LIVE: Desertfest 2018: Friday

By Jay Hampshire

First band of the festival, and the Underworld is suitably heaving with ready revellers. There’s a fair few ‘Old Man’ bands knocking around (Gloom, Hundred Year Old etc) and we’re treated to Suffolk swaggerers Old Man Lizard’s deep stoner grooves. Noodly guitars and big, swinging bass power through, shifting from surprising turns of speed to punchy held chords that drop towards doom territory. Towering six stringer Jack Newnham injects a little banter, letting us know that we’re in for ‘another stupid song about having a lovely day’. With their relaxed yet rumbling riffage, they set the tone perfectly.

Over in the Electric Ballroom, Mancunian black metallers Winterfylleth cool things down with their icy gusts of frantic tremolo and burly blast beats. From the moody string and acoustic intro to the fog of dry ice and stark stage lighting, it’s a dramatic, slick performance. Simon Lucas’ tumbling kick drum assault threatens to bury the guitars throughout ‘Gateway To The Dark Peak / The Solitary One Waits For Grace’, which gets a decent sized crowd sing along during the Gregorian chant like ending refrain.

All the way at the other end of Camden, Seattle’s premier fast ‘n’ dirty hardcore punk outfit Zeke lay into arguably the fastest songs of the weekend. After a rebellious sound check where they really put the poor sound tech through their paces, they dive headfirst into a breakneck onslaught of short and sharp cuts. Blind Marky Felchtone somehow manages to keep up with the blistering pace, spitting lyrics rapidly over a backdrop of pummelling D-beat drums and riotous riffs. Loud, dirty, redneck racing jams. Class.

There’s many a Wino lookalike in the Desertfest crowd, and Koko is bustling by the time The Obsessed take the stage. Mixing doomy vibes with dizzying flurries of lurching stoner guitar atop plodding, meditative drums, they bring together genre elements with consummate ease. Wino’s crystal clear vocals are drenched in reverb, drifting out into the venue and filling the room like smoke.

It’s a spring back down to the Electric Ballroom to get a spot for NOLA’s finest Eyehategod, and it’s already absolutely rammed. The sludge godfathers rip through their set with road hardened ease and no little sleaze. A truly acidic version of ‘Lack Of All Most Everything’ is met with approving chants of ‘Eye-hate-god’, and a triumphant (and much less unkempt than usual) Mike Williams spits venom and hatred as only he can.

There’s a queue out of the door waiting to witness prog-noise trio GHOLD at The Black Heart, and with good reason. Their set is a near tantric lesson in holding and releasing audio gratification, weighty, jarring chords and shimmering cymbals melding into shuddering soundscapes. Pulsing, roiling organically, propelled by lumbering bass and groaning guitars, it’s a wonder how a three piece can make such quaking amounts of noise.

But there’s only one band who could close down the first night of what’s rapidly becoming one of Britain’s best festivals – peerless Brummie grindcore merchants Napalm Death. It’s always such a tonal shift to see the band quietly and methodically sound checking their own gear, only for the stage to then explode into frantic, flailing energy as soon as the first chord is struck. The crowd that turns out seems to be a little older, a testament to Napalm Death’s long and consistent career. Frontman Barney Greenway takes a brief rest from howling out staccato barks to joke with the crowd, claiming that “we tried to keep the set to as many slow songs as possible”. Old standards like the blink and you’ll miss it ‘You Suffer’ sit next to modern classics like the blistering ‘Bring Of Extinction’, and some rarities from the recent collected album ‘Coded Smears and More Uncommon Slurs’ get an airing, like the unhinged ‘Oh So Pseudo’. An exhausting, exhilarating sensory overload.