Metallica, Rock in Rio, Lisbon, 25th May 2012
Melvins, Moho Live, Manchester, 30th May 2012

I’ve seen two pop concerts in the past week. In the following article I would like to draw out specific points of comparison between them and the bands concerned, and then from the effort, attempt to derive certain judgments about heavy metal in general. Why not join me, as it is sure to be fun.

What we have here are two diametrically opposed musical experiences; a vast open-air festival concert, delivered from an elaborate set with expensive pyro and a jumbotron, versus a granite block of noise with the mass of the moon, crushed into a tiny box.

Metallica gives you heavy,’ says Jim Hetfield as he struts up and down runways extending into, and even encircling a portion of the crowd, alternating the position he sings from on a minute-by-minute basis. But on the strength of the sound coming out of my headphones, I’m not sure he even knows the meaning of the word any more. Because obviously, I didn’t go to Lisbon. Instead, I watched it on YouTube. Nevertheless, I feel perfectly qualified to dissect this concert from a very distant third-hand perspective, so fuck off.

The band are physically separated by metres, sometimes dozens of them, and the sound seems to reflect it. Nobody is going to be surprised that I think Lars Ulrich is a shitty drummer, but his playing tonight seems patchy, amateurish and washed out even for him. The 15-second ‘solo’ he busts out is actually laughable. Kirk Hammett looks bored, and while Hetfield’s voice still holds a tiny amount of snarl, on the whole it seems sanded down and devoid of edge. Robert Trujillo is the only guy playing with what seems like enthusiasm, but sadly I can barely hear any bottom end. Perhaps they’ve turned him right down like they used to do to Jason Newstead because Metallica are fucking unprofessional fratboy pricks. Owned, Bob.

We end up with a set of three or so oldies, then a rendition of Metallica in full, only played in reverse order to give us Enter Sandman as a climax, because there’s not a single artistic compromise left that Metallica isn’t prepared to make. Finally, an encore of some other guff and then a curtain call that seems to last longer than the set.

But the crowd is into it, and the crowd is fucking massive, like a million people or something. I’d get killed if I tried to beat them up all at once. Even one-by-one. Thing is, the problem for me isn’t the setlist, or the automated performances, or the weedy-ass sound, or the atmosphere-sapping stage arrangement or even the lack of intimacy that results from concerts on this scale.

It’s the corporate billboards ringing the sea of spectators. It’s the strange language Hetfield uses in his inter-song chatter. It’s the idea that this, this is what heavy metal has become. This is the template, the ultimate state of the art, the apotheosis of a musical genre that supposedly typifies rebellion and independence. It’s supposed to be the sound of alienation and working class struggle, not millionaire elites indulging their fetid egos. And though this kind of bombastic arena rock was pioneered by the equally moribund likes of Led Zep etc, at least they had the decency to implode while they were still young, disappearing for a couple of decades before reuniting the surviving member with himself for the inevitable oldies tour.

On this occasion, The Metallica Experience™ has been brought to you by Vodafone, Pepsico, Sony and others. Greybeard Hetfield keeps telling us what ‘Metallica says’, and what ‘Metallica does’, and it sounds really odd. At one point, he starts chanting ‘METALLICA FAMILY’ in a round with the audience. You could swap ‘Metallica’ for ‘Pepsico’ and nobody would notice. This is because they are mere glyphs and functionally identical parts of the sentence; nothing more than brands connoting a set of values and a particular lifestyle. Let’s all feel like part of something, whatever it is.

And I don’t know about you, but if I found out I was related to Metallica, I’d return to my childhood home, superglue the locks, stuff up the door cracks with towels and set fire to it with everyone, including me, inside.

Call it a fucking day, Lars. Just call it a day.

By comparison, Melvins are tight, both physically and musically. The tiny stage is dominated by the massive, sprawling superkit of twin drummers Dale Crover and Coady Willis, boasting a cool 13 different cymbals between them, a couple of them shared. It’s fun to watch one drummer hit a cymbal on one beat and the other hit the same one a beat later. I’m a sad drum nerd like that. Also I’m standing about four feet from Dale Crover for most of the set and it’s like getting hit about the head with a brick in a pillow. The two keep looking into one another’s eyes as they play, and I think they want to kiss. I want to kiss them both. With tongues. At one moment, Dale Crover peeks out from between the dustbin he was using for a rack tom and his beloved china cymbal and looks directly into my eyes. That’s why my jeans got wet.

It’s hard to pick out particular riffs from this avalanche of groove, but a few recognisable tunes bob to the surface. I dunno what they’re called though, sorry. I didn’t hear Queen, Revolve or Civilised Worm, all of which I was hoping for, but to be honest I don’t give a shit. I’ve never seen a gig quite this heavy in all of my life and I’ve seen one or two. Gigs, that is, not lives, though it feels that way sometimes.

Melvins play for approximately 90 minutes during which I get intimately acquainted with my fellow gig-goers, my semi-fashionable flannel shirt gets completely soaked through with sweat, and I am battered against the barrier with a relentless rhythm. Songs blend together with a few well-judged pauses for applause and cheers, but besides that, any interaction between band and crowd is left more or less entirely to the music. And then it’s done. We’re left alone and shaking with the intensity, energy, volume, sweat and passion of what’s just happened. One of the best concerts I’ve ever seen.

So, on to the bit nobody cares about:

Although both are 30-year metal veterans, and although both are said to have been influential in their fields, and although both have names beginning with M, the differences between Melvins and Metallica are manifold and readily apparent. But the biggest one, to my mind, is the diverging trajectories of their careers.

In 2012, Metallica are nothing more than a parody band, and if it wasn’t for the sheer fact they shift product like nobody’s business, absolutely everybody else would be saying the same thing. Instead they command the covers of the metal mags at their whim, arguably stealing coverage from younger, better, more interesting bands. Meantime, Melvins – also a going concern for 30 years – are wearing dresses, drowning their riffs in pummelling drums, and playing to crowds of a couple of hundred in low-ceilinged basements where sweat falls like rain.

Like Metallica, Melvins flirted with commercial major-label success in the 90s (on the back of Kurt Cobain’s namedropping), eventually leading to wrangles over whether or not they could even use their own band name. But instead of following that spiral to its inevitable conclusion (cf. Metallica, in case you can’t keep up), after being dropped by Atlantic, they instead go to work for Ipecac, before ultimately staging a merger with Big Business, making their band 75 per cent rhythm section; and then they start churning out a new strain of sludge even slower, filthier and heavier than that which made their name.

One of these things is ‘metal’.


Desertfest 2012 – Sunday

Underworld, Black Heart, Purple Turtle, April 6th, 7th and 8th

What did we learn from day three of the Camden Desertfest?

  • Stone rock is a pretty formulaic genre.
  • You can definitely get too much of a good thing (stone rock)
  • We’re old.
  • And tired.
  • And hungover.
  • For fuck’s sake we’ve got kids and joint problems and shitty hearing and stuff what are we doing playing ‘teenagers at the pop concert’?
  • So tired.

That doesn’t say anything about the show itself, but what with two of us moshing themselves into a 24-hour coma and the other suffering a severe case of stone rock fatigue after his heroic scramble to single-handedly cover an entire day’s worth of bands, it’s no surprise we’re feeling a bit fragile.

Sunday was always going to struggle to stack up for us. Both Friday and Saturday boasted some essential gigs, but to our minds, besides Samsara Blues Experiment, today’s line-up wasn’t looking as appetising as it might. We’re not the hugest of Corrosion of Conformity fans either, so our enthusiasm was probably best described as ‘equivocal’.

After an elegant repast enjoyed amongst the most genteel of upper class company (fried breakfasts scoffed in a pub), we make our way into the Underworld in time to catch the dying moments of Throne’s set. Wow, it sounds a bit like Electric Wizard. Fancy that. No offence to Throne, whose see-sawing riffs and droning vocals make for decent enough fare, but we’ve been listening to this stuff for three days solid now.

Crystal Head come on and atmospheric post-metal is delivered to us from beneath a hoodie. Then it is revealed that under the hoodie beats the heart of a die-hard Tool and Queens of the Stone Age fan. Their songs are deliberately structured and build dynamically, as you’d expect with such sleeve-riding influences. Vocals are earnestly delivered, and the musicianship seems pretty good; but for some reason the dynamics are failing to fire, and the big kick-ins never really kick off, leaving the whole thing feeling a bit flat and one-note. Shame.

It’s kind of a mismatch too, because the next band up are Leaf Hound, who sound more like Ted Nugent than Tool, and for good reason. This is a newish incarnation of a band that had its heyday in the early 1970s, and gobman Pete French has been catching our eye all afternoon as he wanders around the venue.  He looks as if he settled himself down in 1971 and just waited while the world turned, until he was fashionable again. From our cursory inspection, he appears the sort of man who could only have ended up a rock star, and his big, bluesy voice confirms it.

His tasselled leather jacket doesn’t quite fit him anymore, but at least he has the satisfaction of knowing his wife was wrong to tell him to throw it out all those years back. Instead, it has lain dormant, lurking hidden at the back of the wardrobe for over 30 years – until the time became ripe for the cowhide to leap up and slither across Peter French’s back once more, transforming him into a rock ‘n’ roll gargoyle. He looks out of place, but happy. We find ourselves endeared.

But the guitarist he’s found is a different story. This kid might be good but his dirty sex faces give him the demeanour of a predator and make us feel a bit funny and nervous inside. Then, during a breakdown, when he leans over to the bassist just before striking the big chord, he says ‘let’s do this’. All the blood in our bodies turns to ice.

Gentleman’s Pistols arrive next and one of us mistakes Carcass/Napalm Death legend Bill Steer for a young girl, and although we don’t try to cop off with him, that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t. It’s another set of stomping, raucous hard rock suitable only for getting drunk and injured to. They play with conviction, exuberance and joy, and we come to the conclusion that they’re dead good.

By this point, stone rock fatigue begins to pass over to exhaustion, and during stage downtime, talk turns to whether any of us are going to bother going to the Purple Turtle or to the Black Heart to see what else is going on. Samsara Blues Experiment in particular come up often, because their last album was a bit wank but they’re still really good. Are we going to head over? Are we? Shall we? Let’s have another beer, and then decide.

Needless to say, we camped in the Underworld all day long.

Which brings us neatly onto Zoroaster. Two huge fucking floor toms get battered into absolute bits, and fill their sound with earth-rumbling menace, underpinning a walloping great mess of riffs and heavily delayed vocals. It’s a skull-crushing sludgeslide of stoner-doom in the absolute highest purity, and for at least one of us (it’s drugs band fanboi Noel) Zoroaster are the stand-out of the day. And you can put that sentence in the press release too, sunshine.

There’s a tribal, animal intensity to this that hasn’t yet been in evidence today, and it reminds us once more why we tolerate such bullshit – leaving the house, walking about, spending all day sat on a reclaimed church pew instead of our elaborate and well-cushioned masturbation thrones – in our pursuit of dirty noise.


I’ll be honest, as much I as really do like CoC, after Black Cobra’s utterly brilliant savagery I felt like maybe they’d struggle to make an impression. Turns out I’m potentially an idiot (no real surprise there) and should trust bands that have been around nearly thirty years to do their bloody job.

And do it they did, in grand style. The legendary three-piece lineup aren’t quite to everyone’s taste (the minor exodus as they began bore slightly-depressing testament to this) but for wizened old bastards like me, the chance to see some of their early classic tunes performed as intended was the main reason I found myself breathing in The Underworld’s uniquely ammoniac fug for the second time in a week.

A few things became apparent very quickly. Firstly, Woody Weatherman was quite intoxicated. Secondly, Reed Mullin is not quite the slender blonde waif of yore (but frig me off with a hi-hat clutch, the man can drum still!). Thirdly, the new stuff slots in perfectly with the old – I’ve said before now that the last album feels like the ideal bridge between the Deliverance era and what went before, and this show proved that perfectly, at least to me.

The set was perhaps predictably weighted towards new songs and Animosity material, but that’s fine with me – the biggest reactions from the rest of the assembled stone rock fans seemed to be prompted by Vote With A Bullet and Deliverance though, thus proving that, as ever, I am the probably the only person in the world who is ever right.

Top fun night, and the perfect headliner for a day that had been getting a bit heavy on hanging chords and virtually catatonic rhythms.


So that, loathsome reader, was the inaugural Desertfest. And what a jolly good time it was. Even though we are quite bad at festivals and not much better at music journalism, the weekend still feels like incredible value for money. If Roadburn is just that bit too expensive a proposition, Desertfest could be your next best bet. It’s fantastic to get an opportunity to see a whole passel of bands that we might never otherwise, simply because most metal kids will dismiss them in favour of the big box brands while happily crowing about their anti-corporate individualism.

And thus, to the final lesson Desertfest had to teach us:

  • Our tastes are officially ‘Underground’, according to Metal Hammer. We can’t tell you how cool that makes us feel.

Trippy Wicked & the Cosmic Children of the Knight – Going Home


Superhot Records

It’s all gone a bit stone rock here recently as you may have noticed, so apologies if you were hoping for the latest tech-gore-black-necro-death-mosh-noise-crab-metal-morgue-scream-apple-other-random-adjective-core album to be sneered at from on high by the contemptuous luminaries of Pigeon Towers. We’re all too busy listening to seventies worshipping beard rock to bother though. So without further ado, here’s a review of another fuzz-centric riff-gasm.

Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight is, by almost any barometer of common sense, a dreadful band name, but then in the glamorous world of stone rock, a ludicrous moniker may be the only way to lodge yourself in the consciousness of a scene with a surfeit of forgettable bands and a collective tendency towards reduced attention something something something. I forget. Hailing from the Deep South (Hertfordshire), Trippy Wicked are the sort of band who plough precisely zero new furrows, but then this is stone rock, where progress is measured in beard length, so that is no bad thing.

What they do bring on second album ‘Going Home’ is a sense of playing with every tool in the stone rock toolbox. Firstly the sound is bloody lovely, a thick fuzz soup that sounds like it’s been festering in a slow cooker for weeks, starting with the pounding drums and hefty opening riff of the opening title track and serving them well as they move into the proto-glam stomp of ‘Hillbilly Moonshine’ to the So-Cal sunshine groove of ‘Pour Me Another One.’ You may have gathered from those last two titles that what we have here is a paean to partying, smoking ‘the herb’ and whatnot, and you’d be right, but there are also tinges of the darkness of Seattle’s doomier moments here and there, and occasional big slow piledriving riffs that nicely balance out the moments where the ‘Party Hard’ attitude threatens to become tedious.

Some of the chorus lines walk a pretty fine line between a memorable hook and an annoying repetitive one, and on occasion (such as the otherwise excellent ‘Go Outside’) it falls wholeheartedly off that line and sets my teeth on edge. When it works well, (‘Up the Stakes’) it tips entirely the other way, and approaches something rather special.

The vocals in the main are more in the mould of the anonymous extra instrument than the soaringly melodious or the throat rippingly intense, but this adds to the nonchalant good time vibe that runs throughout. ‘Change your mind’ is a really nice slice of old school British Doom, its feet firmly stuck in the metalworks of 1960’s Birmingham but with a nice lilting vocal line that actually contradicts what I wrote in the last paragraph. But then the album somewhat peters out with ‘Home,’ a minute long organ bit that feels like they recorded an intro for another track and forgot to stick it in the right place so the engineer tacked it on the end. It’s an odd end to what can otherwise be described as a fulfilling slice of British riff rock.


The album can be purchased from: