Sonisphere 2010: Day Three review

After two days of amazing tunes and brilliant weather, the final day dawned on a Knebworth trembling with anticipation, itching for the all-important Iron Maiden set. Here’s how the day panned out.

Making an extremely early start was the spoken word tour de force of Henry Rollins (9). Unabashedly proselytising for an hour, the former Black Flag vocalist is an utter delight to listen to, even if you disagree with every word that comes out of his mouth. Storytelling is as much of an art as crafting a good song, and Rollins is a master – taking some incredible experiences from his life, livening them with large doses of humour and irony, going off on seemingly tangential anecdotes but always returning to his liberal political sermon. The idea of Henry Rollins speaking to you for an hour might seem absurd, but it is well worth your time and money.

Much more disappointing are The Defiled (5), who play extremely generic screamo songs. To give them credit, they are fairly interesting to watch, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone flip their keyboard in the air before, but a complete lack of songwriting makes them difficult to stomach for too long. No such worries for Rise To Remain (8) though. There has been a lot of hype around them recently, much of it hyperbole, but the London-based five-piece play with a thunderous vigour well beyond their years. Vocalist Austin Dickinson is the son of a certain Bruce and has all the stage presence of his father, maybe even more so, and Ben Tovey and Pat Lundy do a jaw-dropping job on guitars and drums respectively. There is absolutely no doubt they will go on to become one of the biggest British bands of the current generation.

Madina Lake (6) are in a horrible position right now – bassist Matthew Leone is in hospital with serious head trauma after trying to stop a man from beating up his wife. A third of Matthew’s skull had to be removed to relieve the swelling in his brain, said vocalist and brother Nathan. Given the circumstances, it is amazing they played at all, so we’ll forgive them a largely forgetful performance and hope Matthew recovers fully.

Sacred Mother Tongue (8) are another up-and-coming British band who have been tipped for bigger things, and with this set it’s easy to see why. The Northampton quartet might only have one long player under their belt, but you would never guess from the self-assured swagger with which they strut about and play their songs. Bassist Josh Gurner might look about 12, but he can rock with the best of them and produces a dexterous display of bad-ass bass-play. Meanwhile, Japanese genre-hoppers Dir En Grey (8) put on one of the more intense shows of the weekend. Just like with their music, the live performance can take a few songs to get into, but the perseverance is rewarded with a performance that will make your hair stand on end. Vocalist Kyo sounds quite literally possessed and his astonishing ability to go from a deep growl to a blood-curling rasp will scare the bejesus out of you.

Pretty soon, though, it’s time to head over to the main stage for a blast of Slaytanic tunes. The intro to ‘South Of Heaven’ comes up on the PA and in next to no time the entire arena is going ape-shit to Slayer’s (8) soundtrack to the apocalypse. The set includes all the classics we’ve come to expect as standard and Araya, unable to headbang anymore, just stands grinning as he surveys the carnage he has orchestrated. It’s a strong performance, but does feel a bit by-the-numbers and lacking that little extra you know Slayer have in reserve somewhere. One band that certainly doesn’t keep anything in reserve is Kvelertak (9), our revelation of the weekend. How many ways can you say brutal? The six-piece hail from Norway and win points straight off the bat for not living up to the black-metal corpse-paint cliche that is so prevalent in bands emerging from that part of the world. Instead, they combine every imaginable flavour of heavy – hardcore, punk, black metal, rock n’ roll and whatever else you can think of. Every band says their sound is unique but Kvelertak honestly defy all classification. Their songs consist of a ton of incredibly catchy, often melodic riffs played at stupidly breakneck speeds, assisted by death metal style harsh vocals and very loud drums. Every song is in Norwegian so you probably won’t understand a word of it, but who cares? When a band comes out of nowhere and plays a set that is like doing the tango on a minefield, you just stand back and hope all limbs are still intact at the end.

Heights (6) are a disappointment because they fail to excite. This is a home show for them, and the nerves are clearly jangling. They hit their stride pretty soon and are obviously keen to impress – everyone is running about and vocalist Thomas Debaere jumps into the crowd for a scream-along every chance he gets –  but the trouble is it’s hard to remember any of it after they’re finished. Sadly, despite all the effort, even the performance itself doesn’t get the adrenaline pumping. Then again, these kids have only just begun so the best is definitely still to come. Blast from the past The Cult (8) are still sounding great and still know how to show everyone a good time. Their wonderful rock n’ roll groove that only the sternest among us would be able to turn a deaf ear to makes for a thoroughly enjoyable set, even when the PA cut out midway through their set for a few seconds. Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy pretty much embody the idea of rock star cool, more than ably matched by a thunderous performance by Johnny Tempesta. The quintet still have it, if you ever dared doubt them.

Another inspired performance of the weekend comes from The Ghost Of A Thousand (9) who start off in 7th gear and don’t slow down until the end of their 30 minute set. If you’ve heard their music you know it’s a loud and raucous brand of punk, but doing it on a record is one thing and doing it just as loud and rabidly live is quite another. Have you ever tried blowing a grenade in your face? Well, you can safely assume this is what it would feel like. The words ‘slow’ and ‘breather’ don’t seem to compute for the fivesome from Brighton and everyone can only stagger out afterwards, having gone completely nuts like a supercharged pinball machine during their set.

Which brings us to the indomitable Iron Maiden (9). This was the homecoming to end all homecomings – Maiden’s only UK performance of 2010 and hot on the heels of a world tour that has seen them go everywhere from India to New Zealand. They’ve also got a new album all set for release and rumours are abound that it will be their last. For the first time all weekend, the entire arena was desolate as every last weary pair of legs planted themselves in front of the main stage for the biggest draw of the festival.

So there was no pressure on the reigning gods of metal then.

Did the actual show live up to its billing? Yes and no. The performance was great, of course – you don’t become living legends by bottling it at big home shows. The set list was, as expected, largely from the last decade with a few choice cuts from years gone by thrown into the mix. And they played it as well, as energetically and with as much verve as you know Iron Maiden can.

But standing there, watching Bruce Dickinson dedicate ‘Blood Brothers’ to Ronnie James Dio, you couldn’t help but think the age might just be starting to show. The new track, ‘El Dorado’, has received a mixed response and the more critical are already wondering if Maiden have anything fresh to offer. Thinking back to the previous day and the utterly dazzling spectacle that Rammstein put on, it soon becomes obvious that the Germans have upstaged the Englishmen (on English soil, no less). Iron Maiden can, and did, put on a good show but maybe they are finally reaching the point, after years of dominance, where their throne will be usurped.

Read the review of Day One and Day Two, as well as the fans verdict and the Sonisphere top five


About Abhijeet Ahluwalia

Abhijeet Ahluwalia – I’m a freelance journalist who goes back and forth between London and Bombay. A huge metalhead, but I have an eclectic taste, from reggae to punk. Oh, and Manchester United are the greatest team in the world. Follow me on Twitter or drop me a line via Email.

3 Responses to “Sonisphere 2010: Day Three review”

  1. Dio died. and they dedicated a song to him. that makes them outdated? i thought maiden outdid rammstein based on their musicianship. sure rammstein had more pyro and what not… but i went for the music.

  2. What Sam said

    Also, get a decent captcha

  3. Just got to disagree with your Iron Maiden review – they were brilliant as usual. Even my son said that they were better then Rammstein. Sorry you were wrong there – maybe expecting too much