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Sonisphere

Live Review

Venue: Knebworth

With festival season well and truly underway, Prog finds itself back at Knebworth.

This year the organisers have been savvy enough to tempt us with a more prog-friendly line-up to their five-stage event (Sunday in particular), but Friday starts in a low-key way with a half day in – whisper it – nice weather.

FRIDAY

 This year the organisers have been savvy enough to tempt us with a more prog-friendly line-up to their five-stage event (Sunday in particular), but Friday starts in a low-key way with a half day in – whisper it – nice weather. Late that night, thick fog and white lights flood the stage over in the Bohemia Tent in preparation for 65daysofstatic’s cerebral soundscapes. Lush synths pulsate at the heart of the Sheffield instrumentalists’ chilled night-time set, punctuated by a throbbing bass and an explosion of percussion, particularly on the instrument-swapping Dance Dance Dance. Sublime! And we’re back in our tents before the dawn chorus pipes up.

SATURDAY

It’s day two, and early risers Collibus fill the Jägermeister Tent with a larger-than-life presence and some quite rousing symphonic metal anthems for this time in the morning, which include the title track from their current album The False Awakening. Frontwoman Gemma Fox’s powerful vocals particularly impress, resonating above the music, showing just why these Mancs are grabbing everyone’s attention right now.

Across the way at the Main Stage, if this morning’s TesseracT show is anything to go by, the future is looking very rosy indeed for the band. They are reunited with previous singer Daniel Tompkins, and although it’s been three years since they played together, their set is flawless, albeit leaning heavily on material from their 2010 debut EP Concealing Fate. Ashe O’ Hara is certainly missed, but here is a frontman.

Bounding onstage at lunchtime in the Satellite Tent, a fresh-faced, white T-shirted The Safety Fire are part-beach band, part beatdown bruisers today. An excitable crowd whip up a circle pit or two to surprisingly accessible prog metal belters such as Yellowism and Mouth Of Swords from the last album of the same name, until a final massive pit expands like a big bang then collapses into a Hokey Cokey for The Ghosts That Wait For Spring, its sweet melody shredded by Gojira-like fret-screeches (technical term for you there). Glass Crush is a Mars Volta/Whamtastic singalong finale that ushers us all back outside to find beer/ice cream/a lie down.

Perhaps it’s because Messenger’s set was initially postponed from Friday (due to a power cut) that their transportive tones are particularly welcome tonight under the Jäger roof. The sound is just right, hauntingly romantic prog sensibilities meet hard rocking guts, and vocalist Khaled Lowe’s curls spring neatly out under the lights as cuts from Illusory Blues generate a poetic, stirring escape from the Maiden mania.

SUNDAY

Sunday is certainly the proggiest day of the weekend. But it’s not a real festival performance until someone loses a shoe and Protest The Hero’s frontman Rody Walker throws both of his into the audience to prove a point. His band’s highly technical playing is on form, as is his on-stage banter, but the finer details of Protest The Hero’s music get lost in a battle with the elements, which is a real shame. Walker really appears to struggle at times despite the audience’s willingness to stay put.

For all his self-effacing awkwardness, Devin Townsend’s ability to enchant a crowd remains one of modern music’s great wonders. Today the idiosyncratic polymath and his band are in flat-out metallic bluster mode, ploughing through churning but euphoric riff-squalls like War_, Juular_ and an exquisite Grace with a mesmerising mixture of brute force and elegance. Devin politely asks the crowd not to bother with circle pits and so no one does. As always, an endearing triumph for all concerned.

Perth’s Karnivool start a little shakily on the Saturn Stage (which seems to be a feature there this weekend) before Drew Goddard’s vocals are ramped up for a towering Goliath. The Aussies perform the hell out of their sun-soaked slot with cheers for guitarist Mark Hosking’s birthday and hypnotic renderings of We Are, The Refusal and a suitably buzzy Set Fire To The Hive that lends Drew’s shamanic shimmying an air of Underworld’s Karl Hyde. As slow-building anthem New Day closes, a girl behind us has been hollering along emphatically for the whole 40 minutes. If they keep this up it’ll be the entire festival crowd next time.

Growing in confidence with each appearance, Mastodon ooze prog rock cool on the Main Stage at 4pm, presenting a meaty selection from their ever-growing catalogue. That melodic newie The Motherload _can be sung back with as much gusto as 2009’s proggy rumbler _Divinations shows how widely popular they are now; with a crowd stretching further than the band can view, drummer Brann Dailor acknowledges this in a touching thanks to us for making One More ’Round The Sun a UK Top Ten album the previous week. Bassist Troy Saunders is embracing a Trevor Bolder-like appearance these days with his bleached sidies, and Brent Hinds takes advantage of the horseshow guitar run to play like the fuzzy-faced axe god that he is. An outstanding setlist also finds room for the spirited rampage of Blasteroid and the double-speed frenzy of Megalodon, even ending on Aqua Dementia’s jazzy bludgeon. My god, when this band are good, they are great

Revelling in their prominent position of playing just before Metallica, Dream Theater are on joyous, unstoppable form today. Shrewdly striking a neat balance between succinct anthems and more flagrantly indulgent material, they belie their reputation as furrowed brow musos by plainly enjoying every second of their moment in the sun. Opener The Enemy Inside and the melodic uppercut of The Looking Glass already sound like platinum-plated crowd-pleasers, but it’s the closing splurge of Overture 1928/Strange Déjà Vu and the ageless Pull Me Under that clinch victory as dextrous showboating and robust melodic oomph collide in a shower of euphoric sparks.

FRIDAY

 Late that night, thick fog and white lights flood the stage over in the Bohemia Tent in preparation for 65daysofstatic’s cerebral soundscapes. Lush synths pulsate at the heart of the Sheffield instrumentalists’ chilled night-time set, punctuated by a throbbing bass and an explosion of percussion, particularly on the instrument-swapping Dance Dance Dance. Sublime! And we’re back in our tents before the dawn chorus pipes up.

SATURDAY

It’s day two, and early risers Collibus fill the Jägermeister Tent with a larger-than-life presence and some quite rousing symphonic metal anthems for this time in the morning, which include the title track from their current album The False Awakening. Frontwoman Gemma Fox’s powerful vocals particularly impress, resonating above the music, showing just why these Mancs are grabbing everyone’s attention right now.

Across the way at the Main Stage, if this morning’s TesseracT show is anything to go by, the future is looking very rosy indeed for the band. They are reunited with previous singer Daniel Tompkins, and although it’s been three years since they played together, their set is flawless, albeit leaning heavily on material from their 2010 debut EP Concealing Fate. Ashe O’ Hara is certainly missed, but here is a frontman.

Bounding onstage at lunchtime in the Satellite Tent, a fresh-faced, white T-shirted The Safety Fire are part-beach band, part beatdown bruisers today. An excitable crowd whip up a circle pit or two to surprisingly accessible prog metal belters such as Yellowism and Mouth Of Swords from the last album of the same name, until a final massive pit expands like a big bang then collapses into a Hokey Cokey for The Ghosts That Wait For Spring, its sweet melody shredded by Gojira-like fret-screeches (technical term for you there). Glass Crush is a Mars Volta/Whamtastic singalong finale that ushers us all back outside to find beer/ice cream/a lie down.

Perhaps it’s because Messenger’s set was initially postponed from Friday (due to a power cut) that their transportive tones are particularly welcome tonight under the Jäger roof. The sound is just right, hauntingly romantic prog sensibilities meet hard rocking guts, and vocalist Khaled Lowe’s curls spring neatly out under the lights as cuts from Illusory Blues generate a poetic, stirring escape from the Maiden mania.

SUNDAY

Sunday is certainly the proggiest day of the weekend. But it’s not a real festival performance until someone loses a shoe and Protest The Hero’s frontman Rody Walker throws both of his into the audience to prove a point. His band’s highly technical playing is on form, as is his on-stage banter, but the finer details of Protest The Hero’s music get lost in a battle with the elements, which is a real shame. Walker really appears to struggle at times despite the audience’s willingness to stay put.

For all his self-effacing awkwardness, Devin Townsend’s ability to enchant a crowd remains one of modern music’s great wonders. Today the idiosyncratic polymath and his band are in flat-out metallic bluster mode, ploughing through churning but euphoric riff-squalls like War_, Juular_ and an exquisite Grace with a mesmerising mixture of brute force and elegance. Devin politely asks the crowd not to bother with circle pits and so no one does. As always, an endearing triumph for all concerned.

Perth’s Karnivool start a little shakily on the Saturn Stage (which seems to be a feature there this weekend) before Drew Goddard’s vocals are ramped up for a towering Goliath. The Aussies perform the hell out of their sun-soaked slot with cheers for guitarist Mark Hosking’s birthday and hypnotic renderings of We Are, The Refusal and a suitably buzzy Set Fire To The Hive that lends Drew’s shamanic shimmying an air of Underworld’s Karl Hyde. As slow-building anthem New Day closes, a girl behind us has been hollering along emphatically for the whole 40 minutes. If they keep this up it’ll be the entire festival crowd next time.

Growing in confidence with each appearance, Mastodon ooze prog rock cool on the Main Stage at 4pm, presenting a meaty selection from their ever-growing catalogue. That melodic newie The Motherload _can be sung back with as much gusto as 2009’s proggy rumbler _Divinations shows how widely popular they are now; with a crowd stretching further than the band can view, drummer Brann Dailor acknowledges this in a touching thanks to us for making One More ’Round The Sun a UK Top Ten album the previous week. Bassist Troy Saunders is embracing a Trevor Bolder-like appearance these days with his bleached sidies, and Brent Hinds takes advantage of the horseshow guitar run to play like the fuzzy-faced axe god that he is. An outstanding setlist also finds room for the spirited rampage of Blasteroid and the double-speed frenzy of Megalodon, even ending on Aqua Dementia’s jazzy bludgeon. My god, when this band are good, they are great

Revelling in their prominent position of playing just before Metallica, Dream Theater are on joyous, unstoppable form today. Shrewdly striking a neat balance between succinct anthems and more flagrantly indulgent material, they belie their reputation as furrowed brow musos by plainly enjoying every second of their moment in the sun. Opener The Enemy Inside and the melodic uppercut of The Looking Glass already sound like platinum-plated crowd-pleasers, but it’s the closing splurge of Overture 1928/Strange Déjà Vu and the ageless Pull Me Under that clinch victory as dextrous showboating and robust melodic oomph collide in a shower of euphoric sparks.

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