Live Review: Buried In Smoke Festival

Live Review: Buried In Smoke Festival
23rd March 2024
Featuring: Hang The Bastard, Desert Storm, Ritual King, Damaged Reich, Battalions, Wall
Words: Matt Noble
Photos: Tim Finch

Down at the Port Mahon in Oxford, Buried in Smoke Promotions held their own weekender, showcasing some of the very best in stoner, thrash, sludge and hardcore that the UK has to offer. For the Saturday, then, it's fitting that the first act on are Wall, the lockdown project of Ryan and Elliot Cole, who run Buried in Smoke and organised the whole weekend. Opening with 'Wrath of the Serpent', the project's debut single, it's no nonsense, no frills instrumental riff worship from the two of them, letting the music and beats do the talking. For Elliot in particular he gets to showcase a more aggressive side to his playing, with fast thrashy beats and intense double bass work that isn't always present or apparent in his other bands - but more on that later. Their cover of Karma To Burn's 'Nineteen' is a nice touch and the closing 'Obsidian' is apocalyptically heavy. A great start to the day.

After checking in at my B'n'B Battalions are up next on my agenda, with a direct and in-your-face set that allows the crowd to let loose, headbang and move about. The band - with Gareth from Ritual King filling in on drums today - clearly have a ball onstage, visibly enjoying themselves almost as much as the crowd. Once again there's two members pulling a double shift today, with bassist Matt Dennett also in Desert Storm, but there's no sign of either conserving their energy or playing reservedly. Phil's crisp vocal shriek leads the set, along with Peter's signature octave guitar riffs and Dennett's Butler-esque bass runs that gives such weight to Battalions' name these days. In terms of the set, 'Skin Job' gets ugly, the spacey 'Infinite Void' breathes air into an otherwise fairly nasty set, and 'Diagnosis Fucked' sees the crowd bounce away. The groovy 'Forever Marching Backwards' closes their show, leaving the crowd wanting more. Though it's a little rough around the edges with an unfamiliar drummer, the energy and camaraderie from the band along with the great atmosphere in the room makes up for it, and then some.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Local thrashers Damaged Reich are up next, playing a blinding set with shades of Exodus and Testament, sometimes even with the extremity of early Sepultura. The drumming, in particular, is metronomically precise, as the man behind the kit calmly pulls out blast and skank beats at eyewateringly high tempos. With a guitarist that employs some frantic Gary Holt-inspired leads in front of some seriously punishing, crunchy riffs from himself and the bass player, they bring pace and an intensity to the room like no one else today. The melodic undercurrents and groovy breakdowns are great as well, but this set is really for the thrashers in the house. At the front, their vocalist has a hell of a roar on him, and the band in general really boast a fantastic stage presence, whipping their hair around and putting on a show for the room. They close on a downtuned, more death metal inspired number that ends proceedings in a wonderfully nasty way. Definitely a band for your radars if you like the more intense side of old school thrash.

Rising Mancunian stoner rockers Ritual King follow, completely changing the mood in the room to a softer, sprawling and spacey exploration into psychedelia. They're hardly a 'light' band, though. Their riffs can be titanic at times, a great example of what stoner rock can be. Yet their classy 60s and 70s influences are really interesting and show what they can do, woven into drawn out and intricate compositions that regularly go beyond the seven minute mark. As a live unit, they're very tight. The harmonised vocals from Jordan and Gareth are tuneful and even hypnotic in effect at times, allowing Dan on the bass to headbang and move with abandon, his energy infecting the crowd nicely. Overall, though, their musicality is really quite memorable and Jordan's flashy but tasteful guitar leads surely cause a fair amount of instrument envy from any guitarists watching them today. 'Landmass', from their newest album 'The Infinite Mirror', is a real set highlight for me and the closing 'Valleys' draws everything to an end in a satisfying way.

It's getting to the fun, rowdy side of half past nine by the time we hear from the local Desert Storm, with three of the four members having already performed in other acts by now. The storming 'Master of None' starts proceedings on a high, seeing plenty fist pumping and singing along. Guitarist Ryan pulls off a lovely, tasteful solo midway through, before leading into the more contemplative 'Melatone'. They sound huge for a four piece, particularly with Ryan's use of an octaver on his guitar that Dennett's punchy bass tone complements really well. 'Queen Reefer', the only song played today not from their last couple of albums, sees the first pit of the night. It's noticeable that this old-school fan favourite leans more into classic stoner/sludge territory than the rest of the set; modern Storm has far more in the way of groovy, metallic influences mixed into their gritty, swampy sound. Matt Ryan performs well on vocals, leading the epic 'Cheyne Stoking' with charisma and conviction as if he's telling a story. By the time they're done, the crowd is that lively that it almost feels like the upstairs room we're in is going to cave in at any moment. A memorable, fun hometown set.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Tonight's headliners are Hang The Bastard, who I was never able to see first time they were on the live circuit. It's not often that they play, and though the venue has thinned a little as it's gotten late, everyone present is clearly very much there to see them, everyone is fully engaged, most clearly boozed up nicely by this hour. The crowd might be slightly less in number, but more than make up for it in sheer intensity, with the feeling that they're seeing something special. Hang The Bastard know how to build up anticipation during their intro, teasing the crowd for a couple of minutes before finally dropping into a nasty, punishing sludgy groove that sees the floor erupt. Their filthy riffs in today's set draw from Southern sludge as much as they do from blood-pumping hardcore, and along with the way that they look and sound like a unit, Hang The Bastard just exude sheer heaviness tonight. The guitar leads are excellent, the drumming is very tight, and lead vocalist Chris commands the room with his presence and blackened howl. They're a worthy headliner and a real treat for everyone that's stayed out.

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