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Thursday saw the first public protest against the University of Central Lancashire Board of Governors’ plans to change the legal status of the University from that of a Higher Education Corporation to a Company Limited by Guarantee. This change would allow private equity to access and influence the University’s assets, and ultimately pave the way towards eventual privatisation.

The protest was co-ordinated by current undergraduate and postgraduate students, as well as University staff, alumni and local citizens. The protest was also supported and attended by members of the local UNISON, PCS and UCU chapters, anti-cuts activists, and anarchist and socialist groups, but not the University Student Council, who toed the University line by refusing to address student and staff concerns over the planned move to CLG status.

The move raises concerns over the future accountability and academic independence of the University, as well as the ability to deliver education for all. The Board of Governors claims that the change of status will allow the institution to assert its independence from the government’s plans for Higher Education, but handing the keys to private equity is entirely in line with these plans, and enforces the Conservative’s plans to secure higher education only for those privileged enough to afford it, rather than those who have earned it through academic achievement.

Given the Student Council’s lack of action in protecting the interests of the student body, the Lancashire Anarchist Federation fully supports the grassroots efforts of students and staff at the University in attempting to challenge and hold the Board of Governors. Further, we pledge to offer up all resources and materials to the UCLan Students Against Privatisation at future meetings and demonstrations. It is vital that we all build on the momentum created by Thursday’s action and continue to press the University to deliver it’s chartered obligations to the community at large.

Opening to around two dozen patrons, Bergen’s Sahg sadly pass through Manchester tonight without making a dent of any kind on the city’s metalheads. Sitting somewhere between Mastodon, Down and Black Sabbath, they are magnificently heavy with a deft hand at songwriting, getting what little audience there is moving nicely to the cavernous ‘Godless North’ and the NWOBHM-lite ‘Pyromancer’. Still, the highlight is when the singer finds time to namecheck his fellow countryman and honorary Mancunian, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Iceland’s Sólstafir take a good ten minutes to get beyond their intro tape and repetitive build-up riff, eventually producing a leftfield brand of metal that no-one in their nearly two decades of existence has yet to accurately label. Their slower parts have previously drawn predictable comparisons with Sigur Rós, but that is nowhere the mark. They manage to combine what appears to be a love of Joy Division and the post-punk of Amebix and meld these to a metal structure, even at one point sounding like feedback-drenched version of Metallica’s ‘Bleeding Me’. It is all very haunting and unsettling, and it is rare and special entity that can evade categorisation as well as Sólstafir, to the point that I still cannot decide whether I even enjoyed it or not.

Long Distance Calling are one of the many technically-perfect metal bands that have cropped up in the last five years, and touring their first album with a permanent vocalist, the focus is still very much on producing a precision-cut set. The singer-come-keyboard player takes centre stage just the once during the set, but makes a clear difference to the dynamic of a band who are still largely instrumental, demonstrated effectively on new song ‘Tell the End’ and ‘The Man Within’. The other new material aired displays no great shift in direction, fitting in well amongst older hits such as ‘Aurora’ and ‘Black Paper Planes’, both beautiful, melancholic songs that deliver quality riff after quality riff. It is disappointing that even when LDC are performing there are fewer than 80 people in attendance, and when three bands of this quality are playing in front of such a poor turnout, Mancunians cannot sincerely complain about the increasing number of tours that pass the city by for Liverpool or Leeds.

Three-quarters of the Twigs and Apples brigade took a trip to darkest, coldest Salford at the end of February to take in the Manchester leg of a tour by a Belarusian anarchist on the current climate of political and social repression in his home country. Hosted by the Manchester and Salford Anarchist Federation, a member of the Belarus Anarchist Black Cross, a group which supports political prisoners trapped inside the country’s labyrinthine, Soviet-era judicial and incarceration systems, spoke at length on the country’s history since independence from the USSR in 1991.

Current President Alexander Lukashenko was elected in 1994 on a populist anti-graft ticket, and like many high-ranking figures in post-Soviet nations had a history of loyal service within the bureaucracy until it became politically expedient to join the calls for the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Within a year of coming to power, Lukashenko oversaw a referendum that gave him power to dissolve the Parliament and strengthen ties with Russia, the result of which were roundly criticised by international observers. Anti-Western rhetoric was stepped up and used to cover a multitude of sins within the fledgling nation, and subsequent elections have routinely posted between 75% and 85% in favour of the President, including a 2004 referendum on the abolition of Presidential term limits three years later. These elections have also consistently been subjected to widespread international condemnation, and any protests for electoral reform have been violently crushed.

Protests against Lukashenko’s iron grip on the political process in Belarus have most visibly taken the form of city centre rallies during elections or major changes to the law. The state’s most common response is to sanction police violence, then place hundreds of protesters in low-level prisons for between one and two weeks, condemning the organisers as unpatriotic, foreign agents, in keeping with classic Soviet revisionism. Increasing controls on education, the media and civil organisations mean that opportunities for above-ground, ‘legitimate’ protest are almost non-existent; being a member of an unregistered organisation is now illegal, even if that organisation is something as innocuous as a Scout group or gymnastics club.

Predictably, anarch individuals and organisations are at the forefront of anti-Lukashenko protests and the repression that ensues. The Belarus ABC currently supports five individuals who were jailed in 2011 for a range of protests and solidarity actions, each having been charged on the basis of little or no evidence. Two, Artsiom Prakapenka and Jauhen Vaskovich were charged with attacking the KGB facility in Bobruysk, while Ihar Alinevich was sentenced to eight years imprisonment following an attack on the Russian embassy in Minsk. Aliaksandr Frantskievich and Mikalai Dziadok were convicted for attacking the headquarters of the trades union federation (a state-backed organisation), with the former also convicted of computer hacking, and the latter for attendance of an anti-military demonstration. All five have been consistently denied appeals and fair legal representation, and the friends, families and comrades of the prisoners believe that their continued harsh treatment is due largely to their refusal to admit guilt or apply for an official pardon. The route of official pardon is open to many political prisoners and the process of imprisonment and pardoning is seen predominantly as a way of breaking non-compliant citizens, often at undue cost, akin to the “I love Big Brother” moment in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The talk, which lasted nearly two hours, was a fascinating insight into life under what is ostensibly a dictatorship, and the sacrifices made by those individuals who speak out against the regime publically. The Belarus ABC stressed their need for financial assistance in order to pay for food, clothes, housing and legal costs for current and former prisoners, alongside putting continued pressure on EU authorities, whom Lukashenko is beginning to reach out to in order to secure financial stability via possible future membership. The EU is mainly concerned with the human rights situation in Belarus due to the presence of numerous Russian gas pipelines; if Europe can secure guarantees on access to this energy and remove the threat of the tap being turned off, then it will likely turn a blind eye to abuses committed by the Belarusian state. All human rights activists must ensure that the struggles of their Belarusian counterparts are not forgotten in the same way. More information on the work of the Belarus Anarchist Black Cross can be obtained by writing to belarus_abc@riseup.net or visiting http://abc-belarus.org/ (available in Russian and English).

Professing a love of cider that almost surpasses epic Yorkshire grinders The Afternoon Gentleman, Lancashire freshmen Corrupt Moral Altar present seven well-fermented sludge-grind beverages on Luciferian Deathcult. Filled with intense and introspective lyrics that weave a story of addiction and societal alienation, this is a well-thought effort at representing a bleak and chaotic life that has been torn apart by substance abuse.

Opening with the type of mid-tempo grind beloved by Nasum and Pig Destroyer, ‘Play Stupid Games and Win Stupid Prizes’ and ‘Stray Dog’ hit the stomach like methylated spirits before breakfast, with admittedly few references to sludge apart from the swampy tones that fail to dilute the power of the rapid-fire grind sections. This is not for the faint-hearted and will definitely leave blisters.

As the record progresses, however, the real quality and experimentation begins to emerge, as ‘Politics is a Bargain Between Beggars’ offers the first real contrast between sludge and grind, while ‘Flattening the Cultural Pyramid’ contains a leftfield, post-hardcore mid-section that recalls Converge and Norma Jean, as well as containing an adventurous arrangement that gradually progresses towards the equally superb ‘Profondo Rosso’. This duo ultimately contends with ‘Power Whore’, where choral chanting gives way to a lurching riff that juxtaposes brilliantly with a punked-up chorus, to be the highlight of the record.

This is a record that sounds a lot different after the first couple of listens. Each song is shot through with great ideas, but paying attention to the relationship between these ideas makes it clear that the latter half is significantly braver and more experimental in arrangement and style that the first few songs. In any case, it is rare that a band can have this kind of coherent variety after less than six months together. Cvlt Nation compared this record in some ways to Superjoint Ritual, while there are also similarities with His Hero is Gone, the aforementioned Converge, and Clinging to the Trees of a Forest Fire; while it is very obviously rooted in a crossover between sludge and grind, CMA are already taking that template in exciting new directions.

Blasting on to the international extreme metal scene three years hence with debut full-length Hatred for Mankind, Dragged into Sunlight have committed their second ritual of mass destruction to record, a trio of the heaviest blackened sludge that scars and haunts the ears long after the final strains of feedback cease. Widowmaker contains less overt black metal reference points than Hatred for Mankind, and while there is more focus on sludge, there is little of the hardcore that can be found on the most recent record by DIS’s closest musical relations, Coffinworm.

Widowmaker opens with a single guitar that slowly builds and broods, as if winding through a cavernous labyrinth, eventually accompanied by a violin and a piano; thus far this is a record that would offer a great score for a post-apocalyptic Cormac McCarthy novel. After this extended opening - over a quarter-hour, in fact - ‘Part II’ is a writhing, blackened doom beast that begins with a lurking, lumbering sludge riff, before giving way to an ascending passage that surges towards a climax, and is very nearly post-rock owing to its refreshing and uplifting sound.

‘Part III’ commences around the 28-minute mark with yet another monstrous riff and a liberal dose of feedback, burying the listener under its immense weight. This final third of the record is as colossal and claustrophobic as anything in the doom/sludge scene right now, matching all but perhaps Electric Wizard for outright power, and resembles a Death Star armed with a planet-disabling dose of barbiturates. In between these elephantine riffs are short passages as clear and calm as a garden pond, offering only the briefest of respites by coming up for air to recall the ritualistic guitar that opened the record.

The strength of this quartet of anonymous northern Englishmen has been harnessed by an almighty production effort courtesy of Vagrant Recordings, resulting in their true sonic potential being fully realised. The use of serial killer samples may seem cliche, and the use of repetitiveness may begin to tire, but Widowmaker contains few misplaced steps, and displays Dragged into Sunlight at the absolute peak of their creativity. Buy this record immediately.

Vanitas, by Anaal Nathrakh

Surely now is the time to recognise Anaal Nathrakh’s exercises in controlled sonic devastation as a cherished British institution? The continuing ability of the Birmingham duo to bat a record straight in to the Album of the Year polls at any given moment is frankly unfair, especially considering some of the sacks of vomit that will likely receive gongs at the end of the year from Kerrang, Metal Hammer and, yes, even the once-mighty Terrorizer following a shocking change in editorial direction.

Vanitas is, at the most basic level, a re-affirmation of Anaal Nathrakh’s basic principles of furious riffs and one of the most dynamic vocal ranges in modern metal, but a step away from the prominent D-beat and crust influences on the previous two records. It is most likely an alternative direction from 2007’s In the Constellation of the Black Widow, had the aforementioned influences not been brought to the fore. Instead, it is an increased focus on harmony and melody, and the return of a prominent electronic undercurrent continues on from the last part of Passion.

This change in priorities is most memorable on ‘You Can’t Save Me, So Stop Fucking Trying’, which drags the listener by the scalp in to a knife-fight between a screeching maniac, and the soaring, leering alter ego who growls and croons through the chorus, all the while pierced by a gabba drum machine beat and a huge riff that lands somewhere between Killswitch Engage and Strapping Young Lad. If those reference points have you shuffling in your chair, it is a similar story for ‘Todos Somos Humanos’, which contains a cut-up introduction that will have purists squealing “industrial” and “dubstep” despite their knowledge of neither, before a caustic grind riff pushes your shoulders in to the floor as punishment for ever doubting them.

Elsewhere, ‘A Metaphor for the Dead’ is a another curveball, ending with a significant harmonic section that renders any of Bullet for My Valentine’s or Trivium’s attempts at twin-harmony Maiden ballads as laughable kitsch. ‘In Coelo Quies...’ offers a similar, slightly tamer conclusion, but not before three and a half savage minutes of AN going nuclear with a withering riff and an astonishing vocal execution. Still more trademark performances are served up in the opener ‘The Blood-Dimmed Tide’ and ‘Of Fire and Fucking Pigs’, but they are tempered by ‘Feeding the Beast and ‘To Spite the Face’, both threatening a sense of overkill and forgetfulness.

Despite not matching the levels of Eschaton and the two immediate descendants - an enormous task in any case - Anaal Nathrakh remain a raging cyclone of a band. With each record, the duo lose the element of surprise of previous albums, but replace it with an ever more seamless combination of their influences, bending all flavours of metal to their will. Vanitas may not be firing on all cylinders, but it’s creators remain at the summit of extreme metal.

Chaos Reigns, by Nuclear Death Terror

Focusing all of your stylistic attention on a single subject matter has rarely been to the detriment of any metal band (see Nile and, erm... Ziltoid the Omniscient), and one look at the song titles from a band monikered as bluntly as Nuclear Death Terror will confirm the subject of their thrashing crust-punk to be nothing but purist nihilism and eschatology.

Straight out of a thousand Copenhagen squat parties, NDT are the latest in a continuous line of crust creatures great and small to sign for Greg Anderson’s Southern Lord label, and are amongst such company as Wolfbrigade, Enabler, Oiltanker, Martyrdöd and From Ashes Rise. Call it cynical, but Southern Lord are placing a lot of chips on the crust bet this year, and with a release as aggressive as Chaos Reigns, it is not difficult to see why.

Raging forth from the speakers with a concrete-thick mix of Doom, Venom and Discharge, this is all patch jackets and dirt-under-the-fingernails; fast and loose with absolutely no spit and polish to give it all a sheen. Chaos Reigns is a re-release of three previous EPs, presented in reverse chronological order, but there is little besides the production quality to tell any of the three apart. Like all music that is genetically hardwired to punk, the tunes here are catchy as hell, particularly ‘Collapse’ and ‘World Enslaved’; the former hails Sepultura’s nascent thrash with a raging D-beat undercurrent, the latter built around a proto-grind riff and verses that bounce along like a Sick of it All single.

Chaos Reigns is a record that displays hero worship at every turn, the highlight being ‘Abyss’s Seasons in the Abyss-style conclusion, this perhaps inspiring the song title. The Slayer/Discharge hybrid that is ‘The Darkest Age’ rumbles along gloriously, not for a moment feeling forced or derivative, and during the anarcho-punk pairing of ‘Total Annihilation’ and ‘Devolve to Submission’, a style that could so easily sound like a pastiche sounds as vital as ever when, twice is succession, NDT drop a gear and unload a mid-tempo thrash/punk riff that swings out of the stereo like a wrecking ball.

Running the gamut of fast and filthy heavy music, from crust to thrash to grind and all points in between, there’s little scope for Nuclear Death Terror to come out with anything revolutionary, but their suffocating no-prisoners-taken sound is refreshing in a genre where experimentation and exploration are hardly vital. Chaos Reigns might not be the most inventive of the year, but for a pure blast of straightforward rage, you couldn’t get much better than this.

The Threnody of Triumph, by Winterfylleth

Flagbearers of the contemporary English black metal scene alongside Fen and Wodensthrone, Winterfylleth’s The Threnody of Triumph is yet another fine ode to English history, culture and nature. Building on the blueprint laid down on The Ghost of Heritage and The Mercian Sphere, this is another outstanding record that overflows with an intense sense of loss, heartache and nostalgia, taking aesthetic influences from eastern European bands such as Drudkh and Negura Bunget, although with a subtler folk influence.

There is no extended atmospheric introduction to set a glib scene, the Winterfylleth boys are assured that their material alone is powerful enough to conjure images of endless rolling hills and beautiful national parks, and launch straight in to ‘A Thousand Winters’, a raging journey through the darkest season with squalling guitars and a painful melody, before closing on a melancholy riff and a fresh-as-dew a cappella round. Stripping back the layers reveals an iron-strength black metal core, demonstrated devastatingly on ‘The Swart Raven’, and returning later on ‘Void of Light’, which rolls and troughs like the finest moors and forests of Saddleworth and Bowland. To capture the very spirit of the land as completely as this is a truly special talent, especially when Winterfylleth’s earthen and humble nature is a far more honest, positive and mature celebration of heritage and culture than anything that the unimaginative NSBM minority can offer.

Overall, there is not much deviation or variation from the template that those already familiar with Winterfylleth with recognise, indeed, this is not a ground-breaking record in itself. There are no radical departures here - even down to the Natural England photography on the cover - but the degree to which they have perfected their craft is remarkable, and the power of their delivery in all departments almost unmatched. The beauty and sorrow of ‘Æfterield-Fréon’ would find a home on any record from Fairport Convention’s Unhalfbricking to A Perfect Circle’s Mer de Noms, ‘Home is Behind’ channels English folk music through the full spectrum of emotional turmoil, while ‘A Soul Unbound’ and ‘The Glorious Plain’ are meditational trances on Burzum-heavy black metal.

In a year in which there has been so much an outpouring of civic pomp, occasion and ceremony in the UK, what with the Olympics, the Jubilee, a major football tournament and, in my hometown at least, a year-long civic Guild, The Threnody of Triumph offers a more lasting and intelligent lamentation on a long-lost culture, the meaning of a true attachment and connection with the land and the richness of history that is often whitewashed and distilled down to bite-sized, public-friendly chunks. This is simply a passionate tale told critically and honestly through music that is fused totally with the soils and souls from whence it came.

Hellfest 2012 in Review

This year’s Hellfest saw the festival site expand significantly, nearly doubling in size to a 35,000 capacity, and featuring two extra stages, a larger campsite and an expanded market. The festival’s organisers have made the leap from being a larger small festival to a smaller large one in a remarkably smooth fashion, with the arena, facilities and campsite layout being not just expanded, but also improved on previous years.

After missing Thou and Extinction of Mankind’s early sets, Endstille’s Teutonic artillery column rolls across the Maginot Line and arrives at the Moine valley, firing volley upon volley of steel-plated German black metal towards the incoming Gulf Stream winds. Endstille have been testimony to the beauty of the ‘no-frills’ approach for over a decade, but that is no match for the legendary Discharge, fathers of possibly the most copied style in existence: D-Beat. Many have cloned Discharge’s body, but the substance is clearly in the soul as the Englishmen fire through genuine classics such as ‘The Possibility of Life’s Destruction’, ‘State Violence State Control’ and ‘Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing.’ An entire festival could be organised with bands inspired by Discharge, not least Hellfest co-performers Machine Head, Nasum, Napalm Death, Anaal Nathrakh and The October File, and their influence on contemporary heavy music looms almost as large as many of this weekend’s main stage headliners. A brief first visit to the main stages sees Heaven Shall Burn’s death-tinged metalcore inducing an almighty duststorm, while Brujeria break out the machetes for half an hour of insurgent grindcore back on the Altar stage.

Sweden’s Nasum broke up in their prime after the death of lead vocalist Mieszko Talarczyk in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, but the remaining members have recruited Rotten Sound vocalist Keijo Niinimaa to complete a ‘farewell’ tour for 2012. There have been many debates about the necessity and validity of this reformation due to the emotive circumstances around the original break-up, but it cannot be denied that when the Swedes (and one Finn) open with ‘Mass Hypnosis’, and ‘This is...’, Nasum still have plenty of ammunition with which to maintain their fearsome live reputation. Setlists have been chopped and changed during their jaunt across the northern hemisphere, but ever-presents such as ‘Multinational Murderers Network’, ‘Wrath’ and ‘Inhale/Exhale’ decimate an audience that has been starved by the absence of this seminal act.

Friday evening sees a Southern pairing of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Hank Williams III shepherd in the sunshine that quickly begins to dry out the rain-saturated arena. Skynyrd steadfastly refuse to move out of autopilot, and Johnny van Zandt’s lengthy speeches in English, spoken through heavily gritted teeth, are obviously lost on the crowd. In stark contrast is Hank Williams III, who likely revels in playing to a crowd that hangs little significance on his ancestry. The majority of the set is dedicated to frenetic, anti-mainstream country that hails the influence of legendary outlaws Waylon Jennings, David Allan Coe (who worked with Pantera’s Darrell brothers on country/metal crossover act Rebel Meets Rebel) and Williams’ father and grandfather, but doses of doom and metalcore are mixed in impressively with the slide guitars and violins. Closing the first day is Megadeth with a set of as-expected classics and formidable new material that drowns in the rain and wind that continues until the morning.

Belgium’s Amenra and Germany’s Necros Christos take an occult doom template and complement it in contrasting ways on Saturday morning, the former delivering a half-hour of Neurosis worship with a hypnotic mix of post-hardcore and sludge, thoroughly wrecking any prospect of hangover recovery, while the latter head in a black metal direction to create a spellbinding sermon resembling a barbiturate-soaked recitation of the Necronomicon. An unscheduled swap means missing all but the last song of Steel Panther, before Death Angel and Exodus set the main stages afire with a double-header of oldest-school thrash metal.

Cancer Bats hit the Warzone stage with all the energy of a pre-schooler tanked up on Sunny Delight and Skittles, their cover of the Beastie Boys’ ‘Sabotage’ the perfect opener to an utterly devastating set from a band that at the absolute zenith of their game. Sebastian Bach’s enthusiasm unfortunately outpaces his quality by an Olympic distance, and Napalm Death’s set is punctuated by a lengthy equipment problem, but Yob’s stoner doom menacingly crawls in to the early evening and entrances a Valley stage that is operating a one-in-one-out policy, such is the demand for the Oregonians. It is likely that Machine Head will never play anything from their second to fourth albums at a festival ever again, with Unto the Locust, The Blackening and Burn My Eyes taking predictable prominence within their set. Their live shows are notoriously brutal, but Robb Flynn, for all his genuine humility and grace, needs to find some stage banter beyond his generic ‘Oh my god!’ and ‘Cheers, you guys are awesome... awesome!’ calls to keep it interesting for the veterans.

An in tune and remarkably on time Guns ‘N’ Roses put on a blockbuster show that rivals the theatrics of KISS on this stage two years previously, and the inclusion of two guitar solos, two piano solos and a Pink Floyd cover only hint at how overblown the whole show was. Large video screens litter the stage and create a disorientating effect, but GNR hammer out a spectacular set drawn mainly from Appetite for Destruction and Chinese Democracy. Perhaps Axl Rose is finally putting his infamous tantrums behind him, because when his band - for it seems like a real band now, rather than a hired gun show - is allowed to focus on performing, Guns ‘N’ Roses are very nearly peerless.

Refused take to the stage long after midnight and their legacy until now has been savage journey to the heart of the punk rock dream. Every song receives a predictably riotous response, particularly the genre-defining ‘New Noise, ‘Refused Party Program’ and ‘Liberation Frequency’ from the classic The Shape of Punk to Come. A band who toured Europe playing Earth First squats and broke up due to internal conflict and the possibility of ‘selling out’, the Refused reunion was greeted with more scepticism than most, but while their explosive set may not put to rest any doubts regarding their motives for reforming, their ability to floor whatever audience is put in front of them is out of the question.

As with Necros Christos and Amenra the previous day, Sunday starts with two bands showcasing the amount of variety that currently exists under the metal banner, as Alcest’s genuinely beautiful post-rock, tinged with only the slightest black metal hint, gives way to Liturgy’s noisier offerings. With an image that suggests an art school folly rather than a group of ‘genuine’ devotees, and a track record of members being roundly demolished for suggesting Scriabin as a musical influence only pushing this image further, Liturgy are doing much more than many of their dyed-in-the-wool critics in pushing the genre forward in fusing ultra-orthodox black metal with the chaos of Sonic Youth and the Melvins. Being part of the much-maligned USBM scene that so many Europeans arrogantly look down upon further stacks the chips against them, as does holding court amongst the at-times irritating Black Metal Theory Symposium, but Liturgy’s deafening surge of noise rock is refreshing and exciting, even if it does reduce their chances of playing the Nuclear War Now! festival any time soon.

Brutal Truth rode far ahead of the reunion wave by deciding to get back together in 2006, but six years later the god-awful cowboy hat still clings to Kevin Sharp’s head like a bad smell. Despite their iconic status, Brutal Truth’s performance seems somewhat short of vital at times, although it is difficult not to enjoy the whirlwind created when material from Extreme Conditions Demands Extreme Responses drops. Lock-Up increase the pace during one of their rare outings, and Dying Fetus bring the slam before Anaal Nathrakh drive their brand of blackened grind across the Altar stage like a freight train through a Wendy house. The first two songs are plagued by sound issues, but once these are righted, AN are unstoppable.

Suffocation are clearly riled at having to perform around Children of Bodom’s extensive stage set-up, and after taking a pop at the Finns, stick to a straight-up death metal set sans props, gimmicks, guitar poses and keyboards. Motley Crue’s stage show is at the opposite end of the spectrum both aurally and visually, but Vince Neil’s voice fails to hold up for the duration, while it is difficult to be enthusiastic about Slash playing mostly the same material that Guns ‘N’ Roses played the night before. The rains begin to return during the sets of Arcturus and Madball, both thankfully playing indoors. Madball’s guitar tone is frankly awful, but Arcturus’ ethereal fare is perfect for lying back and unwinding at the back of the tent.

After Ozzy Osbourne rather annoyingly opens his Black Sabbath replacement show with two solo songs, ‘Bark at the Moon’ and ‘Mr. Crowley’, and continues with a shuffled version of last year’s Hellfest-headlining set, it falls to SunnO))) to filter the low-end occult spirit of Birmingham’s most famous sons down through a black hole as the rain drives in from the Atlantic coast. The robed ones perform an intense meditation that leaves punters sat rooted on the floor and rocking back and forth - the decision to ingest mind-altering substances obviously a bad one. The pace is glacial, the atmosphere apocalyptic and claustrophobic, but an spending an hour convinced that you are part of an Iron Age drug trip is much more appealing than a Zakk Wylde fretwank.

At the Gate of Sethu, by Nile

Seven albums in and nearly fifteen years since their debut full-length release, American death metallers Nile continue their successful mission to establish themselves as an unconquerable institution within their genre. Five years since their first trough, and a shallow one at that in Ithyphallic, after a career of peaks, the Egyptological four-piece present At the Gate of Sethu, and once again stun the metal community and its press, thanks not only to the song titles that are godsend to anyone writing to a word limit, but also because of their equally absurd levels of talent.

Right out of the gate, the opening duo of ‘Enduring the Eternal Molestation of Flame’ and ‘The Fiends Who Come to Steal the Magick of the Deceased’ are trademark cuts of classic Nile. Rapid-fire verses that are almost disorientating to keep pace with thunder forth from the speakers, before a sharp wrench of the handbrake introduces towering, slower mid-sections that conjure and condense the vastness of the Sahara, mercifully granting the listener a precious few seconds of mercy.

Unlike previous Nile records, greater care has been taken with vocals, a priority particularly noticed on ‘The Inevitable Degradation of Flesh’ and ‘Tribunal of the Dead’. The effect is yet more dynamism and versatility, as well as adding an almost pop-like catchiness to many of the album’s choruses. Hardcore fans can rest assured that there are still all the growls, grunts and barks that they will need, and that the lyrics are as academic as ever, but the way that they are deployed around the other instruments is now much more intelligent and considered than in the past.

Nevertheless, there are some lowlights here, particularly ‘When My Wrath is Done’, which seems to lack any real focus, and appears to be little more a collection of half-decent ideas that were left over at the end of recording. Given the compositional skill that the band possesses, it is disappointing that these ideas could not be woven into the record elsewhere, or abandoned altogether.

By the time that ‘Supreme Humanism of Megalomania’ and ‘The Chaining of the Iniquitous’ arrive to close out the record, any jury will have already reached the inevitable unanimous verdict that is due. The latter is a monstrous, downtempo epic in the vein of Annihilation of the Wicked’s ‘Von Unaussprechlichen Kulten’, and as the final horn sounds out, all that remains is for this record to be wrapped in linen and sealed in a Pharaoh’s tomb to be worshipped for eternity.

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