29/04/2016 - 01/05/2016
With classic lack of foresight I upgraded myself from punter to critic whilst travelling on the East Coast mainline to London without having even the vaguest outline of which bands I wanted to see. But, undeterred I dropped my bags off at my Kings Cross dive hotel and headed out to Camden to feast my senses on the Desertfest 2016 experience.
First up were Egypt at the Electric Ballroom, with the American power trio so keen to start that they had to be told to leave the stage and come back on 15 minutes later! When they eventually began the crowd were treated to a feast of bluesy riffage, starting with 'Valley of the Kings' and ending with a ten-minute wig-out of the raunchily upbeat 'Dirty Witch' by way of the standout track of their set - a wonderfully mellow 'Queen of All Time', which went from smokey lead lines to heads-down doom stomping.
Following that were another trio, Sweden's Asteroid. Less compressed and overdriven, their sound distinguished by clearer riffs and hectic fills, the suitably attired chaps had a cocky and exuberant blast as they romped through a divine demonstration of stoner rock, ending with a gorgeous rendition of 'Time'.
There then followed a sudden change of musical gear as the rather heavier Crowbar took the stage for a brutal but musically sparse set, demonstrating fierce riffola and a monochrome delivery that impressd the crowd at the increasingly rammed Ballroom. Following them were Friday's headliners Corrosion of Conformity, whose blend of desert rock and hardcore hit the right spot. Rather a minority interest in their heyday, CoC can now command a room full of devoted (and young) followers - your correspondent was lectured by a young fan in the toilets asking if I'd heard anything by 'Corrosion' ("only 25 years ago", I replied) - and on the strength of this performance, deservedly so.
Saturday kicked off with Leeds' very own Bong Cauldron. Now, I may be rather biased having seen the lads play so many times (and I'd probably go to Tory Party conference if they were on) but their performace to a packed Underworld was simply extraordiinary - slower and heavier than a supertanker, and full of killer riffs such as 'Bury Your Axe in the Crania of Lesser Men', Bong Cauldron are surely on their way to bigger and better things in the world of Doom.
Back at the Ballroom, Conan collectively tore a hole in the cosmos with their incomparably brutal set. With old classics like 'Hawk As Weapon' mixing it with newer, faster cuts such as 'Foehammer' and 'Revengeance', they appeared to be exactly the act Desertfest was made for. Battle Doom? Yes please!
Meanwhile over at the Dev, one of the least spoiled corners of Camden's former gothic splendour, My Project Ghost were just wrapping up a set of much juicy extremity.
Sunday kicked off with the rather mighty Witchsorrow at the Ballroom. With a set so crunchingly loud that it got my skull shaking, they served up one of the best performances of the weekend - droning low riffs and hard delivery, wrapping a bleak message of hopelessness and doom, this was the closest I'd seen them match the power they promised at Damnation 2012 all those years ago. A set which boded well for their durability on the UK doom scene.
Blood Ceremony, however, were even better. Having been on tour for weeks they were professional as Satan and polished to a shine, showcasing material from their new album 'Lord of Misrule' as well as lesser-played tracks like the sublime 'Drawing Down The Moon'. Singer Alia O'Brien's vocal virtuosity as well as her skills on organ and flute elevated the set firmly into the occult stratosphere, the crowd lapping up a sound that combined retro doom riffing with gothic ham stagecraft.
And then it was off to Koko with all the stampeding doomy hordes for Electric Wizard. As difficult as it is to analyse a sound so immense and dense as the Wizard's, it would appear that in contrast to their punchy and punishing set at Damnation their sound was slightly looser, fuzzier, and trippier - the result being a deliciously accessible and entertaining mammoth of sludge which had the crowds in doomy rapture. No encores given (in classic Wizard style) but none required, as all were fully satisfied and probably stunned by their full-on sonic assault. Peerless.