Breakfast is sorted, the sun’s about as out as it’s ever going to be and the local beer and cider have been flowing heavily, to the extent that extra supplies are brought in to cope with punters essentially drinking the place dry. Also, it’s Saturday, which is officially the best day of the week, so I’m feeling pretty good about today’s activities.
There are a sad few who weren’t aware of Caïna’s reactivation but their furious day-opening set is a caustic reminder. Having brought like-minded members of Voe and Knife Crime into, Andy Curtis-Brignell is a harbinger of mid-afternoon misanthropia, the Manchester mob’s blackened hardcore not only delivering a set of curiously accessible stormers but even an unexpected treat in the form of a bared-teeth cover of Marilyn Manson’s Little Horn. With the pained, confrontational visage of Laurence Taylor centre-stage, howling through one litany of man’s sins after another, the organisers couldn’t have chosen a better opener for today if their lives depended on it.
One of the biggest draws for me, Celeste find themselves the victims of technical issues, pushing their set back and leaving them sans strobe-lighting for the duration of their performance. Though the disconcertion they typically induce is missed, they remain a harrowing force, buried within a near-impenetrable fog of smoke with only the beady eyes of forehead-mounted red lamps to testify that yes, they are there, and no, this isn’t some absinthe-induced nightmare. The visual wall is rivalled by the sonic one they create, a wash of tremolo and distortion that, despite its harshness, has an undeniable elegance, the monstrous deluge a source of emotional self-annihilation and bliss.
It was no surprise that Sonance were going to make a return visit. Truly monumental in stature and with a sense of motion and majesty, they delivered such an astounding set last year that the only fear is that they’ll fail to match up this time around. The bittersweet echo of Belgium sets up a fine start, the increasingly disconcerting imagery behind them a primer for the band’s claws finally coming out in a triumphant rush of distortion and controlled technicality that sweeps us up with each strum and crash. They certainly haven’t lost anything in the past year but they have gained an even greater skill in manipulating tone and technique to pull the audience to and fro before shutting them down with a well-placed calm or, in today’s case, the deep rumble of kilowatts of power and the violent smash of guitar against stage.
On a stage largely populated today by the weirder side of death metal, the grimy hardcore swagger of German duo Mantar is something of a curve ball but their energetic fusion of blackened defiance and fist-raising Sub Pop punch, they manage to be immediately accessible yet completely at odds with what accessibility means. Remarkably full-sounding for a mere two-piece, it’s guitar and drums pitted against each other in mortal combat where neither survive, the gravelly burr of Hanno’s six-string and Erinc’s expressive beats both weighty yet nowhere near as much as Hanno’s straight-outta-the-grave rasp. They’re only one album into their career but it’s a damn good one, and they show that they’ve got the muscle to do it justice.
It’s rare that a band can bring tears of happiness just from the fact that they exist, but Torche have that power. Though the joy is diminished somewhat by the absence of Steve Brooks’ moustache, Kicking and Healer still elicit plenty a smile, their enthusiastic blend of power-pop and upbeat sludge an emotional two-hit KO. Spiking the sugar with plenty of salt, Jonathan Nuñez and Rick Smith are on-point and unshakeable as they propel Brooks’ and Elstner’s hulking riffs skywards, Restarter cuts like Minions already taking shape as live highlights while tried-and-tested gems get this mid-afternoon crowd bouncing. It’s hard to explain exactly why Torche getting up and doing their thing is such an unrelenting pleasure to watch, but it is, and no matter how long they play for, it’s never going to be enough.
The smile isn’t on my face long before Bölzer are wiping it off, the sudden rush of raw, unflinching aggression potent not just for its contrast but for its concentration. Uncomplicated and unapologetically harsh, the duo conjure up a hallucinogenic air of blackness, hints of Entombed’s early death ‘n’ roll dabblings glinting through the dark in KzR’s confident delivery and sharply defined guitarwork, though the howls and guttural grunts speak of something much more primal. They may not have the heftiest discography but they were undoubtedly one of the festivals real buzz bands, and they didn’t disappoint.
There’s no-one quite like Goatsnake. Many have tried, and some have even come close, but that immense soul, the moonshined-up Allman Brothers groove that takes over your entire body, the elemental infusion of blues and rock with murky, subterranean doom – that’s what they struggle to replicate. Today, they add something else to the equation – fun. Pete Stahl prowls the stage, wildly gesticulating and throwing himself into every croon and howl while still finding the time for a drink or two, Greg Anderson belts out Flower Of Disease with loose flair and a permanent grin and Greg Rogers is the sticksman of the day, powerful, creative and yet completely natural. Even new bassist Scott Renner looks comfortable, slowly crawling across The Dealer’s lumbering tempos and tearing the room up with Black Age Blues. It’s a perfect storm of whisky sippin’, barroom-brawlin’, harmonica-laced rock fury, and the fact that the band genuinely seem to be having a blast up there is why there isn’t a person alive who could come out of this room unconvinced by them.
With a heavy heart, I bow out near the end of Goatsnake’s set to find a spot to comfortably watch Portal (comfortable being the worst possible word in this situation) yet it’s looking near-full anyway. As a line of hooded figures begin to cast a vast cloak of blackened distortion, The Curator veiled in black and raising leather-clad gloves in a manner that leaves me expecting an undead horde to come shambling out of their graves behind him, it begins an hour of the strangest of the strange, incessant and subtly tumultuous. For every Curtain, the seeds of a riff lurking within the miasma, they have a Swarth on hand, furious and claustrophobic yet pushing them further towards the boundaries of death metal and into their own alien dimension, and though the absurd skill of the band, both as composers and as musicians, is perceptible if you manage to delve through the murk it’s easier to just surrender and drown in it instead.
It’s time for round 2 of the Pig Destroyer variety show but even those who caught them last night avow that this will be unmissable. They’re right, incidentally. Originally a bonus track on Terrifyer, the weighty Natasha has long been the band’s most ambitious expression but tonight marks its live debut. Playing to a backdrop of what amounts to a 30+ minute music video, the visuals are notable for their innocuousness, grainy home movies and saturated washes of colour that don’t detract from the song’s tense electronics and drone but illustrate the horror of the mundane, the everyday orthodoxy that hides the killing blow. A jarring pound breaks the silence and sets up a monstrous ebb and flow, Hayes’ chiming in with sickly pleads and cries over doom so predatory, so unclean that there are few sludge bands out there that could rival it. And then, a calm hits – a controlled tranquillity so poignant that it seems to wash the room clean, and the same band that were bludgeoning hundreds minutes before are now soothing them. And then they’re pummelling them again. A rollercoaster of distorted emotion, this is a truly transcendent performance that deserves to go down in Temples history.
Though I’m certainly familiar with Triptykon, I’ve never really felt the pull of them in the same way that so many seem to. That being said, though their recorded output might not hold as much of a sway as Celtic Frost did, they are yet to disappoint live, and today is no exception. Guttural, obtuse yet so easy to find yourself knee-deep in, the earth-shattering thud of Procreation (Of The Wicked) sets them off in good stead, the Celtic Frost revivalists pounding their fists while everyone else just marvels at how bloody evil Tom G Warrior still manages to sound these days. It’s not the first cover they whip out tonight, but it’s Goetia’s thrashy jazz overtones that nail their appeal – tumultuous, chaotic and with too many choice riffs to fixate on just one, it’s a crushing set that makes me think I should really give those albums a try again.
It’s weird but the crowd for Skitsystem seems pretty subdued. Maybe it’s because of Wolfbrigade’s beer-soaked blinder of a set last year but I was expecting mohawks and switchblades at dawn, a crusty free-for-all to herald this long-long-awaited return of the mighty Swedes. What we get is a good-natured, fist-raised belt-along to a hectic set that’s heavy on classics, taking a few cuts from ‘06s Stigmata, the vitriol and vigour of Fredrik Wallenberg still a coarse and resolutely pissed-off joy of a spectacle to watch, and stretching as far back as to delve way back into the vaults with Profithysteri and the beefed-up d-beat crunch of Det Sociala Arvet. There’re no surprises, no fancy costumes or amusing mid-song anecdotes – it’s just four guys playing fast and angry, and it’s great.
Word on Twitter and suchlike is that there’ll be something special tonight with Sunn O))). The name ‘Burning Witch’ is being bandied around so I make damn sure that I catch every minute. Making it through the doors just in time for the first note, I’m hit square in the gut by a chord that ripples through the building and never seems to end. I check my earplugs but it feels like nothing can stop this dread ritual, the now meme-worthy curtain of smoke and the hooded silhouettes of Greg Anderson and Steven O’Malley summoning arcane sounds seemingly bereft of structure but pregnant with perceptible dread, the hum of hell’s own generators. For any theosophists out there pondering where sinners go, it looks like this…
Every strum strikes home with great import, hands held aloft before delivering another building-rattling dirge, and the entrance of Attila Csihar does little to dispel the feeling that we are witnessing a ceremony rather than a gig. The power is reigned in just enough for his rasped chants and intonations to make it to the other side of their vast chasm of sound before he exits, only to return clad in broken mirrors and wearing a crown of shards, a Neolithic Christ straight out of a Ken Russell vision. The effect on the room is curious – some seem confused or uncomfortable, others rock silently to and fro and a few simply sprawl across the floor, soaking up the Sunnshine. No matter how you look at it or what stance you take on them, it’s undeniably powerful, the emotional and physical weight soon taking its toll and, after two hours of it, leaving you broken and bloody.
It’s a stark reminder of just how far Sunn O))) have come. From two dudes fucking about and jamming their own, more massive versions of Earth 2 to… what are they now? Legends? Myths? Memes? An avant-garde practical joke taken to its inevitable conclusion, or perhaps a monstrous sonic / psychological experiment? They are all of the above and more, a perfect meeting of high art and true doom, every show unique and carrying its own brand of extremity with it, and even the veterans here can attest to the fact that not only was this one of their most physical performances, it might well be the new benchmark for Temples Festival as a whole. For better or worse, everything to come will be compared to this, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy what’s still to come. Besides, ‘enjoy’ isn’t real the operative word when it comes to Sunn O))), is it? Experience seems much more apt.
Scribed by: Dave Bowes