Hellfest 2014 Report

That’s it for another year. I’m exhausted, sunburnt, skint and the countless performances are yet to sink in, but already I’m brimming with excitement for next year’s Hellfest announcements.

Having missed the French fest last year, I was a little concerned that its dramatic expansion in size since 2012 may have warped the overall experience into something unrecognisable from my beloved memories. My doubts were needless however as Hellfest is still a thriving metal utopia. You have to appreciate the rarity of a festival that consistently boasts such a high-calibre of extreme music alongside an unbeatable atmosphere.

This year Hellfest really lived up to its name due to an intense heat-wave across the whole weekend. You’d think weather like that would be ideal, but this was overwhelming. For someone used to the drizzle of England, the relentless heat actually made the long days quite hard. At times I found it too hot to think and generally couldn’t muster the energy to really lose myself every day. So yeah, I will definitely be better prepared for the possibility of another scorcher next year.

ToxicHolocaust
Toxic Holocaust

It’s a shame the heat got the better of me because we were spoilt for choice with places to be and bands to see. To sum-up all the best moments would mean writing about ninety-percent of the line-up. As such, this is only a taste of my 2014 experience…

On the Friday my first highlight was Toxic Holocaust on the mainstage. I’d wanted to see them for ages and the three-piece lived up to my expectations with a spot-on set. Being unfamiliar with the work of Nocturnus, the uniqueness of Nocturnus AD made quite an impression on me. Later we saw Slayer (or rather, half of Slayer) before dashing over to the Warzone stage to watch headliners Kvelertak kick serious ass. That was a treasure.

Like the previous evening, Saturday’s schedule consisted of an unbelievable sequence of death metal and we made the most of that by hanging around the Altar, gradually leading to the finale of Nile then Carcass – both always exceptional. One of the only mainstage bands we checked out that day were Hatebreed. Their tunes always work up a storm in Clisson and they got me sufficiently pumped for the evening’s headliners.

I don’t know if this year’s Behemoth performance rivalled the time they headlined the Temple stage in 2012, which sent shivers down my spine, but after the release of The Satanist it was excellent witnessing them tackle the mainstage. Watching the mighty Emperor was pretty special too and they were the last of the extreme bands on my list before chilling to Sabbath, arguably the perfect candidates to wrap-up a glorious three days.

Nocturnus AD
Nocturnus AD

Even if the heat did make me feel decrepit, the weekend was so sweet overall. What’s also cool is that surrounding businesses in Clisson continue to embrace the festival. The supermarket nearby, which often has queues for entry full of Hellfest punters looking to stock up on supplies, now decks the place out with Hellfest banners, promotes food and camping equipment for the crowds and the shop-floor staff even don Hellfest t-shirts. It’s nice to see them getting into the spirit of things and welcome us with open arms.

In terms of sales, it must be equivalent to Christmas week in UK supermarkets. But the members of staff clearly adopt an open-mind to the whole event, which is how it should be. Being immersed in metal culture and experiencing great festivals like these, it’s easy to forget that externally ridiculous prejudices still exist and that people aren’t always so sound. French politician Christine Boutin of the Christian Democratic Party once tried to have the festival cancelled and appealed for sponsors like Kronenbourg to pull out, claiming that the festival’s imagery would scare children and that the music encouraged violent acts.

Considering I’ve yet to encounter a single ticket holder who looks as though they’d hurt a fly, you have to laugh. Here we are in 2014 and Hellfest’s popularity continues to spread with fans and bands internationally. I truly believe that the Hellfest experience is unrivalled by any other festival.

Until next year!

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Do More Magazine: Flow #4 Review

Below is my review of Flow #4 (an interpretive dance show), originally published on Do More Magazine.

BrokenRose

“Everything you see tonight, you will never see again.” This is how Gemma Connell, artistic director of performing arts company Broken Rose, introduces tonight’s show. This is the Bournemouth-based company’s fourth production of Flow, a touring open-stage performance that combines spoken word, improvisation and dance.  As a headlining act for the Winchester’s monthly Freeway Poet event, this would be the second opportunity for a local crowd to bear witness to a truly spontaneous and unique event.

Fitting with the poetry night’s theme – Body Language, the Flow performers merge words with movement. Poet Joe Selby kicked things off to an excellent start with his spoken word, whilst dancers Ruby Adams and Emily Mercer took turns at interpreting his words through expressive dance alongside Joe. As Gemma explains, the dancers are never informed prior to a Flow show as to what kind of poetry will be read; a daunting prospect for the average spectator. But of course, the ladies know what they’re doing and manage to perform in way that captivates the audience into a state of reflection, simultaneously providing a visually dramatic accompaniment to Joe’s wondrous recital.

By this point, occupants of the packed venue were transfixed to the small group’s experimental approach and when the time arrived for Gemma to call for poets in the audience open to reciting their own work, an immediate show of hands demonstrated the crowd’s eagerness to get involved. Popular poets from earlier in the evening took to the stage and embraced the chance to couple their work with the movement of Ruby and Emily, who once again made an honourable attempt at interpreting what was offered within the confines of a small stage. Who knows what magic they could muster in larger venue?

The most overwhelmingly positive response came from the final part of Flow. Further crowd participation was encouraged for a session of tag freestyle poetry and the chance to go head to head with Joe. Again, the crowd’s reaction was instant and one individual confidently made his way up to the mic. Hilarity ensued as the two performers exchanged lines back and forth and kept everyone in attendance highly entertained throughout.

With this ending being met with a barrage of applause, laughter, shouts and cheers, such brilliant feedback was not only a testament to the originality and boldness of the Flow team, but an example of the artistic appreciation flowing from a small and supportive Bournemouth community.

Review: Space Chaser – Watch The Skies

Another review written for Rock’n’Reel Reviews.

Space Chaser have boldly gone where many men have gone before, by tackling the ever-popular thrash scene. Heralded as being a staple of their tight-knit metal community in Berlin, one can assume that they’re hoping to make as good an impression on the rest of the world.

Their début Watch The Skies is another contemporary attempt at re-creating the noise and mayhem of a decade once past. In that respect alone it does a great job at capturing that beer-drenched energy. If you’re imagining a harsh sounding, Teutonic metal throwback however, think again. This is definitely American influenced and the quintet celebrates alien invasions, hazardous waste themed, cartoon-like thrash. They sound like they’re having a great time too. The tracks are fast, frantic and shred-tastic, led by an old-school, wailing vocal style. Fans of Municipal Waste and Gama Bomb should back this.

It’s no innovation (an almost impossible task these days) but holding out through these ten snappy tracks is a definite joy-ride. The band should be as welcome into the modern circuit as their international peers.

Personal Score: 3/5

Do More Magazine: Polly & the Billets Doux Interview

This interview was originally published on Do More Magazine. I spoke to front-woman Polly Perry of Polly and the Billets Doux ahead of their UK tour.

I also reviewed their new album. It’s a good, soothing listen.

MoneyTree

Congratulations with Money Tree! With such a combination of genres and influences audible in the band’s sound, I’m assuming music has always been a prominent factor in your life?

Yes, of course! Though I never studied music at school or college… One had to choose between art and music. I wanted to do both. I grew up listening to my parents massively eclectic record collection, anything from Ian Dury, Gong, Nina Simone, Fairport Convention, X Ray Spex, all sorts! My Nan was a singer in the War, so whenever I see her we duet 40’s sentimental songs.

What were your primary inspirations (lyrical or otherwise) when writing Money Tree?

Money Tree was inspired by the Northern Poet Tony Harrison. We tour a lot in the north of England which we love. The lyrics are inspired by the images and places we have been and also a book called the Sisters Brothers by Jonathan DeWitt.

Are there any specific themes or concepts behind the album? Or perhaps every song has a unique thought or story behind it?

I would say that we enjoy the diversity of the songs but there is generally a strong sense of struggle, death and travel. Money Tree features our first murder ballad in Calico Blankets, heavily story based, inspired by the weather. It was a truly freezing cold day and Steeny was feeling gloomy.

Do you have any favourite songs on the album?

That’s tough, but probably ‘Black Crow’ because I love the rhythm, the darkness and the birds. Steeny likes them all and can’t choose between them but loves playing ‘Black Crow’ live. Dan says they are all too different to select one favourite and loves all of them, particularly the driving energy of ‘My Father’s House’. And Ben loves ‘Old Virginia’, because after years of bringing the accordion to the recording studio, we finally buckled and allowed him to play it!

Are there any particular songs on Money Tree that you’re expecting to go down particularly well live? Or that you’re especially excited to perform live?

Black Crow’ – we love performing it! The rhythm bestrides four triplets and 3/4 straight so it’s super fun to play and great to dance to.

Between releasing your début album and EP you’ve toured extensively and performed at several UK festivals like Glastonbury, Green Man and The Big Chill. But if you could pick one highlight of the band’s career so far, what would it be and why?

Touring Ireland was a major highlight for us. We had never really been there before and had an incredible time! We met some of the warmest, most hospitable and fun people.

Touring can be tough for some. Do you enjoy the touring lifestyle?

I enjoy the parts where we visit new places and go to interesting museums. I am very much an outdoors girl and so I find sitting in the van for hours can drive me crazy. But if I get the opportunity to set off across a field for a walk and get a bit muddy I can keep relatively sane.

Have you played anywhere in the UK where the audience are particularly enthusiastic/appreciative of the band?

We haven’t yet had underwear thrown at us. But a gentleman once bought me a necklace and a man last night made us some personalised wooden toys! A man has also had some of our lyrics tattooed on his chest. In terms of whooping and hollering… The Ceilidh Place in Scotland.

Carcass’ Swansong: The album everyone loves to hate

People don’t seem to slate Carcass’ Swansong as much these days. Probably because they can now accept that it wasn’t the band’s swansong after all, (hello Surgical Steel!)

But let it be known that I’ve always really liked it. Even being aware of its flaws. This is something I wrote back in 2010 after seeing Carcass at Hellfest.

carcass-swansong

Have you ever felt the urgency to justify your love for a particular album? Perhaps the band in question has a reputation for being a ‘guilty pleasure’ within metal? Or perhaps they’re just downright talentless? Well Carcass are anything but and carry a reputation for being legendary. They’re highly respected for their massive contribution to early death metal. Yet I always feel reluctant to admit my love of Carcass’ final studio album.

There’s a common tendency for fans to turn their noses up at Swansong. But is it as bad as they make out? Not really.

Frontman Jeff Walker introduced the opening track as being from the album that everyone “hates to love” when they played at Bloodstock. Not me – I love to love it and after seeing them perform at Hellfest earlier this year, I was a little disappointed not to hear any tracks from this particular album. Nevertheless, Swansong is always left in the dark and fans are so hasty to disregard it.

Of course there are a few factors as to why this is the case. Swansong stands out as being the ‘softest’ of the death-grind pioneers catalogue and strays quite drastically from the band’s signature sound. This alone appears to be a good enough reason for many extreme music lovers to instantly disregard it. But you’d be a fool not to consider Swansong as a separate piece, without the renowned discography as a backdrop for assessment. Whilst Swansong is by no means Carcass’ best album, there’s something to be taken from their final effort. So don’t cast it aside and label it as a failure.

Listening to Swansong, it seems as though the band were attempting something completely fresh and a completely unique sound has been captured. One that’s more rock’n’roll based, yes. But very dark in its own right. The hauntingly catchy riffs alongside Walkers rough vocals and strange lyrics create an eerie and interesting new sound which is still as edgy as ever. Songs like ‘Childs Play’ stand out to me as possessing a very sinister undertone. Even the artwork on the cover veers from Carcass’ typical theme of autopsies and gore and portrays an abstract family scene; one that is not wholesome and warm, but quietly disturbing.

Whether Carcass managed to execute their vision successfully or not is another matter for consideration. In fact, I think there is a good chance it was the latter. It has come to light that there were a handful of problems during the albums production which may well have affected the overall outcome and prevented Swansong from reaching its full potential.

‘Keep On Rotting In The Free World’ is a fantastic opening track and never fails to draw a positive reaction from the fans at live shows. However it’s evident throughout the course of the album that the momentum and aggression of the first two tracks slowly fades out.

Yes,  other tracks stand out, but maybe this loss of spark is evidence of the band’s problems beginning to take their toll; personal and with the production. Distractions and pressures in and out of the studio would jeopardize the writing and recording of the album and could have left Carcass more inclined to rush, or at least finish it as soon as physically possible. Certain band members have expressed in interviews how they were already becoming “tired of each other” and were aware that their run was coming to an end.

Already possessing this knowledge then, it’s no surprise that a feeling of abandonment might radiate through the piece. Perhaps if the guys had felt it possible, they could have provided fans with a more well-rounded and polished final effort. As a big fan of Swansong for what it is, I think it’s a great shame that this wasn’t the case.

One year with Rock’n’Reel Reviews

Whilst reviewing Lost Society’s new album, it occurred to me that my review of their début was the first thing I wrote for Rock’n’Reel Reviews exactly a year ago.

Time really does move quickly. Especially when assessing so much awesome music!

Here are my metal review highlights from the past year:

Children Of Bodom – Halo Of Blood 4/5

They’re my favourite band, so of course this was excellent. The Finnish heavyweights’ most exciting work in ten years. I’m massively biased and would have loved to award it five stars. It is an excellent album though.

Havok – Unnatural Selection 3.5/5

Along with a select few, Colorado thrash pack Havok are dominating the scene and are one of my personal modern favs. Unnatural Selection may not be as frantic as its predecessor, but is packed with great tunes nonetheless.

Morgue Orgy – The Last Man On Earth 4/5

This album was an amusing surprise. Not only did it break up the colossal amount of thrash I listen to, but this groovy death metal and its spooky vibe was an entertaining and impressive début album from an unsigned, homegrown band!

Behemoth – The Satanist 4.5/5

The Satanist is an evil masterpiece and already a firm contender for album of the year. Basically everybody needs to hear it.

Savage Messiah – The Fateful Dark 4/5

Definitely another thrash recommendation, this time from London. The Fateful Dark is the most recent album that was an absolute pleasure to review. I officially label Savage Messiah under Excellent!

Review: Noble Beast – Noble Beast

Another review written for Rock’n’Reel Reviews. This time of Noble Beast’s début album.

Storming into the picture with this truly epic, self-titled debut, Minnesota’s Noble Beast are the latest addition to the power metal scene. This triumphant culmination of melodic European and American power metal warrants attention from confirmed fans of the genre as well as new listeners. As a power metal novice, this is what I imagine the decent stuff to sound like: fast, enthralling and valiant!

‘Iron-clad Angels’ kicks things off brilliantly, with its charging pace and memorable chorus boomed out by Sir Robert’s deep and powerful voice. The thrash component is instantly prominent too. The listener is sent tearing forward through a relentless sequence of hooks, soaring harmonies and choruses that evoke visions of heroic battles and mythical gods.

A little clichéd? Yes. This is an acquired taste and whilst we can all enjoy the drama on occasion, for many I believe it will soon become tedious. Unless you love this kind of thing, of course! Just a handful of songs would suffice (and go down especially well at a summer festival.) ‘Behold the Face of Your Enemy’ and ‘On Wings of Steel’ are my suggestions. Noble Beast requires some versatility in style or subject if they’re to reach a wider audience long-term.

Personal Score: 3/5

Review: Savage Messiah – The Fateful Dark

My four-star review, written for Rock’n’Reel Reviews.

savagemessiahfatefuldark

Could this be the album that launches Savage Messiah into stardom? The Fateful Dark certainly has the great songs, awesome shredding and irresistible hooks to do so. It’s an exciting release – one these London metallers must be very proud of.

There’s a quality across this creation that’s so alluring and professional sounding, one could easily envision the band absolutely dominating large venues in the near future. The ten songs are packed with memorable riffs, (I’ve had ‘Iconocaust’ and ‘Hellblazer’ earworms for days now,) captivating melodies and topped by a souring vocal style from frontman Dave Silver. His abilities add a rather epic dimension to a fierce musical backdrop that’s full of passion.

The title-track is one of the slower paced, sing-songs on this thrashy opus; another opportunity for Silver’s vocals to shine, especially at the song’s climatic chorus… Not to everyone’s taste, but so what? ‘The Fateful Dark’ is a soulful and instantly likeable listen.

With this offering, Savage Messiah will win the hearts of curious listeners who are yet to be converted into fans.

Personal Score: 4/5

Aaron Paul and Kat Candler’s new film Hellion

Embed from Getty Images

Kat Candler, creator of the brilliant short film Black Metal, has had her screenplay and full length feature Hellion picked up by a US distributor – Sundance Selects.

I’m doubly excited because the film stars Aaron Paul (from Breaking Bad, obviously) and Juliette Lewis, which will surely attract a huge audience.

Hellion concerns Jacob (Josh Wiggins), a 13-year-old boy obsessed with heavy metal and dirt bike racing, whose increasingly delinquent behaviour results in his younger brother Wes being relocated by Child Protective Services.

Bands appearing on the film’s soundtrack include Metallica, Slayer and The Sword. So what’s not to like?

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