Hevy Festival 2012 [3-5/8/12, Port Lympyne, Kent]

Kent’s Hevy Festival, situated amidst the idyllic rolling hills of the English countryside hosts its 4th, and if rumours are to be believed – final year of the best underground and overground acts in the field of heavy music. Now boasting three days of continuous live music, Hevy caters for a huge array of tastes, from Swedish math-metal to ska and everything in-between. This year, the organisers have also catered for every possible force the English weather can throw at it by placing the two main stages adjacent to one another in a huge tent- meaning no clashes between the two stages. Genius!

Friday

After the seemingly traditional three hour queue to get in the place there was palpable excitement for the music to commence but due to an inexplicable reason, security stopped the crowd from entering the arena as the first chords of opening band Gnarwolves‘ set rang out. By the time the error was rectified by simply running past the lone and very annoyed security guard, the band were almost halfway through their set. Gnarwolves however, seemed hugely relieved that anybody had come to watch them and the crowd reached a respectable size for such a young, underground band. Playing on a stage about ten times the size of anything they have played on before they remain surprisingly tight and receive the first crowd surfers of the weekend.

Southampton’s Desolated are the first band to really cause a stir as their ridiculously down-tuned chug-core gets the pit moving. In a small venue, Desolated are nothing short of intense but the cavernous tent robs the band of much of their impact. Lead vocalist/growler Paul possesses a voice that sounds downright satanic and as he calls for a circle pit, the early afternoon moshers reply with aplomb.

The rarity at which Last Witness perform live gives today’s show a due sense of occasion and one to which both crowd and band rise to. The band are surprisingly tight considering the scarcity at which they play live – breakdown after breakdown is lapped up by the swarming two steppers in the pit. Songs from recent album Mourning After sound much more visceral than on record mainly due to frontman Theo’s caustic, ultra-aggressive vocal delivery. Judging from the extent of the flailing limbs it is the older songs that incite the most carnage down the front.

Shouts of “TUI!” had been a regular occurrence on the Friday and I expected Baltimore’s Trapped Under Ice to draw a large crowd as they seem to be one of the more ‘trendy’ bands at the moment. Their groove-laden hardcore evokes a pit that surpasses that of the brilliant Last Witness and every shout of “TUI!” (of which there are many) is screamed back at the band who look pretty darn pleased with themselves to have provoked such a reaction. Frontman Justice, with his brick shit-house physique spends much of the set at the barrier handing out the mic to the baying crowd and refusing to let the huge stage rob the band of the intimacy they thrive on. By doing so, they turn what would have been a great performance into one of headliner proportions.

Lower Than Atlantis seem to be as much of a Hevy tradition as the obligatory three hour queue to get in the place. Three years ago they were snotty punks playing to a hundred or so people in a tent little larger than those the festival goers themselves were camping in. Last year’s performance caused such a ruckus the security had to physically hold back the crowd from destroying the sound desk. Now, they have evolved into a slick rock band and are one of the festivals biggest crowd pullers with many singing back most, if not every word. Songs both old and new receive equal adulation with Motorway Of Life getting the crowd jumping and frontman Mike Duce lets the crowd sing the very personal chorus of Far Q. With their gradual rise as leading lights in reviving the UK rock scene it seems that LTA are on track to becoming a fully fledged arena rock band.

Saturday

Saturday began on a sombre note with the final ever show from Crocus, a band who have received nowhere near the amount of attention they deserve despite years of touring the tiniest, dirtiest venues the UK has to offer. Nevertheless, an impressive crowd has gathered to bid them farewell. Rather than let this be a sad passing of a criminally underrated and talented group of musicians, the band seem to be in a party mood with the drummer swigging from a bottle of whiskey throughout their set of frantic screamo.

Seahaven provide a welcome relief from all the beatdowns and screaming with some soulful alt-rock channelling Brand New and Crime In Stereo, but the bands emo leanings and vocalist’s unique crooning vocal are seemingly at odds with the interests of many as they draw only a small crowd. Although far from the most engaging band to grace the stage this weekend their melodic choruses have distinct sing along potential.

Pennsylvania’s Balance And Composure have gained significant popularity since the release of last years brilliant album Separation. Their triple guitar attack may get lost in the mix at times but for the most part the subtleties within the guitar work that makes Balance and Composure such an amazing band shine through. Relying heavily on songs from Separation means that most are familiar with the material and lyrics are sung back heartily. The slow building opener The Void gets heads banging but the crowd doesn’t really start to provide much of an overtly physical response until final song I Tore You Apart In My Head which sees fans scrambling to the barrier to howl the angst infused lyrics.

Relying heavily on shifting dynamics and intense emotional tension Pianos Become The Teeth enthral the crowd. Switching from beautiful clean guitar parts to pure hardcore fury ensures the band retain the crowds attention throughout. Boasting one of the best drummers in their field, I find myself constantly watching the sticksman as he breaks into intricate rhythms whilst his face is constantly obscured by flailing hair. Lead singer Kyle’s cathartic screams are full of anguish and when songs reach their climax he screams with astounding intensity.

Rolo Tomassi returns to Hevy with a new line-up, new songs and renewed vigour. Opening with latest single Old Mystics the band seem to be re-energized since the departure of two original members earlier in the year. Old favourites such as the jazzy technicalities of I Love Turbulence and the epic, progressive leanings of Kasia are welcomed like old friends. Frontwoman Eva Spence and brother James use the huge stage to their advantage, jumping and flailing as they deliver throat shredding vocals. The band is given a fitting send off as the breakdown to closer Party Wounds induces a rabid reaction from fans.

On the face of it, Meshuggah are somewhat of a wildcard booking, being one of the few metal bands on the bill, they don’t appear to fit in with the tastes of the more hardcore inclined festival goers. Any doubts are swiftly swept aside because tonight Meshuggah resemble less of a band but more a force of nature. Even those with no care for brutal math-metal are in awe at the precision at which the devastating riffs are delivered. Emerging onto a smoke filled stage the band looms over the huge crowd. Launching into Demiurge from this year’s flawless album Koloss I am suddenly aware of their boding and unmatched stage presence. Songs are aired from most of their albums and Bleed, from the breakthrough album Obzen, creates scenes of unparalleled chaos amongst the sweaty crowd. As the band walk off stage to huge ovation there is a realisation that Meshuggah have delivered perhaps the most grippingly destructive and extreme performances of the weekend.

Glassjaw are given the tough job of following Meshuggah’s blinding set but Daryl and co rise to the opportunity, playing a set that draws heavily from the band’s seminal masterpiece Worship and Tribute. The opening one-two of Tip Your Bartender and Mu Empire spurs the pit into action whilst the slow paced anthem Ape Dos Mil receives deafening adulation with every word screamed at their charismatic frontman. Siberian Kiss ends the set in a flurry of schizophrenic yet undeniably catchy post-hardcore. Just as in their headline set two years ago, band and fans alike are robbed of an encore that would have no doubt given a perfect ending to a perfect set as roars of “We want more!” go unanswered.

Andrew W.K is a rather one-dimensional act with a vocabulary that stretches little beyond the word “party” and its affiliates. Yet, his good time party anthems fit the mood of the Saturday night perfectly. Despite playing his most well known song Party Hard first, Andrew manages to maintain the atmosphere inciting circle pits and general crowd antics amongst the many festival goers who are by now a little worse for wear. Andrew W.K resembles less of a band and more of a circus, with four guitarists on stage at any one time and a very scantily clad woman who only seems to shout “yeah!” into the mic. Nevertheless, it provides an amusing spectacle. Disappointingly, and rather inappropriately, the band’s set is cut halfway through their final song and the frustration on their faces is obvious. The crowd shows no sign of leaving for a good half an hour by which time chants of “fuck you Hevy” emit through the tent. A lone guitarist attempts to appease the crowd by playing some Slayer riffs but even he is forced off of stage by the crew.

Sunday

Cruel Hand face a very early afternoon slot and a weary Sunday crowd who are still feeling the night before. Seemingly unfazed by the challenge the band unleash slabs of metal infused hardcore and it’s not long before those in the mood for some pit action rise to the occasion. Tracks from the recent release Lock and Key, which rarely reach past the two minute mark are lapped up by the ever growing crowd. The closing extended mosh outro to Cruel Hand sees the pit reach its climax and the band seem humbled by the response.

Sweden’s Suis La Lune are shunned by many of the festival goers, and most of those gathered before them seem to be there only out of curiosity. Highly regarded as one, if not the best of the ‘real’ screamo bands, they hold ethereal atmospheric guitars and harsh, anguished vocals in perfect juxtaposition. The only detractor to their otherwise engrossing set is the long periods in between songs due to the constant need for guitars to be re-tuned.

After Will Haven sadly pulled out several days before, Belgium’s Rise and Fall are gifted a later slot. Their recent release Faith, produced by Kurt Ballou of Converge fame is one of the best records of the year so far. At times sludgy and at others bursting with primal aggression the band also commands a certain progressive edge that is only possessed by a handful of bands and used to its full potential by even fewer. Tracks like Deceiver are intense bursts of hardcore held together with impeccable drumming and furious riffing. The crowd however seems to be saving their energy as they receive en masse headbanging rather than any significant pit movement.

Converge are arguably the most influential band on the bill as fragments of their sound are found in countless bands. There is a fervent excitement in the air before they take to the stage as many in the crowd are well aware of the sheer carnage the band are capable of creating. Opening with the rarely played Jane Doe from the decisive album of the same name is a bold move but the intensity of the band is perfectly visible as they drop into the breakneck Dark Horse, the breakdown of which sends bodies flying down the front. Although at times their set may stray into more meandering moments it all helps to make the heavy moments sound even crushing. Unfortunately, the sound of The Descendents’ sound checking is audible through several of the band’s songs. although the band treats the interruption with admirable humour. It is only when you see the band in the flesh that you realise that every member is so musically competent they are on almost virtuosic levels. Guitarist Kurt switches between two-handed tapping and bouts of chugging with ease whilst on the drum kit Ben Koller gives a master class in blastbeats and brings his sticks down so hard on the drums he looks like he’s trying to break them open. On Last Light frontman Jacob Bannon gets down to the barrier and those at the front try and claw their way toward him to get a chance to scream into the mic. Closer Concubine may only be a minute long, but within the song is condensed such huge amounts of sheer brutality it is impossible not to have the desire to jump in the pit and start swinging your limbs. As the set ends and the crowd disperse in bewilderment and the primal aggression they have just witnessed, it is only the Swedish metal titans Meshuggah that can claim to have made such an impact.

It is up to California’s Descendents to bring the weekend to a close. Now celebrating over thirty years as a band, I initially had high hopes for the ageing four piece. However, the band puts in a frankly underwhelming set. Playing after Converge and also a case of widespread Sunday night lethargy are contributing factors. It does seem that their angst ridden thirty-or-so year old punk draws a blank with many of the crowd. After all, these are middle-aged men singing about hating your parents and the tribulations of school. Although a dedicated contingent at the front repeatedly expresses their enthusiasm, the majority seem quite content to stand idly by or wander back to their tents. Whatever the reason for the band’s underwhelming set, it means an otherwise brilliant weekend ends with a whimper instead of a bang.

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