What the f**k just happened? Picture the scene: you’re walking along Brighton’s not-so sunny seafront, gulls are flying overhead looking for slim-pickings from unsuspecting tourists, and the usual retirees and students are basking along the pebbled beach without a single care in the world. Walking down the promenade, you are confronted by a sea of black t-shirts, all grinning and hyped up with an eager anticipation that feels infectious. All of a sudden you hear a colossal roar of distortion and demonic growls gurgling from deep within. Everyone in close vicinity turns and pauses in panic, children look to their parents, passers by freeze with bewilderment… “What is that?” they shriek… we reply, “The Mammoth has been unleashed!”
And what a beast it was! The team at Mammothfest produced an unbelievable feat across the weekend of Oct 6th-8th. Securing not just one, but four UK exclusives to delight metal-heads from across the country which included controversial Greek metallers Rotting Christ, avante-guard extreme titans Fleshgod Apocalypse, the uncompromising Noweigian true black metallers Tsjuder and post-metal doom act Amenra. Based in the UKs own traditional seaside town of Brighton at The Arch, over 50 bands glorified metal heads from around the country and a far, across 2 dedicated live stages. Founded in 2009, Mammothfest has fast become a household name and has played host to some formidable acts including Venom Inc, Textures, Onslaught, Entombed, Psycroptic, Breed 77 and Sylosis with the ambition of becoming “the largest rock and metal open air festival in the south”.
2017’s weekend line-up proved that the metal scene ‘down-south’ is alive and screaming and certainly one to contend with! Unlike 2016 that was hosted across multiple venues, this year the team encased the whole event into one sole venue which added to the overall experience, enabling you to easily move between stages and make the most of their offerings. The festival was split into 3 themed days which consisted of ‘Black Metal Friday’, ‘Extreme Metal Saturday’ and “Doom Metal Sunday’, alongside 27 upcoming acts on the Rikstock stage. This stage deserves a special mention as it not only promotes and springboards emerging artists, giving them a chance to perform on stage “with the biggest and best bands of the world”. But most importantly is a fitting memorial to Rik Mosquero who was a key figure in getting Mammothfest off the ground, and close friend to Mammothfests organiser Steve Dickson. Rik sadly lost his life to brain cancer in 2013. A touching note was the presence of P.C.A.C (Pick Collectors Against Cancer) who were selling bass and guitar plectrums with all proceeds going to the brain cancer charity alongside the regular merchandise stalls.
Black Metal Friday
Fridays’ Black Metal was packed full of exclusives. Opening the weekend was local extreme outfit Vehement that drew in a considerably large crown for a warm-up act – perhaps parting to the fact they were releasing their sophomore release “Ashes” that very same night. Followed suitably by The Infernal Sea who are a frequent force in the European scene having toured numerous times supporting the likes of Anaal Nathrakh, 1349 and Napalm Death. Their set delivered an eclectic mix of black and death metal with boundless atmosphere, with the added layer of eeriness when they entered with covered faces and the notably horrific looking plague mask, engulfed by torrents of smoke.
The first of the UK exclusives kicked off with Tsjuder. Only the second time they have graced decimated our shores since their debut in 2015, making this an already special performance. By this point the room was pretty packed with many corpse-painted faces, grinning with an insatiable appetite for the satanic masters. Between two crucifixes at either end of the stage and adorned with huge spikes, they delivered an uncompromising feast of raw black metal intensified by strobes and sinister red and green lighting. Punishing blast beats, savage shredding and explosive solos in songs like “Ghoul” combined with Nags raw vocals gave a performance that would resurrect the dead. The crowd was thrown into frenzy and boasted the first moshpit of the weekend. The pinnacle moment of this rare gig was when founding member Frederick Melander of Bathory made a guest appearance on stage and together with they played “Sacrifice”, “The Return Of Dark And Evil” and “Satan My Master”. What was already an exclusive had left the audience in ecstasy.
After their departure, hardly anyone dare move for fear of loosing their place before the formidable force that were the main headliners, Rotting Christ. What was already a heavily packed room filled out to maximum capacity just before the Greek legends casually walked on stage to a backdrop of occult chanting and excited screams from the crowd. Their performance was completely explosive, set against a backdrop of smoke and fire with a stage presence that was intoxicating. Their energy completely consumed the audience, fists and horns were repeatedly thrown high into the air, pumping to the thundering bass and double bass blasts that rumbled right through to your core. Numerous moments of pitch black between songs made the set was heavily dramatic, utilising Rotting Christs distinctive slower, atmospheric melodies contrasted to their unrelenting blackened death shreds, with Sakis’ distinctive growls filling the room. Fans old and new were appeased with the set-list including numbers from ‘Sanctus Diavolos’ right through to last years ‘Rituals’, with the band returning to the stage for an encore after ever passionate calls from the crowd.
Extreme Metal Saturday
Saturday’s event was certainly extreme with an extensively varied mix of artists and genres to grace both stages. The day was pretty cold and miserable but the weather didn’t dampen spirits, as on arrival the main stage was already buzzing after performances from Kill All The Gentlemen and Bleed Again who had each entertained a fairly large audience despite being early on in the day. As I arrived UK act Death Remains had already taken to the stage and were entertaining the masses. Whilst Hardcore for me is a niche with many bands often falling flat when it comes to vocals, Death Remains showcased a spectacular passion in their performance with the vocalist violently screaming his lungs out – even I must admit that I enjoyed the playful slamming breakdowns and the fighting spirit that ensued from the face-pummelling pace of the songs. Not to mention every single members clear enthusiasm on stage.
Next was London-based Abhorrent Decimation, promoting their recent sophomore release ‘The Pardoner’ of Chaucer-infused Death metal. As soon as they got on stage we were thrown into a magnitude of rapid-fire fretwork and front-man Ashley Scotts ferocious growls, making the floor go absolutely crazy with headbangers struggling to keep up with pace. As the music became more intense moshpits broke out with arms and hair swinging everywhere, these guys certainly meant business and proved why they are the UKs biggest Death Metal risers.
Meta-stasis have been frequent regulars to Mammothfest and it’s easy to see why they are a must-have for any line-up. The self-prescribed ‘Psycho-Tech-Death-Neg Beat-Industrial-Lunatics’ with former members of Sikth and Ted Maul brought the house down with their chaotic frenzy of industrial 90’s infused metal death which ripped right through your stomach, pulling out your entrails and left you laughing like a psycho for more! Lead vocalist Jeremy Gomez (aka Solomon.J.Lucifer.Christ), delivered one of the most insanely driven performances of the night which was infectious but the end of their set also graced one of the most heart-melting moments of the weekend when Mammothfest co-founder and director Steve Dickson personally thanked the band and announced how much he loved them and that leaving the band was one of the hardest decisions he’d faced. The warmth and solidarity that Steve brought to the weekend between artists showed one of the many fundamental reasons as to why this festival continues to be so successful and is growing at a rapid rate.
How do you follow on from an act like Meta-stasis? The answer is with the well-established Lawnmower Deth who are held in high regards, having been in the UK scene for over 20 years. If their catchy old-school vibe doesn’t get you moving their comedic lyrics certainly will! Their thrash/punk crossover was the most fun, made more enjoyable by witnessing the ear-to-ear grins from the band members who were absolutely nailing their set and having an absolute blast in the process. Vocalist Pete Lee engaged heavily with the audience and provided a good distraction when mid-set drummer Chris Flint started choking. Pete took this in good spirit making jokes that we’d made him throw up! His joking didn’t end there when he announced that they were going to play one of their most melodic epics which turned out to be their 11 second long “Egg Sandwich” – well, why not! Another highlight of their set was a brilliant rendition of Kim Wildes – “Kids In America” played at break-neck speed, which actually suited it far better than the original!
British legends that are the extreme Akercocke were another crowd pleaser, touring with their critically acclaimed sixth album ‘Renaissance In Extremis’ (their first release in ten years). If I’m completely honest their style is one that I’ve struggled to get into with the frequent mix of vocals and styles but I was pleasantly surprised by their performance and found myself nodding along with the head bangers in the front row. Jason Mendonca was on key with demonic screeches and growls, and doomy cleans that added an interesting dynamic to the music. Lead guitarist Paul Scanlan was equally impressive, appearing to spend the whole set in some kind of trance whilst producing some beautifully intricate solos, showing a real passion for his craft.
I was not prepared at all for Dragged Into Sunlight. This was a first time engagement on my part and their performance was certainly distinctive. The crowd were thrown into a moment of confusion when a massive candelabrum, adorned with candles and what appeared to be a ram’s skull took centre stage. Set against dim candlelight the band eventually took to the stage with backs turned. Their introduction of cripplingly loud droning white noise seemed to last an eternity but was soon crushed with punishing and almost indistinct distortion and the most impressive feat of drumming of the day with punishing double bass and many heart-pounding drum rolls. The whole set was stupendously intense with constant strobe lights that messed with the senses and added a sense of fear and utter bewilderment. It was a hallucinogenic performance that perfectly depicted total utter annihilation. When the world ends, this is what it would sound like.
After this most intense performance it was almost a blessing in disguise that Fleshgod Apocalypse were running 30 minutes behind schedule with technical issues, as it gave everyone a chance to return back to reality from Dragged Into Sunlights distorted nightmare. I’ve got to give credit to the Mammothfest team because the stage was jammed with techs and engineers sorting out all the gear that the Italians had brought with them, and were clearly doing their upmost to get it done as smoothly and quickly as possible. The room was absolutely rammed and was once again at max capacity when the band took to the stage. Fleshgod entered through the crowd looking like the renaissance had been resurrected, wearing dusty baroque style clothes and corpse painted faces. Unbeknownst to the majority of the audience, this was one of the first performances with the new line-up change since vocalist Tommaso Riccardis departure from the band earlier in the month. At the time, this was not general knowledge but it didn’t stop them from performing an adrenaline infused explosion of symphonic death metal. Francesco Paoli stepped up to the mark, returning once again as front-man and delivered a highly theatrical performance. His talents know no bounds as he pushed out punishingly brutish growls, contrasted against Paolo Rossi’s bellowing cleans and the beautifully powerful operatic soprano of Veronica Bordacchini. Who, due to the stage size unfortunately lacked a majority of the limelight she deserved. The set was deafeningly loud with the room being filled by emotive roars from the crowd after each number (notably fan-favourite “The Fool”) and the heavily pounding drums from Italian metal legend David Folchitto (Stormlord, Prophilax) which you could feel thumping through your chest. The energy was overpowering and was released in the most imposing wall of death, adding to the ensued chaos against the backdrop of intricately spellbinding solos and mesmerising melodic keyboard. I thought that there would be no contender to Rotting Christs explosive performance the night before, but this was certainly a performance worthy of being ranked amongst the best I’ve had the pleasure to witness.
Doom Metal Sunday
Sunday was the day that I knew the least about as I doom is certainly not my forte. I had researched into many of the acts prior to the day and was astounded at what the day had to offer. My generalisation that the afternoon would drag until headliners Amenra was completely unfounded as the day consisted of the anything goes hardcore punk of Negative Measures to the wondrously delicate acoustics of Patrick Walkers 40 Watt Sun. The weather was much calmer this day and added I was in high spirits when returning for the final performances of the festival. Telepathy completely blew me away with their deeply emotive and dynamic soundscaped offering, combining harsh droning distorted riffs overlaid with some of the most beautiful clean melodies. The echo’s resonated within the walls and gripped the audience in its entirety.
In stark contrast was the next performance from Confronted who certainly have the most fitting name! Before I even got to the stage front man Ryan Hull had run out of the venue screaming and punching with a ferocious intensity. Onlookers were completely astounded by this rash and seemingly unhinged performance but little did they know that he was playing the part of ‘the entertainer’ and setting the bar to a whole new level. This was by far one of the most insane (and slightly terrifying) performances of the whole festival with photographers running mad in multiple directions to the soundtrack of punishing crossover hardcore thrash. It was so upbeat and mad that everyone present were grinning like lunatics and having a wild time in the process. Drums were completely obliterated and drinks were spewed; the carnage only ending when both guitarist and vocalist appeared passed out on the floor.
Polish Thermit were perhaps the most downright traditional kind of fun with their energetic set of classic thrashy heavy metal. Despite being incredibly young and having only released their debut album ‘Saints’ in 2016, this band boasts some exceptional talent with vocalist Trzeszczu holding some insanely powerful lungs which any power metal outfit would be proud of, and guitarists Jendras and Peter Jack taking to the stage like seasoned pros, delighting the audience with a vast array of technically intricate solos. This metal outfit seemed to defy the ages, drawing in a huge crowd (with the most diverse array of t-shirts and age-range from any performance) for a relatively unknown band on these shores.
Ohhms were next on my list of bands not to miss and their set certainly packed a punch that left a lasting impression. From my own county of Kent, the quintet included Mammothfest as part of their European tour to their recently released and already highly acclaimed debut ‘The Fool’. Their performance was hugely driven boasting droning distortion with a multitude of fired riffs, played with such ferocious energy that it was impossible not to join in with the thrashing around of both guitarist and bassist. The mixture of progressive infused doom metal with sludgy elements already sounded heavily developed despite them being pretty young into their career. It was immensely clear to see exactly what all the fuss has been about and why Ohhms have already been included in some of the biggest festivals around.
Vodun was next on the line-up and was a very intriguing addition to the festival! Taking to the stage in the most colourful and oriental looking garments, the trio burst into wild savageness with ritualistic drumming which had a tribal, earthly feel – the rhythms replicating the ferocity of nature and the power that it holds. The vocals from lead Oya were incredibly soulful and powerfully bewitching, relaying the mysticism of the universe and it’s secrets into a spellbinding performance whilst simultaneously beating passionately with a variety of percussive instruments. I found the music beautifully eclectic and bizarre and was like nothing else I had heard over the festival. Even if it wasn’t quite your thing, everyone was astounded by Marassa’s mastery over his guitar with some of the day’s most out-of-this-world solos.
Before the final act and headliners Amenra came on, I could not move for all the people that were crammed into the venue for this closing performance. The lights were dimmed, and the stage was lit with cryptic projections of nature’s often-overlooked subtleties. The crowd went absolutely berserk when the heavily distorted droning began and a narcotic frenzy filled the room. Vocalist Colin H Van Eeckhout was overcome with emotion spending many moments heaped over on the floor, only once turning to face the audience from what I can recall. His screams ripped through to your core, epitomising a passion that was raw and ruthless, shattering yet sublime. The set was extremely emotive with hardly a moments pause to regain ones breath. I did not once feel part of a ‘mass’; the music was so intense that it felt like I was the only one there to witness this provocative finale. With all senses heightened, it was an otherworldly experience of rising up from the dust – stronger, louder, and ready to face anything that may cross your path. So strong was the response that the crowd were completely unwilling to move from their spots with ever louder passionate shouts of “more!” despite Amenras promt departure. A testament to the passion they had ignited!
Parting words from Steve Dickson:
“Thank you all so much for this weekend, every single one of you here right now. Everyone that’s been here all weekend, all the miles that you had to travel to be here; everything that you have done to make this work…Thank you to the crew, my crew, 30-odd motherfuckers that have worked their nuts off. Thank you to the venue, to the production guys, to the sound team. Everyone, genuinely, from the bottom of our hearts…you all fucking rule, you’ve made our weekend, you’ve made my fucking dreams come true! Fleshgod, Rotting Christ, Amenra, Tsjuder, so many fucking amazing bands. It’s actually a bit silly. 10 years ago we laughed about it, it happened this year. It’ll be bigger again next year so come back!”
To view the whole official Mammothfest 2017 gallery please click on the following link:
Mammothfest 2017 Playlist