Uprising 2017 Festival Review

Whilst Leicester has, over many years, spawned a number of creative and hard-working bands, the closing of the legendary Princess Charlotte seemed to open up a void which resulted in the steady dissolution of a coherent ‘scene’, with numerous small gigs going on around the city but very little focus. However, the last three years has seen a major shake-up, with a number of new promoters entering the fray and even a return of the coveted Metal 2 the Masses (Bloodstock’s very own talent contest) to the city.  Leading the charge, certainly for metal and alternative rock, has been Resin Promotions (run by Resin’s Simon Yarwood), who steadily rebuilt the scene by putting together a series of tightly co-ordinated, heavily promoted and well-thought-out shows that boasted coherent line ups, popular out-of-town bands and plenty of local support. Using two main venues, Duffy’s Bar and Firebug, both known for good sound (not least thanks to soundman Russell Daly), good beer and a relaxed vibe, Resin Events quickly became a promotions company to whose shows you’d go even if you didn’t know the bands because you could always trust the quality. This is, sadly, all too rare a thing with promoters, and Simon has stuck to his original maxim of booking the best bands (regardless of fan base size) and treating them well, ensuring that even as bands increase their stature, they never fail to return to Leicester, knowing that a professionally-run and friendly show awaits them.  

Photo: Jola Stiles

Despite all of the above, no-one fully appreciated the fierce ambition that Simon could bring to bear. Bringing Metal 2 the Masses back to Leicester was only the first stage in a larger plan and, last year, the inaugural Uprising festival served both as the most audacious final that any Metal 2 the Masses competition could ever boast and as a serious festival in its own right with bands like Hell, Conan and Acid Reign arriving at De Montfort Hall to remind that esteemed venue that there’s more to life than Queen tribute bands and the inevitable annual performance of Blood Brothers. Simon, his ambition unchecked, apparently felt that this year had to be even bigger and so, on a sunny May bank holiday, the hordes descended once more un De Montfort Hall for a festival that featured an even bigger line-up and even more attractions.

Metal to the Masses

Kicking off at one, with the set times not released until the day, Metal to the Masses saw five local bands compete for the coveted BOA slot. It’s a challenging competition, demanding that each band up their game as they set foot on a truly massive stage in what can only be described as a life-changing experience for those lucky enough to experience it.

First up is Fractions, who were hotly tipped last year but who couldn’t continue with the competition for various reasons. This year, the band have made good progress and it’s clear from the cheers that greet their arrival on stage that they have a fair few supporters in the house. The primary influence is a groove-laden metalcore but the band struggle against a boxy sound that seems to have stripped the mids from the guitars, which immediately makes it challenging for those less familiar with the songs to identify with the material. They put a lot of effort into their performance, but with so many bands employing a similar vocal dynamic of growls into cleans, it would be nice to see a more varied approach. Regardless of whether it’s our thing or not, the band put in an energetic performance and receive a warm reception, it’s just a shame the sound wasn’t better.

Photo: Jola Stiles

Next up are the excellent Morti Viventi. An impressive contender at the heats, Morti Viventi started off as a solo project and it’s hard to believe they only started playing live this year. Like Fractions, they struggle with a sound that seems to bury the lead guitars, which is borderline tragic given the scorching solos that so obviously should dominate, and it definitely reduces the impact of a band who, traditionally, hit the stage like a force of nature. Performance wise the band put their collective heart into the show, although they seem less at ease with the space on offer, and the audience (which contains a large number of Morti Viventi fans, judging by the T shirts) responds in kind. It’s a good showing, and I have no doubt that the band will go from strength to strength in the coming year.

Photo: Jola Stiles

Finalists from last year’s show, Blood Oath were always this reviewer’s first choice. A band who have worked incredibly hard, it’s amazing to see how far they have progressed in a year. In terms of performance, the band own the De Montfort Hall, with singer Thrax prowling the stage and terrifying the front row whilst the band make good use of the wings and engage well with the incredibly large (the largest of the competition) crowd. Chants of “Blood Oath” can be heard throughout the all-too-short show, and my god it’s ferocious! Blood Oath may not truly realise how good they are, but the audience do and respond with a wave of adulation that seems to floor the band. For me, if there were to be an official Bloodstock band, I’d certainly nominate Blood Oath. Quite exceptional.

Photo: Jola Stiles

Although popular with some sections of the crowd, I find Ubiquitous a more difficult proposition. The band incorporate a wide range of influences from across the extreme metal spectrum, but the theatricality of their performance, which comes across so well in smaller venues, seems somewhat lost on a larger stage. They certainly have a great deal of ambition and the musicians, in particular the band’s drummer, are incredibly tight, so there is certainly plenty of scope for a bright (or should that be dark) future for the band, but the challenge of following Blood Oath proved somewhat insurmountable in this instance.

Photo: Jola Stiles

The final band to take to the stage as part of Metal 2 the Masses is My Legacy. The band have certainly evolved considerably over the course of the competition, seemingly getting tighter and gaining confidence with every performance, and this goes over well to the crowd in which there are some very vocal fans. It’s music that’s tailor-made for the pit (and there are plenty moshing at the front), but I’d like to see a slightly more varied approach to the vocals which currently follow the well-worn tropes of metalcore. Nonetheless, the band (and lead singer Kesh Young in particular), put in an impressive showing that stands then in good stead for future competitions.

Another incredibly challenging Metal 2 the Masses final, then, but Blood Oath carried the day thanks primarily to the exceptional level of proficiency in brutality they have achieved, but also thanks to a very vocal fan base who took every opportunity to chant the band’s name. No doubt all of the bands who took to the stage will return next year even more fiercely determined to gain the top slot, but today is Blood Oath’s day and it is truly heartening to see the band take their bow.

Uprising

With Metal 2 the Masses complete for another year, it’s on to the festival itself. Opened by Resin (now augmented with a violinist), we unfortunately miss the bulk of the band’s set due to an unfortunately scheduled interview, but we do make it back in time to catch set closer ‘Open Heart Trauma’, which captures the band in full flow. Given the brevity of what we saw, it’s hardly fair to give a rating, but for those unfamiliar with Resin, a quick search will help you find their impressive ‘Persecution complex’ EP and, from the sound on stage, they have only improved since that outing.

Photo: Jola Stiles

What more is there to say about doom legends Witchsorrow? Aside from the fact that it feels somewhat unusual seeing the band in broad daylight, the band impressively still manage to summon a sense of claustrophobic darkness on the second stage, with the heavy use of haze and blood red lighting creating an ominous air that perfectly underscores the potent doom the band deal in. With epic-length tracks like ‘Made of the void’ and ‘to the gallows’ (both from the superlative ‘no light, only fire’ album) casting a pall over the venue, they truly deliver and it’s hard to believe the band are so low down the bill. Witchsorrow are one of the day’s highlights, their passion and belief keeping the doom flame burning darkly in the shadows. An early highlight and a brilliant addition to the line up.  9

Photo: Jola Stiles

No less impressive are Haerken whose theatricality makes their inclusion on the main stage line up an obvious one. Flanked by shields and dressed in their customary robes, the band put on a performance that is tongue in cheek but which does not skimp when it comes to delivering potent blasts of death metal (with added bagpipes for good measure). The band make spectacularly good use of the large stage throughout their performance and it’s hard to imagine anyone leaving the venue unimpressed by these medieval madmen. 9

 

Another band who make good use of the large stage, flanking it with the imagery of world war II, Eastern Front were a band for whom I had hopes, not least because their album, ‘blood on snow’, is so impressive. However, something feels wrong and whilst the music remains an icy blast of black metal, the vocals felt poorly timed and executed, often seeming to ignore the rhythmic punch of the music entirely. It’s a shame because I was expecting so much more from the performance, but on this showing Eastern Front did little to advance their cause. 5

Photo: Jola Stiles

In contrast, Boss Keloid are simply magnificent. One of the bands of the day (if not the band), Boss keloid suffer a broken string early on in their performance, only to incorporate it into their show, jamming whilst the offending guitar is restrung, rather than standing awkwardly as the audience grow restless. It’s this sort of professionalism that so often seems lacking and it elevates the band’s show. However, professionalism can only get you so far if you don’t have the songs and Boss Keloid most certainly have the songs. Heavy, doomy riffs with plenty of stoner references (i.e. ‘cone’), what stands them apart for me is Alex Hurst whose vocals have a Mike Patton versatility to them, and the band simply own the second stage. It’s one of those performances that has you utterly entranced from start to finish and I came away from the festival many pounds lighter after a quick trip to the merch stand (along with half the audience of the second stage) to buy both t shirt and CD. Big things are still to come for this band and, if you’ve not come across them yet kick yourself, hard, and rectify the situation.  10

Irrepressibly silly, Lawnmower Deth are the perennial metal festival band with their inflatables, cheery stage presence and endlessly bizarre songs such as ‘Spook perv happenings in the snooker hall’ and ‘sumo rabbit and his inescapable trap of doom’. Embracing the foolish, the band are simply good time punk-infused metal and they  fit perfectly onto festival bills, keeping the audience in a party mood at a point when people are starting to flag just a touch from the surfeit of ale and the back-to-back stage times. Wilfully chaotic, Lawnmower Deth leave the entire audience grinning like heavy metal maniacs and that’s just the way we like it.  8

Photo: Jola Stiles

After a quick breather, it’s off to Kill ii this, over on the second stage, who prove to be another festival highlight. A band I’ve long admired (since the release of ‘Trinity’, in fact), the opportunity to see a reactivated Kill ii this was just one of the many elements that drew me into Uprising this year. Despite ongoing sound issues (which diminish what would otherwise have been a near perfect set), the band deliver an impressively eclectic performance that highlights just why the genre-mashing sounds of ‘Deviate’ and ‘Trinity’ have endured over the years. Songs like ‘This world’ and ‘Crucified’ have lost none of their edge and it’s notable how many young fans the band have garnered seemingly in spite of their twelve-year hiatus. Along with bands like Senser, Kill ii This highlight just how foolish genre allegiance is, and their set is far too short. A band made for bigger stages, let’s hope they return soon. 8

Over on the acoustic stage one highlight is The Midnight Dogs who have long declared that only rock ‘n’ roll can save their collective souls. Fronted by the barely-repressed ball of energy that is Rob Cass, a loose-limbed master of ceremonies who recalls a young Mick Jagger, the band can always be relied upon to deliver an impressive set whether acoustic or electric and tonight is no exception. Indeed, the band manage to revive so many flagging spirits with their good time rock that an encore is not so much requested as demanded, and it’s always a pleasure to see the band receiving the adulation they so richly deserve. 9

Photo: Jola Stiles

You really can’t fault Onslaught in any way. Taking to a stage adorned with 666 logos, they deliver a set of unadulterated thrash to one of the biggest crowds of the day. Like Virus, Onslaught were part of the original British thrash movement, infusing their music with a jagged punk edge that remains undimmed in its ferocity. Like so many bands of their ilk, the 90s were not kind to Onslaught, but a reunion in 2005 was met with enthusiasm and the band have only grown in stature (despite line-up changes) since. On stage, they are a brutal proposition and songs like ‘flame of the antichrist’ and ‘thrash ‘till death’ are rendered with blistering precision. A tough act to follow, Onslaught delivered a masterclass in thrash metal. 9

Perhaps it’s just personal taste, but I just can’t get my head around Barb Wire Dolls at all. Where the grunge bands of the 90s lived their lives out on stage (Layne Staley’s drug addiction directly informed the lyrics, L7, Babes in Toyland and Hole were as chaotic onstage as off, Nirvana were mired in Kurt Cobain’s inner-turmoil), everything about Barb Wire Dolls seems manufactured to emulate that aesthetic without any attempt to adding substance to the style. Despite the high-profile support the band have received from people such as the late, great Lemmy, it just feels too designer for my tastes. That said, the band have a very vocal following and there are many who rave about the set, so they’re assuredly doing something right. 5

Photo: Jola Stiles

In stark contrast, Primordial have an earthen presence that comes, largely, from the fact that Alan Nemtheaga is one of the most articulate vocalists in black metal. With lyrics informed by history and politics, his stage presence is a towering example to anyone with ambitions of leading a renowned metal outfit and the band are musically at the top of their game. Despite the fact that a large proportion of the audience have departed (the unfortunate corollary of an 11pm stage time), Primordial play from the heart, treating the venue as if it’s packed to the rafters and the music is both brutal and majestic, piercing the senses and enrapturing the faithful few who have remained. Tracks like ‘we stand where greater men have fallen’ (which opens the show), ‘from Babel’s tower’ and ‘as Rome burns’ are stunningly rendered black metal epics that transport the listener away from the modern day into a dark historical realm where anything is possible. They are the perfect conclusion to an impressive day and it’s only a shame more were not there to witness their transcendent performance. 9

All music criticism is subjective and everyone’s experience of Uprising’s wide selection of bands will differ, but objectively the festival offered a wide selection of drinks (including some very reasonably priced ales and ciders), food and entertainment. Simon Yarwood and his colleagues (including Matt Kirk and Andy Wright)  know the value of an eclectic line up and what is written above only scratches the surface of the embarrassment of riches on offer.

Despite only being a day long, Uprising crams as much as is humanly possible into its twelve hours (almost too much), and the open policy means that pretty much every rock taste is catered to from the Rolling Stones vibe of the excellent Midnight Dogs to the extreme savagery of Eastern Front. Not everything goes off without a hitch, but this is through no fault of the organisation which is, through the festival, entirely excellent. A well-drilled crew, the collaboration between the stage hands of De Montfort and Simon’s team (including Fat Angel PR who keep the press area running like clockwork), is spot on and it’s hard to believe that the stages alternated to a tight schedule with minimal lag or issues.

In short, Uprising is a professional, well-organised festival which takes place in attractive surroundings and offers a huge variety of entertainment. Every band bought their best to the various stages and, ultimately, Uprising is a festival that deserves to grow. Friendly, stunning value and exactly what Leicester’s been crying out for for years, Uprising 2017 was another triumph and long may it continue.

 

 

 

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