What could be better? The beautiful location of the Gloucestershire countryside, three days of established headliners and the cream of the UK metal and alt/rock scene all in one place. Sounds great until you remember the fucking British weather. After several glorious weeks of wall to wall sunshine the weather turned in the days before the event leaving anxious checks of the forecast which appeared to change every five minutes.
However, the omens looked promising as I left storm battered South Wales early on Friday morning. The sun reappeared and having negotiated my way through the parking and the steep hill which led to the campsite, it was time to have a look around the layout. Fair play, an ambitious four stages set across a couple of acres of farmland, with the Tavern stage nicely sheltered, the Shoot Your Hoops stage more exposed and the main arena housing the Very Metal Art stage at one side and the Red Stripe Main at the other end of the vast expanse. I’m not sure how many the organisers were expecting but you could have fitted 5000 in this area comfortably. A variety of bars and food outlets circled the main arena along with a couple of traders. Having purchased a pint of potent cider mainly to secure my Amplified/SOPHIE polycarbonate cup, it was time for some music.
Opening the Very Metal Art Stage was female quintet Dorja (7). The band had played Fuel in Cardiff the night before but showed no signs of ill-effects as they punched out their hard rock with gusto. Although there was a strong wind blowing Ayim Almas’ mighty fine vocals cut through with ease, the sound crisp and clear. Alongside her, the twin guitar attack of Holly Henderson and Rosie Botterill and familiar face for those in the South West scene, one Becky Baldwin with her thundering Rickenbacker bass. Tracks from the band’s debut EP Target Practice were well received by the small but enthusiastic crowd. A small drum solo was unnecessary but Dorja finished with a storming cover of Black Sabbath’s Mob Rules, the instantly recognisable riff getting heads nodding whilst Almas carried the RJD vocal with aplomb.
Across the arena to see Liverpool duo Rival Bones (8) blast out 30 minutes of impressive hard rock. For a duo, guitarist/vocalist James Whitehouse and drummer Chris Thompson make hell of a noise and whilst the Royal Blood comparisons are inevitable Rival Bones struck me as having a bit more to offer. Mixing tracks from their debut EP alongside a newie written for the festival the band demonstrated great energy and enthusiasm which quickly won over the sparse gathering in front of the main stage. Whitehouse has a gritty but appealing voice and his between song banter was spot on. Closing with the rocking You Know Who You Are, the band are one to watch and well worth checking out if you get the chance.
So far so good and with the weather windy but dry it was back to the VMA stage to catch the Metallica infused thrash of Glaswegians Damaj (7). Their brand of groove ridden thrash was thoroughly enjoyable, with The Wrath Of The Tide particularly agreeable. Front man Daniel Stewart has a Hetfield style delivery, and this worked well with the type of thrash which is very much focused on early Metallica. Alongside Stewart, lead guitarist James Haggart shredded for his life, with some brutal solos. Bassist David Douglas hammered the shit out of his five-string bass whilst new drummer Ciaran Whyte, resplendent in A Farewell To Kings Rush shirt looked incredibly comfortable for only his second gig with the band. Damaj played like they were headlining and are another UK band well worth a look.
After an aborted attempt to catch Departed for an interview (delayed and ultimately didn’t play) the metalcore tones of Brighton’s Bleed Again (7) blasted across the field. I don’t like metalcore one bit but these guys gave it everything, encouraging and coercing another very small gathering to get involved. With new release Momentum receiving enthusiastic reviews, the set consisted of that material. Vocalist James Dawson delivering with gusto, bursting the veins in the neck whilst the brutal riffage of Simon Williams and Chris Pratt delivered real damage. If you like your metalcore with an extra dose of brutality then the South Coast outfit will be very much to your tastes.
The Fallen State (8) are about as far away from metalcore as you can get but their generic hard rock worked well in the blustery conditions. With melody and enthusiasm, the band looked sharp from their recent support to Trapt and in fine shape for some forthcoming action with Puddle Of Mudd. Impressive frontman Ben Stenning has a superb voice and the charisma necessary to win over the small but enthusiastic throng stage front. The band blasted through their 30 minutes, with songs from The View From Ruin EP which ranged from calmer rockers to all out headbangers allowing guitarists Jon Price and Dan Oke to up the riffage. Certainly, a band with promise.
Another band with promise but a totally different sound is Codex Alimentarius (8). The Exeter outfit’s crushing groove based metal takes no prisoners. It’s probably unsurprising given that these guys have serious support time logged with legends like Vader and Krisiun that they were sharp and focused. The three-pronged guitar assault was impressive and vocalist Ray Arall possesses a death growl which could wake the dead. Tracks from The Hand Of Apophis EP were welcomed by the hardy souls at the VMA stage whose skulls had visibly caved by the time that Baptised finished the impressive set. Think of Lamb Of God meets Obituary with a technical slant and you won’t be far away. If these boys play near you it’s worth getting an earful. Just be warned. This band should come with a warning.
A quick listen to Tess Of The Circle as I wandered back to the tent didn’t impress enough to stay and judging by the handful of punters assembled in front I wasn’t the only one. However, one band who do impress is The Amorettes (7), the Scottish three-piece of Gill Montgomery, Hannah McKay and Heather McKay who I’d last encountered with a solid opening set for Black Star Riders. The girls kicked out all the jams as the rain started to enter the equation. Another solid set comprising tracks from their three albums and finishing with a decent bit of audience participation on Hot And Heavy. The band’s enthusiasm always wins me over and today was no different.
As the rain took hold of the site, coming down in biblical proportions ala Download 2016, it was from the bar area that I viewed Exist Immortal (7). The West London outfit were visibly encouraged by the few hardcore members of the crowd (also known as nutters!) who formed an impromptu mosh pit to the band’s melodic technical metal. Even from across the arena their enthusiasm was evident and whilst they don’t float my boat their energy could only be admired.
At this point all hell broke loose weather wise, with torrential rain swamping the entire site. I made the decision to pack up and head for home. With a leaking tent and half of my gear already soaked, I didn’t fancy getting even more wet and miserable overnight. Sure, I may be soft, but I hate camping at the best of times so I don’t really give a shit what anyone else thinks to be honest. It’s not an award-winning endurance event. I understand that several bands were cancelled before the bar area hosted Acid Reign and an intimate set from Puddle of Mudd.
I’m glad that the organisers managed to sort it out and for those that stayed, well done. With a night in a warm bed and a day of torrential rain following, my first Amplified Festival was shorter than anticipated. I hope the crowds turn up as Friday’s attendance was slim.
Oh, and one suggestion. Outdoor festivals in the UK live and die by the weather, so whilst the cost is obviously an issue, why not place some marquees strategically in front of the stages? It would allow punters to watch whilst not drowning and on those rare occasions provide some respite from the sun. Just a thought.