Dreadfest has reached its third incarnation and it’s the biggest and most ambitious yet! Taking place over three days, three stages and with a whopping 41 bands playing from around the world, this sold out 100% DIY festival showcases the best extreme metal and hardcore acts. Once again it’s a wild ride that seems to go by all too fast, filling Leeds’ Temple Of Boom full of passionate and friendly music fans. Festival organisers Megan Borman and Daniel Vaughan and their crew did a fantastic job, putting on some of the most incredible acts, featuring headliners Wormrot, Rotten Sound and Fukpig. The festival ran so smoothly, with no trouble, merch stalls, cheap drinks, tasty vegan food and all the riffs and blastbeats you could hope for! Dreadfest has one of the friendliest and most intimate vibes of any UK festival, and the DIY spirit really shines through. It isn’t just a music festival, it’s a meeting of minds and a gathering of friends.
Dreadfest 2019 kicks off in style with the noisy two drummer face-off of Cattle, starting off the festival with a suitable cacophony of noise before absurd power-violence crew JohnxMcclane bring a special passion, returning after five years away. The sold-out festival is rammed from the start and the crowd respond accordingly, with crazy moshing and crowd-surfing action. Nottingham trio Dark Mother slow things down in the Meat Locker and prove to be one of the highlights of the whole weekend. Their crunchy, grungy take on doom is heartfelt and Holly’s wailing screams on ‘Make Me Feel’ are exquisite. Back on the Main Stage, Gewoon Fucking Ragen are as ludicrous as you would expect, splashing all over the stage with their insane super mathy rhythms and shrieking silliness; the crowd lose their minds! Droves make the most of the confined Meat Locker stage with a loudness that bounces across the walls. The stripped-down trio are full of fury with a bouncier take on power-violence.
Endless Swarm are surely one of the most savage bands of the weekend. By this point the circle pit is out of control, squeezing a sold-out festival into the Main Stage area. Endless Swarm’s crushing tones, blistering speed and Oi! Vocals are as good as ever, but it’s the magnetic response of the crowd that takes their set to the next level, nearly breaking our lovely photographer’s camera in the madness! Friday headliners Wormrot travel from Singapore to deliver the goods. They build up tension with a doomy intro, as vocalist Arif Rot stands motionless in a prayer stance. Then the grindcore finally kicks in and they tear the Dreadfest crowd apart limb from limb. Considering Temple Of Boom is usually the coldest place in Britain, the energy in the room makes it seem like an oven! A constant barrage of stage divers and moshers makes it hard to keep balanced, as this reviewer’s glasses fly off and end up getting smashed! But it’s absolutely worth it to witness one of the genre’s best bands play with so much rage and precision, adding a spirituality to their craft. The trio never let up, smashing out each song, leaving no room to breath. Wormrot will certainly be remembered as one of very best performances in Dreadfest history.
The busiest day of the festival expands to three stages as Casket Feeder kick off in style at the new Hotbox stage. Their sludgy metallic hardcore comes from a diverse range of influences, making them hard to pin down. Their performance shines, with some very interesting tempo and dynamic changes from their excellent drummer. Implement are another hard one to pigeonhole, but for different reasons. Combining a hardcore mentality with old-school thrash and death sounds, the squealing and technical lead guitars could lay anywhere between Judas Priest and Death, but their lead vocals sound a little dry and off pitch. Watchcries devour the Hotbox stage with one of the most intense performances of the festival; not delivered solely from how fast and heavy they play, but from how fiery and passionate they are. In particular vocalist Nat Spada drives the crowd with her impressive and heartfelt hardcore bark. Watchcries seem to get better and tighter every time we see them.
Working Men’s Club bring a whole different kind of intensity, going for the gut with as much brute force as they can conjure. Their abrasive, noisy hardcore claws at the walls of the Meat Locker, surrounding the crowd in piercing feedback. Atrocity Exhibit step up to the Main Stage this year and rise to the challenge, Their haggard and gnarly no-nonsense grind gets the crowd moving, with a truly schizophrenic vocal display, whilst Herd Mover bring one of the rawest performances to Dreadfest. Their super pissed-off, noise-rock-ridden hardcore sounds even better than on record, with their lead vocalist pouring out one of the most grim and agonising displays of the weekend. Some of the same band members stick around for Grim Existence, bringing more of a thrash and old-school death metal influenced sound. The guitar riffs are chuggy, but sound a little muddy in the Meat Locker, though a powerful sludge finale sends them off on a high. Even on a bill full of grindcore bands, Plymouth’s Helpless still manage to sound unique, blending elements of noisecore and sludge into the mix seamlessly. Their double vocal attack is absolutely vile. The combination of huge sludgy tones, and noisy discordant guitar licks sees them conquer the main stage. Krupskaya are surely the fastest band of the festival, though, with hyperspeed blastbeats, mammoth dual eight-string guitar mayhem and terrifying high-pitched shrieks! Geist deliver one of the most emotionally-driven sets of the weekend, with their lead vocalist expressing a moving speech about the importance of mental health awareness and looking after one another. Their stage show really stands out with dynamic lighting, casting the band as silhouettes and matching the cinematic textures of their music. Completely different to Scottish duo Boak, who make a massive sound from just guitar, drums and vocals. Their stop-start fury rallies up the crowd accordingly, with a huge energy in the room.
Next up, London-based atmospheric sludge disciples Wren mean business. Their massive pedal boards and amps leave the band members squished onto the Meat Locker stage, now plunged into darkness. The quartet deliver the set of the day with their enormous sound swallowing the crowd whole. Each crushing sludge riff builds to be more mountainous than the last, with subtle textures adding atmosphere, and anguished screams. In a festival that showcases the fast and the furious, the addition of their patient and slow-building music is a risk, but fits the bill perfectly. Back on the Main Stage, French hardcore act Harm Done are a force to be reckoned with. A very tired and wobbly crowd still give it their everything as they add in touches of beatdown riffs and sludgy breakdowns between their flawless grinding. Headlining the Hotbox stage are forward-thinkers Svalbard. Vocalist Serena Cherry yells “THIS IS WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE” before launching into ‘Feminazi?!’, concluding with a rousing speech about how awful being called that term is. The Bristolians deliver one of their tightest and wildest shows yet. Svalbard are probably the most melodic band of this weekend, but also one of the most intense and raging, allowing themselves to fit right in. Excitement hangs in the air as everyone flocks to the main stage to catch headliners and grindcore legends Rotten Sound. Though they play one of the longest sets of any band (just over 30 minutes, mind), it still feels all too brief. Rotten Sound attack Dreadfest with so much heat and fury with their hyper-speed take on grind. The Finnish masters prove why they have such a strong legacy in the genre, and the Dreadfest crowd are left in complete awe.
Everyone is a bit worse for ware after much drinking and very little sleep, but Dreadfest is still rammed for the final outing. Newcomers T.W.A.T. (The Worst At T’Dreadfest) take the Main Stage dressed in balaclavas and party wigs. Their songs about Wotsits confuse and bemuse the hungover crowd who are having none of it. T.W.A.T.’s attempts at powerviolence are sloppy and nonsensical. They clearly need to listen to more Crossed Out and Fuck On The Beach. Thankfully, T.W.A.T. Are booed off stage and turfed out of the premises, as vocalist Yappy cries like a little baby. Vile Sect make up for such tomfoolery with their Sunday sermon, creating such a loud racket that the vocals become buried under an ocean of noise and feedback. Their huge and unpredictable mixes of blasts and noise-rock grooves leave the Meat Locker walls rattling. Mysterious South East UK crew Wallowing bring forth the misery with a harrowing set of blackened sludge, played as one giant, singular piece of music that will form the basis of their upcoming debut release. Containing members of Surya and Herd Mover, the band combine big tones and textured noise pedals to bring a dense, swampy sound. Their double lead vocal attack is nihilistic, brutal and unforgiving. Cardiff’s Tides Of Sulfur deliver a mammoth set, showcasing songs from their new EP, Paralysis Of Reason, the title-track of which is a huge highlight. Equal parts black metal, gnarly sludge and Snatch samples, the grim trio devour the stage today. In particular, bassist and vocalist Chris Bull loses himself in the music, coming out into the crowd and shooting some terrifying stares! Il from Russia are a delightful surprise, delivering a masterful set of proper doom. The band clearly take influence from Electric Wizard and Sleep, but they break up the day rather nicely, with agonisingly slow fuzz riffs, spaced out vocals and a lone thrashy riff thrown in for good measure. Negative Thought Process are the exact opposite, being one of the most lively bands of the day, waking up the Sunday faithful. They manage to get the crushed Meat Locker crowd moshing. In particular their new drummer smashes it.
One of this Dreadfest’s most anticipated bands, Kurokuma, always know how to light up a crowd. They open with the bouncy dirge of new song ‘RVN’, with ferocious call-and-response screams and gut-wrenching low end. Their infamous show-stopper ‘Dope Rider, Pt. 2’ sends the Dreadfest crowd into a wave of headbanging, as guitarist Jacob Mazlum spills onto the floor. Placing the festival’s noisiest and most horrible band, Unyielding Love, at the tail-end of the Sunday proves to be too much for the Dreadfest crowd to take, who don’t seem to respond to their horrific noise. It’s a shame because Belfast’s premier blackened noise-grind crew deliver one of the best sets of the whole weekend. They bring along collaborator and noise artist Knifedoutofexistence to amp up the noise, with a constant harsh drone accompanying their set. Their vicious stop-start intensity and demonic vocals easily make them the most sonically extreme band of the festival. Thankfully the crowd step it up for the chaos that headliners Fukpig cook up. Avoiding crowd surfers landing on your head is a constant threat, as the balaclava wearing crew go nuts on the Main Stage. Their crusty sound and relentless d-beat drums see out another incredible addition of Dreadfest.
For a third year running, Dreadfest is another huge success, proving it is the place to be when it comes to seeing extreme music in the UK. Topping this line-up next year is going to be a very hard task indeed!
Dreadfest 2020 tickets are on sale here.
Words: Chris “Frenchie” French
Crowd Photograph: Dave Jerome (World Downfall Photography)
Band Photography: Abi Coulson (Darktones Photography)