As we rolled in to the Hatfield Slam Dunk site early on Sunday afternoon there was a distinct level of buzz and excitement geared towards one of the stages. It's unlikely there'd ever be a point where we would have expected that we'd be talking about Busted (4/13) in a festival review in 2019 but here we are. When you actually look across the Slam Dunk line-up, oddly enough their inclusion actually fit rather well - they're just as much 'punk' as Simple Plan or All Time Low are - so not at all really. Overall, their show absolutely packed the tent out with swathes of people seeking a nostalgia hit, and most of those in there did sing their hearts out, but on the whole the show was embarrassingly poor at times. They're effectively doing a really great job at making it look like they still care whilst plundering through ham-fisted versions of their big hits. An odd start to our day.

Trundling off towards the Impericon Stage (where, spoiler alert, most of this review is housed) next up for us was an entirely different prospect altogether. Turnstile (9/13) have always been utterly brilliant live and they absolutely packed their performance full of energy and certainly rallied together a fair bit of activity in the crowd itself. They were quite dramatically hampered by sound issues though which did drag the entire picture of the show down a bit - for a band who riotously move from one pace to the next it never helps if it sounds like you're listening to it on the other side of large hill blocking your path.

Following on from Turnstile, the energy didn't die down at all as Cancer Bats (10/13) tore on to the stage. Coming on stage playing a segment from War Pigs it did immediately conjure a little hope that at least a small portion of the set would be dedicated to their Bat Sabbath shenanigans but whilst that didn't come to fruition the band ploughed through a hit heavy set with a splash of newer material, all to a strong reception. Much like Turnstile before them, it was incredibly disappointing how much the bad sound hampered them at points - in all honesty when they launched in to a few tracks it was difficult initially to work out what was going on. It improved towards the end and a guest appearance from Gallows vocalist Wade MacNeil for Hail Destroyer shone as one of the key highlights from the set.

Next up for us were the Australian subgenre mash-up unit Pagan (11/13) who quite frankly smashed their short set on the Key Club LEFT stage. Whilst not attracting the biggest crowd on the day they motored on with an unbelievable level of power and decisive control which absolutely left a lasting impression. Dubbing themselves as 'Blackened Rock & Roll' the band slam through some excellent pace changes with vocalist Nikki Brumen absolutely stealing the show. A great performance from a brilliant band.

Sticking around on this stage for the next band we witnessed what was quite easily the performance of the day. Employed To Serve (12/13) were NOT fucking around with their show, bursting on stage with so much aggro it felt like the whole band were going to leap the barrier and chin you if your attention swayed even slightly away from the mountain of riffs they were colliding in to your skull. What was perhaps most striking was just how venomous the new tracks sounded and how seamlessly they've transitioned in to the live set-lists. Closing out with an absolutely gargantuan I Spend My Days, Employed To Serve delivered a near-on perfect festival set - they arrived, they crushed your senses, they left. Impossible to follow.

Moving back to the Impericon Stage it was relatively alarming to see just how thin the crowd was for Gallows (10/13) considering the level of hoopla there has been over their return. Once again with this stage, the sound hampered the overall show (sort it out Slam Dunk!), especially towards the start where Misery sounded like it was being played on a stage about fifteen miles away. There was a slight improvement and by the time Liam Cormier from Cancer Bats bounded on stage for Last June it became a lot more passable. Wade is of course an absolute force live but he did end up being a little outshone for this part of the set as Cormier sounded gigantic. The Gallows set provided an easy nomination for MVP on the day, as drummer Lee Barratt's Dad spent a huge chunk of the set stood right by his son's kit losing his mind before full on pelting towards and launching himself in to the crowd - a great moment. Tracks like In The Belly Of A Shark and Orchestra of Wolves caused for it to become a bit of war-zone down the front with their cover of Ramones classic Blitzkrieg Bop triggering a similar reaction. There was something that didn't quite click though with this show, it was good but it wasn't the show-stealer it threatened to be when the full line-up was unveiled. Will be interesting to see what is to come in the near future for the returning Gallows.

Following them were the headliners for that particular stage and a performance which thankfully bucked the trend as far the dreadful sound was concerned. Startlingly Glassjaw (11/13) had one of the smallest crowds all day - a lot would've been down to the fact that there were some biggies on at the same time as them which definitely catered for the Slam Dunk "core" audience far more. You get the impression with Glassjaw that even if they had about five people stood in front of them they'd still absolutely plough through a stonking set-list, which is exactly what they did (there were more than five by the way, lets not be dramatic). Choosing a set-list which nicely mixed together newer material and some older cuts each song was greeted by their loyal faithful very well indeed. With as little chat as humanly possible between tracks it really felt like an onslaught on the senses at some points as the band barely paused for a breath for the entirety of their set. A truly excellent band who rarely fail to deliver live - thankfully the sound was on their team as well!

Finishing off Slam Dunk Festival for us were the headliners of the Jagermeister Stage - a stage which sat directly opposite the one Glassjaw had just vacated under the same tent. Following Glassjaw is a daunting prospect in that respect, and would be for most bands so let's just say that Bullet For My Valentine (7/13) couldn't really pull it off. The crowd under the tent did grow and grow as the first few tracks played out with 4 Words causing a bit of a rush at the entrance, no doubt due to the pangs of nostalgia for people walking past. All in all though Bullet For My Valentine are a band who have grown to be more and more average as time goes on, and whilst they have the odd surge of "oh fuck, they're still a bit alright?", tonight wasn't one of those. After a strong start the show just felt like it was lingering and by the end most people dotted around the tent had that lean in their body language that screamed "when can I just go to the train station?".

Overall then Slam Dunk was certainly an interesting experience for us this year. A fantastic atmosphere when arriving on site got more and more toxic as the day progressed as the sound across the majority of the stages just didn't hit the mark and the fact that hour long queues at bars meant many ended up missing music for some refreshment certainly put a dampener on things. The organisers have a fair few things they can improve on for next year and here's hoping that they will.