Sonisphere 2011 review

'Sonisphere, we banged that head that did not bang'


United Kingdom United Kingdom | by Kai Jones | 11 July 2011

There's a great quote on the back of Metallica's seminal debut, ‘Kill 'em All’. It simply says, "Bang that head that doesn't bang." With enough varieties of rock, doom, thrash, sludge, grindcore, death and black metal on offer at Sonisphere 2011 there's little reason why even the most stubborn haven't loosened up their neck tendons for an almighty metal whiplash by the end of the weekend.

Metallica launch their Friday headline slot, topping the eagerly anticipated Big Four bill, with a visceral ‘Hit the Lights’, one of only three original songs they had when they played their debut gig nearly 30 years ago. It's a typically tight and masterful performance from the thrash overloads, taking in much of ‘Master of Puppets’ and ‘Ride the Lightening’, but leaving little room for much from their last two decades. ‘Call of Ktulu’, ‘One’, ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ and a deafening ‘Battery’ are highlights in a relentless two and a half hour set.

But it's the moment they bring members of Anthrax, Megadeth, Slayer and Diamond Head out for a blistering version of Diamond Head's thrash forerunner ‘Am I Evil’, that will stick in everyone's minds. With Exodus' Gary Holt and Sepultura's Andreas Kisser on substitute duty for Slayer and Anthrax respectively, the Big Four suddenly become the Big Seven. "See that guy over there," Lars Ulrich says pointing at Diamond Head's Brian Tatler"If it wasn't for him none of this would have happened." And you can include Sonisphere itself in that.

Earlier, Anthrax (8/10) ran through a storming set of ‘Among the Living’ classics, including ‘I Am the Law’ and ‘Caught in a Mosh’, while debuting the impressive zombie-baiting ‘Fight Them Until You Can't Fight No More’Megadeth (5/10) plodded and grinded  through an hour of MOR Keane-does-thrash metal, and Slayer (10/10) laid absolute waste to the Saturn Stage, hammering out ‘Raining Blood’, ‘Mandatory Suicide’, ‘God Hates Us All’ and ‘Angel of Death’, Slayer vocalist Ton Araya looking constantly moved in-between songs as he took in the admiration from the crowd.

Saturday is all about Biffy Clyro playing their biggest ever headlining gig, but by the time people are wiping away the previous night's indiscretions, news is filtering through that Gallows' (8/10) set will be one of their last with Frank Carter. The band are as deliciously intense and frenzied as ever, but there's a melancholy atmosphere setting in as the crowd absorb the news.

It takes Carter himself to lift the mood, promising the split is entirely amicable, and daring the crowd to give them the perfect send off by giving them "the biggest circle pit of the entire weekend".  The ensuing pit actually circles the sound desk in the middle of the field, proving too ridiculous for even Carter to take in.

After an ecstatic Mars Volta (7/10) set in front of an incomprehensibly tiny crowd, Biffy Clyro (7/10) took to the Apollo stage for a career defining moment, their biggest ever gig on their own terms and an opportunity for them to move to the next level in an astonishing trajectory that has seen them rise from the toilet circuit to penning the X-Factor Christmas number one.

Except they fall slightly flat, relying on a set that eschews theatrics and delicious lighting, but fails to carve a place on the Sonisphere headliners' winners board. It's purely a set for fans, perfectly done if you're in that crowd but without the punch-in-the-chest impact that headliners should always pack.

Sunday kicks off with Turbowolf (8/10) channelling the collective souls of MC5, Jim Morrison and Jimmy Swaggart. Singer Chris Georgiadis has an onstage presence that suggests he was bathed in the blood of rock at an early age, demanding the kind of onstage presence usually commandeered by popes, politicians and preachers. The Bohemia stage is far too small to contain such a beast of rock and roll; the future surely bestowing grander environments.

By the time the afternoon nips at the neck of Sonisphere, the persistent rain that has plagued the site intermittently all weekend is back, creating a sludge that snakes its way between stages. At Bohemia Kylesa (7/10) equal the slithering ooze with their own doom-laden sludge, just ever so more deliciously. And then it's down to the Apollo stage for Mastodon (9/10) - one of the most apt monikers of all time - to witness them stampeding over the Sonisphere masses, before Motörhead (8/10) pay tribute to legendary guitarist Wurzel who had died the previous day. ‘Ace of Spades’ and ‘Overkill’ never sounded so visceral.

Icons passing was unfortunately the theme of the day. Earlier Sonisphere observed a near-immaculate two-minute silence for the late Slipknot bassist Paul Gray, who died last year. Bill Bailey (6/10) cheered the mood with observations of Rammstain doing Simon and Garfunkel, but the day was always going to belong to Slipknot (10/10).

A set so cathartic it could have earned a Pulitzer Prize, Slipknot paid tribute to their late bassist, by slaying Sonisphere. Never mind the continual fire bursting through the stage or the pyros blistering the evening indiscriminately, or even Clown revolving up and around on his rising steel drums, the sheer energy and intensity of their belief tonight is enough to cause whiplash. Which is where we came in. Sonisphere, we banged that head that did not bang.


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