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FESTIVAL REVIEW: 2000 Trees Festival 2017

Over the course of a decade, 2000 Trees festival in Gloucestershire has established itself as one of the strongest additions to the UK festival circuit. It may not have the profile of something like Download Festival or Reading & Leeds, but 2000 Trees has cultivated a dedicated regular fanbase as well as continuing to draw in new people each year. In short, much like Bloodstock or Tech-Fest, 2000 Trees owns its audience. Celebrating that ten year anniversary, 2000 Trees in 2017 has put together one of its most eclectic, in some places divisive but also frequently mouth-watering line-ups to date.

PUPPY (Thursday) – Axiom

2000 Trees also has something of an unconventional format compared to many weekend festivals, taking place on the Thursday, Friday and Saturday rather than Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The Thursday furthermore only has two of the five primary stages open, which along with the comparative calibre of the acts means that the Thursday feels like something of a warm-up for the following two days. Nonetheless, the day has some highlights, one of which comes very early on in the shape of PUPPY. They’re one of the most metallic acts on the bill of what is not a metal festival by any means, but PUPPY’s uncategorizable nature essentially allows to fit nicely in almost any environment you put them in. Something in line with a traditional heavy metal band playing WEEZER-esque pop songs but even then a way off, what matters is that PUPPY have even in this extremely early stage crafted a selection of songs that make live sets go by like a breeze. The tightly wound groove of My Tree sits against the pure heavy metal of Waste Away which could’ve come from ETERNAL CHAMPION as much as anyone else on this bill, and they’re becoming increasingly confident as a live band as they indulge their love of the riff. The pièce de resistance comes in the closing Entombed, which has PUPPY’s most memorable chorus along with a juggernaut riff that when allowed to ring out at its climax threatens to bring the tent down this early in the day. Just wait till this band have an album out.

Rating: 8/10

Words: Perran Helyes

ROAM (Thursday) – Cave

Unfortunately, a band who don’t share the same level of freshness and quality are ROAM. Coming off the back of their 2016 debut album Backbone, ROAM encapsulate a great deal of the issues that pop punk as a genre faces in the modern age: a total lack of new ideas and an over-reliance on established clichés. Nothing about ROAM is distinctly their own, the band blasting through a series of totally generic pop punk tunes that ultimately offer nothing to be excited about and leave nothing in the brain once they’re gone. Even amongst some of the most vapid and rubbish pop punk on the market today, at least AS IT IS have Dial Tones. ROAM are not without energy or enthusiasm, and Deadweight receives a strong response with a bustling circle pit and houses a decent chorus, but their contribution to the already over-saturated cliché of the pop punk ballad is particularly bad. A lot of other bands have done this a lot better, and frankly to stay relevant pop punk needs to offer a lot more than this.

Rating: 6/10

Words: Perran Helyes

BLACK FOXXES (Thursday) – Axiom

Opening with a cover of Rocking In The Free World isn’t exactly what’s expected from rising emo stars BLACK FOXXES, but the modest crowd at The Axiom is more than appreciative. The Exeter trio seem to have been everywhere over the past year and a half, playing Slam Dunk, Download France and huge venues up and down the UK supporting YOU ME AT SIX and LOWER THAN ATLANTIS. These 40 minutes at 2000 Trees, though, showcase their desire to shake things up. Focus on the future is at the fore of the short set with new songs getting some of their tentative first airings. Fans dotted among the curious punters are clearly delighted at deep cut Slow Jams Forever’s inclusion in the setlist, but while BLACK FOXXES themselves clearly possess a quietly confident, uber-solid live form (even in spite of the illness singer/guitarist Mark Holley apologises for), this perhaps isn’t the strongest collection of songs they could have played. There’s a significant lull in the mid part of the set thanks to the unfamiliar material that lacks the bounce of a track like Husk (for which the crowd perks up). If anyone in this crowd has seen BLACK FOXXES before today, this set change-up is bound to be somewhat refreshing for them. But for those whose first experience of the band is this 2000 Trees set, they’re yet to see them truly, truly shine as they’ve proved they can do.

Rating: 7/10

Words: Georgia Jackson

FEED THE RHINO (Thursday) – Cave

As could have been predicted a mile off though, it’s FEED THE RHINO that steal the Thursday. Almost exactly a year on from returning from a twelve-month hiatus brought on by personal commitments no longer being manageable alongside the band, it’s good to see not only FEED THE RHINO making up for lost time and rebuilding momentum but that the crowd in front of them has not lost any of their love for one of the UK’s most renowned live acts. RHINO don’t do bad shows, and today they’re unsurprisingly on it. Frontman Lee Tobin is a whirlwind of hairy energy, spending as much time in the audience as on stage, and the crowd goes absolutely ballistic with crowd-surfers in a constant stream and the tent opening up before collapsing into absolute carnage again at regular intervals. The Sorrow and the Sound, the album released just before the 2015 hiatus, is the closest the band have come to delivering songs that back up the strength of their live shows, the likes of Behind the Pride, Deny and Offend and an outrageous New Wave filling the set and detonating like hand grenades. It’s the kind of party-hardcore show that manages to still be hard as hell while being more fun than intimidating for more casual onlookers, and FEED THE RHINO themselves look damn pleased with what they’ve done here.

Rating: 8/10

Words: Perran Helyes

YOUNG GUNS (Thursday) – Cave

In comparison, YOUNG GUNS are an absolute fart. This is a band who have never been interesting and still somehow manage to have their best days behind them. If ROAM are representative of what’s slowing down pop punk, then YOUNG GUNS are of what’s been plaguing rock music as a whole. Everything about YOUNG GUNS is so offensively tame and middle-of-the-road that they make the last GREEN DAY album sound like BAD RELIGION, but even by their standards, latest album Echoes is an apathetic shrug of a record. It makes for a set that is entirely sterile and totally devoid of personality. Half of the band looks bored with their drummer especially looking like he’d rather be anywhere else, and at no point do they manage to rise out of the colourless mush which they’ve created as all edges or potential points of interest are almost aggressively washed away and shunned. This might have passed in 2012 when Bones became a hit, but in 2017 their place in mainstream rock is being challenged by a new crop of bands who actually embrace the facets of rock music that make it great, some of whom are playing this very festival. YOUNG GUNS look flabby and just about ready to go.

Rating: 4/10

Words: Perran Helyes

MALLORY KNOX (Thursday) – Cave

It’s almost sadistic that they’re followed by MALLORY KNOX, a band guilty of many of the same crimes, as Thursday night devolves into a competition to see who can out-bland the other. It’s almost impressive that with that stiff opposition, MALLORY KNOX may well win that contest. Their set is a genuine test of patience. MALLORY KNOX aren’t as built for US rock radio as YOUNG GUNS in their choruses, but they have the same lack of bite and potency, which manages to make their music even more forgettable. Every single song they play feels like eating cardboard while having the rules of cricket explained to you. It’s the absolute antithesis of what this music is meant to achieve at its best, and it’s more than a little baffling and exasperating that these are the bands who for the past few years have managed to get onto magazine covers and reach the top end of festivals like this. That both YOUNG GUNS and MALLORY KNOX make rubbish attempts consecutively at SLIPKNOT’s classic “jump the fuck up” moment is just the icing on a pooey cake. Thank god for the bands lined up for the rest of the weekend.

Rating: 4/10

Words: Perran Helyes

DECADE (Friday) – Main Stage

It seems that people have been sleeping on DECADE for a while. First album Good Luck showcased a band brimming with potential, and now excellent second record Pleasantries is out, they seem set to finally get to the places they deserve – something this Main Stage slot solidifies. This set shows a tightened-up DECADE, and while they haven’t quite developed a truly unique or electric stage presence (although guitarist Connor Fathers’ leaping and bounding around isn’t far off), the songs speak for themselves. The likes of Turn Off Your TV and Callous possess the accessibility, personality and songwriting skill to interest their decent-sized crowd, be it piquing the curiosity of possible new fans, or maximising the enjoyment of the existing ones present. Peach Milk is far and away the highlight of the half hour, combining vocalist Alex Sears at the absolute top of his game and the powerful guitar chugs that make this song completely stick out amongst the more radio-friendly tracks aired today. This set should do nothing to stop DECADE’s slow-burning rise to become possible Radio 1 A-list material, but perhaps pushing themselves a little more could make that rise faster.

Rating: 7/10

Words: Georgia Jackson

FRANK CARTER & THE RATTLESNAKES (Friday) – Forest Sessions

One of the things setting 2000 Trees apart from a lot of other rock festivals is the presence of the Forest Sessions, a stage quite literally in the middle of the forest surrounded by trees playing host to acoustic sets throughout the weekend. The acts that play here range from singer-songwriters performing in their natural element to rock acts also playing the larger stages who deliver stripped back and intimate shows, and today it’s graced by none other than FRANK CARTER & THE RATTLESNAKES. It’s one of the most interesting bookings for the Forest Sessions as an opportunity to see a band and a frontman who have built a reputation on carnage and hell-raising in a totally different light, and the following half an hour is exactly that. It’s a total revelation watching the man who spat his way through GALLOWSOrchestra of Wolves sing – truly sing – with no band and aggression to hide behind, and command these songs and his voice the way he does. His voice has developed a richness and strength while his Josh Homme-esque cool shines through in Vampires and Acid Veins. He and guitarist Dean Richardson run through four tracks from recent album Modern Ruin before closing on two from debut Blossom which impressively they apparently hadn’t practiced, including Beautiful Death aired for the first time in a while steeped in genuine sorrow. It’s a remarkable indicator of just how far this artist has come. This is quite simply something the Frank Carter of a decade ago could not have done.

Rating: 8/10

Words: Perran Helyes

BRUTUS (Friday) – Cave

Belgium’s BRUTUS, one of the few non-British acts at this year’s festival, also offer one of the freshest and most intriguing propositions on this bill. Having transitioned from a REFUSED tribute band into a forward-thinking post-hardcore outfit in their own right, BRUTUS are just a couple of months from the release of their debut album Burst in May, and yet they’re already running circles around plenty of other bands here. While their songs are wild and frenetic in their delivery, BRUTUS are also possessive of a pensive icy coldness tinged by black metal and post-rock that allows a strong emotive heart to shine through. Drummer/vocalist Stefanie Mannaerts is particularly impressive, delivering plenty of strong hooks a tad reminiscent of BLOOD COMMAND’s Karina Ljone, but while beating the absolute hell out of her kit. They’re not fully there as a live band quite yet but for them to be this good this early on with still plenty of room to grow is very exciting indeed.

Rating: 7/10

Words: Perran Helyes

EMPLOYED TO SERVE (Friday) – Cave

There’s not much you can do to prepare though for the kind of sonic devastation EMPLOYED TO SERVE bring. Unfortunately, an absolutely diabolical clash with BLACK PEAKS on the main stage who having toured together this year share much of the same fanbase means that half of EMPLOYED TO SERVE’s support base in attendance is ripped away from them, and the tent for one of THE exciting bands of 2017 is disappointingly half empty. EMPLOYED TO SERVE proceed to flatten the place anyway. They’ve always been a frighteningly good live band as anyone who saw them upstage almost everyone else at last year’s Damnation Festival will tell you, but with the new material from sophomore album The Warmth of a Dying Sun in their arsenal, they’re now almost peerless. DILLINGER, CONVERGE, BOTCH, NORMA JEAN and WILL HAVEN all merge in the unstoppable grooves and turbulent assaults that make up EMPLOYED TO SERVE’s cataclysmically heavy onslaught. Frontwoman Justine Jones and guitarist Sammy Urwin almost take a good cop/bad cop approach to riling up the crowd, Justine subtly challenging them to do more while Sammy openly goads them. Every member though is absolutely ballistic, annihilating their respective instruments but all deeply in tune with the others focusing into one massive attack. That new material is ungodly, the riffs in Good for Nothing and I Spend My Days (Wishing Them Away) so perfectly crafted for maximum destruction. The Warmth of a Dying Sun itself closing the set is simply stunning, its climax opening up and building to an almost transcendental end.

Rating: 9/10

Words: Perran Helyes

SKINNY LISTER (Friday) – Main Stage

2000 Trees always hosts a variety of acts from Xtra Mile Recordings, and SKINNY LISTER have to be one of the most fun. The folk-punk sextet are a welcome change from the usual guitar-bass-drums setup, with the accordion and double bass in their sonic arsenal helping them not just stand out, but manage to maintain an intimacy usually found in the 250-capacity venues this genre is most at home in. Yes, this is a much bigger crowd in a field in Gloucestershire, but everyone here is just as up for a good time as one at a headline show, something the crowd participation during John Kanaka, the band’s sea shanty set staple, proves in spades. While not every song is completely memorable, the band are simply a joy to watch, be it those playing instruments completely giving their all with huge grins on their faces or co-vocalist Lorna Thomas. She acts as SKINNY LISTER’s resident hypewoman throughout, twirling around the stage, egging on the audience and getting laughs all over the place (especially when brandishing the flagon that always accompanies them onstage and declaring it “the seventh member of their band”). Live performances are definitely where SKINNY LISTER flourish, and today has more than verified that.

Rating: 8/10

Words: Georgia Jackson

GREYWIND (Friday) – NEU

There’s plenty of new talent on offer this weekend, and GREYWIND are arguably one of the brightest prospects. The sibling two-piece signed to a major label off the back of their debut single Afterthoughts, embarking on their first ever tour supporting MOOSE BLOOD in April 2016, and both releasing their debut album and playing their first headline show at the start of this year. Confidence exudes from this set at the impressively-full NEU Stage, especially from frontwoman Steph O’Sullivan. Her addressing of the crowd is minimal, but it’s clear that’s because she’s channelling every bit of energy she has into her performance. It’s impossible to tear your eyes away from her. Vocally, she’s nothing short of astounding, and although her voice might not be for everyone, there’s no denying how jaw-dropping her range is. Her delivery of Car Spin and Circle feels genuinely tense and powerful, the poetry of Safe Haven feels warm, while closer Afterthoughts is bound to be the track everyone checks out as soon as they go home. Greywind have certainly increased their fanbase after this set.

Rating: 8/10

Words: Georgia Jackson

JAMIE LENMAN (Friday) – Main Stage

JAMIE LENMAN is one of a small handful of musicians alongside the likes of FRANK TURNER who are so revered by the niche 2000 Trees caters for that he has a campsite named after him (or in this case one of his bands, Camp REUBEN). It makes sense that he seems to love returning to the festival year after year, and as 2000 Trees royalty, he has an enthusiastic gathering of devotees waiting for him at the main stage. What is undeniable about JAMIE LENMAN is that he’s a showman. From the moment he walks on stage he oozes charisma, to the point where when he dons a bright yellow jacket and launches into a tongue-in-cheek cover of QUEEN’s Fat Bottomed Girls (adding “and boys” to the end of the main hook), he totally pulls it off. His own music too has plenty of character and is oddly hard to categorise. New single Waterloo Teeth trades in thick hard rock riffs, The Six Fingered Hand has an almost STRAPPING YOUNG LAD-esque chaotic quality to it, while the REUBEN tracks he chooses to play are rapturously received. Unfortunately the one track built for festival singalongs Pretty Please does not make its way into the set, but JAMIE LENMAN does fine on what is essentially home turf without it.

Rating: 7/10

Words: Perran Helyes

FRANK CARTER & THE RATTLESNAKES (Friday) – Main Stage

Fresh from their Forest Session earlier today, FRANK CARTER & THE RATTLESNAKES’ main set in more familiar territory just feels like a victory lap. For some bizarre reason much like LOWER THAN ATLANTIS are to SLAVES the following day, they’re billed as co-headliner with NOTHING BUT THIEVES despite having a twenty minute shorter set which honestly isn’t really much of a co-headliner, but on the strength of shows like this they would have owned that top spot regardless. THE RATTLESNAKES have turned into one of the ultimate festival bands, able to be placed on any stage at any time of day at basically any festival and turn the place into what feels like their own club show. Frank is continuously cementing his place as an all time great frontman. He incites pandemonium like no other, but unlike so many faceless aggressive punk singers he also understands the responsibility of what that involves. His eyes are everywhere scanning for potential issues, and the moment someone falls or something gets out of hand, he’s immediately able to deal with it. The level of awareness this takes while continuing to put on a stellar show demands respect. And stellar it is, the band absolutely crushing their slot dishing out hit after hit after hit from what is insanely only two albums to draw from. They are a masterclass in making rock music that is radio-friendly enough to draw people in and own these bigger stages, but without sacrificing any of the vigour or intensity that Frank’s carried with him all the way from his GALLOWS days. This won’t be the largest festival stage this band play this high on.

Rating: 9/10

Words: Perran Helyes

THE WONDER YEARS (Friday) – Cave

There are a number of bands in rock music today whose unconditionally dedicated fanbases are almost synonymous with their names. 2000 Trees is hosting a number of them this year (THE MENZINGERS and THE XCERTS for example), but arguably none of them are as prolific as tonight’s Cave headliners, THE WONDER YEARS. Heralded as heroes of the modern pop-punk and emo scenes, their hour onstage is one to make you feel things. There, There manages to be both tender and heart-wrenching at the same time, while the truly anthemic Cardinals is bound to make your heart swell. There could be a note made on every single song played tonight, but the reaction of that aforementioned fanbase, who are out in full force tonight, says it all. A large portion of the crowd are desperately screaming the lyrics to every song as if their lives depend on it. They’re completely wrapped around the little finger of Soupy, who’s as brilliant a frontman as ever, and it feels that everyone in the tent is completely on the same page. There are a few instances, usually with newer material, where the reaction mutes slightly, but tonight there’s just so much love for the people’s pop-punk band.

Rating: 8/10

Words: Georgia Jackson

BEACH SLANG (Friday) – Axiom

“We are BEACH SLANG and we’re here to punch you in the heart” yells frontman James Alex at the start of his band’s Axiom headline set, while NOTHING BUT THIEVES close the main stage. With their soaring emotional rock and completely pure of heart approach to their craft, their position at the top of the tent’s roster feels totally well-deserved, but the mostly tentative nature of most people here hammers home how much of a well-kept secret the Philadelphians are. While the pure euphoria of songs like Bad Art & Weirdo IdeasSpin The Dial and Noisy Heaven would be enough to win the entire tent over alone, it’s Alex that makes BEACH SLANG unmissable. With his wardrobe of velvet suit jackets and bowties and lovably dorky nature he’s not the most conventional frontman in the world, and that’s what adds so much to this set. He’s so uncool and borderline cringy that it’s endearing, and moments like reading a long, surprisingly accurate list of his look-alikes and stopping mid-song because he spat out his breath mint while singing and caught it in his mouth again are more than enough to warm the mostly curious festival-goers in the tent to him. There may be instances where the dicking around and impromptu SANTANA, LIT and RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS snippets get a bit stale, but everyone leaves the stage high on pure joy. With sets like this, the BEACH SLANG secret is bound to get out soon enough.

Rating: 8/10

Words: Georgia Jackson

MILK TEETH (Saturday) – Main Stage

MILK TEETH are the band that truly kick the final day of 2000 Trees into gear. A year and a half on from the release of their debut album Vile Child, they’re in better shape as a live band than they’ve ever been, and it’s obvious to see what the mighty Roadrunner Records see in them enough to swoop in. There’s plenty of influence from the alternative rock bands of the 1990s in their music, but nothing about them feels retro or nostalgic, simply channelling those influences into something that feels fresh and youthful. They look perfectly at home outside with the sun blazing down on them, new song Owning Your Okayness from their upcoming EP Be Nice sounding especially massive in this environment with its sharpened melodies. They’re a band who have obviously figured out their strengths and are moving further in the direction that suits them, favouring the songs from Vile Child where frontwoman Becky Blomfield’s vocal earworms pop the most. Becky is a magnetic presence already, and with new-ish guitarist Billy Hutton more neatly settled into the band the four of them now look like a real gang and a unit with buckets of charm between them. Again, this is another band who are destined to play a lot higher on these stages in future.

Rating: 8/10

Words: Perran Helyes

SVALBARD (Saturday) – Cave

Neither the first nor last hardcore band on Holy Roar to take to The Cave stage this weekend as that label continues to serve as a hub of interesting heavy music in the UK, SVALBARD’s untamed fury is never not exhilarating. Their dual vocal interplay covering both higher and lower but always petrifying registers is a wonderful tool, and the songs from debut album One Day All This Will End are excellent (though the lack of their recently released and best song Open the Cages from the setlist is a tad disappointing). The mixing does quash their more expansive tendencies somewhat leaving them sounding a little one-dimensional despite their songs not being so, and frontwoman Serena Cherry sometimes looks a little like a deer in the headlights between songs despite tearing into them like a rabid animal (news that she’s performing with a stomach ulcer though makes this all the more impressive). They leave though having made their mark, and once again, that this is only a band on their debut album is terrifying.

Rating: 7/10

Words: Perran Helyes

THE MENZINGERS (Saturday) – Forest Sessions

Back over on the Forest Sessions stage, it’s the turn of THE MENZINGERS to give an acoustic set a crack. Where FRANK CARTER & THE RATTLESNAKES’ acoustic set shined though as a chance to see an artist in a different light to the norm and thus as an eye-opener to just how much they have progressed, THE MENZINGERS is an exciting prospect because they seem to so naturally lend themselves to the idea anyway. Like with FRANK CARTER, the turnout of dedicated fans to this remote area of the festival site is impressive, and they’re rewarded with a set that delivers on all it promised. Part of THE MENZINGERS’s appeal comes in their skill for storytelling and enveloping the listener in their songs, effortlessly making you feel the exact thing they feel regardless of whether you’ve experienced it or not, and in this setting the nostalgia of Casey and the optimism against the odds of Midwestern States are all the more poignant. Some older pre-On the Impossible Past songs which don’t always make their usual setlists are brought out in Time Tables and Male Call, and the former especially really shines. These are songs that have as much heart in their most bare bones form as when roaring through the speakers played by a punk band in full euphoric swing. That’s coming later.

Rating: 8/10

Words: Perran Helyes

ROLO TOMASSI (Saturday) – Cave

ROLO TOMASSI’s shows at 2000 Trees and Tech-Fest this weekend are their first of 2017 as they’ve been shacked up recording a new album, but if there’s any rust to be shaken off it really does not show. They are on insatiable form today, Eva Spence leading her bandmates in a devastating display of uncompromising intensity, both sonically and emotionally. Eva is transfixing as she savages her microphone in a manner that balances the feral and the graceful, and when James Spence often moves from behind his synthesisers and joins his sister centre-stage for a double-pronged vocal attack, it’s like watching two ballet dancers front a mathcore band, the two blurs of movements that somehow seem both incredibly precise and totally spontaneous. In many ways ROLO TOMASSI are forebears to many of the vibrant creative forces emerging from heavy music in the UK today, their labelmates EMPLOYED TO SERVE and SVALBARD here this weekend for example owing in part to ROLO TOMASSI paving the way. It’s easy to forget though because they’ve been a part of our musical landscape for so long now that the people in ROLO TOMASSI are still comparatively young, having founded the band when they were teenagers. This is still a band with a tremendously exciting future, and the new song they play demonstrates exactly this, featuring one of the most startling initial bursts of extremity in a set jam-packed full of shocking aural violence. It’s the final two songs though where things step into the truly phenomenal. Last album Grievances is something of an unsung masterpiece, and the delicate jazz flourishes of Opalescent moving into the overflowing dark beauty of All That Has Gone Before is a finale that gives legitimate goosebumps. This is still a band being taken for granted by some, and that is criminal.

Rating: 9/10

Words: Perran Helyes

PALM READER (Saturday) – Axiom

Members of the PALM READER camp have been running around the festival site all day brandishing signs saying that the Nottingham hardcore berserkers will be filling in for SLØTFACE last minute who have had to cancel seemingly on the day. The result is that there are some very confused looking people when PALM READER walk on stage and unleash the kind of unholy cacophony they’re known for, as well as a few excitable hardcore fans who can’t quite believe their luck. Understandably the whole thing feels a bit ramshackle but PALM READER launch themselves into it like an enraged bull. New song Always Darkest is a brutally efficient opener. The debt to THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN is obvious, but the more material they put out the more PALM READER’s own personal touch really shines through. The further new songs they play though hint that the upcoming PALM READER album may be a very interesting one indeed, the songs placing more focus on esoteric melodies and actual singing than ever before. It’s still recognisable as PALM READER, but the difference is apparent when they plunge from one of those tracks into an older song that suddenly sets all dials back to “destroy”. It’s not a set that lasts very long, but when that wall of crushing noise is followed with a simple statement of “Fuck the DUP”, it’s obvious that their work here is done.

Rating: 7/10

Words: Perran Helyes

LOWER THAN ATLANTIS (Saturday) – Main Stage

Following in FRANK CARTER & THE RATTLESNAKES’ shoes of “co-headliners but not quite” are LOWER THAN ATLANTIS, who are riding the wave of another very commercially successful album and an ensuing tour that took them to the heights of London’s Brixton Academy, a respectable milestone for any rock band. Unfortunately today is not quite as emphatic a display that they deserve that top spot, though it is mostly a very good one. They have certainly amassed a collection of brilliant songs that can make for a tour-de-force of a setlist; the issue is they don’t play most of them. The words that feel most applicable to LOWER THAN ATLANTIS shows in 2017 are “disappointingly predictable”; if you go to one you are likely to get the same songs every time with little to no surprises.  It’s hard to talk about LOWER THAN ATLANTIS without seeming like a grouchy member of the punk police, people frontman Mike Duce openly pokes fun at at one point, and it has to be said that for what they have become they slap most of their peers into next week. In Duce they have a focal point who oozes with personality, moments like the slap bass in Words Don’t Come So Easily add plenty of colour, and songs like Emily, Dumb and Work for It are ready made to put crowds like this in the palm of their hands. The thing with LOWER THAN ATLANTIS is that it always feels like you’re watching a band who can do better. The obsession with their 2014 self-titled record remains frustrating, six songs from it appearing compared to a measly two from their first three albums combined, and the same two they always play at that. Moving from the sluggish boredom of Criminal into a wonderful Beech Like the Tree is like a little glimpse of a once fantastic band who aren’t fully there anymore. It would be unreasonable to disregard their present and future, but it’s a shame to see them disregarding their past.

Rating: 7/10

Words: Perran Helyes

THE MENZINGERS (Saturday) – Cave

Luckily THE MENZINGERS are on hand like a breath of fresh air to serve as an exultant reminder of everything that makes rock music great. Despite their time slot slightly overlapping with that on the main stage, the tent is absolutely rammed from the get-go, and what’s more it feels like every single person in the tent has a grin about three metres wide.  On the back of a career best album in After the Party and with the almost as brilliant On the Impossible Past and Rented World already in their locker, THE MENZINGERS’ sets now have not an inch of flab and no notable lulls. It’s simply brilliant song after brilliant song, each of which is greeted like it could be a set closer. That they open with a song off the new album that is neither the album opener nor been released as a single and it makes total sense says it all. Most bands would kill for a fanbase that loves their band quite as passionately as MENZINGERS fans love THE MENZINGERS, and it’s a wonderful cycle of energy that feeds back onto the stage as the band appear to have the time of their lives. The melodies in Lookers, Good Things, Bad Catholics, and I Don’t Wanna Be an Asshole Anymore are simply too life-affirming not to be sung back to them by every voice here, and that’s even before we get to the absolute riot that is Tellin’ Lies. It’s unapologetically joyous from start to finish and leaves everyone here with a high that’s likely to carry on for days or weeks to come.

Rating: 9/10

Words: Perran Helyes

OATHBREAKER (Saturday) – Axiom

It is somewhat jarring then to go from that to OATHBREAKER who are the polar opposite in just about every way but one, but it’s the most important of all: quality. And what’s more, honesty. They draw a predictably much smaller crowd than SLAVES closing the main stage but the people here bear witness to something very special, a band burning at the kind of intensity that only comes along every once in a while. They’re an outlier on the bill in terms of sound but OATHBREAKER on Rheia are capable of stealing the show no matter who you put them with. It’s a record that it doesn’t seem too early to apply the label “all time classic” to, and even so the recording pales in comparison to how earth-shattering, suffocating and psychologically devastating those songs are live. The acapella intro 10:56 stops all movement dead in its track, an audacious way for any band to open a festival set, but as it builds ever so subtly the world outside of this tent seems to freeze and wash out of existence. Then Second Son of R. crashes in and threatens to annihilate the sound system. The songs wind and twist, gorgeous canvases with beauty, sorrow and fury seeping into every element, and frontwoman Caro Tanghe goes beyond being a force of nature onto a whole other plane. The fragile melodies and virulent screeches seem to be torn out of her body against her will as she writhes clinging onto the mic stand for dear life, seemingly at the mercy of the very forces within herself. The atmosphere maybe isn’t quite as magic as on their January headline tour due to the setting, but for OATHBREAKER to deliver – no, exorcise – the kind of performance they do seemingly without fail every single time is unfathomable. They may well be the most consistently jaw-dropping live band in heavy music right now, and it’s an apt end to a festival that is a fine showcase of the state our scene finds itself in in 2017.

Rating: 9/10

Words: Perran Helyes

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