In a moment of impulse, I decided to return to the endurance test that is Castle Donnington for the first time since 2011. The main draw for me, as you will have worked out quickly was the headline set of Sweden’s finest, Opeth. Okay, headline set on the third stage, but still a headline set and their first in the UK since BOA in 2010. More of Mr Akerfeldt and Co. later.
Accompanied by my gig partner and eldest son Ant, we left home at just after 7:00am with substantial excitement which had increased in the previous days with the rather unlikely promise of dry and sunny weather. As we travelled north, it appeared that just for once the lying bastards at the Met Office had actually produced a forecast which resembled the weather outside my window. Scorchio! Having made excellent time we were parked up in West 5 by 10:15am and ambled towards the main entrance, unable to contain our total smugness as we watched hundreds of campers slogging their gear many miles to the hell of the coloured campsites. No doubt most got in for the headline acts but it would have been a tough call to have made it back for the opening acts.
Bang on time the gates opened and the hordes poured into the arena. Unsurprisingly given their headline status, Avenged Sevenfold t-shirts were everywhere. Ant, in a rare move, changed out of his usual Clutch garb and sported a fine Anathema Weather Systems shirt. Unsurprisingly, we didn't see another piece of Anathema gear, apart from my fleece and Distant Satellites T-shirt (a Father’s Day gift – cheers lads!) all day. I was slightly more in with the crowd, spotting a mighty five other Opeth shirts during the day.
We had a choice of opening bands and opted for Tax the Heat over Miss May I. The Bristolian based outfit were a good choice with their straight forward rhythm and blues based rock well appreciated by the early afternoon crowd. Looking very dapper in their s, the band charged through a swift set led by energetic and charismatic Alex Veale on vocals and guitar. A nice gentle opening for the day 6/10
Moving across to the main stage I gave up the opportunity to watch 80s veterans Tesla in order to check out Crossfaith from Japan. And boy did I wish I had stayed put. Crossfaith were awful. They are everything I hate in the new metal world today. Immediate demands for circle pits and lots of posturing. However, they seem to attract a lot of the younger generation and the reaction on the twitter stream on the main screens later suggested that I’m just old and grumpy. Still, I think they are shit. 1/10
Luckily, as Crossfaith were so bad we were able to catch the last few songs from Bad Touch in the Red Bull Tent. An enthusiastic five piece from Dereham in Norfolk, Bad Touch play classic hard rock fused with a blues undertone and were well worth the 15 minutes that we managed to catch. Some good riffs, catchy hooks and an excellent stage presence, especially lead singer Stevie who has the rock star look. 6/10
One of the finds of 2014 for me has been the band Brother and Bones who blew me away when I saw them support the Temperance Movement at Shepherds Bush Empire in April. An acoustic set from lead singer Rich Thompson at the Temperance Movement’s Cardiff show confirmed that this is a band worth seeing in both electric and acoustic settings. We moved to the Jagermeister Stage for Brother and Bones ‘acoustic set’ which turned out to be a non-acoustic set. Playing a number of tracks from their two EPs, Brother and Bones turned in a highly energised performance with the band allowing Thompson to steal the limelight in the reserved manner that he has. This was the first real highlight of the day with Ant very impressed. Given his penchant for Slayer this is saying something. A massive ovation from the healthy crowd was unsurprising and I’m already looking forward to seeing these guys again soon. 9/10
From the lighter acoustic based sound of Brother and Bones I then wandered back into the Red Bull tent to check out doom merchants Bloody Hammers. For more detail about the band check out Matt’s recent review of their warm up gig. Suffice to say that they would be always be more suited to a day when the weather is overcast and storm clouds are gathering but Bloody Hammers drew a decent size crowd who enjoyed 30 minutes of excellent Sabbath style riffage from the North Carolina outfit with the imposing figure of bassist and vocalist Anders Magna the main visual attraction. 7/10
Meanwhile, fool that he sometimes is, Ant had headed over to the main stage to watch Powerman 5000. As Bloody Hammers drew their set to a close I scuttled across to catch PM5K delivering probably their best known track, Bombshell to a reasonably animated and busy arena. PM5K are fronted by Spider One, otherwise known as Michael Cummings, brother of one Mr Rob Zombie. However, whilst Spider One has some of the Zombie’s energy, clearly his big brother managed to get all of the front man gene. It’s possibly too harsh to rate a band on three songs but what I saw was pretty dire with little impact on me. A mixture of nu-metal and attempted shock rock, it did nothing for me. 4/10
However, the afternoon was about to get a whole lot better as we headed over to the Zippo Encore Stage (that’s the second stage in old money) for Northern Ireland’s favourite sons, The Answer. On St Patrick’s Day I had seen these guys deliver a quite brilliant night of rock ‘n’ roll and I'd also preferred to watch these to Slipknot at Sonisphere in 2012 so you could say I’m a bit partial to a bit of them. Although The Answer can be a bit hit and miss on record it is in the live environment that they excel and once again they were quite exceptional. Opening with New Horizon from their latest release, they had a healthy crowd rocking from the start. The band moved swiftly into Spectacular which is a real anthem and excellent in the hot sun. As usual with this band, the three musicians are comfortable laying down the tunes whilst allowing frontman Cormac Neeson to do what he does best. A natural showman with a mane of blond hair and excellent voice, he captivated the crowd throughout, especially during an extended Preachin’ where he ended up in the front row. Finishing with Under The Sky, The Answer departed to a rousing cheer and the sight of beaming faces all round. Stunning stuff. 9/10
A quick trot back to the main stage for the afternoon’s first real heavyweight action. This was where the day splits had not been kind to us as Black Label Society clashed with The Temperance Movement. Having seen TTM twice this year it made sense to catch up with Zakk Wylde and gang for 45 minutes of electrifying soloing. The problem with BLS is that there is very little to get that excited about. Yes, Zakk has a bag full of tunes, and several were aired here, with Godspeed Hellbound, Concrete Jungle and My Dying Time from the latest album amongst the highlights. However, it is always going to be the Zakk Wylde show and that means numerous lengthy solos. Although Ant reliably informs me that there were far fewer solos than 2012, (he is correct- Matt) Zakk still delivers them in excess which makes it a little tedious at times. However, some of the solos were superb, especially towards the end of the set where he headed down the walkway distributing licks like they were going out of fashion. A crushing Stillborn brought the set to a close and rescued a point in my review. 7/10
A little break for a rest and then dilemma number two. Rival Sons on the Zippo Stage or Dutch outfit Within Temptation on the main stage. Given the exhaustion that was now kicking in, we plumped for fish and chips and a little rest on the hill whilst watching Sharon Den Adel strutting her stuff. A good move it proved too, because Within Temptation turned in a magnificent hour of symphonic metal with Ms Den Adel in superb form. A powerful set which was heavier live than on record included five songs from the recent excellent release Hydra and combined with an impressive stage set and clever tapes for the guest vocals from Tarja Turunen (Paradise (What about Us?)), Howard Jones (Dangerous) and Xzibit (And We Run) captivated the large crowd. Closing with Ice Queen from 2000s Mother Earth, this was an hour of top quality music which received a well-deserved reception. 8/10
As the audience in front of the main stage began to swell, Ant and I moved stage right in anticipation of our move to the Pepsi Max Stage for Anathema. 20 minutes of Rob Zombie preceded this and although Mr Z blasted out of the traps with Teenage Nosferata Pussy, Superbeast and Living Dead Girl in quick succession, there was something missing. Zombie’s voice was off key, lyrics were missed and lapsing into a drum solo after four songs killed any momentum. We left as the solo kicked off so it’s a mini review but I'm afraid that, unlike the previous three viewings where he has killed it, this time it was very much below par. 5/10
And so to the first of the bands I had been so keen to see. Liverpool outfit Anathema have just dropped one of the year’s finest releases with Distant Satellites; a quite stunning piece of work and probably their best ever release. However, the band are reliant on substantial amounts of samples, loops and electronic effects and unfortunately this hampered their performance. As did the sound which saw the ludicrous situation of both Daniel and Vincent Cavanagh gesturing wildly at the sound engineers throughout the set. This impacted on them both and obviously infiltrated through to the rest of the band who must have sensed the tension. Opening with a very aggressive Fragile Dreams, Anathema still turned in a decent performance with Thin Air, The Lost Song Part III, Untouchable Part I and Closer all delivered with style and quality, especially when the beautiful vocals of Lee Douglas were included. Bringing the set to a close with the title track from the latest album, there appeared a collective sigh of relief from the band that it was over, although they conveyed their thanks to the sparse crowd who had tried throughout the set to encourage the band. Slightly disappointing overall. 7/10
Due to the technical problems that Anathema suffered, the headline set in the Pepsi Max Stage was delayed which meant that the assembled Opeth devotees were able to get a full wallop of the opening from main stage headliners Avenged Sevenfold. As the monstrous PA blasted out the strains of Shepherd of Fire, it was clear that Mikael Akerfeldt and co. were going to face a battle to be heard. However, as the opening strains of Opeth’s intro music finally drifted out, the pyro to the left of us was forgotten. Opening with The Devil’s Orchard, Opeth provided an hour of prog, death and rock which was second to none. A crushing Heir Apparent indicated that the band were intent on providing the heaviest of sets. Mikael was in his usual form, dry wit at the ready. “We are doing this all for you … and the money!” A surprise inclusion in the set was Demon of the Fall from My Arms Your Hearse which has a combination of death growl and clean vocals. As the PA from the main stage threatened to drown out any narrative that Mikael tried, he commented “Is that Avenged Sevenfold? I saw them once. I didn't like them!” to cheers from all around. A beautiful Hope Leaves from Damnation was followed by the brutally heavy Deliverance before Opeth finished with the masterpiece of Blackwater Park. A brilliant headline set, flawless in delivery and paving the way for their Autumn UK tour. 10/10
And so we headed out of the tent and up the hill past the throngs assembled to watch the headliners. I’m not an Avenged Sevenfold fan, but we stopped and watched a few songs. One of the few I do like is The Beast and the Harlot from City of Evil and we timed it well enough to catch AX7 blast it out. With a very impressive stage show including tons of pyro, AX7 are a very slick outfit and we could see and hear this. Powerful riffing, close harmonies on the chorus and a frontman in M Shadows who has a set of pipes and a large dose of charisma. We headed off as the dying strains of Unholy Confessions were supplemented by the obligatory firework display. I’ll give AX7 8/10 for the tightness and stage set alone. Their fans are a bunch of tits though. 1/10