Desertfest 2016 live review – London, various venues

Electric Wizard and co bring London’s Desertfest to the boil

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FRIDAY

Desertfest is celebrating its fifth year in rude and hirsute health by the looks of the crowds genially invading Camden Town. Not only has the festival maintained a coherent identity that can still allow itself some mutant strains, it’s one that’s geared towards music obsessives, as the vinyl stores outside and friendly, chilled atmosphere attest.

Strange things are afoot upstairs at the Black Heart and with their ‘orchestral doom’ gliding between fragile and cacophonous, former Burning Witch cohorts G Stuart Dahlquist and Edgy59’s THE POISONED GLASS -[8] are unlike anything else on the weekend’s bill. As are TEETH OF THE SEA [8]. Their post-punk/noise/disco/trumpet maelstrom might alienate some attendees but it’s 40-odd minutes of brilliant, throbbing avant-rock that’s not unlike being hit in the face, repeatedly, by a breezeblock covered in glitter.

Appearing sans guitar tonight, JK FLESH [7]’s Justin Broadrick opts to flatten the remaining revellers with a set of dub-heavy, beat-driven dirge. Which is great, but it’s probably the wrong festival for it by the looks of some exiting punters. RAGING SPEEDHORN [8] play the Underworld like a punch-up in a boozer but have all the components of a damn good show, pitching their fearsome call-response vocals against a powerhouse of hardcore grooves. At the Electric Ballroom, to say Kirk Windstein is near-indecipherable but intense only goes some way to describe the grinding, mechanical-like drag of CROWBAR [7], opening up a portal to a more hellish interpretation of sludge. “This one is about getting high as a motherfucker,” says Pepper Keenan, before whipping out 90 minutes of blues rock that welcomes the CORROSION OF CONFORMITY [9] frontman back into the fold, jamming out guitar-driven grooves beyond curfew.

Corrosion Of Conformity tear it up at the Electric Ballroom, Desertfest 2016

Corrosion Of Conformity tear it up at the Electric Ballroom, Desertfest 2016

SATURDAY

Wales’s SPIDER KITTEN [6] don’t quite cohere at the Black Heart, despite former Taint drummer Chris West smacking his kit around with aplomb. CONAN [7] usually sound like a stormfront that never arrives while a man in a carpark screams about Warhammer. Today’s Ballroom gig is no different, just faster. Which is good. There will always room at Desertfest for TRUCKFIGHTERS [8] – the sheer fun of their generic, riff-centric desert rock being the reason for its one-in, one-out on the door. MONARCH! [7]’s enervated funeral doom resounds around the Underworld like an affront to the sunshine above, frontwoman Emilie Bresson letting out the dutiful cries of the damned being subjected to torment. Despite being cut one song short, post-metal instrumentalists PELICAN [8], in leaning on older material tonight, are clearly playing one for the fans. And it’s triumphant. Due to an absurd policy of kicking Desertfest out of the Ballroom to make way for the weekly disco, headliners RUSSIAN CIRCLES [9] are done before 10pm – which does at least leave us time to recover from their strobe-riddled post-metal tour de force.

At the Underworld, UNEARTHLY TRANCE’s [8] contorted, claustrophic doom undergoes a series of difficult birth rites, slowly pounding out coarse-textured screeds as Ryan Lipynsky’s bristling vocals have an occult-laden intensity that draw the crowd in like the death throes of an apocalyptic prophet. At a mobbed Black Heart, the skinny, sweat-basted figure of MANTAR’s [8] Hanno looks like a newborn homunculus facing his drummer as the two battle an over-rumbly PA to lay out furious grooves that jack into the crowd’s nervous system, as the room boils over into a riot of moshing, banged heads, raised fists and unadulterated joy.

Mantar lay down furious grooves at the Black Heart, Desertfest 2016

Mantar lay down furious grooves at the Black Heart, Desertfest 2016

SUNDAY

Sunday is for keeping it slow. WITCHSORROW [6] take this idea to almost preposterous extremes, and despite their doom cache their slowness feels almost interminable. Perhaps the UK’s most promising metal act, youngsters BAST [7] aren’t at their best today, but their post-Mastodon, black metal-hued deluge of thorny riffs and shredded throats continues to captivate. German noiserock duo DŸSE [7] are a highlight of the afternoon, sending shockwaves around the Underworld with a slamming, syncopated feast of stoner and alt-rock injected with funny banter. STINKING LIZAVETA [7] are a conundrum of guitar-
frazzled proggy doom rattled out with dexterity. Although having played Desertfest before, laptop-loving duo NECRO DEATHMORT [7] still feel an odd fit. That their risky decision to wallow in their drone-ier material doesn’t backfire is testament, then, to their growing stature. Witnessing the kaleidoscopic hellride that is ORANSSI PAZUZU [9] is like being dragged down a DMT wormhole by the winged, Babylonian demon they take their name from. The Finns are a revelation. ELDER [8] jam, and jam hard. A muscular, bass-driven stoner groove takes charge and causes a thousand people to headbang in slow motion. TROUBLE [9] open with the greatest riff in the history of the genre – Psalm 9 – and their spiritual white metal brings an hour of doom heaven. Although keeping the trad doomers and those with a penchant for flutes happy, BLOOD CEREMONY’s [6] occult/folk meanders are made to look uninspired when compared to what’s preceded them today. You’d be a fool not to enjoy MOTHERSHIP’s [8] blues boogie driven by a heavily-inked guitarist who’s like a mishmash of Angus Young and Matt Pike, bringing a good-time vibe that’s infectious. Texans WO FAT [8] handle their mostly-instrumental psalms like true professionals, showcasing an almost psychic level of guitar interplay. When Justin Broadrick stumbles and unplugs his guitar 10 minutes in, he cracks perhaps the only smile ever seen at a GODFLESH [8] show. Not that things take a turn for the jolly – the duo excel at their groove-infused misery-metal. Twenty-one years ago, ELECTRIC WIZARD [10] played 200 metres from Koko in a biker bar to 20 people. Now almost 100 times as many are crammed in to Koko to watch the psychonauts crush Desertfest with one of the best sets they have ever played in the capital. The likes of Dunwich and Black Mass reverberate to a backdrop of occult, erotic psychedelia as minds are smothered to the point of overload as Desertfest marks another milestone and tripped out, transformative style.