Review written by Tom Donno and Dave Mulcrone.
With heads and necks sore from the first two nights at Desertfest, Sunday rolled in for what was arguably the biggest day in the event's history. It was not uncommon for the third day to push the boundaries a little further, with KOKO opening their doors for the last few years to act as the final day Main Stage - this year though they went one step further and utilised the legendary Roundhouse to help close out another successful year. Not only did they use the Roundhouse this year, they sold it out. With such a special occasion the organisers of course knew that they had to bring in one of the big guns, and much like with the first year they expanded out in to KOKO, the festival booked the almighty Sleep to lead the assault on the Chalk Farm end of Camden. Stage times on the Sunday were carefully managed to allow time for people to go between it and the main central hub of the festival but with the quality of bands booked for the Roundhouse it was very clear that a hell of a lot of people ended up effectively setting up camp for the day on that side of Camden - that didn't stop there being some outstanding performances across both Underworld and The Black Heart that day as well.
We kicked off the day setting our sights on the Roundhouse as huge crowds piled in to check out opening act Bongzilla (9/13). This band are old favourites for this festival, even playing a headlining set at The Underworld the night before, and it is clear to see why the enthusiasm for them is so strong. Admittedly with festivals like Desertfest there are a LOT of bands very similar so it becomes a matter of making sure you really stand out. Opening bands in venues are often victim to sound issues and generally low levels of interest but there was no such issue here. The sound was absolutely punishing right from the opening note which certainly boded well for the rest of the evening.
Dashing across to the main core of the festival, we set off to check out some old favourites of ours here at Room Thirteen in Boss Keloid (12/13). Playing the heavily crammed upstairs den at the Black Heart, the viciously groovy stoner-oddballs played a generous chunk of their excellent Herb Your Enthusiasm record from 2016, including Axis of Green, Escapegoat, and the thunderously chaotic Lung Mountain. Alex Hurst commanded the crowd with his charismatic swagger enhanced even further by his brilliant vocal prowess. Almost physically conducting the powerhouse band behind him, they sounded tight and disciplined while they showcased excellent riffs constructed by quirky rhythmical changes and interesting dynamics. It must be said that the mighty Boss Keloid from Wigan made most other bands of the weekend seem rather boring.
As Boss Keloid's storming set came to a close at The Black Heart, J. Bannon's project away from Converge, Wear Your Wounds (9/13) were taking to the stage at The Underworld. Whilst musically the two bands are very different, Bannon's general performance maintains its power and charisma and contributed towards a beautifully heavy and melancholic show. Skipping back across to the Roundhouse we checked out a band which provided a very different atmosphere, not only from this but most bands on the line-up as a whole. Wolves In The Throne Room (12/13) are not interested in providing any old show, this lot want to deliver a full on experience. Almost completely blacked out on stage the band tear through their incredibly intense strain of Post Black Metal, leaving the vast majority of the place completely transfixed. It's powerful and feels dangerous with a truly demonic aura emanating across the venue throughout. Hugely impressive and DEFINITELY a band to check out live should they come to a venue anywhere near you soon.
The band that followed couldn't have been further away as far as sound and approach are concerned. Heavy Metallers Candlemass (7/13) have a career spanning over thirty years now and there were a fair few old school followers in the building tonight. Their Doom infused strand of Heavy Metal encouraged some big crowd reactions especially when they launched themselves in to old favourites like A Cry From The Crypt. Sandwiched between the intensity of Wolves In The Throne Room and the all round impressiveness of Sleep they did kind of pale in comparison though.
The sheer mythology and unparalleled influence of the Stoner-Titans Sleep (13/13), hailing from San Jose California, created a huge buzz at the Roundhouse come Sunday evening. Rife anticipation and sheer disbelief gripped the air as the cosmic stars seemed to begin some sort of alliance - the bands merchandise sold out several hours before the band were due to perform and as sound recordings from some sort of lunar landing blared out of the PA in the minutes before they were due on stage there was an almost indescribable tension in the venue.
The iconic Doom trio are the blueprint for most, if not all bands in the genre, and along with bands such as Kyuss, Black Sabbath, Saint Vitus and Electric Wizard, set the bar conveniently 'high' for all groups trying to produce riff-based music with distorted guitars. Consequently they didn't disappoint. Opening with the title track from 1992's seminal classic Holy Mountain, the band sounded typically massive, commanding a deep pulsating groove that almost seemed slower and slower after every bar. The deep tone of Pike's guitar gelled magnificently with Al Cisneros' dooming Rickenbacker bass licks and Jason Roeder's patient, hard-hitting chops. Each member complimented the huge, strung out riff based jams that all seemed to link together seamlessly and magically. The set also included the brilliant new song The Clarity, with the sold out crowd also treated to Cultivator/Improved Morris - the end jam from Dopesmoker. The headline set proved to be a real learning experience for anyone wanting to indulge in Sabbath Worship, playing ever so slightly behind the beat without ever losing time. They played as a true cohesive unit, and made most other bands of the weekend sound lacklustre. A truly amazing experience, one that emphatically raised all expectations for a potential new Sleep record down the line.
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