LIVE: Desertfest 2018: Saturday

By Jay Hampshire

Saturday kicks off with The Dev full to the brim, latecomers disappointed when they realise they won’t even get a glimpse of Falmouth two piece Monolithian. Those who stay are treated to the infectious bounce of a massive ‘Mantis Rider’, the dreamy drift of ‘Nyarlathotep’ and Shannon Green’s pummelling drum backbone on ‘Crone’. Simon Walker makes sure to thank both the crowd and also the band’s touring partners and supporters on their recent ill-fated European tour – after serious van troubles it’s a minor miracle they’ve made it here. We’re more than grateful, but the only complaint is that they just weren’t loud enough.

Those venturing down to the Underworld might be seeking to give their ears a rest with Wino’s special acoustic set. The Saint Vitus frontman is on rare form, charming and relatable. His confessional country tinged ballads ring out with jangling, bright acoustic chords. World wearied, narrative driven tales of love and loss are lilting and melancholic in equal measure, his smooth vocals leaving the audience spellbound.

Things are a little less smooth at The Black Heart, but no less magnetic; there’s a thunder coming out of the valleys, and its name is Made Of Teeth. They tear through blistering renditions of a venomous ‘Citrus Fetus Potus’ and hardcore fury infused ‘The Karman Line’, the crowd steadily losing increasing amounts of their shit as the boundless energy onstage reflects back at the band. Massive, sharp riffing and a three way vocal attack sit atop Steve Jones’ constantly shifting breathless drum assault, toying with tempo and keeping us on our toes. Despite being a last minute addition, the trio might have just put on one of the best sets of the fest.

Things are getting weird at The Underworld – drums set up at the front of the stage and a sea of effects pedals and gadgetry can only mean it’s time for Leeds noisemakers Cattle. Things kick off with steadily building rhythms from the two drummers, with lumbering bass grooves jumping on the bandwagon before a smattering of synths and effects laden, throat busting screams join the party. They straddle weird territory between punk, metal and pseudo-dance loops, but they do it fucking well, and they do it fucking loud. Imagine Sly And The Family Drone had a baby with Palehorse and you’ll get some of the Cattle picture. Props to them for the best lyric of the weekend so far: “buy me bonestorm, or go to hell”.

It’s time for some of the truest doom at the Electric Ballroom. As they step onstage, the proclamation “We are Church Of Misery, from fucking Japan!” is met with a sea of raised fists that steadily begin to pump away as the band lock into their massive, rolling, darkly bluesy grooves. The crowd lap up their serial-killer tinged, hook laden riffs, and the band present a set full of confidence, swagger, and effortless fucking cool. Despite having his bass slung somewhere near his feet, Tatsu Mikami manages to throw down some wicked call and response soloing with guitarist Yasuto Muraki as vocalist Hiroyuki Takano prowls the lip of the stage. Lovely stuff.

Dead Witches seek to bury The Underworld under the sheer weight of their mammoth Sabbathian grooves. Carl Geary’s massive wall of fuzzed out bass is a physical thing, almost claustrophobic, while Mark Greening’s tumbling, clattering drum lines make one wonder how he doesn’t go through a kit a show. Oliver Hill throws down twisting occult riffage with ease, standing like a monolith while Soozi Chameleone belts out smooth and soaring vocals that, on paper, shouldn’t tie in with the brutal grooves unfurling around her. Live though, it works, and it works fucking well.

Hull’s finest misery merchants Mastiff might have drawn a very short straw being put on at the same time as the mighty Weedeater, and they make sure to thank those who pack out the Black Heart for choosing to see them because, in the words of burly frontman Jim Hodge ‘you can always see them tomorrow’. They proceed to try and kick the roof clean off with their absolutely filthy, sludgy hardcore. Hodge howls and screeches like the last death throes of a slain prehistoric predator, and the band’s sledgehammer chords and bruising drums take us through a tour of cuts old, new, and new-new.

It’s a wonder that Oakland’s finest riffsters High On Fire haven’t headlined an edition of Desertfest in the UK before this one – with their fusion of blistering stoner licks and weighty sludge grooves, they’re possibly the quintessential crossover appeal band for the Desertfest crowd. The Electric Ballroom is heaving and expectation rife as the trio take to the stage, ripping into a breathless ‘The Black Plot’ back to back with a storming ‘Fertile Green’. Des Kensel is one of the most unappreciated drummers in modern metal, his cascades of tribal toms the pounding heart of the High On Fire sound, whipping the crowd into a frenzy. With a back catalogue packed with formidable riffs, tonight turns into a ‘greatest hits’ set – ‘Bastard Samurai’ broods with sneering menace before exploding in a fiery crescendo, ‘Rumours Of War’s buzzsaw guitar lines threaten to cleave most of the crowd in half, and a set ending ‘Snakes For The Divine’ is absolutely victorious. An ever-shirtless Matt Pike takes a breather from summoning face melting solos and barking his gravelly vocals to praise and thank the crowd. Un-toppable, unstoppable, and unmissable.