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Saturday 1st August - Sunday 2nd August 2009
Knebworth, UK
Reviews & Photography by Kristell Gathoye
It’s 12pm sharp when Chicago heavy rockers SOiL have the hard task and privilege to open one of the two main stages, this one named Saturn, at this mega event. The crowd that has already gathered at this time of the day is totally impressive and definitely puts the band at ease. With their brand new album ‘Picture Perfect’ coming out in October, SOiL are the first exclusive band of this festival, flying to the UK to play a one off show before their new release. Starting off with ‘Breaking Me Down’, SOiL seems to suffer slightly from the first band’s sound issue syndrome as some of their power is lost through the speakers. However, with a solid performance and the clear fact that they are all genuinely enjoying themselves, the guys succeed in kicking off the first crowd surfing of the day and a near frenzy at the front. Closing with everyone’s favourite ‘Halo’, SOiL can pride themselves in successfully opening Sonisphere 2009.
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Making his usual unmissable entrance to Darth Vader’s Death March, Skindred’s frontman Benji oozes the charisma of a rock legend. There is that thing about Skindred that means that whatever your style of music, colour, sex or age is, you can’t help but love them. Just like the Simpsons, they don’t appear to get boring or go out of fashion even though they keep using the same old tricks and songs at every appearance. One of the crowd’s favourites, ‘Pressure’, demonstrates this perfectly and makes you feel that they should really have been a bit higher on the bill. Thousands of people jump and pump their fists in the air for ‘Bruises’ and, although this is music you can download like every other, you will never be able to recreate the fun and uplifting vibe that those Welsh Raggae metallers bring to every stage they play on.
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Saturday at Knebworth really felt like the party day with a mix and match of different styles of music, all creating an all fun and games atmosphere. Back on the Apollo stage, old school heroes Anthrax make their appearance under an astounding wall of approval. At the front, hundreds of fans can be heard shouting John Bush’s name. Visibly this last minute fix pleases the majority. A couple of weeks ago, the band had to pull out of most their European dates as current singer Dan Nelson had announced his departure for illness. However, a promise had been made that ex-vocalist and friend John Bush would fill in for what would probably be a one and only exclusive show with his mates. Kicking off with ‘What Doesn’t Die’, the 80s thrashers seem to have the time of their life harbouring genuine grins on their familiar faces; and it’s contagious as a crowd of middle-aged metalheads share the feeling. The New Yorkers are having such a good time that they overrun by 15 minutes on the tight schedule, delighting the crowd with an encore made of ‘Only’, ‘Bring The Noise’ and ‘Indians’. A perfect performance.
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Since this morning, you could regularly see worried festival goers looking up at the menacing sky wondering when the heavens would open and let rain dampen everyone’s spirits: around about the time Aussie rock n’ rollers take to the stage is the answer but dampen spirits it has not. Treating the fans with ‘Hellfire’, ‘Too Much Too Young Too Fast’ and ‘Runnin’ Wild’, AC/DC’s and Spinal Tap’s bastard child continues the fun that this afternoon has brought making this show that little more special when a wild Joel O’Keefe decides to brave the elements by climbing on the wet scaffolding to give the crowd a very unique view.
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As soon as the last note strikes on the Saturn stage, a sea of rockers of all ages make a u-turn to head to the other main stage, Apollo, right behind them, where mad men Alien Ant Farm are just about to start with ‘Courage’. Lead vocalist, Dryden Mitchell, takes to the front and for some unexplained reason seems a bit pissed off at something going on. He won’t explain with words but decides instead to show half of his private parts to the camera. At this instant, a part of me is thinking: “if you’re going to show it, show it all, it’s a rock festival not T4 on the Bloody Beach!” but the other part of me thinks that most people, including me, would rather not see that anyway. Throughout the whole set, Dryden looks totally separated from the band, trying very hard to play the bad boy, too hard in fact. As expected, and even more following recent events, the pinnacle and only highlight of the show will be their hit cover, Michael Jackson’s ‘Smooth Criminal’.
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The evening is nigh and the sky still blackened by rain clouds when rock veterans Heaven & Hell jump on the Apollo stage. Their years of experience bring to Sonisphere a change in sound and show quality that no one could ignore. Ornamented with colossal gargoyles, the stage looks like a gothic graveyard, what with most of them having a foot in it already. Bad jokes apart, ex-Black Sabbath and Rainbow legend Ronnie James Dio commands the stage, giving most newbies a run for their money. Helped with a backdrop screen, the show is faultless and so is the music paused between each song by Dio’s introductions and genuine banter. In an interview, organiser Stuart Galbraith had been asked why he had chosen Heaven & Hell to appear on the bill, a question he would rightly answer by explaining that: “they're there on merit. The fact is that they have produced one of the best rock'n'roll albums of the year, and have, I don't know how many years of history that justifies the space they have on the bill.” The band, after treating the whole crowd with ‘The Mob Rules’, ‘Children of the Sea’ and ‘Time Machine’ end their memorable set with ‘Heaven & Hell’.
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In terms of contrast, Linkin Park following Heaven & Hell on the Apollo stage is definitely an unsettling experience but also what makes this first day at Knebworth a success as Stuart Galbraith has without doubt fulfilled his contract when he promised to deliver a line up that would include all genres of rock n’ roll. Being the official headliner for the day, Linkin Park was welcomed by an impressive crowd that had started to gather at the front hours ago. It has to be said, these guys are the ones you love to hate and hate to love and when it comes to most of their hits, we can all be caught singing along, remembering our younger nu-metal days. With an appropriate mix of old anthems and new songs, the Californians will entertain their fans for an hour including ‘Given Up’ and ‘Bleed it Out’ from their latest ‘Minutes to Midnight’ album, but also crowd favourites ‘Crawling’ and ‘In the End’. Admittedly, up to that point, it was a clear success…that lead vocalist Chester Bennington decided to totally annihilate by advertising his new pop punk side project Dead By Sunrise. Not only was the music appallingly boring and unoriginal, but the thousands of disgusted fans leaving the arena at that time felt clearly cheated to have had an advertisement thrown in their face. Mentioning your other bands and activities to give them a boost is one thing but inviting them in the middle of the set to play 3 songs is the biggest mistake I have seen a headliner make in front of such a large audience. All that said, ‘One Step Closer’ being my favourite song and still outstanding, I patiently waited, disappointed and bored, for this weak act to disappear and Linkin Park to offer us a proper encore that will also include their brand new single ‘New Divide’. “How to destroy a great set and reputation in one lesson by Chester Bennington”, out soon in all good bookshops.
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At times when everyone is worried about that now infamous “Credit Crunch”, event organiser Stuart Galbraith, had no better idea than launching a brand new rock/metal festival. With Download, Ozzfest and Monsters Of Rock experience under his belt, what could go wrong? Well, nothing. Back in 2008, Galbraith had made a big decision to put together a massive European Rock festival that would run across six different countries (Holland, Finland, Germany, Spain, Sweden and England), terminating its journey in old favourite site Knebworth, right here in the UK. If that wasn’t enough of a challenge, Stuart also put to good use all the contacts he must have gathered over the years to book exclusive appearances with some 19 acts. Week after week, the line-up became more impressive announcing the likes of Metallica, Machine Head, Nine Inch Nails, Bullet For My Valentine, Heaven & Hell, Linkin Park and Anthrax. Rapidly, the word had spread that Sonisphere would be THE rock festival not to miss this year. The idea was to offer some 80,000 goers a main bill that would run alternately across two stages so you would not miss anyone. And if the main stages didn’t take your fancy, you had the choice to head to the smaller Bohemia tent or Jägermeister stage to watch a string of up and coming bands. It was a challenge indeed but Galbraith and his team made this first edition a success on all accounts, partly by learning from other festivals’ mistakes. Speaking at a press conference during the event, Stuart Galbraith proudly announced that: “Sonisphere has in its inaugural year sold more tickets than any of those events in their first years. We have had a total attendance of 80,000 over the weekend and we are looking forward to building on our first year and touring Sonisphere into an annual fixture in the rock calendar”. Metal Discovery also brings you an interview with the band that had the privilege to open the festivities, Chicago rockers, SOiL. Be sure to check this out too in the Interviews section.
"...word had spread that Sonisphere would be THE rock festival not to miss this year."
Sonisphere by dusk, Knebworth, UK, 1st August 2009
Photograph copyright © 2009 Kristell Gathoye - www.metal-discovery.com
Reviews & Photography by Kristell Gathoye
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