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One man’s report from day one of Ghostfest

Ghostfest 2014

That time of year was upon us again: the great communion of all things ‘core’ in the stomping ground of Leeds. With the festival in its ninth year, it has established itself as a big name in the underground metal scene. This year saw the return to the simpler alternating two stage layout which made the entire experience much easier without the tricky clashes and packed third stage of the previous three years.

First up on the smaller bunker stage were competition winners Anchored By Avarice. For a relatively young-looking band – not to mention opening band of the weekend – they were incredibly tight, playing a groove-laden metalcore akin to Structures. While the room was by no means packed, they had a decent crowd who seemed to be enjoying their set. It was clear that these guys knew their material and instruments well.

After this the main stage madness began in the form of London slam band Acrania. Having followed these boys from a distance since their performance at Tech Fest 2013, it’s interesting to see how they’ve been taken under Ghost Music’s wing. With their debut full-length just announced, there was a busy vibe already in the room. Their set comprised of a few new ones sprinkled between songs from their EP, and as soon as they took to the stage it was apparent that there were some nerves. That said, they played a solid set for a band relatively new to the scene and the excitement in vocalist Luke Griffin’s face could be seen a mile off, and although the rhythmic aspect of the band wasn’t perfect it was enough to spark pits at Luke’s command.

Back to second stage and into absolute chaos, as Brummy band Sentenced take to the stage, with towering front man Mike’s blistering death vocals laid on top of their sludgy slam sound. While the band lacked some movement and involvement, it was the crowd that were the ones to watch out for; our recent crowd-killing debate came to mind, and it was easy to see why it caused such a stir: it was not advisable to go anywhere past the sound desk unless a punch to the head was desired. It would have been nice to see some more action from the band rather than the crowd, but it was a tight performance and I can’t blame fans for being fans!

From one carnage to another and back to main stage for rising act Black Tongue. Now here’s a band that are all about atmosphere, and they pull it off brilliantly: while the crowd were thankfully less rowdy than expected (most likely as they’d all used up their energy during Sentenced), it was the band that everyone had their eyes on, with vocalist Alex Teyen appearing to channel Lucifer himself. The crowd obeyed his commands and surged as Alex met the barrier for “H.C.H.C.” Their sound was phenomenal and secured any doubters as to how such a seemingly simple band has reached such heights.

Fathoms took to the second stage following this sonic assault with a slightly less well received set. The band themselves were pretty tight with only the vocals sounding a little worn. There was some crowd movement but it would tend to be restricted to the occasional breakdowns. Their songs didn’t seem to transfer so well live with many songs in the set blurring together. That said it was a welcome change to the previous bands.

After this Demoraliser hit the main stage with a seemingly solid set, but after a break, next on my list was Cold Hard Truth on second stage. Several hearty recommendations were not wrong; while playing seemingly straightforward hardcore, there was something more mature about the way they write, and this came across in the crowd’s reaction. Front man Tim also had a big role in starting up the crowd movement with his interaction.

There was an interesting culture clash when Astroid Boys took to the main stage with their hardcore take on grime. A band that have even divided my opinion, their live show is certainly one to remember with MC Traxx taking over the majority of vocal duties with co-MC Benji still serving time in prison. Traxx does so effortlessly and with brilliant clarity. While they not may fit in with the traditional hardcore band, their almost Limp Bizkit take on the scene is certainly memorable and had the entire room bouncing.

Not much seems at fault with the set of Londoners No Second Chance. They open with a snippet of Slipknot’s “Psychosocial” to get the crowd moving, and they don’t let up throughout their entire set, with hardcore stylings specifically designed for the live stage. Their vocalist Stu shows off a versatile range when they throw in an older song with some death metal-style lows.

A packed out main stage signal the set of infamous Southampton crew Desolated. Their raw sludgy sound sets them apart from their peers, as well as the signature hoarse vocals from Paul Williams. Long drawn out open chords beckon chaotic breakdowns in which the resurgent crowd comes back into play, with one member of the audience even proceeding to climb the balcony and begin flailing while being crowd surfed up the stairs before being pulled down by security. The band’s stage presence outshines their sludgy peers, which certainly helps explain their rise to fame in recent years.

Following the carnage on the main stage, it seemed many of the crowd were too tired to show much energy on second stage for Welshmen Continents, despite being possibly the most high octane band to take to either of stages so far. Driven by vocalist Philip Cross, who rarely seemed to stop for a breath – even leaping to the barrier for “Trials“, which got the crowd reaching for the microphone. Even their new addition, guitarist Rhys Griffiths, seemed comfortable maintaining a high amount of energy throughout. Their interesting mix of styles seems to be received well though as do their small taste of new material.

This year sees the one-off return of Annotations Of An Autopsy, who helped shaped the modern UK deathcore scene prior to their split in 2013. While it is hardly been a long time since their demise, there is a certain sense of nostalgia about their set, as well as good humour. While they may have been a force to be reckoned in the past you can tell that they’re here to have a good time and make the crowd do the same. It’s nice to see a band that will play should the opportunity arise despite no longer being a working band, as it takes an edge off the seriousness of much of the music.

There’s another blast from the past over on second stage with Glaswegians Azriel, however their set lacks a certain punch, which is reflected in the crowd’s reaction. Many go off for food or to grab a drink from the bar. This by no means reflects a sloppy performance, as the set is certainly a solid one, but the band have the same issue as Fathoms did earlier in terms of pushing their songs to the crowd. Being less hard-hitting or interesting than other bands on the weekend bill, they need to ensure that their live performance excels. This aspect is not so keenly felt, which is a shame considering their performance in 2013 was much more electric.

Over to main stage again for Hundredth, who have clearly fixed this problem. While their songs follow a basic melodic hardcore approach, their live set is very energetic, and frontman Chadwick Johnson leaps back and forth across the stage, kick-starting the crowd into a frenzy of crowd surfers and mic grabbers. Here are a band who have clearly gotten the experience needed in dealing with tame crowds, and get them moving no problem.

Squeezing back into the bunker stage for one of the UK’s premier crossover death metal bands, Ingested were on top ravenous form this evening and the crowd sucked it in. Vocalist Jason Evans was both terrifying, but somehow also charming, commanding the crowd well. The band appeared more than comfortable moving about the stage and engaging with the audience. The only fault is the lack of beefy strength to the guitars which could just be due to contrast to the bands that have just played in the last few hours or the smaller sound on the second stage, but this in no way affects their performance as every note is spot on, with the drums piercing through like machine gun fire.

The crowd swell at the main stage for the return of international, Paris-based band Betraying The Martyrs. Their showmanship is one that is difficult to rival with commanding vocalist Aaron Matts a commanding presence. Keyboardist Victor Guillet leaps towards the crowd between sections. This dynamic duet of vocalists creates an energy about them that is certainly on point tonight. The addition of strip lights adds to the atmospheric keys. Also to be noted is fill in drummer Boris Le Gal’s seamlessness in grasping the intricate drum parts, from the blast beats to the breakdowns. It’s easy to see why these guys are rising into the mainstream eye.

Also rising in the leagues, Woking band Palm Reader take to a relatively quiet second stage but with no lack in energy. This band’s mix of alt-rock and chaotic punk may be a slight change for the crowd, as many don’t seem to know how to react, but rather watch from a distance. Palm Reader may not be as well suited to the festival as the brawny hardcore the stage saw earlier, but it’s most definitely a breath of fresh air. These guys know their material and play through it with vigour.

Anticipation builds over on main stage for the arrival of Scottish heavy weights Bleed From Within. Following their release of Uprising last year, the band have gone from strength to strength and it seems that many realise that they are going to become a rare sight at Ghostfest in the future, just as While She Sleeps and Bury Tomorrow now are. They plough through their songs with razor sharp precision; vocalist Scott Kennedy is still as powerful and energetic as when I first saw them at Ghostfest 2011. I won’t be surprised if the next time Ghostfest sees these boys they’ll be playing the final slot of the night!

Unfortunately, due to an extremely packed out second stage, Nasty are hard to be seen but certainly not hard to be heard. Their bruising hardcore rings out through the room and beyond and from the little I could see, the crowd were lapping it up.

But back over in the main room there is a quiet sense of anticipation filling the room for the return of Suicide Silence, following their return with ex-All Shall Perish vocalist Eddie Hermida, who took over from where Mitch Lucker left it following his untimely passing in late 2012. There is a roar of applause as they take to the stage for the first time since their headline slot back in 2011. While they suffer a couple of unfortunate technical issues through the first few songs off their debut The Cleansing. Once resolved, they stand their ground and prove why they are one of the most popular and virulent deathcore bands in the world.

Eddie brings his own unique edge to the band without feeling as though he is trying to emulate Mitch, and it seems the audience appreciate this. His vocal range is unbelievable and showcases his talent leagues more than his previous work allowed him to. They even have Aaron Matts of Betraying The Martyrs up for “No Pity For A Coward” which goes down a treat with the audience. Their new material gets a brilliant response from the crowd and fits in perfectly among the rest of their set. It is also refreshing to see a band who have had a recent tragedy not bring it up once during their set as many others have, and still do. For Suicide Silence, it seems they’re restarting straight from where they left off and the future is the only place they’re heading.

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