As far as I can tell, there are two types of festival people. There are the rare few who’ll have their hotels and flights booked as soon as the dates are announced and then there are the ones who’ll at least wait on the headliners being announced before even considering it. I’d always considered myself to be in the second camp but after Temples Festival absolutely killed it last year, I think they could have put a Hanson reunion on the main stage and I would’ve called it a stroke of genius.
Thus converted to the Temples cause, I venture forth once again into cider country for a weekend of auricular devastation. One 5 am start, a suspiciously smooth journey to, and from, Edinburgh airport and a coffee or two later, I arrive at Bristol to find that the elder gods have come prepared for the onslaught of grind, sludge and what have you as its proper miserable out, letting up just long enough for me to be given a tour of the facilities. The city might be drenched to the bones but it does mean that there’s a sizeable crowd in the main hall for this year’s openers, Teef.
A completely new entity to me, they have nonetheless brought a few fans of their own to windmill, stomp and generally kick seven shades out of the air to a backdrop of some of the most oppressive, righteously pissed-off hardcore I’ve heard in a while. Though the thick NYHC grooves and short, sharp bursts of ultraviolence are par for the course within the field, it’s the whiff of genuine murderous intent from their frontman, not just in the bestial vocals but also in the way he seems to pace the stage, looking to pick a fight with anything within arm’s reach, that makes them a captivating watch.
Four years after their split, Throats are back once again and though the London bruisers always sounded like they meant business, their sludgy ferocity today is jaw-dropping. Bare, ragged hardcore slowed to a crawl, then with nails hammered through it for good measure, they cram as much violence into twenty minutes as Schwarzenegger did in the last twenty minutes of Commando, the downtuned crustiness striking with a pitiless lack of restraint. Though there’s little sign of the new material that we’ll hopefully be getting from them soon, they’re a welcome blast to the underground past.
There’s nary a moment of respite before the onslaught continues with Oblivionized next door. They may have flipped the positioning of the stage from last year but the Marble Factory has retained the murky air of an abattoir, an all-too-appropriate setting for the London lads’ asymmetrical ear butchery. After the blunt ferocity of Teef and Throats, the spidery complexity of Oblivionized’s math-death riffing seems impenetrable, an uninviting wash of fret-worrying and unchecked rage, but within a few minutes, the pieces begin to fall into place, opening up a world of dextrous aggression and even the odd hook. Exploding outwards with each abrupt shift in tone as the ever-growing crowd induces claustrophobia, they more than live up to the buzz that’s been circulating around them today.
The enigmatic YAITW (that’s Young And In The Way, for the acronym-averse) could be taken for an elaborate joke, a Darkthrone tribute act with a sideline in crusty hardcore, yet in person they’re an impressive sight. A tangled mess of leather, balaclavas and utter fucking spite, they’re a raw step back to black metal’s earliest dalliances with punk, twisting the nihilism of one and the forthright conviction of the other into stabby little shards of hatred. It’s a cold, blunt onslaught of snare and chainsaw riffing that would have you if you turned your back on it. Oh, and their “Temples – fuck off and die!” sign-off? Cheesy, but high marks for execution.
It’s fair to say that grim and frostbitten are not on the agenda for The Afternoon Gentlemen. They’re hardly playing Barry Manilow covers (though I doubt I’d put it past them to sneak one in there) but beneath all the intense salvoes of powerviolence, the pig-squeals and the grunts, and the buzzing, string-snapping fervour of their performance, they’re there to have a good time and make sure that everyone else does too. Unsurprisingly, they succeed, with a few crowdsurfing bodies and more than a few good-natured pits to cuts of prime grind, old and new, making for a memorable outing for zee Gentlemen.
Thanks to some rescheduling after Today Is The Day’s cancellation, Sea Bastard find themselves sans clashes over on the third stage. It’s my first experience of the new room, a corrugated-iron-lined barn that, until recently, was filled with car parts and other assorted detritus, but I’ve gotta say that it scrubs up nicely. With the place looking suitably packed, Sea Bastard power through a shortened set with a wounded drummer to crush all under a blanket of sheer heavy. Lurching drone doom with a demonic edge, it hits my grind-addled senses like a sledgehammer, the steady low-end pulse resonating with a sense of catharsis that many of today’s speed-driven grindniks could never hope to reach.
I’d made a bet with myself that if the first word out of Enabler vocalist Jeff Lohrber’s mouth wasn’t “Go!” then I might as well lose all faith in metal. Thankfully, the Milwaukee trio prove innately reliable as they kick off with Speechless and I get to enjoy my first must-see band of the festival. One of the biggest draws of the weekend for me, they’re an immensely inviting watch, a searing mix of melody, speed, aggression and even a few moments of positivity that works precisely because nothing is held back. Though the bluntness of cuts from last year’s La Fin Absolue Du Monde don’t quite achieve the same white-hot punch of False Profit or Speechless’ emotional resonance, Lohrber’s head-down determination remains constant throughout, bolstered by a back end that strikes with Terminator-like precision. Absolutely unstoppable, I leave the room broken and satiated in equal measure.
Evading the one-note gym-core of Harm’s Way on the main stage, it’s back to the room of doom for Weak, by far the most ironically-named band of the weekend. Though picking up the pace from Sea Bastard, it’s still a tortured, drawn-out trudge through filth and razors, the Danish trio utilising the PA’s beefy low-end to nefarious ends. Throwing scuzzy punk, sludge and a voice like a wounded coyote into the mix, it’s an unapologetically coarse performance that’s treats hardcore like His Hero Is Gone did decades ago, using it as a loose touchstone with which to batter people around the temples.
Though grind has always had a bit of a reputation for po-facedness, it’s great to see a band like Leng Tch’e, who have both the chops and the will to make this a party, dammit. Relentlessly enthusiastic, frontman Serge Kasongo cuts an intimidatingly impressive (or impressively intimidating) figure without a trace of the musclebound machismo of many, striding headfirst into a half-hour of concerted razorgrind. They don’t have the dazzling technicality of some of their brethren but what they have plenty of is groove, dipping the speed at just the right moments to let the crowds work up a stomp before stepping on the accelerator again. Though a man down, their replacement (from Oblivionized, no less) doesn’t dampen their enthusiasm any, and as they wind down with a final wall-of-death backed blast, Kasongo standing dead-centre and whipping stragglers to and fro, they’re already one of the highlights for many today, myself included.
It’s been a long time since Trap Them made it over here, but with Blissfucker having been gnawing away at many stereos for a few months now, their return is second-coming-level huge. Ryan McKenney immediately sets about establishing an intimacy with the vast space in front of him, making his way to the barriers and only moving from there to plunge further into the crowd, as Brian Izzi elicits a succession of searing riffs that range from the fist-swinging pummel of Evictionaries, replete with that barbed tone that has come to pretty much define Deathwish, to the one-note tension of The Facts, right up until it erupts a cascade of snare and bile. Too bleak to be punk, too unhinged to be metal, Trap Them are in a class of their own today and they lead the room on a cut-throat chase that leaves more than a few trampled bodies in its wake. At this point, a headache which had been looming for much of the day hits hard so I retreat for painkillers and a rest before the day’s inevitably immense climax.
Heading into the fray once more yet unable to handle anything more vigorous than an enthusiastic nod, I make the choice to head back to stage three to sample some of Weedeater’s charms. Barring some issues getting in thanks to a slightly over-zealous security chap, the dulcet tones of Dave ‘Dixie’ Collins drag me inexorably inwards towards a world of cheap meth, cheaper whisky and riffs the size of canyons. Yup, every day’s a blast as far as Collins is concerned, his good-time presence all the more incongruous considering just how fucking vicious they sound. Picking an expert split of old and new, the deep-fried grit of Goliathan’s cuts go down a treat while God Luck And Good Speed lights a bonfire under the crowd’s collective arse, slo-mo pits flaring up in time with the cacophonic crack of Travis Owen’s kit, the flow loose and heavier than a sperm whale on Jupiter. They’re about as nasty, and as soulful, a band as anyone is likely to see this weekend and, given the fact that they’re on such fine form, they’re a tough one to top.
Back in the Marble Factory, tensions are running high in anticipation for Pig Destroyer’s first appearance of the weekend. If you were to judge a band’s popularity on t-shirt prevalence alone, no-one would even come close to matching them, and the charge that runs through the place when JR steps out is Beatles-worthy, where the screaming teenage girls are replaced with tattooed scenesters. Grind-meets-metal-meets-power electronics, it’s an all-consuming and almost visceral onslaught, with Hayes’ barks and mutterings making his presence a predatory one. Scott Hull is able to turn from skewed grinding to colossal dirges on a dime, while their possession of one of the most impeccable drummers in the business only cements Pig Destroyer’s status as the originators of the most complex, twisted and downright unsettling grind in the world, with a mid-set airing of Jennifer remaining a singularly disturbing and erotic work of art.
A good festival should have a sense of cumulative musical ecstasy, working up to a heady aural climax that will explode the skulls of those who’ve stuck it out throughout the day. For the main stagers, this comes in the form of Converge, Jacob Bannon’s violent kineticism and ever-improving vocal work, along with the metallic precision of Kurt Ballou, a frenzied and emotionally tumultuous finishing blow for the hardcore-oriented, but for everyone else, there’s Bongzilla.
Quite where they’ve been hiding for the past decade, no-one knows, but they’re finally back and, with pretty much every song they’ve ever released being regarded as a classic, they can do no wrong. With hair and the whiff or herbal aromas in the air, the bounce of Greenthumb proves unbeatable, ‘Dixie’ Collins returning and still going strong with a tarry groove that swamps anything he managed earlier. A resolutely good-time band, their set is packed with highs (sorry) and damn few lows, Stone A Pig’s opiated prowl a tune-in-and-drop-out masterpiece of biker rock schtick as Mike Henry tears across the kit, a landslide of percussive force. Sickly yowls, riffs big enough to fill Valhalla and the omnipresent smell of grass in a cowshed filled with smiling, bouncing and pitting metalheads. Yeah, this weekend has gotten off to a good start.
Scribed by: Dave Bowes