Last weekend the first edition of a new and quite revolutionary music festival, Temples, took over Motion Skate Park in Bristol, a venue more used to seeing huge student raves. It set itself lofty goals, all of which it met and then some, but essentially this was a gathering of many of the world’s best “heavy music” artists currently plying their trade. That we couldn’t keep our review to less than 3 pages and 6500 words tells you all you need to know – there was barely a single band on the bill that didn’t deserve some kind of recognition in the form of words. But we start our odyssey by setting the scene and talking about the festival in general…
Bristol likes a good festival, a fact attested to by the number that happen in the city every year. There’s a world famous jazz and blues festival, a brilliant folk music festival, electronic music festivals such as Arc Festival and Love Saves the Day, an indie music festival called Dot To Dot, a rock music festival, Hit the Deck, the ever brilliant Simple Things Festival for fans of the most cutting edge, alternative, forward thinking acts from music’s diaspora, a veggie festival which invariably pushes reggae to the fore, punks have the punks’ picnic, crusties have Subvert, psych rockers have the, er, psych rock fest, while math and noise rockers have ArcTanGent. There’s there’s Brisfest, of course, with its slant on local bands from all genres and hec, I even found out yesterday that an 80s festival is lined up for this summer, billed as “The Ultimate 80s Festival” and sending a shiver down your spine of seismic proportions.
But up until now there’s never been a proper heavy music festival.
Step forward one Francis Mace, the visionary genius (and I use the expression advisedly) behind Temples Festival, which recently came to Bristol’s Motion nightclub and skatepark, and in its inaugural year delivered a heavy music festival to end all heavy music festivals. In one fell swoop Temples Festival has probably done more for Bristol’s reputation on the world’s music stage than any other festival to happen here, and it’s unquestionably the biggest indoor, possibly outdoor too, Bristol festival ever. On a larger scale one likes to think it’s possible this has been a game changer of a festival and one that festivals everywhere will learn a lot from thanks to its revolutionary format, one which put fans and bands to the fore and one which I, for one, would like to see become a blueprint for all future festivals everywhere. A festival that’s proved your CAN, in fact, please all the people all the time if you’re just progressive in thought, flexible enough, prepared to listen to feedback and, most importantly, to react to it.
The lineup was jaw dropping. The festival’s goal of curating a “well programmed heavy music event to the South West of England, covering a broad range of genres within the heavy music spectrum” was reached easily – and then some! Running the gamut from doom, stoner metal, sludge, stoner rock, post-metal, hardcore, progressive metal, experimental, hard rock, black metal, atmospheric sludge and more it’s succeeded, in its first year, in becoming one of the world’s foremost festivals celebrating the best of heavy music.
So what was so revolutionary about the festival? The diverse programming, first and arguably foremost – show me another festival where straight edge hardcore bands hand over to black metal bands and back again to a doom band. Secondly, the enlightened and, it ultimately turned out, crucial decision not to oversell the venue. The stats: the organisers were told the capacity of Motion was 2500, but realising, perhaps, that heavy music fans are a) always going to be a lot bigger than the usual punters at Motion (students) and b) always going to be a lot more male, they quickly revised that downwards by quite some margin, putting on sale (so I heard) 1600 weekend passes and 200 day passes. So at least 700 people under capacity. And it still felt more packed when the headliners were on than I’ve ever known it to feel!
The second revolutionary decision made by the organisers were to do away with the need for clash finders by programming a relay race between stage one and stage two. Occasionally there was a five minute overlap between bands, but essentially no one needed to miss any of the bands as we all streamed from stage one to stage two and back again immediately meaning everyone would see all the bands, no bands would play to an empty stage and, of course, the issue of noise bleed wouldn’t be one (an issue).
Then there’s the attention to detail – things like catering for veggies and vegans (and when said caterer cancelled changing the policy of not allowing people to bring food into the venue. Things like when people complained about the strobes for the first couple of bands they immediately cut them. And things like the fact that all the staff, including all the bouncers (bar one chap who seemed to be living in the dark ages who insisted I couldn’t take an EMPTY water bottle in to get filled at the bar “because they sell bottles of water there”) were just so incredibly friendly!
But that’s enough about the festival in general. You really need to know about the music right? So let’s start with ….
Day one – that friendliness I mentioned? My first impression of the festival was the incredibly friendly person doling out wristbands. Sadly I missed the first band, Spider Kitten, but both Twitter and a couple of real people told me they put on a great set. So doom band Witchsorrow were my first taste of Temples 2014, a three piece doom metal band from Hampshire. One of the leading UK bands of their ilk they set the tone for the weekend with a powerful, rumbling set and although firmly based in traditions of doom they also has plenty of personality of their own. The pace changes kept us on out toes and although their whole set was pretty impressive, it was with the final song with its onus on memorable, melodic riffs where they really shone (if one can ever describe a doom band as “shining”.)
Adrenalin now well and truly flowing we all traipsed through the doorway to stage two where English / Norwegian black metal band CODE (whose name actually has a “<” before and a “<” after, but as that messes with the, you guessed it, HTML code our site we have to omit them) were about to start their set. I think it’s safe to say that I saw more black metal during Temples than I have in my whole life before – and wow, what a genre! There’s some simply stunning black metal bands out there, as witnessed by the fact that my favourite band on two of the three days was from said genre. New CODE singer Wacian proved he had the vocal dexterity that black metal vocalists need, from doleful yowls, to more muted, softer sounds. He even ventured to what can only be described as “regular singing” rhealms at times. A darkly atmospheric and progressive band, they, like most of the artists at Temples, pulled off an assured set.
Satan’s Satyrs were next up, a band who came close to resembling a straight up rock band (albeit a pretty filthy and heavy one) at times during their set, but who were essentially a doom band. Make sure you check out their new album, Die Screaming, which will propel you into their world of grinding grim.
I missed the first twenty minutes of Wodensthrone’s set I’m afraid because the ten minutes of them I saw was blinding. Playing the currently in vogue genre of Pagan Black Metal (aka English Heritage Black Metal) their modus operandi is lengthy, atmospheric songs played with technical accomplishment. Check these guys out if you aren’t already familiar.
Back to stage one for occult doom metal band Moss who, although I didn’t know it at the time, were setting the scene for my band of the day, Winterfylleth (see pic right), who utterly blew me away. We’ve written about them quite a lot on these pages before, but none of it prepared me for just how brilliant they were. Uniquely for a band playing Temples Festival (and there were over 40 of them) they came on stage looking like regular people. But that’s irrelevant, what matters is their music, which matters more than somewhat. Lead singer Chris (dubbed “the happiest man in black metal” by our own Andy Santiago) had vocals which ran the full range with seeming ease; that is from, soft, almost folk like sections to full on abrasive screams. When they ramped up the pace I virtually stopped breathing. Incredible rolling guitar play just pummelled the life out of you and, complemented by crushing blastbeats, the whole was simply mind blowing. They weren’t afraid to bring god damn tunes to the festival either, not to mention riffs! to die for, riffs! that demand an exclamation mark even though it’s not grammatically correct to use one there! Needless to say they also mined the depths of ‘bleak’ too in places, and when their songs tended to the ‘lamenting epic’ I daresay it wasn’t only my heart that fluttered with excitement. Sweeping, emotional and powerful – what more can you want from a band playing IN THE AFTERNOON? Later I nipped to the merch stand and met Chris. I told him he been called the happiest man in black metal. He shrugged and muttered words which I’m guessing he’ll want to adorn his tombstone: “what can I say, I just really like riffs”. “Here lieth Chris from Winterfylleth. He just really liked riffs”.
Pity two-piece American sludge metal band Jucifer – how do they follow that? Esp now it was obvious that at this time of day, as Chris pointed out, bands playing the second stage “got the better deal”. Now in their tenth year together Jucifer have been described as pioneers of sludge and doom metal. I was struggling to re-acclimatise to anything that wasn’t Winterfylleth so soon took a break waterside, returning for the last song of their 45 minute set and guess what? It was actually fucking brilliant! One of the more brutal screamed vocals and guitar come drum attacks of the weekend in fact. I made a note to self to see them again before I die. Menacing music and music which a couple of people I met over the weekend described as the highlight of their day.
It was time now for an old school death metal interlude courtesy of Desecration. Solid stuff which paved the way for a return to the main stage for Blood Ceremony who drew easily the largest audience of the day so far. The only band to bring a flute to the stage this weekend, Blood Ceremony came across as a 70s throwback prog-rock band, a description that would normally have me running for the hills, but they mix it with enough psych rockiness that in this instance it actually more than worked. The prominence of the synthesiser didn’t exactly do much to dispel the progginess of the band, mind, nor do guitar solos, but frankly they rocked with enough poise and self-assurance that they’d fully won me over by the end, impressive when you take into account the fact that I had a pissed arsehole behind me who sang along to every fucking word.
With the night wearing on it was time for the day’s last blast of black metal in the form of old hands Anaal Nathrakh. “Anaal Nathrakh was created for one purpose – to be the soundtrack for Armageddon, the audial essence of evil, hatred and violence, the true spirit of necro taken to its musical extremes” it says on Last.fm. Judging by tonight’s performance I’d say that was accurate. Their set was a masterclass in blackened, crushing, brutal black metal. Yes, I said blackened black metal. I was beginning to think I was probably hardened to this stuff by now. Lacking in some of the ingenuity of previous bands, perhaps, they were here for one thing – to crush the living bejesus out of us. Make that two things: to suck the miserable souls out of us too. Outrageously desolate this could well be the music they play in hell. By which I don’t mean McDonalds, but I tell you what, if I could have one wish granted it’d be for Anaal Nathrakh to be piped simultaneously into every branch of said fast food branch really fucking loud.
Brutal Truth, the American grindcore band who formed in 1990, were playing what was billed as their last ever UK show on stage one now. The place was packed and boy did Brutal Truth bring it! Where “it” was a melange of dominant dissonance, fury and downright grinding power. They put their backs into tonight’s show and the appreciative audience responded in kind, not only by crowd surfing (of which their was surprisingly little in evidence this weekend) but also being utterly respectful. Playing for an hour they played a dream set list. The world in general probably has no idea how sad it is that Brutal Truth have sidled off of music’s mortal coil now, but the emotional audience here tonight (OK, I was emotional and I’ll bet I wasn’t the only one) certainly did.
Gehenna finished off the day on stage 2. From the home of black metal, Norway, we were expecting a masterclass and pretty much got that. The room was emptying out rapidly during their set and sadly for me I didn’t suss out why until too late. They’d closed the door linking stage’s 1 and 2 so following their set I had to go the long way round to get in for Electric Wizard. Calamity though – the door keepers weren’t allowing people in. The room was full. It was a “one in one out” job and naturally no one was leaving. Ironic that just what the organisers were trying to avoid came to pass. I waited 15 mins and gave up. Went home. A bit sad. Rumour had it (by which I mean more that one person) that they were stoned out of their heads and put in a sloppy set. So perhaps I didn’t miss much.
Day one over, band of the day? Winterfylleth.
Bands mentioned in this review can be found at the following sites: Spider Kitten, Witchsorrow, Code, Satan’s Satyrs, Wodensthrone, Moss, Jucifer, Desecration, Blood Ceremony, Anaal Nathrakh, Brutal Truth, Gehenna, Electric Wizard