A Facebook message apologising for day one’s problems. The team had been up all night trying to iron them out. And they had done.
Day two was my day – it’s the one I bought a ticket too (realising the festival was likely to sell out I told the aforementioned nice person on the door they could sell one more ticket – wouldn’t want anyone to miss out just because I’d have felt guilty if I hadn’t made some sort of contribution to the festival’s coffers!)
For me, day two started with a trio of local bands. Despite the internet (and everything) I still consider supporting your local scene to be vitally important, so it was nice to see Temples put a handful of Bristol bands on the bill. Between the three of them they covered most of the genres on show at Temples this weekend, and each and every band more than held their own.
First of these was Svalbard, a Bristol band I’ve probably seen more often than any other. And frankly have never sounded better. They put on a killer, albeit way too short, set on what had been, predominantly, day one’s black metal stage and what was, today, predominantly the hardcore stage. They play complex, intelligent hardcore. Overflowing with ideas, pace changes, riffs, tunes (which’ll stay with you long after they’ve left the stage) and layers upon layers of intensity, Svalbard have the makings of a band who’ll go very far. Their songs play with your emotions and crescendo along (is that a verb? is now), building in fury from restrained beginnings from where they slowly soar to a zenith of intensity before exploding, leaving your heart fair bursting. Seriously, do yourselves a favour and check out some of their music really quickly. You can thank me later if you want, but I really don’t give a shit if you do or not.
Next up fellow Bristolians Sonance who perplexingly, and despite our reviewing them before, I’ve never seen live. Boy did they impress too! Essentially they’re a doom band, but to call them such is to do them a disservice. You know I said Svalbard’s music was packed with ideas? Well so is Sonance’s. Do we see a theme here? With the whole of venue rumbling thanks to the shuddering subs ramped up to the maximum (evidently they adhere to the local boy and dubstep pioneer Pinch’s maxim that “if your chest ain’t rattling it just ain’t happening) the set started with the person I’ll call their main man as he was the vocalist and bass player, wheedling some curious ethereal sounds out of his instrument with the help of an iPhone app. For most of the set the two guitarists were taking it in turns for one of them to make regular guitar noises and the other to coax unusual, beguiling noises out of their instrument, at times with the help of pieces and metal. At one point if you’d closed your eyes you’d have thought they had a violin on stage. Amazing stuff. I spent most of their set entranced, rhythmically rocking front and back, lost in their music, totally unaware of anything that was going on around me except this powerful music that was somehow invading my body. Ambient, distinctive and as original as it comes, Sonance are the Mogwai of the doom world. We need to hear more from these guys and definitely need to see them live more.
The last of the Bristol trio were more in your face and definitely less experimental, but just as good. True Valiance (see photo above) are probably the leading band on the currently resurgent BCHC scene. They’re an old school beatdown, metallic hardcore band, but they bring new school ideas to the stage too. Passionate music, they blistered off the blocks and, one malfunctioning bit of kit aside, kept going at an almighty pace through their whole set. Ferocious stuff, it promised to massacre anyone who got in its way. The lead singer prowled the stage like a caged animal, wired and seemingly in a constant state of being “about to go off”. They’re a band who invest their all into every live show. And, much as I’m in favour of kids hardcore dancing at shows, I’ve got to be honest, it was really nice to see True Valiance play and not to have to hide behind the biggest guy in the room for fear of being spin kicked in the head or punched by someone blind windmilling. Awesome set anyway, and probably the most dynamic and muscular of the weekend.
Next up: Bossk. We’d been looking forward to Kentish post-metallers / post-rockers Bossk and they didn’t disappoint. Crushingly heavy at times they were perhaps best when displaying their uniquely melodious and beautiful “other side”. That they were sharing the stage with AMENRA made perfect sense. We’re stoked that the band are currently recording a new album, due out on Deathwish “sometime in the future”. Check it out when it drops.
Back to stage hardcore for Leeds band Mob Rules. The Leeds music scene is rampant at the moment, not least in the field of hardcore, as Mob Rules proved with another solid set.
Conan were up on the main stage next. Three guys in total with the guitarist and bassist in hoodies stage front. They kicked seven bells out of the place with a rock solid set of powerful doom / stoner metal. They play like neanderthals (in a good way!) and make a furious sound. You wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of these chaps or their hulking great noise, one that uses riffs as its main weapon of choice. Bellowed vocals sit atop an immensely grooving mix of drums and guitars. They’re from Liverpool dontcha know, as were some of the other best bands of the day.
I took a break now. I needed to take a break. Returning I catch the end of A Storm Of Light’s set and guess what? I wish I’d seen more. More doom this, but as it was faster paced than your average doom it perked me up as much as the 30 mins in the sun by the river had just done. New rule – don’t ever miss any bands who’ve recorded for Southern Lord. Actually, it’s an old rule, but one I temporarily forgot. I cant believe I haven’t used the word “heft” in this review yet. Let me do so now. A Storm Of Light brought heft.
Time for more hardcore! Vitamin X (see photo right) are from the Netherlands, but they pronounce their name the American way. They get the award for most fun set all weekend, thanks largely due to the inflatables they brought along. Starting with a football that they threw into the audience, they moved on and up to, firstly, a big rubber ring and finally a lilo (see photo right, again). The lead singer seemed to be everywhere at once – one minute scissor kick jumping off the amps at the back of the stage, the next jumping over to the crash barriers to thrust his mic into the audience for people to grab it if they wanted. He was also the only person who properly stage dived all weekend. And the music? Standard (as in brilliant) old school hardcore – music with a (political) message. On. The. Money. And still not so much as a sniff of any crowd killing going on.
Tombs were up next, an experimental metal band from Brooklyn whose sound drifts towards the “black” end of the metal music spectrum and the “industrial” end of the post-punk music spectrum. They have a new album, Savage Gold, out on June 10th via Relapse Records. It’s highly anticipated and tonight’s performance demonstrated why. A brilliant, muscular set from a band whose professed post-punk influences are kept slightly hidden. For the record, though, I heard a bit of Swans in their sound, and you can’t praise much higher than that.
Surprisingly Swedes Wolfbrigade are pretty much the first band who played the festival who can be described as “crust” so far. Another band who hit the floor raging, this was yet another fast, furious and savage set.
Takes deep breath.
Now the real fun started. And when I say “fun” I mean two performances that, back-to-back, were the best three hours of live music of my life (bar only Swans at Leeds Poly on 23rd October 1987, of course.) AMENRA (see photo above) first. Usually I make a beeline for the front of any show I’m at. And sure enough I started doing that tonight until I was stopped in my tracks as I was on my way there, rooted to the spot because AMENRA started playing. Started playing with their huge, wide screen visuals behind them. All other agendas were immediately put in hold as I couldn’t think of doing anything now except just standing where I was, mouth open, watching and listening with a wide grin on my face as the washes of sound and the washes of images just, y’know, washed over us. Standing still was the only option. Standing still and swaying side to side, forwards and backwards anyway. With my mouth open. One set-long perpetual “gasp”. One set long perpetual “gosh”. One set long perpetual “golly”. Words, naturally, won’t come close to describing what emotions I went through, or what sounds I heard; sounds that were perfectly in sync with the stunning visuals. I knew I was going to enjoy this because I bloody love AMENRA anyway as such it was a bit of a given. But still I was totally not expecting to be so swept off my feet as much as I was. Such rare, beautiful, powerful shockingly perfect music. Describing it is hard. Facebook says they make “sludge, down tempo, hardcore”. I’m not sure I agree. Granted they have moments when they’re down tempo for them. But the band they remind me of most and the only reference point I got from their music this evening was the brilliant Slint. Specifically their recently reissued magnum opus Spiderland, that most amazing and genius of albums from which, arguably, all post-rock music has stemmed. Their sound slowly builds and builds and is chock full of emotion and atmosphere. Long tracks, perfectly long. Few bands can pull off tracks this long. AMENRA can. Check out their track A Mon Ame and don’t be surprised if it reduces you to tears. AMENRA’s vocals work as another instrument; barely recognisable at times and screaming “desolation” at others. AMENRA are a landscape changing band. Just like Slint were. Their album, Mass V, was an instant classic. So was this set. Tribal, intense, dark, crushing and grandiose, it would be the music I’d chose to herald the end of mankind.
I was left shaking. By rights a performance like this should be the end of the evening. But it wasn’t. We had fucking Neurosis to come. How could they possibly follow that? That was one of the questions being asked around the pocket of people at the front I was stood with.
Perhaps only Neurosis could have followed that. I know for a fact that there are very few other bands I’d have hung around to see after that performance by AMENRA.
Firstly, a huge shout out to Neurosis’ sound man who had effectively totally re-patched the soundboard. They don’t take any chances don’t Neurosis, their contract stating that they won’t play unless their own sound johnny can work his magic before they take to the stage.
Here’s a thing: Neurosis don’t need visuals. They used to have them but now they don’t. They can pull off what AMENRA pulled off without visuals. Plus, as they’ve themselves pointed out, how do you follow AMENRA’s visuals? Visuals which were near as dammit perfect? Two bands whose work is stuffed full of emotions and power, I would have loved for their sets to blend into one with Neurosis starting to jam along with the end of AMENRA’s last song and for it to organically change into Neurosis’ first song.
On to Neurosis and Nuerosis alone. I could probably see them live most days of my life and not get bored. They blend numerous genres together to make one unique sound – the sound of Neurosis! Look hard and you’ll find a post-metal band, a hardcore punk band, a doom band, a dark ambient band and an industrial band. Oh, and maybe even a folk band. But none are obvious and you know what? When you’re watching Neurosis live the last think you’ll be doing is trying to work out what manner of beast they are. The last thing you’ll think about is thinking at all in fact. Earlier on I saw a guy with a notebook and pencil, furiously making notes while bands played. I’ll warrant he didn’t have his pencil out while either Neurosis or AMENRA were playing. It’s music to be at one with. But fuck me if it isn’t true. You have no idea how heavily Neurosis’ music is weighting you down, how tense you’d become and how that tension needs exorcising for fear of losing your shit. So when they let go it’s such a relief. Whoever invented the notion of “a band” with guitars, synth, drums and vocals, I bet they had no idea it’d end up like this. But i bet they’d be happy it had. It ended in a squall of feedback and we left.
Wow, what a day.
Day 2 over. Band of the day? Tough one but AMENRA I think, by a very short nose.