Damnation Fest, Leeds 4.11.17

This weekend my metal odyssey took me to Damnation Festival, a one-day indoor festival at Leeds University. 4 stages, 27 bands, an incredible line-up, and a whole day and night away from being a mum. I had built up this weekend in my mind so much- could it possibly meet expectations? Here are 10 things I learned at Damnation:fed513_93eb22e675bd4f7caf5de81bd9e91d76~mv2_d_1750_2450_s_2

  1. I am not hard enough for the Nails pit. Having seen hardcore punk band Nails already this year, I knew things would get crazy, so found myself a great, safe viewing spot up on some steps. However a surge of bodies forced me down into the pit, and it was tough to stay upright! I was hit hard in the chest and winded, but there was no escaping from the floor area, so my brother and another big bloke barricaded me into a corner from where I could watch in safety. Nails look like they should be playing the bad guys in Dawson’s Creek, but their set was 45 minutes of pure anger and had an immediate and profound effect on the crowd. It was incredibly intense and despite getting a bit smashed up, I loved it.
  2. Dragged Into Sunlight are genuinely unnerving. Hailing from my home town of Liverpool, Dragged Into Sunlight use ridiculous amounts of smoke and play with their backs to the audience. I was waiting for the moment when they all spun around, until I realised they weren’t going to. Their music and performance was powerful in a way I’m struggle to define, and I’m still sort of processing it.
  3. Agoraphobic Nosebleed’s female vocalist is incredible. As a grindcore aficionado, it was absolutely necessary for me to see Agoraphobic Nosebleed, a drum-machine grindcore band now in their 23rd (!) year. Currently they have a dual vocal line-up but it was Kat Katz (ex-Salome) whose pipes really stood out- wow.
  4. I have a crush on Gregor Mackintosh. He had me at ‘Blood and Chaos’ when I saw Paradise Lost in Geneva last week, and as frontman of supergroup Vallenfyre this afternoon he sealed the deal, with his lovely Yorkshire accent. IMG_2416.jpg
  5. Amazing festival line-ups are actually a bit stressful. My tactical planning was on the military level to make sure I saw everything I wanted. How do I choose between two of my favourite bands on at the same time? Do I eat or do I see Mutation? Queue for beer and risk missing Sodom? Decisions decisions…
  6. Your musical experience is entirely dependent on your crowd position. I’ve been spoilt recently, going to see great bands in small venues where I’m right at the front. So I couldn’t be arsed to watch Myrkur from behind a pillar thirty metres from the stage. I think she might have been brilliant, but I just couldn’t get into it.IMG_2395
  7. Dying Fetus are incredible. By this time I was starving and desperate for the loo, but I was determined to hold my viewing spot for Dying Fetus, and it was totally worth it. I’ll never get over how awful their band name is, but man those riffs… I wanted to see if John Gallagher could replicate his insane arpeggio runs live, and he didn’t miss a note. Again, it went by in a flash. 100 per cent exhilarating.IMG_2415
  8. Get to the merch stand early. We surveyed the shopping area on arrival and planned to come back and make our purchases later so we didn’t have to carry them around. But at 9pm- nooooo- almost everything had been cleared up. No official festival t-shirt for me!
  9. The smaller stages are full of gems. The Tone Mgmt stage was tucked away at the back of the Union and I had a superb time in there, right at the front, with Leng Tsche, Mutation and Psycroptic.
  10. You can actually have too much metal. Perhaps that is a sacrilegious statement. Perhaps I am too old and too ‘mum’ for this. But by 11pm I was knackered after 9 hours of solid metal, and I’m ashamed to say I left before Bloodbath.

 

Damnation Fest was well-organised and friendly with a brilliant line-up. Everything hurts today- ears, ribs, head, feet- and that can only be a good sign. My first Damnation and hopefully the start of a new annual pilgrimage to Leeds!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cattle Decapitation, L’Usine 10.09.17

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Cattle Decapitation are known for their gory lyrics, strong political statements about meat consumption and environmental destruction, and their generally horrific imagery. Watch their videos if you dare. But the live experience is less about the shock visuals and more about the excellent quality of the music. Their highly-technical riffs somehow evoke a sense of impending apocalypse, and the precise rhythmic changes are made even more exhilarating by the ease with which they are performed.

This is exactly the type of music I have been learning to play, and I would love a guitar lesson from Josh Elmore, whose virtuosity was a pleasure to watch from my front row vantage point.

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I don’t think Cattle Decapitation were too pleased with their audience at L’Usine; a Sunday night in Geneva was never going to be much of a party, and vocalist Travis Ryan was understandably a bit miffed that he was busting a gut to a half-empty room of blank faces. You would think telling the audience they suck is a sure way to lose them for good, but he did manage to rouse/shame enough people into action that their was a reasonable pit going by the end. It was unfortunate to see such an acclaimed band playing to a small audience, but I absolutely loved Cattle Decapitation’s set and I’m sorry if they didn’t love us Genevans- we’ll do better next time! Come on a Friday!

CD were admirably supported by Broken Hope; Jeremy Wagner has managed to keep this Chicago death metal band going on-and-off since 1988, and they sounded brutal and brilliant. They all had uniformly fabulous hair, and biceps of the night went to vocalist Damian Leski- lovely. I will definitely be checking out their new album (‘Mutilated and Assimilated’) this week, as well as their back catalogue- with song titles like ‘She Came Out In Chunks’, ‘Gobbling Guts’ and ‘Chewed To Stumps’, what’s not to love?  Nb: If you can’t handle Cattle Decapitation’s videos, don’t look at Broken Hope’s….

I’m afraid I missed the first two support bands, Hideous Divinity and Gloryhole Guillotine (!), as I was putting the kids to bed, but I did buy a couple of their t-shirts which are going to look great on the school run.

This ‘Hell On Earth’ tour is ongoing, with plenty of European dates still to come- highly recommended.

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Rock Altitude: Highs and Highs

While the eyes of metal are turned on the UK’s Bloodstock this weekend, there have also been some serious riffs emanating from a mountaintop in the heart of Switzerland. My full review/band interviews will follow on Broken Amp, but in the meantime here are a few pics and a quick round up from ‘metal day’ at Rock Altitude.

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Highs:

  1. Meeting Zeal & Ardor. Manuel Gagneux may be a genius, but he is also kind, humble, and a pleasure to talk to.

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2. Nostromo. Ok I’m a little biased since Nostromo are my boys, but they were truly mesmerising. Precision riffs like machine gun fire.

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3. Children of Bodom. The Finnish melodic death gods were the headline act, and also happen to be my favourite band. They played some deep cuts tonight from their earlier albums, and I shed a real tear during ‘Every Time I Die’. Gorgeous. Have I ever told you they are my favourite band? Can I tell you a few more times?

4. Underside. This young Nepalese band were a last-minute replacement for Walls of Jericho, and they were surprisingly heavy and brilliant. Definitely one to watch.

5. Meeting some lovely Swiss bands (Silver Dust, Impure Wilhelmina and others). I did a bunch of interviews in French and probably made a complete arse of myself, both grammatically and otherwise.

 

Cutest Moment: Henkka from Children of Bodom reaching down mid-song to fist-pump a headbanging toddler on the front row and give her a souvenir pick.

Lows:

My Alexi Laiho interview being cancelled. ‘Never meet your heroes’, they say, but yesterday I planned to do just that, the enterprising press officer at Rock Altitude having secured me a dream interview. It seemed too good to be true, and it was. I spent hours preparing and getting incredibly nervous, and went to absurd lengths to get there in time (I changed my flight and broke the speed limit), but after an hour of waiting… the record company vetoed it at the last minute. No-one’s fault, and such is life, but oh the emotions. Given that I literally worship the man perhaps I’m not the best person to interview him anyway- I might have fainted…

The only other low was, in the words of Alexi Laiho, ‘the motherfuckin’ cold and rainy-ass weather’, but those clever Swiss had all the arenas covered, so nothing could get in the way of a truly exhilarating night of top-quality metal.

 

 

Book review: ‘A History of Heavy Metal’ by Andrew O’Neill

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I’ve been reading this recently-published book very slowly, because I simply didn’t want it to end. None of my friends or family like metal; in fact, they all pretty much hate it. And that’s fine, because I prefer being an outsider and all of them including my children can actually fuck right off and listen to their shitty music or whatever because I love metal and I’ll just do it by myself. But the truth is I am quite a lonely metalhead, and so reading this book was like suddenly having a mate to go to the pub with and discuss my favourite subject for about fifteen hours.

Andrew O’Neill is a comedian who for several years has been performing a metal-themed stand-up routine, out of which this book developed. The chapters are packed full of jokes, footnotes and personal anecdotes which are very very funny. But beneath the light tone lies a deep reverence for metal, and beneath that passion lies an encyclopedic knowledge and a balanced approach.

O’Neill takes us through the history of metal with remarkable clarity. As you might expect from a stand-up comedian, he has brilliant story-telling ability, and while he’s aware that most of his readers will be seasoned metalheads already, he’s careful not to alienate non-metal readers too much. I regard myself as pretty well clued-up on the history of metal, but it is very comforting to have one’s favourite subject distilled on the page in this way. I also learnt a lot; O’Neill certainly sorted out the history of black metal for me, and throughout the book highlighted bands and albums I really need to catch up on (Converge, Tool, Neurosis- must must get round to listening. I know, I’m ashamed).

He makes a decent stab at addressing some of the controversies that metal has faced and continues to face; notably, the issues surrounding bands who are a bit (or a lot) racist or homophobic. Metalheads sometimes have to ask themselves, more so than fans of many other cultural forms, whether they can separate art from artist. O’Neill is honest about his struggles on discovering that certain metal musicians he had revered were, well, not very nice people.

Another hot topic in metal recently has been cultural appropriation: that is, celebrities wearing the t-shirts of metal bands they have never heard of. It’s usually Kim Kardashian or Kanye West, and it causes a storm of social media tirades every time it happens. O’Neill gives the best explanation I have read yet of why we metalheads find it really annoying. He also gives an excellent analysis of the state of metal today and how the internet has profoundly changed the practices of both bands and listeners.

There’s a lot of swearing and shouting in this book, but it’s all done in a joyful way, and I found the tone pitch-perfect. O’Neill is a good writer and has some lovely use of evolutionary metaphor and analogy when explaining how subgenres develop. I certainly don’t agree with everything he says. He doesn’t rate Megadeth or Testament, and he doesn’t even mention my favourite band Children of Bodom, which is a scandal that I demand be rectified in the second edition. I think he’s a bit harsh on metalcore and post-metal subgenres. But what would metal be if we all agreed? Half the fun is arguing furiously about who is good and who is shit.

Over the past couple of years I’ve read just about every book there is on metal, including many academic works from the burgeoning field of ‘heavy metal studies’. My husband is a professor and I used to be a research fellow, so I’m familiar with academia and aware that having a university position doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not an idiot. While there’s some incredible metal writing out there, there’s also some absolute drivel purporting to be analysis, and in terms of clarity and insight O’Neill’s informal book stands head and shoulders above everything musical that I’ve read recently. A few months ago I wrote a piece for Broken Amp magazine on ‘Ten Intelligent Books About Metal’, and if I could write it again I would absolutely add this.

O’Neill is currently performing at the Edinburgh Festival, and I will definitely try and catch his live show soon. But most of all:  Andrew O’Neill please can we go to the pub together and talk about metal for fifteen hours? I miss your book already!

https://www.andrewoneill.co.uk/

 

 

My Hellfest (Clisson, 16-18 June 2017)

Back from Hellfest, and now that I’ve thrown away boots so filthy they could not be salvaged, had the finest shower known to man, and laid out my 47 new band t-shirts to admire- it’s time to reflect. This was my first Hellfest, and given that it was blazing hot, I’m not much of a camper, and had a non-metal husband in tow, I think I gave it a pretty good shot. An in-depth report will follow for Broken Amp magazine, but here’s a quick round-up and photos.

HELLFEST HIGHS

  • While She Sleeps– this was really really special, an unforgettable set and an absolute privilege to be there. While She Sleeps are having an amazing year and there’s no way they should be playing at 12.15pm on an outlying stage. In any case they performed like headliners, with incredible musicianship and appreciation for their fans. And as for the stage diving- check this out:
  • Decapitated– masters at work. The Polish technical death metal pioneers absolutely blew me away- mesmerised.
  • Ultra Vomit– Ultra Vomit are Hellfest locals (from Nantes) so they may have received some special treatment, but they totally deserved their place on the main stage. Funny, good-natured, they sounded brutal even when singing about ‘ze shit et le pee pee’, and they had the whole main arena singing and dancing.
  • Shopping. Oh my goodness Hellfest was metal shopping heaven. I went completely overboard. Wondering if my new Cannibal Corpse bandana will work on the school run.
  • Clisson– lovely welcome from the locals, and superb organisation. Even the village pharmacy and optician had made satanic window displays; local kids sprayed hot festival-goers with water; despite Hellfest being sold out, I didn’t queue once, for anything, the entire weekend. Everyone knows the stories about local priests and Catholic organisations objecting to the event, but for me there was no evidence of anything but positivity.

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HELLFEST LOWS

  • Steel Panther– I was really excited about Steel Panther; I’ve always found them entertaining and Satchel is one of my favourite guitarists. However my husband was appalled- ‘rapey, juvenile, homophobic’- he just didn’t get the joke, and seeing them live I realised that maybe he had a point. Getting girls up onto the stage then pressuring then into taking off their tops? Not cool. In order for Steel Panther to work, the joke needs to be on them, not their audience. So disappointing. I still want to like them, their music is good and they seem like nice guys- but they’ve taken the joke so far that it’s no longer parody, it’s just offensive.
  • Missing Nostromo and Slayer: aargh, my two big favourites for the festival and they had to play after my flight had left last night. Dying to know how Nostromo did- such a big come-back moment for them.
  • Cashless– we dutifully charged up our Hellfest Cashless cards, only to discover that the only thing you could really buy with them was beer. There was a time when my husband and I could easily drink 200 euros’ worth of beer in one day, but that time has long gone sadly.

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HELLFEST SURPRISES

  • Motionless In White: I did not expect to like this gothic metal band, but I checked them out on the main stage and they crushed it. Great music and much heavier than I expected. I am now a fan.
  • Exercise– according to my husband’s fitbit we walked 42 kilometres over the course of the weekend! Result- makes up for all the burgers and chips we ate!
  • Chelsea Grin–  so, so fun. I may be a mum approaching 40 but I got down with the kids in the circle pit, and discovered I’m rather good at slam dancing. My eldest son would have cringed himself to death.

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LEAST SURPRISING THINGS EVER AT HELLFEST

  • The sheer number of cheese-based food options. The French really do like to eat a lot of cheese, even when it’s 37 degrees and there’s no shade. There were also lots of people eating oysters and mussels that had been sitting out in the sun all day. Bonne chance, mes amis.
  • Blokes in costumes. There were blokes in wedding dresses, monks’ habits, dinosaur suits, tutus, nappies; and there was of course the obligatory aggressive-fat-naked-guy with only a sock over his willy. I almost gagged when he brushed his back sweat over me.
  • Which-band-to-watch dilemmas– with such a strong line-up it was impossible to see everyone I wanted to see, and I was left wanting more- but there’s always next year. I LOVED Hellfest!

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Iron Maiden, Liverpool Echo Arena, 20th May 2017

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There’s little to say that hasn’t already been said about Iron Maiden- beloved, iconic, untouchable- they are an export of which Britain can be extremely proud. And we don’t have an awful lot else to be proud of just at the moment.

Iron Maiden are on their first UK tour in six years, although it doesn’t really feel like they have been away, and indeed I last saw them perform less than a year ago at Download 2016. But travelling to see them in my home city of Liverpool felt like a pilgrimage, a necessity; I simply had to be there. Anyone who has seen the movie Flight 666 will know there’s a church in Brazil where Iron Maiden is preached as a religion; and there is definitely a quasi-religious feel about an Iron Maiden gig. Walking through Liverpool yesterday and seeing Eddie t-shirts everywhere, fellow Maiden fans of all generations heading towards a common purpose, was incredibly exciting. Liverpool is a party city, of passionate people, and at 4pm on a Saturday afternoon every pub, bar and restaurant was full, metalheads mingling with hen parties and football fans.

Attending with my brother was special for several reasons. The last time we went to a gig together was to see Korn in 1995, so this was a family metal reunion after 22 years. And Iron Maiden was where our shared love of metal began; begging our Dad to buy us Maiden t-shirts aged 8 and 9; saving up our pocket money to go halves on a cassette of Powerslave; arguing over our favourite track. My brother is a mild-mannered nuclear physicist, but he also used to be in a band and is a walking encyclopedia of metal. We spent a mini Maiden pub crawl (The Swan, The Pumphouse, The Baltic) discussing the finer points of grindcore versus hardcore, then headed towards the Echo Arena.

Iron Maiden delivered exactly what they always promise- pyrotechnics, giant inflatable and robotic Eddies, showmanship, musicianship, and joyfulness. The energy of these guys, after almost forty years on the road, is unbelievable, and they appear to love it as much as ever. In a set of almost two hours, there were lots of songs from the new album The Book of Souls, keeping the Irons new and relevant, but plenty of old favourites too- Children of the Damned, The Trooper, Fear of the Dark, Powerslave and more.  Bruce Dickinson, who inexplicably wears his favourite black hooded jumper despite the heat and his exertions, was charismatic and brilliant as always. He is one of those people who is so metal he is ‘beyond metal’. I was standing right in front of Janick Gers who was in his own delightful world of guitar tricks. Steve Harris ensured that every member of the crowd was singing. I was agonisingly close to catching one of Nicko McBrain’s drumsticks when he hurled them into the crowd. British audiences are not as effusive as some of Iron Maiden’s foreign crowds, but I hope the band could feel the love out there.

Today feels like Boxing Day, or the day after your birthday; a bit deflated that it’s over, but still riding high. Only a small percentage of the population like metal music, and even fewer people could name more than a handful of Iron Maiden songs, but that hasn’t stopped this band from becoming a global phenomenon. Everywhere you go in the world you see an Iron Maiden t-shirt. Their influence, both musically and culturally, is hard to overstate. They are the epitome of hard work, positivity and togetherness, and I am proud to be a member of the global Iron Maiden family.

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