Accusations will always follow Sonisphere festival - usually aimed from those most preposterously pretentious metal fans who frequent supposedly non-mainstream festivals like Bloodstock - that Sonisphere is little more than a sell-out event, aimed at watered-down metal fans of pop-edged bands who have long since let go their grip on creative integrity in favour of the almighty dollar. But 2011's fest boasted one of the most impressive line-ups rock festivals have seen for a good long while, thanks largely to the promise of the Big Four playing together on one stage in one glorious night, as well as talent from across almost every sub-genre of rock from pop-punk (Weezer, YouMeAtSix), to comedy-tinged re-imaginings (Hayseed Dixie, Richard Cheese) and the bona-fide megastars of Slipknot, Biffy Clyro And no matter what pigeon-hole those bands might fall into, a festival experience that includes so much breadth, and so much inclusive passion for music in general is a far better one than the incestuous claustrophobia of more self-consciously liminal festivals. So I say long live the touring festival, because what I experienced a couple of weekends ago - despite the rain, the mud and the occasionally moronic wankers - was a magical thing indeed. So, pull up a camping chair, pop a can of Tuborg and join us as we revisit the highs and lows of Sonisphere 2011. Friday: The Big Four A three o'clock start for the bands meant another morning of heavy preparation, mostly out of plastic cups or directly from the can, which numbed the pain of the abysmal weather for a while at least until Diamond Head opened the festival on the Apollo Stage, in a slot that suggests as much about their importance to the formation of Thrash Metal's elite as it does about Metallica's personal fondness for the NWOBHM band. Without them, none of this would have been possible - as Lars Ulrich himself proclaimed later - but, this is no mere ceremonial inclusion, as the band ploughed through song after song, sounding better and more energetic than Megadeth for the most part, and rousing the crowd perfectly with the day's first appearance of iconic track "Am I Evil?" Without much of a pause, we were into Anthrax, the start-line proper for the Big Four event, and a fitting beginning, thanks to a focus on the 80s heyday material that reminds the gathered mega-crowd of their thrash metal royalty status in sublime fashion. The band - and Joey Belladonna in particular are in barn-storming form, despite the absence of talisman Scott Ian who is usually such a focal point, but who was necessarily otherwise detained by the birth of his first child with wife Pearl Aday, and proved a standard-setting opening for the historic reunion. Next up came Megadeth, who I personally would have put in the opening slot, because following an amped-up Anthrax was always going to be a Herculean task for a band who can blow hot and cold within the space of one gig. But, despite not being a fan, I was eventually silenced by Megadeth's technical prowess and Dave Mustaine's undeniable presence (even if I always feel he could step up his animation a little more to suit his reputation). What puts me off about them is usually Mustaine's vocals, which are usually the problem when things go wrong, but he offered a pretty strong showing that will probably be unfairly forgotten thanks to being sandwiched between two superior showings from Anthrax and the ever-blistering Slayer. And third out of four they came - fan favourites, and the pick of the three acts so far by some distance, Slayer don't know how to play a reserved gig. Their manifesto is coronary-bursting, bone-shattering brutality, even if their lead singer has just got over massive surgery and can't quite head-bang the way he used to, and they didn't disappoint, turning heads with their energy and stage-presence like few other bands can muster.
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