Well, it’s finally upon us. When Temples Festival was first announced, it came with the fact that the inimitable (though too many have tried) Neurosis would be headlining and over the next few months the bill expanded to make for a world-class line-up. Located in Bristol’s Motion venue, it’s a compact assembly of concrete and skate ramps, and the two stages just next door to each other and loosely configured to cater to niches for each day. Today, it’s stoner, doom and heavy riffery on Stage 1 and black and death metal on Stage 2, making for some odd but entertaining sights as curious attendees jump from one to the next.
Welsh doom/grunge/all things heavy mob Spider Kitten have the pleasure of kicking the festival off and they do so with volume and vigour. A cut above the usual heavy-by-numbers bands, their thick miasma is oddly refreshing this early in the day, tempering the steel with just enough of a fuzzy, psyched-out undercurrent to buoy their ample weight. A token new track gives them the opportunity to work up some speed, a more head-down, teeth-gritted approach than the sprawling one they led with, though one that does not go unappreciated. There may only be a few watching but these cats got the ball rolling with style.
Off next door to the more intimate second stage, it’s Flayed Disciple’s turn and, for the moment, the smaller floor works in their favour, the sparsely assembled crowd now denser and the band’s classic thrash-death perhaps more keenly felt. It’s blunt, brutal and intuitively constructed, keeping up the speed on ‘Gates of Bedlam’s grind assault, Tim Whyte undoubtedly possessing a throat suited for the job but also the presence and energy, while the graven stomp of ‘Feast in the Forest of Impaled Bodies’ tests the precision of Rich Lewis’ erratic snare batteries, a strange beast yet one that’s all too infectious when surrounded by appreciative headbangers. They’re not the most adventurous of bands, but that’s not the point – they’re fast, tight and brutal, and who could ask for more?
What Flayed Disciple achieved for classic death metal, Witchsorrow proceed to do for doom. Their short set is as traditional as it gets, a hearty reheat of Candlemass vibes and Sabbathian groove, but it’s so perfectly doomy, so redolent of Hammer Horror tropes and abject misery that it’s impossible to fault. Nick Ruskell’s sometimes harsh delivery evens out the buzzing, cultish tones and slick solos while Emily Witch and David Wilbreham remain locked tightly together throughout in a dance of death so steeped in lore and tradition that, by all rights, Vincent Price should have been compèring. Plus, it serves as a great primer for tonight’s headliners.
If there’s one thing that <code> prove today, it’s that they are no longer the band they once were, though whether that’s for better or for worse is undecided. While a few nods back to their early works are present, most impressively with the gothic avant-garde splendour of ‘Smother The Crones’, it’s the cuts from Augur Nox which predictably come across as more effectively rendered, ‘Becoming Host’ for its harshness and ‘The Lazarus Cord’ for ambition and scope. It’s a curious mixture of aggression and depth which Aort melds fluidly and, despite his relatively green status with the band, Wacian is both confident and skilled as a vocalist, though a sometimes muddy sound and overly theatrical tone threatens to hinder the band’s sharper moments.
Unfortunately, a slight run-on means that I don’t get to catch the full extent of Satan’s Satyrs, but it doesn’t matter. They’re one of those bands where five minutes is enough for you to get in the spirit of things and starts to appreciate their gravelly take on MC5 and The Stooges for what it is; namely, great fun. A new album means new reasons to get dirty and ‘Show Me Your Skull’ proves a great example, heavy-mopped stickman Stephen Fairchild swinging wildly through a hard-rocking intro before the three settle into a heavy psych-surf groove that Clayton Burgess’ eerie, reedy vocals tip just over the edge. In keeping with those MC5 vibes, they sound rough and raw throughout, and it’s only fitting that the crowd’s last memory of them is ‘Sadist 69’, the sound of a hundred bikers on a thousand tabs of bad acid, belting out with as little composure as legally possible.
Sadly, I miss the rather awesome Wodensthrone (though they played with Esoteric a month or so ago and they were beltin’ then) so it’s back to the main room for more Satan-worshipping doom with Moss and while they aren’t quite as entertaining in their traditionalism as Witchsorrow were earlier, you can’t exactly fault them either. It’s Olly Pearson’s vocals that really sell them, clear and emotive yet with a witchy spirit that suits those heavy, real-ale-infused riffs like a glove, agonisingly slow and drawn across time to the point of despair. It’s enough to turn the hardiest into Rip Van Winkle and even Pearson seems to have his eyes closed for half of their set, so I’m thankful when it comes time for Winterfylleth.
As a band, they’ve always toyed around with the idea of orthodoxy but never fully embraced it, as is easily demonstrated by their searing yet direct set today. It’s like standing in the face of a bracing Arctic wind, the blasts and screeches bracing yet hardly inviting, but underneath the icy exterior there’s a keen sense of melody that transcends all the fury and bluster to make their allotted half-hour seem longer and a fair deal more epic, and the sound of an early evening crowd singing along to the hearty “Whoa-oa-ooooah!”s of ‘The Swart Raven’ is a telling reminder of how unique British black metal can be.
Then it’s off next door for Jucifer and, more than any other band today, they sound huge, on a Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined scale. It’s dense, sludgy and unhesitatingly vicious, Gazelle Amber Valentine hunched over the mic and emitting demonic shrieks and growls that would set Abaddon’s heart a-flutter before leaning so far back that she’s almost parallel to the floor and ripping through her guitar with the genuine defiance of someone who knows their instrument’s limits innately. She windmills while Edgar Livengood pounds his kit with a barbaric insistence that topples it more than once, and I soon lose count of the drumsticks (or parts of them, anyway) that can’t take the strain, and all the while the floor is vibrating as though Godzilla was working a jackhammer in the centre of the room. Right down to the Flying V, it’s pretty much the most metal thing ever, and I know who I’ll be blaming when my ears are buggered tomorrow morning.
This has the strange side-effect of Desecration’s set being, well, quite timid in comparison, but it doesn’t stop it from being perversely enjoyable (or enjoyably perverse). Delving back to the old (‘Aim, Fire, Kill’) and with a few newbies thrown in for good measure (‘Coffin Smasher’ and the Cannibal Corpse-worthy ‘Cunt Full of Maggots’), it’s just another family-friendly half hour of brutal grunts, shredding, maniac grooves and the kind of drumming that makes you forget that playing slow is even a thing. The contrast with what was happening in the next room is jarring but their conviction, and Ollie Jones’ sardonically witty banter, keeps the pits moving and the hair swinging nonetheless.
It’s telling that while Blood Ceremony may well be the lightest band of the day in many respects , they’re also one of the most anticipated and, apparently, well-received. It’s not hard to see why, Alia O’Brien’s key flourishes and rich, haughty tones as extravagant as ‘Witchwood’ is catchy, more than a few singing along as she stretches her arms out wide and eases into the first of many buoyant flute interludes. Keeping an even split between old and new, it means that the harder doom strains of their debut gets to intermingle with the slightly folkier Eldritch Dark material, a set that’s one half Wicker Man and one half Pit and the Pendulum but is all blessed with colour and fevered enthusiasm.
I’m not even sure if it’s Anaal Nathrakh that are actually taking stage next door after the witching hour (well, three quarters of one anyway) is done, and it’s only when Dave Hunt jumps up and ‘In the Constellation of the Black Widow’ lets rip that any familiarity dawns on me. It’s later explained that Mick Kenney has fallen foul of US visa officials once again but given how accustomed Dan Rose is getting to standing in Mick’s stead, it’s not quite the loss it might have been. Suffice to say, it’s bloody ferocious stuff, especially when ‘Submission Is For The Weak’ crushes everything under a dense sludge of future-shock and atavistic fury, those dual guitars building into a razor-strewn hurricane of rage.
As tonight shows, Hunt is the only man who can really convey both the complexity and the utter hatred of the ‘Thrakh, his sarcastic and usually confrontational demeanour among the milder aspects of his presence. His shrieks sound crazed and unconstrained, while the soaring choruses come across as closer to their album counterparts than ever, grandiose declarations of mankind’s folly and eventual destruction. It’s caustic and thoroughly intimidating, and if that’s not what this band are about, then what is?
From one dose of brutality to another, the last ever UK performance of Brutal Truth was always going to be a must-see, perhaps explaining why it’s so difficult to find a spot in the room. Once one is secured, all that can be done is to stand and gawp at four legends still performing at peak output. Attention tends to be drawn between the grizzled Kevin Sharp, grey of beard and ragged of hat, as he stomps and barks through a blistering ‘Evolution Through Revolution’ and still as curiously endearing for the rest of the set too, and Richard Hoak, who is just flat out incredible. His single-handed snare batteries are literally too fast for the eyes to process, appearing almost stationary while the snaps rattle out, though he’s got a vicious flow that offsets the precision and speed.
Somewhat ashamedly, it’s been a long time since I’d really spun any of their albums (and even back then it was pretty much Extreme Conditions… on a loop) but it’s not just ‘Collateral Damage’ and ‘Time’ that strike a chord tonight. This is modern grind at its best and even after several decades, this still sounds more cutting edge than two-thirds of the grind bands cropping up. Dan Lilker’s mob are going to be sorely missed, especially after this.
Whether it’s my age or the 5 a.m. start, fatigue is properly setting in now, but I could hardly leave without partaking in some of Electric Wizard, could I? These were my thoughts and aims as I grabbed a birds-eye view (sort of) from the balcony and settled in as the riffs rang out. Opening with a new song is a bit of a gamble but, well, it sounds like an Electric Wizard song. Gravelly and spilling over with morbid groove, it’s a monster, though ‘Legalise Drugs and Murder’ trumps it. Mark Greening’s return to the kit is now in full swing and that’s pretty much what he does throughout, his loose and heavy style as in keeping with Wizard’s ethos as drugs and denim are.
I’ll admit that it’s strange seeing them without a backdrop of rough porn and biker flicks, especially given that they’re hardly the most physically active of bands, but they keep the attention pretty well nonetheless, partly because of the volume, partly the quality of material like ‘Dopethrone’ and ‘Black Mass’, two of the most iconic songs in heavy music, and partly because Oborn and Buckingham are both guitarists who are fine-tuned to their audience, lethargic and lead-heavy but with plenty of old-school flair wrapped around their titanic grooves. Then again, you might as well just say that they are as of doom as Sabbath used to be, and that would about cover it too.
Impressive as they are, bed calls and I have to stay fresh for Neurosis tomorrow, so it’s off to the hotel as ‘Satanic Rites of Drugula’ is still ripping the speakers a new one but despite a few issues, this is already shaping up to be the kind of festival you tell the kids, grand kids and anyone you corner in the pub about. Hail!
Scribed by: Dave Bowes
Photos by: Antony Roberts (www.metalgigs.co.uk)