After the devastation that Neurosis wrought on Saturday, the festival could have called in sick and had a lie in on Sunday, but where would the sport have been in that? With the main stage catering for all things rock and the second going for hardcore and misanthropic evil, it seems that today will have plenty of emotional whiplash to endure, though at least the high from first act Lionize is mellow enough that whatever’s to come should be made a smidgen easier to handle. That they come from that same blues and funk background as tonight’s headliners is made clear by their bassist’s Clutch shirt, though the loose swing they carry does the job even better. It’s the kind of music that should be heard in dive bars in Louisiana as liquored-up patrons throw bourbon at them, a tight rein on the classics given extra colour through vibrant splashes of organ, while their basslines are so funky, fluid and peerless that Bootsy Collins would doubtless approve.
There are only a few faces in the crowd when Lionize kick off, though by the time they’ve finished there are several dozen more, and they all show signs of approval. That joviality is something that Human Cull do their best to eradicate with their blunt, uncomplicated grind, a tight embrace of Napalm Death’s finer moments with about the same degree of subtlety, but for all its simplicity, it’s kind of hard not to like. Some moments towards the middle of the set do try to slow things down with lurching grooves, but it’s the harsh call-and-response barks and snare punishment that are the masters here.
It’s only been a week or so since I last saw Black Moth though today, while all the elements are still the same, they seem a tad more immediate. Even Harriet Bevan approaches things more directly, a little more aggressive while not abandoning her easygoing charm as she air guitars and headbangs along to the doom-infused sways and hazy solos. ‘Blackbirds Fall’ sounds monumental, a huge yet easily digestible wedge of ominous rock, but hats go off to ‘The Articulate Dead’. It seems to be becoming their defining song, and the vigour with which they rattle out its hardy, oddly danceable punkosity means that’s unlikely to change. I enjoyed this lot last time I caught them but this time they truly won me over.
I knew next to nothing about War Wolf as they took the stage but after five minutes, I think I have their number. With a guitarist who looks like the half-naked, heavily tattooed hero of a Norse saga, the first thought is to stray towards epic, valorous metal but with their social consciences written plainly in their every word and act, a distinctly metallicised strain of hardcore is a more accurate description, yet even this doesn’t quite capture how fun they are to watch – it’s kind of hard to dislike a band who’ll preface a song called ‘War Machine’ with the descriptor, “This is a song about tanks.” Aptly named guitarist Oli Irongiant is forthright, active and blessedly unsubtle, his bellow of “Fuck religion!” at the end of ‘Pro-choice’ as telling as the song itself. Hard and catchy, there’s enough skill and variation in their songs to warrant sticking around to the end, and the only drawback was that, by all rights, the pits should have been going crazy for them.
While I’d been expecting some rattling clashes between the stages today, Herder don’t seem too far removed from War Wolf, at least in terms of pure fun. It’s beer-drinking, car-stealin’, puppy-kickin’ rock and roll joy, the band throwing their instruments around like toddlers having a strop while frontman Ché Snelting careens around the stage, only stopping to work the crowd and occasionally antagonise their neighbours (“This one goes out to all of you, no matter what language you speak. Except the Germans.”) With Aborted’s JB van der Wal on guitars, there’s no lack of weight to them, and the sea of bouncing heads and pumping fists is a resolute sign of approval for their furiously infectious assault.
The inclusion of Beastmilk to this festival was always going to be a big draw, yet they’re a band who don’t quite fit into any of the templates Temples covers. It explains why some of the crowd seem to be here for Beastmilk alone, but you can hardly blame them. They croon and rock through the bulk of their debut album, Climax, eliciting impromptu boogying across the floor as Kvohst passionately emotes with tongue placed firmly in cheek throughout. ‘Death Reflects Us’ and ‘Genocidal Crush’ get a suitably energised reaction while ‘Ghost Out Of Focus’ and ‘Love In A Cold World’ give a moment for the lovers, demonstrating the breadth of Kvohst’s rich voice while his emphatic gestures provide just the right amount of theatre. While the sound muddies the mood once or twice, all four stay firmly on track delivering the post-apocalyptic party that they always promised they were going to.
After so much joy, it’s now time to get serious with H A R K’s intelligently designed riffing. Jimbob Isaac’s presence has been keenly felt throughout the festival, his gorgeous nouveau-art-nouveau designs accompanying Temples throughout its genesis, so it was only natural that his post-Taint trio would be a part of the weekend. Still, it’s not an undeserving prospect, their deft manipulation of Baroness-like grooves into new, unwieldy shapes an interesting take that works just as well live. A seasoned rhythm unit keep pace well with Isaac’s drunk-driver swerves in tempo and rhythm and though it can sometimes be disconcerting, when they get into a good thing, like when Clutch’s Neil Fallon joins them for the weighty deluge of closer ‘Clear Light Of…’, bellowing across an expanse of bewildering space-prog noodling, the genius of it all starts to make itself apparent.
After such a cerebral overload, it’s then time to let emotion take over with Oathbreaker. With little light in the room, it’s pretty apt for the content, a ritual of savage intensity that has frontwoman Caro Tanghe permanently shrouded in darkness and hair, shrilly emptying her being as her band implode around her. There’s a blackened beauty that can’t be denied, a raw and tender heart that only remains truly exposed with the relative respite of an eerie ‘The Abyss Looks Into Me’, though even it is uncomfortable to endure. It’s catharsis, pure and simple, and the band treat it as such, seemingly single-minded in their approaches and when Caro falls to her knees for their final eruption, they seem spent, as do those who lasted it all out in the front few rows.
Gonga have already gotten the ball rolling at this point so I enter mid-jam to the nearest England will ever get to Kyuss’ desert-and-peyote rock, the acid-fried solos ebbing and flowing with a perfect ear for melody and mood. Unlike with Black Moth, it’s been almost a decade since I’d caught them live, meaning that I’d largely forgotten what a pleasure it is to watch this trio working their magic and to hear such great, laid-back yet still ass-kicking jams hatch, grow and develop from riffs to titans. If there is anyone in the UK that could maybe hold a candle to Earthless for doing this style well, Gonga would be a solid band to back.
Now that the emotional to-and-froing is back in swing, The Secret are back to take the fury up to its highest level yet. Seriously, relentless doesn’t even cut it. From the lengthy, drone-and-scream splattered prelude to ‘Agnus Dei ‘ right through to cut-throat savagery of ‘Seven Billion Graves’, there is no respite. It never yields nor apologises for its misanthropy, it just keeps steamrolling everything that stands against it, Marco Coslovich in confrontational mode as he paces and strikes while Mike Bertoldini delivers with a degree of virtuosity that typically remains buried in the filth on record. It’s enough to leave anyone breathless but they look like such intensity comes as natural as breathing, the d-beat pummel of ‘Geometric Power’ basically a particularly violent stroll for them. Awe-inspiring stuff, in a horrible kind of way.
While the main stage has been rock-heavy today, the token head-scratcher has finally come in the form of SSS (that’s Short Sharp Shock, and not Simply Soft Skin, as Avon-loving vocalist Foxy at one point claims) and though their crossover sound might lean more towards the metal side of the sonic spectrum, their message is, without a doubt, that of a punk band. Old-school thrashers like ‘Dismantle the Dream’ get possibly the best crowd reactions of the weekend, being the only act I saw that got a decent circle-pit going, and even newer tracks got a warm reaction, warm being the operative term for ‘bodies being launched across the room’. Foxy’s an amusing and charismatic, though intensely earnest, frontman and it’s mesmerising to watch bassist Mark barrelling and spinning across the stage. Hard-hitting stuff but great fun, all things considered.
I had already taken it for granted that The Secret would be the benchmark for intensity this weekend; apparently, I’d forgotten about Dragged Into Sunlight. They dislike fun. They hate it, in fact, and their hooded, strobe-lit expulsion of filth is as unclean as it gets, like watching footage of a whale exploding on an endless loop while someone beats you with a stout stick. It’s difficult to tell how many are even on stage, the screams and blasts of sound the only possible indicator, giving the whole experience a disconcerting feel and while it’s not too overwhelming at first, it slowly begins to wear down any resistance. The strobes mess with your eyes, you give up trying to work out what’s happening and the occasional moment of quiet, followed by an ungodly roar of distortion and downtuned horror, leaves you exposed. By the time it’s over, I feel both cleansed and dirty, which I wasn’t even aware was possible.
Still, I’m ready for anything now and Doomriders are just what the surgeon general recommends. They rock in every way in which anyone can rock, nailing twin-guitar harmonies and runaway solos without even the slightest whiff of cheddar, delivering the kind of fist-pumping set that you really need a beer in hand to truly appreciate. Throughout their allotted hour, there’s no real dip in energy from any of them, heartily hoisting their guitars aloft between solos, bellowing lyrics and generally being as metal as you can get without spandex. It’s a far cry from when they were just “that band wi’ the bloke fae Converge” and a sure confirmation of their status as a truly great hardcore rock band. They might have never really interested me on record but live, they’re so flawlessly entertaining to watch that they become a possible highlight on a day already packed with them.
Yesterday, Mike from The Secret talked to me about how there were few bands at this festival who weren’t influenced in some indirect way by Repulsion and just an hour after he finished his own cacophony of horror, Repulsion begin theirs. Barring ‘Helga (Lost Her Head)’ and a couple of choice covers (including Venom’s ‘Schizo’, naturally), it’s all Horrified, all the way, and even after almost three decades, it’s still the daddy of them all. They lead with ‘The Stench of Burning Death’ and from those thuggish drums onwards, it’s a feast of thrash, filth and neck strain.
They’ve got the speed and they’ve got the skill, as evinced by the tight, shredded solo on ‘Stench’ but mostly, they’re great to watch because they have a loose style that works perfectly with them. They stagger and sway with the blasts, Carlson sounds like a mummy revived to enact some horrible curse on mankind, and they drive themselves into such a flurry of 200 bpm madness that they’re constantly on the crest of some great wave of blood, an inch away from plummeting into the drink. While ‘Horrified’ itself proves a fine closer, they could have walked after ‘Black Breath’ and no-one would have complained. Nasty stuff and pretty much the best band to close the second stage that I can imagine.
There’s only one band left and while plenty today have tried to capture their funky spirit, there’s only one Clutch. There are few who could compare to Neil Fallon at the very least, a hirsute preacher of the good church Led Zep who bellows absurdities as he paces and cuts across the stage, and together with his associates they deliver easily the most rock and roll set of the weekend. It has great jams, primarily dominated by Tim Sult’s free-flowing virtuosity, it has huge bluesy sing-a-longs, and it has cowbell.
Understandably dominated by last year’s Earth Rocker, it’s still the rebellious good-time madness of ‘The Mob Goes Wild’ that they emerge to, Fallon barking and gesturing wildly to the crowd, while his impressive lungs and ability to keep a crowd enthralled are exercised with a comparatively low-key ‘The Regulator’. Even at their most sedate, Clutch create a truly electric atmosphere, unpredictable not only in their setlists but also in their delivery. Even moderate fans seem rapt and for every person passively watching them do their thang, there’s another shaking their ass. Electric Wizard sounded loud and miserable, Neurosis loud and moving but Clutch are simply a world treasure. Any band that can keep a room dancing and air-guitaring at midnight on a Sunday after three days of sonic might are incredible and, even by Clutch’s high standards, tonight felt special.
Sadly, with Clutch’s finale the first Temples Festival comes to an end. Three days of heaviness, drinking, good vibes and better people made this weekend one of the best of the year, and next year might be even better, though that’s probably greediness on my part. It had plenty of highs (Jucifer, Sonance, bloody Neurosis!) and almost no lows, what could be better than that? Bristol über alles!
Scribed by: Dave Bowes
Photos by: Antony Roberts (www.metalgigs.co.uk)