Sunday, 27 October 2019

RWC 2019: The Business End

Despite my lack of writing about it this time round, I have very much enjoyed watching how the Rugby World Cup has played out. It was unfortunate that games had to be cancelled but in the grand scheme of things, this was the right thing to do. Could World Rugby have done more in terms of having a contingency plan in place to avoid games being cancelled? Perhaps. But in the grand scheme of things, rugby union is just a game. My thoughts go out to those people (and their families, loved ones etc) who lost their lives as a result of Typhoon Hagibis – a reminder that some things are more important than sport.

Where I left my last post was speculating whether Japan were about to repeat history, by repeating their feat from the 2015 competition of winning 3 pool games but not qualifying to the knock out stages. A very quick summary of my hopes was that I hope they would not repeat history and that they would qualify, be that at the expense of Ireland or Scotland. I did not care for the way Scottish Rugby (not the players, I should stress) conducted themselves when it seemed possible that their game against Japan would be cancelled, threatening legal action against World Rugby if they were eliminated from the tournament as a result of the weather. This was a clear case of some people forgetting that some things are bigger than sport but almost as bad as that – there was an air of entitlement that I really found distasteful. I didn’t like that chat, and what it did was turn me, someone who was slightly favouring Japan in this match (but would have been okay with either team qualifying) to someone who was supporting Japan and hoping that Scotland lost. As it goes, that did happen, and I was very pleased it did play out that way. Scotland (same as any nation) do not have a divine right to make the knockout stages – you earn it by qualifying, and that is what Japan did.

The way the two quarter final days unfolded were almost a mirror image of each other in terms of how I reacted to the two games. Day one was England v Australia and New Zealand v Ireland, and Day two was Wales v France and South Africa v Japan. What I mean when I say it was a mirror image in the way they unfolded was that the first game was one that I got really invested in and was hooked in until the end of the game – and the second game ended up being somewhat deflating. England beating Australia in a dominant fashion was great to see as someone supporting England (unsurprisingly). I had high hopes for New Zealand v Ireland as a contest and those hopes were dashed certainly by half time, with the All Blacks being 22-0 up at the break. As said previously, excitement was replaced by feeling deflated as it became obvious that Ireland were not going to stage a miracle and they were heading out of the World Cup again at the quarter final stage. It almost feels wrong to move on from this point without acknowledging the fact that concerns that Ireland had peaked a year before the World Cup probably were true – this did not look like the same Ireland that beat the All Blacks the year before. Day two started with Wales v France and this was a proper test match. France went in at the break 19-10 up and I thought they were going to go on and win it. The red card for Vahaamahina didn’t massively tip the balance in favour of Wales, but I am sure it helped in allowing Wales to get back into the game and eventually win 20-19. I was invested the whole way though as I genuinely didn’t know how it was going to end. Sadly, that feeling only lasted for one half in the South Africa v Japan match. The first half was really close although I think more to do with South Africa being wasteful than Japan being in the contest in the meaningful way, what with the half time score being 5-3. South Africa dominated in the second half with Japan not scoring any more points. The game finished 26-3 and as South Africa started to pull away…it was deflating. All the praise in the world though goes to Japan – they went into the game with their Plan A and stuck at it for as long as they could. There was lots of chat about what happens next for Japan and I don’t know what the answer is, but it would be a travesty if they are not afforded the opportunity to continue growing as a rugby playing nation.

Due to a lack of competition for the nations that didn’t make the quarter finals, it was another week to wait until the semi finals when England would face off against New Zealand and Wales would play South Africa. Focusing on today’s game to start, I am sad to write that Wales are out. It was not an overly exciting game if I’m honest – Wales did not seem all that threatening when attacking. I can only think of one time when they put sustained pressure on the South Africa try line - which, in all fairness, did lead to a try – but Wales didn’t seem to have enough about them today to beat South Africa. I did wonder when it was 16 all if they would get the chance to nick it. I thought they had the momentum and they were going forward, but Francois Louw won a turnover penalty for South Africa which allowed the Springboks to not only clear their lines but put Wales on the backfoot. When Wales were on the back foot, they conceded a kick-able penalty – and Hendre Pollard kicked it to perfection, scoring the winning points and consigning Wales to a bronze medal match against the All Blacks.

I say a bronze medal match against the All Blacks because oh my god England beat New Zealand! It still sounds great saying that (feels good to type it as well). This wasn’t a case of England sneaking a win though – England dominated the All Blacks in perhaps the best performance the team have put in under Eddie Jones. People have often said that when you play New Zealand, you must be at your absolute best otherwise they will show you up. On this occasion though, New Zealand were not at their best and England punished them for it. It would be wrong to not mention that not only did England win, but they had two tries disallowed. The first one was fair cop – Tom Curry acted as a dummy runner and was in an offside position, drawing a defender away from where the ball was and leaving a gaping hole in the New Zealand defence – it was certainly poor defending, but Curry was not in a legal place so fair enough. The second try – I’ve read conflicting views from chalking it off was the right decision to it being extremely harsh. I fall on the side of it being harsh. I’m glad I’m not talking about those two tries in the context of an England loss however. England were brilliant and thoroughly deserved their win.

And that, in a not so small summary, is what has happened in the World Cup since I last posted a blog about it. Next weekend there will be a bronze medal match between a depleted Wales team and a hurting New Zealand team. I can’t look past the All Blacks for that one, but then I couldn’t look past them for Saturday’s game so…who knows?! There will also be the small matter of the World Cup Final between England v South Africa, a repeat of the 2007 final. The only prediction I feel solid about making is that Mark Cueto’s name is going to be mentioned a lot by the media and on social media in the next week (Cueto had a try ruled out in the 2007 final). My prediction is that England will win, but it will be exceptionally close. I think England by no more than 4 points. What I do know is that I cannot wait. I hoped that England would be here, but I didn’t think it would happen – so now that England have made it…lets jut hope for once that it is not a case of “it is the hope that kills you!”.

Saturday, 5 October 2019

RWC 2019: Are Japan About To Repeat History?

During the 2015 Rugby World Cup, I wrote quite frequently about the tournament and all the various goings on. I had decided against that this time, instead choosing to just watch and enjoy – something I’ve been doing as much as possible. Some of the very early morning games have been missed, and sadly there is no work from home option in my job, otherwise I would have done that on certain match days. I go into the tournament supporting England but hoping all the teams go well, especially the other 3 home nations. From that perspective, things have mostly been good. England and Wales so far undefeated, and as of this writing, England are the first team to officially qualify for the quarter finals. This is excellent to see after what happened in 2015. If England can beat France, they will go onto the last 8 and likely play Australia. This will be a tough game for sure, but one I think England can win. Ireland and Scotland have had mixed tournaments so far, it is probably fair to say, and both of those teams will feature in this blog post – the subject of which is the host nation, Japan.

Japan, I think it is fair to say, won the hearts of the rugby world when they beat South Africa at the 2015 edition of the Rugby World Cup. It was, and remains, one of the biggest upsets in sport. I wrote a tribute blog to some of the smaller nations at the last tournament (which you can read in full here). On Japan, I wrote the following (slightly edited):

The final mention though has to go to Japan. I gave them no chance before this tournament, as I am sure so did many others. There have been so many words written about that game against South Africa. Just yesterday I watched that try which won Japan the game again. It was such a moment in time. The biggest Rugby World Cup upset? Undeniably. The biggest upset in the history of Rugby Union? If there is ever a top 10 list, it will be in it. One of the biggest upsets in sporting history? I would say so, yes. From that moment, almost everyone wanted to watch Japan win. I think it legitimately surprised people just how good they were. Their 4 day turnaround before the game against Scotland was just unfair really, and something which ought to be changed for the next World Cup. Teams like New Zealand can deal with such a short turn around as they can almost pick a new XV from their squad without issue. The smaller nations just can’t do that, and 4 days isn’t long enough to recover properly in time for another game. They comfortably beat Samoa in another game I expected them to lose. Samoa went in at half time having scored no points, and not looking like they would score any. They managed to get one try scored by the time the game ended but Japan were the deserved winners. They went into the last weekend knowing they could potentially qualify for the quarter finals. If Scotland lost to Samoa, they had their chance assuming they could beat the USA – a team they lost to back in July in the Pacific Nations Cup. Sadly for the, (and for rugby as a whole I think), Scotland beat Samoa and qualified for the quarter finals. This meant there was little to be played for in Japan’s game against USA. You wouldn’t know that by watching the game though! Japan played a fantastic game (and USA also played very well). Japan won, and became the only team in Rugby World Cup history to record 3 victories in the pool stage and not qualify for the last eight. It is such a shame they didn’t because they have been great to watch. For me, they have been the team of the tournament so far. Long after this tournament ends, people will still be talking about Japan and I think they will have become a lot of people’s “second” international team. Hopefully, the departure of their coach Eddie Jones does not derail their growth as a rugby nation. It would be great to see them make the last eight at their own Rugby World Cup in 2019.

Before talking about Japan, I would like to address the 4-day turnaround comment. It has not been dealt with in this tournament, but more teams have faced one (or will face one) – which makes it a bit fairer. Still tough for sure, but fair. Anyway, it was a hell of a tournament for Japan, and a real shame they did not qualify. Looking back on their pool, it was clear to see that bonus points (and Japan’s lack of them) was their undoing. Scotland qualified on the same number of wins, but with two additional bonus points to Japan’s zero. I concluded the paragraph above back in 2015 hoping that Japan make the quarter finals in 2019. We are now in 2019, and Japan have a very real chance of doing so. At the start of the tournament, Japan found themselves in a pool with Ireland (the world number one team at the start of the tournament, if you believe the rankings) and old foes from 2015, Scotland and Samoa (as well as Russia). Pre-tournament, I am sure I am not alone in predicting that Japan would finish third, behind Ireland and Scotland (in that order). Then, the tournament started. Predictably, but importantly, Japan kicked off the tournament on the opening night with a bonus point win against Russia. With a bit of a break, they then went into the game against Ireland. No-one really gave Japan a chance in this one, but they shocked the world again by beating Ireland 19-12 (a deserved result as well). This result dramatically shook the apple-cart so to speak in Pool A. The results so far have been:

Japan 30-10 Russia (Japan Bonus Point [BP])
Ireland 27-3 Scotland (Ireland BP)
Russia 9-34 Samoa (Samoa BP)
Japan 19-12 Ireland (Ireland BP)
Scotland 34-0 Samoa (Scotland BP)
Ireland 35-0 Russia (Ireland BP)
Japan 38-19 Samoa (Japan BP)

Which means the business end of the pool table currently looks like this:


The next game in the pool is on Wednesday, when Scotland take on Russia. The Japan/Ireland game (as well as the Fiji/Uruguay game) has proven that anything can happen on the day. I would predict however that Scotland will not only win this game but get a bonus point win. This would keep Scotland third, but put them one point away from Ireland heading into the final weekend of the pool games. The penultimate Pool A match on Saturday sees Ireland take on Samoa. Samoa were no pushover against Japan today, but I would expect an Ireland win, and probably one with a bonus point as well. Samoa have not had the best of World Cups either stopping Ireland from getting the bonus point or beating them would be an excellent way to sign off. However, I am predicting an Ireland bonus point win. This would put Ireland 2 points ahead of Japan, with the final pool match still to be played. This match happens on Sunday, and it is between Japan and Scotland.

Scotland crushed Japan at the 2015 Rugby World Cup. This, as mentioned above, was Japan after a 4-day turnaround. Still though, it was 45-10 to Scotland. The two nations have played twice since, when Scotland went on a summer tour to Japan, Scotland winning both times. Both matches were close affairs, but Scotland did get the win twice. These results are worth keeping in mind but will have no bearing on the game a week on Sunday. If Ireland beat Samoa, this game essentially becomes a knockout game to be the second team to qualify from Pool A. There are several permutations from this one that I can think of. Japan’s best way of getting to the quarter final would of course be to win. There are two other routes to the knockouts for them, one is by losing with a bonus point, and Scotland not getting a try bonus point for scoring 4 tries.  The other is both teams getting a try bonus point, and Japan getting a losing bonus point as well. This would put Japan on 16 points and out of reach of Scotland who can only get on 15. Were that to happen, Japan would also win the pool by virtue of having beaten Ireland in the head-to-head. I guess the point I am trying to make here is that there are a number of ways for Japan to qualify, and they don’t necessarily have to win. Scotland though could spoil the party for them and break Japanese (and the rest of the rugby world’s) hearts again. Could Japan be about to repeat history, and become the second team (after themselves in 2015) to win 3 pool matches, and not qualify for the knockout stages? It is entirely possible.

I have no idea how this will pan out. I am hopeful that Japan will qualify because they have been great this tournament. The old romantic in me wants this to happen as well because it would set up a likely quarter final clash with South Africa…a rematch from the 2015 Rugby World Cup. What a story that would be! It would probably be for the best to not think of the world cup warm match between the two at this point because that somewhat spoils the magic. All I can say for certain is that I am very excited about how all this will play out. Next weekend, when the Japan/Scotland match kicks off, you will find me glued to the TV watching it all unfold. 

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Review: Download Festival 2019

This weekend just gone was Download Festival 2019 at Donington Park. It was personally the 8th one I’ve been at, but the first full weekend festival since Victorious Festival in 2016 (and that one wasn’t that much effort as it is down the road from where I live). My last Download festival was in 2015, so it had been a while since I’d been. As was the case for 2014 and 2015, I was in a hotel in Derby rather than camping on site. It is a bit of a hassle getting there and back each day, but no complaints at all on that front. The queue to get in each day seemed to be managed in a very odd way, which caused delays each time. I also didn’t get searched at all when going in. I don’t try and take things in with me that I shouldn’t, so it wasn’t an issue. However, in previous years when I have been searched each time I enter the arena, I’ve been surprised to see glass spirit bottles in the arena. This year, when seeing them, it was less of a surprise. I’m not sure what happened there. Anyway, I guess the main talking point, bands and wrestling aside for me has to be the weather and the condition of the site. The weather was mostly fine when I was watching bands. On occasion it battered it down, but I was lucky to be in a tent when this happened for the most part. The arena floor was very muddy as a result, which made getting about a bit of a slog from time to time. That being said, I didn’t fall over in the mud or get hurt, so again, no major complaints. I felt the festival did what they could in the arena in terms of straw etc.

A quick note about the Thursday. I arrived in Derby on the Thursday. Went out for food at Sainsburys CafĂ© (getting the rock and roll started early) – had a belting sweet potato katsu curry. The evening after that was mostly chilled and washing my shoes (had boots for the festival, went out to the shop in shoes, and ended up getting them muddy – a precursor to the weekend ahead!) Anyway, onto the primary focus of this festival, the bands. It usually makes sense with these things to kick off with the first day, so I will, with Friday. As per, the scores attributed are based on my own personal enjoyment, and not a comment on the band in question, mostly.


I had Goodbye June on my list to watch but was queuing to get in the weekend arena/day ticket entrance the entire time they were on, which is a bit of a shame. Wasn't mad keen on seeing them mind, so not overly annoyed – but it would have been nice to see them. Instead, I trekked over to the Dogtooth stage to catch Groundculture – 6. I didn’t know much by them, but they were a fine way to kick the festival off. Up next on the Dogtooth stage was Those Damn Crows - 7 who were really good. Not a lot else to say about them. I left wanting to get into them properly. I trundled over to 2nd stage for the first time for Kvelertak – 5. I've seen them a few times before and this wasn't the best time seeing them. Not sure if it was just being too far away from the stage or owt, but after they left, all I could muster was a shrug.

I headed back to a now much busier Dogtooth stage to see Conjurer - 9 and blimey, that was something. Blinder of a set, that. Want to see them again and can't make the October tour, which made me do a sad. They were so good. There aren’t many bands that would make me miss some of Clutch’s set, so I am glad I enjoyed them as much as I did. Speaking of Clutch – 8. I love Clutch. I didn't see them all because of that vicious clash with Conjurer. They finished with Electric Worry and X-Ray Visions - what's not to love? I suspect I'll be seeing them in Southampton at the end of the year and having a lovely time (assuming the sound isn’t bobbins). Up next on second stage was Deadland Ritual - 7 - I base these scores on my personal enjoyment of the set, and I thought it was cool seeing a supergroup play songs from Dio-era Sabbath, Velvet Revolver and Billy Idol. Their own material is...fine, but the score is mostly for the covers.  I didn’t stick around for the whole set as I wanted to make sure I was in the 3rd stage tent for the next band.

If you had said to me in the build-up to this festival (well, before the times came out) that I wouldn’t be seeing Whitesnake, I would have called you a fool or something equally as derisory. However, when it transpired they clashed with The Interrupters – 10, well there was only going to be one winner there, particularly after their set at Slam Dunk. The Interrupters stole the show for the Friday (and nearly for the whole damn weekend). Their set was just immense. I really want them to be added to the Fireball tour. It will sell me a ticket in an instant. Stayed at the Avalanche stage for Reel Big Fish – 9, who were a lot of fun. The classics were all great as per and I liked one of the new songs. Sure, it was a bit RBF paint by numbers at times, but that didn’t hurt the set at all. They are good at what they do, that is for sure! Went over to the Dogtooth in the hope of seeing Jinjer but the tent was rammed, and people were several rows out, so decided against it. Figured this would be the case for At The Gates as well so decided to call it a night after Rob Zombie. Hey, speaking of - Rob Zombie - 7 - Decent way to end the night. I’ve never been a massive fan (due to me not listening to him/White Zombie more than not liking) but it was decent enough. Did think for a headline set on the second stage it was a bit short. I did consider sticking around for Def Leppard…but didn’t.


Got held up getting in again, but I had arrived early enough to factor this in, and didn’t miss the first band – which was nice.

For only the second time of the weekend so far, I was at main stage for a band! Alien Weaponry – 7 were first up and I quite enjoyed their set. Royal Republic - 9 were on main stage next and I loved this set, thought they were excellent. It made me want to see them again and they are playing up the road from me, so I might just! After them was a set I was very excited about. Power Trip – 8 did not let me down either – they had a great set. I thought it was brilliant that they were on the main stage and they didn't look out of place there. After Power Trip was probably the biggest extreme metal show in the UK to date with Behemoth - 8 on the big stage. I only saw the first 30 or so minutes, but they were sounding in fine form. You may wonder why I decided to leave their set to head to another stage. This was the second worse clash of the weekend for me, so decided to see some of Behemoth and then go catch Epica – 8. They opened with my favourite song of theirs, so that almost gave them a 10 right there. It was excellent though, but I think I prefer seeing them indoors. Not sure if they will stick a UK date on their Euro tour later in the year (which they couldn't announce right away due to Download) - we'll see. The rain started coming down during Epica, and it didn’t stop throughout the whole of the next band’s set really. 

Skindred - 9 - In the hands of a lesser band, this part of the day could have been miserable (what with the rain and all). Skindred were just excellent, which they always are. Sure, the stage patter is pretty samey at this stage, but that didn't spoil it for me. They could play every year and it not be boring. I don’t know if they will ever be higher on the bill, but they have the show to justify it. I’d love to see what they could do headlining the second stage or having a longer slot on main. After Skindred, I made my first visit to the NXT UK tent. Can't really give this a rating the same way I rate a band, but I enjoyed what I saw. Getting a main event of Matt Riddle v Ilja Dragunov was quite something! Moustache Mountain v Grizzled Young Vets as well was very good. Pleased to see Xia Brookside/Killer Kelly and Rhea Ripley/Piper Niven wrestle as well. After the wrestling, I headed to the Dogtooth and caught the end of Batushka - NR - I have no idea what to rate this. I base all these on enjoyment and I can't work out if I enjoyed it or not. I heard one song, a lot of bell ringing and what looked like a sermon? I was quite interested by the whole thing though. Also, probably worth noting that I heard a bit of Die Antwoord in the main stage on the walk and…I got nothing. Am I out of touch? No, it is everyone else that is wrong!

The headliner of the Dogtooth stage that night was Carcass – 9. Belting set this. One of the best of the day. Made even better by the announcement a new album is nearly finished. Hopefully a UK tour will come with that. I like that they played mainly classics but fit in some songs from their latest album. Jeff Walker joked that most of the people were in the tent because of the shit weather and a really shit band on the other stage. Not sure if he meant Die Antwoord or Halestorm, so I am assuming he meant Die Antwoord. They fit that description for my tastes at least. Anyhow, main event time to so speak. Slipknot - 10 - Band of the day for me. They were excellent. Could be one of my favourite times seeing them live, but all the times have been pretty great so tough to work out. Opening with People = Shit and Get This was incredible. Unsainted is massive live. It is outrageous when a band can drop a song as big as Before I Forget in the middle of their set as if it is just another song. Slipknot live 2020 has me interested - just not Ally Pally please!


Set off a little bit later after a call to my Dad (it was Father’s Day and all!). I didn’t need to be in first thing, but the queue to get in was relatively quick, so was able to see the first bands on. I headed to the stage where I was planning to start the day to see Redhook – 6. They were a decent enough start to the day.

Black Futures - 9 - I almost walked off when they hadn't started nearly 15 mins into their set, but glad I stuck around because they were excellent. Probably the delay (and subsequent overrun) had a knock-on effect on the rest of the day on that stage, which is a shame. A bit later than planned, but the next stop was to see NXT UK. Arrived as Toni Storm was wrestling Candy Floss, which was decent from what I saw. Xia Brookside v Jinny was also pretty good. The final two matches were ace, Matt Riddle v James Drake and Adam Cole v Zack Gibson. I did have a bit of a chuckle when they had to reshoot a segment with Toni Storm, Candy Floss and Kay Lee Ray (I guess these things happen, but it was hard to be that invested in it). Went back over to 3rd to see Black Peaks, who were due to be on in 5 or so minutes from when I got there, but Heart of a Coward were still on (aforementioned knock on effect). Resolved to missing Black Peaks, I went off to second instead and caught the end of Starset. Starset - 3 - Not for me! I didn't like what I heard. This is the only rating really that is influenced by not enjoying the set, and not really liking the music being played. Perhaps it would be a different story had I listened to them before the festival? Who knows. After them on second stage was State Champs – 5, who I thought were fine - didn't hate it, didn't overly like it either. 

Amon Amarth - 6 were up next and they are always decent, usually immense. I was quite far back for them though, which meant they were pretty quiet from where I was. Also, I bumped into a pal at this point, so was occasionally having a chat and not really paying attention. I may go see them at the end of the year if the price is right (which I tried to find out when typing this and it cannot be found – not liking this trend of gig ticket prices being unknown until they go on sale). Anyway, I cut seeing Amon Amarth short to see Beartooth – 8. First time seeing them and I thought they were bloody great. I need to check them out properly. They are another band who are touring in the UK soon, and it is tempting to drop into London to see them. Back to the main stage where I remained for the rest of the weekend. Lamb of God - 9 were immense as per usual. I loved their set. It was a slightly longer version of the set they played supporting Slayer at Wembley, so hopefully when I see them next they will mix it up, but this was still really good. The penultimate act of the day and indeed the weekend was Smashing Pumpkins – 7. They were one of the "must see's" of the day for me, and it was great to see some of the songs they played. They were good. The stage patter left a little to be desired, but it didn't spoil it for me. According to Setlist FM, they were joined on stage by Myrkur for a cover of Snowblind by Black Sabbath. I don’t think Billy Corgan announced her as Myrkur though, rather her real name (which to my shame, I don’t know). At the time, I remember not knowing who was announced but I have seen Myrkur before. Maybe Setlist FM is wrong, or maybe I just misheard the announcement. Anyway, the cover was cool although it probably meant we didn’t get 1979 played, which is a shame. No matter though, they were a must-see band and they didn’t disappoint. Finally, and oh boy! Tool - 10 – Comfortably band of the weekend. They were incredible. I just wish they could have played for longer. It was all so good, but he high point of the set for me was Vicarious, which I had got into my mind wouldn’t be played as the festival set list appeared to be shorter slightly than the main headline tour one. A comment on the graphics – they were all really cool to look at. It didn’t detract from the band at all that they themselves were not the focus of the cameras. Hope there isn't another 13 year wait to see them again!

All in all, Download 2019 was a decent weekend. Few little complaints here and there, and the weather did make getting about a bit treacherous at times, but it didn't spoil it for me which is cool. It was worth coming out of festival retirement for. I’m not sure now if I will return to festival retirement (indeed, I don’t have another one booked for this year). I guess it will all depend on the line up.

Saturday, 1 June 2019

Review: All Points East 2019 (Bring Me The Horizon)

Festival season is well under way and unlike for the last couple of years, where the concept of a music festival was something that other people went to, I’ve been to two one day events so far this year, with a weekend one on the horizon. Yesterday, I went to one of the 6 days of All Points East, the day that Bring Me The Horizon headlined. I’d seen the stories about big portions of the crowd being unhappy with the sound quality for The Strokes the previous weekend, and was slightly concerned about this, but resolved that the organisers would have looked at this and fixed what went wrong. The festival itself is located in Victoria Park in London, which is pretty easy to reach, although the curfew being 11 meant I had to bail a little early to make sure I could get a train home. Unlike the review of Slam Dunk (here) from Tuesday, I can’t really post any negatives because I didn’t experience any. There was a slight hiccup with the first bar I went to, but that got resolved (and other bar queues all day were pretty reasonable), and the only time I experienced an issue with sound, when I moved it was better. No complaints from me! In fact, I would say I had an ace day – great bands, nice beer and decent weather – can’t really ask for more (well, aside from a free ticket but still…). As with the Slam Dunk review (and any other festival review on this here page), there will be a score out of 10 which is based on my own enjoyment of the set.

The way the bill was set out was two main stages with a staggered bill, with any overlap being very minimal. I started off on the smaller North stage to watch Lotus Eater (7). I hadn’t heard of Lotus Eater until their latest EP was reviewed on the Riot Act Podcast. I gave it a listen (it’s good) and decided to go see them here. This was a good decision because they were ace. A great way to start off the day. I wandered off to the East (main) stage to watch Scarlxrd (4) and off the bat, I’ll say it wasn’t for me. There were people near me who were loving it, so I guess that’s something. There was a guy on stage whose main role appeared to be starting the backing track, and dancing. Fine work if you can get it! I didn’t hang about for the whole set, instead deciding to head back to the North stage where I was sure that the next band on would be one of the highlights of my day. However, before getting there, I stopped by the Firestone stage to watch the end of Pengshui (5). I guess on reflection, I would have preferred to see more of Pengshui, but neither them or Scarlxrd were my cup of tea, so to speak. When I did head off to the North stage, I somewhat felt like a Principle Skinner meme:

Up next on North were Employed To Serve (10) who, unsurprisingly at this stage, smashed it out the park. I saw them earlier this month at their London headline show, and a couple of times previous in support slots. They are fast becoming one of those bands who seemingly can’t put on a bad show. This was an immense set. Speaking of immense sets, up next was Black Futures (9). They had a far too brief 20-minute set on the Firestone stage and they were utterly brilliant. Wasn’t familiar with them at all before the festival but that set makes me want to find out more. I wandered off to the main stage where there was a bit of a break plus a chance to get a good spot for the next band on main stage. Next up were IDLES (9). I wanted to get tickets for their April UK tour but failed despite having a chance for the Saturday London show, so when I saw they were playing this, seeing them would be a must. I really enjoyed their set and probably would have said it was set of the day if it had been a bit longer and they played I’m Scum and/or Television (my two personal favourites of theirs). I still loved the set though! After IDLES, it was back to the North stage for Sleeping With Sirens (5). I’m not massively familiar with them, I know I’ve listened to them a handful of times but never properly tried to get into them. If I am to be honest, I didn’t dislike this set, but it didn’t convince me to give them another go when I got home. Musically they were fine but I didn’t like the vocals really. Each to their own I guess.

The scope for a final break presented itself before the final 4 acts of the day, so it was one I took and had my first sit down since arriving. Sitting down is underrated. The next band I saw was While She Sleeps (8) who were ace. Their set made me realise how few of their lyrics I actually know (certainly in comparison to those around me who were screaming along to everything). There was only the one song from their album Brainwashed (my personal favourite) which is a shame but can’t win them all. Oli Sykes of Bring Me The Horizon appeared briefly during Silence Speaks which was cool. Their set was followed up on the main stage by Run The Jewels (8) who were great, both in performance and when speaking to the crowd. One moment was amusing for me which was when they announced they were playing a song we had definitely not heard before (paraphrasing, but said in a sarcastic manner), and then they played a song I didn’t know! (I’m new to Run The Jewels). They played Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck) which meant I left happy. After RTJ were Architects (8). My original standing spot would have been a talking point if I didn’t move, as the sound was a bit crap and people around me were all talking. However, after realising I was able to move, I did and the spot I then took up was ace. Previous times I’ve “seen” Architects live were walking past them at festivals, and not really knowing anything about them. This was the first time seeing them proper and they were excellent. The set made me want to see them again, which I guess means job done for them. After Architects, it was time for Bring Me The Horizon (9). All I’d heard about this set was that it was going to be their longest headline set to date, and it would cover all of their albums. The intrigue for me was what would be played before I had to leave, and I can say I was not disappointed with the songs I got to hear. I smiled as the last song I got to hear in full is probably my favourite of theirs (Can You Feel My Heart). Getting to hear Happy Song live was ace, as was seeing Dani Filth and Sam Carter from Cradle of Filth and Architects respectively pop up. I left as Shadow Moses was being played. At that point I thought it was a shame I had to bail, but these things happen. For the time I saw them, Bring Me The Horizon were excellent. Any gripe I had with the set was minor and didn’t spoil it, which is nice.

And that is that. Festival number 2 in the bag. Another one day event, another ace day. I would definitely go again if the line up appealed to me in the way this one did, although I would probably look into getting a hotel next time so I didn’t have to cut out early.

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Review: Slam Dunk South 2019

I went to Slam Dunk Festival for the first time this weekend, and wanted to write some thoughts about it, so that is what this blog is. I went to Slam Dunk South in Hatfield, and location wise, it is great. I went via a mixture of a friend driving a bit of the way and then getting the train – the walk from the station to the festival is about 10-15 minutes I’d guess, which is not much at all. The layout of the site is spot on – impressive that you can have 9 stages of music and, for the most part, the sound from the various stages not overlap with each other. I only really have two negatives to say about the day really. The first is one I’ve seen a few people comment on, which is the queues at the bar. I went to the same bar twice when I went, and both times the queue was bad. Of these, the first time was the worst (ended up missing Turnstile)- I queued for about 40 minutes I think, which really isn’t ideal. I saw some comments online about the cash/card issue, but this didn’t impact me as I had both on me, but I could imagine it being annoying if you had just a card and found out most places were cash only (as I was told was the case). The second negative, and it only impacted two sets I watched, was the sound on the open-air stages on occasion. The first time this happened was for Milk Teeth, when it sounded as though they could have done with the instruments being louder. The second was for Bad Religion, who on a whole just sounded as though the volume was turned down a bit. This could have been due to where I was stood, admittedly, but it was something I felt worth noting.

Those two things were my only negatives to say about the day. Overall, I had a cracking day at Slam Dunk – the general atmosphere seemed generally really friendly which was nice. The weather as well was mostly good – bit of rain towards the end of the day but nothing horrific. Earlier I mentioned the location and about using public transport – one confession I will make about my day is that I wasn’t massively fussed about seeing any of the 3 main headliners – All Time Low, NoFX and Bullet For My Valentine. This meant I was able to cut out a little early and catch an earlier quick train. I obviously can’t speak for what it would have been like trying to get a train from Hatfield when significantly more people were trying to get one – so I won’t! That is the general thoughts I have about the festival concluded – the next thoughts will be about the bands I saw throughout the day (with some scores out of 10 based on enjoyment).

My day kicked off watching Cruel Hand (8) on the Key Club Stage. Listened to a little bit of their music before going in but wouldn’t say I was familiar with anything they played, but it was all very good – a great way to kick off the day. After Cruel Hand was one of my favourite bands from the last few years, especially live – Milk Teeth (7). As mentioned previously, I think my enjoyment of their set was hampered by the sound/my standing location/a mixture of both but they were still really good. It was my first time seeing them as a three piece, and it was as good as it was previously when they had 4 members. I also liked hearing them play songs I hadn’t heard them play before, including Stain which is ace. Looking forward to some more new material when the time comes. This was my only visit to the Dickies/Marshall stage throughout the day so can’t comment if the sound got any better or if indeed, it was just where I was stood. Anyway, headed off to the Punk In Drublic Festival stage for the first time after this to see Anti-Flag (9), who were bloody ace. The main take away I had from the set was kicking myself for not going to their co-headline tour they did with Cancer Bats last year – I bet that would have been a fun night out. I’m not massively familiar with a lot of Anti-Flag, but they played some stuff I recognised and all in all, I thought they were great.

A lot of my day was going to be in the tent which held the Impericon and Jagermeister stages. I arrived after Anti-Flag to catch the last song of Knocked Loose (6 – probably would be higher if I saw more). They sounded pretty good. I decided finally to head to this tent at this time rather than try and get a spot in the Key Club Stage to watch Busted. I am very impressed they got a band that sell out arenas to play an unannounced set though. Would they be too pop to headline the whole thing outright? I’m not sure. Anyway, I went to see Wage War (6) who I thought were good. They are another one much like Cruel Hand, in that I checked them out a little bit before I got to the festival but didn’t recognise anything they played whilst there. I liked it though. I left a little early, with the intent of getting a beer and then heading back in for Turnstile, before heading back out again. No rating next to Turnstile because as mentioned earlier, I missed them due to being in the bar queue. Everything I’ve seen about them from this weekend suggests they smashed it, so more fool me and my want to have a beer I guess. I listened/watched a bit of Mad Caddies (5) whilst queuing/occasionally chatting with a person in the queue. They sounded fine but truthfully I wasn’t paying a great deal of attention to them (generally was just exasperated at the queuing). The original plan was to watch most of Turnstile, and then head back to the Punk in Drublic stage to watch The Interrupters (10). However, because I wasn’t in the tent, I was able to get a bit closer to the stage for The Interrupters than originally planned and I was pleased that I did because this was one of the sets of the day for me. I loved everything about their set, and only wish it could have gone on longer. I arrived liking what I had heard and left a fan. They are playing Download Festival next month, and I am hoping to be able to see them again.

After the Interrupters, I then spent most of my day inside the tent that housed the Impericon and Jagermeister stages – occasionally heading outside for some sunlight. First up was Cancer Bats (8) who I enjoyed, but probably would have enjoyed more if there wasn’t a group of people in front of me having a chat for the first half of the set. Admittedly, I could have made more of an effort to move, but at the time I recall being fairly tightly packed in, so there wasn’t a great deal of moving space to be done, and by the time there was, they had stopped. Ho hum! Popped out after their set for something to eat and a bottle of water (considered a beer, took one look at the queue, decided against). Headed back in the tent for Silverstein (7) who I loitered towards the back of the crowd for. They were very good though. I recognised some of their songs, but couldn’t tell you where from. I stayed in my spot at the back of the crowd, which meant I was near-ish to the front for The Bronx (10). This was my 4th time seeing The Bronx and I don’t think it is possible for them to put on a bad show. They had a 9 (I think) song set and played 5 of my favourite songs of theirs, which probably helped my enjoyment somewhat. I left the tent after their set to brave the bar queue again, which was bad but not as bad as it could have been (probably helped by meeting a mate who was already queuing) before heading back into the tent for Story of the Year (7). I used their set as an opportunity to sit down and have a rest. They were good, although my favourite bit of the set was when they closed on a medley of covers, including Taking Back Sunday ‘Cute Without The E’, The Used ‘The Taste Of Ink’ and My Chemical Romance ‘I’m Not Okay (I Promise)’ (I recognised the first song but for the life of me, can’t think what it was called/who it was by – was hoping to rely on Setlist FM but alas!)

Gallows (8) were up next and if you didn’t know, you wouldn’t have guessed they’d been gone for 5 years – they were excellent. I think my enjoyment of the set was increased by them leaning on the first two albums which I am more familiar with than the post-Frank material. Either way they were great, and it’ll be interesting to see what is next for Gallows. What was next on this day was a patchwork version of Atreyu (6). If I have this right, the lead singer couldn’t travel, so they had a stand in drummer, and the usual drummer was handling vocals. Dan Marsala from Story of the Year came out for the first couple as well. They were fine, but I didn’t hang around for too long as I wanted to get a decent spot at the Punk In Drublic stage for what was essentially the headliner for me, Bad Religion (7). The band themselves were really good, as I think you would come to expect from Bad Religion at this point. I was stood off to the right-hand side of the stage, and it just seemed a bit quiet, which was a shame. I still enjoyed the set, but I did find myself thinking about the sound more than once. After a bit of rain, and then a massive rainbow appearing in the sky, it was time for the last bit of live music of the day before calling it. Watched the first two songs of All Time Low (6) who I thought were alright. Was stood quite far away from the stage because of the plan to call it a day, so that was that.

Those were my thoughts on Slam Dunk 2019. Really good festival, really good day out overall. Couple of small gripes but nothing that would stop me recommending going. Indeed, I will be looking at the line up again next year to see if it is to my tastes again. Put some photos up here. No rest for the wicked as I'll be at All Points East on Friday for the Bring Me The Horizon day. 

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Live: Avantasia - Moonglow World Tour @ O2 Forum, Kentish Town, London 16-04-2019

Avantasia played London for the first time in 2016, and it was my gig of that year. When the Moonglow album and tour was announced, and that there would be a London date, I was sold (took me a while to pull my finger out and sort a ticket, but I got it sorted eventually). I plumped for a balcony ticket this time around as I knew it would be a long show and a seat would be quite nice. I had a seat for a gig at the Forum earlier in the year and knew if I wanted to be comfortable for the gig, I would need to get there fairly early to get my place secured. That didn’t quite work out as planned and I arrived at the venue about half an hour after doors opened. After getting a pint (I will always wince at £6 for a pint of passable lager), I wandered over to the upstairs merch table, to see it was cash only. I hadn’t prepared for this eventuality so was unable to purchase a shirt. By the time I got into the balcony though (a good 45 minutes before Avantasia took to the stage), it was rammed, and I was in the upper standing area. Truth be told, I think this would be preferable to one of the bench seats as after a while, they get quite uncomfortable.

Before this gig, I had heard that both Michael Kiske and Amanda Somerville were not touring with Avantasia this time around (indeed, Kiske only appeared on one song on the album). I thought this was a shame but completely understandable given the nature of Avantasia not being the day job of anyone on stage (aside, perhaps from Tobi – not sure what the status of Edguy is at this stage). I’d given the album a few listens and really enjoyed it. Not my favourite album by them, but still very good.

Onto the gig itself – The first half of the show leaned very heavily on the new album with 9 of the 12 songs played from it (if you include the cover of Michael Sembello’s Maniac). This was no bad thing for me as I’d listened to the new album and recognised the songs as they were being played. Sometimes I find when listening to a new song from a band I love, it can take hearing it live to fully appreciate it. This is what has happened with a few of the song from Moonglow, in particular Ghost in the Moon and The Raven Child.  On the topic of Maniac being played, that was the first time I’d heard Avantasia play one of the songs they’d covered live, and I really like the fact they included it. I think previously they had only released cover songs on the Lost in Space EPs, which might be why they haven’t been played live before – but I’d love to hear them do either their ABBA – Lay All Your Love on Me or Ultravox – Dancing with Tears in My Eyes covers live (or both!) The other songs which made up the first half of the show were Lucifer, Reach Out for The Light and Dying for An Angel (the latter two getting massive reactions from the crowd).

When I refer to halves of the show, I should stress that the band didn’t go off stage at all (unless they weren’t needed for certain songs). The second half of the show was essentially a best of Avantasia which was bloody ace. I could list highlights from this half of the show, but I would be typing out almost everything they played. I enjoyed the first half the show, without doubt but I did prefer the second half more. I would guess this is due to having lived with the songs longer. Thinking back on this portion of the show, my only complaints are songs that weren’t played rather than ones that were. I would have loved to have heard Draconian Love again (and the guest singer was there, so it could have happened!) as well as The Wicked Symphony. I would have also liked to have heard more from Ghostlights, as I really liked that album. I would guess that a lack of Michael Kiske on this tour informed the decision to not play more from this album. The encore was made up of Farewell and the medley of Sign of the Cross/The Seven Angels. If I’m honest, I skipped out as the medley was starting because I was tired at this point and worked out if I left when I did, I could get an earlier (and quicker) train home.

Final thoughts – this show was bloody great. I know I started the last paragraph saying how the band didn’t go off stage unless they weren’t needed, but they were there for more than 90% of the set which is just immense when you consider the show was over 3 hours long. Tobi, as usual, was a superb frontman and excellent showman. He made fun of the balcony fans a few times for not being as lively/active/loud as the standing fans, but it was all in good spirit. As said previously, my only complaints about the show would be about songs not played (when you have a back catalogue like Avantasia’s – it is inevitable songs will have to be left out) and people who weren’t touring this time around. I’ve no idea if Michael Kiske and Amanda Somerville were just out for this tour or are no longer a part of Avantasia live (or otherwise). I hope it is just this tour they miss – assuming that is that there will be another tour. I had wondered if there would be another one after the Wacken 2017 show. The announcement of the album and tour was a nice surprise. Tobi did say on stage (in passing) that he wasn’t sure if there would be another Avantasia tour after this. He has said this before, but I can only imagine the undertaking to be able to tour the world with a band that has several guest singers from other bands. This show was ace, and I am sure will be in the conversation again come the end of the year for the top 10 gigs I’ve been to this year (currently been to 8 gigs this year, so it is definitely there at the moment!)

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Live: Behemoth – Ecclesia Diabolica Evropa 2019 E.V tour @ O2 Forum, Kentish Town, London 08-02-2019

I saw that the touring package of Behemoth, At The Gates and Wolves In The Throne Room (WITTR) were touring the USA and I remember thinking that it would be lovely if that would come to the UK. However, my hopes were low as the USA does get some insane touring bills which sadly never make their way here. Imagine my surprise and delight when I was wrong, and this exact touring package would travel round Europe together. The biggest surprises for me about this tour was the price (and how remarkably affordable it was) and the fact it would take place at the O2 Forum. If pressed, I would have thought they might try and hold this at Brixton. At The Gates had a headline show at the same venue in 2014, so I recall also being surprised they were now a support band in the same room (I do recall though it not being the busiest gig I’ve ever been to there). No complaints from me though, because for the most part, I like the Forum. My thoughts about the tour bill before the gig was love heart eyes emoji towards At The Gates, very much looking forward to seeing Behemoth (after seeing them once before at Wacken 2014) and also WITTR were there. I feel as though I should add that I recall trying to get into them some time ago and failing. I tried again before this gig – and failed again.

Looking at what time the doors opened, I felt confident that by leaving the hotel when I did, I would avoid seeing the band I wasn’t fussed about seeing. However, this confidence was dashed when I saw the size of the queue when I turned up. It was either that they hadn’t come on stage yet, or this was a repeat of when Slipknot played Wembley (and seemingly, about 75% of the crowd turned up after King 810). I got in as WITTR had not long started their first song and thought as I was there, I’d give them a chance. On reflection, I am glad I did so because I enjoyed them much more live than I did when listening to them on Spotify. I’m not sure I will go back and listen to them again, but I feared the worst when I realised I hadn’t missed them, and these fears were unfounded.

At The Gates…are bloody great. I’d seen them twice before this night – most recently on the earlier mentioned headline show in 2014 and on their first reunion tour at Wacken 2008. Fun fact, they were a part of one of the best festival runs I’ve ever been at – As I Lay Dying (awkward…but true), Carcass, Killswitch Engage, At The Gates, Nightwish and Kreator. Also, revisiting that running order, I realised I missed Hatebreed for Obituary – I’m sure I had my reasons but if making that choice today, it would be the other way around. Anyway, before going down that rabbit hole any further, At The Gates! They had 40 minutes and they made the absolute most of that time – they were superb. There was very little hanging around between songs aside from for the two/three times Tomas Lindberg talked to the crowd which I really liked. I remember thinking that if I was giving this set a festival score, it would have been a solid 9 out of 10. The one thing I really like about At The Gates at the moment is that they played 12 songs in this set, and 8 came from albums they have released since reuniting. Sure, it would have been nice to hear more from their earlier albums (no Under A Serpent Sun…), but it is nice to see a band have such faith in their post reunion material (and as well they should, because both albums are excellent). I am hopeful that At The Gates will announce a November/December headline run in the UK. Off the back of this set, I would go.

Since getting into Behemoth, I haven’t had many chances to see them live. The big regret was not going to Bloodstock in 2016 and seeing them perform The Satanist in full as that is my favourite album of theirs (and currently what I’m listening to as I type). I also missed then at Download 2014, but they were on stage at the same time as Linkin Park were playing Hybrid Theory in full and that album was instrumental into getting me into metal in the first place. Wonder if there are many people in hindsight annoyed about that clash? Probably not. Anyway, I saw them at Wacken 2014 and I remember them being great, but they were on in the middle of the afternoon/early evening when it was very warm, and that is not the ideal setting for blackened death metal really. I reckon it would be immense if they played as the sun would set there. Because of this, I was very much looking forward to seeing them indoors.

They set the stage up and then put up a curtain to block out the stage, which seemed odd until they used a projector to project an image of a massive upside down cross over an outline of the UK, which was cool. The stage show itself was great, with smoke cannons set up to shoot out upside down crosses, a bit of pyro and some cool lighting. Shout out to the mic stands as well, which looked like mini altars, superb. Setlist wise, they unsurprisingly leaned heavily on their new album (5 of out 14 played came from it) with songs from 4 of their other albums making up the rest. I would have liked for more from The Satanist but I wasn’t disappointed that there were only 2 songs from that album in the set. The set was unrelentingly heavy, to the point that by the end it was like having my ears and body assaulted in the best possible way (aside from the aching back from standing – I’m rapidly coming around to seating at some gigs). I think it is that reason why I was fine with the headline set being 70 minutes long. Sure, a longer set would have been cool, but I didn’t leave feeling short changed at all. Set list highlights for me were:

1)      The opening of Wolves ov Siberia, cause that song rocks
2)      Ora Pro Nobis Lucifier, because The Satanist and it got a very loud roar of approval from the assembled masses
3)      God = Dog because it was the first song from the new album released and it is bloody great.
4)      Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel, as that probably prompted the loudest singalong of the night.

Behemoth were bloody great. I’m not sure if they’ll be as good at Download in the middle of the day on the main stage, but if you are going and you like your metal heavy, blackened and death – go and see them. If you don’t, well go see them anyway!

TL;DR version

1)      Wolves In The Throne Room were better than I thought they would be.
2)      At The Gates were superb. I really want to see them live again.
3)      Behemoth were outstanding. I wouldn’t be shocked to be hyperlinking this blog come December when I write my end of year list.