This year Sonisphere seems to have exploded. Not just in the amount of festival-goers, but also they’ve decided to spill over into an extra half day. We’re truly amazed that Sonisphere is only in its second year and yet it’s turning into a monster ready to rival any metal fest that’s ever hit our shores. Plus, they seem to have got the balance right – they’ve designed it so bands don’t clash horrendously, it’s not to far to trudge from one stage to the other and even the security seem to have a smile on their faces. So, with our tents pitched and beers ready, we wander into the arena to see if the weekend lives up to the hype.
Over by the Bohemia stage it seems the lunatics may have taken over the asylum. The stage is sponsored by our friends at Bizarre magazine , it would appear that they’ve brought some f(r)iends with them to celebrate. Warped characters on stilts and a Victorian oddball, whispering manically to herself whilst clutching a child’s doll, make their way through the crowd spreading chaos and discord in their wake before a mechanical horse makes its appearance in the tent. Unfortunately the fun is short-lived and the Bizarre additions to the weekend are limited to just the Friday which proves a major buzzkill.
Meanwhile, on the Saturn stage, Europe stretch their one song into a fully-blown set which ends with the joyous, horns-aloft excess of ‘The Final Countdown’. The masses, overcome with the sheer sensory overload brought on by this vintage slice of rock cheese, punch the air as one, consumed by a communal hysteria that sets the tone for the weekend.
The Strongbow Bowtime stage is pretty unique, giving that real bar feel with different levels and seating areas and even bean bags which Soundsphere take full advantage of while we wait for instrumental rockers And So I Watch You From Afar . They open with ‘Clench Fists, Grit Teeth… Go!’ and the soft intro could lull you into a false sense of security, but watch out, these Belfast Boys are not to be taken lightly. Often we’re not sure if the Bowtime stage is even big enough to house them all as they jolt, jump and stomp (almost as much as the audience), while amazingly avoiding each other. These highly skilled musicians are definitely a joy to watch as they blast through ‘If It Aint Broke…Break It’ and finish on the highly appropriate ‘Set Guitars to Kill’. After this performance and along with the rise of bands such as Porcupine Tree and 65daysofstatic, this certainly seems like exciting times for the post-rock genre.
It’s still light when Gary Numan and his band take to the stage, which seems somehow wrong, but despite this aesthetic fubar, it’s business as usual for the 80’s pop icon turned darkwave legend. Blazing through a set largely based around more recent escapades, Numan makes the very most of his allotted 45 minutes. ‘Halo’ burns brightly with its ominous keyboards and dirty guitars whilst ‘A Prayer For The Unborn’ is driven by an equal mix of hope and despair. Despite trying to maintain a veneer of cool behind his trademark scowl, Numan’s obvious joy at playing Sonisphere is apparent and at one point he even admits, “I never thought I’d be playing these songs here”. It goes without saying that it’s the more familiar strains of ‘Cars’ and ‘Are Friends Electric’ that earn the biggest cheers but hey, it’s not like you need a crystal ball to see that coming a mile off. Regardless, Numan shrugs it off with aplomb, warming the crowd up nicely for Alice Cooper’s Theatre Of Misogyny.
When we heard that this show would be comprised of elements from previous shows, Alice Cooper’s set was pretty much what we expected…over the top. But that’s not always a bad thing. He opens with ‘School’s Out‘ which keeps the crowd in a good sing-a-long mood, however it just doesn’t feel right when he breaks into ‘I’m Eighteen’ and ‘Wicked Young Man’. Fitting in the highlights of previous shows means that Alice gets killed no less than three times onstage by hanging, guillotine and electric chair, as well as continually beating up the same, (apparently deranged) woman. We can’t help but feel a little bad for applauding yet another staged session of domestic violence. Poison is an obvious choice for a highlight of the show, but with a set longer than any greatest-hits album and a gimmick for every song, the act, albeit impressive, gets a little weary. We’re left a little confused by the choice to play ‘School’s Out‘ again as a last encore and decide to head over to the Bohemia stage. In fairness, Alice Cooper and co have been doing these stage shows for years, but after tonight’s performance we can understand why more and more we find the trend for stadium shows is moving away from theatrics to focus more on the music.
We find the Bohemia stage warming up nicely as Bradford’s finest, Terrorvision , are already bouncing around to ‘Enteralterego’. It’s a fun atmosphere in the tent and as it’s the first day and festivities only started at 4, everyone’s most definitely still got the energy to party way past our bedtimes. Most surprising was the stripped-back, almost chilled version of ‘Tequila’, which instead of making us jump around the place like loons, had a lot of the audience actually dancing. Their set worked well as an uplifting end to the day and we’re sure they acted as a catalyst for a few fine parties in the main campsite as we encountered many a metalhead starting as they meant to go on as we wandered happily back to our tents.
The Jagermeister Stage hosting York-based group RSJ is our first port of call as Saturday sees the festival in full swing. This is a band that most certainly needs to be on a larger stage – they are not just heavy metal, they are solid. The crowd is, unfortunately, quite sparse. Not surprisingly as 11:30 in the morning may be seen by many as an early start, despite the Apollo stage sound technicians feeling the need to blast ‘Killing In The Name Of‘ at top volume at the crack of dawn…well, okay, 9:30. Nevertheless, the band manage to whip the few that have managed to drag themselves out of their sleeping bags into the first circle pit of the day which is no mean feat. They’re a fine specimen of a band and do well to emulate the genre. It’s not apparent that there’s anything new going on here, but if it’s not broke, who cares?
It’s hard to mistake the familiar dual-vocals of Italian goth-rockers Lacuna Coil . They deliver a short set drawing mainly from their most recent offering ‘Shallow Life’ which is pleasing, but not particularly ground-breaking as their previous works have been. They play without any glitches and it’s a pretty good set, but we won’t be writing straight to our mums to tell them about it. Christina Scabbia, on the other hand, as a vocalist is pretty phenomenal. Even in a plain vest and jeans, she still manages to prove she’s the sexiest woman in metal, all the while treating us to the impressive vocal acrobatics required by set-closer ‘Our Truth’, and even though the overall set goes pretty much as expected, she certainly manages to blow us away.
After our last encounter with Papa Roach , we were pretty excited for this round. They open with ‘Getting Away With Murder’ – a satisfying start to the set. Jacoby Shaddix is a reliable and charismatic front man, but as the set continues, we seem to experience a feeling of déjà vu, particularly when he dedicates ‘Hollywood Whore’ to Shitn** Spears and teeny bopper Justin Bieber. However they are definite crowd-pleasers, particularly when they break out the gratifyingly indulgent ‘Scars’ and the nostalgic anthems ‘Between Angels And Insects’ and ‘Last Resort’. There is nothing really to criticise about this performance, maybe except for our expectations being a little too high.
An ominous electronic overture announces the arrival of cyber-metal’s finest, Fear Factory , a brief moment of respite before the furious onslaught of ‘Mechanize’ rips us forcefully into the afternoon. “Do not be alarmed by the big object in the sky, it’s just the sun” jokes FF’s vocal martyr Burton C. Bell before ripping into a ball-bustingly heavy ‘Edgecrusher’. With guitarist Dino Cazares back in the band, Fear Factory are once more firing on all cylinders and all is right in the world once more. Precision bursts of guitar and white-hot drumming signify the unleashing of a pulverising version of ‘Replica’, but today’s show has been nothing more than a brief glimpse of their true potential.
Good Charlotte , the emo-friendly Blink 182, kick off their time on the main stage with the anthemic ‘Anthem’. “This is the anthem, throw all your hands up” demands Joel Madden and the crowd duly comply. Who needs subliminal messages when it really is this easy to get a field of folk to follow your every word? A bouncy cover of The Police’s ‘So Lonely’ gets tagged onto the back of ‘My Bloody Valentine’ before Madden dedicates a rousing ‘Girls & Boys’ to the UK’s female populace, the smooth bugger. A frenetic ‘The River’ is dedicated to Avenged Sevenfold’s The Rev, suitably poignant given the AVX7 connection to the track, before the double-whammy of ‘I Just Wanna Live’ and ‘Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous’ tops things off in spectacular style, making their set one of the absolute highlights of Sonisphere. And, coming from someone who never thought they would ever commit those words to paper or word document, consider this high praise indeed.
If you miss the Riot grrrl movement, then maybe you should have joined us over at the Red Bull stage on Saturday afternoon for Japanese Voyeurs . They’re every bit the next evolution from the likes of Queen Adreena and Babes In Toyland with songs such as ‘Dumb’ and ‘You’re So Cool’. Particularly when they produce vocals that on one hand sound beautifully innocent but you still get the feeling that if you make one wrong move, you could just end up on the floor battered and bruised with maybe a teddy bear swinging eerily over your head… if you’re lucky. It’s strange how calm they seem onstage when they’re producing an aural assault of this magnitude. Even at their most chilled on ‘The Love Sound’ they still manage to get a few audience members to start a circle pit (clearly the only way to dance at a metal festival). All in all, we can’t wait to see more of these beautiful people.
It’s been a while since we last encountered Skunk Anansie , but they’re back and busy promoting a new album, the forthcoming ‘Wonderlustre’. The band; guitarist Ace, bassist Cass and drummer Mark Richardson are all present and correct, though looking somewhat gnarlier than we remember, but it’s vocalist Skin who doesn’t appear to have aged a day. And then there’s the voice – that voice – it hasn’t lost even an ounce of its power. Simply incredible. She emerges in a strange hooded garment, resembling a modern day Grace Jones, leading the band as they power through biggies like ‘Charlie Big Potato’, ‘Charity’ and ‘Weak’, and even find time to shake out a new track, ‘My Ugly Boy’, which is as smart and sassy as you’d expect. The field’s positively shaking as one by the time ‘Tear The Place Down’ and ‘Little Baby Swastikkka’ roll round and it’s obvious that there’s a lot of love in the place for this particular band.
We’ve seen Placebo a few times recently, but we can hand-on-heart tell you that nothing prepared us for this. Firstly they open with ‘Nancy Boy‘ – a firm fan favourite but hardly ever played live so you can imagine our surprise. Next up is ‘Ashtray Heart’, a new favourite with this writer, all going good so far. But then they break into ‘Scared Of Girls’ which hasn’t been on their live repertoire since way back in 2001 making this performance already a true Placebo fan’s wet dream come true. Brian and co, truly set in their white clothing phase are slick and professional, he even looks cooler than cool in over-sized geek glasses and beanie. You’d think with an opening like that, they could do no more to astonish us but then they pull a Nirvana cover out of the bag as they settle into ‘All Apologies’. Ending on ‘Infra-Red’ and ‘Taste In Men’ we can certainly say that this was a performance of a lifetime. They may not be as raw as they once were but after this offering we can say that, hands down, Placebo are one of the best bands you will ever see.
As darkness descends, the appearance of the biggest German flag you will ever see in your life can only mean one thing; Rammstein are in town. Said to be wielding something in the region of 20 tonnes of pyro, there’s a distinct possibility that if something goes awry then Knebworth may find itself obliterated from the map. It’s an explosive finale to the day as they tear through some of their best known tracks whilst setting fire to practically everything on stage. Arriving on stage wearing little more than a feather boa and a butcher’s apron, singer Til Lindemann would make a great serial killer, spitting out the lyrics to ‘Rammlied’ whilst his mouth is illuminated by some cunningly placed LEDs. The sound is near damn flawless and every keyboard melody is perfectly weighted against the napalm of guitars that threaten to crush, kill and destroy, meaning even the heavier, faster tracks like ‘Feuer Frei’ remain absolutely crystal clear when they could so easily turn into an indistinct aural mush. Flames threaten to consume the band at every juncture and during ‘Ich Tu Dir Weh’ an altercation between singer and keyboardist sees the hapless Flake thrown in a bathtub and doused in molten metal. Insane isn’t the word, but it’ll have to do. Saving ‘Pussy’ for the climax (oo-er!) of the show, Lindemann takes the opportunity to jump aboard what appears to be a massive pink cement mixer and surrogate metal cock before spraying the crowd with his foamy jizz. Which was nice. And, somewhat disappointingly, we’re all still alive come the close of the second day, though some folk near the front may have lost an eyebrow or two.
For the few that have caught on to the hint, there’s still one band left to see at the end of the night on the Bohemia stage: Renegades (A.K.A. Feeder) . Vocalist, Grant suggests to the crowd, “You’re probably wondering what we’re doing here“, and then goes on to explain that they wanted a space where they could play only their new stuff which is fair play, in our opinion. The new album is storming and very different from the pop-rock we’ve been used to hearing, it takes a little time for the crowd to warm up to it but eventually the penny seems to drop and we all start rocking out. Annoyingly and predictably, there are still the few that shout out the few opening bars of ‘Buck Rogers’ every time they hear a silence. Title track ‘Renegades’ is well-received but it’s when they finally relent and play ‘Lost And Found’ that the audience goes berserk but it’s short-lived as Feeder break back into new song ‘Call Out’ to finish. A good effort from one of the UK’s best rock acts.
It’s before noon on the last day of Sonisphere so you really can’t blame Pennsylvania rockers CKY for getting off to a slow start. Three songs in and The Human Drive In Hi-Fi’s chugging White Zombie meets Queens Of The Stone Age groove starts to move things up a notch. A brief blast of Britney’s ‘Womaniser’ generates not only a fair few boos but a can of booze gets aimed directly at guitarist Chad Ginsburg’s head. Taking it in his stride, Ginsburg snatches the can from the air and proceeds to chug the lot, much to the delight of the baying mob and things get quickly back on track with ’96 Quite Bitter Beings’, a track you’ll all recognise from Jackass, which has effectively become the band’s calling card.
The Defiled do not disappoint today at the Bohemia stage. With a self-proclaimed, “Halloween gone wrong” style, they take to the stage with aggression more than a healthy dose of weirdness. If the likes of American Head Charge had matured (and got bored) with the likes of A7X and Bullet For My Valentine on the scene, we’re guessing this is what they would sound like. A little Manson-esque but with more thrashing guitars and brutal melodies you could ever dream of. They’re the kind of band that compels you to run to the front of the crowd and batter your body to the beat…if you dare. As they end the set with The A.V.D. violently destroying his keyboard and you have a band that truly deserves for you to throw your horns in the air and scream for more.
Japan’s Dir En Grey are, to be fair, a bit of a leftfield choice for Sonisphere. They’ve received some great press in the run up to the festival but most folk here have yet to experience them first hand, meaning the gathered crowd can be split into either the faithful or the curious. Using their 40 minutes to basically raise a shit storm of frenzied riffs, all framed by some of the most intense screaming that you’ll experience this side of Mike Patton, courtesy of vocalist Kyo. They also somehow manage to fit a five minute vocal solo in as well as a homage to tonight’s headliners, Iron Maiden, with their brief cover of ‘Prowler’ mid-set, which only helps to further their cause.
Sunday afternoon and the Bohemia tent becomes home to an ad-hoc comedy club, with inimitable Aussie MC, Jarred Christmas. Brian Posehn you should recognise from Rob Zombie’s ‘The Devil’s Rejects’ movie. Turns out he’s actually a funny fu**er and his routine is effectively based around several conceits – the fact he likes to smoke weed, the fact that he has the face of a potential rapist and serial killer and the insane theory that “Slayer nullifies homosexuality”. Posehn knows his audience and it’s material like that instantly elevates him to near enough demi-god status within the tent. Next up is Irish comic Sean Hughes, who’s the same neurotic character he displayed to the world on ‘Sean’s Show’, though now somewhat older and fatter. This is theoretically a good thing though as it gives him even more material to play with. An early stunt sees him attempt to dupe the more drug-addled members of this festival crowd into thinking that U2 are playing is amusing but his riffs on middle-aged ennui are somewhat misplaced and his over-reliance on the c-word for a cheap cheer grates long before he leaves the stage. The final act of the afternoon is Jim Jeffries, a politically incorrect antagonist from the Jason Rouse / Andrew ‘Dice’ Clay school of outrage. Rants on gender inequality, lesbians and blow**bs are delivered in an angry, self-righteous, misanthropic manner, it’s all about aiming low and catering to the lowest common denominator. And don’t you just know, the crowd love every minute of it.
Alice In Chains rock up on the Apollo stage, a step-up from last year, now fully established an accepted with their new line-up. Even though grunge has never been the happiest or bounciest of genres, they seem even more down-beat these days. Nonetheless, they do deliver an unyielding set of true classics. The set truly comes to life when they play ‘Them Bones’ followed by the near visionary ‘Rain When I Die’. It’s refreshing to see that Jerry Cantrell will take centre-stage now and then, particularly for ‘Black Gives Way To Blue‘ tracks. This is not to say that William DuVall has any problems holding his own as he flawlessly sings his way through ‘Would?’ and ‘Rooster’. If Layne were here, I’m sure he’d be proud of what they did today.
Being introduced as ‘the greatest rock n’ roll band in the world’ is a pretty hefty preface to live up to, but it’s one that The Cult tackle pretty well. Their set is varied and well balanced between songs from their metal days and their lighter 80s-flavoured gothic material. Diving straight into ‘Lil Devil’ and then the soaring ‘Sweet Soul Sister’ they definitely show that they have earned their place on Sonisphere’s formidable line-up. Ian Astbury introduces pretty much every song with an anecdote starting, ‘I wrote this when I was on some bad acid…’ or ‘While I was tripping…’ giving the younger members of the crowd a flavour of the band’s history. However, it’s not until halfway through their set when they introduce new single ‘Every Man And Woman Is A Star’ (thanking Alistair Crowley for the title) that they really grab our attention. It’s such a groovy (yes, we said ‘groovy’) and likeable track that, if it reaches your ears, is sure to turn into a summer anthem. We have our fingers crossed, anyway. Obviously ‘Fire Woman’ and ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ get the most out of the crowd but today, The Cult have undeniably shown that there’s a lot more to them and firmly keep their feet stamped in the rock hall of fame.
Conversely, headlining the Jagermeister stage are London rockers Slaves To Gravity , here doing a great job of impersonating your average pub band. The songs are generic and mundane, the four band members possessing about as much charisma as an over-priced Cornish pasty (ironically also appearing at this year’s Sonisphere) though with less nutritional value. Whilst we never get the opportunity to discover if they improve after a few Jaegerbombs, what we witness is sadly nothing more than a band on auto-pilot to mediocrity.
Meanwhile, on the Saturn Stage, Iggy & the Stooges have arrived and are acting like they’ve never been away, or have at least been cryogenically frozen since the 70s. Of course, with Iggy, you get what you expect, a little bit of insanity, a lot of attitude and a lot of fun. Either way it’s pretty amazing they’re still going with the same energy and grins as they always have (and thankfully no spitting image-style puppet is in sight). They open with ‘Raw Power’ and ‘Search And Destroy’; as the crowd seem to be having so much fun in front of the stage, Mr Pop decides to invite a few delighted fans onstage for what seems like a private party. In our opinion, Alice Cooper could take a few lessons from these guys – no gimmicks, just good, solid music that the crowd laps up. It’s no doubt that Iggy is a born entertainer as he decides to crawl around the stage and gets down in front of the audience during ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ swinging the microphone lead between his teeth to that mouth-watering riff. They even manage to squeeze in an encore of ‘Death Trip’ and ‘No Fun’, you couldn’t really ask for much more of these legends.
And so to the final headliner of the weekend, the world’s greatest heavy metal band, Iron Maiden . Normally, you’d expect them to jet in (with Bruce Dickinson in the cockpit, no less), pi** out any number of their classic tracks – a bit of ‘Ace’s High’ or ‘Run To The Hills’ – and in return we go bat**it insane and sing along as loud as our heart and voice allows. However that’s not the case. Instead they focus on the their last four albums with barely a track under seven-odd minutes long on show, presumably to allow for the mandatory three guitar solos per song. It’s a long, drawn out affair, with the band clearly enjoying themselves far more than we are. And, yes, it’s great to see The Irons maintaining credibility by doing whatever the f**k they want rather than bowing to convention, it makes for a depressingly joyless experience that even manages to sour an encore of ‘Number Of The Beast’, ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’ and ‘Running Free’. It’s all too little, too late, and as we make our way into the darkness a thousand thoughts echo in unison; “What the fuck were they thinking?”
Luckily, Maiden weren’t the end of the weekend for us by far. Over on the Bohemia Stage we find a respectably large crowd waiting for The 80s Matchbox B-Line Disaster to provide a healthy portion of psychosis as an alternative to the main stage. As soon as they kick off with ‘Monsieur Cutts’, vocalist, Guy McKnight characteristically dives straight into the audience, just to make sure that we’re still awake and we know we’re in for a good ride. New single ‘Love Turns To Hate’ is gratifyingly fast-paced and ‘Celebrate Your Mother’ continues to keep this dedicated crowd going, but maybe not to the standard that 80s Matchbox would ideally like. ‘Fishfingers’ and ‘Freud’s Black Muck’ riles the crowd into a climaxing frenzy as McKnight once again plunges himself into the crowd and Tristan McLenahan joins the party crowd surfing until the party dissolves.
It’s at this point in the night when you’d think the shindig would be over. The headliners have finished and many festival-goers have packed up and left; but, in our opinion, they were truly misguided in doing so as they surely turned their backs on the biggest party to hit the Bowtime stage, brought swiftly by Tek One . This is truly the most brutal aural attack we have have ever experienced during a dubstep act, with a bludgeoning crowd to match. The live drumkit adds an extra bazooka’s worth to the heavy artillery of bass they’ve brought along with them aimed exactly right to pound every last morsel of energy these metal heads have left. You think we’re being sensationalist? We actually might be downplaying it. They even bring Bring Me The Horizon’s ‘Sleep With One Eye Open’ to new depths. Still don’t believe us? Well what ever happened, if you were not there, we think you missed the party of the summer 2010.
For more information visit the official website. Also see our Adam‘s photoblog from Sonisphere!