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Desertfest 2015

Sleep and Eyehategod recharge rock’s herbal essence

FRIDAY

A suitably sunny Camden is full of good vibes, trippy t-shirts and a sweet, herbal smell in their air that follows you into the bowels of the underworld, rather aptly as it happens. As pleasant as drowning in bong water, Poland’s unsubtly monikered DOPETHRONE [7] also happen to play perhaps the most unsubtle brand of stoner sludge possible too. But they fucking rip nonetheless.

The crusty sludge of AGRIMONIA [7] initially feels like a raw assault, helped by Christina’s savage vocals, but as their set progresses, the demure Swedes’ subtlety comes out more. When the volume and the setting are right, the rolling thunder of BLACK COBRA [7] can sound like the most apocalyptic noise on earth. Unfortunately, whilst the setting is perfect today, half of the duo’s set passes before someone remembers to turn the volume up./o:p

MINSK’s [8] heavy duty sludge takes moments of softness and plays it off against seriously weighty instrumentation that pounds the soul and engrosses the mind before scene legends NOOTHGRUSH [9] lay waste to the Underworld. Broken strings do nothing to hamper the fire that pours from the Oakland quartet. Hatred For The Species pummels and Noothgrush conquer. While the music is crushing and serious, and there’s a full transcendent atmosphere in the Electric Ballroom, there’s a tongue-in-cheek humour to FLOOR’s [7] onstage banter that gets the crowd engaged fast./o:p

If on record THE ATOMIC BITCHWAX [7] can often sound like Foo Fighters with grazed knees and a lava lamp in the corner, today’s emphasis on jams rather than vocals gets a full Ballroom shaking their collective heads as blues rock gets spun until the colours bleed and spectacular op-art graphics melt what’s left of our minds.

Upstairs at The Black Heart, GONGA’s [7] mostly instrumental jams have an intensity that’s writ across all the band’s faces, but radiate further warmth into a room that’s already doubling up a sauna. Celebrating their 20th anniversary back at the Ballroom by playing 2000’s The Big Black in full (plus a few surprises) **ORANGE GOBLIN [9] **are so quintessentially ‘Desertfest’ it’s almost like the festival was made for them – tonight it may as well have been.

Seeing RED FANG [8] play to a still-packed Ballroom, it becomes easily apparent how they have become a major name so fast. The riffs and choruses come thick and fast, and they have a down-to-earth stage presence that destroys any separation from their audience. Unsurprisingly, they bring the house down./o:p

SATURDAY/o:p

Opening the biggest venue to a hungover crowd, THE VINTAGE CARAVAN [9] prove stupendous, their huge enthusiasm and frontman Óskar Logi’s charisma even more energising than their ace classic rock. The Jazz Café wasn’t built to host rock bands, and whilst MESSENGER [7] aren’t exactly Slayer, the venue’s acoustics flatten out their psychedelic dynamics and restrict their heavier moments considerably.

SUMER [7] prove warmly melodic with their heavy post-metal while back at the Ballroom, BLACK PYRAMID [4] disappoint with poor, lax grooves and vocals that sound strained and weak. Appearing at the Underworld as a trio tonight, BONG [8] dispense with the subtleties and instead opt to summon forth 40 minutes of the most frighteningly transcendental dirge anyone present has ever witnessed. The addition of OBAKE [8] as stage headliners may have raised a few eyebrows, but the Anglo-Italian quartet’s avant-sludge barrage is as captivating as it is crushing. And plenty leave as converts.

With The Black Heart so rammed and hot you can barely see the band at all, HANG THE BASTARD [7] are abrasively grooving enough that you can almost forget how uncomfortable you are – no mean feat. Sadly, BRANT BJORK [6] doesn’t get Ballroom toes tapping as he usually would, with his sleazy rock’n’roll feeling flat and a little on the monotonous side tonight./o:p

EYEHATEGOD [9] receive a delirious welcome and the NOLA legends waste no time in getting down to raucous business. Mike Williams’ voice lines the packed venue in vitriol while the band lay down heavy-duty riffs, crowd favourites and life lessons.

SUNDAY

After the obviously new but highly potent DUNGEON [6] belt out some speedy filth to a healthy crowd at the Underworld, doubling up today as the Hammer stage, the putrid death metal of DECREPID [5] proves competent if a little lacking in personality. Call them retro, call them whatever you like, AMULET [7] are unpretentious NWOBHM fun at its best, and even if QUARTZ [8] sound a little workmanlike this evening, the NWOBHM originals create anthems so unforced and resonant, they tap into a spirit you just can’t replicate, no matter how many younger bands try. The venue is near-rammed for veteran death/thrash troupe and stage headliners CANCER [8], and no bullet-belted warrior leaves disappointed.

If generic, instrumental stoner rock is your thing, then there are few better than KARMA TO BURN [6]. The rather tepid response, however, suggest most at Koko are merely killing time.

Belgians SAILLE [8] change the pace in the Black Heart with eerie, destructive black metal blasts. ACID KING’s [8] fuzzed-out stoner doom is layered with psychedelic visuals and Lori S’s hypnotic voice. Tonight they enthral with a palette that spins out into hazy landscapes, smoky riffs and distorted guitars. Surviving their bass drum pedal breaking midway through second song The Noctuus does THE ORDER OF ISRAFEL [6] credit, even if the hairy trad doom Swedes’ stage presence at The Purple Turtle is too sterile to do their music justice.

THE WOUNDED KINGS [8] and their ritualistic doom incorporate expansive sounds and deadly rhythms into a performance that draws a faithful few. While the venue isn’t full, the Devonshire band play as if to hundreds, and if you missed this, you certainly missed out. Across the road at Koko, UFOMAMMUT [7] suffer their own extreme technical difficulties during their time onstage, taking nearly half an hour to finally hit their stride. But when the Italians get there at last, they’re hypnotic, magical and beautiful.

But it’s no exaggeration to say that for many attendees this weekend SLEEP [10] are the only band worth seeing, and the genre-defining Californian trio don’t disappoint. Immersive, transcendental… there simply aren’t the words to describe the bong-worshipping segments of Dopesmoker, or the cosmically draining new song The Clarity. Tonight is, quite simply, what legendary performances are made of. Praise Iommi indeed.

Going against Desertfest’s main draw, an on-fire ANGEL WITCH [9] can still command a sizeable Underworld crowd, the likes of Baphomet and Guillotine proving every bit as timeless as that song, making sure Desertfest ends on the most resounding of notes./o:p