The rain has held off all day, we’ve weedled our way into the middle of the black sea of metal-tees – beer in hand, and it’s time for the first headliner of Download Festival 2018 – Avenged Sevenfold. Heading out onto the Donington stage for the first time in 2006, A7X have been firm favourites at the festival, returning in 2011 and then 2014 to headline, but this is something else entirely.
The stage is set with a raft of giant screens depicting stone murals and front-man Shadows appears in his now signature garb of a red and black plaid shirt and an Axl-style bandana strapped around his head, yelling something or other about Jesus, as the band scream straight into the entirely apt ‘The Stage’. ‘Afterlife’ is heralded by a bombardment of pyrotechnics in the form of massive flame cannons, which serve to singe the whiskers off anyone in the front five rows, and to the surprise of many around us – they’re absolutely nailing it. I suppose the problem with A7X has always been their willingness to explore so many different styles of rock and metal, from prog to hardcore and everything in-between. They’re not ‘that’ polarising band that you either love or hate, they’re just somewhere in the middle, where a song or two might chime with what you like. As such, it can be hard to accept their set as anything other than a mash-up of whatever they feel like that day, but honestly, today it’s more like an expert tour through metal as a genre.
Vengeance and Synyster are back to back, playing intricate harmonies and it’s clear that from a sheer musical perspective, they deserve their top of the bill spot here at Download. Yelling “It’s our favourite goddamn place in the world to play” is always guaranteed a roar from the crowd in the UK, whether it’s true or not, but the sheer force and power of ‘Hail to the King’ rings the sentiment true, and here’s where it gets interesting. Taking more than a small cue from metal legends Iron Maiden I’m sure, a giant zombified king is ushered in from the back of the stage to ‘crawl’ above the band and inexplicably, to sing along. This kind of production is usually the reserve of giants like Maiden or Viking Power-metal bands who just really believe in their storyline, but hey, maybe that’s what the current festival scene is lacking? The 90’s and noughties saw a phase of rock and metal where any kind of gimmick or even loud clothing was considered tacky and unprofessional, leaving a hole in big-scale shows which covered the entertainment factor, as well as musical prowess. Are we due a proper resurgence of pantomime metal? I’m not sure it’s a bad thing, it keeps things interesting in a long set at the end of a busy day of bands, and who doesn’t love an enormous skeletal king having a sing-song anyway?
With a sobering video tribute to former drummer James “The Rev” Sullivan who died in 2009, they head into ‘So Far Away’, followed by the massive ‘Nightmare’. Yelling out “…we’re taking it back to the beginning, none of that shit we’ve been playing all year, this one’s just for you” the band roll into a track from their second album – ‘Eternal Rest’. Just when you thought it couldn’t get weirder, yet another giant installation is floated out above them on stage… a humungous skeletal space-suited spectre, as grim as it is spectacular, and the screens change to dark starry skies as the night truly sets in over Donington Park as the band hit the ahem, high notes of ‘Higher’.
A cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ is dedicated to celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, who was reported to have committed suicide in the early hours of the morning, and Shadows implores anyone who is struggling – to seek help; “…we lost Anthony Bourdain today. It may seem silly but he’s a guy that showed us all different cultures and different people… that we’re all equal… so reach out, we all feel the same way”.
Bringing things back to a safer, louder space ‘Shepherd of Fire’ inevitably sees the stage… well… on fire. Pretty much all of it in fact. You’ve got to wonder what their total carbon footprint is for this entire set. Joking “We’re gonna have some fun… all the people who hate us have gone back to their tents”, A7X finish up with ‘A little piece of Heaven’ a delightful song about murder and necrophilia, and then ‘Unholy Confessions’. No really, and the entire crowd is singing along as if it were as normal as a school assembly hymn. I mean, metal has always been known for hitting up risqué topics but there’s something undeniably jolly and therefore unnerving about this. If there’s one thing you can say about Avenged Sevenfold, it’s that they’re not afraid to go there. Well, anywhere really. Tonight was a triumph of their absolute willingness to do whatever the fuck they want. Bravo I say.
With a UK legacy of great shows already behind them and a fanbase that can be measured in the sheer number of their tshirts on display in the crowd today, Mastodon have stake their claim on Bloodstock’s Ronnie James Dio Stage as headliners.
Throwing down with moody opener ‘Tread Lightly’ Mastodon come out strong, unfortunately the sound does not. Luckily it’s quickly remedied and the melodic guitars of ‘Feast Your Eyes’, ‘Blasteroid’ and ‘Oblivion’ shine through. The crowd density of last night isn’t quite replicated tonight, you can pretty much wriggle to the front with relative ease, but Mastodon’s lighter sections seem to conjure a sort of sombre reverence where everyone is just appreciating the music.
Amusingly (albeit for those who are old enough to remember…. Sigh…) the five giant light panel installations behind the band, appear to be playing the entire Windows 98 screensaver catalogue. You know, the one with neon electricity or trippy tie-dye patterns that everyone thought they were super edgy and cool for having instead of the standard windows one your Dad used.
In a rare moment of crowd-interaction in Mastodon’s twenty-song onslaught, bassist Troy Sanders yells out “You guys are music hungry lovers, thank you” before the band swing into the harmonic vocals of ‘High Road’. However on a few of the others the words seem to be coming out so distorted you could almost swear the band are fluent in whale.
As the stage lights up in yellows and reds for ‘Ember City’ and the band call out “Are you fucking alive?” to the headbanging crowd, Mastodon seem to relax slightly into the show. Speaking of their first UK gig sixteen years ago at Camden Underworld, the band want us to know that they love us… “We knew we were going to have a special relationship with this country, you metalheads. When we’re home or on vacation… we talk about you guys! You nice British people”. Aww, isn’t that adorable?
Finishing up with ‘Megalodon’, ‘Colony of Birchmen’ and to an almighty roar of appreciation from the BOA arena, the huge ‘Blood and Thunder’ – Mastodon close the RJD stage for Saturday night with style. “Thank you for an unforgettable experience, we’re Mastodon, we love you”.
With their own unique brand of slowed down psychedelic sounds vs. hyper and heavy eardrum challenging metal, you could be forgiven for being on the fence about Mastodon, but tonight’s extremely tightly rehearsed set does everything to prove that above all else this band cares about music.
With a set that sounds almost identical to their album tracks (bar some vocal blurring from a production point of view) you almost with they’d break character a bit, interact in a less forced way. There’s a grittiness missing for sure, but Mastodon make up for it by being, well, precisely beautiful.
'DEEP' lyrically tells of a period of songwriter's block that the band experienced whilst writing their debut full length. It's a mix of melodic and and progressive metal, with catchy vocal lines, guitar wizardry and groovy intricate drum work. Something for all modern metal followers to enjoy.
The band have recently supported the likes of Butcher Babies, Textures and have toured with The Five Hundred. Now they're showing they're a live force to be reckoned with, and will appear on the Sophie Stage at Bloodstock Festival.
Live Dates 12th August- Bloodstock Festival- Sophie Stage 20th August- Readipop- Reading 21st August- The Monolith All Day- Dingwalls, London w/ Zoax, Press to Meco, No Consequence 24th August- Sticky Mike's Frog Bar- Brighton w/ Voices From The Fuselage 25th August- London- Underworld w/ Soilwork More dates TBA
"Brutai have matured into a really distinctive, engaging proposition. Expect big things from them, and soon."- The Monolith
"The British band Brutai, whose members hail from London and Reading, might be labeled as hard rock on first listen. But there’s a distinctly metallic, vaguely Swedish style to their riffing that gives the band a harder and more complex edge than what you’re accustomed to hearing from “hard rock” bands. The songwriting is super-tight, also; think “Soilwork Lite” and you’re pretty close. "- Metalsucks
"…few of the genre's current protagonists can match Brutai when it comes to matching that technical prowess with refined songwriting skills. Precise, ornate and never less than monstrously heavy, the size of their hooks and melodies make them such an enticing proposition." – Dom Lawson, Metal Hammer
Photo credit: http://www.willirelandphotography.co.uk/ (Left to right- Mathieu Bauer, Alex Lorimer, Felix Lawrie, Henry Ryan, Christian Sturgess)
If I was going to tell you that I knew anything about the 2000Trees festival as I was stuck on a hellish drive down from London on Thursday, it would be an outright lie- the small festival on the outskirts of Chelt enham has managed to evade my personal radar for 8 years since it’s inception and having learnt about it last year, I can count myself lucky enough to have attended this year. Still, besides all of the hype from previous years’ attendants, I had not entirely decided on what I should expect.
The modest capacity festival is hidden deep in the Gloucestershire countryside, complete with rolling hills, bleating flocks of sheep, and and an idyllic river running around the edge of the site, and even though we were lucky with the weather (A welcome change from the usual rain of the UK festival scene) the scenery would have stood up and still looked beautiful regardless.
Unfortunately arriving later than anticipated, and due to the lack of advertising for Thursday’s acts, we missed some of the earlier performances. However, Thursday night saw the Indie rock and rollers, THE SUBWAYS draw close to the day’s music with their explosively energetic performance at ‘The Cave’ while ANDREW O’NEIL headed up ‘The Croft’ with his Schadenfreude style of comedy, somewhat appropriately referencing to the late Bill Hicks in his set, to warm reception.
I kicked off Friday’s music with a punt on a completely new band to me – BITE THE BUFFALO, and how glad I was that I did. Comparing the 2 piece from Bath, England; to Royal Blood would be short sighted, as the Blues outfit brought filthy riffs, bluesy overdrive, and confident ballsy attitude and stagemanship, yet an honest humility that cemented them as my favourite act of the weekend. ALLUSONDRUGS treated a modest crowd to their blend of Indie rock and acid infused prog, switching seamlessly from one to the other. Heading up to ‘The Croft’ I had planned to catch some of SAM RUSSO’s set whilst escaping the peaking sun- the Singer-songwriter providing a nice contrast from Allusondrugs, allowing those who chose to get respite from the sweltering sun with a calm background of songs about love, friendship and moving on. Having only intended to catch a bit of his set, I ended up staying for the whole thing. Back on the main stage, TAX ON HEAT continued the stage’s bluesfest with sweaty and groovy 70’s era licks, with a stage presence that wouldn’t be out of place on a bigger stage, with a bigger crowd. Catching a bit of DEAD HARTS set over lunch at the Cave Stage, a welcomed heavy and tight performance was only dampened by the Sheffield rockers insistence on perpetually insulting the crowd, and trying to goad them into movement. NOTHING BUT THIEVES brought a massive crowd to ‘The Axiom’, the first act of the day to pack out the tent, fans sprawling around outside singing along to their set.
The main convenience of 2000trees scheduling is that most of the line up is staggered over the stages, meaning you only ever have to choose between 2 acts to see or easily catch half of both sets enabling whole days of tent hopping and the potential to (talking in extremes here) see every act (or if you realise that you are in the wrong place entirely, to avoid every act.) I spent a bit of time in the hidden ‘Room No.7’ to sit down and chill out on a sofa, with the sounds of ACOLLECTIVE bouncing across the site.
Back to the Main Stage, and YOUNG GUNS had already seized control of their crowd, with frontman Gustav Wood commanding their crowd with professional bravado that one would expect of a band of this caliber, while the band behind ran a tight ship, as the stadium filling hits kept coming. Headliners DEAF HAVANA, making a welcome return after a self realised absence kicked off their set with ‘The Past 6 Years’, before packing out their set with most of their more recent hits, with the whole crowd throwing back the lyrics right back at them. Humbled by the crowd’s staggering response, an emotional James Veck-Gilodi apologised for their recent absence and with the promise of a new album, a headline tour and new drive and enthusiasm for Deaf Havana, before closing off their night with nostalgic anthem, Hunstanton Pier.
The night didn’t end there for the people of 2000Trees, however. Silent discos then kicked off across the site at the Main Stage and The Cave, whilst The Axiom provided silent cinema until 3am, and acoustic sets around the site on the various busk stops and down at The Forest kept those who missed out on headphones for the silent activities entertained until around 1am, or until they staggered off into the night.
Saturday’s music kicked off with an unusual act on the Main Stage, HUMAN PYRAMIDS. Described as Neo-Classical meets Post-Punk, Axe’s Paul Russell’s brainchild soothingly eased everyone into the day’s music, starting with a melodic introduction from their String quartet and horns section, before gradually coming to a crescendo with roaring guitars and heavy bass. Opening up ‘The Cave’ at 12:25 were Blackpool’s BOSTON MANOR (check out the interview HERE), who didn’t see fit to spare audiences hangovers, and bust straight into a flurry of fast paced punk hits from the go, not relenting until their time was up, having been a fan of BOSTON MANOR for a while, I am glad to have caught their set, before interviewing them later in the day.
Through other people’s suggestion, I headed over to check out MILK TEETH (on ‘The Axiom’), but was unable to get closer than the side of the tent, due to their massive pull for their time slot. The Stroud based group cranked out grungy punk, often showing their very heavy Nirvana influence, but unfortunately failed to capture my attention for all that long, as their (maybe purposefully, and fitting with the grunge genre) set sounded unpolished and loose. I caught a bit of BOY JUMPS SHIP’s set back on ‘The Axiom’, which keeping in the ‘Pop-Punk’ theme of the stage going, managed to play their faster, more intricate set than the preceding band with a lot more technical proficiency and enthusiasm, creating a more enjoyable experience for the casual music fans loitered in between stages for their lunch.
On the subject of lunch, 2000trees has a modest selection of food vendors dotted around the site, by each of the 3 main stages. Festival food for me seems like it has a bad rep, but the team at 2000trees only seem to have booked vendors who would offer a fair service for non-extortionate prices. Grilled Halloumi burgers and sweet potato fries kept me sustained throughout Friday, while a chunky bacon butty and fresh scotch eggs kept me alive Saturday. Monmouth Coffee being served as well was a really big surprise, and you’d get change from a tenner for a meal, which when coming from London is a rarity.
After lunch, songstress ALICE PHEOBE LOU dazzled the crowd with her beautiful voice, serenading the crowd with angelic highs with a bit of Sia-esque grit hidden behind. Forgetting lyrics aside, as she bonded with the crowd over the weather, and treated us all to a chilled, eerie set. As the day edged to an end, and after an outstanding genre spanning set from THE SKINTS, I found myself back up at ‘The Croft’ for THE BIG SIXES, only due to the fact they had spent the day attaching terrible posters to everything across the site advertising their set, and not knowing what to expect initially, my doubts were swept away by a tide of harmonies, expertly crafted songwriting, and top notch inter-song conversation, before their encore consisting of a couple of songs in the crowd, surrounded by a mass of singing fans. THE BIG SIXES managed to work up a predominantly neutral audience into a hyped crowd, a feat that would be natural for an established fast paced Pop-Punk band, but not for a slow and groovy act such as The Big Sixes.
Saturday’s headliners ALKALINE TRIO took to the stage at 21:45 just as the clouds began to burst, having held out -threatening rain- for the latter half of the day. The initial swell of excitement quickly died out, as those who were not diehard fans were let down by what was a lethargic performance, frontman Matt Skiba giving an uncomfortable appearance, whilst he murmured out lyrics to songs with little emotion. Bassist Dan Andriano however was giving a lot more to the crowd, interacting well with drummer Derek Grant and moving around the stage between swapping vocal priorities with Matt. Unfortunately for ALKALINE TRIO, and what may have be exacerbated by a disappointing lack of crowd compared to their stateside presence, or what Matt Skiba may now be used to playing for Blink 182, a more instant degree of stagemanship is necessary to win over a crowd that may not only be there to see you, as not to fade into the background.
So what would I say about my first experience at 2000Trees?
I’m going to be bold with this statement, the attitude at 2000Trees reminds me of that at Glastonbury, albeit on a tiny scale. You get the real feeling that the people around you haven’t just come to see their favourite band, and will spend the rest of their time getting into as much trouble as possible, but more that it’s an annual tradition for them. The nine year old festival caters for everyone, and whilst running about the site this weekend, the amount of friendly faces I would bump into at each act astounded me, only to bump into them 20 minutes later at a different tent.
The site itself is relatively tiny, but not cramped. Even those arriving half way through Friday were finding spots to camp up with ease, with enough room for stoves, barbecues or extra gazebos to sleep under when their tents got too hot.
I’m not sure what my favourite part of this weekend has been- whether it’s the terrific atmosphere from the punters in the know and relish the intimacy of this little festival, the picturesque surroundings that the festival is lucky enough to have, the fantastically located Forest stage or what has been a fantastic line up, bringing some names such as Deaf Havana, We Are The Ocean, MClusky* and Alkaline Trio, and providing emerging and underground UK music a proving ground on the UK festival scene. This weekend at 2000Trees has been one that shall be remembered, relished, and hopefully repeated in the coming years.
Tickets for 2000Trees 10th year are now on Sale, and can be picked up on their site.