We mentioned it quite a few times in our double Preview feature, but Desertfest has quickly become one of our favourite events on the festival calendar, with it triggering the start of the festival season through dirty riff fuelled mayhem. This year was absolutely no different, as the organisers well and truly outdid themselves for the fifth year running.


With a lot of people either commuting from outside London, or simply coming from work, early Friday afternoon proved to be the quietest portion of Desertfest this year. We started our trip with a visit to The Underworld to see the hugely impressive Lionize (9/13). The last time we seen Lionize they were on tour with Clutch back on the Earth Rocker tour - we were impressed with their live show then, but on evidence of today’s performance their live impetus is continuing to grow. This is a band who are undeniably better live than on record, especially with tunes which are there just ready and waiting to be opened up in to an all out jam session. They may sound a hell of a lot like Clutch at times, but not necessarily in a bad way. They’ve grasped the riff fuelled groove Clutch have nailed for years and twisted it with a real Jazz infused feel. Really enjoyable start to the weekend.

After a short break the next band to grace The Underworld stage were the frighteningly intense Raging Speedhorn (11/13), who’s hour set truly felt like an atom bomb going off in a contained space. Right from the off the band pummelled through tracks spanning across their back catalogue including some hugely impressive sounding new ones as well, making us very excited indeed for the forthcoming record. The interchanging vocals between John Loughlin and Frank Regan alone felt like it would cause the walls to cave in - add to that the punishing levels of aggressive music behind them and you had one of the sets of the weekend. Their Sludgy Hardcore sound has always been hugely popular - and considering the fact this was probably one of the busiest sets of the weekend, this popularity is set to grow throughout this second wave of the band’s career.

Up next we moved across to the day’s ‘Main Stage’ in the Electric Ballroom to catch part one of the Southern Sludge machine which had descended on Desertfest this year. Crowbar (10/13) are celebrating the 20th anniversary of Broken Glass on this tour, so as you might have expected the set was stacked with tracks from this classic release. The band themselves sounded huge, with Kirk Windstein at his imperious best leading the line. Whilst the sound was initially great, there was a notable dip in the mix about halfway through which did negatively affect the show, but there’s no doubting that the Crowbar guys were giving it their absolute all throughout - even if as an overall force they don’t feel as menacing as in their earlier days. Overall for them, this was a strong performance, one which certainly laid down a marker for their Southern brothers soon to be following.

So if Crowbar had laid down a marker then Corrosion Of Conformity (11/13) were here to smash that to pieces. Whilst our scoring seems to suggest it was a lot closer, when Corrosion Of Conformity hit the stage the level of quality was so strikingly different it was truly infectious to watch. Right from the front, down to the bars at the back, the whole crowd stood in awe as Pepper Keenan and co. gave a lesson in riff delivery. When we seen them at Download last year, the band suffered a bit with a late afternoon slot on the Second Stage, but tonight it was like watching a totally different band. They smashed through tracks from across their classic back catalogue, with sections of the crowd even singing along to the riffs at times. Crowning moment in the set was of course Albatross which sounded absolutely massive. There wasn’t a queue outside the venue like this again all weekend and that says a lot, what a band.


Shaking off some of those huge Southern Sludge hangovers, day two for us started with an almighty performance from Conan (12/13). When we seen Conan play Desertfest a few years ago they packed out The Underworld with ease, running off the success of both Blood Eagle and the impressive follow up Revengeance, they are now able to fill the Electric Ballroom with similar ease. The band played with such an impressive level of intensity it was easy to forget that it was only four in the afternoon. The newest release helped emphasise that the band are not solely centred around drone influenced Doom and as a live show they seamlessly flow between huge cavernous riffs and furious pace it is absolutely ear shattering. Conan are at the absolute top of their game at the moment, piling in with yet another contender for ‘performance of the weekend’.

Immediately following this came another hugely popular band amongst the Desertfest faithful. On a bill containing so many Stoner, Sludge and Doom bands it almost felt refreshing to watch the energetic style in which Truckfighters (11/13) deliver their performance. Guitarist Niklas Kallgren bounces around the stage with such immense enthusiasm you cannot help but be drawn to his presence throughout - jigging around like a Swedish Angus Young, it’s his general energy which helps make each Truckfighters performance so electric. The 2005 release Gravity X is still arguably the most popular in their catalogue, backed by the fact that whenever they threw themselves in to anything from it the crowd went absolutely berserk. It was a shame towards the end that they ran out of time and the phenomenal Desert Cruiser had to be cut short, but with a show as good as this you couldn’t walk away with too many complaints.

Up next at the Electric Ballroom were the US Post Metal unit Pelican (9/13). Again, another hugely popular act at this year’s event, absolutely packing out the venue, Pelican sounded absolutely vast. They’re well known for ramping up the atmospherics during live performances and tonight was no different as looking across the floor people were standing there quite literally mesmerised. The only real downfall for Pelican was the fact that they had to follow on from two nuclear performances by Conan and Truckfighters. Moving down the road slightly to the smallest of today’s four stages, Vvovnds (8/13) delivered a dose of violent sludgy Punk which certainly got a fair few losing their minds down the front. The set was horrendously hampered by sound problems though, including a pretty damning drum kit issue which in a short set caused far too long a delay. Putting all of that aside though, Vvovnds did sound fierce once they were able to kick in to gear, drawing immediate comparisons to the likes of Nails. One to watch for sure.

Going back to the ‘main stage’ if you will, headliners Russian Circles (9/13) drew possibly the smallest crowd out of all three headliners this weekend but that didn't stop them putting on an excellent show for their cult followers. Many have watched this band on bills including previous big names at Desertfest such as Boris, so it ultimately was great to see that they'd built themselves up in to a headlining slot. The sound in the venue was a lot weaker than it had been earlier in the day which did dampen the experience somewhat, but overall it was a good performance.

Our Saturday ended then by stumbling across to The Black Heart to check out probably by some way the loudest band on the line up. Mantar (10/13) are a German Sludge duo and with some serious backing on the continent and via Nuclear Blast Records, there was a lot of anticipation in the room before they hit the stage. The venue itself had literally become a sweat box, with even the walls bleeding warm condensation, and as their ferociousness pummelled you in the face this truly felt like a special show. This is a band who have only got two albums behind them at the moment, but big things are almost certainly on the horizon. Mantar live make you want to inexplicably smash your face through the speaker before hugging the person next to you because they just sound so good. Top performance, and we certainly cannot wait to see more from this lot in the near future.

Don't forget to check out Part Two of our Desertfest review where we'll be delving in to all things good on the final day of the festival!