The last time I visited the beautiful surrounding of Knebworth House for a gig, way back in 1985, the day was a total wash out, both weather and band wise. Our bus had been slowly sinking into the Somme like expanses of mud that surrounded us from arrival, and ultimately it meant being stuck for the longest twelve hours of my entire gig going life waiting for a tractor to pull us out long after Ritchie Blackmore had hung up his wig for the night.
Hopefully then you can understand that the prospect of attending another such event at this venue wasn’t exactly alluring. Stuart Gilbraith’s inaugural Sonisphere line up however was strong enough to tempt me back though even if it was only for the Metallica headlined Sunday (C’mon I could the number of bands on the Saturday I’d watch on 2 fingers).
Once on site, the vibe of the place was very similar to the Reading Festival’s of the early to mid Eighties, with the main stages running alternate bands and hence no overlaps, and thankfully the previous days rain had well and truly gone away so no fears of a repeat mud bath. As the blue skies coasted high overhead, a nearby rockers misspelled upside down Black Sabbaht (sic) tattoo caught my eye, and like an omen from the metal gods themselves, Buckcherry were off and running on the main stage. This however was a Buckcherry running slightly under full strength with Josh Todd fighting a dire throat infection (the band have since cancelled their German Dates) to win over a mainly hung over and indifferent crowd. But credit due that Buckcherry stood and did the dirty when it would have been easy and understandable to cry off.
After a quick jaunt across field to stage two, Paradise Lost brought some welcome (musical) gloom to proceedings and Nick Holmes caustic whit is always a pleasure in a festival environment. ‘Say Just Words’ bringing their all too brief a set to a rapturous crowd-pleasing finale.
A track back to the main stage and Killing Joke were ripping through a set of greatest hits with their original line up bringing new life to seminal tracks like ‘Wardance’ and ‘The Wait’. The highlight of the set being a truly orgasmic coupling of the ‘Eighties’ and ‘Love like Blood’ that had maniac frontman Jaz Coleman dedicating the former track to all members of Nirvana…still alive.
By the time Saxon were wowing the assembled masses on stage two with their evergreen brand of ‘Heavy Metal Thunder’ the frantic pace of the day moving between stages, coupled with the heat, had made me take up a vantage point mid way between both stages, and Lamb Of God back on the main stage became sort of background music (albeit brutal background music) to my Sunday lie down in the park.
Mastodon, got me enthralled enough to shake a leg back to stage two and enjoy some ‘Blood and Thunder’. I’m not sure if it’s just me or have Mastodon recently started to sound like Mountain? A band I’d strangely last seen on this site, yup you guessed in back in 1985.
The worst kept secret of the day was that after much huffing puffing and posturing about not playing below Limp Bizkit, Machine Head were in fact playing below Limp Bizkit. So the handbags aside I decided to catch Sharks over on the Jagermeister stage. Their fiery brand of punk still falls a little too close to Billy Bragg vocals for my liking but worth a listen just the same.
Slipknot/Stone Sour frontman, Corey Taylor's debut solo set with his Junk Beer Kidnap Band had the Bohemia tent packed to the tightrope wire and dripping sweat. After some minor sound delays that whipped the crowd up to a screaming frenzy what emerged was as an acoustic project that left most wanting to gasp some fresh air rather than listen to a cover of the Rolling Stones ‘Dead Flowers’.
Staying with the Bohemia vibe, the next band on were my surprise band of the day. Expecting the Clown from Slipknots side project Dirty Little Rabbits (who had cancelled earlier in the week….doh !!!!), the welcome noise that greeted me, was somewhere between Supersuckers and The Wildhearts, and was the perfect remedy to the fake posturing of Limp Bizkit over on the main stage.
As I was just making a mental note that I must find out who that last band was, (having never heard of the Portsmouth rockers Little London beforehand I’m sure I can be forgiven for not immediately knowing them) the raging Cancer Bats unfurled the all slaying ‘Hail Destroyer’ riff and the Bohemia tent turned into the biggest circle pit you’ve seen this side of the Ultimate Revenge video.
Quite possibly the finest exponents of hardcore metal out there right now, there is no denying the irresistible charm of Liam Cormier who spent most of his bands set on top the first five rows of the crowd Iggy style.
Awesome is actually an understatement when describing Cancer Bats right now, which is a whole world away from what can be said for Nine Inch Nails UK swansong back on the main stage.With twilight fast descending, on Knebworth House, and the crowd fast descending into an enthusiastically refreshed bunch of loons, Trent Reznor could have left an indelible mark on everyone’s night for all the right reasons by steaming into set of his hardest and most memorable anthems. Instead he chose to play a set of what can only be best described as torch songs in a soliloquy to his bands demise. The set was simply crying out for a ‘Head Like Hole’ or a ‘The Hand That Feeds but neither was deemed worthy of an airing’. A brave introspective move for an artiste like Mr Reznor, but one that when delivered to a festival crowd, even he must realise was totally out of place and dare I say it? …… Pretentious.
It was left to Avenged Sevenfold to draw proceedings to an end on stage two with a set of their athletic melodic thrash, and even though my core directive was more about keeping my pretty cool viewing spot for Metallica, it was almost impossible not to sing along with the likes of ‘Beast And The Harlot’ as their sound drifted across the festival site.
Having seen Metallica in Birmingham earlier in the year, I was hoping that an event of the magnitude of Sonisphere would see them do something slightly different (something AC/DC could learn from their identikit Wembley set list), and lo and behold the old buggers didn’t disappoint. Opening with ‘Blackened’ and ‘Creeping Death’ Metallica really could do no wrong, and the surprises that were promised arrived with a live outing of ‘Dyers Eve’ that had the assembled Metalliclan howling like banshees. As did the encores of Queen’s ‘Stone Cold Crazy’, ‘Hit The Lights’ and ‘Seek And Destroy’ the latter seeing James Hetfield taking off his guitar for probably the first time since John Marshall was in the band, and getting down and dirty with the front rows. The night ended with the customary pieing of birthday boy Hetfield followed by a tearful and fitting spoken tribute to the whole Sonisphere event from him and Lars Ulrich.
Sonisphere then, is more than just a field near Peterborough (thank you for that nugget Nick Holmes). It’s one hell of a musical adventure, and one hell of a cracking festival.