The second day at DESERTFEST LONDON gave prominence to the filthiest leanings of heavy music on one hand, and to supremely groovy and classy performances on the other. Yes, we’re talking about EYEHATEGOD, BRANT BJORK, BLACK PYRAMID, PALEHORSE, TEN FOOT WIZARD and AMPLIFIER. Getting kicked in the butt by such truly good sludge and stoner acts while showering in beer from noon to three in the morn’: welcome to heaven.
(TEXT: Thib and Beeho – PHOTOS: Gaël Mathieu)
PALEHORSE @ THE UNDERWORLD
In the middle of all the Black Sabbath-like bands, London’s PALEHORSE clearly stand out thanks to their music (a fierce and massive post-hardcore) and setup: two bass players, a drummer, a moog and a screamer. Surprisingly, I’ve never heard of them before, despite a fourteen year long career and a noteworthy release on Candlelight Records, Harms Starts Here (2013). With very few signs of their existence on the Internet, either this band is very discreet or they don’t take it too seriously. I guess the singer’s impressions of Darth Vader with his vocoder between songs proves the latter.
The Underworld is still roomy at that time of the day – well, we’ll mosh all by ourselves then! – but the attendance is honorable and the show is really cool. PALEHORSE is not an easy band to locate in the map of brainy hardcore stuff, as they seem to avoid every kind of trend. I would venture labelling them halfway between Neurosis (for the keyboards and tense melancholy), Unsane (for the tough rhythms) and Shellac (for the noisy rock with huge bass attacks) to give you an idea of the present chaos. On top of that, Jacob Bannon’s cousin is yelling at us and frequently jumping down the stage to tickle us a little bit.
With crushing parts of bass-driven fury bathed in nasty feedbacks and acid moog layers, and more aerial and minor songs, all this is working pretty well… Yet the memory of this show won’t survive the rush to the next gig, blame a lack of constant tension, or at least a climax. A band who is worth seeing in a better context!
“Why are there 2 bassists? More like why the fuck aren’t there 3?” – A YouTube comment
BLACK PYRAMID @ ELECTRIC BALLROOM
First, let’s make it clear: Darryl Shepard (guitar/vocals) et Gein (bass) join forces in two bands: BLACK PYRAMID and The Scimitar. So when BP’s drummer dropped them before the European tour with Lo-Pan, they just asked The Scimitar’s drummer Brian Banfield to join them on stage. Consequently, this afternoon is some sort of “The Scimitar plays BLACK PYRAMID” show, or so we’d say.
BLACK PYRAMID starts quite sluggishly. The Massachussets’ trio doesn’t look like much, with a rather lifeless Brian Banfield and the Darryl/Gein pair being relatively static. I quickly head to the balcony and buy a cold one, to enjoy the show from another perspective. The show is all about old school heavy stuff, somewhere between Grand Magus epic tunes and a “Darby and Joan Club” version of High On Fire. The crowd headbangs politely and doesn’t seem to expect anything from this show… And yet, BLACK PYRAMID imperceptibly make their way to our brains and subdue them!
Two songs particularly grab my attention: a song off The Scimitar entitled “Void Traveler”, then their classic “Visions Of Gehenna”. The first one starts like a thousand of other stoner songs: with a very classic riff that evolves into a sabbathian chorus, followed by a soft and melodic break that gets bigger until explosion with a fucking beautiful guitar solo… Damn! The show ends on “Visions Of Gehenna”, a very sleep-esque tune with a warlike energy as well as an unexceptionable chorus… HELL YEAH!
This tiny hour began poorly, yet in the end I was bowled over, even though the band played a very static and passion-free show, they delivered it like a boss and the power their songs did the job!
LO-PAN @ ELECTRIC BALLROOM
I’ll pass on this one, as the show didn’t enthrall me AT ALL – and not even one pan flute on the horizon, dammit! LO-PAN plays a very common brand of heavy rock with fat and groovy riffs, but also unfortunately 100% deprived of fun. One element clearly stands out though: Jeff Martin’s strong, melodic and soulful voice… which is way too LOUD in the monitors. A bit like all these Canadian female singers: yes, he’s got a beautiful voice, but too much is too much. I can hardly stand in front of the stage, and have to stay away from it for the sake of my ears. Too bad!
TEN FOOT WIZARD @ THE BLACK HEART
[Beeho speaking] Given the disappointment that is Lo-Pan (although they’re pretty good on record, i.e their last album Colossus), I run to the Black Heart to see Manchester’s rock’n’rollas TEN FOOT WIZARD. As I picked them for THC’s special feature in the Desertfest magazine – the very first issue ever published as well as a nice collectible for all us music nerds out there – that’d be quite weird not attending their gig, don’t you think?
Like a Saturday at the Black Heart during Desertfest, it’s getting hard to make your way to the stage, when it’s approximately 35°C in here and a good quarter of the attendees have conscientiously kept hydrating themselves throughout the day (if you know what I mean). Our four Mancunians definitely feel at home, making the most of the crowd’s liveliness to deliver a heavy rock set filled with nothing but FUN. Not talking about the guitarist’s Hawaiian shirt here. Nor about the drummer’s green plastic tape bling-bling. One manic rock delivery after another and constant smile on their faces, the band doesn’t need much more to juice it up and drive everyone wild. Wildness bonus when Gary (guitar & vocals) takes his shirt off, which instantly enkindles some whistling from both male and female attendees. With his gravelly and powerful clean singing, this guy could make many metal vocalists out there jealous, and for good reason! Excuse me while I’m too busy headbanging and don’t tell you about the rest of the show…
BRANT BJÖRK @ ELECTRIC BALLROOM
Time for things to get serious. When the Desertfest welcomes one of the founding fathers of the scene of the same name, needless to say this show is one of the most anticipated events of the weekend. I restrain myself from bowing, but god I would because the desert guru BRANT BJÖRK is such a mountain of coolness and charisma, that it would make any dude become gay (or is it just me?).
Brant and his Low Desert Punks are landing on stage with a very soft jam to set the tone, letting us discover the lineup: Dave Dinsmore (Unida, Ché) on bass, Bubba Dupree on guitar and Ryan Güt on drums, replacing Tony Tornay. The jam goes on and suddenly the conquering riff from “Automatic Fantastic” gets the upper hand… Things kicked off for good now, with a surprisingly tougher attitude from Brant, a gaze of steel under a velvet bandana. Looking straight into the eyes of the audience, his gestures are almost threatening and rigid, at the opposite of the ocean of cool that flows down from the amplifiers. The frontman has a knack off making a connection with an audience. As for the sound conditions, songs from the new album Black Flower Power don’t sound as clean as the rest of the setlist, because of the huge amount of distorsion it involves.
All the attention is focused on the original desert rocker, and the stoner rock Jesus is very warmly welcomed here by a totally won audience. “Let’s have some fun” he says, just before kicking off “Too Many Chiefs”, and some fun we’re having indeed. The setlist is mostly made of tunes from the Low Desert Punk’s Black Flower Power, a bit of Jalamanta, that good ol’ “Freaks Of Nature” (extended version) and… a BRAND NEW SONG! Along the same pure vibes of his previous works, it’s all soft and based on a groovy and vanishing bass pattern: no surprise here, but it’s damn GOOD.
To be honest, I’m a bit disappointed by the setlist: no songs from the killer Gods And Goddesses, while the band also avoids the best song from the new album, “Ain’t No Runnin” (come ooooon!), and the show ends on a quite weak song I don’t recognize. Apart from this, Brant’s bewitching voice and charisma made all this work greatly, no regrets, just the best desert rock band in the world, bro.
EYEHATEGOD @ ELECTRIC BALLROOM
As today’s co-headliner, we’re now pleased to welcome another pioneer, who contributed to shape the whole sludge metal scene: the mucky dudes from EYEHATEGOD, freshly arrived from Rouen (France) for the 25th gig of this European tour. Knowing that and Mike IX Williams’ health issues, you can hardly picture he’ll make it tonight as he hang onto his mic stand, looking sick. I understand why he cancelled his spoken word performance earlier today… I mean, I’m happy: at least, he can stand on his feet. And he’ll do far more than that.
The show begin the usual way for them: CHAOS. We can never guess what the band is up to: linecheck? Start the first song? Just stand here drinking beers and smoking cigarettes while staring at the audience? Finally, a shrieking and endless guitar feedback drills our ears, then the show brutally starts with a crust piece called “Agitation! Propaganda!”. The picture is pretty nice from here: Mike is clearly having a hard time on stage – will he fall? won’t he?, bass player Gary Mader is all swaying like he’s dead drunk, Jimmy Bower (guitar) doesn’t care, he’s doing the show and “fuck y’all”, whereas Brian Patton (guitar) is mocking the crowd. Mike’s voice is astonishingly fierce and in tune, he looks like a living corpse, yet his vocals are quite the opposite, angst-driven and full of hatred.
EYEHATEGOD on stage is about two things: amazing music and a very peculiar atmosphere. It’s like dealing with mucky brats who don’t have any idea of what they’re doing here, what day we are or which country they’re performing in, yet they know one thing and know it good: how to bury a thousand attendees under tons of filthy mud polluted with heavy metal. Flob rain VS beer rain, provocations, cheerings, the relationship between the band and its audience is pretty unique, some kind of love without any apparent respect, a secret alliance to make great WTF moments happen. The pit isn’t cooling down at any time and reacts instantly to EHG songs, sometimes heavy and bluesy, like real southern stuff (“New Orleans Is The New Vietnam” , “Dixie Whiskey”), sometimes winged and crusty (“Agitation! Propaganda!”), or sometimes just super muddy and gloomy (“Revelation/Revolution”)… Fifty shades of grim.
At times the gig gets interrupted, we don’t know what they’re up to next: stop everything, play another song or order some tacos. Standard. In the end, EYEHATEGOD remained true to themselves, authentically embodying the burden they’ve been carrying for twenty-five years now, and for that reason they remain a major band and a great live experience.
AMPLIFIER @ JAZZ CAFÉ
[Beeho speaking] While Thib is having a blast at the Ballroom with EyeHatefuckinGod, I arrive to the Black Heart and try to make my way to see the nasty metallers Hang The Bastard on stage. Mission aborted: the venue is already over capacity, to the point where there’s a queue in the stairway. Disappointment! What to do in this situation? See what’s up at the Jazz Café. Because this venue is way cool and I’d love to set feet there at least once this weekend. And not only the security are the most welcoming I’ve run into so far, but when I get into this stronghold of London’s finest hip hop nights, heavy prog outfit AMPLIFIER just took the stage. I immediately embark for an hour of epic and stirring metal, wrapped in a very classy on-stage presence. The Jazz Café’s roomy yet very intimate setup is perfect to plunge in the trio’s intense grooves and you certainly wouldn’t count on the compact crowd – who heartily cheered the band at the end of the set – to prove me wrong.
This second night at DF ends on a heavy metal afterparty at the Black Heart with old and new friends… yet still no cooperation from the venue’s security, who’ve been overzealous all night with the festival-goers, who’re even more laid-back and poised than LSD-loaded hippies. After an day full of mind-blowing performances and (just) a couple of IPAs, we head back to the hostel to recharge the batteries somehow, in preparation for a FUCKING HEAVY Sunday.
Last modified: 11 July 2015