2016 saw the debut of a new venue for Rocksector Records’ SOS Festival following the demolition of their previous home at Radcliffe Civic Hall. The Longfield Suite in Prestwich turned out to be a good choice, easy to get to (apart from a bit of congestion on the M60) with good parking and facilities nearby and a generous space that allowed for the usual festival setup of main stage at one end of the room, sound desk in the middle and small/acoustic stage at the other end. The bar formed one side, behind some tables set aside for the various bands to display their merch on, and there was a good selection of traders down the other side.
There was a slight delay in starting due to one of Friday’s bands (Pythia) being stuck at home with a broken-down van. The festival was therefore opened by Vice on the acoustic stage. I’ve seen them before and they are a very good band, very hard and heavy, so I wasn’t sure how their style of music would translate to a stripped-down sound. Surprisingly it actually worked very well, with the melodies in their songs coming out a lot more strongly than in their usual set. I enjoyed their two sets very much with an outstanding track for me being an original called “Rise”.
Main stage openers were Beyond Salvation who played fast technical metal with shouty vocals and lots of air-punching. They went down very well with the crowd.
After a second acoustic set from Vice we got Strain on the main stage, who were more power-metal. I enjoyed their music but the vocals, although powerful and showing a decent range, were a bit nails-on-blackboard for me. Considering they had a stand-in drummer who had only had a short time to rehearse with them they gave us a solid set although the crowd was a little sparse while they were on.
Back on the acoustic stage we then had Cadence Noir, a 3-piece of violin, bass and guitar who I also liked very much. They look like proper goths – all dyed black hair, black eyeliner, leather, lace and attitude, but their music is actually fairly upbeat and because of the violin verges on a bit of a jiggy folk style in places. They had a rather stunning electric double bass and were something different, in a good way.
Babylon Fire then took over on the main stage, and definitely won my “beard of the day” award! Is there such a thing as “melodic thrash”? Because that is how I would describe this band. Flying hair, fast riffs and solos, clean vocals, they reminded me of early Maiden in places and again the festival crowd was giving them excellent feedback. Recommended.
After another short set from Cadence Noir Friday’s headliners, Absolva, came on and basically melted our faces off. They started with a taped intro of Hells Bells and went straight into the title track from their most recent album “Never A Good Day To Die”. The band played as a 3-piece consisting of Chris Appleton on guitars and lead vocals, Karl Schramm on bass and backing vocals and Martin McNee on drums, so I wasn’t sure if their live performance would have the power of their recorded work (when they usually have Chris’s brother Luke providing additional guitars and vocals) but I needn’t have worried. Again I think what they do might best be described as “technical metal” but to be honest compared to the other bands we had seen Chris Appleton’s voice is in a different league, way more powerful and tuneful, and Karl’s backing vocals provided some good harmonies. There was no banter, chat or awkward silences during the set, just bang! bang! bang! into song after song. The songs have speed and power but also provide depth and melody and although I didn’t catch all the titles “No-one Escapes” featured some virtuoso soloing from Chris and my personal favourite was the slower, almost ballady “When It’s Over.” A cover of Maiden’s “Fear Of The Dark” was done well, with the crowd providing a rousing intro for them once they recognised the opening riffs, and the fact that they were two guitars short of the original really didn’t detract from the performance. There was a short, snappy drum solo from Martin and a bit of a photo/video shoot of the crowd before they finished the main set with “Flames of Justice” which put me in mind of Rainbow’s “Kill The King” only harder, faster, louder. Encore “From Beyond The Lights” had a touch of the Metallica about it and was very well received by the crowd. Overall this was a polished performance from a band who are very good at what they do and despite it not being my favourite genre of rock I enjoyed it very much.