(review by MWJ)

19/20/21 June 2009

You think we’d learn our lesson, putting ourselves through Hell for the second year running. But we had learnt, our efficiency in getting ourselves to France in one piece, fucked up royally in the meantime, before returning minus just a few vital bits after the weekend, was all done with great, even worrying, smoothness of a well oiled war machine. Must have been something to do with the lubrication.

We had an expanded raiding party this year, with the added cause and effect of Graham’s stag do. Via Liverpool airport again and no delays with either the plane or crazy plans of expecting to a booked hotel to be open like last year, we jumped into our reserved minibus and headed straight to the camping. A portion of the camping field helpfully taped off like some crime-scene to be by our early arrival friends meant we had even more hours to enjoy the bar on site, though as this was the only entertainment at the time it was a bit hectically busy. Always a bonus to finish the evening with some amateur lesbian action on stage though.

The next morning we showed Flames where the supermarket was and taking into account the crashed pound I spread my investment in the (sleep in a) hedge fund over beers, wines, and spirits. The trek back was much easier with the flat pack off road trolley of doom, this didn’t help one individual who chose to arse surf down the motorway embankment with great speed and style though. With Cap’n Gray-beard EyefortheBirds suitably piratically attired, fortifying grog rations were consumed and we headed in.

Passing God Forbid, their aggressive but polished take on US deathish metal certainly came across better than what little I’d heard on record but as a rule that is almost a certainty for getting out to see live bands, and with 107 or so to pick from over the weekend we couldn’t help but be on to some winners. Off to see the grind of natives Blockheads (no, not involving Ian Dury), stirring things up great style, the singer spending as much time in the crowd as on stage. Then the first lengthy wait for booze tokens while EyeHateGod unleashed some crushing sludge in the background. Didn’t match the intensity of seeing them up close and personal at King Tut’s in Glasgow once. Our first visit over to the new addition fourth stage/tent for this year, a colossal space holding about 6,000, for some of Aussies Destroyer 666, but not much outstanding about their pretty straightforward traditional death. Also getting the impression, as you may also be, that this hectic back to back scheduling and overdose of choice is turning things into a real whirlwind for the senses, and havoc for the memory. And jeez, just taking a brief break and I am randomly assaulted by some bloke, maybe he took offence to my tramp/terrorist beard. Or maybe someone I knew gave him a beer token for doing it. They were probably supposed to get Ell anyway.

Nothing better to cheer us back up than a bit of Misery Index with their politically charged grind, certainly a ferocious performance but starting to have doubts about the effectiveness of the sound in this huge tent with it’s open sides, not as sharp as it might have been. While we are in the area we pass the signing tent with expert surprise timing to find Voivod present so take some time to give props where they are due, especially to Blacky’s inspirational bass playing that I have so consistently failed to match! We have the briefest trip to look at Torche on recommendations but while their driving alt-metal reminds me of the best of Therapy? my sights are already set on one of my pre-determined highlights.

I’ve seen Voivod a couple of times in the 90’s, one of my kids even went to hear them in the womb, but this wasn’t with a classic line-up or set. Sadly this isn’t either due to the death of core guitarist Piggy last year but at least that has brought the rest of the originals back together with a guitarist who can cut the mustard too. And from the opening swelling note intro and the raw call to arms of “Vvvvvvvoooooiiiivvoooooooooodd” I am deep into the mayhem of the pit. Loads of old school gems played of their techno-thrash, ahead of its time in its time and still standing the test now. They are beaming laid back happiness at their reception and being French-Canadian obviously have an ease of rapport. Their interim singer Eric joins them for the anthemic “Tribal Convictions” and I think they wind up with their cover of “Astronomie Domine”, though I am a little disorientated by this point, getting carried away with the first of many crowd surfs of the weekend.

Somewhat weakened but obviously very chuffed head back to the Terrorizer tent for another must see new to me, Kylesa. The relentlessly thundering rhythms and the raw delivery from the girl singer/guitarist are almost hypnotic, at least that’s the vibe I feel as I lay flat out on the ground outside. Entombed over in Rock hard tent I hadn’t seen since they were on tour with Neurosis and Breach and their shift to death’n’roll was a disappointment to me then after the monstrous “Clandestine”. The stripped down approach is still a fair element to their set though but time is a healer and to hear some of the old school gems like “Crawl” and “Revel in Flesh” rolled out again is a pleasure. The end of a relatively tame Wasp (was he fatter then than now?) was somewhat rudely overridden by Phil Anslemo’s early arrival on the adjacent Main Stage, “Crue Fest” stage for tonight where I had managed to avoid any interest up until now but gave Down the time of day, it was ok, prefer sludge a bit harsher than that though, but I think as even Pantera were “after my time” I’m not sold on the whole mythology or posturing that seems to be associated with it. Need things picked up a bit by the proto-death of Repulsion, who are as musically basic and brutal as expected. A joy to hear “Radiation sickness” off the legendary “Grind Crusher” compilation before I drift back to another blast from the past in thrashers Anthrax. As I hadn’t seen them since about ’92 I had missed their whole singer carousel shenanigans of recent years that has seen them end up with an entirely new guy and while there was a distinct lack of stomp going on with the oldsters classics like “Caught in a mosh” and “I am the law” simply do not fade.

Alongside on the main stage again we are in the presence of royalty, the Black Sabbath that is Heaven and Hell as opposed the Sharon Osbourne Experience. Seeing for the first time the legends Toni Iommi and another big influence Geezer Butler it was just like having watched them on TV so many times, but then I realised I was watching them on TV, on the new giant screen introduced between the two main stages. When I semi-focussed in on real life from a distance I could just about make out Dio, semi life-size. Starting with “Mob rules”, solid enough, after a few uninspiring more I didn’t know I had the feeling this was going to be a bit like Venom last year and all downhill, a bit sad, they retain my respect if not my interest, and knowing they wouldn’t air any Ozzy era classics I persuaded some of my fellows to go and see Jarboe instead. They weren’t happy. I am already sold on the dark cult of the older woman experimentalist (emphasis on the mentalist), and while I was happily hypnotised by the building, rhythmic tunes that reminded me very much of some of her output with the Swans, they may well have been more of the opinion that this was some wailing hippy nutter. To perk things up a bit we went to see the black metal onslaught of God Seed (until recently a version of Gorgoroth), witnessing a naked lady with her modesty/flaps protected behind a towel until she was draped starkers upon a crucifix. For the ladies and all TRVE GRYM GEIGHS there’s a bloke to provide balance on the opposite side of the stage. There is a lot of seething turmoil and theatrics in the music but black is as black does ultimately, it’s good but not extraordinary. What is though is St Vitus, seminal doom legends and whereas I might have half expected to be lulled to sleep by their chronic vibes I was instead transfixed by a jawdropping guitar tone, so unbelievably pure sustained heaviness it was almost synthetic. An absolute revelation, to the extent that I think I probably called it a night on that sonic high rather than offer any tolerance to Motley Crue. Or maybe the rumoured presence of more tits in the crowd than on stage failed to materialise. Fuck me, day one.

Needless to say this frenetic pace couldn’t be sustained. Waking in the baking heat for the second day, maybe getting drunk on the pope’s blood for breakfast was not the best plan. But then again when you’re camped in a vineyard what are you supposed to do, apart from gaze through at ground level to girls who think they’ve gone far enough to be out of sight…ahem, so some of us were in from the off for Ireland’s Gama Bomb, who I’d missed at Hammerfest recently, and who were well worth the early effort, their tongue in cheek crossover thrash extremely entertaining. The version of Eyehategod that is Outlaw Order were next and I didn’t find much to distinguish them from their alter ego really, their filth probably a bit dissipated in the midday sun. With Glenn having succeeded in his mission of acquiring local herbal remedies we chilled to the more traditional doomy metal of Grand Magus, allegedly from Sweden though the singer sounded like he’d spent some time in Derby, but I was soon suffering from “smokestroke” and had to call in the stretcher-bearers. After a brief siesta back at the tent I returned unrevitalised for Terror, the pick of the hardcore for me as Slapshot had unfortunately pulled out. I hadn’t seen either before but enjoyed the punchy ferocity reminding me of Sick of It All, the crowd was a little less psychotic than I was expecting. We hung around for The Business who were a bit of a surprise, to hear some cock-er-nee punks in the midst of all this, it was a bit generic/retro for my tastes though. Today more than any had our big group pulled in all directions through the eclectic line-up and varied tastes, Devil driver, Cradle of Filth, Soulfly (yet another band/version of Troops of Doom meets my ears from a distance), Machine Head being big draws on the main stage, but we were also meeting up with a fair portion of the UK friends who’d travelled over, Brits apparently making up a 10th of the 60,000 total attending over the 3 days. It was still on a similar scale to make everything easily accessible, and while I’d be highly cynical about non-musical attractions shifting the focus I have to admit improving my focus with the burlesque troop, and mental motorbike ball of doom with its associated eye candy draped all around.

Back to the tunes another opportunity to experience some legends in the form of Amebix. On record I find them a bit flat but live the three-piece are entrancing as they demonstrate how seminal their epically structured crust punk steamrollers are to so many progressive/post metal bands right up to the present. They only get to squeeze a few tracks into their ¾ of an hour but closer “No Gods, No Masters” finishes things off in fine style. Had been quite looking forward to potentially France’s biggest band Gojira but wasn’t as struck as I might have been, thought perhaps their progressive/inventive nature had gone to far in compromising good hooks in their songs, and the expected reaction from their countrymen didn’t seem to materialise either. Or maybe I was just to pissed to concentrate. This did leave us in a good position for The Misfits. Now me and Flames were justifiably cynical after following them with ever diminishing returns since their 1990’s resurrection through all manner of merchandising a dead horse opportunities up to the present but this was all slapped away leaving big grins, scorched lungs and lost phones as they ripped through a no-bullshit old school hardcore set, from “Halloween” and “Earth AD” through some rarer stuff like “Blood Feast” and “London Dungeon” to finish with “We are 138”. We are sold on it once again. I take a brief break to stock up on supplies for the final round and escort some lightweights back to the fray, looking forward to another clash. Starting with Killing Joke I was surprisingly disappointed as there seemed to be pace missing in the core of their set, with old standards such as “Wardance” compared to the excellent thundering onslaught I witnessed on the s/t album tour a few years back. Jaz remained the consummate frontman focus but I perceived a lack of energy and that’s what I needed at this time of night, so off to Sacred Reich round the corner. Again last seen supporting Sepultura in Manchester best part of two decades back they have only just reformed, with Machine Head’s drummer filling in those duties for them, and they delivered a lot of their thrash classics plus a fine “War Pigs” cover, which would have been the best Sabbath heard this weekend. In returning from the field of buried dreams bypassed Marilyn Manson, his own apparent lethargic disinterest reflecting my thoughts quite well.

So the final countdown begins on the Sunday. Keep of Kalessin I’d been impressed with on release but while their intricate yet ferocious blackened death brought good comparisons to Behemoth something was again robbed from their sound in the big tent. Another blast of Wolves in the Throne Room for the uninitiated over at the Terrorizer tent, they did seem to take more breaks in their insane relentless black riffery and battery in this set but maybe understandable in the heat. Canadians Kataklysm over at Rock Hard were one of the most satisfyingly heavy bands of the weekend, their “northern hyperblast” death coming across well with its punishing rhythms and breakdowns. Again, the reeling between the stage was probably taking its toll and there was an increasing number of bands being missed for whatever reason but jeez, maybe we were aiming a bit too high. The next certainty was Napalm Death and as usual they put on the intense show they are renowned for, though Barney did hark back to their last visit here when he collapsed through exhaustion for a bit. An absolute bonus for devotees was them inviting out “The Coventy Killer”, early vocalist Lee Dorian, to join them for blasts through “Deceiver” and “You Suffer” before they finished with “Nazi Punks Fuck Off”. Apparently he was complaining his voice was knackered when he was on with Cathedral next but I for one appreciated the moment. I forsook what I imagined to be a mellowed post metal Mastodon set for tea break only to be reminded from a distance what a colossal masterpiece of heaviness their early track “March of the fire ants” is when it rumbles out as a closer. Our return is for Suicidal Tendencies which sees the gathering of all of our group, also to join in one of the biggest cheers across the whole site and weekend when Europe close their set with, you know, what else, “diddle de doo, diddle de de doo…” . ST have many classics to draw on for their set, kicking off with the thrash of “You can’t bring me down”, the hardcore of “war inside my head”, or the funk of “Send me your money”. They’re all drawn out into singalong crowd pleasers, we start up our own pit that others enthusiastically join before things go mental for their closer “Pledge your Allegiance” that has a mass stage invasion and providing a definitive moment for the whole festival. After that mayhem I go to change down 10 gears with Electric Wizard over at the Terrorizer tent, another first for me and I’m massively impressed, again the magic of drawn out doom that doesn’t bore so much as bore into you, lulls, sways and then hammers my less than vital remains into the dust. After blagging the remains of the wine cellars with Paul was left with a choice between cheese and breeee I chose to finish my festival with Brutal Truth in the same tent. But amid the blur and the chaos inside and outside of my head I find them anti-climatic too, pulling their punches, not in top gear. Maybe they got the “smoke, grind, sleep” mantra mixed up, maybe it was only to be expected at the end of another day in the furnace. Oldsters like “Ill neglect” inspire one final nihilistic flight into terrain for me but bah, not even a broken rib to show for my efforts. As expected after their finish there was still time to witness some of the unashamed Spinal Tapisms of Manowar, end with a smile eh? Except there didn’t seem to be anything funny about their bloated pomposity, lame pace and boring songs. Certainly no speakers were blown with their rawk and roll. Thanks god I didn’t take up their offer of £150 to meet the band.

Still by the time I was back at the tent the fireworks ended things with a bang. In the morning we formed up our work details of booze and furniture trawlers for the emptying campsite, under the laid back supervision of Boss Flames, he of the Crip Walk. Another smooth return to a house we’d acquired for our spare night in Nantes but by this time I was back in animal/vegetable/mineral state and gratefully accepted the coma of sleep. We filled our final day before the flight enjoying the ladies and culture and cultural ladies of the city, as well as being amused by watching a 60 foot mechanical elephant trample through herds of screaming school kids. Colwyn Bay circa 1am on the Wednesday morning I was falling asleep at the wheel but after an appropriate recovery period to reflect it was another winner, an absolute overload to the senses, probably a good thing it’s only once a year

Click to view pics