I do apologise for my lack of timekeeping skills, since this second instalment of my Peter Jackson-esque SunkFest epic is somewhat overdue. Truth be told, I am currently attending more gigs than my stubby fingers can put to Microsoft Word, so the reviews are piling up faster than the bodies in Bitsa Park after Alexander Pichushkin has been for a midnight stroll. In part one we left you on a cliff-hanger as the sound technician battled audio problems and I (along with many other revellers) was caught in a battle against the levels of hunger usually only encountered in films such as Alive.
Though the unexpected delay allowed me the time to make a tactical deployment to the buffet and put my wasted youth into practice; by utilizing the years of Tetris experience to place the food with perfect geometric accuracy and thus minimising the number of return trips required. After retaking my place at the front of the stage, my colleague and I were joined by Nitronein members Sam Graham (guitarist) and Adam ‘Hendy’ Henderson (vocalist) who engaged us in conversation before they had to rejoin the dusty old road back to Lancashire. A short while afterwards the technical faults had seemingly been resolved and accordingly the next band Dakesis, a symphonic power metal band hailen frum their farawoy homelan’ of Burminum, began to set up.
The band were ready to play sometime after seven, and by that time the sun had started to set, which created a fitting ethereal ambience for a genre that focuses on fantasy and the pantheons of ancient and chimerical religions. Dakesis are a five piece band; including, as you may expect, a keyboardist and a five string bass. One thing that is interesting about Dakesis is that vocalist and co-lead guitarist Wayne manages to expertly pull off the tenor range vocals typical of power metal bands such as Stratovarius and Helloween, whilst Gemma utilises operatic vocals á la symphonic metal and both singing styles are used in equal measure.
Their set included ‘Liar’ (or as Wayne appropriately introduced it ‘Liiiarrrrr!’), a song which showcased Wayne’s extensive vocals and featured strong vocal harmonies and lengthy proficient soloing. Gemma firmly grasped hold of the reigns for several songs such as drummer/semiquaver master Adam’s finest hour After the Storm and Broken, she even left her metaphorical cubbyhole and switched instruments with bassist Amie during the latter. Broken was introduced with a humorous precautionary statement “we have to issue a warning at this point, if anyone is lactose intolerant then you should leave because things are about to get cheesy. This is our power ballad.” And this was true, as for the next five minutes we were treated to more coagulated casein than one would witness during Mr Strings’ World Tour. But it should be noted that regarding power metal this is usually the case. During her stints as lead she displayed a voice that was not as powerful as Wayne’s but far more emotionally charged.
My personal favourite of their seven song set list was On Wings of Steel. It was a commanding track and managed to capture the spirit of Hammerfall, combining it with their own style. Towards the back end of their performance, Dakesis encountered problems with guitar and bass levels but such problems were hardly serious enough to detract from the experience. Probably the greatest accolade I could give to Dakesis without it transmogrifying into some garrulous beast of a paragraph is that I have never seen a band more deserving of being snapped up by a record label. They are just that good. From their fast, demanding and insanely long solos to their showmanship as Wayne and Matt, still playing, charged into the crowd resembling a scene from the latest 3D creature feature. The multi-layered vocals helped to achieve chorusing and the variety in singing styles allowed the band some flexibility.
Next onto the stage (Fools to Favour had unfortunately dropped out) was the ill-boding soundingBeverly Hills Cop Two of whom I knew nothing. As the name suggests BHC2 is a duo, and I discovered that it comprised of Phil East on acoustic guitar and Chunk on vocals, though it should be pointed out that neither are from Beverly Hills or are in any kind of police force. The act transpired to be the music equivalent of Tron, but in lieu of a video game developer digitized and placed in his own creation it was like Chunk had somehow found himself trapped into a jukebox owned by Billy Joel. In an almost definitely alcohol fuelled set the dynamic duo played through classics such as Ben E. King’s Stand By Me, Creedence’s Bad moon rising, Queen’s Fat Bottom Girls and Neil Young’s Keep on Rocking in the Free World; with Chunk’s raw and powerfully soulful voice carrying us through a cathartic experience, which moved the audience to gather around the stage dancing and joining in with the belting out of the songs.
BHC2 also did renditions of Brian Adam’s Run to You and Boyzone’s Baby Can I hold You Tonight– though Chunk insisted it was the Tracy Chapman version. He was jokingly uncomfortable with singing such songs, claiming they were Phil’s song choices not his, stating to the adoring crowd “you’re not meant to like it, you’ll encourage him to play more like it.” Phil’s response to this was start playing and singing Swagger Jagger. Overall I really enjoyed this laidback set; the duo oozed charisma and carried their intimate set with humour and personality. It was interesting to see Chunk sing songs that he might consider being out of his comfort zone, and he did an excellent job – especially by making Baby Can I Hold You Tonight seem somewhat cool. Phil provided backing vocals which perfectly complemented Chunk’s and helped to make the songs seem more harmonious. It was an act perfect for Sunkfest, a laidback set that crowd could huddle around to watch and drunkenly sing along to. Though the aspect I most enjoyed was the hilarious inter-band banter; it was like Phil was Theophilus of Alexandria and Chunk the Library of Alexandria.
By the time Pastel Jack took to the stage proceedings were over running by about an hour, mainly due to the earlier faults and longer than expected set up times. By this point the sky was darker than an episode of Twin Peaks and colder than the entirety of Jotunheim. As I mentioned previously Fools to Favour had to pull out so Pastel Jack were asked replaced them as a sort of a last minute deal. Whilst it was somewhat of a blow to see FTF had dropped out I knew that withPJ we were in good hands, though perhaps not entirely safe hands; especially when front man Neil comes out with lines such as “If you’re gonna wrestle, do it naked”. This gig would be the band’s second gig (the other being the H.A.R.D all-dayer the week before) since taking a break for the previous seven months whilst bassist Dave was dealing with health related issues.
They opened their set with Methematic, which has become something of a custom since the song’s inception. It is an excellent choice, a song that could match Jörmungandr in length but has enough variation to stop it from ever becoming boring. I noted in my review of the band’s upcoming album‘Trojan Horse’ that the song would have benefited from a few additional solos, but having heard the song several dozen times it seems to work perfectly as it is. Methematic encompasses what fans would expect from Pastel Jack by now; foot tapping verses, powerful choruses, snappy bass work, commanding drums and skilful guitar playing from Mr Delany. They followed with a personal favourite of mine – Down to a Sunless Sea. The progressive metal influences on this track are pretty clear but more importantly it features one of the band’s strongest solos, exploring the scales like Christopher Columbus. This was the first time Sunless Sea had been played live and it appeared to a go down well with the audience as a large group (the largest of the evening thus far) headed down to the front of the stage.
A cover of the late Dio’s Holy Diver followed next. Before the song Neil tried to incite crowd participation but this seemed as ineffectual as the Karma Sutra for Pandas so he abandoned this idea and proceeded with the song. This cover greatly impressed me, as Neil certainly has the ability to imitate Dio’s robust voice and it represented the fact the band as a whole have obviously been taking cues from E.M. Forster’s The Machine Stops, because just like the titular machine the band are a tightly functioning outfit who have eliminated all ‘unmechnical’ elements. This was especially alleviating after Dave’s recovery and their prolonged absence. Next up was The Sacred Self, marred only by minor technical difficulties towards the end when drummer Tom’s china cymbal fell over. Pastel Jack’s set ended on a high with Synergy, a heavy song featuring a plethora of catchy vocal harmonies. After exhausting their five song setlist they wanted to play an encore, which was a mutual feeling amongst the audience. But unfortunately due to over running this was not possible, so Pastel Jack announced their regards and prepared to leave the stage. Before leaving the stage Neil decided to bring some class to the evening by telling everyone “get your free CD and touch yourself with it.”
The final act in this review is the sludge/hardcore band Battalions; a band heavy enough to legitimately have a name that not only refers to several units of between 300–1,200 soldiers each (which is actually a regiment) but one that also sounds like a portmanteau of battle and lions and therefore a reminder of Battle Cat. And as we all know it is statistically impossible to not like Battle Cat.
The slow and dense tones of Battalions are a far cry away from the mellifluous Half Deaf Clatch side project of guitarist Andrew. From the second song onwards, vocalist Phil prowled around on ground level, as he screamed out the vocals with such aggression. This aggression was matched by a number of those in attendance themselves with the first moshpit of the event. The aspect I particularly enjoy about Sludge bands is how they can match their pessimistic lyrics and themes, such as the song No-one’s Indispensible, with a raw ominous and forlorn sound. You couldn’t picture a setting more disparaging outside of the grimy flat of a drug addict hopeless consumed by their addiction.
Battalions were received well and the main reason would by that they were the heaviest band at this point with slow breakdown passages just screaming at you to headbang until partial tetraplegia is induced. The band do play faster tempo songs, e.g. The Fixer, which features a nice bass riff from Pete that is reminiscent of early Black Sabbath and more complex drumming patterns. Song Six is another example, an instrumental that builds in intensity as it progresses (culminating in its dick punching ending) and even utilizes higher notes in places. Phil’s vocals were furious and managed to captivate the audience despite having to contend with the distractions of the cold and the rain. Overall Battalions played a solid set of around five songs and gave free CDs out at the end. They went down a storm with the crowd a noun which is rather fitting since the rain became increasingly enduring. Not unlike my blood alcohol content.