LIVE: Ieperfest 2016 @ Ypres, Belgium

By Glen Bushell

Once again, we made our yearly pilgrimage to the long-running Belgian hardcore festival, Ieperfest. In between eating some fine vegan food, drinking the best Belgian beer, soaking up the sun, and dancing to the Vengaboys during the after party, we managed to catch a wide array bands. From extreme metal to hardcore legends, the 24th edition of Ieperfest did not disappoint.

Friday August 12th

Rather than ease ourselves into three days of primarily aggressive music, we go headfirst into chaos with native sons, Eleanora. Despite their early time slot on The Marquee Stage their blend of sludge, doom, and metallic hardcore is redolent of the sound that was made famous in Ghent, providing the perfect wake up call.

Despite the searing heat, UK hardcore hopefuls Higher Power make the most of their main stage slot, and make our scene proud. Vocally, there is still some room for improvement, but that will no doubt come with experience as the band begins to grow.

It’s then time to head back into the shade of The Marquee Stage to catch Alkerdeel, who provide the aural equivalent to being hit in the face with blowtorch. In a flurry of blast beats and wretched vocals, these blackened doom maestros level the crowd and leave the breathless.

Naturally, there is a strong contingent of first-rate Belgian bands kicking off Ieperfest, which continues with Headshot on the main stage. Despite being incredibly tight and showing they know their history of New York hardcore, it quickly becomes a bit of a cliche. They certainly show a great deal of promise, but today they fail to hold the attention that they would no doubt get a one of their own headline shows.

While it may seem bizarre to say we saw the band of the weekend during the first afternoon, that honour undoubtedly goes to Ghost Bath. From the moment they step on stage, they are utterly mesmerising. Their set draws heavily from their 2015 masterpiece, ‘Moonlover’, which lures you further in than it does on record. The painful vocal shrieks that are layered over the uplifting guitar lines and hypnotic blast beats of ‘Happyhouse’, through to the epic finale of ‘Golden Number’, this modern black metal band show any detractors that they are an unstoppable force to be reckoned with.

After that spectacle, it unfortunately makes Broken Teeth sound weak by comparison, but they still put on one hell of a show. Now graduating to the Main Stage following the release of their excellent album, ‘At Peace Amongst Chaos’, they are no doubt set to follow in the footsteps of some of the greats. Things can only get bigger for them from now on.

Back in The Marquee Stage, we are then treated to something a little different to the rest of the Ieperfest line-up in the form of King Dude. Decked out in black suits, and oozing cool, their satanic rock ‘n’ roll is a welcome reprieve from the cacophony of the weekend. Swigging from a hip flask during the swagger of ‘Rosemary’, and showcasing songs from the highly anticipated forthcoming album, ‘Sex’, King Dude prove they are a one of kind prospect.

The break doesn’t last long, as The Black Dahlia Murder then bring their death metal fury to The Main Stage, and are still the best at what they do. Whether it’s newer tracks from their most recent offering, ‘Abysmal’, or classic anthems ‘What A Horrible Night To Have A Curse’ and ‘Funeral Thirst’, they are absolutely relentless today.

As The Marquee Stage begins to fill with smoke, and an eerie organ track echoes out of the PA, it signals the arrival of arguably one of the best metal bands on the planet, Tribulation. The Swedish melodic death quartet bring a certain grace to their chosen sound, as ‘Strange Gateways Beckon’ and ‘The Motherhood Of God’ are intoxicating live. They twist and turn across the stage during their headline slot, making it impossible to take your eyes off them right through to the closing moments of ‘When The Sky Is Black With Devils’. If Ghost Bath were the band of the weekend, they only beat Tribulation by a whisker.

It’s then down to the one and only Sick Of It All to close out The Main Stage, and lets be honest, when do this band ever put on a bad show? Now 30 years deep into their career, the New York hardcore icons bring the house down with a career spanning set. ‘Take The Night Off’, ‘Good Lookin Out’, and ‘Scratch The Surface’, you name it, it’s there. Rounding their set out with a double whammy of ‘Step Down’ and ‘Built To Last’, this was another triumphant set for Sick Of It All.

Saturday August 13th

As the sun beats down on Ieperfest, showing no sign of letting up down, UK metallic hardcore band Desolated are hell bent on raising the temperature even more on The Main Stage. Their sound is full of thick guitar tone, making their crushing breakdowns sound earth-shattering, and gives the crowd a chance to show off some of their finest dance moves.

It is a world away from the uplifting hardcore punk that follows, with none other than H2O. They play an early slot due to having to dash off to play another show later that evening, which is a testament to this bands passion. It is singalongs galore throughout their set, as ‘Guilty By Association’ and ‘5 Year Plan’ finds Toby Morse leading a choir of voices in front of him. The crowd then join the band on stage for the anthemic ‘What Happened?’, bringing H2O’s set to a close in style.

Then, UK hardcore heavyweights, Cold Hard Truth, turn the ground beneath The Main Stage into a war zone. Larger than life vocalist, Tim Louth, prowls the stage through ‘The Punisher’ and ‘C4-26’, which are brought to life in the blistering heat. The new material they play from their forthcoming album shows a great deal of promise, too, and before long Cold Hard Truth will no doubt rise further out of the underground.

Over on the tiny Trench Stage, the only band we manage to squeeze our way in to see across the weekend is xBishopx. Making their first appearance in Europe for their first time in nine years, they draw material from all three of their full-length records during their 45-minute set, and are welcomed back to the mainland with open arms. Let’s hope they don’t leave it that long before they return again.

Back on the main stage, Australian metalcore titans, I Killed The Prom Queen, give it everything the have. Unfortunately, the reception they are greeted with is somewhat lukewarm, and don’t receive the energy from the crowd they undoubtedly deserve. That doesn’t stop them tearing through their back catalogue, with ‘Sharks In Your Mouth’ sounding as fresh as it did in 2006, and tracks from their last album, ‘Beloved’, getting a chance to soar live. Hopefully they will deliver a follow up soon, because there is still a lot of life left in this band.

Next up are the incomparable New York legends, Cro Mags, who as ever do not disappoint. Vocalist John Joseph delivers each classic track with the utmost sincerity, and still clearly means every word he sings during ‘We Gotta Know’ and ‘It’s The Limit’. One of the main focal points of the band is undoubtedly their flawless drummer, Mackie Jayson, whose unique style is mesmerising. A quick blast through Bad Brain’s classics ‘Right Brigade’ and ‘Attitude’ bring some PMA to their set, before they wrap things up with the classic anthem, ‘Hard Times’. Cro Mags are still on top, and still one of the greatest hardcore bands to ever exist.

Unfortunately, the let down of the weekend goes is Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School Of Medicine, and it is a shame we have to say that. In 2013, they blew us away at Ieperfest, but this time around, the entire set seems contrived and lacklustre. Biafra is obviously a punk icon, but even the inclusion of some classic Dead Kennedy’s tracks fail to save this headline set. Perhaps it was just an off day, but tonight was not their night.

Sunday August 14th

After partying the previous night away, we need something to shake off our hangovers. The cure comes in the form of Canadian hardcore band, Get The Shot. We only manage to catch the final few moments of their set, but it is so good that they are still worthy of a mention, and will be ones to watch in the future.

Next up on The Main Stage is a quick-fire set from Deez Nuts. Vocalist JJ Peters does his best to ignite the crowd, who are all clearly feeling the effects of the night before, and gradually brings them out of their shell with party anthems, ‘Your Mother Should Have Swallowed You’ and ‘Stay True’. Their set is short and sweet due to having to hop across the channel to play a headline show in Kingston later that evening, but a final run through ‘Band Of Brothers’ finds the crowd clambering towards the mic for a group singalong.

Playing one of their biggest shows to date, relative London newcomers, Ironed Out, look right at home up on The Main Stage. Given that they share members with scene stalwarts such as Proven and Knuckledust, they have the potential to be one of the next break out bands from the scene. They have a classic heavy hardcore sound with a dense metallic crunch, and tracks from their EP such as ‘Us and Them’ and ‘A.C.A.B’ sound huge, gaining them more than a few new followers today.

Back in The Marque Stage, German hardcore band, World Eater, get the dance floor moving in front of them. In their half an hour set they manage to cram in fourteen songs in quick succession. ‘Man Made Hell’, ‘Lifesucker’, and ‘Calling You Out’ grab the attention of anyone hanging around outside the tent, meaning that by the time the final chords ring out of a cover of the Cro Mags classic, ‘World Peace’, they have drawn a huge, adoring crowd.

There’s no doubt that Risk It! are clearly a fan favourite at Ieperfest this year, and their heavy, New York Influenced hardcore proves a huge attraction. While at times it borders on being a slightly derivative of the genre, there is enough groove and passion to keep you interested. Tracks from their most recent LP, ‘Cross To Bear’ sound bigger and better live, and both the band and crowd alike are full of energy regardless of the rising temperature.

Over in The Marquee Stage, we witness one of the other big highlights of the weekend in the form of Virginia thrash band, Iron Reagan. While there are obvious similarities between them and Municipal Waste due to Tony Foresta fronting both bands, Iron Reagan seem faster and harder. Their songs fly by at such an alarming rate you could blink and miss ‘Eat Shit and Live’ or ‘You’re Kids An Asshole’, but they fit as many tracks as possible into their fun filled set.

A lesser band may have trouble following such an energetic performance, but the next band is Knuckledust, who come out and do exactly what they do best. This London hardcore institution are now 20 years into their career, and they are still just as important to the scene as ever. They draw from every corner of their back catalogue, and newer tracks from their latest album, ‘Songs Of Sacrifice’, show the progression they have made from their raw earlier material such as ‘Sick Life’. Unsurprisingly, ‘Bluff’s, Lies, Alibi’s’ draws out a passionate singalong from the crowd, to give them a break from running rings around each other in circle pits, which soon resume during a riotous run through their closing track, ’25 Years Dead’.

With the final day of Ieperfest being a predominantly hardcore day on The Main Stage, it makes death metal legends Dying Fetus stand out like a sore thumb. However, they draw one of the biggest crowds of the weekend, and are utterly mind blowing. Their technicality is unlike any other underneath the low-end vocal growls. From frantic blast beat drumming, to complex rhythmic changes and guitar lines, they leave the Ieperfest crowd with their jaws firmly fixed to the floor. A triumphant set, and one that shows how much fans appreciate the inclusion of something different on this years bill.

As the festival draws to a close, Agnostic Front bring the house down in the best way the know how. This long-running hardcore band are at their best tonight, with Vinnie Stigma riling up the crowd, and vocalist Roget Miret sounding as passionate about hardcore as he did when the band started in the streets of New York over 30 years ago. They play a career-spanning set, taking things all the way back to their classic releases ‘United Blood’ and ‘Victim In Pain’, which sound right at home next to newer cuts from their 2015 album, ‘The American Dream Died’. Of course, ‘Gotta Go’ brings the crowd on to the stage with the band, wrapping up another excellent edition of Ieperfest with a show of unity. See you next year!