It’s a reasonable enough thing to ask, they are after all, the real big hitters of the UK metal festival. Away from those two, bubbling below the surface are a cluster of smaller festivals. By the time this weekend is over, the answer to the Download/Sonisphere question for many of those here will be answered with “Temples”.
It’s not just the line-up that impresses (although it is packed with quality from start to finish), but the venue is perfect, the crowd wonderful, and the organisation onsite is amazing. As occasional gripes become apparent across the weekend, Festival Director Francis Mace acts quickly to put things right. There’s a genuine feeling that everyone involved in the festival actually cares about making it an amazing weekend.
When attempting to describe many of the sets this weekend, brutal is a word that often springs to mind. It’s a description that fits the full on aggression contained within Jucifer’s ridiculously heavy sonic pulverising. On record, they’re like a filthy take on The Shangri-Las, here today the bass-heavy assault strips away any dynamics and threatens to shake the fillings out of every head in the building.
As might be expected, it also fits Brutal Truth‘s great names taking their leave, but this set of total unbridled fury is a good way to go out. Satan’s Satyrs come across like Budgie extrapolated to the nth degree; they’re a cacophony of low slung blues shot through with a hefty dose of sugared LSD.Witchsorrow dig at Sabbath’s roots, cut rock god shapes and yell out classics like “this one’s for all you fucking headbangers out there”. Which is pretty much everyone in the room. Blood Ceremony meanwhile are a revelation. Alia O’Brien’s flute solos give them a truly unusual sound. If Crucial Taunt from Wayne’s World got trapped in a vortex with nothing but Focus, Black Sabbath and a seed drill for company, the result would be something like Blood Ceremony, only not quite as good.
In fact the Sabbath presence constantly spreads its wings over the course of the weekend.
Stylistically Doom might cause a Proustian leap back to that Arena documentary when Napalm Death first terrorised a nation, but when they cover Into The Void, that blueprint is in evidence again. Gonga too owe Ozzy and co a considerable debt, but they’ve never attempted to hide it (their cover of Black Sabbath with Portishead’s Beth Gibbons is worth checking out). Their set on Sunday is suitably monolithic with huge riffs and prehistoric blues solos filling the room and causing a wave of stoned headbanging (like normal headbanging, but a lot slower).There are of course, actual bona fide legends too. Neurosis on Saturday night is thunderous and epic. The dynamic range of their set tonight is quite incredible and it feels as if they’re not just playing a bunch of songs but establishing an all encompassing mood that swamps everyone in the room in a blanket of doom. Stones From The Sky in particular is jawdropping.
On Sunday, grindcore legends Repulsion stake a claim for set of the weekend with a peerless display of speed and aggression. It’s hard to imagine that music this extreme was being made back in 1984/5, but Repulsion were ahead of the curve and possibly one of the most influential bands in extreme metal circles. That they still sound fresh and exciting now speaks volumes for how original they were.
The Secret also pull it out of the bag with a truly memorable appearance. With the stage bathed in smoke and red light, the band erupts in a relentless ball of crust hardcore fury. It’s a scene that resembles what might described by some people as hell. None of those people are here though. A sea of banging heads and bleeding ear drums attest to that. Singer Marco Coslovich ends the set stood on the audience screaming, held aloft like a conquering hero, which at that precise moment in time, he is.
Picking out truly standout moments from across the weekend is a practical impossibility. From start to finish, the quality of bands never wavered. Winterfylleth’s Blackened Folk manages to be both subtle and aggressive. The stoned post-metal grooves of Bossk border on the spiritual. Conan’s hardcore take on Sunn O))) is so loud it’s more like punishment than pleasure. Yet, there’s a kind of horrific beauty in their unrelenting wall of slow paced thuggery. In the absence of light there is nothing but crushing, serrated doom apparent.Which is where Amenra comes in. Black metal screams against a relentless barrage of noise is a description you could give any number of bands this weekend, but there’s a groove here that they exploit constantly. It’s similar to the ancient rut uncovered by Cathedral but it lays along different, more aggressive ley lines. This is the ancient made new and covered in filth. Majestic. Elsewhere, the theatrical nature of Beastmilk sets them apart. Like a full throttle metal version of Joy Division and The Cure they provide something of a break from relentless noise but also impress on their own terms.
Wrapping the festival up is Clutch, a band that perhaps might seem a little lightweight considering everything that has gone before. When they hit the stage however, the venue erupts in a frenzy. It’s the perfect close to the weekend. It may have been extreme at times, but after three days, everyone just wants to sing along and party. Clutch provide the soundtrack, the audience provide the atmosphere. When the encore of Electric Worry kicks in the place explodes in a spine tingling chorus from just about everybody in the room.
It’s a rare thing for a festival to get it right on the first attempt, but Temples did just that this year. When next year’s festival gets announced, expect a rush for tickets because it really doesn’t get much better than this.