temptation, photo credit Fiaz Farrelly

CHRIS TIPPELL & SARAH WORSLEY

Bloodstock Festival: Day One – Catton Hall, UK

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With humble origins as a smaller, indoor festival in 2001, and being headlined then by metal legends Saxon due to connections to organiser Paul Gregory, Bloodstock steadily grew and grew until eventually in 2005 it saw an additional (not solitary) open air version. It is now the UK’s biggest open air metal (not rock) festival. Now, in the open air’s 10th year, a cursory glance at the line-ups throughout the years show its size and stature growing with bigger names from the likes of Slayer, Megadeth and this year’s closer Rob Zombie alongside the underground, the extreme and even the silly (hello Korpiklaani).

Crowd at Bloodstock Open Air 2015, photo credit Sabrina Ramdoyal

Crowd at Bloodstock Open Air 2015, photo credit Sabrina Ramdoyal

Much smaller than the likes of Download Festival, Bloodstock benefits from its close proximity to the campsite meaning if you do fancy a nap to fight off that expected hangover then you are only five minutes away. As you do enter the main arena you are firstly greeted by a cordoned off circle which later in the weekend will see infamous Knight fighting, as illustrated by the many in full knight’s armour throughout the weekend because, you know… metal!

A few paces beyond is the Sophie Lancaster Stage which proudly supports the S.O.P.H.I.E Campaign, and just beyond is the smaller Jagermeister Stage which sits just next to the grounds of the main stage, and even past that is the Hobgoblin New Blood Stage, all within a few minutes walking distance, easy and convenient. Coupled with one of the most consistently pleasant, easy going, and friendly festival goers you will hope to meet (with plenty of families about) and you can’t help but have a fantastic weekend. Welcome to Bloodstock!

As per usual, the festivities really kick off on the Thursday with several bands on the Sophie tent; and a glance at the shirts about show that openers Reign Of Fury have a tonne of fans about. Later on in the day if Welsh death metal hoodlums Desecration don’t get you in the mood for debauchery then nothing will as they deliver a sterling set.

Nuclear Assault, photo credit Sabrina Ramdoyal

Nuclear Assault, photo credit Sabrina Ramdoyal

Friday arrives and the rescheduled Nuclear Assault start off the main stage as it would continue throughout the weekend; with troubles, as they play with borrowed gear due to airport confusion. Still they play with intensity and ferocity, if you can get past John Connelly’s cartoon like voice which verges between cringe worthy and suiting.

Despite the glorious sunshine its back to the Sophie tent for the loveable Pronk duo Oaf as they deliver the first truly great moment of the festival with a set chock full of obscenities, humour and incredible songs. Very little will top the image of a packed out sea of Cheshire Cat grins bellowing out the chorus to brand new song ‘Disgusted By Your Genitalia’ this weekend.

The New Blood Stage over the weekend will play host to numerous winners of Bloodstock’s Metal To The Masses winners as well as other great new talents, proving a very worthy place to go if there is a gap in your schedule. Early on in the day is Brighton’s winner, thrashers King Leviathan who combine the pace and energy of thrash/death metal with black metal’s fascination and imagery of the occult. With impressive numbers and a formidable display, it seems the future of metal is in good hands.

Arnocorps vs Alien vs Predator, photo credit by Sabrina Ramdoyal

Arnocorps vs Alien vs Predator, photo credit by Sabrina Ramdoyal

Shortly after, the sunshine doesn’t appear to be helping the black metal bands of the weekend as they vividly corpse painted Belphegor seem to be greeted by not only it brightening but butterflies flying around the stage, which proves too hilarious.

 

There is even plenty of Prog over the weekend, with a wide range of progressive minded metal bands across the stages, which brings up your scribes’ first major clash of the weekend. It wouldn’t be Bloodstock if a stage or two wasn’t plagued with sound issues, and it’s a testament to the loyal masses that Enslaved’s inaudible vocals did not detract from the raucous response from a crowd who adore this darkened, Nordic prog. Outings from newie ‘Building With Fire’ and old favourites like 1997’s ‘Alfablot’  amalgamate perfectly to create one of the sets of the weekend, proving that the spirit and character of a band can cast away sonic snags. An entirely different beast, Australian tech metallers Ne Obliviscaris pack out a rapturous Sophie tent with a rare visit to these shores, and a mind bogglingly complex but stunning set which has everyone in attendance hooked.

Ihsahn, photo credit Sabrina Ramdoyal

Ihsahn, photo credit Sabrina Ramdoyal

The main stage gremlins make yet another appearance as they wreak havoc on Ihsahn, causing a long pause during the set to sort out monitor difficulties. Not that you would have noted the band’s distraction at all as aside from this delay they/he perform an absolute masterclass. Plus it’s a testament to his deity like reputation and the open minded crowd that he can close with a brand new song in ‘My Heart Is Of The North’. The Prog continues with relative newcomers Diatessaron on the New Blood Stage with, sadly, some signs of nerves kicking in and a sound that feels too out of place for the festival, the band seeming too thin and reward with a somewhat disinterested crowd.

Sabaton, photo credit by Sabrina Ramdoyal

Sabaton, photo credit by Sabrina Ramdoyal

Making good use of the close proximity to the campsite means it’s time for a rest to recover from the heat. A few drinks in and it turns out we have accidentally missed the mammoth heaviness of Conan (dammit), but its back in time to see Swedish power metallers Sabaton continue their ascent to one of the UK’s favourite metal acts. Kicking off, as ever, with ‘Ghost Division’ they charge in with the subtlety of a Panzer battalion as the likes of ‘Carolus Rex’ and a rare UK airing of ‘No Bullets Fly’ cause sing-alongs a plenty. The band themselves are certainly having the time of their lives up there, but the set derails somewhat by their insistence on rehearsed comedy routines which are completely unnecessary, especially with the songs they could have played in their arsenal. Still even this cannot take away from one of the most fun sets of the day; plus they have a huge fucking tank on stage.

Sabaton, photo credit by Sabrina Ramdoyal

Sabaton, photo credit by Sabrina Ramdoyal

Since they have been huge favourites in the UK since their inception, and the history they have with UK festivals (that infamous main stage opening slot at Download), it seems about time that Trivium are given the challenge of headlining a major UK festival, in what seemed like it could have been another historic and defining moment for both the band and festival. Sadly they hit problems immediately as they choose to open with the live premiere of brand new song ‘Silence In The Snow’ which has not only been out for only a few weeks but also does not prove captivating enough a song. Things are unaided by the absence of guitarist/growler Cory Beaulieu due to microphone difficulties which result in him getting electric shocks (those gremlins again).

Trivium, photo credit Sabrina Ramdoyal

Trivium, photo credit Sabrina Ramdoyal

 

When issues settle however and they hit their stride they show strong a band they are with quite the arsenal of anthems, from stirring renditions of the likes of ‘Like Light To Flies’ and ‘Into The Mouth Of Hell We March’. However the set does prove very inconsistent as for each great moment, there are those that fall flat, like ‘Strife’ and ‘Black’, plus another new airing in the trudging ‘Blind Leading The Blind’ towards the end of the main set. It’s a real shame as at times they are almost exquisite, but at others they seem tired and daunted by the event. The crowd is firmly behind them, but what could have been a monumental occasion sadly proves frustrating.

 

WORDS BY CHRIS TIPPELL & SARAH WORSLEY

 

Ramblin’ Man Fair (Sunday) – Maidstone, UK

Ramblin Man

After the glorious weather of the Saturday, Sunday at Ramblin’ Man greets us with rain. Lots and lots of rain and some dampened (chortle chortle) moods. As a result the arena certainly seems noticeably emptier than yesterday; but alas, duty calls. Even Sweden’s Blues Pills and their brand of psychedelic, 60s rock can’t perturb the downpour. Despite their suiting to sunnier climes however they go down a storm (!), as Elin Larsson showcases her massive, Janis Joplin-esque voice.

Despite the grim weather, Icelandic rockers Solstifir have a sizable turnout. Their presence on the main stage and the warm welcome they receive is incredibly gratifying. In spite of their short set, their performances of what has become their signature song, ‘Otta’ will hopefully elevate them further into the rock arena. Which, judging by today’s performance, they will most definitely deserve.

 

The rain proves a problem for the Prog Stage particularly as its shallow shelter fails to protect equipment (and band members) from the downpour. For Knifeworld sound problems would prove very detrimental as many of their instruments (and backing vocals) seemingly fail to come out of the PA at all. Kavus Torabi’s drawling, quirky vocals are always clear, but their complex and diverse structures are damaged severely, such as on ‘Send Him Seaworthy’ where its prominent Bassoon sections sounded completely nonexistent.

The Blues Tent enjoys a significant audience for the day, bolstered by those seeking shelter from the rain; as a result catching Aaron Keylock proves impossible, but from the outside he sounds on fine form. Over at the Prog Stage, The Pineapple Thief play a triumphant set which balances between their more delicate songs such as ‘Magnolia’ and their rockier kin of the likes of ‘Alone At Sea’ with great fluidity, showing their dexterity and understated diversity, proving a highlight of the entire weekend.

 

There’s a lot of love for Polish lads Riverside, and with good reason. Since the release of Shrine of New Generation Slaves (InsideOut) they have worked their way into the hearts of countless devotees. Their set today is nothing less than triumphant, seemingly able to bring the sunshine despite the clouds, lifting the spirits and smiles of the now rather soggy crowd. Their delight at the live setting is obvious, playing with gusto and passion compositions such as ‘Hyperactive’, ‘O2 Panic Room’ and ending with an immaculate rendition of ‘We Got Used To This’. This has to be one of the performances of the weekend.

Finally the rain eases and the sun shines through, creating a beautiful and apt scene for Alcest and their melancholic but gorgeous shoe-gazing take on prog. Despite his very reserved, even shy nature, Niege grows each time into his role as the band’s centerpiece, talking at greater lengths and showing genuine appreciation to the crowd. Mixing their earlier black metal orientated songs with the latter, softer elements, their set is one of pure majesty and hypnotic beauty that completely draws everyone in. Closing with a mesmerizing “Deliverance”, the band gradually leave the stage, finally with Niege as he turns, humbled by the rapturous response.

 

Possibly one of the most anticipated performances from the weekend comes from Seasick Steve. He arrives on stage dressed in garb that you wouldn’t find out of place on a lumberjack, and unassuming persona makes him even more endearing to the huge crowd in front of him. He regales tales of the origins of his many handmade instruments to the amused crowd, who are seemingly baffled that he can produce such music from such rickety creations. Songs like ‘Thunderbird’ and ‘Walkin’ Man’ transform the ordinary to the extraordinary.

Very few people are as iconic and instrumental in the world of Prog rock as Ian Anderson, and, while his legacy needs not reiterating, today his performance is certainly enjoyable but far from perfect. Brimming with an ever present enthusiasm and his quirky sense of humour and personality, Anderson is a joyous presence with sadly but expectedly some signs of wear and tear setting in. What really detracts however is the ill fitting, over the top style of guitarist Florian Ophale which doesn’t seem to make sense. Given a spot to show off, Ophale certainly has skill but his virtuoso performance does not match to the rest of the set at all, as if a last minute addition. Songs like ‘Agualung’ are simply timeless and can never fail, but the presence of Ophale leaves too sour a taste.

Ramblingman Festival photo credit Ramblingman Festival

Marillion are one of those bands that seem to have always been there. It would be difficult to imagine the progressive rock scene without them, as they are the reason why many in the crowd are here today. Opening with the fifteen minute marvel that is ‘Gaza’, Steve Hogarth and co prove their longevity.  Their set is filled with relatively new tomes, the post pre-1995 entry being ‘Sugar Mice’ but to the delight of the crowd. Steve Hogarth’s stage-based eccentricities and his unique vocal style (apparently unaffected by time) are on top form. Much of the set comes from their latest release, ‘Sounds That Can’t Be Made’, arguably their best yet. The crowd sings ‘Power’ as though it was their last breath, and as they close all too soon with ‘The Invisible Man’; it is clear that Marillion reach stretches beyond the progressive world.

 

WORDS: CHRIS TIPPELL & SARAH WORSLEY

 

Ramblin’ Man Fair Festival (Saturday) – Maidstone, Kent (UK)

Ramblin Man

In the absence of the much missed High Voltage Festival the UK festival scene has been screaming for a high profile outdoor festival which specializes in the worlds of classic rock and progressive rock. On a glorious, sunny Saturday the gates open to the sport park in Maidstone, Kent, revealing everything we rock fans need, namely great names and booze. The main and Prog stages sit either side of the site, as well as a beer festival bar and a third stage that will host both Country & Western today and Blues tomorrow. Welcome to the inaugural Ramblin’ Man Fair!

 

Touchstone hold a very special place in the hearts of their fans. So it comes as no surprise that they amass one of the biggest crowds of the day. With their last ever shows looming, it’s no wonder that as the first bars of ‘Wintercoast’ burst through the speakers, the crowd are completely immersed in the five piece. Kim Seviour’s vocals are on magnificent form, and it is clear that the reaction of the crowd means a lot to her and the rest of the band. Their encore is their renowned cover of Tears For Fears’ ‘Mad World’ for which they are accompanied by John Mitchell on guitar. The prog world will be very sorry to see them go.

Things take a psychedelic turn as prog upstarts Messenger prove that age doesn’t mean a damn thing. Having already supported the likes of Devin Townsend it is clear that we can expect great things from them. Unfortunately the vastness of the field locale seems to overwhelm their folk tinted melodies, and many an interest is lost. That being said, it is an impressive set, which only hints at things to come.

Ramblingman Festival2

Your scribe’s first visit to the main stage sees Blue Oyster Cult prove why they are one of rock’s most underrated gems. Arriving to the Game Of Thrones theme tune, BOC put on a master-class performance, which shows both experience and, perhaps, a surprising level of energy. Donald Roesar, Eric Bloom and Kasim Sultan prowl the stage and exude charisma, backed by a sterling set of anthems including a monstrous (pun entirely intended) ‘Godzilla’. Sadly a large portion of the crowd leave once THAT song is played, but this doesn’t take away from a sterling set which proves that these legends are so much more than a one song band.

 

British Prog heroes Haken are soaring right now, garnering plaudits a plenty and following a very well received EP release, and today’s performance shows signs of just why, if with some inconsistencies. Beginning with the short and shaper ‘Premonition’ from Visions (Lasers Edge) and The Mountain’s (InsideOut) ‘In Memoriam’ , they kick the Prog dial up with 3 long players closing the set. An unusually mixed set sadly sees a flat performance of breakthrough song ‘The Cockroach King’ which seems to lack its urgency and power. A stunning rendition of ‘Crystallised’ following on however certainly makes amends as the set closer.

There cannot be a rock and metal festival goer on the planet now who hasn’t seen legends Saxon at some stage now, seemingly an ever present each year, and with performances like this it’s a bloody good job too. Offering very few surprises, their set is loaded with the familiar classics that everyone knows and loves to rapturous response from the gathered masses. Biff Byford gives an engaging and genuine display as ever as he commands his troops through classic anthems like ‘Strong Arm Of The Law’ and the timeless ‘Wheels Of Steel’, barking that they will play until they are booted off the stage. No such set cutting occurs however as they close the set with a rousing ‘Denim And Leather’, further cementing their reputation as one of metal’s most beloved acts.

 

Up on the main stage, prog maestros Dream Theater are going through the motions. Sadly despite their flawless, CD-perfect performance it feels as though they’re lacking personality. There is a sense of love ‘em and leave ‘em about this performance, and with the exception of Jordan Rudess the band looked as though this was a 9-5 job. Even the heart-wrenching ‘The Spirit Carries On’ falls flat emotionally, and the bombastic ‘Burning My Soul’ feels forced and perfunctory. The humdrum nature of closer ‘Behind the Veil’ bookends what has been a worrying glimpse into the bands future.

The last few years have seen Anathema rise from underground heroes to one of prog’s most celebrated entities, showcased as second to headliners to icons Camel. Renowned for their knack to bring grown men to tears, today they give a set full of some more energetic numbers but still with that trademark emotion and serenity. After a low key but building start to ‘Anathema’, things kick up a gear into ‘Untouchables Part 1’ before a raucous ‘Thin Air’ gives momentum. The splendor of the vocal harmonies really shows on ‘The Lost Song Part 3’, showing Lee Douglas’ growing ever more confident performance after performance; particularly so when she leads on the beautiful ‘The Lightning Song’. Closing with a harder and more energised rendition of ‘Distant Satellites’ than on record, they show just how versatile they are. Yes it may be songs that they have aired countless times in the last few years, but they are played as stunningly as ever.

 

The level of adoration for Camel the prog community has is unrivaled, and with good reason. Since their incarnation back in 1971, Andy Latimer and his brethren have produced some of the most iconic albums both inside and outside progressive music. It is a privilege to be amongst the crowd tonight, and as ‘Never Let Go’ begins proceedings, it is clear that their form has not floundered. Latimer is on his finest form yet; both his guitar work and vocals are flawless. Each song is met with elated cheers and fervent applause, with song like ‘Spirit of the Water’ flowing seamlessly into ‘Air Born’. Noise bleed from the Scorpions set does punctuate some of the quieter segments, but Latimer is undeterred proving that Camel are the real headliners of a glorious first day in Maidstone.

With the pull of the returning Camel on the Prog Stage, the crowd for German legends Scorpions is not quite as rammed as perhaps expected, and the huge delay does not help shake the underwhelming feeling. When they finally do take to the stage its to a somewhat flat and uninspiring rendition of ‘Going Out With A Bang’, at this point a seemingly ironic statement. Fortunately proceedings pick up with the sterling ‘Make It Real’ and ‘The Zoo’, as guitarists Rudolf Schenker and Matthias Jabs and drummer James Kottak show tonnes of energy and Cheshire cat grins.

For the most part this is an immensely enjoyable set that balances classics such as ‘Wind Of Change’ and ‘Big City Nights’ with stellar tracks off the new album Return To Forever (Sony) like the monumental ‘We Built This House’ which sounds right at home with the anthems. But inconsistency sets in with a couple of moments that don’t hit the mark: for example the momentum killing acoustic segment. Inconsistencies aside this is a thoroughly enjoyable set, and as they close with favourite’“Rock You Like A Hurricane’ they affirm their legendary status with a great, if not perfect, close to day one.

 

WORDS: CHRIS TIPPELL & SARAH WORSLEY

Karma Violens – Skin of Existence EP

KV-cover

It is rather satisfying to discover that Greek extreme metal folk Karma Violens belong to ‘Growl Records’, as not only is it an apt pun but it encapsulates the aggressive ruminations that the band so artfully proffer to their ravenous audience. Their latest release Skin of Existence develops satisfyingly from their EP Katara, which merely hinted at the potential of the band to become something prodigious.

Skin of Existence has obviously leanings towards the bands prestigious peers, Arch Enemy being the most prominent. However, unlike the aforementioned, Karma Violens sound has most definitely been upgraded with the venturing forth with the sole intention of ruining everyone’s stereo equipment…and ears for that matter! Oddly, but not unwelcome, the album has catchier edge to it with songs like ‘Bloodbath’ and ‘Soulless Child’ ensuring vigorous toe-tapping as well some rather ferocious head banging. Very few bands can achieve this balance, and it is key to the success of this album. The nature and sonic delivery of songs like ‘About My Creator’ (a perfect song to soothe road rage) mean that this album was clearly meant to be heard in a live setting. Imagine if you will, a small, dingy basement venue. One where the beer tastes like it’s been through a digestive system already and there is very little room for maneuver or escape. Perfect for the onslaught of brutality, a chance to let one’s demons out in a safe and (somewhat) controlled environment.

The only criticism of the album, and one which even the most prolific bands of the genre can’t escape, is the repetitive nature of the songs. Karma Violens may not be the worst offenders by any stretch of the imagination, but there is a sense of “if you’ve heard one song, you’ve heard them all”. Let us hope they do not descend into the pedestrian trappings many of their peers have suffered. Still, the overall sound and feel of the album distracts from this, leaving you the perfect album to lose your shit to. Whether in a venue with fellow metalheads or in a car at red lights earning you worriedly curious looks from passersby.

 

7.0/10

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SARAH WORSLEY