The elusive English summer has made a welcome appearance, and that means one thing for music fans…yup, it’s festival season. Sonisphere might be the proverbial new kid on the block, but this year it’s pulling no punches in boasting a line up that easily stands up to Download Festival in the fight for who gets the punters ticket fee.
This is my first time at Sonisphere, and I approach it expecting to be greeted with a replica of it’s rival, but I’m instead pleasantly surprised by it’s relaxed atmosphere and short walking distances around the site. You see, it only has a capacity of around 60,000, and while that may sound colossal, it’s actually much smaller than other festivals sporting headline acts of the same caliber. Because of it’s size, Sonisphere seems to escape a lot of the pitfalls of bigger festivals and I can happily say it was a joy to call home for 3 days.
But enough about the setting, let’s talk music. On my friends recommendation, I head to the Jagermeister tent early to check out Empire (8/10). They’re a hard band to put a tag on, picture if you can Coheed & Cambria meets Arcane Roots fronted by Benji from Skindred and you’re probably in the ballpark (you can have that for your Wiki page on me, lads).
It becomes obvious fairly quickly that the vocals are really the selling point of this band, and while the other musicians perform tremendously, front-man Joe Green’s charisma and confidence ensure all eyes stay locked on him. Mid-way through their set, a power failure leaves the stage in sudden silence prompting some confused looks from both the band and audience members alike. However, far from ruining the atmosphere, when the lights and sound do finally return, they appear to breathe life into the previously rigid crowd along with them. The guys make light of it (no pun intended) and kick the festival off to a great start.
Opening up the main stage are the love child of Marylin Manson and Killswitch Engage, of course, it could only be London based industrial outfit, The Defiled (6.5/10). Having appeared in the pages of just about every popular metal magazine, The Defiled are a classic “local band make it big” success story, and it’s still obvious from their deliberately chaotic stage show that the group are used to packing out intimate venues and not playing to a field of 20,000 people. They’re enjoyable to watch and they live up to their newly acquired rock-star status with keyboardist “The AvD” clearly being heavily intoxicated despite the fact it’s not even gone midday.
Visuals and snazzy stage gear aside, as the first act on they suffer from shoddy sound, as whoever is behind the desk uses them as lab rats to perfect their mix, resulting in partially inaudible guitars and overpowering synths for much of their performance. Amusing banter between vocalist Stitch D and his band mates carry them through, and while I personally find them to be a little style-over-substance for my taste, they none the less leave the chorus of closing song “Unspoken” ringing in my head for a good few hours after they exit the stage.
Next up, it’s freshly-formed super-group Devil You Know (7/10) in the Bohemia tent. Unless you’ve been living in solitary confinement, you’ll know that in 2012, metal lost one of it’s strongest unions in the form of Killswitch Engage and Howard Jones, citing personal health and lack of motivation as reasons for the departure. For those of us who fell in love with Jones’ unique vocal style, the prospect of never being able to see him perform again was incredibly disheartening. Two years on however, it appears he’s back in the game, oh and members of Fear Factory, All Shall Perish and Bleeding Through are along for the ride too. So no pressure guys, but we’re expecting some pretty high quality material from you.
Do they deliver? Well, yes and no. While each member glows with a confidence earned by decades of touring, their drop-tuned riff work is buried in a wall of sound as every instrument struggles to compete with the other for space. There remain some moments of clarity, and the sections that cut through showcase the bands ability to carve some truly crushing grooves. While no-one can argue Jones’ screams are worthy of the underworld itself, there’s a vibe of disappointment from the crowd as he misses out a lot of the (already scarce) singing parts. This made for quite a noticeable anti-climax and I can’t help but feel the songs fell well short of utilizing his potential as a vocalist. This being said, I am by no means writing Devil You Know off, if they ever do reach the heights they’re capable of given the plethora of talent in the band, then headlining festivals is easily within their grasp.
For the time being though, playing to 2,000 people in a tent seems fitting and with any luck, album #2 will see them placed higher on the bill.
Alright, picture this, three attractive females take up positions on the main stage (No, I don’t mean Babymetal, they’re like, kids) and proceed to baffle the somewhat bemused spectators with a burst of acapella-style singing. I was surprised to discover that, with the right harmonies, even the words “Now I know y’all be lov’in this s**t right here” can sound melodic and beautiful. Apparently the trio are known as “The Lounge Kittens (9/10) and their high score has almost nothing to do with the fact I am male, at a festival so overflowing with dudes it should be renamed Sausagesphere, okay? It’s was a quirky introduction, with things only getting more bizarre from here on in…
Aside from wet wipes, socks and contraception, did you remember to pack your chainsaw? Well Fred Durst certainly packed his for Friday’s performance. My inner Nu-Metal fan boy goes into overdrive as Limp Bizkit (9.5/10) walk out in front of 40,000 metal fans all driving imaginary cars belting out the lyrics to rap/rock anthem “Rollin'”.
It has to be said, regardless of your opinion of them, Bizkit are the embodiment of a fun live band and aside from not knowing which day it was, they really were on absolute top form. Durst nails his parts perfectly with a surprisingly mature air of cool confidence that is far from the cocky, white-boy rapper image he’s best known for. It’s a great example of “Less is more” with even the slightest hand gesture being enough to instigate a few dozen circle pits.
In between staple songs like My Generation and Nookie, an unexpected cover of “Killing In The Name Of” kicks the already pumped up crowd into full blown riot mode. Established bands covering much loved songs can be dangerous territory, but the gamble pays off and the words “F**k you, I won’t do what you tell me” echo miles beyond Knebworth to the surrounding countryside. And hey, if there’s anyone at liberty to cover a funk-rock song with a white dude rapping, it has to be Bizkit, right? Novelty tunes from the likes of 50 Cent keep transitions between songs light hearted and as expected, they wrap up their time at Sonisphere to the sounds of Break Stuff.
Not one for empty threats, stuff does indeed get broken and by the time their set is finished the site looks considerably less tidy than it did 40 minutes previously.
After a quick recovery over a pint (or three) attention turns to the main stage as anticipation for headliners The Prodigy (8/10) reaches slightly worrying levels. I can only liken what happens next to being beaten up by Godzilla….If Godzilla was made of very bright lights, lasers and offensively loud dance music.
They subject a very not-sober audience to a 60 minute assault on all five senses, turning a sea of die-hard metalheads into your typical weekend rave mob. With one song smoothly leading into the next and no real chance to catch your breath, this was definitely the most intense and unrelenting performance of the whole day. When it comes to sheer entertainment factor, The Prodigy are clearly at the top of their class, however they do have one major draw-back with their live show.
With a lot of their material being instrumental, the not one, but two lead vocalists often don’t actually have much to sing. As a result, the majority of their time is spent jumping up and down, repeating the same few phrases to keep the crowd engaged. It’s far too much fun for anyone to care or even notice, but you do get the impression those on the stage aren’t really doing anything drastically different to those watching i.e dancing about and occasionally shouting things.
This aside, they send the first day out with a very loud, very entertaining bang; cementing my view of Sonisphere as the new benchmark to which all other festivals should aspire to. Bring on day two.