After a couple of years absence from the festival scene, Sonishphere has exploded back into life with one of the best festival line-ups of the year. With Iron Maiden, Metallica, The Prodigy, Dream Theatre, Deftones, Anthrax, Slayer and Masterdon all headlining it was certainly worth the wait an a brilliant way to celebrate 40 years of music at Knebworth.
There was a fantastic atmosphere across the weekend and a bloody nice crowd, with families, metal-heads and rockers of all ages. The Heavy Metal/Rock fest has a great mixture of music within the genre which is one of it's strengths; from prog to death metal, classic rock and Nu
metal there is something for everyone. Although I've gotta say the male punters making their regular pilgrimage to the 'pissing wall' rather than using the loos is hardly family friendly! The beer was a tad on the pricey side and Trooper, the official beer of Sonisphere was only available in two tents that were a fair walk from the main stage; I would have expected Eddie's brew to be available at every watering hole in Knebworth! Moan over, now to the good stuff!
Sonisphere boasts 4 stages with no overlapping on the headlining stages (Apollo and Saturn) which is definitely a plus. Fridays line up saw The Defiled starting the proceedings on the Apollo Stage smashing up a bass guitar and crucifying a guy during the set, the theatrics certainly made up for the short set! Gary Numan gave a solid but understated performance later in the afternoon and HIM coast through some crowd pleasing back catalogue in the baking sunshine. Over in Bohemia, the band with one of the greatest albums of the year, Lost Alone, have some terrific fun and as always there is nothing that can hold back lead singer Steven Battelle's Tigger like enthusiasm. Anthrax play their first set of the weekend and what a warm up! The band play their influential 1987 album Among The Living in full and it's, well, fucking awesome! Electric Wizard , 65DaysofStatic help and Atari Teenage Riot lift the roof off Boho's tent. If you fancy something a smidge heavier, TRC and Carnifex offered some Hardcore sounds on the Jägermeister Stage.
Friday evening brought Nu Metal band Limp Bizkit who kicked off their set with their no 1 hitRollin' and a cover of Rage Against The Machine's Killing In The Name alongside newer tracks including Gold Cobra. Fred Durst and the gang do a great job off getting the crowd ready to party with Friday's headliners The Prodigy. As far as musical comparisons go, the organizers couldn’t have picked a better choice of bands to round off the first day of the festival on the Apollo stage. Keith Flint and the band fuse dance and rock together with enough bass to raise the dead. Sadly there is no sign of a new album on the horizon, but tonight hits are all there (mostly), Firestarter, Omen, Smack My Bitch Up, Voodoo People – although Outta Space is sadly absent from the set list, and a few for the fans, Rock Weiler, Breath, Invaders Must Dieand AWOL.
If your ears have stopped ringing and you fancied carrying on the party you could head over to the Silent Disco and down some Jägers, catch a spot of wrestling (in honour of this year's fancy dress theme) or flex your vocal chords with a spot of alternative Karaoke! - A terrific way to round up day one of Sonisphere.
Forget the weekend lie in, Saturday Sonisphere style kicks off with TesseracT who perform a stella set with vocalist Dan Thompkins in his first show since rejoining the band and Baby Metal who perform their first ever UK date. No you are not having some crazy cheese dream, Baby Metal really are Japanese teens singing pop melodies to death metal backing whilst dancing. It's the Spice Girls Japan style. It will make you question your sanity (did I really drink that much Trooper last night?) Interesting and yet strangely appealing.
Ghost continue the gimmicks and and theatrics on the Apollo stage. Papa Emeritus II and the nameless Ghouls keep things lively with some of their Satanic Psalms such as Con Clavi Con Dioand Monstrance Clock. Their image loses impact in the daylight but after Baby Metal they seem positively normal.
Over in Bohemia, Finnish Glam metal group Reckless Love take us down memory lane with the 80s rock sound. Although they are one of the lighter acts playing over the weekend they draw a fair sized crowd. Although that is nothing compared to former Skid Row frontman Sebastian Bach, who drew such a big crowd that the Bohemia tent was declared full and many unhappy fans had to listen to his set outside.
Sisters Of Mercy put on another great show and newcomers Rival State rocked the Satellite Stage. Chas and Dave are the wildcards of the festival and whilst they seem a little out of place they have the crowd jumping, but it is Slayer that really tear up the Saturn stage! Jeff Hanneman would be proud.
The Dogfight was a high point of the day. At 6pm sharp a cluster of WW1 fighter planes could be seen approaching Knebworth, a Fokker Triplane flown by Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson, a sure adrenalin rush if ever there was one.
The Deftones put on a loud and riotous show with a killer set featuring 7 Words, Poltergeist, Headup and Diamond Eyes. Not forgetting who the next act on the Apollo stage is, singer Chino Moreno talks about chats with Eddie backstage and takes swigs from a bottle of beer that’s not Trooper! Chino, you better run to the hills, Eddie is gonna be after you! When The Deftones finish their set, the Maiden Road Crew take to work transforming the stage into The Seventh Son Artic landscape in just over an hour whilst Slayer continued to rock out on the Saturn stage.
Iron Maiden were definitely a popular choice over the weekend. Everywhere you looked you could see Eddies ugly mug grimacing back at you from a T Shirt, as always the fiercely loyal Maiden Family were out and proud about wearing their colours.
Iron Maiden have probably influenced 98% of the bands playing this year, so all eyes are looking to them in adoration and utter respect as they charge throughout a fantastic set with Can I Play With Madness?Wasted Years, The Prisoner and Number Of The Beast. There is no mistake these guys know how to put on a show – we accept nothing less that utter brilliance and as usual they do not disappoint. A terrific show and a great way to wrap up the three year Maiden England project. A few changes are made to the set list from last year's Download and O2 Arena shows including Sanctuary and the seldom heard Revelations. You can't fault their professionalism, even in the face of a few dodgy pyrotechnics which failed to go off during The Phantom Of The Opera when Bruce tries to cook the stage, at which point he jokes 'I told you my cooking was crap...let's just burn the whole fucking place down.' The crowd were begging for another song by the end of the show, but alas Iron Maiden has left the building!What's next for the band? A new album and subsequent tour have been muted; Bruce promises that “what's coming in the next few years is going to make it more real for you guys, believe me.” Are we excited? Definitely!
Sunday's line up on the Apollo and Bohemia stages is epic and so pounding heavy that it will make your head explode, literally! Kicking off with Explosia,Gojira, who like the Japanese creature they take their name from takes no prisoners and pulverises everything in it's path.Heaviest Matter In The Universe is on the set list for a reason people! Therapy? Kerbdog and The Bronx keep things suitably hardcore over in Bohemia. A sing along of Bohemian Rhapsodyhas started in the Satellite stage and The Devin Townsend Project takes the pace down a bit on the Apollo.
Airborne, still managing to sound like Spinal Tap meets AC/DC are entertaining enough but The Dropkick Murphys and Reel Big Fish add a lazy Sunday feel to the set with their frolics and are bloody enjoyable! It is however Dream Theatre and Mastodon (a band so cool even your Mum will love them!) who steal the Sunday afternoon show.
Metallica By Request closed Sonisphere for 2014. All the faves were on the set list: Enter Sandman, Seek and Destroy, Nothing Else Matters, Justice For All, Master Of Puppets along with new track Lords Of Summer. Assured of their audience at Sonisphere the band appeared to work harder to win over the crowd than at Glastonbury so I got the feeling they were sitting on their laurels a bit at times. Don't get me wrong they put on a terrific performance, the lasers whilst not quite Pink Floyd were pretty cool and I don't know any other superband that would have fans on-stage and in a snake pit – but this is Metallica they can kind of do what they please!
After their set finished they really milked their exit as if they didn’t want to leave. Their exit was so drawn out that they could have fitted in the other two songs that were on the request vote list. As they threw picks and drum sticks into the crowd the audience became the most animated they had been all night. I’ve never seen people go so mental over bits of plastic! TheBy Request set was a great way to wrap up the weekend before we have to come back down to reality.
Iron Maiden, Metallica, Dream Theatre, Mastodon, Slayer and The Deftones were the highlights of the festival and a great chance to see some of the best bands in the Universe all in three days!
Those non-believers who thought Sonisphere UK was out for the count after its absence have been left firmly eating their hats! The only question remains - after a line up so good where do the take it next year? To stratospheric levels we hope!