Review written by Tom Donno and Dave Mulcrone.
Early Saturday afternoon in Camden Town was about as glorious as British weather gets. With the sun beaming down, exotic smells wafting through the air, bewildered tourists rummaging about with their cameras as they danced in-between unruly flustered traffic, it seemed as if life hadn't been this good for a while. Although it was outrageously tempting to enjoy the hot summers day, walking by the canal, getting jammed in a beer garden with idiots and repeatedly thinking "am I the only person on planet Earth who doesn't have a tattoo?!", those lucky enough to have made the sacrifice made their way down into the basement of The Underworld to watch Puppy (9/13) at half-past two.
The London trio pulled a surprisingly eager and energetic crowd given the circumstances. At times they were reminiscent of early Helmet and Smashing Pumpkins, and had a rather relieving and fresh melodic approach to the dominating doom-based activities engulfing Camden Town for the weekend. The drum performance from Billy Howard was one of the most encapsulating things to witness, as he practically threw himself all over the kit, looking like a deranged mad man but playing with sublime amounts of groove. They played a lot better than their recent support gig with Turbowolf at the Scala, looking really confident as they ripped through a 30 minute set that included awesome songs like Entombed, Beast and The Great Beyond. With such great guitar riffs mixed with beautiful poppy-hooks, Puppy are a band to look out for.
Following on from this came a very different kind of performance. London based Death Metal unit Akercocke (7/13) have been relatively anonymous over the last couple of years after a particularly busy period in the early 2000s. They attracted a fair amount of people with at least a handful down the front very passionate throughout but whilst it was a nice change of pace from the 'norm' at Desertfest they did end up plagued with similar issues Winterfylleth experienced the day before. Started strong but it felt like their set just dragged on a little too long. Immediately following them at The Electric Ballroom were the far more interesting Church Of Misery (9/13). The legendary Doom-mongers hailing from Japan have a close affinity with London's heavy music fans which was clearly evident by the size of their crowd. Brilliantly enthusiastic throughout, this proved to be a strong performance.
"We're the Hardcore band who sneaked their way on to the Stoner festival". Mastiff (10/13) absolutely delivered that different level of heavy right from the off - pummelling both the crowd and the venue's PA system in ferocious style. Absolutely one to keep an eye on going forward.
The last High on Fire (12/13) record was 2015's thunderous Luminiferous, which showcased the band yet again striving to continually make faster and louder heavy metal with each attempt. This has almost evolved into a sonic hybrid of speed metal mixed with Doom, with thunderous drum beats supporting the astonishingly loud frantic riffing of the guitars and bass. The amount of power they are able to generate as a three piece is mesmerising, and their Saturday night headline gig at the Electric Ballroom proved to be as brilliant as expected. The setlist was heavily focused on the last two records De Vermis Mysteriis and Luminiferous, with tracks like Fertile Green, Slave the Hive and The Black Pot demonstrating how ferocious and thrashy they can sound. Also added to the evenings repertoire was 2009's now classic title-track Snakes for the Divine, which they have performed live with a slower tempo for some while now, as if the song couldn't sound any heavier. Sadly for older fans nothing was played off their first two records, but with a catalogue of seven albums now they have a huge amount of material to choose from, and not one song disappointed. A truly fantastic performance from Matt, Des and Jeff, truly proving their worth as Stoner-Metal icons. Band of the weekend.
With the dreaded festival fatigue beginning to set in, the challenge on Sunday morning ended up being a case of shaking away some of those hangover pangs in the brain and embracing the riff for one more huge day of Desertfest. First up for us were the heavy bruisers Moloch (8/13) who unashamedly made a huge racket despite the small crowd they'd wielded at The Underworld. In quite the contrast musically, we next headed over to the almighty Roundhouse to check out old festival favourites Elder (9/13) who deservedly attracted large numbers as they launched themselves through a swathe of psychedelic infused stoner riffs. They proved to be a perfect launchpad for some of the bands who followed.
Following a hiatus which seen Nebula (10/13) step away from the game for over half a decade, it's been a welcome sight seeing them pop up on tour again. Considering the band have had such troubles getting anyone long-term behind the kit all these years, they've found an absolute gem right now as the three-piece sounded tight and on form throughout. The roar of appreciation at the conclusion of their set was testament to the level of interest they're still able to garner.
After being pummelled repeatedly with the same doomy-sludgy riff for three entire days (DAAAWWW DAAAWWW DAAAWWW ... you know the riff) it can become a tad exhausting. You begin to be surrounded by extremely paranoid thoughts as you hazily walk between venues such as, "Do I even like doom metal?" , "Cor I wish there was a Motown band playing later" and "all craft beer practically tastes the same doesn't it?". Given these morbid thoughts, it's nice to go and explore something a bit different, such as Hawkwind (8/13) who took to the Roundhouse stage on Sunday evening. With frontman Mr. Dibs armed with a gramophone, sporadically shouting in front of a psychedelic backdrop, mysterious women dancing like drug-induced zombies as the band embarked on a long strewn out space-rock jam, it was about as a much as a pallet-cleanser as you could have wished for. Highly visually entertaining with strong musicianship, the 70s veterans included classic cuts like Damnation Alley and Hassan I Sahba, to prove how important they are to the origins of stoner rock.
Closing out proceedings at yet another almighty Desertfest then were this year's Roundhouse headliners Monster Magnet (9/13) who, whilst putting on a thoroughly professional performance throughout, didn't quite capture the imagination like Sleep did in this slot last year. In a set which leaned heavily in favour of their newest release it was encouraging to see a band with such a long history behind them not choosing to rest on their laurels and fully gunning forward with fresh material. Legends within the heavy music scene, their inclusion only further accentuates the continuing rise of the powerhouse that is Desertfest. Another superb year.
Review written by Tom Donno and Dave Mulcrone.