Spring has sprung and it’s one of the hottest days of the year so far. The sun is beaming down in all its glory, the birds are singing and you can almost smell the barbeques. So, like a true northern Metalhead I’m going to hide my pale, vitamin D deprived face in the dark belly of Leed’s Canal Mills for a day of extreme, crushingly heavy music. That’s right, It Ritual Festival 2017.
After the success of last year’s debut festival featuring the likes of Grave, 40 Watt Sun and Black Tongue, Leed’s premier venue is once again hosting the Metal festival and this year’s line-up is even bigger. Boasting a line-up of some of the world’s leaders in Doom, Death, Sludge and Avant-Garde Metal, Ritual Festival is an uncompromisingly and unapologetically heavy festival.
Opening up the main stage we have Post-Sludge, midlands outfit, Conjurer. Even with the early doors the band has managed to draw in the crowds out of the light and in to the dark. Crafting a beautiful blend of atmospheric, Post Metal and Sludgy Death, they haunt the crowd with their proggy epics and earthy vibes. Leaping straight on to the front of house speakers, the bassist throws himself around whilst the duel guitarists and vocalists they leave the crowd in awe. The young band seems comfortable on stage and delivers a cracking performance.
Next up, London Doom Metallers, Serpent Venom, hit the stage. Through the Doom laden, dirty riffs, vocalist Garry Rickett cuts through with brilliant, melancholic notes in a true Doom fashion whilst the large crowd bathes in all its smudginess (is that a word?). Reminiscent of early Sabbath with a bluesy tint, Serpent Venom stomp through their set with ferocity.
Hitting the stage with instant brutality, London Technical Death Metal outfit, Unfathomable Ruination are next up to take the reins. As the deep guttural vocals and ferocious blast beats cut through the crowd the first of the day’s pits erupts. The crowd has awoken and are bathing in the raw Death Metal screaming from the stage. There is an intensity about the band which echoes through the crowd.
Bossk's atmospheric, Post Metal Shoegaze is a welcome change of pace and this evening they are mesmerizing. It almost feels like every song is a faultless improvisation piece, a crescendo of harmonious distortion building up to a huge anthemic ending but the truth is every song is incredibly well thought out work of art filled with bass that pumps through your chest and downright dirty riffs. After a couple of instrumental pieces leave the crowd in awe, the final piece of the jigsaw joins them the band on stage and brings another element to the mix with screams of despair. I have followed Bossk for some years now and I can say that this is Post Metal at its finest.
Anaal Nathrakh are a man down tonight but are keen not to disappoint. Due to a fuck up at the airport they are one guitar down but that doesn’t stop the legendary Extreme Metal band grinding out a huge wall of noise. Even before he joins the rest of the band on stage, vocalist Dave ‘V.I.T.R.I.O.L’ Hunt, is straight away, much to their happiness, in the faces of the front rows of the audience members. Leaping up from the front barriers and on to the stage and making a rather unconventional entrance, Hunt and the guys deliver an intense performance. Epic chorus’ are bellowed back at the band by the massive crowd and at their fastest, even attempting to headbang to these riffs would result in a seizure, The set runs smoothly, even with constant stage divers and crowd surfing before things take a rather controversial twist. When signalled that they have time for one last song, Hunt unprofessionally decides to unleash through the microphone an issue which had arose backstage between the band and the festival organisers. Threatening that they will keep playing for as long as the want until said issue is resolved on stage. They play one final song before backing down and leaving stage to make way for the band waiting to play on the second. Not going into the situation which they spoke about as it is not our place to divulge, or suggesting who was in the right or wrong, but bringing these issues on stage and in to a performance in order to turn the crowd against the organisers brought what would have been a brilliant set to a unneeded and disappointing end.
The penultimate band, All Pigs Must Die, are an American, Hardcore supergroup consisting of some legends of the genre. Consisting of Kevin Baker of The Hope Conspiracy, Ben Koller of Converge, and Adam Wentworth and Matt Woods of Bloodhorse, APMD are a band to be reckoned with. They power through a set of unrelenting riffs and pure hardcore anger. The powerful pace is kept throughout the set and the energy doesn’t fade. Hanging from the mic stand, energetic front man, Kevin Baker, delivers an exceptional performance and you can feel the hate pumping through the songs. I once read in an interview that APMD is not just another supergroup, but rather a group of individuals brought together with the common goal of infusing everything good and equally intimidating about all that is Hardcore and Metal, and trust me, they have succeeded. They are spotless but with an intentional rawness that fills the whole venue.
Which brings us to the headliner. Ihsahn.
Ihsahn is a legend of the Metal world. Period. A musical prodigy from the age of 13 who would go on to found one of the world’s most influential Black Metal bands of all time, Emperor. He was responsible for the creation of some of the best Metal albums of all time, including 1994’s masterpiece, ‘In the Nightside Eclipse’. Since the days of Emperor, Ihsahn has developed his sound and infused elements of Progressive, Black, Death and Post Metal in to create a beautifully Avant-Guard, unique blend which is forever evolving. Ihsahn remains an musical idol to many (including myself) and crowds from across the country has gathered to see him here today in his only UK show of 2017. Following on from the success of 2016 release, Arktis, Ihsahn intends to showcase here at Leeds just what he is capable of, and for that to happen, things need to be perfect which unfortunately results in an hours delay in tonight’s set. Technical issues delay the start of the set but after an apology from the man himself, they are ready to begin. Breaking into the opening technical grandeur that is ‘Hiber’ all of the opening issues are forgotten. There is a sense of professionalism about the performance from all members. This is someone who has been in the game long enough to know exactly how to do things and tonight they are note perfect and the crowd are mesmerised. Continuing into the contrasting mellow, melancholic offerings of ‘Pulse’, the band produce a haunting atmosphere which after the day of extreme heaviness is a refreshing breath of fresh air. Bringing out his iconic 8 string beast of a guitar Ihsahn asks “Who wants to hear an older track?” as they break in to the duel harmonies of 2010’s album ‘After’ masterpiece, ‘Frozen Lakes On Mars’. The crowd sing the chorus back at the stage and it sounds incredible. Followed by another classic from the same album, ‘A Grave Inversed’ which introduces the trademark haunting saxophone sounds that has become a regular occurrence through Ihsahn’s career. Bringing the day to a close, the sound of the sax continues with the festivals final offering, ‘Grave’ from 2012’s ‘Eremita’. And with that the show is complete.
It’s safe to say that today has been a huge success and minus a few teething problems it clear that this festival will continue to grow bigger, louder and most importantly, heavier.
Photos & Review - Benjamin E. Gladstone Photography