FROM MOLEDO WITH LOVE: SONICBLAST MOLEDO 2018
Summer is a “love it or hate it” kind of season. Extremely hot temperatures are something we are not very fond of and this feeling only aggravates when one has to travel a long distance by train. You’d think it’d be cooler inside one. But coming all the way to a festival that is so close to the sea – and even has a pool next to one of its stages, the aptly named Pool Stage -, to witness some of the best bands in the stoner, psych rock and doom genres makes it all worth it. You read the title above so we don’t really have to mention what festival it is we are talking about, right? Well, be that as it may, yes, it is SonicBlast Moledo, one of the best festivals Portugal as to offer and one of the best festivals for the stonerheads to enjoy.
As per usual, SonicBlast started out with a warm-up party divided into two parts. The first one was at Paredão 476 and saw the Portuguese Heavy Cross of Flowers and the Spanish Sombra play their stoner melodies to a crowd that filled the terrace of the venue. Those that couldn’t get in, surrounded the area in various groups, all enjoying the riffs that protruded from the terrace and taking in the surroundings; another beautiful edition of SonicBlast was at hand. Later at night, the Portuguese Pledge and the Spanish Acid Mess wrecked havoc at Ruivo’s Bar. There was intense moshing throughout both performances, with some people trying to climb the venue’s open roof and even some members of the bands crowdsurfing while playing. It was a lovely sight and a lovely start to the festival.
Things on the Pool stage went slowly this year, but not because of any delays – there weren’t many this year -, but because the band’s playing were a bit more mellow, save for a couple bands, one of them being Solar Corona. Being the opening band for a festival is no easy task, as most struggle to garner the attention of the crowd, but the Portuguese stoners did it effortlessly with their heavy bass lines, harsh tonality and a little help from saxophone player Julius Gabriel (Paisiel). The also Portuguese Desert Smoke picked up where Solar Corona left off and continued with the same feeling, albeit a bit more dreamy. After this, we got the Spanish Atavismo, who impressed most people with their rich and colourful, groove-oriented psych rock, as heard on their most recent release, ValdeInfierno. Astrodome, who are no strangers to the audience of SonicBlast, followed suit with their heavy riffage and then things slowed down for a while with Electric Octopus, adepts of a more funky and relaxed side of rock. We didn’t see much from them, as we were getting ready to visit the Main Stage, but from what we heard, it was a solid performance that only suffered from not being indoors. Or maybe at night.
Over at the Main Stage, we witnessed what could be described as a “crime” and that is putting a band like Conan playing under a blazing hot sun. We fully understand the need of such an occurrence, but it just takes away from the atmosphere this band can create when all the stars are aligned. Nevertheless, we did enjoy the show quite a bit. Playing songs from their three records, the band led by the ever-present Jon Paul Davis proceeded to demolish the stage with their barbaric and monolithic sound. Songs like “Foehammer” and “Gravity Chasm” transformed the site of SonicBlast into a battlefield and there was even time for a cover, the aptly named Hate Song from Fudge Tunnel. Some of you might be surprised to know that Conan played a cover on one of their shows, but considering Fudge Tunnel’s own David Ryley was the bassist for the day, it all makes sense. David was replacing bassist Chris Fielding, who had to miss the show due to marital commitments and to him we send our congratulations. Volt Thrower, from Conan’s brand-new record Existential Void Guardian, closed what was a very enjoyable and sunny performance.
Ufomammut were up next and not only did they also not have much luck in the sun department, the sound was also pretty mushy throughout their performance. It was enjoyable, nonetheless, even if only for the simple fact of finally being able to catch the Italian band live. But seeing them at this time of day cuts a bit of their aura and mystique. Ramblings aside, Ufomammut played competently as they always do, with fantastic projections on their backs that we could hardly make out. The band showcased their eighth studio album in full and delivered a powerful encore that consisted of an intermission by guitarist Poia, as well as the songs “Hellcore” and “God”, the latter closing the show. Like Conan before them, we just wish they had a better time slot, but such is the problem of seeing bands in a festival: sometimes you just don’t get what you want.
Sadly, we missed Nebula due to some other commitments, but from what we heard in the distance and from what a few friends told us, the reunited Californian stoners put on a good show. Causa Sui were up next and what a trip their show was. With their most recent studio album, Vibraciones Doradas, still fresh in our ears, the Danish trio proceeded to mesmerize the entire SonicBlast audience with their hipnotic and intoxicating harmonies. “Homage” opened a show that also included songs such as “Mireille” and “Red Valley”, as well as “El Paraiso” and “El Fuego” from the aforementioned Vibraciones Doradas. A delicious start of night that insisted on continuing with the same harmonious resonance as Samsara Blues Experiment entered the stage. No strangers to the SonicBlast audience, the German trio wasted little time with introductions and started delivering the first chords of the jamtastic “Vipassana”, a song from their latest record, One With The Universe. If there was ever any doubt that this is one of the best psych rock bands out there today, then those doubts were put to rest after this performance. Songs like “For The Lost Souls” and “Center Of The Sun” easily captivated the audience who was enthralled by the contrasting heaviness and calmness provided by the band. The whole show sounded like an hour-long jam session, which is something the band has always gone for in both their records and live performances.
And then there was Mantar. When trying to describe this concert, words simply failed us. No amount of adjectives or hyperboles would make it justice and to be honest, we aren’t even going to try. It was as chaotic and crushing as one would expect from the German duo. From the demonic poses of vocalist/guitarist Hanno to the incessant pummelling of drummer Erinc, this was a show like no other and one that went through the band’s catalogue in rapid succession, with songs such as “Era Borealis”, “Praise The Plague”, “Cross the Cross” and the brand-new “Seek + Forget” ripping and tearing through a very enthusiastic audience. It was like staring into the abyss as it stared back right into our eyes and smacked our faces repeatedly. Perfection.
The second day at the Pool Stage went pretty much exactly the same as the first one, except for the fact that it was a bit hotter. A sudden change of plans forced us to miss out on The Wizards show and almost made us miss Talea Jacta as well. Fortunately, that didn’t happen and we got to see the Portuguese improvisational duo loop and drone their way to an entertaining performance. We feel obliged to point out João Pais Filipe’s drumming, what a talented guy. Pedro Pestana is a pretty talented dude too but damn, we always feel like air drumming when we see João play live with any of his projects, of which there are many. Greengo were up next and they projected unto the crowd their own version of the chaos that Mantar wrought the night before and in turn, the crowd transformed the pool into a circle pit. In fact, for the remainder of the day, the pool would become a mixture between a dance floor and a mosh pit.
There is only one way to describe the final two performances at the Pool Stage: refreshing. Refreshing because it’s not everyday we get to see new bands that we’re sure will reach stardom in a few years. Let’s start with the South African Ruff Majik. Starting out slow but getting progressively more energetic, the trio demonstrated that despite being newcomers they know how to rock out. And they seemed pleased of being in Moledo too, as vocalist/guitarist Johni Holiday professed his love for the festival, though that might have something to do with the fact that a member of the audience passed him a joint midshow. That makes anyone happy for sure. After a quick dip in the pool by their bassist, Ruff Majik cleared the stage for the Norwegian Black Sabbath worshippers Purple Hill Witch. There are a lot of these type of bands nowadays, but there was something about the way the Norwegian trio presented themselves and played that got to us. If before there were still members of the audience chilling by the pool, when Purple Hill Witch hit the stage, everyone just stood up to rock out to some good old fashioned doom. Two bands to watch out for in the future.
We return to the Main Stage to see Naxatras already laying down the first chords of “Sun is Burning” off their debut album. Ironically enough, the sun was indeed burning but the band did not falter and with sunglasses on, played away to their hearts content. This was probably one of the most highly anticipated shows of the entire festival and the Greek trio did not disappoint. Songs like “Waves”, “Pulsar 4000” and “The Great Attractor” had us close our eyes from time to time, visualizing the paradisic landscapes of Greece in our minds, as the melodies delivered by Naxatras started to take shape. It was truly a magical performance and, alongside Mantar, the best show of the entire festival for us. That doesn’t mean, however, that the rest was not good. Quite the contrary, in fact, as after daydreaming for a while, we came back to solid ground with a lively concert by The Atomic Bitchwax. This was a really fun show to watch, as the band was in high spirits, throwing a few jokes here and there, all the while unleashing a high dose of pure, unadultered, old school rock n’ roll. Opening the show with “In The Flesh” by a little band called Pink Floyd and ending it with “One of These Days” from the very same British prog group, The Atomic Bitchwax rocked the casbah in their own way, playing tracks such as “Houndstooth” and “Liv a Little” from Force Field, their most recent release, as well as classics like “Hope You Die”, “Forty-Five”, “Kiss The Sun” and even another cover, “Maybe I’m A Leo”, from another little band known as Deep Purple. A true rock n’ roll experience.
One last commitment made us miss 1000mods, which we deeply regret as from what we heard it was a pretty energetic show. Kadavar came afterwards to a very expectant crowd. They were supposed to have played SonicBlast last year but had to cancel for family reasons. Nothing serious we assure you. They made it up to everyone by performing this year and boy oh boy, did they deliver. Set on showcasing their entire discography to the SonicBlast crowd, the German retro rock trio fired up a doozy of an opening with “Creatures of the Demon” and “Pale Blues Eyes”. Songs like “Skeleton Blues”, “Die Baby Die” and “Come Back Life” grabbed the crowd by the throat and didn’t let go. The performance itself was pretty immaculate, as if we were listening to the band on record. There were no deviations, no big surprises: it was Kadavar live as they are on record. Some might say that is a bad thing, but to us it was as we wanted it to be.
The night was still a bit far from over and we were already feeling the exhaustion hit our knees and backs, but we held on to the desire of seeing Earthless perform live. Might not have been the best idea considering the band’s predilection for intricate solos, lengthy improvisations and the occasional 20 minute song. That’s where they started, as they kicked off the show with “Uluru Rock”. They proceeded to play songs like “Black Heaven”, “Gifted By The Wind”, “Violence of the Red Sea” and “Volt Rush”. It dragged on for a bit, if we are being honest and that may have been because we were just too tired to get into it. The same tiredness stopped us from fully enjoying the extraordinary fuzzadelic riffage that The Black Wizards are known for. We tried really hard at this point, but just gave up. All we could do was to just sit down and try to make out some riffs. We will make it up to them, we promise.
Overall, this was a very enjoyable edition of SonicBlast Moledo. We got to see old friends and make some new ones, walk the beautiful shores of Moledo and see some amazing bands play live. What more could we ask for? Well, rest. We could use some rest. A big thank you to Garboyl Lives for letting us be a part of such a great and successful festival and to everyone we met during our time there. See you all next year!
Words by Filipe Silva
Photos by Marta Rebelo