There is nothing like a bit of progressive metal in the morning and scratching that itch are natives Xerath. Taking the progressiveness of Devin Townsend and modern Dream Theater, attaching it to Meshuggah's heavy guitar riffing, spraying some death metal over it while drowning it in symphonic metal marks the band as undisputedly unique. Guitarist Conor McGouran is a key focal point of the band as his musicianship provides a backdrop of varying textures. Unfortunately, technical difficulties see him bolt off stage mid-song, leaving the band devoid of guitar. It's a good five minutes before he returns, allowing the band to continue their set and the audience tolerates this. Technical issues aside, Xerath have no issues in falling under the banner of crowd-pleaser.
At a festival, grindcore heavyweights Napalm Death are always a pleasure and today is no different. Their chaotic grind with its death metal sensibility is the perfect soundtrack for mosh pits to ignite. Guitar and drums follow tortured metal punk sounds while vocalist Barney Greenway barks atop the cacophony, tirelessly running around stage like a toddler overdosing on coffee. This year saw the icons release 'Apex Predator – Easy Meat' and the likes of 'Cesspits', 'Dear Slum Landlords' and 'Smash a Single Digit', make use of angular guitar riffs to elevate the pulverising chaos. Fan favourites 'You Suffer', 'Suffer the Children' and 'Unchallenged Hate' jostle amid later usual suspects 'When All Is Said and Done', 'Silence is Deafening' and their Dead Kennedy's cover of 'Nazi Punks Fuck Off' leaving a trail of destructionon the Ronnie James Dio Stage.
With this being their first UK reunion show, the audience swells for thrashers Dark Angel. Opening with the title track from 'Time Does Not Heal' sets a great precedent for the remainder of the show. Beefy '80s thrash metal riffsplayed at ridiculous speeds with the pummelling drumming of Gene Hoglan are the order of the day as the Americans work through their discography's highlights to unleash a relentless metal barrage. Vocalist Ron Rinehart sounds as good as his recorded counter part on the opening track and venturing deeper into the past with the less refined and more visceral tracks including 'The Burning of Sodom', 'We Have Arrived' and 'Merciless Death' sees him doing an admirable job replacing Don Doty and being a proactive frontman on stage. A strong rendition of 'Perish in Flames' brings the set to its close and without a doubt, Dark Angel have cemented themselves as one of the best bands of the festival this year.
Death metallers rejoice as Death To All, the reformed reincarnation of Death minus mainman Chuck Schuldiner, spread their seminal death metal to England once again. Wisely opening with 'The Philosopher', the progressive death metal track beautifully expresses the creativity in Schuldiner's compositions and helped define a fledging subgenre of death metal. The line up on stage evidently is really relishing the performance and the great response. Songs are chosen from throughout Death's career including the early old school death metal of 'Leprosy', 'Baptized in Blood' and 'Zombie Ritual' and the latter day progressive efforts of 'Symbolic', 'Overactive Imagination' and the dazzling 'Crystal Mountain' with its fanciful virtuoso guitar and drum work. Unsurprisingly the final prime cut is the vicious 'Pull the Plug', complete with fans en mass singing along to the chorus. This is nothing short of a tireless performance and an immaculate homage to Schuldiner's legacy.
Keeping the theme on the extreme side of prog metal are Swedish darlings Opeth. Opening with the death metal deprived 'Eternal Rains Will Come' followed by 'Cusp of Eternity' from their most recent studio observation 'Pale Communion' is a brave decision as soothing folk-tinged prog rock gently emanates over Catton Hall. However, the audience's indifference is annihilated as they launch into one of their heavier favourites 'The Drapery Falls' from 'Blackwater Park'. This combination of brutality paired with melancholic tenderness is the perfect vessel of oppressive emotions that understandably propelled Opeth into the metal mainstream's consciousness in spite of technical structures and songs frequently clocking in around the ten minute mark.
Frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt's banter brimming with his dry sense of humour introduces 'The Devil's Orchard' as one of their more unpopular album selections and unsurprisingly the audience's enthusiasm wanes on its execution. This is definitely a questionable, possibly rebellious, inclusion into the set given their short time slot compared to what they would enjoy at their own headlining concert, not to mention at a festival where the opportunity to recruit new fans is very present. Yet all faith is restored in the closing number 'Deliverance' with its relentless eerie soundscapes forging a ghostly narrative over 13 minutes long. Just six songs later and Opeth's set is finished. All in all, these Swedes are entertaining in the live environment but festival slots are just not appropriate for their elongated tracks and do not do the band any justice.
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