After its well documented absence in 2012 and 2013, 2014 marked the return of Sonisphere UK to the British festival calendar. Back in its previous home of Knebworth House in the Herfordshire countryside, Sonisphere came out firing on all cylinders for Knebworth's 40th anniversary of holding concerts by getting both Iron Maiden and Metallica to headline alongside The Prodigy. Scribes Of Metal sent Jamie along to the final day of the event to see what Metallica's special By Request set had in store, along with many other bands with potential to deliver brilliant performances.
For those who like their metal full of riffs and groove (isn't that everyone?), French titans Gojira were the perfect choice to kick off Sunday's proceedings. With the awesome intro to Explosia rousing some members of the audience from their post Maiden hangovers, Gojira wasted absolutely no time in pummelling the impressively sized early crowd with choice cuts from their back catalogue. Backbone, a particularly intense Heaviest Matter Of The Universe and L'Enfant Sauvage were just a few of the fine songs the Knebworth crowd were treated to. The only downside seemed to be that too many of the audience were still in hangover mode as Joe Duplantier's repeated calls for everyone to "Fucking Wake Up" were met with mixed success. The set closing Vacuity did succeed in finally upping the ante with the crowd, and the French four piece left to a hero's response, which was nothing less than they deserved (7.5).
Due to Gojira starting half an hour late, it was only possible to catch a very short amount of Protest The Hero as they'd started relatively on time to catch up the schedule somewhat so the next port of call was time in the company of one Devin Townsend and The Devin Townsend Project. Full of his usual witty stage banter, Devin was in fine fettle on the hallowed Knebworth turf with a range of songs from across his extensive back catalogue. A one-two punch of Supercrush and the magnificent Kingdom was greeted as eagerly as free Jagermeister would have been and a terrific rendition of Juular only furthered the good mood. Closing with Epicloud's uplifting Grace was a great choice as well. An almost note perfect display from Devin and the rest of The DTP, who've just announced their biggest ever show at the Royal Albert Hall next April - it's not hard to see why on this evidence (8).
With the schedule still catching up somewhat it was only possible for Scribes to see part of the Karnivool set but they seemed to stand out awkwardly compared to many others on today's line-up and the crowd did not seem overly receptive to their brand of Aussie prog-rock. It may have been an off day for Karnivool but from what Scribes saw of it, Sonisphere was definitely not their day (4).
After that, Karnivool's compatriots Airbourne were a welcome sight, and a very substantial crowd greeted the arrival of Joel and co as they arrived to the main theme from Terminator 2 (a brilliant choice). Airbourne's newest album Black Dog Barking has added another dimension to their sound and the songs from that album (Ready To Rock, the title track and Live It Up) were hugely popular with the hordes of Knebworth as was Too Much Too Young Too Fast. Joel took his customary climb up the stage rigging to widdle away the solo to Live It Up before returning to terra firma to close the set with the title track from their debut Runnin' Wild. On a Sunday Knebworth afternoon, Airbourne's brand of filthy rock n' roll is perfect to be enjoyed with your drink of choice in hand. They'll be most welcome again no doubt (7).
From good old fashioned hard rock to ska and the appearance of Reel Big Fish on the Saturn Stage for arguably the most out and out fun performance of the day (if not the weekend). Among the numerous highlights were some of the classics such as Beer and Sell Out and the brilliant Suburban Rhythms ("And now for this next song, which is, in fact, the same song..." - anyone who's not familiar with this please go and YouTube it). There was a minor hiccup in that the sound was totally lost for a good five minutes, unbeknownst to the band who carried on playing through it (it seemed something at the side of the stage caught fire) - but when power was restored it brought one of the loudest cheers of the weekend. Finishing with their well known cover of Take On Me, good fun was had by one and all with Reel Big Fish (8.5).
Fresh from their top 10 UK album chart position, Mastodon took to the Apollo stage and produced one of the most polished performances they've likely ever put in on UK soil. With a set list that spanned the majority of their career there was something in there for just about everyone, be it the older Mastodon fans with the likes of Crystal Skull and Megalodon, the more prog inclined fans with Oblivion and Divinations from Crack The Skye or recent converts with Black Tongue & Blasteroid from their previous Opus The Hunter. All four band members were on superb form and the two new songs from the very recently released Once More 'Round The Sun had some of the largest audience participation of the set, recent single High Road in particular, which always bodes well for a band's new album. The usual staple of Mastodon live Blood & Thunder was strangely absent so proceedings were finished off with old favourite Aqua Dementia. A fantastic performance which bodes very well for their biggest ever UK headlining tour coming at the end of the year. Mastodon only have one direction to go from here and it's further up (8.5).
After a brief but fun viewing of the Dropkick Murphy's brand of Irish-American punk rock it was time for Alice In Chains. Within the opening thirty seconds of the opening Them Bones any thoughts of a repeat of AiC's less than stellar performance at Download just over a year ago were firmly swept away by a clean, crisp sound and William Duvall's silky distinctive tone. The band, and William and guitarist Jerry Cantrell looked refreshed and energised, with a performance full of enthusiasm which garnered a great response from the audience. With material from both the Layne and William eras of Alice In Chains going down equally well with the Knebworth crowd it very quickly turned into a good day at the office for Seattle's finest with the likes of We Die Young and Check My Brain proving especially popular. AiC haven't been this big in the UK since Grunge's early nineties heyday and with live showings like this one their success is likely to continue (7).
Sandwiched between Alice In Chains and Metallica on a stage that looked a bit too small for them, Dream Theater in some ways had drawn the short straw at Sonisphere this year but as the sun beamed down they all looked determined to put in a top performance. The Enemy Inside proved a very effective opening as James Labrie (cool dude shades and all) was on great form alongside his metronomically precise colleagues. A double dose of early Dream Theater from the Awake album in the shape of The Mirror & Lie will no doubt have thrilled the long term fans, though the wind was playing havoc with the sound as it often has done with the Saturn Stage at Sonisphere Knebworth down the years meaning the full impact of the songs was somewhat lost. The weather behaved itself to allow a great performance of On The Backs Of Angels, but it was at this point Scribes took the tactical decision to return to the Apollo stage to secure the best possible spot for Metallica. Perhaps next time around Dream Theater will be on the Apollo stage where their sound is less likely to be affected by the wind as they are a band that needs the best quality sound to be fully appreciated (7).
Slightly later than the appointed hour (when have they ever been on time), the lights dropped and the most famous of instrumental pieces for metal fans hit the PA along with the synonymous video clip from The Good, The Bad, The Ugly and 40,000 plus people collectively felt the hair stand up on the back of their necks. Any initial thoughts that Metallica's Knebworth fanbase had collectively missed a trick by selecting virtually all regularly played songs for the setlist were pretty much destroyed in the opening fifteen minutes of their set. From an instant launch into a thumping Battery (sans acoustic intro) straight into a Master Of Puppets where every word sung the length and breadth of Knebworth Park to Welcome Home (Sanitarium), everyone present knew they were in for an extremely good time.
The main bulk of the set contained few surprises, but then it hardly mattered when Metallica were on form like this. Sprints through old classics like Ride The Lightning were interspersed with slightly newer songs such as perennial live favourite Sad But True and a highly energised rendition of Fuel, complete with some impressive fiery graphics on the video screens.
Those in attendance were also treated to a glimpse of Metallica's future with the bands first new song in several years The Lords Of Summer. Though a tad on the long side, we can only say "more of the same place", as it's full of riffs and carries a distinctly "And Justice For All" vibe to it. After that it was wall-to-wall mega hits; be it a fantastic Fade To Black (where Lars' continued his Glastonbury form by keeping up with the double pedals all the way to the end), One complete with a dazzling array of lasers flying all over the place or For Whom The Bell Tolls, extremely heavy on audience participation. It barely needs saying that both Nothing Else Matters and Enter Sandman would have blown the roof off of Knebworth Park if it had had one, with the fields of Knebworth bouncing as one until the very last strains of "off to never never land" had faded, completing the main part of the set.
The encore was simply marvellous. For the second time in a week the previously extremely rare Whiskey In The Jar was heard on English soil, and fantastic it sounded too ("That's solidified as my favourite song right now, and it's all your fault quipped James at the end). The result of the "on the night" text vote resulted in a slender triumph for And Justice For All over The Four Horsemen before a memorable run through of 'Justice brought us to the obligatory closing Seek & Destroy. With the aid of several dozen Metallica beach balls and a chorus probably second only to Enter Sandman's in it's audience participation sung with gusto by all present, Sonisphere Knebworth 2014 was brought to a close in the best possible way (9.5).
Following the obligatory closing remarks from Metallica, with much love from James and Kirk, Rob's traditional "Can I get a.... HUUUUUUUUH" and Lars saying how great the last week had been for Metallica in the UK between Glasto and tonight's show, all that was left to do was reflect on a great day of rock and metal. Sonisphere has been firmly missed the last two years in the UK festival calendar, and Download and Sonisphere are both better off for having each other for competition. Let's just hope there's enough availability and variety in headliners to keep Knebworth on the calendar for next year, because it's been great having Sonisphere back in 2014.