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FESTIVAL REPORT: Temples
Dean Brown , August 18th, 2015 12:44

Dean Brown picks his ten highlights from this year's edition of Temples Festival held in Bristol. Photo by Fran Geoghegan

10-15 years ago, a music festival like Temples would have faced certain failure. Back around the turn of the century, too wide a divide existed between different metal factions to host a festival that would have enough appeal for the crusty punks as it would for fans of doom or death metal. The blurring of the genre lines by old and emerging artists, promoters and indie labels, alongside the immediacy the internet affords, has helped develop more open-minded listeners who have torn down the walls that prevented fans of outsider music from checking out a vast number of like-minded yet distinctive artists.

The Mecca that is Holland's Roadburn has clearly played a huge part in creating a closer knit underground music community. And the popularity and professionalism of that now legendary yearly event surely inspired Temples founder, Francis Mace to build a diverse metal festival of his own on the British Isle. The smooth organisation of the three-day Temples festival – held in a gutted-out, old building in the heart of Bristol, England – speaks volumes about how much passion, attention, sweat and dedication has gone into making it a possibility. But also of how Mace and his team swiftly ironed out any small issues they had with the inaugural festival in 2014 – a successful start by all accounts, one which featured the heavyweight pull of headliners Electric Wizard, Neurosis, and Clutch.

When the full schedule for Temples 2015 was released months prior to event, the line-up set fans of underground metal frothing at the mouth. Social media then exploded with excited commentators freaking out about the inevitability of serious band clashes. Indeed, Temples had outdone itself in terms of talent booked while simultaneously setting the bar extremely high for the future. Yet those who feared the most surely underestimated Mace and company's preparations, because except for the odd heartbreaker (Pallbearer versus Voivod being the main one), clashes were kept to a minimum. Temples was also intentionally undersold so as to prevent human traffic jams between performances, and the organiser's DIY stance is apparent from the lack of corporate sponsorship, or as the Temples team puts it: "No Sponsors. No Gods. No Masters."

Besides the odd cancellation outside the promoter's control (unfortunately Today Is The Day were unable to feature as planned due to a family matter, and Obliterations also had to pull out), the entire weekend of Temples 2015 went off with very little drama. The swift rotation between the first and second stage (not to mention the timely use of the newly introduced third stage) left deafened and dizzied punters in its wake. In fact, there wasn't one bad performance all weekend. So instead of lavishing praise on every band at the festival, we give you our ten best performances from Temples 2015 in no particular order.

Will Haven

Will Haven, a band who have inspired many but never reaped the acclaim they so rightfully deserve, manage to summon a huge crowd to the main stage on the first night. The Sacramento, California band's past is littered with road bumps and frontman Grady Avenell's on-and-off-again approach, which has probably impacted their status as a cult act. But at Temples, Will Haven are united and unshakeable in their mission to excite those who have longed to hear darkly demented songs such as 'I've Seen My Fate', 'Stick Up Kid' and 'Carpe Diem' played live with real, unassailable passion. With every whiplash riff, powerhouse beat, and vein-busting scream, the band's confidence visibly increases, punctuated by the roar of appreciation from the crowd. By the end of the battery it seems as though Will Haven have finally begun to realise how much they've influenced alternative metal and hardcore – and their Temples set has surely added another chapter to their mythos.

Nails

On record, Nails are a confrontational band, no doubt. Live, however, is where their molten melding of hardcore, powerviolence and grind reaps maximum impact, and being on the main stage does little to diminish their destructive desires; their set is most intense and genuinely thrilling of the weekend. With members of other bands standing side stage, Nails walk out with the same 'Fuck you' presence Pantera showed in their prime; grimacing guitarist/vocalist Todd Jones even bears a striking resemblance to Phil Anselmo both in looks and facial expressions and also in how he controls the crowd, who tear themselves apart in the pit upon his command. "This song is about people who talk shit," bellows Jones before most of the face-splitting songs aired, much to the delight of the sweaty throng who laugh and cheer each time (the frontman's sense of humour is not lost). But when it comes to the music, Nails remorselessly cut the throat of levity and watch it bleed out on the Temples stage.

Pig Destroyer

Pig Destroyer could have easily headlined Temples and the tinnitus-tortured onlookers would have gone back to their hovels with their bellies full. Resigned to close the second stage, the American grindstitution tear through 21 insane songs without letting the tired crowd breathe. 'The Bug' opens with a seismic bang; Pig Destroyer sounding almost industrial given how tight the band has been since drummer Adam Jarvis joined and locked in with wonder-guitarist Scott Hull. The sharp thrash jolt of 'Trojan Whore' sets necks flapping like a pensioner's bingo wing, while emphatic closer 'The Diplomat' rounds out a set that exceeds all expectations. Throughout, JR Hayes, the most interesting lyricist in metal, prowls the stage and roars his psychotic tales with killer intent, while Blake Harrison (keyboards/samples) bangs his head and jumps up and down like a hyperactive cheerleader as the remaining three members slash and batter their instruments. Not only is the music razor sharp but, unlike most grind bands, Pig Destroyer know how to put on a show. Which is probably because they're not most grind bands: once you get past Napalm Death, they're the best. In contrast, Pig Destroyer's second set of the weekend dropped the doom hammer with a performance of 'Natasha'. Proof positive that Piggy D can be just as devastating at a slow, eerie crawl as they are frying your cerebellum with red-hot missives.

Converge

There are few acts who can follow the gauntlet thrown down by Nails and Pig Destroyer, but Converge show no fear, nor do they have any sympathy for the exhausted. The Boston hardcore legends begin with guitarist/producer Kurt Ballou alone, centre stage, while dragging the screeching, chugging riffs of 'Plagues' from his guitar. He is then joined by bassist Nate Newton, drummer Ben Koller and vocalist Jacob Bannon, who waste no time launching into 'No Heroes', 'Eagles Become Vultures' and a searing rendition of 'Dark Horse'. As a frontman, Bannon displays the athleticism of a boxer in his prime: the whippet-like singer constantly darts back and forth across the stage while screaming his poignant lyrics with the kind of passion that's missing from most vocalists in underground metal. But the beauty of Converge is that even though Bannon is the perfect hardcore rabble-rouser, he is just a part of a larger entity, and every member of this four-piece is essential. For instance, Koller is the band's engine and arguably lays claim to being the best metal drummer in the world; his technical and wildly spirited playing detonates 'All We Love We Leave Behind' and 'You Fail Me', and his pacing and orchestration when linked with Ballou and Newton on 'Worms Will Feed/Rats Will Feast' is nothing short of jaw-dropping.

Converge are expectedly on-point like this throughout; their headline set perfectly sequenced, creating a dynamic show with light and shade in between explosive songs such as 'Axe to Fall' and 'Concubine'. But it's the title track from the peerless Jane Doe that turns a masterful performance into something that transcends hardcore: the emotional apex of the day hits head, gut and heart with heavy blows, and Converge leave us physically and mentally damaged as 'Last Light' fades out.

Portal

Saturday's second stage is rammed to the rafters by the time Goatsnake finish setting heads banging and arses jiving on the main stage, as punters push their way in to get a glimpse of Portal in all their Lovecraftian splendour. The Brisbane surrealists arrive onstage fully cloaked as expected, with vocalist The Curator's headpiece looking like the inside of a coffin. A full performance of suffocating avant-death metal devoid of discernible structure, melody or hooks proves too much for the curious onlooker; the room starts to seriously thin out until all that's left is genuine fans of the bizarre band and the unassuming few caught in the vortex, disorientated but welded to the spot. The fact remains: you don't enjoy Portal, you just try to survive.

Triptykon

The only booking complaint this hack had the entire weekend was the fact that a metal giant like Tom G. Warrior was relegated to the second stage and not raised to the status of Saturday night's main stage headliner. (There's little you can do when Sunn O))) promise a rare two-hour drone extravaganza, I guess.) Regardless, the Hellhammer and Celtic Frost progenitor – a man who inspired a shitload of bands here at Temples and beyond – death-marches his talented ensemble of musicians through welcome 'Frost classics like 'Procreation (of the Wicked)', 'Circle of the Tyrants' and 'The Usurper', and even Hellhammer's 'Messiah', while also unleashing monstrous tracks from Triptykon's two full-lengths; 'Goetia', 'Abyss Within My Soul' and the 19-plus minute 'The Prolonging' being three highlights of the entire weekend. The fact that the Triptykon songs stand shoulder to marble shoulder with the time-honoured Celtic Frost tracks performed confirms that the status of Tom G Warrior as a leading force of extreme metal remains undeniable, and that the gothic gloom his music casts can still shake you to the core.

Sunn O)))

Speaking of which, Sunn O)))'s Saturday night headline performance reportedly caused a few bouncers to suffer from nosebleeds and one individual to faint due to the sheer subterranean frequencies the robed duo of Greg Anderson (his second shift of the day after performing with Goatsnake) and Stephen O'Malley slowly, painfully retch from their guitars. Their subsonic psyche-punch also frazzles the PA and as it would turn out, Sunday's first and second stage performances had to be pushed back an hour to allow time for repairs. There's a certain level of sadism and survivalism to a Sunn O))) set, and after two days of being smashed around the lugholes while pickling our livers with Bristol-brewed ale, the minimal, percussion-free two-hour movement is hard to endure in its totality. In fact, lots of people, including us, come and go after the surprise Burning Witch cover set opener. Sunn O))) are either underground metal's great swindle or futurists who base their sound on primitivism to warp heavy metal conventions. After enduring everything the previous two days threw at us, we flip between both camps: calling them dull, pretentious shite one minute then standing mouths agape when Mayhem's Attila Csihar appears onstage wearing a costume made from shattered mirrors to release ungodly throat chants into Sunn O)))'s boundless drone abyss. Divisive, yet totally unforgettable.

Tribulation

There seemed to be a smaller crowd at Temples on the Sunday for some strange reason. But if you made it to the third stage in time for Tribulation, you left safe in the knowledge that you witnessed the awakening of a huge career for this incense-cloaked Swedish act. With Children of the Night, their third LP and contender for metal album of the year, recently released to pant-wetting adoration from the press, Tribulation grab their opportunity by the scuff of the neck and thrill the Temples' faithful in the process. Their new songs are made to headline venues around the world, as the newly introduced gothic rock and classic metal influences connect with the crowd almost immediately. Not only that but Tribulation also look the part: straddling the stage with zeal and headbanging passionately while retaining the mystique of their death metal origins, now mixed with vaudevillian pomp.

KEN Mode

Angular, hostile, passionate – three words you'll often see scrawled by writers whenever Winnipeg, Manitoba's own KEN Mode either release a new record or rattle the confines of a venue with their chaotic live show. On studio album six, titled Success and recorded by the mercurial Steve Albini, those descriptors remain appropriate even though the brotherly duo of guitarist/vocalist Jesse Matthewson and drummer Shane Matthewson (the band completed by bassist Skot Hamilton) fully surrendered to the noise rock streak that has helped distinguish their brand of hardcore for 15 years. Because the jarring sounds of Big Black, Shellac, The Jesus Lizard, Unsane and other Amphetamine Reptiles have always featured in KEN Mode's music in some form or other, it's no surprise to find out that the new songs slot perfectly into their turbulent Temples set. As a consequence, KEN Mode lose none of the fire power of old: they pound grooves into the ground and smash the crowd into the oblivion with screeds of snarling noise rock and the kind of hardcore that exists miles above the music a band like Harms Way doled out to a larger crowd two days before.

Earth

In hindsight, booking Earth to finish off what was a hugely successful weekend packed with great bands playing at the top of their game was another stroke of genius. As weary legs gave out and crippling tiredness/huge hangovers kick in, the ominously slow 'There Is a Serpent Coming' slithers forth from the repaired PA. Dylan Carlson, a legend of drone and doom, in tandem with the hypnotic backbeats of his partner Adrienne Davis and the rest of his band, soothe all with the immersive sway of 'Badger's Bane', as all aches and pains momentarily reside. While Earth might not be the most visually engaging band on the planet, their music requires that you're not distracted by onstage antics and showmanship; instead during the Americana drift of a song like 'The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull' you are offered a rare moment of solitary calm, a chance to close your eyes and rock back and forth blissfully unaware of your surroundings. 2014's Primitive And Deadly saw Carlson return to his heavier roots, and Earth's set benefits greatly from the inclusion of some of their most recent songs. Although, old fans are rewarded too with an unexpected airing of 'High Command' from Pentastar: In The Style Of Demons as Temples 2015 reaches its twilight. The gentle thrum of 'Old Black' provides the somnambulant finale, and plenty of cheers greet the genuinely stoked Carlson as the song ends. Following this, the exhausted but wholly satisfied crowd wander out into the night's sky, ready to make the pilgrimage back to Temples in 2016.

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