High Voltage Festival: Sunday (2011)

Having slept like the dead for almost a solid 8 hours, in the morning I was surprised to place my feet on the floor in order to leave my bed and feel them shatter into a million tiny pieces, before recoiling in horror as this terrible sensation passed up through my legs, continued along my spine and caused my consciousness to explode painfully up and out of the back of my head, spreading itself across the wall in a fizzing electronic mess of agony.

This first attempt being a complete failure, causing me to immediately fall back with a long, low guttural groan, I lay there motionless and attempted to pull together these many shards into a single entity coherent enough for directed movement. After an indeterminable amount of time, several further failures and groans, I was able to reach my feet, gingerly placing one in front of the other, sincerely hoping I had the mental capacity to hold them together in order to not smash my face into the side of my desk. Touch and go for a while, but by the time I reached the bedroom door my confidence had grown, though my posture had not.

Hobbling into the kitchen I was surprised to find my companion already up and creating a fairly serious freshpot, though looking like he was in equally as many bits he assured me it was merely Italian rather than Irish. Coffees down, we struck out into the sunlight towards the off license to restock our hip flasks, with the strange gait of someone desperately trying to remain upright yet barely succeeding, and eyes squinted behind dark glasses. Restocked with whiskey and having procured some lucozades and sandwiches we felt prepared for the day, objectively at least.

After a painful tube ride, a brief walk and a couple of difficult tinnies we entered the arena, making our way quickly to the Metal Hammer stage where we expected a fairly new retro–rock band hailing from Leeds called Gentleman’s Pistols to be in full swing. But after enjoying a few songs we were surprised to hear the vocalist say ‘Thank you we’ve been The Treatment!’ before launching into their closer ‘Way Of The World’, it seemed we had gained an hour. Their set had been good, with strong AC ⁄ DC and Zeppelin influences, plenty of energy and solid ‘rockin” tunes, with stand out tracks the catchy ‘Shake The Mountain’ and ballardy ‘Just Tell Me Why’. All in all a most agreeable, and thankfully informative, performance.

Still as yet unable to generate constructive conversation, we stood around and mumbled to one another sipping nice cold pints from a handy beer dispenser and awaited Gentlemans Pistols in front of the stage. Equally retro but with very different influences, the Pistols had a much stronger Sabbath and Hendrix feel to them, with slower, though no less imaginative, drums and much more psychedelia from the guitars. Standout tracks were definitely the rousing chorus and psychadelic breakdowns of ‘Widowmaker’ and the doomy, chugging ‘Heavy Petting’. Another surprisingly enjoyable set, if you read the preview we posted on the morning of the day itself (cheekily written the on the Friday night we must admit), we detailed the bands we were looking to see, and neither The Treatment nor Gentlemans Pistols were mentioned, how wrong we were!

Next up were Graveyard, subject of last week’s Fresh Metal Thursday and they certainly did not disappoint. With a crew of Åkerfeldt lookalikes the band played an excellent set, heavily focused on their recent release ‘Hinsingen Blues’ with just the closer ‘Evil Ways’ off their self–titled debut. Axel Sjöberg was clearly enjoying himself on the drums, the vocals from Joakim Nilsson and Jonatan Ramm weren’t as clear as they are on record, which gave the music a slightly different feel, with a division of opinion here at Adrenochrome music as to whether this added or detracted from the proceedings. Some technical difficulties towards the end of the set were dealt with in great style by the band, who jammed whilst a couple of Åkerfeldt’s darted around the equipments on stage. Highlights for us included ‘Aint Fit To Live Here’, a track who’s energy is well suited to live performance, and the dreamy ‘uncomfortably numb’, where the subtleties of Sjöberg’s lighter drumming style were an absolute treat.

A sedate move to the renamed ‘Flute Stage’ to watch Spock’s Beard, a band whose name we deeply respect but unfortuately turned out to be, in the parlance of our times, a bit ‘pants’ really. We can’t quite tell what happened with this one, as having listened to them before, and listened specifically to the set the played afterwards, they’re pretty good, it just really didn’t translate onto the stage. If we’re honest, we didn’t really know what was going on in the music, and it seemed really that they didn’t either. Transitions were plentiful, but rarely smooth. Perhaps they were having an off day, perhaps we were still just in too many bits for organ notes, but festival performance aside we’d recommend a listen to the opener ‘On A Perfect Day’ from their self–titled 2006 release, and ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ from X (2010) to give you a feel for what they’re about.

Next up headlining the Hammer stage were atmospheric sludge pioneers Neurosis who were, in a word, awesome. Massively atmospheric, hugely tense and heavy as a really heavy thing, from start to finish their set was an absolute treat. Playing for almost two hours, they performed tracks from ‘Through Silver In Blood’ (1996), ‘Times Of Grace’ (1999), ‘The Eye Of Every Storm’ (2004), ‘Given To The Rising’ (2007), providing a solid overview of their catalog and displaying their serious commitment to a sound they’ve created, perfected and produced consistently well since their formation in 1985. Mindblowingly awesome, there’s too much to say about them to fit in this review, so watch this space for a detailed post about them in the coming weeks. If you can’t wait to check them out, good starting tracks performed in their set include the tribal drums of closer ‘Through Silver In Blood’ from the album of the same name and the anguish–ridden riffs of opener ‘Locust Star’. In fact just listen to anything, from any of their albums, its all killer.

Having overrun slightly, we made our way quickly to where Dream Theater were already in full swing with their new line up, minus the legendary Mike Portnoy, but plus the legendary Mike Mangini (Annihilator, Extreme). Being big DT fans to a man, we were most excited to see how this played out, and a fifteen–odd minute drum solo from Mangini served to dissuade our fears and fulfill our wishes, great, great stuff. With a drum kit too large to fit in my living room, the existence of a mad set of sky toms toward the front, Mangini sailed around his domain exquisitely, playing true to the original recordings of the tracks, but injecting a hefty wedge of his own personality and drumming style keeping things fresh. James LaBrie even managed to not be overly cringeworthy, and the sight up on the big screen of Jordan Rudess literally playing a supernova by directing streams of stars to its center on his monitor was most gratifying. Whilst I’m not a huge fan of his solo work, finding it a bit too noodley for my tastes, one can’t help but be entertained by his presence. A great set, the first time they’ve broken into headlining and, it must be said, a downright better headliner than Slipknot were at Soni, even without the pyrotechnics. Highlight of the whole festival for me was encore and closing song ‘Learning To Live’, my favorite DT song from one of my favorite albums of all time, one I’d never seen live before and one that the first few notes of which nearly made me spontaneously combust.

Thus, for us, festival season is over for another year. Livers irreparably damaged, dignity in tatters but extremely satisfied, this year has been really great for bands, with many favorites seen and many new discoveries made. Now we just hope there will be enough great gigs over the coming months to tide us over till the season begins again next year.


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