Sunday, 23 July 2017

ALBUM REVIEW: Cirith Ungol - "King of the Dead" (Ultimate Edition)

By: Richard Maw

Album Type: Full Length (Reissue)
Date Released: 28/4/2017
Label: Metal Blade Records

It's a very engaging listen, 33 years on and is an absolute must have for any fan of doom- or anyone looking at how the genre started to really form into something (along with the work of Vitus, Trouble et al).  An essential album and a worthy reissue. Enrich your record collection and your life by buying it!

“King of the Dead”(Ultimate Edition) CD//DD//LP track listing:

1. Atom Smasher
2. Black Machine
3. Master of the Pit
4. King of the Dead
5. Death of the Sun
6. Finger of Scorn
7. Toccata in Dm
8. Cirith Ungol
9. Last Laugh (Live)
10. Death of the Sun (Alternate Mix)
11. Master of the Pit (Live)
12. King of the Dead (Live)
13. Cirith Ungol (Live)

The Review

Cirith Ungol occupy a strange place in the book of heavy metal; a true cult band that mixed sword and sorcery themes with classic rock, traditional metal and true doom, all punctuated by Tim Baker's unique (the best word for it) voice. “Frost and Fire” was a good debut- with one foot in the 70s. “King of the Dead”, meanwhile, is regarded by many as their best album, being as it was self produced which gave the band a certain amount of freedom to do what they wanted. The band now occupy a similar space to Manilla Road- cult, underground, quirky and worshipped by their true disciples.

This ultimate edition of the revered album gives a new remastered sheen to the main album and adds on some live tracks and alternate mixes. The album itself sounds... pretty great, actually! This is a well produced record with an unusual sound. The lead work reminds me of Iommi (in tone as well as content), the bass is prominent (as per the debut) and the drums still pack a forceful percussive sound.

Let's be honest, the album is a classic; it's weighty, but never over the top in terms of heaviosity . The songs are there- “Atom Smasher” and “Black Machine” are a fearsome opening twosome. “Master of The Pit” is a doom classic, straying into epic territory- as does the title track. There is some quicker stuff on here (“Death of the Sun”), more melancholy fare (“Finger of Scorn”), an instrumental (“Toccata in Dm”) and the band's theme song. It's a very engaging listen, 33 years on and is an absolute must have for any fan of doom- or anyone looking at how the genre started to really form into something (along with the work of Vitus, Trouble et al).

The ultimate edition comes with the aforementioned bonus tracks- live versions (some very recent, some contemporaneous), alternate mixes and what have you- but as usual, all you really need is the original album- particularly in this superior audio form. The remaster is great and made my old CD sound very wooly indeed. An essential album and a worthy reissue. Enrich your record collection and your life by buying it!

“King of the Dead”(Ultimate Edition) is available here

Band info: bandcamp || facebook

LABEL INTENSIVE: Sounds from the underground with Transcending Obscurity Records

Perception is a curious thing isn’t it?  It is the way in which something is regarded, understood, or interpreted, but our ability to fully appreciate something can be stunted by a lack of knowledge or awareness, or our blind refusal to embrace something without having consumed it first.   Something which is unfamiliar can be scary and as individual’s we tend to stick to what we know, in fear of making ourselves vulnerable, or the target of ridicule from friends, family, work colleagues etc.   

Take music for example, and for the sake of this blog, heavy music. The way that we perceive things is often based on familiarity, oh that band sounds like Sabbath, I’m sure to like it, or the way we perceive a band can be based upon uneducated stereotypes or associations on a superficial level, black metal and churches, nu metal with baggy trousers and so on, but if we take a step back and perceive something without prejudice, by educating ourselves, by absorbing information, or in the case of music,  judging a band solely on the music, as individuals we can transcend these boundaries or barriers to good music and judge music solely on merit.

If we strip away the baggage associated with music, things such as consumerism, or prejudice associated with gender, race, religion culture, it doesn’t matter whether it is popular music or underground music, if we strip it back to its core, if we listen without prejudice or fear of ridicule, then as individuals we can truly have a better appreciation of things and break down barriers.

Why has THE SLUDGELORD gone all philosophical you might ask, because today’s guest Kunal Choksi, is a man attempting to change public perceptions in heavy music,  a heavy metal fan of 20 years, he created a label whose very name Transcending Obscurity resonates with many of the themes discussed, indeed if you take those two words and attach some meaning to them, the very essence of their philosophy is to rise above stereotypes and educate consumers that there is talent  all over the world, yes it may be unintelligible and ambiguous to some, but by giving this talent a voice or a platform, the obscure can rise and hopefully in the process change perception and if that occurs, then Kunal Choksi has succeeded in his mission,
to transcend obscurity. 

Kunal, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

Thank you very much for this interview! It means a lot to us and hopefully our bands can get better exposure. Well, I'm from Mumbai, India and have been a metal head for over two decades now. I've been writing since 2004 and started a webzine called “Diabolical Conquest” which was renamed to “Transcending Obscurity” to signify better intent and purpose. Along the way a record label was started and subsequently even a PR company of the same name. I'm also learning guitar and drums and hope when I'm old and bitter, I can start a band of my own. I don't have high expectations of it but it's some kind of a carrot dangling in front of me that makes me crawl ahead despite being overburdened and stressed already. I dabble in art too but suck and need more practice (and time!). 

What inspired you to start a record label?

In the last decade, it was after having reviewed ALL the releases of this obscure death metal band from Australia called THE DEAD, and even conducting an interview with the band, that I was asked if I knew any record label that they could work with. It then dawned upon me that instead of urging my label friends (in vain) to sign that band; I could do that myself and give them what they wanted. The intention was noble and naive but I suppose I did well for that band eventually. I'm grateful to all the bands that put their faith in me and I can only hope I didn't let them down a lot. 

What are some of the difficulties you have faced and currently face?

The most difficult thing is to convince bands to work with you, especially when you're based in India. It's not my fault that I was born here. I worked my way up and spent countless years trying to push bands without expecting anything in return mostly via the webzine. With my label, I had to face a lot of criticism when I decided to start a sub-label and even distribution legs and work with inexperienced bands. My intention was to give them a good platform and visibility internationally and I think people in the press and even otherwise are not as surprised as they used to be when they come across Indian metal bands after having put out over 30 releases of bands from the Indian subcontinent. Some bands take it all for granted and give you a hard time, as if you're their servant. I get tired man. I work very hard and under depression most of the time. All things said and done, I suppose my work had some result and perhaps some bands are better known after all I did for them. I guess I can live with that. 

What would you describe as Transcending Obscurity's 'vision' or 'philosophy'?

I used to be very anal earlier on and didn't sign bands easily. I was interested in more original-sounding music or what appealed to me in a certain way. I've become more open-minded since but I'm still very particular about the quality. Since the name change to Transcending Obscurity, the intention has been to help them rise as the name suggests and that's why I'm focusing a lot more on the PR part of things than anything else and still prefer to do the PR work myself as opposed to hiring other PR companies (not that I can afford them anyway, haha). 

Are there other labels that have inspired you? Other labels you think people should look into?

Of course there are labels that I keep observing and ones that keep repressing all the time because their sales are so good. Admittedly I've yet to reach that level but I don't have a lot of strong local support nor can I attend festivals like in Europe and have stalls there or travel in vans carrying my merchandise. It's a drawback for sure but with low shipping costs worldwide, perhaps the word will spread and for the sake of getting good music, they won't hesitate to order from India directly haha. 

Tell us about some of TO's earlier releases you think people may have slept on.

Oh there are a few that could've done better but probably due to the year-end timing, didn't as much as anticipated. They'd include this fantastic stoner doom band with death metal influences called ALTAR OF BETELGEUZE, the sublime sludge/doom band from Ireland called SOOTHSAYER, and even the great Finnish blackened death metal band SEPULCHRAL CURSE. There's also this reissue of the old school death metal band WARLORD U.K.'s classic album that's as solid as it gets. I wish the SWAMPCULT album did better for all the effort that I put into its packaging and promotion. Oh well, at least I tried. Thanks for asking that question! Here are their official Bandcamp links - 

What upcoming releases are you most excited about?

Right now I've got my hopes pinned on the Israeli black metal band ARALLU and the stoner/doom/shoegaze band MINDKULT from US, but beyond that, I'm very excited about the upcoming releases of the experimental black metal bands ISGHERURD MORTH (International) and ARKHETH (Australia) who've used saxophone bits in their eccentric music. Even the black/thrash band AFFLIKTOR are very refreshing in their approach and their album will be up soon for pre-orders. There are also releases planned of a couple of unannounced Spanish death metal bands. Then there's this crust band MARGINAL from Belgium and their music flat out rules. And then there's this sludge/doom band from Brazil called JUPITERIAN and they're going to release a stunner as well. It's going to be coupled with the release of the Finnish sludge/doom band LURK which I love. There are also these two supergroups, HEADS FOR THE DEAD and TOWARDS ATLANTIS LIGHTS who're yet unannounced and their music is jaw-dropping. Watch out for their official announcements/pre-orders soon! 

With regards to the bands on the Indian/Asian sub-label, you can look forward to the releases of death metal bands like GUTSLIT and FRAGARAK, doomsters DJINN AND MISKATONIC, heavy metal band KNIGHT (for whom I'm painting the album artwork) and there's also the upcoming release of thrashers EXALTER from our neighbouring country Bangladesh. Somewhere down the line, I also have to put out releases by black metal bands SOLAR DEITY and STARK DENIAL

Tell us about some of the newer bands on TO's roster.

I haven't yet announced most of them but the latest signing that was made public was of this Swedish death metal force FERAL. You can find the announcement link here -

It's going to a mix as always of all styles and sizes. I understand as of now it's difficult to find a niche tag for the label but I hope eventually, people will embrace the diversity and see the consistency in quality. I'll work hard as always and will leave it for others to decide. I've seen too much to be shaken by criticism or setbacks. I fear letting the bands down by not doing enough but I can't control the outcome where it comes to the sales at least. This year hasn't been too good financially with my foray into vinyl which has yet to pick up, but without daring to try new things, I'd never find out for sure haha. The box sets have met with a very good response however. I'm going to experiment with the tape format next. 

What does the future of TO look like, from your perspective?

I've never been able to predict such things but I'm glad to make new friends, customers and have more bands working with me. I hope people will look beyond the country I'm from and give me a fair chance. Again, worldwide shipping for a T-shirt/CD is only $2.99 USD with just $0.99 per additional item so it shouldn't be too difficult haha. 

Thanks once again for taking interest in my activities and appreciate all the help that you/THE SLUDGELORD have offered us! 

Transcending Obscurity Official Site
Transcending Obscurity Records Bandcamp
Transcending Obscurity Records Facebook

ALBUM REVIEW: Goatwhore - "Vengeful Ascension"

By: Jack Taylor

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 23/06/2017
Label: Metal Blade Records


“Forsaken” jumps out of your speakers and down your throat and suffocates and entertains the listener in the best way possible. There’s nothing quite like what this band can deliver – the riffs, vocals and drumming is first class and unique

“Vengeful Ascension” CD//DD//LP track listing:

1. Forsaken
2. Under the Flesh, Into the Soul
3. Vengeful Ascension
4. Chaos Arcane
5. Where the Sun Is Silent
6. Drowned in Grim Rebirth
7. Abandon Indoctrination
8. Mankind Will Have No Mercy
9. Decayed Omen Reborn
10. Those Who Denied God’s Will

The Review:

Goatwhore are a lean, mean, blackened death metal machine and one of the genre’s most hard-working and consistent outfits. Since the release of ‘A Haunting Curse’ in 2006, Goatwhore streamlined their approach and created their distinctive sound which they are well known for today. ‘Vengeful Ascension’ is the Lousianan outfit’s fourth full-length since the aforementioned album was released, with thousands of miles of touring accumulated over this period as well.

The first impressions are decent – “Forsaken” jumps out of your speakers and down your throat and suffocates and entertains the listener in the best way possible. There’s nothing quite like what this band can deliver – the riffs, vocals and drumming is first class and unique. However, the following nine tracks have lead me to believe that perhaps these guys could do with a hiatus. I’m not just saying this because of my great desire to see frontman Ben Falgoust’s other band Soilent Green get back together again, but more due to the fact that Goatwhore are starting to sound a bit stale. Without wanting to be too harsh, a lot of the tracks on here sound like they could have been B-sides from the excellent ‘Constricting Rage of the Merciless’ and ‘Blood for the Master’. I’d go as far to say that unless you’re a Goatwhore diehard, it’s probably worth giving this album a miss and heading for any of the band’s previous four records.

Sure, I appreciate some of the more experimental moments on this album, such as the slower, doomier tracks which mark some kind of progression for the band, such as “Where the Sun is Silent”, but overall, there’s not a lot on here to really get me out of my seat. That being said, Goatwhore are an amazing live band, and should they pass through my town any time soon, I’d have no hesitation is seeing them, even if they played a great deal of this new record.

“Vengeful Ascension” is available here

Band info: bandcamp || facebook

FFO: Skeletonwitch || Soilent Green || Belphegor || Absu

Saturday, 22 July 2017

REVIEW: Human Future - "Flat Earth Blues" (EP)

By: Charlie Butler

Album Type: EP
Date Released: 08/06/2017
Label: Truthseeker Music

This is another thrilling blend of jarring styles that Human Future bring together in seamless fashion.  Although it is a shame to lose such a distinctive voice in the UK heavy underground, the band can be proud that they went out with a bang.

“Flat Earth Blues” CD//DD track listing:

1). IV
2). Swine
3). Axiom
4). None Shall Survive Through The Churn
5). V

The Review:

Human Future’s new EP “Flat Earth Blues” is a bitter-sweet affair due to the band’s announcement of their untimely demise shortly after its release. The UK quintet’s swansong is an ambitious and exhilarating listen tinged with sadness that the potential displayed on this brief but beguiling release will go unfulfilled.

Bookended by two atmospheric keyboard soundscapes, “Flat Earth Blues” is a captivating journey through wild shifts in mood and genre. “Swine” begins in dark post-hardcore territory, an urgent razor-edged groove that comes across like a heavier Self Defense Family. The volume and intensity increases until the music drops away to an ambient cloud of hypnotic repetition and slow-burning psychedelic lead guitar. This soon erupts into a searing solo as the band strike into an epic finale that feels like the perfect meeting point between post-rock and prog.

The other main attraction here is nine-minute behemoth “None Shall Survive Through The Churn”. This is another thrilling blend of potentially jarring styles that Human Future bring together in seamless fashion. The first half of the track shifts between blissed-out choral passages and huge slabs of widescreen slide-guitar assisted heaviness that come across like a combination of Envy and Earth. The second half sees proceedings collapse into glorious controlled chaos, fuelled by some impressive drumming that teeters on the edge between mathcore complexity and all-out grindcore fury

Flat Earth Blues” is a fine parting gesture from Human Future. Although it is a shame to lose such a distinctive voice in the UK heavy underground, the band can be proud that they went out with a bang.

“Flat Earth Blues” is available here

Band info: bandcamp || facebook

11 IS ONE LOUDER: Hair of the Dog drummer Jon Holt discusses his Top 5 Skateboarding clips

On 20/07/2017, hotly tipped Psych Rockers, Hair of the Dog returned with “This World Turns”, their third studio album and their most experimental and adventurous album to date.  As with previous albums, “This World Turns acts as a snapshot of the bands life experiences, but this time it focuses on themes of maturity, responsibility and reflection

Psychedelic Blues, classic rock, hard Rock all are present and correct, harking back to memories of when Thin Lizzy, Deep Purple, Led Zepp and certain Black Sabbath ruled the airwaves. Indeed if you dig the classic guitar sound of the 70s then you’re going to be in luck, because Hair of the Dog (a nod to Scottish classic rock band, Nazareth and a cheeky wink to the trio’s indulgent drinking habits) has you covered.  This World Turns” sees Hair of the Dog yet again crank up the intensity and maturity of their sound to deliver an album that is truly of another world.  The tone of the record is undeniably loud and heavy, but incorporates an atmosphere which is vibrant, full of energy and represents a band with a very bright future indeed.

Today with the album but a few days old in the ether of doom, we invited drummer Jon Holt, to kick back and talk about another of his great passions skateboarding, as we as we take our weekly trip into the extreme and turn the volume all the way up to 11. “This World Turns” is available here

Heavy music and skateboarding have been in my life for a long time. Both go hand in hand with each other. Both are outsiders, both are aggressive, both like to have a good time. Combined in a video part, music and skateboarding can create a visual and aural Gama bomb of awesomeness which will get you hyped to do almost anything; jam with your band, shred a curb or just get the hoovering done finally. So read my brief appetisers watch the links and then grab your Dyson and get some!

Arto Saari

The first and last parts of a skate video are the biggies. And Starting us off with an absolute banger at number 5 is the first part from Es year 2000 classic Menikmati.  The skater is Arto Sarri. The song is “Testing” by CKY. On the most basic of analytical levels you could just say that this video part is absolutely insane and be done with it. The energy of the skating matches the energy of the song perfectly. Arto comes out swinging and goes for death on numerous occasions. The instrumental smash to the senses that CKY deliver with “Testing” almost sounds how skateboarding feels like. On a deeper level I feel that this part represents the underdog. Sarri was then and always will be a skateboarder’s skater but at the time he was not as big a name as some of his Flip and Es teammates such as Tom Penny, Geoff Rowley and Sir Eric of Koston. And then there’s CKY who will always be synonymous with a certain Jackass. But with this video part Sarri and CKY claim a rightfully deserved glory. Sarri definitely received the recognition he deserved after it came out and went on to become one of skateboarding’s most respected skaters.

It’s a blue collar video part; you can tell Sarri worked hard for it. Cried tears of frustration, sweat buckets and bled for it. CKY would not have had much in the way of creative input into the part if any, however I am sure that they would have been hyped that the song was used in this part which is now deemed as a classic in its own right. As much as the part is a violent and aggressive piece of skateboarding, the upbeat nature of the track gives the whole thing a celebratory feel and you can’t help but get swept up in the infectious energy of both skater and song. And that is what happens why skateboarding and rock music collide. A classic part from a classic era of skateboarding.

Greyson Fletcher

We bid a fond farewell to the silky skills of 2000 era Es street skating and say hello sailor to the bearded bowl basher himself, Mr Greyson Fletcher. This is his first Pro part for Elements called, “In Perdition” which was released in October 2015. It begins with the ominous sounds of darkness as Fletcher floats in and out of a vast concrete monolithic snake run. The drone then gives way to riffs, riffs provided by Bolt Thrower. Yes, please! Now whereas with Sarri and CKY the marriage shouldn’t work but does, here with Greyson Fletcher and Bolt Thrower you have a perfect natural match. Fletchers style can be simply described as controlled chaos. Not the most technical wizard ever to roll on four wheels but there is no denying that he knows some dark arts. Some of the skating in this video part is literally death defying. He defies death. Straight up looks death in the eyes and says, “Not today death, old buddy, old pal! I have some more one foot ollies to knock out before we’ll be seeing each other!” It is a heavy, heavy part with a crushing soundtrack and the whole thing makes you want to crack a cold beer grab your board and go realise you’re not Greyson Fletcher.

Chad Fernandez

For those who don’t know, this is how it works; you watch a skate video for the skater or the team that you like and for the skating you know will be insane. You hear the songs and you either know them and think nice choice or you don’t know them and think, who the bloody hell is that? That song is fucking awesome sausages. This is how it went down with my next choice; Chad Frenandez’s part from Globe’s Opinion. This video features the master stroke of White Zombie’sThunder Kiss 65” as a fittingly crusty soundtrack to the crusty but stylish manoeuvres of Mr Frenandez. I could probably just stop writing here and let you click the link, as this part just needs to be seen and heard. However, I shall impart this advice on to thee instead; “Thunder Kiss 65” is now a personal classic of mine and that style of rock or metal is what I listen to the most. This is all because of this skate video part. To be honest if I think about it, this skate part can really take the credit for being a musical seed in my inner consciousness. Which evolved over the years into darker and heavy matter. Without this part there would be no White Zombie and therefore I’d never know what stoner rock was and then never care to listen to Down and Pantera and then look back to their ancestors in Zeppelin and Sabbath and then we would never have Hair of the Dog…so really without skateboarding and this video part there would be no band for which I am writing this top 5 to promote on social media…mind blown…So, don’t make that mistake! Watch this video part and bang your head along to the early stoner riffs which can open the doors to the whole kingdom of riffery! 

Riley Hawk

Penultimate rocking skate part goes to Riley Hawk and his part in Transworld Skateboarding’s 26th full length skate video, “Outliners” released in August 2015. It’s a modern part but Riley Hawks style and musical tastes mean it is steeped in retro fuzzery and riffs for days. Those riffs are provided by Sacri Monti, a band I did not know of until I watched this part back in 2015. After a quick google and a search on my music streaming platform of choice, I have their album at my fingertips and I can say this to those bothering to read this that it’s a beast. It’s trippy and fuzzy but also knows when to be slow and heavy. Go find out about the band and give their self-titled album a listen. I do not obviously know for sure but I can imagine Hawk chose this song himself. He has used Sabbath in previous parts and other retro or actual 70’s stoner rock type tunes. He looks like a guitarist in a 70’s rock band and IS actually the guitarist in a band which plays retro rock called Petyr, as yet not released on my music streaming platform unfortunately but I will be looking out for them! The part is a solid, shredders gnar fest. It feels hot and dusty just like the song and Hawk blasts through difficult trick after insane mind bender like he was just ollying up a curb. He is definitely one of my favourite modern skaters. For his skill, his style, his musical influences and humble persona. This part is a prime example of the new guard tipping the hat the the old guard but at the same time progressing forward into the future of both skateboarding and rock music.

Geoff Rowley

Last but by no means least - because basically you can just forget everything I have just written and all the other videos I have made you watch and just press play on this last one cause it’s the fucking best thing ever – is Mr Geoff Rowley. It’s not a part as such but an advertisement; an Airwalk ad (remember when Airwalks were everywhere!) This is mid to late 90’s footage which I first saw in a 411 video I had when I was around 13 or 14. I had just started skateboarding and 411 was a VHS magazine which opened our naive Aberdeenshire dwelling eyes to what skateboarding was over in its spiritual home of California. This 30 second clip of Geoff Rowley was all I needed to consolidate what I already suspected; I fucking love skateboarding and I fucking love a good heavy riff on a guitar! In those 30 seconds it not only conveys more danger, rebellion and cool as fuckness than all the rest of my top 5, it also makes you want to skate more or grab a guitar or start a band or just go out and fucking live more!

It’s like visual and aural coffee, when I’m not feeling it some days I’ll just watch this clip and it lifts me out of my funk. There is a heat to the footage, it’s dowsed in summertime, making you yearn for those lost adolescent days of just hanging with your mates, drinking some beers, skating and listening to good music. It is heavy music and skateboarding in perfect unison. That music is the opening riff from “Sink with Kalifornija” by Youth Brigade. The skater is Rowley. And the rest is history…

Band info: Facebook  || Bandcamp

LIVE REVIEW: SOS Festival, Manchester, July15th 2017 Blaze Bayley Headlining

By: Richard Maw

As many readers of the blog will know, Blaze Bayley has featured twice recently; first for a review of his two latest (superb) albums and again for an interesting and detailed interview about his creative process and touring plans. As Blaze was headlining the tenth anniversary of the independent SOS Festival in Manchester, I thought I would go along and complete our series of features with a live review. With a day ticket at only £10, and three days for only £15, the festival represents serious value for money. Unfortunately I could only make the middle date- so it was off to Manchester once family commitments were completed to catch as many bands as I could.

After I had bought my ticket and completed the interview with Blaze I was offered a press pass to complete some interviews to really get a flavour of the festival from both a fan and band perspective. Blaze's manager Mark Appleton is the head honcho at Rocksector Records and he and the team had put together a strong and cohesive bill for each day.

Housed this year at The Longfield Suite in Prestwich, Manchester, travel was easy; straight off the motorway and free parking! The venue itself was excellent- great sound, decent bar, good food, a selection of merch stalls... all boxes ticked. Even the toilets were clean. The atmosphere and vibe was friendly- clearly there were a lot of folks who knew each other, but that is not a bad thing; no trouble here, that was for sure.

Well, on to the music: I arrived just in time to watch Primitai after being given my press pass by the very hard working Heather, who was running interview slots and generally shepherding people around. Primitai delivered- new rhythm section in place- a tight and focused set which was not dissimilar to the energetic performance I watched the band turn in at High Voltage Festival in London, 2011. Front man Guy Miller worked the crowd with aplomb, a muscular vocal and physical presence. Three albums in, the band are back and revitalised. I spoke to Primitai's Tipton/Downing (or in this case Srjdan and Sergio) team about where the band have been and where they are headed to now, along with their thoughts on the day:

What's your experience been like of SOS Festival today?

Srdjan: Yeah, it's been excellent. We always appreciate playing a festival which gives bands a chance to play. There are some big guns headlining and it has been a great experience so far: really well run, really good sound guys and stage hands. It's world class!

With three albums under your belts, how do you choose the set list?!

Srdjan: When you have released an album you establish pretty quickly the sort of “hits” if you like. We throw in album tracks, sometimes. At a festival, we try to hand out the hits- I say that in inverted commas! We're an underground band.

Sergio: A good thing is most of the songs, the audience really liked, so...

Album number four, can you give us a glimmer of when it might get here?

Sergio: Well, one thing we have realised over the years is that you have to keep up the momentum. We have booked the mastering for January, so we have a pretty tight deadline. If all goes to plan it should be out in May next year.

Last time I saw you guys was at High Voltage in 2011.  What are the difference between playing a big commercial festival like that and an underground festival like this?

Srdjan: It has been top notch here. This is no difference in terms of efficiency of running things. The sound was actually better here! The only difference was that it was bigger and we had to get taken to the stage in golf buggies.

Sergio: For me this has been the best time!

What are your touring  plans for next year?

Sergio: We are going to try to get on bills like this a couple of times a month. It's hard to schedule a week long tour.

Any bands left to play with who you haven't? A wish list is fine!

Sergio: For me, Symphony X

Srdjan: The legends: Accept, Saxon, well we have already played with them but I'd love to do it again!

Highlight gigs of this year?

Srdjan: We did a headline gig in Reading where I grew up. A pretty full venue and the crowd were great. Coming back ten years later was great. SOS festival has been great too.
Sergio: I really like festivals. I think for me, when we released the album the crowd was close- really close to us and I really liked it. After what the band had been through- we made the album!


Next up was Die No More, straight out of the metal Mecca of... Cumbria. I enjoyed their set hugely; turning is as they did a set of thrash/trad metal; mid-way between Priest and early Metallica/Testament. The band played hard and really won the crowd over, whose volume increased as their set went on. I must admit to never having heard the band prior to this gig, but I was impressed. Their closing self titled anthem was a festival highlight for me as the band got the crowd going and fully involved. Band's like Die No More are around in the UK underground- you just have to hear about them and a festival is the perfect way of doing so.

I caught up with bass player Martyn Simpson and lead guitarist Kev Smith after their set about the band's journey:

What has your experience been like!

KS: Hot. Hot and awesome!

MS: Very good crowd. Very receptive- a lot of fun.

KS: We played two years ago and we got a great response. This one was a great show. I think it got better as it went along.

Explain a bit about what the band is about, what genre you are operating in and what your inspiration is for doing it?

KS: A lot of people have labelled us thrash, but we are kind of between...

MS: Not everything is full tilt. There is a lot of stuff in between. With the EP we did there is a lot of melody and choruses.

KS: We got into the melodic side of it. Now we still have that thrash side, but we always had in the back of our mind to have catchy parts.

MS: It went away from “right we have a riff” to “How do we build around this?”

KS: We have the heavy side and the melodic edge.

What is next for the band?

KS: Well it's funny you should say that, because this is our last gig for a while! We have been at this for five years non stop and we need a break from the band. There have been times... how many times have holidays with family and this and that been put aside?!

MS: It's one of those never say never things. We're not going to stop playing music.

KS: We think we have written some great songs with the band and we don't want to lose that. We have built up over years of hard work. We just need some time to re-charge the batteries. We can count on one hand how many times we have cancelled a gig- really!

How did you move out of Cumbria to playing elsewhere?

KS: Well, Cumbria is one of the places where we least play! We went to Manchester a lot. We have been all over the place; Europe, down south, Wales, Scotland. If you can meet another band that likes you- we met Absolva. They took us under their wing and took us to Europe. Getting help like that is a massive boost.

MS: Great bunch of guys. Had a lot of good times.

Dream gigs: who would you play with?

KS: It could never happen for obvious reasons, but Pantera! I used to love that band and I still do.

MS: For me it would be Maiden!

Tough support gig there!

KS/MS: Oh yeah!

Are there any bands out there that you could recommend to readers of SLUDGELORD?

MS: Hellion Rising from Newcastle. Groove based, but a lot of Sabbath in there. They are on it every gig.

KS: A Jokers Rage and Massive Wagons.

Thanks guys.

Next up were Pythia, who I missed  most of  due to interviewing (from what I saw, they were professional and theatrical symphonic metal), so it was time for food and a patient wait for Northern Ireland's Screaming Eagles. Bearing in mind that Blaze Bayley was headlining and Primitai and Die No More are at the, shall we say, start of  the harder edge of the metal spectrum it was an excellent change of sound to hear these Norn Iron lads crank out some no frills hard rock. Coming on string with a mix of AC/DC and G 'n' R, these boys played an energetic set of world class sounding songs. From opener “Ready For The Fall” to the excerpt of “It's a Long Way To The Top”, they didn't put a foot wrong. Why they aren't up there with countrymen The Answer and the likes of Airbourne, I have no idea.

In between bands the festival has a second stage at the back of the hall, featuring acoustic acts only. What a great idea! I caught Gemma Fox and Bad Pollyanna who turned in entertaining short sets and kept the crowd's attention, armed with nothing more than acoustic guitar and voice. Credit to them.


Finally, the headliner was set to take the stage. Come 9.30pm, Blaze's side men (made up of members of Absolva) blasted into the title track from “Endure and Survive”. Blaze made a dramatic entrance, announcing his intentions to kill with metal in menacing style, before working the crowd with all the energy of a man who has fronted the greatest band in metal. From there, there was no let up; “Escape Velocity”, “Fight Back” and “Dark Energy” all featured. Blaze's era of Maiden was very well represented by “Futurereal”, “The Clansman”, “Man on the Edge” and “Lord of The Flies” (which closed the show). The band played the songs with bags of energy and quickened the tempos here and there to keep the momentum of the show going. Martin Mcnee played an engaging drum solo, while Karl Schramm handled bass parts very solidly indeed. Chris Appleton, the band's not so secret weapon shredded for all he was worth and was joined by brother Luke (also of Iced Earth) for the show's final songs.

Blaze himself was in full voice, entertaining the crowd and offering up some very heartfelt thank yous in between songs. Wolfsbane'sManhunt” even made its way into the set. With thirty years of songs under his belt, the set list was very well paced and cherry picked much of the best of his work; “Silicon Messiah” was represented, but notable for its absence was anything from “The Man Who Would Not Die” (one of his finest records). Frankly, though, to nit pick about a set list for a one and a half hour headline show would be ridiculous. The set was a triumph and I did not hear one word of dissent from people after- all enthusiastically agreeing that that it had been a triumph. Blaze immediately came out to the merch booth after playing- not so much as a breather- and began signing records, taking photos with fans and generally being an all around nice guy.

To sum up then, for £10 I got to see four and a bit bands, two acoustic acts and had a great day out. I was actually very kindly placed on the guest list for all three days, but I just could not do the Friday or Sunday; it's my loss, as I would love to have soaked up more of what the festival had to offer. This was undoubtedly the best independent festival I have attended in the UK and represented absolutely superb value for money.

If you fancy a metal fest next year and you don't fancy paying silly money to get piss wet through in a field in the Midlands, then get yourself to Manchester and try out bands in a friendly setting for true fans. Highly recommended.