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Sonisphere 2014: Airbourne, Devin Townsend Project & Gojira

A storming trio set the scene for our final day at Knebworth - all excelling in their own, very different, rocking ways

The proportion of Metallica T-shirts may be high (in anticipation of tonight’s headliners) but the number of L’Enfant Sauvage ones also present gives some idea of how much favour Gojira have garnered in recent years. The 11am punters flow like sheep into the Apollo stage arena - held back by crowd barriers for a delayed start. But oh what a relief it is when the French metallers finally do get going - what a lovely, thrashy, progressive relief.

Ruthlessly tight, machine-gun rounds of blastbeats meet Tool-esque atmospheric textures, while brilliantly groovy axework accentuates their visceral allure - nodding to the likes of Pantera, Meshuggah and others. “It’s time to wake the fuck up!” frontman Joe Duplantier roars in the wake of The Heaviest Matter Of The Universe, not that there’s any suggestion his group’s prog/death/groove hybrid has left anyone dozing. Occupying the Exorcist end of the death vocal spectrum (rather than the Cookie Monster one), Duplantier leads a ferocious but highly intriguing, engaging force.

An immensely satisfying face-full of intelligent brutality, from a group who manage to charm without straying into corny territory. Cracking. [8]

Devin Townsend, however, embraces ‘corny’ - this is a guy who encourages crowd group hugs after all. “We’re playing at the Albert Hall next year!” he announces. “It’s going to be like this, but with puppets!” Indeed a few Ziltoid puppets are already out in force among today’s audience, their boggle-eyed little heads bobbing away as Devin and co hop, skip and bound into the soaring likes of War.

The wide-eyed ferocity of Devin’s extreme metal days with Strapping Young Lad gleam through his latter-day, new age-infused metallic rock stylings. But as a festival presence he’s all about the ‘nerd’-championing, the beguiling stage banter (“here’s the part where I babble heavy metal rhetoric at you, right?!” he cries, before a strident Supercrush) and - happily - the super-sharp slick, heavy performance.

An unusual act, but a true original with a welcome sense of quirky humour. [8]

The sun’s well and truly out, suncream flows and suddenly it’s time for Airbourne. Ahh Airbourne, part of us wants to be more cynical about your bombastic stage antics, and your unabashed AC/DC devotion. But then again we’re at Sonisphere, the sun’s out, we bloody love AC/DC, Joel O’Keefe and co are playing like their lives depend on it… So actually, we’re happy to revel in their all-hail-the-’A’-chord panache, and save any concerns about predictability, durability and repetitive nostalgia for the next album.

Not that we necessarily need worry, mind you. Cheap Wine And Cheaper Women, for instance, boasts a deliciously swaggering, sexy riff - indicative of more heavyweight rocker prowess. Elsewhere _Too Much Too Young Too Fast _rocks like a mad, happy Aussie bastard, built upon by the beaming likes of Girls In Black.

A toast to the late Rik Mayall is proposed, Joel climbs the rigging (of course he climbs the rigging), Joel opens various cans of beer with his head (what rock n’ roller doesn’t want to open a can of beer with their head?!) and before you know it they’re bidding a raucous farewell with a quality Runnin’ Wild.

Pure, silly rock n’ roll happiness. [8]

Polly is Features Editor at Classic Rock magazine, where she commissions regular pieces and longer reads (including new band coverage) and writes a few things. She also writes for Louder, Prog and Metal Hammer, and talks about songs on the 20 Minute Club podcast. In her spare time she writes fiction and cooks.