We all knew it was going to happen. Arriving at the venue to find that stage times have been pushed back by an hour, rumours abound about the long-lasting effects of Sunn O)))’s ritual devastation last night. They killed the soundboard; nine people ended up with nosebleeds; someone lost consciousness – there’s even talk of audience hospitalisation. We’ll never know exactly what they did to that room last night, but my ears are still ringing and so I make the most of the extra hour and try to recover my senses.
The day starts unassumingly enough with the instrumental prog outfit Anta, whose first five minutes make me wonder if the main stage today will consist entirely of Earth worshippers, right up until the real thing take the stage. It’s heady, refined stuff that’s oceans apart from their Bristolian roots but they soon build up steam and start hitting the hard stuff, a swirling mish-mash of Genesis and Between The Buried And Me that’s almost too much for our unprepared ears. I’m a sucker for tapped melodies at the best of times and executed with such fervour and ingenuity, I find myself falling slightly in love. Too difficult to pin down in such a short period of time, I make a mental note to check out more of this lot in the future.
If Anta hinted at things to come with Earth, OHMMS do the same with Pallbearer, but to greater effect. While their US compatriots excel in their air of quiet contemplation, OHHMS throw themselves into their ascendant doom with gusto, spicing their foggy riffs with fret-singeing solos, leaping across the stage and displaying the kind of energy that is rarely seen in bands who play this slow. Even without such boundless verve they would be a respectable lot, with a vocalist operating on the ‘classic’ side of the spectrum but with enough presence to make the music his own, but the mix of old-school showmanship and complex, emotive songwriting truly sets them apart.
With barely 20 minutes to their set, Venom Prison don’t really set aside much time to make an impact, their concrete collision of metal and East Coast hardcore well-received and satisfyingly imposing but not entirely conducive to memorability. Still, the hulking riffs, a few well-situated breakdowns and the magnetic presence of vocalist Larissa bodes well for the future, and there are enough beatdown-friendly moments to get limbs swinging and limbering up for the day to come.
For the longest time, I have suffered from a crippling disability – I’ve never seen Monarch! live. I’ve come close but they’ve always eluded me, so when the first tremulous drones hit, accompanied by the kosmische moans of Emilie Bresson, it feels like a great weight has been lifted from me, only for another, even greater one to take its place. A truly atavistic act, where others are said to be ahead of their time, Monarch! exist in a realm long before the current day, the punishing kit-pounding and pre-Sabbathian riffing primeval and spiritual. With the bloody funeral procession that is Pentagrammes taking up the bulk of their set, it drags the room into a murky underworld before a slight upsurge in tempo pulls it back into the light, but a thunderous take on The Runaways’ ’76 gem Cherry Bomb, Bresson’s bitter howls and controlled bursts of blackened noise eclipsing even Joan Jett’s punkish fire, takes the gold for the most unexpectedly crushing number of the day.
Some slight sound problems means that fellow French noise-mongers Year Of No Light fail to keep that momentum going, their cinematic flair and suspense not necessarily translating well into world-stopping power, but as they begin to rotate their stage set-up, bringing on board stereoscopic drum barrages and three-pronged guitar workouts and combining them into gorgeous, all-encompassing arrangements that function as long, unrelenting climaxes, they return to their usual breathtaking power. An extended mid-set gap sees many of the crowd leave, thinking things have come to a close, but as the John Carpenter-esque opening of Stella Rectrix rings out, it heralds the show’s zenith, a masterpiece of sound and emotional release that pushes all six members to their respective limits. Almost impossible to not completely lose your cool to, this is the triumphant end a set of this calibre needs.
I’m all set to shrug off Krokodil as another djentrified metal supergroup but they’re somewhat hard to dislike. Tightly executed and with more than a few memorable songs tucked under their belts already, these cats know how to boogie, their aggression underpinned by an addictive swing that makes dancing as appealing as slam-dancing, while Simon Wright is a charmer of a frontman, gifted with a natural energy that keeps him moving without overshadowing Laurent Barnard and Dan Carter’s abrasive guitarwork. They still feel a little incongruous at such a grind and doom-heavy festival but they certainly make their presence justified.
Much as Mantar demonstrated yesterday, it only takes two to make a hell of a racket. Ghold’s drum and bass pairing hits the room with the low end of the gods, a deep-seated rumble with ample volume and a masterful sense of momentum; Saw The Falling nails this shifting of gears with its switch from predatory stomp to killing dash, roaring with barely-contained ferocity all the while. Things take on a slinkier air with All Eyes Broke, Aleks Wilson surprisingly deft as his riffs dance like leaden goblins around Paul Antony’s percussive baccano, but it remains a singularly massive force. Drums and bass are natural partners in crime but hearing them combined to such immensely impressive effect is marvellous.
Though KEN mode may be the square pegs in this festival’s succession of somewhat malformed round holes, the Winnipeg sarcastronauts have one of the biggest buzzes around them. “I would like to learn how to kill the nicest man in the world” sneers Jesse Matthewson with an inward smirk, igniting a chain shot of frazzled Jesus Lizard licks and rust-flecked basswork that leaves you wondering what to do with yourself. Dance? Headbang? Hunt down The Man like a dog? All are equally viable here, Matthewson’s thousand-yard stares, veiled and not-so-veiled threats and liturgies against middle class expectations lending the driving, sometimes dazzling, melodies a whiff of violent tension, and the concerted efforts of Shane Matthewson and Scott Hamilton makes for one of the most compelling rhythm performances of the weekend. Unrestrained and gifted in every possible aspect, they set a standard that is pretty much without compare.
I’m only able to catch a handful of Voivod over on the third stage, but it’s enough to get a handle on just how important they are to so many. Voivod is met with a near-comical amount of enthusiasm, any moment not taken up with Chewy’s displays of six-string excellence seeing ‘Snake’ Belanger’s punchy vocals echoed hundredfold. Red-faced and grimacing, Snake is one of that irreplaceable and genre-defining breed of frontman, his sing-song moans and wild demeanour echoing the band’s frequent stylistic swerves, Away jazzily switching from relentless pounding to kit-spanning barrages as Chewy leads the band through an avant-metal workout of impressive proportions. A swansong of unrivalled proportions is reached with Astronomy Domine, Snake leading the crowd in a chant of “Piggy! Piggy!” to fallen comrade Denis D’Amour. One of the most unpredictable, exciting and absolutely riveting bands to have ever graced a stage, I’d love to have caught more of them, but there will always be other days. You can’t keep this lot down for long.
A little late to the party once again, I catch Pallbearer mid-weep, the mournful thrum of The Ghost I Used To Be not just one of the most outstanding examples of ‘classic’ doom in recent years but also one of the most subversive. For all their weight, the yeti-like swings of Mark Lierly prove no barrier to the vulnerability of Devin Holt, the song’s slick harmonies and sweeping progression remaining a world away from wizards and chemical transcendence to astral planes, becoming something more personal and affecting. If anything is calculating about Pallbearer, it’s that they know just where to hit the listener to pull them into their own world, the sea of slowly nodding heads probably hiding a tear or two in there somewhere. Even with the fact that the Little Rock quartet seem to live on the road, they have all but filled the main hall, and if they can continue on the path they’ve already made good headway along, Pallbearer may become one of the hugest bands in doom. They deserve to be.
Today’s reshuffling has afforded a lengthy gap, which is just about essential to prepare for Between The Buried And Me. Bloody hell, there’s a lot to take in here. Though well-renowned for their technical extravagance, their splintered fingerwork enough to make Meshuggah blush, it doesn’t quite account for their thrashy aggression, nor the operatic scale of their songs. Ambitious in every sense, the lengthy set spans old and new, tranquillity and chaos, as jazz and death metal walk hand in hand in not-quite-harmony. A few newbies whet expectations, melodically-leaning and grandiose works that they are, while the combined efforts of Paul Waggoner and Dusty Waring, flightily dancing before ripping each other apart with a series of percussive exertions, makes Selkies an early highlight.
Is there a better comedown band than Earth? After three days of grind, metal, doom, drone and sludge, the only way to end things is either with a massive party or a major chill-out, and since Clutch handle the first of those options admirably last year, it’s up to Dylan Carlson’s mesmerising vibes to soothe Temples Festival’s collective wounds. Though it would be nice to finally hear There Is A Serpent Coming with some vocal accompaniment, possibly from the former frontman of some terminally-underrated Washingtonians, the electric sway of Carlson is entrancing nonetheless, pulling the crowd into musical narcolepsy as Adrienne Davies’ tense swings constantly threaten to pull them back out.
To everyone here, Carlson is as close to a bona-fide rock star as the festival has ever seen and he does his utmost to live up to the accolade as he hoists his guitar skywards, a godlike silhouette raining down distortion and reverb like manna from heaven. If last year’s Primitive And Deadly was the Pentastar follow-up that fans had been waiting for, it’s even more impressive in the flesh, Badger’s Bane and From The Zodiacal Light both sounding huge and engulfing the room with sound and tension, but the real surprises come with Ouroboros Is Broken, its swollen pace translating well to the buzz and crackle of Earth circa 2015, and with High Command. If any song could rouse Temples Festival from its slumber, this was it, and with possibly one of the greatest riff of the band’s, or any band’s, career, they bring another successful weekend to a close.
After I left Motion last year, I wondered what they possibly could have done to top it. I’m still unsure of whether this year has succeeded to the same extent, but that’s mainly because it feels different. There was another side to the festival this year, more diverse and all-encompassing, and whether they’ll continue down that road or try to top what has already been, I don’t know. I do know, however, that I’ll likely be back in a year to find out.
Scribed by: Dave Bowes