Horns At The Ready: The Download 2018 Preview

Download festival will make its grand return to the hallowed grounds of Castle Donington this weekend. Clearly there is something about standing in the sunshine* and watching the hardest hitting bands that rock, metal and punk have to offer that brings out an overwhelming desire to become one with the dirt in people.

With over 100,000 people expected, Download organisers have cranked things up to 11 for 2018’s edition. Avenged Sevenfold, arguably the biggest band of their generation, return to top Friday’s line up, while two titans of the festival’s Monsters of Rock days – Guns N’ Roses and Ozzy Osbourne – will headline the Saturday and Sunday night respectively.

Naturally, some will already be muttering ‘worst line up ever’ to themselves, but here we go with our pick of the bands that will tread the boards across the weekend. Horns at the ready.

(*doubtless it will be pissing down with rain)

Cancer Bats – Avalanche Stage, Friday

Everyone’s favourite Canadian hardcore punks recently kickstarted the newest chapter of their career in sonic carnage with the sudden release of ‘The Spark That Moves’, their best album in a decade. Reinvigorated and raising a middle finger to any doubters who thought their spark had gone out, they return to these shores just months after a run of London dates celebrating the 10th anniversary of their second album ‘Hail Destroyer’.

The Bronx – Avalanche Stage, Friday

The Los Angeles party starters will wreak havoc upon anyone in earshot during their second to last slot on Friday night. Their fifth studio album and most visceral to date, ‘V’, made a huge impact with fans last year and with 16 years of experience battering the ear canals you can expect to see some of the most gnarly circle pits of the weekend.

Marmozets – Avalanche Stage, Friday

This Yorkshire outfit are one of a handful of young British bands making a giant leap forward in 2018. Having made their debut at Donington in 2014, there are few groups on the line up more deserving of a slot on the Main Stage. Riding the success of this year’s statement of intent, ‘Knowing What You Know Now’, their second LP on Roadrunner Records, Becca Macintyre’s trademark screams, distorted guitars and a smattering of blastbeats will get you talking about their pop-tinged anthems for the rest of the weekend.

Employed To Serve – Avalanche Stage, Friday

The British extreme metal scene has been well and truly spoiled for choice when it comes to exciting releases in recent years. This Woking hardcore quintet are leading the charge and will make their Download debut, capping an incredible 12 months since they unleashed their brutal 2017 sophomore record, ‘The Warmth of a Dying Sun’.

Napalm Death – Dogtooth Stage, Friday

To the untrained ear a set from the godfathers of grindcore can be quite the oppressive experience. Whether you’re a dedicated follower or an inquisitive first-timer, their short and not so sweet set is going to be something to remember. Their intense and angry music, accompanied by frontman Barney Greenway’s sociopolitical lyrics, make them one of the most brutal and relevant bands on the bill even though they formed over 30 years ago.

Knocked Loose – Dogtooth Stage, Saturday

The Kentucky natives have become one of the most talked about hardcore bands around since the release of their 2016 full length ‘Laugh Tracks’ and you can’t help but feel they’re on the edge of something huge. That’s why they’re here at Download, right? Numbers such as Deadringer and Counting Worms will tick all the boxes if you’re into bands who go in, smash faces and leave.

Shvpes – Dogtooth Stage, Saturday

The band’s vocalist Griffin Dickinson might be descended from Rock Royalty (his dad’s a certain singer from Iron Maiden) but the buzz around these Birmingham sonic alchemists hasn’t come from simply trading off famous parentage. This year’s debut ‘Pain. Joy. Ecstasy. Despair’ has marked them out to be real contenders and with their upcoming trio of EPs giving them an opportunity to grow creatively, Shvpes’ future looks set to be something really special.

Rolo Tomassi – Avalanche Stage, Saturday

Since returning to Holy Roar Records, this creative force from Sheffield have continued to refine their sound into a heavier and darker beast. ‘Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It’ is one of the best albums of the year so far and has gained them a significant increase in recognition. The band have come a long way since their debut at Download a decade ago and their set on the smallest stage could deliver the biggest slap in the face of the weekend.

Parkway Drive – Zippo Encore Stage, Saturday

Byron Bay’s merchants of mosh are no strangers to ripping apart Donington and are already tipped to deliver THE performance of the weekend. Returning to headline the second stage, having previously performed in 2009, 2013 and 2015, their no bells and whistles approach dropped jaws on their recent sixth full length, ‘Reverence’.

Greta Van Fleet – Zippo Encore Stage, Sunday

You’re going to need something pretty special to pull you out of a four-day hangover and you’ll struggle to find a more talented, rising young band than these Michigan-based throwback phenoms. They’re uncannily reminiscent of early Led Zeppelin but even with their roots planted deep in rock ‘n’ roll’s deepest traditions, their enthusiasm on stage, massive hooks and wailing vocals have made them a genuinely exciting prospect. Their debut album will arrive later this year.

All Them Witches – Dogtooth Stage, Sunday

Having emerged from the Nashville underground scene in 2012, the psych-rock band spun many a head with the spacey, hard-rock sounds on last year’s ‘Sleeping Through the War’. Their music is bluesy, trippy, littered with fuzzed-up riffs and will make for a welcome change to hurtling around in circle pits all weekend.

Hatebreed – Main Stage, Sunday

Led by hardcore godfather Jamey Jasta, Hatebreed last destroyed Donington nine years ago, which is madness when you consider the increased hardcore representation at the festival in recent years. They’ve spent the last two years celebrating the 20th and 15th anniversaries of ‘Satisfaction is the Death of Desire’ and ‘Perseverance’, so naturally you can expect a jolly good throwdown.

Zeal and Ardor – Dogtooth Stage, Sunday

If you think you’ve heard everything modern music has to offer, you might want to catch up with Manuel Gagneux. The brainchild behind this one-man project fuses black metal, delta blues, jazz, hip-hop beats, spiritual chants, soul and gospel to create a truly unique sound that will send the purists into meltdown. But who’s here to put a limit on imagination and combinations anyway?

Baroness – Dogtooth Stage, Sunday

Beautiful, brutal and heavy as balls. You should never miss a chance to see these Georgia sludgelords. Having brought us some of the 21st century’s finest albums, including the progressive-metal masterpiece ‘Purple’ in 2015, they’re back to get spacey at Donington.

Puppy – Avalanche Stage, Sunday

Rising from the ashes of vocalist and guitarist Jock Norton and drummer Billy Howard’s previous band, Polterghost, Puppy have earned a rep as an alt-rock trio who can win over any metal crowd with their heavy yet melodic riffs and grungy tunes. Their Download set is going to be the first chance people will have to hear songs off their upcoming album and if you like what you hear, you’ll be pleased to know they’re touring the UK in August with Grove Street Families.

Milk Teeth – Avalanche Stage, Sunday

Having toured for most of 2018 off the back of last year’s EP pairing of ‘Be Nice’ and ‘Go Away’, their rise continues with a step up to the Avalanche Stage for their second visit to Download. Not the heaviest band of the weekend but they sure know how to get a riot going with their grunge and punk ragers such as Owning Your Okayness, Brickwork and Nearby Catfight.

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Steelhouse of Fun: Why The South Wales Rock Fest is a Hidden Gem

Steelhouse is set to return this weekend for its seventh staging and, while the Welsh classic rock festival has built up a loyal following over the years, along with a fistful of good reviews, to some extent it remains one of the calendar’s best-kept secrets.

Taking place on a remote Ebbw Vale farm (which quite literally sits atop a mountain), the first thing that grabs your attention as you make your way up the ridge is that you’re surrounded by some of the most spectacular scenery in Wales. The site is built by a 50-strong crew of volunteers – known as the Steelhouse Family – who give up their time to head up weeks in advance to set things up. In a region that is starved of live music events, this level of dedication is vital.

The community spirit echoes throughout the weekend, which counts for a lot if you’re unlucky with the uglier side of Welsh weather. The biblical rainfall of 2015, for example, still sends a cold shiver down my spine. To give you an idea of what it looked like, metal legend Doro Pesch had to be carried to the stage by one of the crew as conditions underfoot were so treacherous backstage. The prices aren’t as horrific as you would expect to see at mainstream UK festivals either. Broadly speaking, the food and booze is locally sourced.

The festival has drawn many cornerstones of rock music to its unique surroundings – including UFO, Thunder, Europe, Dee Snider, Michael Schenker, Doro and Black Star Riders – while also offering a platform for the genre’s newcomers. Steelhouse’s appeal comes from throwing together the nostalgic thrill of the timeless classics while also supporting the fresh blood that will keep rock music alive.

That’s an invaluable commitment, especially during a time when many small music venues are under threat from developers. These stages are pretty big and there are plenty of eyes trained on acts just cutting their teeth or waiting to take the next step. Take, for instance, RavenEye’s performance last year.

The band have since put out their acclaimed debut, ‘Nova’, on the Frontiers Music label and more recently supported KISS at huge arena shows on the European leg of the glam-rock giants’ KissWorld tour. The Temperance Movement, who got tongues wagging after their performance in 2013, went on to become the guest band for the Rolling Stones in Europe the following year, racking up a couple of impressive LPs along the way.

This year appears to have a nice balance to it, too. Ragga-metal party-starters Skindred look set to deliver a triumphant homecoming set and heavy metal titans Saxon, with their full ‘Eagle’ production in tow, will top the weekend’s proceedings, while California’s Rival Sons, Ontario’s Monster Truck and Last In Line, featuring former members of the original lineup of Dio, are all flying in to play. There’s also Mr. Steve Harris taking time out from some other band to hit the stage with British Lion (the festival also carries the clout of Trooper Beer sponsoring the stage this year, no doubt something to do with a certain bassist).

Then there’s the latest missive from the new wave of British classic rock bands. Inglorious, who recently put out their Kevin Shirley-produced second album, Stonebroken and Broken Witt Rebels, who both made their Download festival debuts this summer, Tequila Mockingbyrd and Jared James Nichols will be out to make an impression. The next big thing is out there. Steelhouse could be where the world finds it.

Steelhouse Festival returns to Hafod-Y-Dafal Farm in Ebbw Vale between July 28 and 30. Head to www.steelhousefestival.com for the full line up and stage times.

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Steelhouse Festival: Rock Returns To The Mountain

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Steelhouse Festival has become a home away from home for the UK’s hard rock scene in recent years. Last weekend, Jon Stickler ventured up the mountain to see how the latest chapter in an underdog success story would play out.

Held high above Ebbw Vale and geared towards classic rock’s broad church, Steelhouse is one of the fastest growing festivals in Europe and already boasts previous performances from Europe, Dee Snider, Magnum, Michael Schenker, Saxon and UFO. Now in its sixth year, and despite some haunting flashbacks to 2015’s torrential downpours, this year the fearless beer-riddled faithful returned to the mountain to set a record attendance.

Following Friday night’s warm up show, featuring a south Wales showcase from Buffalo Summer, Those Damn Crows and Everyday Heroes, winners of a live Battle of the Bands competition held prior to the festival, Wigan’s riff warriors Bigfoot smashed open the main event with a monster Saturday lunchtime set comprising cuts from their ‘Stone Soldiers’ EP.

Dirty Thrills and Vega carried on the party, throwing their swaggering AOR solos and soaring vocals across the sun-drenched arena, before assured Bristol rockers Tax The Heat picked up the award for best dressed band of the weekend while roaring through songs from their recent record, ‘Fed To The Lions’, which, if you’ve got any sense, should be queued up in your playlist right now. Don’t miss out when they tour with Ash and Terrorvision this winter.

Having performed at the other end of the country in March, appearing on the bill at Hard Rock Hell Prog in Pwllheli, everyone’s favorite siblings in rock music, Finland’s Von Hertzen Brothers, made the world feel a little better with selections from last year’s ‘New Day Rising’. They can expect a very warm welcome when they return as part of the bill at this year’s Planet Rockstock in Porthcawl in December. Three Welsh shows in the space of 12 months…that’s what we like to see.

As the day progressed, the buzz was all about the evening session ahead of the headliners, Thunder. Psych-rockers Blues Pills exploded onto the stage with High Class Women from their 2015 self-titled debut, with Elin Larsson’s soulful tones just as breathtaking as the views from the mountain. The arena was enchanted by songs old and new, including a mesmerising cover of Jefferson Airplane’s Somebody to Love, building excitement ahead of the launch of the retro rockers’ second album, ‘Lady In Gold’, next month.

The Answer, performing at the festival for a record third time, celebrated the 10th anniversary of their superb debut album, ‘Rise’, by playing it in full before unleashing Spectacular and newbies Thief of Light and the title track from their upcoming new record, ‘Solas’. The Northern Irish band went down as one of the highlights of the weekend and their co-headline run with the Dead Daisies in November is quickly becoming one of the most talked about tours of the year in these circles.

There aren’t many bands that sit as comfortably as a Steelhouse headliner as Thunder. As soon as AC/DC’s Thunderstruck blasted out of the PA, we knew we were in for another magnificent display of showmanship. Danny Bowes was as energetic as ever, and still has one of the best voices in rock to boot, while lifelong chum and guitarist Luke Morley riffed through all of the classics. Performing with the confidence that comes from decades of touring the world, every minute of Wonder Years, Higher Ground, Backstreet Symphony, The Devil Made Me Do It, Love Walked In, Dirty Love and more was lapped up by a boisterous crowd.

Those up early enough on Sunday were greeted with, yes, you’ve guessed it, rain. A very wet day two kicked off around lunchtime with glam-rockers Last Great Dreamers, whose infectious, crunchy power-pop hooks went down well with a small, hungover and damp crowd. Despite everyone being pissed off with mother nature, the band, who originally operated during the 1990s before reforming in 2014, gave it their best shot at raising spirits.

Next up, Steelhouse regulars Hand of Dimes pulled in the masses with Nev MacDonald and former Kooga bandmate Neil Garland rolling out Moonlight Mile from their upcoming debut album before making way for the ballsy new blood in the shape of Toseland and Milton Keynes’ RavenEye. Look out for the latter’s debut album, ‘NOVA’, out on September 23.

With the collective mood changing for the better, the Dead Daisies just had to come along and disappoint. With so much hype swirling around the supergroup – featuring John Corabi, Doug Aldrich, Marco Mendoza, David Lowy and Brian Tichy – it was underwhelming that their hour long set included six covers, including Free’s All Right Now, Fortunate Son by Creedence Clearwater Revival and the Beatles’ Helter Skelter.

It came across as flat and lazy, especially when performed by such a competent ensemble of musicians. I was hoping to hear more from the band’s self titled debut and last year’s ‘Revolución’, but new tracks from their upcoming third album, ‘Make Some Noise’, at least kept me hanging around. Hopefully they’re firing on all cylinders when they headline Planet Rockstock in December. With the rain finally stopping around tea time, the energetic power-pop of Ginger Wildheart’s Hey! Hello! provided a much-needed adrenaline shot. Terrorvision, meanwhile, screamed confidence throughout their quite superb hit-packed set. They clearly had lots of fans on the mountain.

A monumentally silly performance from the Darkness closed the party, to the airing of mixed opinions. The band copped a lot of shit during the build up to the weekend, but as soon as they hit the stage we were reminded of just how huge an album ‘Permission To Land’ is. They’re not everyone’s cup of tea, but any doubts about their performance disappeared as they rocked through new songs from ‘Last Of Our Kind’, including Barbarian, Roaring Waters and Mudslide, alongside classics Black Shuck, Get Your Hands Off My Woman, Growing On Me, Friday Night and One Way Ticket. Gimme a D! Gimme an ARKNESS!

Following a savage closing party in the beer tent, it was time to dust off the hangover and endure the bone-shaking mountain trail back down to reality. Thank you, Steelhouse, for another fantastic few days at one of the most welcoming festivals out there.

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Rock Will Live Forever…Because We Need It To

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As the clock winds down on 2014, Simon Ramsay reviews one of the year’s big issues – rock ‘n’ roll’s health and future. 

It’s been another fantastic year for lovers of rock music, but the best may have been saved for last with both AC/DC’s ball-busting new record and Rival Sons’ current UK tour rounding the year off in fine style.  Although the two acts are generations apart, their shared musical DNA shows exactly why the tedious ‘rock is dead’ debate spits in the face of everything rock ‘n’ roll stands for.

Back in 2011, the Guardian published a feature where Radio 2 presenter Paul Gambaccini smugly announced: “It is the end of the rock era. It’s over, in the same way the jazz era is over.” The reasoning?  The lack of rock songs in the – now hugely irrelevant – UK singles chart.  Only the very best songs make the charts, right?

More recently, Kiss bassist and attention seeker extraordinaire Gene Simmons claimed “rock is finally dead”.  His characteristically profit-centric thought process revolved around record companies failing to invest in rock bands and downloading making it financially impossible for young people to want to make this kind of music. Or, in other words, no one gets filthy rich from it anymore, so why bother?

A few years apart, the focus on popularity and profit in both cases, at the expense of active research into the contemporary rock scene, is beyond specious. Maybe, just maybe, the vitality of an art form should be judged on quality?

It’s a never-ending squabble that won’t go away, and earlier this year it gained fresh momentum when Royal Blood hit the top of the UK album chart with their debut record, leading Music Week’s Tim Ingham to write a piece titled “British rock music is back. No, really, it is”.

The Answer, Ginger Wildheart and the Quireboys have been making great rock ‘n’ roll records for the last decade, so must have been thrilled by that news. But hey, Royal Blood – with a huge record label in Warners behind them – crossed into the mainstream and made money, so it must be true.

Even worse was Alex Turner’s speech when Arctic Monkeys took home a Brit award back in February for their album, ‘AM’. “Yeah, that rock ‘n’ roll, it seems like it’s faded away sometimes, but it will never die. And there’s nothing you can do about it,” he said. Using a Brit win to justify anything about rock ‘n’ roll is like critiquing food by describing what it sounds like. It’s safe to assume that when Neil Young sang “rock ‘n’ roll will never die”, he wasn’t thinking about his record label’s bottom line.

All parties are trying to assess a subjective medium via statistical analysis, reducing something that’s creative and emotional to the level of a scientific and mathematical study. Yes, rock music used to be big business and will always be measured against past glories, but it became that way based on the strength of the music and the way it made people feel.

There’s an authenticity that rock ‘n’ roll inherited from its roots in the blues, an almost primal life force that crosses time, space and generations. That influence drew Led Zeppelin, AC/DC and the Rolling Stones to the genre in the past, and continues to resonate with acts like Rival Sons, Blues Pills and the Temperance Movement in the present. But why?

Here’s blues music as described by Mojo Hand: “Expressed in songs whose verses lament injustice or express longing for a better life and lost loves, jobs, and money. But blues is also a raucous dance music that celebrates pleasure and success. Central to the idea of blues performance is the concept that, by performing or listening to the blues, one is able to overcome sadness and lose the blues.”

It may have been louder, faster and filtered through white musicians who knew nothing of the poverty and hardship endured by Son House, Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, but that deeply rooted emotional core and therapeutic form of expression became a key part of rock ‘n’ roll.

As such, it was the music of rebellion throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, allowing  listeners and performers to expel their angst and frustrations. Whether regarding the assassination of JFK, fury over Vietnam or parental and societal oppression, it raised people up, soothed their woes and entertained.

Today, our struggles aren’t too different. We’re still being oppressed, bullied, disenfranchised and getting our hearts broken, but we also live in a time that is insincere, fast-paced and frightening. From phone hacking scandals to illegal wars and the loss of meaningful political ideology, to revelations of child abuse by beloved entertainers, terrorism and the near omnipotence of manufactured music, we need something elemental, sincere and truthful. We still need rock ‘n’ roll, and as long as the world and its woes continues to challenge us, that will never change.

So many of today’s young bands are looking to the past, and when Rival Sons singer Jay Buchanan was asked why, his answer typified their collective attitude. “I think there’s a resurgence because there’s so much superficiality.  I think the rock ‘n’ roll that was being made in the ‘60s and ‘70s was very honest,” he told Jim Rowland of Uber Rock.

Rock musicians may have achieved fame and fortune in the past, but that was always a by-product of their passionate need to make music. Today, with the promise of those perks long gone, rock ‘n’ roll is more genuine and potent than it’s been for decades, because young bands are in it purely for the love of the music.

The ‘rock is dead’ debate always ignores that simple truth. But just ask yourself: when you listen to an album that touches your soul, incites you to dance or reduces you to tears – does it make the music any better if one million, as opposed to 100, people have heard it? Does it make for a more valid listening experience if it’s a massive commercial success? As Charles Shaar Murray wrote in his biography of John Lee Hooker, Boogie Man: “Music stands or falls by what it makes its listeners feel, and everything else is simply furniture.”

Rival Sons Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Thu December 11 2014 – MANCHESTER Ritz

Sat December 13 2014 – SHEFFIELD Leadmill

Sun December 14 2014 – GLASGOW O2 ABC

Mon December 15 2014 – NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE O2 Academy

Tue December 16 2014 – NORWICH UEA

Click here to compare & buy Rival Sons Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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