Metal Injection sent roving reporter Chloe Scannapieco to Sonisphere UK last weekend, and she came back full of great memories of seeing Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax, Mastodon, In Flames, Slipknot, Volbeat, and others. We asked Chloe to write a blog about her journey and here is her recap of her expereinces in a field in the UK with a bunch of sweaty metalheads.
The first official day of Sonisphere UK 2011 doesn't kick off until late on the Friday afternoon. No-one really gives a fuck about the smattering of bands playing to sparse crowds on smaller stages; today is simply and completely dominated by a handful of bands – Anthrax, Megadeth, Slayer and Metallica, to be precise. These acts are known for defining the genre of thrash, so much so that they are universally hailed as 'The Big Four'. Most spend the morning and early afternoon getting as intoxicated as possible. The squeak of airbeds being inflated and the crunch of tent pegs smashing into the ground ionises the air, along with a gratuitous helpings of each band being blasted from a plethora of boom boxes, of course. The fact that the Big Four’s live debut was in Prague a little over a year ago does nothing to eradicate even a mere percentage of the shine of tonight's historical UK show.
And so it begins with Anthrax kicking off their set at the rather fitting time of four in the afternoon. Seeing Joey Belladonna lead the band once again is nothing short of glorious. His impeccable vocals through clouds of smoke encourage the first of the mosh-pits to break out. But sadly their performance is slightly tainted by not being enough to substitute Scott Ian's overwhelming absence. Initially the only constant member in Anthrax's vast history was unable to attend the event as he was expecting his first child – a completely acceptable reason by anyone’s standards. However, as the birth was several weeks ago now, one couldn't help being a tad disappointed that Mr Scott was a no-show. Still, Andreas Kisser fills his place heroically and Anthrax return the favour by benevolently playing the title track to Sepultura's fifth album, the mighty ‘Chaos AD'.
Megadeth take the stage with majesty like no other and Dave Mustaine, much like Belladonna, still proudly rocks the same haircut as he did during the conception of the genre we now celebrate, some thirty odd years ago. You have to wonder how he really feels about performing with this particular line-up after a less than amicable split from Metallica in 1983, an appearance many years later in their fly-on-the-all documentary 'Some Kind of Monster', which he feels portrayed him in an unfair light and various other bitchy mud-slinging over the years. Is all forgiven and forgotten? Many are still unconvinced despite recent interviews and press surrounding their Big Four tour; although it is plausible that time has healed old wounds. Megadeth debut new material for the first time ever, 'Public Enemy Number 1' from their forthcoming album Th1rt3en (their thirteenth album), a rare treat that the audience roars gratefully for.
Next up is Slayer, yet another band with an integral member missing. However, I think we'll all agree that Jeff Hanneman's flesh eating disease can be forgiven more easily. His replacement is legendary thrash guitarist Gary Holt, an important and sorely relevant musician to the genre of thrash also, with his band Exodus who he joined as Kirk Hammet left to join Metallica. Talk about how musically-incestuous this bunch are! They take the stage through clouds of smoke also (a running theme) starting with one of their biggest hits, 1988’s album title track 'South of Heaven'. At this point every single soul is screaming along to every single bitter lyric. Soon enough it's the moment that everyone's been waiting for.
Although Metallica close the night, their two hour strong set absolutely gives them ownership of Sonisphere’s entire Friday and they proceed to execute an undeniable rip-roaringly stellar performance. Their musicianship and ability to churn out hit after hit with ferocity, agility despite their age and raw balls-to-the-wall skill really reminds the crowd why they really are the biggest of all four. As the night beholding more thrash than will ever be bestowed upon us again comes to an end somehow all too quickly and a fountain of fireworks amongst a collect-the-whole-set of Big Four band members come out to take a united bow, the ultimately famous short but sweet line is ceremoniously bellowed – 'Metallica Loves You!' . And guess what? We love you too ‘Tallica, maybe even a little bit more now.
As punters awake in the grounds of Knebworth in undoubtedly a variety of precarious situations, trying to make sense of shenanigans of the night before; counting money, identifying bodies and looking for an array of equipment and possessions – a plethora of Blackberries and iPhones are awash with news in the press tent. The boldly stark press release proclaiming Frank Carter's departure from the Gallows is a shock to some and a shame to others. As the news was impeccably timed with the bands performance today, an anarchic scurry of the entire festival population makes its way to see what will be the Gallows last set for many.
But first Richard Cheese and his 1950's comedic style band Lounge Against the Machine are up with hilariously stripped down, filthy-worded renditions of the likes of Weezer's 'Buddy Holly' and Disturbed's 'Down with the Sickness', in company with many other recognisable hits. Wearing a tiger print, Cheese walks the stage with a formidable confidence, constantly cracking jokes, recommending food stalls and trying to serenade a girl in the front row. He closes the set with Khia's one-hit-wonder, the shamefully inappropriate 2002 dirty rap/porno groove single, 'My Neck, My Back (Lick it)'. Hands down the best ending possible.
The atmosphere turns simultaneously sad and excitable as we all remember that Gallows are up next. As they enter the stage, Frank Carter rather brazenly sports the name of his new band 'Pure Love', in thick black lettering contrasted on a white t-shirt. But during their performance the band continually insist that the split is a positive one for both parties concerned and that the irreconcilable creative clash pushed them to part ways and continue with nothing but support, love and admiration for one another as they venture into pastures new. In true Gallows style, although more to the enth degree, they bring friends, family and management on stage to sing freely with them or indeed be forced to! it's been clearly an astronomically emotional performance for all, as we realise that these songs will be forever changed in a live capacity and Frank ends with the instance on snapping the entire crowd flipping him the bird on his iPhone, stating that he’s sure he'll never live to have such an opportunity.
The rest of the day is dedicated to pop punk with performances from You Me at Six, All Time Low, Weezer and Biffy Clyro. Though The Mars Volta do play a tantalisingly, almost psychedelic, prog-soaked hour and bit with an inextricable amount of less hair that we’ve been used to previously seeing. The weather waxes and wanes with rain, strong sun, wind strong enough to pull your very eyelids off and even a rainbow at one point. There's nothing to do but indulge in cocktails, torture stomachs with questionably built fairground rides and party all the way into Sunday morning.
The last morning of the festival starts as good as any morning can – with a big healthy breakfast of Volbeat. The Danish rockabilly metallers admirably get the crowd going crazy, despite such an early start. Everyone twists and moshes their hangovers away to a short sharp set which includes a cover of Dusty Springfield's 'I Only Wanna Be with You’ being brilliantly executed. Being in a field for up to five days now for some, is clearly taking its toll. Punters look more like cavemen and women, dishevelled and covered in grime and God knows what else. Smelling worse that they look (myself included) as they scramble around for morsels of food, happy to drink just about anything and pass out just about anywhere at this point.
Just before it turns two in the afternoon, it's important to remember that Slipknot have requested a two minutes silence for deceased band mate Paul Gray. Some feel that this is appropriate, others aren't so sure and some wonder despite 'two' being Paul's number, why it's not during their own set. But everyone is utterly respectful. Paul's original pillar-box-red boiler suit and mask is brought out on stage and a blanket of silence, so quiet it's almost loud, falls over Knebworth. After the full two minutes and not a whisker less, a joyous cheer erupts and everyone prepares for the days festivities to start up again.
It's crazy hot for England with not a cloud in sight by the time In Flames start and frontman Anders slightly surprises everyone by hiding his wild medusa-like dreadlocks under a baseball cap for a change. Having recently released a new album after founding member Jesper Strombold's departure, these Swedes are keen to illustrate that melodic death metal is even more righteous than before and lucky for them they have one of the best crowds of the weekend – basking in the gorgeous weather, slamming into one and other and allowing In Flames to truly break the fourth wall.
Another band with a redoubtable new musical arsenal that play shortly after In Flames, are inarguably one of the finest and most creatively respected bands of this century, Mastodon. Standing before a giant The Hunter flag, which is one of the most anticipated metal releases of the year, all four members project a domineering defiance and yet a playful mischief at the same time. Brann Dailor's drum kit is embellished, as it always is, with polka dots as an undeviating nod to tragic Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Rhandy Rhoads with even his picture adorned on the bass skin today. The other three grizzly members use a modest amount of Marshall and Orange amps compared with some of the acts on the bill. As they exit their set leaving all delighted and satisfied; we are now insatiably hungry for what the new record beholds in its entirety.
A sea of red baseball caps only ever signifies one thing. Limp Bizkit are near. Call them a guilty pleasure or not, their willingness to allow it the crowd to decide what they want to hear as oppose to dictating a set list is a real breath of fresh air. Without Wez Borland, the Bizkit weren't quite right and as the man in question appears like the male equivalent of Lady Gaga painted fully black up to his eyes and then white to the tips of his hair, it would be feasible that Lady G actually stole her image from the favoured guitarist! Like them or not, it's fully enjoyable to jump around and act like a tit for a few hours out of the day, but why they play nothing off of their latest release 'Gold Cobra', is extremely puzzling. Fred Durst gives a shout out to Slipknot, a signal that he's clearly up for leaving any prior nu-metal sword clashing as murky water under the bridge.
With the festival now drawing to the final few hours we all gear up for the last headliner of the night, Slipknot. There may never be anything cooler than a gang of guys in red boiler suits disguised by grotesquely designed masks – enough to give Michael Myers a run for his money – spitting aggression and venom with each unsynchronised breath and movement. But lest we forget that this was always going to be an exponentially emotional night for the 'knot. As their huge 'S' symbol stage props stands menacingly beholding fire in front of a gargantuan '2' banner, vocalist Corey Taylor thanks the crowd with pure sincerity for their participation in the day’s earlier respective silence. The entire show is abominably visceral; Clown freakishly climbs around his percussion, Joey Jordison is rotated round and upside down in every which way his drum kit will turn and contort and each of the other members spin, shred and pound their instruments like it's the last day on earth; but there is one person missing. Original guitar player and close friend Donnie Steel takes on Paul Gray's bass duties, but remains off stage and completely out of sight from the audience. A strange but understandable choice when Paul's mask and suit is once again brought out as Sonisphere UK 2011 wraps up and a 60,000 bawls of applause deafens surely all of Knebworth and all eight members of Slipknot hug each other sadly but proudly. We wonder off into the night wondering if or when we'll ever see the band as Slipknot again and are elated in the knowledge that if we don't we'll always have a permanently vivid memory of indisputably a career-defining performance.