Music: Review: Temples Festival 2015, Motion

Robin Askew, June 1, 2015

The Temple Meads area is teeming with metalheads whose T-shirts pledge allegiance to that popular combo Unreadable Band Name. That can only mean one thing: the Temples festival is back for a second sell-out year. Temples is not for the casual fan, those who vaguely recognise the opening chords of Paranoid, or anyone who quite enjoyed the more tuneful songs in Metallica’s Glastonbury set. Adapting an old anarchist slogan (‘no sponsors, no masters’), it’s a subset of Bristol’s proudly independent DIY underground tradition for those of us who prefer our music exceedingly loud and riff-driven. It’s also the friendliest festival in town, with a strong international feel. Your correspondent ran into an illustrator from Indonesia who’d saved up all year and travelled 16,000 miles to be here.

Who could resist a band with a name like Sea Bastard? All hair and tattoos, the Brighton doomsters play a somewhat curtailed set on the third stage – an airy warehouse building that proves to be the most comfortable of all the stages and is, confusingly, larger than the second stage – because their drummer has broken his wrist. How metal is that? On the main stage, Chicago’s Harm’s Way have been bumped up the bill as a result of some scheduling malarkey. They seize the opportunity to impress with muscular, precision hardcore and a hulking great shirtless vocalist who looks as though he’s warming up for a prize fight. Slowing the pace a little back at stage three, New Zealand’s splendidly named Meth Drinker add plenty of squealy guitar feedbackery to what can only be described as a distinctive brand of filthy sludge. The pull of doom keeps metalcore at bay and we stick around for London’s Slabdragger. This proves to be a wise decision, as the trio’s keen sense of dynamics provides a marked quality boost and induces a sea of appreciative slo-mo headbanging.

Time to venture to the main stage to check out Nails, who’ve just signed to Nuclear Blast. There’s no denying their popularity, as they pull a huge crowd, though their brand of ‘powerviolence’ (yet another sub-genre, categorisation fans) sounds a tad samey to these increasingly deafened ears. Back at the third stage, there’s a full house for Weedeater and the crowd barriers prevent us from getting in, though it’s safe to say they sound exactly as you’d expect.

So it’s off to the second stage (aka The Marble Factory) in the hope of getting to see the clear winners of the popular T-shirt vote: Pig Destroyer. The room is rammed half an hour before they play the first of their two Temples sets – a brutal blast of grindcore that leaves the sweaty throng sated.

We dodge main stage headliners Converge in favour of Bongzilla on the third stage, which, needless to say, is massively over-subscribed, with a strict one-in-one-out policy on the door. Pleasingly resembling a bunch of backwoods dope farmers from Central Casting, these pot-fixated Wisconsin veterans waste no time in hitting their self-medicated groove – a pure stoner delight and a fine way to round off day one.

Day Two and Team B24/7 makes a slightly later start than anticipated, which is solely the fault of the Temples organisers for responding to audience feedback by arranging a proper real ale/cider bar this year. We arrive to catch the end of Torche, who add a welcome melodicism to proceedings. Old-skool doomsters from LA, Goatsnake boast one half of headliners Sunn O))) (i.e. guitarist Gregg Anderson) and consequently pull a huge crowd for an excellent set rooted in heavy blues and early proto-metal, recalling everything from Blue Cheer to the first Sabbath album. The material from their new Black Age Blues album – the band’s first in 15 years – is as good as anything they’re recorded. Respect too to vocalist Pete Stahl, who not only sings conventionally in a festival devoted largely to growlers, but also breaks out the tambourine and harmonica.

If Temples has been lacking anything, it’s Dressing-Up Box Metal. Rather like Ghost without the melody or Lordi without the fun, Portal are a raw Australian avant-death/black metal act who conjure up a suitably infernal, heavily distorted relentless racket. They strive for a ‘cinematic’ sound, and it’s certainly hypnotic if murky and increasingly monotonous. The unfortunate vocalist, who goes by the name of The Curator, is so restricted by his cumbersome mask that he can only wave his arms about a bit. Back on the main stage, Pig Destroyer return for their second set, which proves to be something of a revelation. They’ve got just the one song: the experimental, atmospheric and macabre prog-ambient epic Natasha, being played live for the first time, accompanied by an impressionistic, part-animated film. This immersive experience is as close to art installation as extreme metal gets, with spoken word interludes, huge washes of keyboards, and occasional grinding riffs. If only more bands had the courage to break out of their self-defined genre limitations and take a few risks like this.

Thomas Gabriel Fischer is a funny fella. Back in the early ’80s, the Swiss musician’s second band Celtic Frost were frequently derided and misunderstood by the metal press. But they pretty much laid down the blueprint for all things Temples, creating and adapting the death/black metal template with a restless inventiveness. Then Tom had a brain fart, went ‘glam’, and his fanbase evaporated overnight. Umpteen years on, he’s reclaiming his heritage and forging ahead with his third band, Triptykon, who now find a far more receptive audience. He wastes no time in showing the young ‘uns how it should be done, with a splendidly clear sound mix, superb guitar tone and a well-judged set blending newer material with Frosty classics. Special mention for bassist Vanja Slajh, who is quite possibly the only female musician in the sausagefest that is Temples. Hordes of hipsters promptly materialise from out of nowhere for deified Sunn O)))‘s lengthy headlining set of exceptionally loud, ribcage-rattling, acquired-taste drone metal. Time for bed.

Day three and there’s not a drop of draught beer or cider to be found anywhere on site. A faintly embarrassed barmaid reveals that such was the scale of the miscalculation of metalheads’ thirst that most of the stock was sold on Friday night. Everybody’s looking a bit the worse for wear, but the atmosphere remains relaxed. Imagine the carnage that would have resulted if a gathering of the chav community had consumed as much alcohol.

Tribulation are the closest Temples gets to Sunday afternoon comedown music. Skinny Swedes with a penchant for incense burning, heavy guyliner and guitar hero posing, they appear just a tad out of place but still go down a treat with a set of goth-tinged melodic death metal.

It’s safe to say that few bands at Temples leave their audience smirking. Vallenfyre are the exception, thanks to Gregor Mackintosh’s banter (“Anyone love god? Nobody? Good – this is Cathedrals of Dread“). Who’d have predicted that the guitarist from famously dour northern goth metallers Paradise Lost would turn out to be such a chuckletrousers? His side-project dabble in several branches of extreme metal, excelling at most of them. Yet another band from New Orleans, Goatwhore play straight-up and enjoyable if rather generic heavy metal (“Let’s have your fists in the air like it’s a Priest show in 1984!”), but keep the security bods busy hauling out crowd-surfers. They also have a song called Fucked By Satan, which counts strongly in their favour.

French-Canadian prog-thrash titans Voivod should have been one of the weekend’s highlights. Alas, vocalist Denis ‘Snake’ Belanger’s voice is completely shot, which leaves them a bit below par. Nonetheless, they deliver a great career-spanning set, with the accent on thrashier material. Exceptional guitarist Daniel Mongrain proves an able replacement for the sadly deceased Denis D’Amour, replicating his distinctive style while stamping his own mark on Voivod. They close with their magnificent metal cover of Pink Floyd’s Astronomy Domine. You can’t help feeling that Syd Barrett would have approved, if he’d heard it before he went bonkers.

As an added bonus, an hour-long technical delay on the main stage means that we get to catch the second half of Pallbearer‘s set. The Arkansas quartet seem overwhelmed to have drawn such a huge crowd for their mournful and melodic brand of doom metal, which is about as accessible as this genre gets. Indeed, if you were to imagine Neil Young’s high, reedy voice over the top of it, this occasionally sounds not unlike a slowed-down Crazy Horse. Mightily impressive. With headliners Earth not due on for another 90 minutes and an early start facing us the following morning, B 24/7 scarpers into the night. Same time next year, then, with rather more beer.

Special thanks to my metal-loving nephew Callum for filling in gaps and surviving Sunn O)))’s set.

 

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