The hottest weekend of the year and I headed up to Leeds for one of the hottest metal shows of the year - the second Ritual Festival which boasted a line up of absolute crushing heaviness and violence.
A carful of us set off from Cardiff early in the morning getting to Leeds around lunchtime. After checking into the hotel and a short taxi ride we arrived at the Canal Mills venue just before 2pm. The venue itself was brilliant - an old converted mill with plenty of space both indoors and outdoors. The main room was set up for the main stage, merchandise stalls and bar whilst a small room off to the side hosted the second stage. A sizeable outdoor area provided plenty of seating which was well used due to the fantastic weather on the day. A couple of very tasty food stalls were also located outside.
After getting my wristband and grabbing a severely overpriced drink I wandered into the second stage and caught the last couple of songs by opening band of the day Groak. This local Leeds band played an absolute crushing set of filthy sludge metal. Even though it was very early on the band had a fairly decent crowd watching. Unfortunately I only caught the last two songs of their set so don't feel I can give the band a fair score.
Next up was the first band of the day on the main stage the mighty Conjurer (9). Conjurer are one of the most exciting and essential bands in the UK metal scene right now and their short but amazing set proved just why. The band have a sound that almost defies classification as there are so many different and varied influences which the band pull upon but manage to mix together and make a sound that is very much their own. A fantastic sound complimented the bands mix of crushing sludgy riffs, atmospheric soundscapes and moments of sheer utter chaos. A great way to get this festival really going.
With such a packed out day of bands and no breaks there was no way I was going to be able to watch every band on the line up so I took advantage of a food, drink and sunshine break before heading over to the second stage to catch Corrupt Moral Altar (6). The bands mix of sludge and grindcore got the crowd going and the band had bagfuls of energy on stage but unfortunately a terrible sound mix marred what could have been a fantastic set.
Next band of interest to me were Crepitation (8). I have been waiting years to see this band ever since one of my friends showed me their material on the North-West Slam Fest split and they did not disappoint. The band play an absolutely over the top style of brutal slam death metal with some of the most ridiculous vocals you will ever hear in extreme metal. The sheer joy of their performance was the fact that the band know they are silly and totally play up to the fact getting one of the most fun and bonkers crowds of the day. The sound wasn't perfect but it didn't need to be with the sheer amount of energy and fun that Crepitation brought to their performance. If you like insanely brutal music with a sense of humour then Crepitation are a must see band.
Heading straight over to the main stage next up were Bossk (7) who provided a vast change of pace and sound. Opening with a build of shimmering post-rock guitars the band slowly but surely ramped up the heaviness with their atmospheric sludge metal sound. The band laid down a performance that was both crushingly heavy and atmospheric but after the barrage of blastbeats and brutality I had not long witnessed I found it difficult to adjust to this change of pace. A commanding performance though which went down well with the majority of the audience.
Due to some earlier bands overrunning or starting late due to technical difficulties the day was running a bit behind but it was ensured that no bands played over each other so it was straight back over to the second stage for The Afternoon Gentlemen (9). These Leeds grindcore madmen can always be relied on for a great show and this was no exception. In fact it exceeded my expectations turning out to be one of the highlights of the day. Absolute savagery, carnage and chaos played with passion and precision and with an audience hungry for blood. Absolutely sublime stuff.
Next up was my most anticipated set of the day - the mighty Anaal Nathrakh (7). Further delays due to technical issues had me almost salivating with anticipation so when they finally did hit the stage it was disappointing that the sound was so awful that I couldn't recognise the song they were playing. Also they were a guitarist down due to flight issues but not wanting to disappoint the audience the band performed as a four piece. As the set progressed the sound did improve but it was far from good with the bass cutting out for an entire song. It seemed the universe did not want Anaal Nathrakh to perform this day but the band were having absolutely none of it and forged on regardless belting out tunes such as Hold Your Children Close And Pray For Oblivion, Forging Towards The Sunset, Depravity Favours The Bold and In The Constellation Of The Black Widow. The band get ten out of ten for effort but the sound issues definitely did spoil their set.
Another break was needed so more overpriced drinks and a sit down outside was had before heading back in for All Pigs Must Die (9). Friends have raved to me for years how good this band are live and all their hype was completely justified as All Pigs Must Die played an absolutely jaw dropping set. With a sound that mixes elements of crust punk, death metal and grindcore their set was a masterclass in heaviness and a demonstration of a band at the absolute top of their game. New material was played which absolutely slayed so anticipation for the new album is very high indeed.
After what seemed like an everlasting queue at the bar I managed to scream into an incredible packed out second stage for a few songs of Misery Index. This was easily the loudest and sweatiest set of the day with an audience spilling out of the doorway and a crowd absolutely hungry for some death metal devastation. With the best sound produced on the second stage all day the band whipped up the crowed into a sweat drenched fury. Being an old git I only managed to survive the heat, chaos and sheer sonic levels for only a few songs so cannot justify scoring the band. What I saw though was utterly brilliant.
After a day of sheer heaviness, brutality and more blastbeats than I can count it was time for the days headliners the legendary Emperor frontman and progressive metal mastermind Ihsahn (9). It was an interesting choice of headliner considering the extremity of the music that had gone on beforehand throughout the day. The band seemed to be suffering power issues which delayed the set considerably with a visibly stressed Ihsahn apologising to the crowd about the delay but when the band finally started the crowd and myself were in absolute awe. A fantastic sound elevated songs such as Hiber, Until I Too Dissolve, Pressure, Frozen Lakes On Mars and My Heart Is Of The North. Very little was played from his early albums but this was more than made up for by the quality of songs played from his later albums. A fantastic end to the day.
Overall I have to say that Ritual Festival was very enjoyable. There were many sound issues and technical problems throughout the day which spoiled some sets but didn't ruin the overall experience. The venue itself was brilliant reminding me of a smaller scale Motion/Marble Factory from Bristol. The bar really needs sorting out though. The only beer or ciders they had were in cans which were £4 each and the selection was pitiful. This is a fault of the venue though and not one that can be directed towards the festival. If there are to be more Ritual Festivals then I can highly recommend visiting especially if your taste in metal is more on the extreme end of things. Roll on 2018!