Sonisphere Festival 2011 live review and gallery

Knebworth Park,
8th-10th July 2011

Words by Alex Gosman
Photos by Slack

heavymetal_beard_Johnny Chow_cavalera_conspiracyFRIDAY

We arrived at the festival sweating as we lurched past the usual Sonisphere sniffer dogs and managed to get there just in time for the opening track of CEREBRAL BALLZY who didn’t let us down. Hardcore made by skaters has always had an edge. The likes of JFA, Minor Threat, Bad Brains and Suicidal Tendencies have paved the way for this new breed and they are taking their version on 80’s skate core to the hilt. Look out for their album this month as it’s a short, sharp shock of excitement that you need in your life.

Photo right: Johnny Chow of Cavalera Conspiracy – thanks for the beers Texan!

ANTHRAX’s sense of humour and penchant for experimentation have always set them apart from the rest of the gang, but unfortunately Joey Belladonna’s Noo Yoik bonhomie struggles to compensate for the cold winds that play havoc with their sound. Sepultura guitarist Andreas Kisser does a fine job of filling in for an absent Scott Ian, but ultimately the crowd seem more interested in keeping warm. Dark clouds gathering overhead herald the arrival of MEGADETH, who open with a suitably brooding ‘Trust’. Dave Mustaine (a.k.a. The Sulking Lion) doesn’t have much to say for himself today (as usual – Z-Ed) , but dispenses new song ‘Public Enemy No. 1’ in fine style, and the appearance of Vic Rattlehead for ‘Peace Sells…’ is a welcome surprise. (If the Big Four of metal was compared to British football, then this band are Tottenham Hotspur! Z-Ed)

You can rely on SLAYER to grab a festival by the scruff of its neck and kick the shit out of it, and today they don’t disappoint, They rip through the likes of ‘Disciple’, ‘Hate Worldwide’ and – of course- ‘Raining Blood’ with their trademark brutal speed and precision, although the most disturbing aspect of their set is the grin that Tom Araya sports as he roars through ‘Dead Skin Mask’.

Whilst Slayer’s happiness filled the main stage field, many other people who have good taste in music were witnessing the raging musical assault of BLACK BREATH. Their brash, thrash and hardcore hybrid steamrolled the tent and left everyone open mouthed. Heavy Breathing is the name of their album, do it.

METALLICA, of course, have been headlining festivals for the best part of two decades, but these old dogs can still create a sense of occasion; kicking off with a furious ‘Hit The Lights’. Most of the old favourite are present and correct, as is – unfortunately – a tedious mid-set instrumental, but the highlight is saved for the encore; with members of their Big Four brethren joining them for a stage-swamping romp through Diamond Head’s ‘Am I Evil?’. Lars Ulrich looks like he’s about to explode with joy, and we leave feeling pretty damn satisfied too.

We manage to sneak into the Bohemia tent for a quick blast of KILLING JOKE, and although it’s really our feet that are killing us, the band still get us dancing and hollering with a suitably visceral ‘Wardance’. Jaz Coleman is as much a demonic preacher as a vocalist, and long may he remain so.

frankcarterpureloveSATURDAY

For those feeling a bit sore from the night before (including us), RICHARD CHEESE & LOUNGE AGAINST THE MACHINE are a welcome proposition, inducing a wide sea of grins in the crowd as they reinterpret various rock and metal classics in a smooth lounge style. ARCHITECTS are on rabid form, inciting a tsunami of crowd surfers within minutes of hitting the stage, but it is GALLOWS that prove the pick of the early bunch. No longer the underdogs of old, they’ve mutated into a raucous rock n’ roll behemoth that eats stages of this size for breakfast; and although thew news of Frank Carter’s imminent departure from the ranks is sad indeed, you can’t deny that he’s bowing out on top.

BAD RELIGION fare less well; the rain ensuring that the SoCal veterens play to a somewhat depleted crowd on the Apollo stage. The handful of recent tracks suggest that Greg Graffin’s crew aren’t content to rest on their laurels just yet, but in a festival setting, the likes of ‘Suffer’ and ‘Generator’ would have been more welcome. (Shame they also ended the set with Graffin forgetting the words! Z-Ed)

Over now to the smaller stages for some impressive new blood. REVOKER offer up some fierce but streamlined thrash/groove anthems that prove more substantial than most of the fare coming from their South Wales musical brethren. Leeds’ PULLED APART BY HORSES, meanwhile, are gloriously unhinged; vocalist Tom Hudson almost screeching himself hoarse over a cauldron of thunderous riffs and scattergun rhythms. Watch out for these two.

WEEZER prove to be one of the highlights of the weekend; unleashing a wonderfully melodic set that does not feature a single bad song. Rivers Cuomo is in a playful mood, hopping down onto the barrier for a bizarre but entertaining cover of Wheatus’ ‘Teenage Dirtbag’, and by the time they close with ‘Buddy Holly’, they have the crowd in the palm of their collective hand. Oh, and bonus points for banishing the rain as well.

BIFFY CLYRO don’t need the underdog sympathy vote any more; they’ve got more than enough quality songs to fill a headline slot. Urged on by a crowd much smaller than Metallica’s, but just as loyal, they conjure up one of the weekend’s loudest sing-alongs; and the bizarre chess-set stage set-up just adds to the sense of occasion.

SUNDAY

11am on a Sunday is a tall order for most festival goers, but VOLBEAT’s mix of heavy riff action and Social Distortion-esque rock n’ roll swagger are well worth an early start. PARKWAY DRIVE whip up an impressively-sized pit for this time of day, with their frenzied metalcore attack, and guitarist Luke Kilpatrick deserves kudos for soldiering on despite having recently broken his leg. The rubber dinghy crowd-surfing competition during ‘Deliver Me’ makes for a quite a spectacle.

Never was a band more appropriately named than MASTODON – the rumble of Troy Sanders’ bass can be heard a mile off. Their monolithic riffs crash and surge around us, and whether it’s the more progressive ‘Crack The Skye’ material or a bludgeoning ‘I Am Ahab’, they’re never less than mesmerising.

MOTORHEAD are low on surprises, but high on thrills. The couple of recent songs played tonight sound just like the old stuff, but that matters little when every song is the very essence of outlaw music – no wonder bikers love them so. Oh, and the fire-breathing girls that join the band onstage for ‘Killed By Death’ are a nice bonus.

We nip into the Bohemia tent just in time to see CANCER BATS damn near blow the roof off. The Canadian quartet are getting leaner, meaner and more enthusiastic with time, and with seemingly no end of riffs or energy in the tank, their forthcoming album should be a corker. The tent is rammed, and rightly so. Back on the Apollo stage, LIMP BIZKIT are pretty entertaining despite being musically shit. Fred Durst’s clunky rapping and clichéd posturing is almost painful to witness, but it has to be said that ‘Rollin’ is something of a guilty pleasure.

And so to SLIPKNOT, on the closing night of their first major tour since the death of bassist Paul Grey. Vocalist Corey Taylor is clearly overwhelmed by the crowd’s support, declaring tonight “a celebration”, and although this is pretty much the same show that we witnessed at the Download Festival in 2009, the likes of ‘The Heretic Anthem’ and a vicious ‘People = Shit’ sound as feral as ever.

Same time next year? Yeah, go on then!

CEREBRAL_ballzy

heavymetal_beards_duncan_prospheticrecords

Sonisphere get Weezer!

Sonisphere was one of our favourite festivals last year, despite stiff competition! This year’s line-up is looking even more impressive than last year’s with Weezer, Airbourne and Architects the latest acts to be added to the bill.

Not too shabby considering The Big 4 (Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer, Megadeth), Biffy Clyro and Slipknot are also playing and there will no doubt be a multitude of up and coming and established acts to be unveiled in the weeks leading up to the festival.

Sonisphere takes place 8th – 10th July 2011 at Knebworth House. For tickets and more info click here. The line up so far is:

THE BIG 4 – METALLICA, SLAYER, MEGADETH, ANTHRAX
BIFFY CLYRO
SLIPKNOT
AIRBOURNE
ARCHITECTS
DIAMOND HEAD
IN FLAMES
MASTODON
MOTÖRHEAD
PARKWAY DRIVE
WEEZER

We definitely want a repeat of Weezer’s brilliant antics at Reading and Leeds last year:

The Big Four

Metallica/Megadeth/Slayer/Anthrax
Sonisphere: The Big 4 Live From Sofia, Bulgaria
(Universal)

“This is a celebration, man! These bands have been together almost 30 years, and we’re all still alive, still on the road!”  Metallica’s James Hetfield declares to the 50,000-odd Sofia crowd. Indeed, what with the various personal troubles that all four of thrash metal’s leading lights have weathered over the years, combined with the genre’s relative decline in popularity during the 1990s, it’s amazing that they’ve all survived long enough to finally unite for this summer 2010 jaunt across eastern Europe. The performances themselves, you’ll be pleased to hear, prove that these thrash veterans are in particularly rude health.

Anthrax have had more than their fair share of internal turmoil lately, but they seem to have stabilised with the return of Joey Belladonna to the fold. They blast through the likes of ‘Caught In A Mosh’ and ‘Antisocial’ with typical enthusiasm and gonzoid charm. Torrential rain accompanies the arrival of Megadeth, but neither band nor crowd are deterred in the slightest, the former unleashing a slew of their finest efforts as the latter mosh along in multi-coloured rain coats. The return of long-serving bassist Dave Ellefson has clearly rejuvenated Mustaine’s crew, and they still impress on technicality alone.

Slayer, meanwhile, just get on with being their usual hyper-speedy, musically brutal and lyrically sinister selves. Vocalist/bassist Tom Araya has recently recovered from back surgery, but his enraged howl still hits the target on classics like ‘War Ensemble’ and ‘Raining Blood’, whilst the more recent ‘Hate Worldwide’ shows that his band aren’t going soft in their increasingly old age.

Metallica, of course, have been masters of this stadium lark for years now, and tonight they rise to the occasion in typically grandiose style; flanked by countless pyrotechnics as the crowd roar themselves hoarse to ‘Creeping Death’, ‘Blackened’ and a suitably epic ‘Master Of Puppets’. A couple of ‘Death Magnetic’ songs help to keep things fresh, but the real treat is saved for the encore – namely, an all-star, 4-band rendition of Diamond Head’s NWOBHM classic ‘Am I Evil?’, with Hetfield, Belladonna and Mustaine trading vocals, and each drummer with their own snare. It’s quite a spectacle; one very much in keeping with the spirit of the day, and everyone involved is clearly enjoying themselves.

There’s also a 45-minute documentary that focuses on the preparations for the show, and on various members of the bands before and after they play their sets. It’s worth a look, if only because it really captures the sense of occasion. Here’s hoping that such a show will soon be repeated on UK soil; until then, this is a great document of a very special day for the pioneers of thrash metal.

Alex Gosman