Saturday, 12 July 2014

Review: Sonisphere 2014

I went to Knebworth for the first time since 2011 to go to two days of the Sonisphere festival. I didn’t go for the full weekend as I opted to see Black Sabbath in London over The Prodigy. I had two day tickets and didn’t camp, so I shouldn’t be able to talk about the campsites, but am able to. Basically they were the same as they ever were. I thought it was odd that after getting my ticket checked, I could walk through the campsite. Surely that just increases the risk of thefts at the festival? I don’t know for sure, but I would have thought it would have done. Upon arriving at the festival, I noticed aside from some minor changes, the layout was much the same as it was in 2011. I was very okay with this as I think for a festival the size of Sonisphere; they have a great festival layout. I would prefer the main stage to be at the bottom of a larger gradual decline rather than a small decline and then hilly ground so that some people don’t have a clear view of the stage further back but aside from that, I have no complaints. I had forgotten how much of a hill the second stage was proved quite useful at times. The main problem I had with the organisation of the festival was that afterwards, coaches were used as shuttle buses. Now, while there isn’t much of a distance between Knebworth House and Stevenage Railway Station, I do think double-decker buses would clear any queues quicker than using coaches.


Sonisphere is a music festival (despite the person who runs the official twitter saying today that bands aren’t the most important part of a weekend festival such as Sonisphere...) and it seems appropriate to review the bands. This day was about seeing several of my favourite bands but also witnessing a recreation of a World War One Dogfight in the skies with replica planes from the era. Opening the Apollo stage this year was a band called Tesseract (6), who were a good way to kick off the day. I think I’m right in saying this was the first show following the news that the original vocalist had rejoined the band. I liked what I heard from Tesseract in their short opening set on main stage this day. How Sonisphere works is that no band clashes on their two open air stages (and their two smaller tented stages) so it was time to head over to the Saturn stage for a band who I love to see live. Alestorm (8) once again did not disappoint. Other than a few minor sound problems, they were really quite good. They played their new song Drink during this set which sounded excellent (if the rest of their upcoming album is as good as this song, then there is real reason to be excited about it). They only had a 30 minute set but they did as well as could be done in that slot. Hopefully their UK tour and new album will see them on the rise in this country – with live performances like that, they deserve it.

After Alestorm, had finished, I headed over to the Bohemia tent. Walking in that direction was like walking into a tidal wave of people walking the other way. It seems as though people were interested to see how the band on main stage would go down. I personally have no interest in Babymetal though and therefore didn’t want to watch them. Instead, I went to the Bohemia stage and watched a band I’ve never heard of before called Calling All Cars (9). They had a fairly small crowd as a direct result of clashing with Babymetal but this didn’t bother them in the slightest (or if it did, they didn’t make it obvious). Small crowd or not, they played a stunning set. As I said, I’d never heard of them before seeing them and I thought they were fantastic. The tent got progressively busier as the set went on which I thought was cool as the performance this band put out deserved to be heard by a packed out tent rather than a half full one. After they finished, it was back to the open air stages. It seems Sonisphere booked the novelty acts for the festival back to back on the open air stages this time around. Following Babymetal was Chas and Dave (7). I was expecting to go along to this set and have a bit of a laugh as well as a few cringes but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I’m not sure I could watch a full 90 minute headline show but for the 35 minutes they were on stage, they were great! Talking of gimmicks, I headed back to main stage after Chas and Dave to watch Ghost (7). I’d never seen them before and to be honest, never really listened to them. I liked what I heard them play, which is always a bonus. I couldn’t work out though when looking at the screen if the singer was actually moving his mouth (when singing or talking for that matter). Still, it was a decent set. After they finished I headed back to the second stage to watch The Winery Dogs (5), or at least that was the plan. What actually transpired was I sat down quite far back and was talking about the rugby world cup coming to England next year and not really paying the band much attention after the first couple of songs. I thought what I heard was alright, mind!

If anyone has read my musings on the Wacken festival announcements, you will know my feelings on them constantly booking the same “house” bands. Sonisphere Knebworth does the same thing with certain bands. 2014 was the 4th Sonisphere festival to take place at Knebworth House, and over these four festivals, Anthrax (8) have played 5 times (including twice this year). I was a bit gutted to miss their Friday night show where they played Among The Living in full, but I was elsewhere (you can read where I was by clicking here). Anthrax put on a really good set although at this stage, once you’ve seen one Anthrax festival set, you’ve seen them all (just checked to see if that statement was accurate and yes, all 7 of the songs they played at Soni this year were in the set they played at Wacken last year). I’d like to see a full headline show from Anthrax to see if they would mix up the setlist a bit. After them was something a bit heavier in the form of Carcass (7). They were one of my highlights from Wacken 2008 and I was really looking forward to seeing them on an open air stage again. They didn’t quite capture the magic of that day but they were still really good. The set was mostly made up of songs from their latest album Surgical Steel which isn’t a bad thing as the album is really good. It was also cool to see them bring out Ken Owen to say hello. I’m not sure if he goes on the road with them full time but it is really cool they haven’t just forgotten about him after he suffered a brain haemorrhage. After Carcass had finished, I headed to the front of the main stage for one of the main reasons why I had decided to buy a Saturday ticket – Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls (10). You will note the double figure next to the name there - that is completely justified for what was one of the best sets of the weekend. Frank and his band played a set which had the crowd dancing, singing, smiling and generally just enjoying themselves for 45 minutes. The length of the set being the only negative to take away from his set as it should have been longer. I do believe that headlining major festivals is not too far away for Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls. Given his relationship with the festivals, I would imagine he’ll headline Reading and Leeds festivals first but I can easily see him headlining a Download or Sonisphere festival one day (quite possibly Isle of Wight as well). The Jagermeister stage was my next destination and the plan was to catch a bit of Stampin’ Ground (6) before getting a bite to eat. I have given them a 6 which to me indicates their set was alright. I’m sure that number would have been higher if I could have got in the tent (I later learned there were other entrances). However, after the dancing that occurred during Frank Turner’s set, it was nice to be sat down. This feeling of sitting down was replicated and improved upon after Stampin’ Ground had finished because I sat watching Hundred Reasons (6) on the Saturn stage for a brief moment (2 or 3 songs I think but I can’t remember – was good though) whilst eating GBK. I don’t know who said “let’s bring GBK to festivals”, but that person deserves a sturdy handshake (at the very least, possibly even a pat on the back as well).

Post-GBK, it was time to move again (sadly). However the cause was good, as the next destination was the Satellite stage for an excellent live band. Got there really too early though and saw that The Lounge Kittens were still on stage and playing their cover of Limp Bizkit’s Rollin’. I would like to stay I stuck around for more than a verse and a chorus but the World War One Dogfight had started and I wanted to watch that more. Being by the Satellite stage for this seemed to be a great position to be in as most of the action appeared to take place right by us. It was a short display but it was really cool all the same. After this had finished, all the cool kids headed into the Satellite stage to watch Eureka Machines (10). I saw this band for the first time last year supporting The Wildhearts and this was my 8th time seeing them. They have never disappointed me with their live show. Much like when they played Camden Rocks festival at the end of May, they smashed through their short set with songs that covered all 3 of their albums. They played a blinding set on this day and are deserving of a 10/10 rating – it would be cool to see them play more festivals and getting more fans. I left that tent with a huge grin and took a spot on the hill in preparation for the next band on. Deftones did their level best to remove that smile from my face but they didn’t succeed (I’m not a fan so I didn’t go and watch them – I made the right call). Next up for me was Slayer (8) who have a reputation for being hit or miss at festivals. This was the 4th time I’d be seeing them at a festival and I thankfully have seen them be good more times than not. This was another one of those occasions where they were good. I liked the setlist and the performance was good. Oddly enough, it was good enough to convince me to not see them next month at Wacken (they clash with another band I really want to see) – strange how that works really. At the end of their set, they played Angel of Death and paid tribute to Jeff Hanneman, the former Slayer guitarist who passed away last year. That was a really classy move by them to pay tribute to him (I’m sure they have done it at all their gigs since, but it was cool to see).

After Slayer had finished, I headed off to the main stage to watch the Saturday headliner which in this case was Iron Maiden (9). What can be said about Iron Maiden that hasn’t already been said? They were closing out the second European leg of the Maiden England tour (in fact, this was the final date of the whole tour). UFO – Doctor Doctor played and the overall excitement level in the crowd was noticeably higher. After the introduction video, the band launched into Moonchild and showed from the off that they were in top form on this night. This level of performance continued throughout the entire set, matching if not bettering their headline set from last year at Download. The setlist was altered from the first leg of the tour and was one song shorter, but it was still excellent. Taking that into account, you might be wondering if you had read that review (and previous reviews) why I have only scored them a 9/10? It has absolutely nothing to do with the performance of the band. I give these scores based on my own enjoyment and unfortunately, I was unable to enjoy this set as much as I’d hoped to due to an earlier digestion issue requiring me to leave main stage (I’m pretty sure no-one wants the details of that, so I won’t go into specifics, but it did mean needing to listen to several songs from the inside of a toilet). Anyway, when I came back they were still on top form. They closed out the tour with style. I’m not sure what is next for them but I hope it involves releasing another album. Iron Maiden, with performances like that, will continue to headline festivals all round the world until they decide to call it a day - which hopefully won’t be for a while yet.

Band Ratings:

Tesseract – 6
Alestorm – 8
Calling All Cars – 9
Chas and Dave – 7
Ghost – 7
The Winery Dogs – 5
Anthrax – 8
Carcass – 7
Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls – 10
Stampin’ Ground – 6
Hundred Reasons – 6
The Lounge Kittens - NR
Eureka Machines  -10
Slayer – 8
Iron Maiden – 9


Walked to the arena through the campsite (this shouldn’t be able to happen!) and waited at the main stage for the opening act. I noted that we were getting closer and closer to the start time and it didn’t look as though the day would be starting on time (this is one major issue with the way Sonisphere structures their festival - if one of the main stages is running late, it has a real impact on the rest of the day). Anyway, when Gojira (6) did eventually take to the stage, they were good. I didn’t stick around for much of their set as I wanted a bite to eat before watching anything else but what I did see was good. The late running of the main stage and my desire to head to the Satellite stage after food meant missing out on seeing Protest the Hero, which was a shame. However, over on the Satellite stage was a band I discovered at Camden Rocks festival, The Hype Theory (8). They had a really good set which seemed a tad more energetic than the Camden Rocks performance (this could be due to playing on a stage rather than the floor of a pub, I dunno though). The set ended with beach balls and other inflatable’s being battered around the tent which was cool. One minor clash had already happened as watching The Hype Theory meant missing a big chunk of the Devin Townsend Project’s (7) set. However, because things were running late, I got to see more of it than I had planned, which was cool. Devin is an excellent front man – this was proven when I saw him perform at Download 2006 and again on this day – he just has a gift for it. I think there is a chance that he is as mad as a box of frogs, but that is just a part of his genius. I’ve never really listened to much of DTP’s music but I now want to listen to more after this set. He announced on stage he will be bringing a show “involving puppets” to the Royal Albert Hall in April. How can that not be amazing?

A lot of this day would be spent in the smaller stages of Sonisphere, and after Devin had finished, I headed back to the Satellite stage to watch The Bots (4). I would like to be able to tell you more about them other than they make some good noise for a two-piece band. However I can’t because I sat down to watch them and fell to sleep, waking up and realising I’d missed at least one song. It is always awkward when that happens. After they finished I rocked over to the Jagermeister stage to watch Krokodil (6). Before they came on stage, the front man of Mastodon walked in front of me to head to the mixing desk of the Jager stage. I’m not a fan of Mastodon, but it was cool to see him just walking around the site. Anyway, Krokodil were really quite good. I didn’t know anything by them before they came on (other than a few clips that I heard on Spotify) but I liked what I heard. There was one moment where the lead singer squealed almost like a pig and it gave me Job For A Cowboy flashbacks, but the least said about them the better. The guitarist from Krokodil said he had 10 minutes to get across the site to play with his other band, Gallows (7), on the Bohemia stage. That was exactly my plan for when Krokodil finished. I was really looking forward to Gallows considering how good they were at BST, but on this day there was something missing. I didn’t think they had as good sound at Sonisphere as they did at BST (although that could well have been due to my standing position). They were once again really good but I just think they were better at BST. Watching Gallows meant missing the beginning of Reel Big Fish (8), which was a shame but I decided this was okay as RBF were playing a headline show in Portsmouth just after Sonisphere so it wasn’t the end of the world missing some of their set. For the record, their headline show in Portsmouth was one of the most fun gigs I’ve been to in a long time. Anyway, what I saw on stage at Sonisphere was excellent! I had no desire to watch Mastodon on main stage and so I was left with a choice between two bands I’d seen before. I decided to go with the one I saw at Wacken in 2011 and see Sweet Savage (9). This was a great decision as they were pretty damn good. Most of their set was newer material but they did play a couple of classic tracks (including the song Metallica covered on their Garage Inc album, Killing Time) and closed out with a song they said Metallica would be playing later, Whiskey In The Jar. I was chuffed they played it as I like the song and was already looking forward to hearing Metallica play it later on in the night. The lead singer of Sweet Savage thanked Metallica for inviting them to play the festival. I had no idea they had done that, so that was cool.

I headed out to one of the main stages to catch Dropkick Murphys (8) who were really good. I think in all honesty, the only way I could have enjoyed that set more was if they played Worker’s Song (which I’ve just seen didn’t feature in their short UK tour setlists either). I need to see these guys at one of their headline shows though; I imagine that would be a great gig. After Dropkicks finished, it was time for me to head to the Bohemia stage for the last time of this festival to watch The Bronx (8) who the Sonisphere bookers rather cruelly clashed with both Alice in Chains and Anti-Nowhere League. The Bronx had a really good set I thought but then that should hardly come as a surprise as they are a really good band. I’m pretty sure they over-ran so I left during what now turns out to have been their last song and pay a visit to the GBK truck. Seriously, whoever came up with that idea, great bunch of lads/lasses. The powers that be putting the price of the food up on the last day was sneaky, but I’ll live with it. I then strolled back over to the Jagermeister stage after some debate as to who to make the festival sub-headliner to watch Raging Speedhorn (7). I learned two things by making this decision. Firstly, I had no idea that they had two lead vocalists and secondly, they are very heavy live. I really enjoyed the set. I cut it short so I could go and take a spot at main stage but I really enjoyed what I heard of them.

After deciding on a spot in front of the main stage, and then changing my mind, I took a spot slightly further back with a better view. There were people all around in a partying sort of mood (including two guys who seemed a tad drunk constantly doing football chants). After a slight wait, it was time for Metallica (10): By Request. I love Metallica and I love watching them live. This set was the 11th time I’d seen them live and it was one of the best. I seem to say that almost every time after seeing them play but it is the truth. I knew we were in for a setlist of greatest hits, plus Whiskey in the Jar and a new song but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the set in the slightest. They were fantastic on this day and the absolute highlight of my festival. I did a blog previewing the By Request setlist and I was slightly off in my setlist prediction but not by much. The opening of Battery into Master of Puppets opened up a mosh pit directly in front of me which made the gig a bit livelier. As happy as I was to hear old favourites performed live (as well as the new song, Lords of Summer, which I thought was great), I was really looking forward to one moment in the set and that came as the first song of the encore when Metallica played their cover of Whiskey In The Jar. I absolutely love their version of the song and live, it did not disappoint. After Whiskey, it was time for the Vote of the Day song, and the song I voted for, And Justice For All, won. I was chuffed with that as it is an excellent song (not that The Four Horseman and Wherever I May Roam aren’t excellent mind). Whiskey into And Justice, oh my! They concluded the set with Seek and Destroy (as per) and I left Sonisphere a happy man. Metallica made all the agro worthwhile, and I hope they come back to the UK soon. I thought they sounded good on the Glastonbury stream, but getting to experience it in person is a different animal entirely.

Band Ratings:

Gojira – 6
The Hype Theory – 8
Devin Townsend Project – 7
The Bots – 4
Krokodil – 6
Gallows – 7
Reel Big Fish – 8
Sweet Savage – 9
Dropkick Murphys – 8
The Bronx – 8
Raging Speedhorn – 7
Metallica - 10

And that in a nutshell (sort of) was my Sonisphere festival. It was a good one. I’m not planning on doing a weekend festival again next year, but I’d certainly consider coming to Sonisphere again for the day (especially if they run late trains back to London again!)

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