2000 Trees, Upcote Farm, Cheltenham – Day 3: Friday 7th July 2023


The blistering sun that’s beating down upon Upcote Farm seems to be shining in affirmation of 2000 Trees, and also of Neu stage openers Mallavora. Perhaps the best (and only?) way to begin a Friday morning, they get the day off to a rowdy start, 10:30am is a difficult slot to fill, but Mallavora attract a crowd who are mildly curious, and then turn them into die-hard fans. ‘Imposter’ from new EP evidences a great maturity, whilst ‘Disorder’ finds them dredging up riffs from the very depths of Hades. Future mayhem calls. Lost In Noise are having a similar effect over on the Main stage, and are busy blowing away any cobwebs with their groove laden sound. ‘The Germ’ is an original song that details the end of the world, it certainly sounds like it and comes crashing forth like an invading army. The crowd require little goading to sing and jump in unison, and they certainly raise the bar high for the rest of the day. Car Park are a trio who’re bursting at the seams with good ideas, their harmonies are sweet and textured, and intersect at different angles. This means that they sound far bigger than a three-piece, and they fill the air with all sorts of goodness. New single comes wrapped in chart-bothering potential, and is sure to be a big hit in both clubs and bedrooms. Final track, ‘Don’t Want You’ is a slow builder that turn into a hulking monolith, ensuring they won’t be forgotten in a hurry.

The enigmatically-titled The St Pierre Snake Invasion have a sound that’s at odds with their immaculate attire, and it’s a dichotomy that immediately sparks interest. They’re powered forth by a drummer who seems intent on nailing his kit to the floor, and he mixes up rhythms deftly, almost daring the rest of the band to try and keep up, and it’s a challenge they’re willing to accept, and the resulting sound speeds past like a bullet train. Progressive insofar as they are pushing the boundaries of what music can be, and ‘The Overlook’ marks them down as the ultimate bruisers…from Bristol. If ever one band was deserving of their name, then it’s surely Militarie Gun. Hard and abrasive, they’ve a sound that’s spiky and angular, and marches with military precision. They’re wise enough to mix things up, and each song is a building block that’s stacked upon the other and rising to a teetering height. A hyperactive vocalist barks his lyrics like a sergeant major, and only adds to the overall feeling of intensity, as does the lack of space between songs. ‘Don’t Pick Up The Phone’ rubs shoulders effortlessly with new cut ‘Life Under The Gun’ (title track from new album), and despite some last minute line-up changes, they kick some serious ass. The tension that pervades as we await Zulu over on the Cave stage is tangible, and rightly so. Their reputation is built on a ferocious live show, and that’s exactly what they deliver today, and despite the crowd being packed in as tightly as sardines as soon as the first chord rings out (and I mean the very first chord) the crowd explode with vicissitude. Taking the metallic sheen of Sick Of It All’s Scratch The Surface and adding a modern twist was a wise move, and Zulu really hit the nail on the head. Just like their debut album, Zulu’s set is a pretty brief affair, but that’s exactly where its strength lies.

Fresh from their jaunt across the UK with Can’t Swim, Atlanta’s Microwave are well-oiled and ready to go. In fact, this set is their last show in Europe before they head back to the States, and they’re playing like it’s the final set ever and they’re certainly in full flow. Microwave really can’t go wrong with a charismatic vocalist and a bunch of songs that keep the sound of heartbreak in vogue. The introduction of several semi-acoustic numbers makes the set ebb and flow perfectly, and as you’d expect from a band at the top of their game, they play like it. I don’t know what the hell is happening in Texas, but it’s proving itself the epicentre of heavy music, and is producing bands of varying stripes who share the vision of pushing music to sonic extremes. Having said that, nothing can really prepare us for the juggernaut punch that is Kublai Khan. Hitting the stage like a raging tornado, this collective haven’t come to take prisoners, and they barely let up over the course of 40 brutal minutes. They’re a band at the top of the tree, and are playing with the confidence that affords. Locking in tightly to create an impenetrable wall of sound, Kublai Khan should really come with some kind of health warning, but the hardy souls who brave the pit are rewarded with some of the heaviest music known to man. Another band who instigate instant mayhem are Employed To Serve, and ‘Sun Up To Sun Down’ immediately creates an insane wall of death. ‘We Don’t Need You’ follows hot on its heels and marches with mechanical precision and, largely forsaking solos in favour of a riff heavy assault, makes for an apocalyptic sound that mimics World War Three. Vocalist Justine Jones takes things into overdrive, and the whole vibe is hard and heavy, and probably the most fun you can have with your clothes on.

There’s an excitement surrounding the appearance of Empire State Bastard, primarily because they have former Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo sitting behind the kit today. But, don’t write the band off as some kind of novelty act, because nothing could be further from the truth, a huge cheer welcomes the band onstage, and Empire State Bastard proceed to deliver a set that tumbles over the crowd like a landslide. Quieter sections act as a foil for the louder, and the band flit between the two with reckless abandon, the vocals are equally versatile and veer between falsetto and guttural, while Mr Lombardo ensures it is all delivered with the requisite punch. Very heavy and very nice. Having performed earlier at the festival (as a Black Sabbath tribute titled as (rather ingeniously) Bat Sabbath) the Cancer Bats appear in their more familiar guise, and they hit the stage like an unruly street gang, and like a bunch of urchins, they attack in unison, and you get the feeling that the crowd don’t know what’s just hit them. They’re an unstoppable force of nature who dish out a full-on sonic assault, and one that offers little in the way of redemption. Looking like they’re on a caffeine buzz, the Bats bounce from stage left to right, and woe betide anyone who gets in their way. In a set that contains numerous highlights ‘Radiate’ hits particularly hard. The Cancer Bats; once seen, never forgotten.

To call Welsh metal band Bullet For My Valentine worthy headliners would be an understatement. They’ve been forging their own path for a quarter of a century, and have played by nobody’s rules but their own, and subsequently, all the accolades that have come their way have been thoroughly deserved. Straddling genres as varied as emo and metalcore, the band’s brilliance lies in their bringing them all together under the term “heavy metal” and fuse them into a cohesive whole. Their pedigree becomes apparent on set opener ‘Knives’, a track from 2021’s eponymously-titled album which sets the stage alight with its sheer effervescence. With barely a pause for breath, ‘Over It’ and ‘Your Betrayal’ tumble forth as the band proceed to deliver a career-spanning set. With such a deep, wide discography, someone is always going to be disappointed with the track selection, but Bullet For My Valentine do a good job and assemble a set list which touches nearly all bases. There’s even room for a cover as the band unleash ‘Cold’, a near-perfect rendition of the AxeWood standard, on which the band are joined by Liam Cormier to really make things interesting. ‘Walking The Demon’ (from 2008’s Scream Aim Fire) brings things to a cataclysmic conclusion and sends everyone back to their tents with a spring in their step.