Sonisphere 2014 festival review

'The triumphant return of Sonisphere'

Photographer: Sara BowreyAnna Hyams, Jack Gunner on 07 July 2014

The future looked bleak for Sonisphere for a while. Despite doing almost everything right – conquering Europe, re-uniting the Big Four in 2011, returning metal to its spiritual home of Knebworth – inexplicably poor ticket sales seemed to spell the end.

Luckily, all was not lost, the return of Soni was announced in November, and metal-heads breathed a sigh of relief.

This year’s fest didn’t just celebrate the triumphant return of Sonisphere, however. 2014 marks 40 years since Knebworth House began to host rock concerts, with The Bucolic Frolic festival in 1974. To say it’s a landmark event doesn’t really come close.

Sonisphere 2014 retains the same positives as ever – the dual-staggered main stage format works a treat and helps push punters towards new bands. The catering has definitely been taken up a notch with a wider selection of decent food than ever. Prices are sadly also steeper than ever – 4.90 for a plastic cup of beer and 2.50 for a bottle of warm water is bordering on taking the piss. The one other negative about the organisation is the sound – a few too many hiccups, and a general feel that it needed to be louder.

Friday was a bit of a slow start, with some competent yet static performances from Gary Numan (5) and Band of Skulls (5), whilst HIM’s (3) only UK festival appearance flopped like Villie Valo’s indie-esque locks. Anthrax (8) brought up the tempo with a play-through of ‘Among the Living’, while subheadliners Limp Bizkit (6) were, well, Limp Bizkit.

It took a potent set from The Prodigy (9) to really liven up the crowd – interesting, considering that their appearance at a rock and metal event attracted a fair few nay-sayers.

Saturday morning saw a ‘weird and wonderful’ theme, with outstanding sets from pirate metal pioneers Alestorm (9/10) and the totally bizarre Babymetal (10) whose sounds could best be described as ‘Tamigotchi Metal’.

The afternoon saw Anthrax (9) rock their second set of the weekend, while grindcore titans Carcass (7) showed the Saturn crowd how extreme metal is done up North before Slayer (8) headed up the second stage with a typical, no-nonsense session of untainted thrash.

Following Bruce Dickinson’s appearance in a spectacular WW1 dogfight re-enactment above the arena, the evening saw Iron Maiden (10) unleash an astounding headline set, with traditional numbers, ‘The Trooper’, and  ‘Run to the Hills’ to match the history theme, and sketetal fella Eddie making his trademark appearances.

Sunday saw – for both weather and music – a mild start with a blistering close. The early sets from Gojira (6) and Devin Townsend Project (7) made a reasonable start, but saw modest crowds.

Reel Big Fish (9) provided a stunning soundtrack for some Sunday afternoon skanking, while Dropkick Murphy’s (9) busted their Sonisphere cherry in style with an outstanding hour of divine Celtic punk.

Alice in Chains (8) brought a cooler and mellower vibe to the sub-headline slot with their unmistakeably sludgy sound, followed by Dream Theater (9), whose searing set underlined how their prog-wizardry simply cannot be denied.

Finally, who else could close such an important event but the very quadrumvirate of metal demi-gods Metallica (9)? So much was made of their Glasto set that tonights show began to seem like an afterthought, and the By Request gimmick does take away the surprise factor – but these are absurdly minor quibbles compared to the spellbinding greatest-hits esque set the boys delivered on Sunday night.

With a few picky points – the sound, primarily – aside, Sonisphere’s return cannot be called anything other than a complete triumph. Uniting many of the worlds best heavy bands at the Metal Mecca that is Knebworth, with solid organisation and (mostly) decent weather, Sonisphere remains the perfect weekender for rockers old and young. May it never disappear again.

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