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Friday, 25 June 2010

Guest Blog - The Red Wizard and The Big 4

This week, The Red Wizard provides us with the first guest blog in Metal Harmony history. Our resident guitar aficionado and Mikael Akerfeldt lookalike was at one of the screenings of the Big 4 thrash extravaganza, the lucky bastard. Here's how it went down...

I have MADman to thank for getting to the screening of the Big 4's performance at Sonisphere, Bulgaria as if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t have even known anything about it. So with 2 tickets booked for me and the missus we hit the pub for a swift pint before going to the cinema just in time to grab another cold one in the bar. We found our seats as the warm up began.

This consisted mainly of motormouth Lars, Scott Ian and Dave Mustaine talking about how great they are and how Lars created the universe. Lots of back slapping etc. Naturally Lars was the only one that looked comfortable, with Dave hunched forward with his hair over his eyes. Nothing particularly interesting.

So onto the show…

With Anthrax drawing the short straw it’s their job to open and they come out all guns blazing with a true thrash anthem in Caught in a Mosh. Once again Joey Belladonna is back in the band (for what is the third time now) but he’s in good form and boy does he prove it when they play Indians. Halfway through the song we hear the familiar intro to Heaven And Hell and the cinema and crowd at Sofia go crazy as Anthrax pay tribute to the recently departed Ronnie James Dio. Joey manages all the high notes effortlessly and it’s a joy to watch. After Anthrax we decided to smash another beer but whilst we were at the bar we were told Megadeth had already started. So much for it being live. There was obviously a delay so as to skip the changeover between bands. Beers smashed we rushed back into the cinema to hear Hanger 18 played with ferocity by Mustaine and crew. It was so cool to see 'Baby Dave' David Ellefson back on bass especially as this occasion was so huge. With a set picked mostly from Rust In Piece they got a fantastic response.

"Slayer! Slayer! Slayer!" You’ve heard it so many times before they step out on stage and when they do, they're still one of the most formidable looking bands ever. Opening number Hate Worldwide saw the Slayer fans crying out to cinema staff to turn it up as it did sound far too quiet for Slayer, so sensibly the volume was increased. I have to say their set was a bit lacklustre; sure they played great and had tremendous power but something seemed to be missing.

It was no surprise that Metallica would headline this little jaunt and when the sound of Ennio Morricone’s the Ecstasy of Gold seeps out of the p.a. the crowd starts to go crazy. I could tell you all about their set but all you need to know is this. …

Their first encore was Am I Evil and they were joined onstage by Anthrax, Dave Lombardo AND MEGADETH! Yes thrash fans, you heard that right. James Hetfield and Dave Mustaine, whose bitter rivalry is almost as famous as the two bands themselves, were stood side by side onstage. I never thought I would ever see the day when they would play on stage together again.

And so to close.

This was a unique chance to see the four biggest thrash metal bands perform onstage together. I was surprised to discover the cinema wasn’t full and the crowd inside it seemed pretty tame. They needed a little encouragement from this Red Wizard to start throwing horns clapping and cheering. The fact we couldn’t take beer into the cinema sucked and I also learnt Sofia, Bulgaria has the lamest circle pits in the universe. We hit the local metal pub for another beer and reflection. Seeing metal bands in the cinema is certainly cheaper and closer than travelling to gigs but it’s no substitute to actually being there sitting in a field smashing beers and feeling the full force of metal hitting you like a sledgehammer.

So with this epic cinematic experience behind him, our man in Scotland hands back the reins. I truly wish I could have seen this show but I already had tickets for Sex & The City 2 that day.

Until next week,



Friday, 18 June 2010

The highs and lows

As a final high-5 to Download 2010, I though I'd do a good old fashioned best of/worst of. This is a combination of me being lazy and the fact that I'm sure you've already read several hundred reviews of the event (clearly the best of which was mine). So, on to the business in hand.

The Best:

5. Semi-naked people

I don't mean the promo girls walking around in their underwear; I mean the fat/bald/hairy/old Downloaders: people that really do not give a fuck and are just themselves all weekend. It's the least judgemental place on earth and a welcome relief from the ultra-critical world in which we spend 90% of our lives.

4. Five stages

An acoustic stage? What a great shout. There's no such thing as too much metal but sitting in the sun chinning a beer whilst a quality rock band strum their way through an unplugged set is a wonderful thing. Then wander to one of the tents for some smaller bands, past the main stage for some of the biggest names in music on your way to a different stage to catch a brutal death metal outfit, and they're all close enough to avoid "I really can't be arsed" syndrome.

3. Cold beer/great Guinness

Every single pint I got was chilled to perfection, whether it was at 10:30 or 23:00. Nothing in the world is less satisfying than a warm lager. And the Guinness Extra Cold was, um, extra cold, with the creamy, velvety head you only get on a lovely fresh pint. Mmm...

2. The variety

Napalm Death and HIM sharing the same stage? Zebrahead and Whitechapel treading the same boards? Dommin and Hellyeah plugging their instruments into the same amps? It can only be Download. The people who criticise the lineup are hilarious and although Machine Head and Suffocation playing every slot on every stage would indeed be very metal, the variety is what makes Download truly awesome.

1. The headliners

Okay, Sonisphere has Iron Maiden this year but let me just spell it out for you again:

Rage Against The Machine

AC/DC was as close to perfection as a rock show could ever be, RATM brought a passion and political anger the likes of which I've never experienced and Aerosmith demonstrated potentially the greatest live vocal I have ever seen. Fair enough AC/DC bringing their own stage was a bit ostentatious and their £3m+ price tag is a bit on the renty side but you know what? That's fucking rock and roll baby.

The Worst:

5. Friday beer queue

With AC/DC headlining the main stage, it seems the extra 30,000 tickets for Download this year were all day tickets for Friday. As regular readers may have gleaned from Metal Harmony, I love a beer and subsequently drink a lot of them. Therefore, standing in a fucking enormous queue for fucking ages was a complete pain in the arse on Friday.

4. The Sunday afternoon rain

Fair enough we had sublime weather on Friday and Saturday but the biblical rain on Sunday was a bit of a buzz kill, especially as it dramatically thinned the crowd and meant me and Hot Chick were stuck watching fucking T-34.

3. Missing virtually all of Whitechapel's set

My one shocker of the weekend; we'd managed to get shelter and started to dry off a bit, only to realise that Whitechapel were playing at the other side of the site. We got there only in time for one song, which was a right pain in my arsehole.

2. T-34

I may have mentioned it previously but why the fuck this shit covers band were gracing the same stage as Suicidal Tendencies baffles me. I'm generally a bit of a miserable twat at the best of times but coupled with the rain, this completely pissed me off no end.

1. The noodles

I've done it once; "I'm bored of burgers, I'm going to try the noodles". This was the only time in my hearty-eating life I've not finished a meal. The noodles at Download are fucking horrendous. They taste of dysentery, smell like a corpse's foreskin and look as appealing as a bareback bunk-up with Margaret Thatcher. And NO-ONE LIKES THEM. There are piles of the bastards all over the site that you always end up sitting in. I hate them. Ban the fuckers, I say.

So there we have it. It's all over for now but as Metallica once eloquently said, the memory remains. But in no time at all we'll be discussing how the first announcement is shit and isn't metal all over again.

Until next week, and for those about to rock, I salute you.



Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Download 2010 special!

Friday, June 11th

It pissed down with rain, cars crashed into each other and there were endless traffic jams en route but with the help of AC/DC and Iron Maiden on the CD player of our rented Citroen, we got to Download 2010. Being as Hot Chick and I are far too old for this camping malarkey, we chucked our stuff in the B&B and made our way to the main arena.

You know you're going to Download when you're standing next to a 20-stone man dressed as Xena Warrior Princess and a teenager is sleeping in his own sick at 16:00. God I love this time of year.

AC/DC, in true rock star fashion, decided to bring their own stage this year and dump it next to the actual main stage:

So with hideously over-priced Tuborg in hand, we got ourselves to the Bedroom Jam stage to catch Imicus, who's post-grunge vs. metalcore stylings were thoroughly enjoyable. Their debut album Animal Factory is going to be worth a listen. As we wandered over to the main stage to see 36 Crazyfists ripping each and every Downloader a new arsehole (with the help of a surprise performance from a particularly dapper Howard Jones of Killswitch Engage), the sheer volume of metallers gave me immense satisfaction. Here's me and the wife in a field in Derbyshire, with 109,998 other music fans of all different shapes, sizes and hairstyles. This is the time of year we all get together, put the musical differences aside and simply smash beers for about a week. Oh happy days.

And in a matter of hours, we'll be watching AC/DC. I'm pretty sure my day is better than yours so far.

After much meandering around the multitude of stages on offer, we got engrossed by Jet Black on the acoustic stage. Whilst the banter had a bit of a Spinal Tapp feel to it, the music was solid and complimented the unexpected sunshine.

As one fellow decided to drink a Wellington boot full of beer, we decided to catch Killswitch Engage and to be honest, I remained impressed. Fair enough, their main stage slot might have seemed a bit high and my better half can't stand them but the crowd loved it an their excellent cover of the late great Dio's Holy Diver set the festival on fire.

Today was a metalcore fan's wet dream; As I Lay Dying followed Killswitch (on different stages) and those fond of the melodic beatdown were well catered for. Seeing this two stalwarts of the metalcore genre was a great thing.

And on the subject of great things, let's talk about Them Crooked Vultures. Their melodic rock strummings were the perfect soundtrack to an afternoon on the beers. However, as I'm a drummer and one of my first introductions to proper alternative music was Nirvana's Nevermind, seeing and hearing Dave Grohl on the drums was a truly extraordinary and humbling experience.

But everything today was dwarfed, shadowed and bitch slapped by AC/DC. From the new Runaway Train to the classic Thunderstruck, this set was virtual perfection. The crowd interaction was immense, the set list was flawless and the pensioner dressed as a schoolboy was everything we expected and more.

Tomorrow needs to be bloody amazing to beat this...

Saturday, June 12th

Day two started with a sizable cooked breakfast, three coffees and a pledge to drink slightly less beer than on Friday.

The lack of AC/DC meant that Saturday didn't feel quite as busy, so after a journey to the medical tent in search of some form of tablet to prevent my insides falling out (lots of beer + festival food = intestinal carnage) we wandered to the relatively empty main stage to catch Taking Dawn. In true opener fashion, there were several shouts asking us if we were ready, telling us to get up/wake up/etc. but to their credit, they did get a decent crowd in front of them for their contemporary thrashings. We made the mistake of leaving Taking Dawn to watch Rise to Remain on the second stage, who's generic brand of metalcore-by-numbers was as stimulating as a small plastic carrier bag.

Hellyeah came out onto the main stage in the increasingly-awesome sunshine and proceeded to deliver an absolute beauty of a set. Their sleazey, hicktastic rock was delivered with the subtlety of a rubber mallet to the the back of the skull. Former Mudvayne frontman Chad Gray is an amazing vocalist and with the legendary Vinnie Paul on drums, who's mention of his brother Dimebag Darrell was exceptionally moving, it's hard to imagine anything other than perfection. Plus, these boys have some of the best beards in metal. Fact. Greg Tribbett's is unbelievable:

Atreyu and Flyleaf did a bit of an ol' switcharoo on the main stage so Atreyu came on first. Although drummer/vocalist Brandon Saller has shaved his head and looks like Alexi Sayle, there's no denying that the boys from Orange County deserve their slot here despite Alex Varkatzas humbly acknowledging that they should have been on the second stage. There wasn't a lot of new material in the set though, with the lion's share of the stuff coming from Lead Sails Paper Anchor, an album that failed to set the world on fire. Still, with the likes of Doomsday, Bleeding Mascara and the ever-popular Ex's and Oh's this was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

Flyleaf are late on stage - in fact, Flyleaf have been late every time we've seen them. Bassist Pat Seals immediately jumps down into the security section, barges through the crowd control and gets straight into the fans. A good bit of showmanship. But frontwoman Lacey Moseley again fails to be particularly engaging. Don't get me wrong, they're a tight band but a bit distant when they're playing. No real interaction and a touch on the boring side. Still, they pleasingly yet predictably ended with I'm So Sick so it's not all bad.

Our next stop was, shock horror, the acoustic tent...

Since hearing their excellent debut album I've been looking forward to seeing Dommin live. But in true awesome Download style my expectations are met and exceeded with Dommin playing an acoustic set on Saturday and an electric one of Sunday's main stage.

The surprisingly chipper frontman Kristofer Dommin (I had a much more miserable gothic character in mind) sat on stage with the band's keyboard player Konstantine and proceeded to play a truly fantastic set. The electricity-less version of My Heart, Your Hands was (and this is a bit wet of me) beautiful.

From the chilled out, atmospheric warblings of Dommin we made our way to opinion-dividers Five Finger Death Punch, who are anything but melodic but always put on a quality live show. Ivan Moody's crowd interaction is first class but this performance took it to the next level. After explaining to to the security and crowd that they should be working together, he asked everybody to crowd surf to the front in an orderly fashion to shake his hand.

What followed was predictably total carnage, resulting in bodies all over the place and the plug getting pulled. Not before The Bleeding though, which finished off one of the most rock and roll performances of the day.

And then it happened. Lamb Of God, playing to their biggest ever crowd, came on and destroyed the stage, crowd, campsites, local woodland and my mum's house in Kent. Now You've Got Something to Die For, the Grammy-nominated Redneck, Laid To Rest; this was Pure Fucking Metal 101. Randy Blythe tried to get the world's biggest circle pit going and although I don't think it quite touched Devildriver's Download efforts, it was pretty close.

Blythe tells the crowd that whatever people say to us, we're all beautiful - clearly he's not seen the man in gold spandex hotpants - before closing the set with Black Label and leaving everyone speechless. What a show.

After being blown away by 5FDP and Lamb Of God, my expectations for the mighty Megadave...sorry, Megadeth...were high. As the thrash icons took the stage, led by Dave Mustaine's implausibly massive ginger hair, the crowd were clearly getting a bit excited. But as the set wore on, I was a bit underwhelmed. Yes, Headcrusher, Sweating Bullets and Symphony of Destruction are awesome songs and Mustaine's guitar work is pure genius but I didn't really 'feel' them today. Peace Sells was a slice of pure class though and it was a solid set but to be honest, nothing that made me climax.

Deftones then proceeded to kill the buzz in an epic way. They were just boring. I didn't get the point at all. Chino Moreno's voice was terrible and after about three songs, we had to leave. The main reason, apart from a sub-par performance from the nu-metal stalwarts is that HIM were on the second stage and as a total whore for this band, nothing was going to make me miss their set.

Hot Chick went off to Breed 77 and I stood at the back singing along with every HIM song like a horny teenage emo girl. Opening with Buried Alive By Love and love-metalling through the likes of Wings Of A Butterfly and Right Here In My Arms, Ville Valo and the boys were bang on tonight. Valo's voice was a bit crackly when they started but he soon warmed up and by the time the set finished with their cover of Sunday main stager Billy Idol's Rebel Yell, I was loving every minute of it.

I managed to see the end of Breed 77 which involved frontman Paul Isola saying that this festival isn't about AC/DC, it's about the musicians we've lost recently (perhaps a bit of venom directed towards AC/DC's rumoured £3m price tag for their headline slot?). He thanked us for not giving a fuck about the football (not strictly true) and proceeded to put on a brutal cover of The Cranberries' Zombie.

Then it was time for the main event. Rage Against The Machine, fresh off the back of their Finsbury Park free show to celebrate fucking up the X-Factor's constant Christmas number one slot, came out and went hard. Really hard. So hard in fact, that there were two crush injuries and the set had to be stopped and 100,000 people asked to take two steps backwards. I don't know what happened but hope no-one was seriously hurt.

Back onto the good stuff though. The crowd was like a big swelling sea of tattoos, odd hair and sweat as Bulls On Parade and Bombtrack punched us in the ear drums. But when that song, you know the one, came on the atmosphere was indescribable. Hearing tens of thousands of people screaming "FUCK YOU I WON'T DO WHAT YOU TELL ME!" was a true sight to behold. It rivalled last year's "jump the fuck up!" during Slipknot's Spit It Out.

So with one day left and experiencing what can only be described as the onset of rectal prolapse, on we go to day three...

Sunday, June 13th

The third and final day of Download 2010 opened with sunshine, beer and another bloody fantastic set by Dommin, including a version of Cutting Crew's I Just Died In Your Arms Tonight that got a good ol' sing song going in the weary and hungover crowd.

FM are a new band to me, although according to the Interwebosphere they're nearly as old as my good self. The set reminded me of Thunder's last year - sunshine, good old fashioned rock and roll and a helluva tight performance. We walked over to 3 Inches Of Blood on the second stage briefly but I just can't take singer Cam Pipes seriously. He sounds like the bastard child of Justin Hawkins and Zed from the Police Academy films. Back to FM it was.

The pure rocktastic main stage activity steamed on with Saxon coming out and playing the whole of their 1980 album Wheels Of Steel - as Biff Byford said, lots of anniversaries all round at Download this year. Cinderella followed and slowed the pace down a bit but again, with the sun beating down, they slotted into the day pretty well.

After applying another 30 litres of sun cream - actually, sun tan oil, which is the best would could find. It essentially bastes you so the sun can cook you without setting you on fire. And it stains the shit out of everything it comes into contact with. Anyway, Napalm Death. Pure British grind at it's absolute finest. Barney Greenway remains the consummate gentleman between bouts of brutality such as Suffer The Children and When All Is Said And Done. After addressing the crowd with "love and peace my friends", the Midlands mentallers chuck out Nazi Punks Fuck Off and leave.

There are certain moments over the course of a festival that you really have to be a part of; defining times that capture the whole spirit of the weekend, if you will. Seeing guitar icon Slash playing live is in itself, a wonderful thing, to be joined by Myles Kennedy is even better but to then play Sweet Child O' Mine and Paradise City is enough to make any metal, rock, and music fan in general soil themselves. This was a true 'where were you when...?' Download moment.

Then the rain started. When I say 'rain' I mean 'total complete pissing down like you've never seen' rain. After a long, arduous quest for waterproof clothing which I managed to procure from a hugely busy and subsequently happy stall, we enjoyed Billy Idol's unique brand of utter cheese and 80s classics. The loose-skinned wrinkle-meister was good fun but the atmosphere was marred by the onset of the most savage rain I've ever experienced.

But alas, the newly-opened heavens got too much. We needed to find shelter and as Whitechapel were on in the Pepsi Max stage tent we headed over just in time for them to finish with This Is Exile. No room at the inn for a couple of drowning folk though so off to to the Bedroom Jam stage tent. I wisely purchsed a couple of pints of Guinness to keep myself warm.

Whilst we may have been out of the rain in this tent, we were in some kind of despicable hell. Why? T-34. What a load of utter shit. Comedian Al Murray's band play sub-standard covers of karaoke classics like Whole Lotta Love. The most irritating thing I've seen in years. I've no idea if this was some kind of sick joke but why Andy Copping booked them is beyond me. Thankfully the pissing rain started to ease off a bit but not before a big chunk of the Download populace had left, leaving festival closers Aerosmith with only a fraction of the crowd that they should have had.

Steven Tyler might be one of the oldest people in the world and look like a praying mantis covered in leather but Christ on a bike that man can sing. They've got a massive back catalogue of anthems and chose some true winners - I wasn't expecting Dream On so was thoroughly impressed. Dancing like a total twat to Walk This Way in a muddy field was a special experience and even the nauseatingly overblown I Don't Want To Miss A Thing got me holding a lighter aloft. There was a sense that they'd have preferred a few more thousand bodies in front of them but with the weather suggesting the onset of apocalypse, plus the fact that most metallers aren't like the grubby hippies at Glastonbury who enjoy bathing in mud, it was a solid turnout of tens of thousands.

And with that, Download 2010 came to an end and what can I say? It was yet again an insurmountably awesome experience. The music, the endless beers, the sunshine up until the final afternoon, the people; it's enough to make me emotional. Almost.

My round up and closing comments, plus videos of some of the highlights, to come this Friday so stay tuned...

Friday, 11 June 2010

Let's do this...

The day is upon us folks. In a matter of minutes I shall be joining the exodus of the great unwashed from civilised society to the hallowed grounds of Donnington Park. In case you weren't aware, a few music fans are having a wee get together up there to listen to some bands.

But before me and Hot Chick straddle the Harley and burn off into the sunset (and by that I mean trundle round the M25 in our rented Nissan) there are a couple of things that need to be mentioned.

Firstly, how fucking good is Iron Maiden's new song, El Dorado? Hmm?? I'll tell you how good. Fucking good. The first time I listened to it I thought to myself "it's good but is is MAIDEN good?". Bruce Dickinson's vocals sounded a bit clean (but that's more than likely down to the fact that I've listened to Live After Death about 16,829 times) but as soon as he hits his high notes and the undeniably Maiden triple axe attack gets into full flow it's apparent that you're still listening to the greatest heavy metal band of all time. Not bad considering their combined ages is comparable to that of the Great Sphinx, the Dead Sea Scrolls and Esther Rantzen.

We've also been treated to new material from Stone Sour's forthcoming third album, Audio Secrecy. Tracks The Bitter End and Mission Statement hint that Corey Taylor and the boys are going down a more melodic route, with much less growling and chugging riffs this time round. This being said, they'll grow their fanbase with this album if these tracks are anything to go by. The metally metallic metallers won't be won over in the slightest though. One criticism I have (which will make me unpopular with my better half) is what the fuck are they thinking with the titles? Audio Secrecy is a crap album title, The Bitter End has been done by Black Stone Cherry and Placebo off the top of my head, and I should imagine countless others too. And Mission Statement? It's almost like they couldn't be arsed. But that is a small, insignificant issue in the grand scheme of things. Cannot fucking wait to hear the new album and see them at Download 2010. Nightmarish clash with Aerosmith though...

Right, why am I still waffling? I've got 500 pints of Tuborg to drink. Oh, and in my typically shameless self-promoting way, log on to Download Festival Radio this weekend as Download FM has kindly asked me to write a blog for them. And if you're not already following me on Twitter, do so (click the logo at the top of the page). Be warned though; I will be drinking a lot so am liable to be talking bollocks. For a change.

Onwards to the metal!


Friday, 4 June 2010

'D' is for...well, lots of things

Am I the only person who plays air drum blast beats when walking past people using pneumatic drills?

Today's Metal Harmony is brought to you by the letter 'D'. The first 'D' is for Dommin. I can't get enough of Dommin's debut album Love is Gone at the moment. The mixture of church bells, synthesizers, quality riffs and Kristofer Dommin's haunting vocals creates the album you'd get if HIM's Love Metal got knocked up by Type O Negative's Bloody Kisses. I don't want to get too excited but Dommin has the potential to fill the 6'8" hole Pete Steele left in metal. Hopefully he won't do an eye-ruining Playgirl shoot though.

At the other end of the metal spectrum, my next 'D' is for Dyscarnate. I saw these boys supporting Wormrot and was impressed but fuck me with a lawnmower, Enduring The Massacre is a truly monstrous death metal album. Tom Whitty and Henry Bates's dual vocals are ear-shredding, and this lump of savagery is currently sitting in my top ten of the year. There's going to have to be some sphincter-quivering brilliance crossing my path for it not to remain there.

My final 'D' is for disappointment. Only in the crowd, mind. Trigger The Bloodshed graced my lowly home town last week and the best we could do was a crowd of about 20. Scottish newbies Bleed From Within brought the support and despite the typically scenetastic hair and full sleeve adorning vocalist Scott Kennedy, these lads could make some noise. Playing to no more than 10 people, they went hard and went fast, and did a fucking good job. I'm a big fan of their "Death To All But REAL Metal" t-shirt, and now have a BFW poster on my wall of a Scandinavian metaller with a flying V and corpse paint beheading a character who bears more than a passing resemblance to Steel Panther's Satchel. They're not massive fans of the comedy 80s hair metal clowns, it seems.

Trigger were typically excellent and Jonny Burgan is developing into a formidable frontman. He breaks his neck windmilling, clambers over the amps, shouts at the crowd, and generally acts as a true spokesman for the Trigger cartel. This gig was only a warm up for their headline tour but they still played with the ferocity and sheer savage metalness that I've come to expect. I spoke to Jonny after the gig about the turn out. He shrugged his shoulders and was diplomatic about the whole thing, proving that these boys aren't full of themselves; they know they have to play the shitty venues and shitty crowds to get their name out there and they're not scared to do just that. Thank fuck, or they wouldn't come to my neck of the woods.

And with the glorious sun burning my hungover eyes, I'm off to regret mixing Guinness and vodka yet again.

Adieu scumbags,