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ConcertsSonisphere Festival @ Knebworth, UK 07/04 - 07/06 2014

Posted on Monday, September 15 2014 @ 11:53:32 CDT by Dean Pedley
Heavy Metal After a troubled couple of years when for various reasons the event was unable to go ahead Sonisphere made a triumphant return to Knebworth with a three day festival that celebrated forty years of concerts at the famous venue. The presence of metal's two big heavyweights in the shape of headliners Metallica and Iron Maiden ensured a bumper crowd but the event also showcased emerging new talent such as The Cadillac Three and the cult Japanese act Babymetal. Sea of Tranquility's tag team of Dean Pedley and Mark Davies bring this review from the festival.

A mid-afternoon slot in the open air was never going to do Ghost many favours and with the gloomy atmospherics of their stage show lost they struggle to make an impact although 'Monstrance Clock' remains a bona-fide classic anthem. Gary Numan could never have appeared at an event like Sonisphere back in his 1980's chart topping heyday but in recent years he has been cited as an influence by the likes of Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson. His latter day sound is very much industrial proto-metal and this is a crisp performance that blends new material with rejigged versions of 'Cars', 'Metal' and 'Are Friends Electric?'. Three piece power blues act Band Of Skulls are arguably more suited to a smaller stage as their punchy garage anthems seem muted and they remain largely rooted to the spot throughout. There are no such complaints about Finnish metallers HIM who rise gamely to the challenge of kicking the main stage back into life. Joyously energetic frontman Vile Vallo is on top form and their set transfixes the crowd with 'Buried Alive by Love', 'Rip out the Wings of a Butterfly' and a hypnotic cover of Chris Isaak's 'Wicked Game'.

Sebastian Bach packs out the Bohemia tent and such is the demand to catch a glimpse of the former Skid Row frontman there are plenty who can't get in that crane their necks through the openings. Bach's live performance can be a bit hit and miss and largely seem to be dictated by his mood. Today is most definitely a good day as he is in great voice, roaring through 'Slave to the Grind' and 'The Threat' and hitting the spot with '18 & Life' and 'I Remember You'. Frustratingly due to tight running times he is hauled off stage with the crowd still demanding 'Youth Gone Wild'. Japanese pop culture has embraced metal with the rise of Babymetal, and the sight of three teenage schoolgirls singing about their love of chocolate against a backdrop of metallic grooves could only have originated in the land of the rising sun. Cute, bizarre or downright exploitative? Probably a bit of all three.

The Winery Dogs have a thumping debut album behind them and the trio of Portnoy, Sheehan and Kotzen seem to be having a ball on stage, especially the latter who channels his inner Chris Cornell to give a soaring and powerful vocal effort. Reformed Irish alternative metallers Kerbdog are a welcome surprise with their biting grooves and they have the Bohemia Tent swaying from side to side with a pumped up 'Mexican Wave'. Anthrax make two appearances at Sonisphere, packing out the tent on Friday evening with a complete run through of Amongst The Living and hitting the main stage on Saturday afternoon for a more varied set. The Belladonna Bush debate will never go away but with 'I Am The Law', 'Indians' and 'Antisocial' they remain as powerful and aggressive as ever.

Gojira may have been expecting to struggle to make an impact by playing just before midday on Sunday morning but the crowd turn out in force for the French foursome. They duly get their reward with a titanic display from a band that is even more brutal and destructive live than they are in the studio. Aussie upstarts Airbourne are staking a claim to step into the shoes of AC/DC when the latter are no longer around and performances such as this will stand them in good stead. Their raunchy licks are tailor-made to pump up a festival crowd and with Joel O'Keefe going for his trademark walkabout it all makes for an electrifying hour or so. Mastodon further solidify their reputation as a top class live act, performing with their trademark precision and uncompromising attitude with new material 'The Motherload' and 'High Road' going down a storm.

Metal's chief oddball Devin Townsend is much loved by the Sonisphere faithful and it's an energising set on the main stage delivered with his customary good natured humour and grace. Alice In Chains moody and dark persona is a complete contrast and with the sun at its weekend peak the crowd slowly bakes to the fuzzed up groove of 'Check My Brain' and 'Rooster'. Post Jeff Hanneman and Dave Lombardo Slayer are into a new chapter and they never seem to move out of second gear despite offering up 'Seasons in the Abyss', 'South of Heaven' and 'Angel of Death' which lack their usual relentless intensity.

Is it country, is it rock or is it country fuzz? Whatever the definition Nashville's The Cadillac Three are rewarded with a tent bursting at the seams and duly deliver the goods. TC3 arrive in the UK after having played a festival with Hank Williams Jnr and yet are equally at home on a bill topped by Metallica, something they acknowledge with a snippet of 'Enter Sandman' amongst signature hit 'The South'. Dream Theater's set lists may have become more predictable over the past couple of years but they can't go wrong with a smattering of new songs together with revisiting Awake and Scenes from a Memory. Delivered in their customary flawless style they close with 'Pull me Under' and it is yet another triumph for prog metals premier band.

Some two years since it began the novelty of Iron Maiden's Maiden England retrospective has worn a little thin and this was some way short of their best. On top form Maiden remain an exceptional live draw but right from the opening salvo of 'Moonchild' they, and the crowd for that matter, seem somewhat jaded. A good time to catch their breath and recharge the batteries for a year or so. Metallica on the other hand are in imperious form and having shown the corporate whores how it should be done at Glastonbury the previous weekend here they slay the metal hordes. The set list is largely known in advance and with colossal versions of 'Master of Puppets', 'One' and 'Enter Sandman' they give the masses precisely what they demanded.

The overall vibe of the festival weekend was that people were delighted to see Sonisphere back up and running and offering a genuine alternative to Download. A largely relaxed atmosphere was helped by favourable weather conditions and the Knebworth layout is very well organised. Ultimately the ability to attract genuine headliners will determine if the festival has a future in 2015 and beyond but 2014 made for a terrific experience.

Words by Dean Pedley
Images by Mark Davies

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