Knotfest Puts The Hammer Down In San Bernardino

Review by Jason Williams
[Live photos by Brad Worsham]

October 25th 2014, San Manuel Amphitheater, San Bernardino CA: As it seems to be the tradition each and every year, huge metal shows and festivals bring themselves to the San Manual Amplitheater in San Bernadino, CA. Knotfest, created and headlined by Slipknot, would be the venue’s guest this year, broken up into two days, featuring lots of mainstream metal bands including Anthrax and Hatebreed, as well as the more extreme side with Immolation, Carcass and The Faceless. Although there were only a select few bands I wanted to see, I’m open minded enough to give a chance to the bands that I may not have wanted to listen to at home. I wasn’t able to catch every band due to time constraints and several bands going on all at once, so I’ll be able to tell all of the positive and plenty of negative that I was able to witness.

Sadly, Knotfest got off to a horrible start, as my ticket to the venue was moved to the far, far side away from the main ticket booth. The lines, despite arriving early, were also extremely long. By this time, traveling by foot to basically go around the entire venue for my entry, Immolation started at 12 PM. It made matters worse that as I was traveling, I could vaguely hear Ross Dolan belt his trademark and sinister growls. As it would be written, I missed Immolation by the time I was able to get my ticket. Definitely frustrating, as Immolation was one of the major reasons I attended Knotfest, despite their scheduled 25-minute set. The venue or the Knotfest organization need to do a more proficient job on presenting signs, and accurate information on where tickets can be picked up.

Prong, starting on the fifth stage was the next band I was able to see, playing on the same stage that Immolation just took place at. Knowing their name for years but never seeing them live or hearing their music, I wanted to see what the hype was all about. Despite them starting before 1 PM, a decent crowd attended their set. Prong play an industrial / thrash /groove style of metal. Lead man and only original member Tommy Victor brought the groovy riffs and singing to the crowd, to a mild moshpit in the field. Their groove metal style may not have translated well for me on album, but their energy into their music made for a headbangable evening. I hope to see Prong in a small setting, to really get the feel for their live show.

King 810 started on the second stage. My tolerance level for metalcore is quite thin these days, as I truly feel only certain styles and bands really do it for me. King 810 was not for me, in any shape or form. I will give credit though, to singer David Gunn, for attempting to really sing his lyrics out, with some narrating and acting involved. Unfortunately, his voice to me, was nowhere near the quality that he was trying to portray. Their riffs were quite generic and mundane, although with the type of music King 810 plays, the crowds that spawn love their style. And regardless of my taste for a band, I will always give them props for bringing fans that draw their own passion for them. Truly not my thing, but the crowd who was there for them and gave King 810 what they were coming for.

Set List:
01. Killem All
02. Murder Murder Murder
03. Desperate Lovers
04. Treading and Trodden
05. War Outside
06. Fat Around the Heart

While waiting for some other anticipated bands I wanted to see, Butcher Babies played next, on the third stage which happens to split the second stage. Witnessing their live show at last year’s Mayhem at the same venue, I wasn’t expecting anything better this year, and my expectations were not close to met. The only redeeming quality was their opening song, a SOD cover, “Pussy Whipped” and “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers” from ZZ Top.  It would have helped greatly that they could have played it well, which was not the case.  Honestly, it truly bothers me to see their level of success, with one aspect of it due to the provocative clothing both singers Heidi Shepherd and Carla Harvey wear onstage. Their music does nothing on an intellectual level, nothing is being reinnovated, and it’s practically mindless. I give major props to any frontwoman on stage, whether it’s playing their instrument well or singing fantastically. There is no sexism here, as I want any band, female or not, to be able to play properly and with integrity. Once more, the crowd enjoyed them, and with it being their fans, it was no surprise. Butcher Babies’ style of generic modern metal was unpleasant for me, and hopefully this will be the last time that I will be seeing them.

Set List:
01. Pussy Whipped (Stormtroopers of Death cover)
02. Goliath
03. The Mirror Never Lies
04. The Deathsurround
05. Jesus Needs More Babies for His War Machine
06. Mr. Slowdeath
07. Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers (ZZ Top cover)
08. Magnolia Blvd.
09. Axe Wound

Waiting for a band of quality to come along, my hopes were answered, as Japanese grindcore / punk / metal band Maximum the Hormone played the third stage at 2:25. A number of Japanese fans wearing the band’s shirts were scattered throughout the crowd, in anticipation for them to play. What ensued was pure chaos, fun and metal. From tasteful rap to their frenzied style of playing, Maximum the Hormone’s uniqueness blended with their aggressive grindcore-like style to wow the audience. One minute, a chunky moshing riff, the next a death metal blast. The highlight of their set was the frantic Nao on the drums, not only performing awesome fills and keeping an extremely fast tempo, the energy and smile on her face, looked like she just won the lottery before the show. It kept the audience highly entertained and moshing their hearts out. In between songs, singer Daisuke-han and Nao spoke Japanese to the crowd, as well as some broken English, to which the audience laughed and cheered on. Their set went by very quickly and Maximum the Hormone was absolutely one of the best bands of the entire festival, bringing their unique style of Japanese metal to the cheering crowd. I truly hope to see them play a headlining set in the near future.

Set List:
01. What’s up, people?!
02. “F”
03. Benjo Sandal Dance
04. Maximum the Hormone
05. Shimi
06. Koi No Mega Lover

Right on the same stage Maximum the Hormone just played, death metal legends and pioneers Carcass came out to a rather larger than anticipated crowd. Although they do better than usual in terms of attendance for death metal, this being a mostly commercial metal festival, I was pleasantly surprised to see a big attendance level, and deservingly so.  “Buried Dreams”, their usual opener from their magnum opus and highly influential 1993 Heartwork album, started off their magnificent 40-minute set. Seeing their sold-out show at the Observatory in Santa Ana earlier in March, I found their sound today to be a lot better.  It was loud, clear and quite powerful. Bassist/vocalist Jeff Walker was in top form, aggresive, spewing his words with vitriol and disgust, all while hilariously humoring the crowd in between songs. From spitting out some disgusting Rockstar and asking the crowd why they drink it, to pointing out in “Corporal Jigsore Quandary” that, “A breakdown in 1991?  Who would have thought it!”, Walker gave the crowd plenty to work with. His partner in crime, long time guitarist Bill Steer, in some expensive sunglasses to fight the glare, provided his trademark gorgeous leads and signature Carcass riffing.  Ending their set with possibly my favorite song from Carcass off their best work, “Heartwork” energized the crowd with a huge mosh pit and banging heads all around.  Going crazy for them of course, a few in the crowd asked me who they were, and after telling them, they proceeded to smile and go crazy for Carcass themselves. Making some new fans, as well as pleasing this large fanbase, must be truly gratifying for the band.  Carcass absolutely slayed Knotfest, all doing it before 4:30 PM. Easily the best band of this entire festival.

Set List:
01. Buried Dreams
02. A Congealed Clot of Blood / Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System
03. The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills
04. Noncompliance to ASTM F 899-12 Standard / This Mortal Coil
05. Unfit for Human Consumption
06. Corporal Jigsore Quandary / The Sanguine Article
07. Black Star/Keep On Rotting in the Free World
08. Ruptured in Purulence / Heartwork / Carneous Cacoffiny / A Congealed Clot of Blood

Unforunately, due to the involvement with Carcass, I missed The Faceless, whose set slightly overlapped Carcass’. But seeing them play a solid set at the 2014 OC Death Fest, I’m sure those in the crowd enjoyed their technical mastery.

While waiting for Testament, the last band playing the third stage literally next door, was the popular In This Moment.  I knew very little about them, other than seeing a strange new music video that showed somewhat of a shift in their original sound, and that their singer was Maria Brink. Noticing their stage immediately, was the immense amount of gold props scattered throughout along with two dancers up there. It was hilarious, but in an entertaining way. They were playing metalcore, as many of their comtemporaries, but adding a very pop twist to it. Although it was a slight improvement, it still didn’t do too much for me. Actually, the highlight of their set was an upbeat jazz instrumental in between songs, wishing that they would play like this. Brink was the star on the stage, as every command to the audience was met with a roaring response. Their popularity ever increasing, and this set highly anticipated by the many fans dressed in their shirts, In This Moment was only slightly better than expected, compared to the rest of the “metalcore” category today.

Set List:
01. Sick Like Me
02. Whore
03. Big Bad Wolf
04. Adrenalize
05. Sex Metal Barbie
06. Blood

Headlining the second stage at 5:05 and the last band on the four small stages, Testament, one of metal’s very best, played to what was easily the largest amount of people thus far today. Their volume, unlike The Battle of San Bernadino (I happen to call it Maidenfest), that took place at this same venue, was much louder, almost to the point that coming too close to the PA was resulting in a huge distorted mess. By the next couple of songs, the sound became clearer, while still maintaining high volume. Chuck Billywas constantly moving around on stage, playing his mic stand as a guitar in his own unique style. And at 52 years of age, he seems to be enjoying himself more and more. Their performance last year was cut short due to some small time constraits, so tonight was a pleasure to see a proper 10-song set. Riff master of Testament since the very beginning, Eric Peterson chopped the air consistently with his classic thrash breakdowns and piercing presence. The crowd cheered, roared and engaged the band at every opportunity. Today’s performance was easily the most I’ve seen a crowd go insane for them, as well as the best I’ve seen from Testament. “The Formation of Damnation” was cut short due to someone climbing to the top of the stage, involving security to bring him down before anyone serious happened to him. With Testament closing in on writing a new album soon, I’m greatly looking forward to a fresh setlist on a headlining tour.

Set List:
01. Rise Up
02. More Than Meets the Eye
03. Into the Pit
04. The New Order
05. Disciples of the Watch
06. Over the Wall
07. D.N.R. (Do Not Resuscitate)
08. The Formation of Damnation
09. Native Blood
10. 3 Days in Darkness

As Testament concluded the portion of the day the four smaller stages, Hatebreed would be the first band on the main stage. Hatebreed was actually a part of my small metal history, as they were main support to Slayer, who I saw at my first metal show at The Grove of Anaheim, May 2nd, 2002. Their style of hardcore appeals to many of the type of fans in today’s crowd. Leader and singer Jamie Jasta made it a mission to involve the crowd, demanding “Knotfest level” circle pits. It was nice to see a band who has worked this hard to stay relavent and popular in metal, and continuing to find success. With that said, Hatebreed’s music then, and now, really didn’t too much for me. Most of their songs sound extremely similiar, although their classic “I Will Be Heard” was sung by a majority in attendance, something I rather found nostalgic. Hatebreed did a solid job warming up the mighty amount in attendance as the sun dwindled down into the horizon.

Set List:
01. Everyone Bleeds Now
02. Honor Never Dies
03. Smash Your Enemies
04. As Diehard as They Come
05. Proven
06. Last Breath
07. Live for This
08. In Ashes They Shall Reap
09. This Is Now
10. I Will Be Heard
11. Destroy Everything

After much talk about their shows as of late, I wanted to see which Black Label Society was about to show up. Sadly, very few positives were to be found in their 40-minute but seemingly endless set. Their sound was hollow and not encompassing the speakers that would spread all around the field. If it only were turned up more, the distorted guitars would have sounded far better, which was done only for the last few songs of the set. As for the leader and absolute core member of the band, former Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Zakk Wylde’s vocals left an exorbitant amount left to be desired. Wailing out of key and extremely lackluster, it must be confirmed that his drinking days were indeed his glory days onstage. I of course, wish him nothing but the best on his sobriety, but it seems to have crippled his live performance. His solos, while flashy and impressive to look at for a while, had no conviction to them due to the lack of power in their sound. As mentioned above, “Concrete Jungle” and “Stillborn”, the last two songs of their set, finally had some life to them, but it was far too late to save their show. The crowd was appreciative and active, but the level of response was nowhere near many of the other bands during the day. I must point out, as I saw Mastodon at this stage for Mayhem 2013, in which it sounded NOTHING like their shows in Vegas and the Fox Theater this year, so it would probably be best to hear BLS at a smaller, indoor venue, to really give them a proper chance. But tonight though, was not their night to shine.

Set List:
01. The Beginning… At Last
02. Funeral Bell
03. Bleed for Me
04. Heart of Darkness
05. Suicide Messiah
06. My Dying Time
07. Concrete Jungle
08. Stillborn

With this festival needing a quality live show now, thankfully Anthrax came in to save the day. Right away, I already noticed how clear and loud Joey Belladonna sounded in compared to Maidenfest. The crowd was in a frenzy all over the place, moshpits throughout the lawn and the pit itself. The crowd all across the venue singing along to “I Am the Law” and “Caught in a Mosh” truly brought the place alive, and the energy level was absolutely amazing in comparison to BLS. Rhythm guitarist and creator of one of The Big 4, Scott Ian was a madman, angrily strumming his chords, reminding everyone why their New York style of thrash metal is incredibly revered. I wasn’t sure if it was a time issue, but for whatever reason, Anthrax played barely 30 minutes in a 6-song set. And the fact that they were so enjoyable, it also did go by quickly. One awesome highlight was a brief 30-second snippet of a new song right before “I Am the Law”. It was heavy, full of speed metal, and with it Anthrax had the crowd in their hand. Ian also announced that this was the last show of the Worship Music tour, and that next summer would be full of new tours and the new album.  Anthrax gave it their all as always, performing to a high level that they are always known for. Next to Carcass, the best performance of the night.

Set List:
01. Indians
02. Caught in a Mosh
03. Fight ‘Em ‘Til You Can’t
04. Madhouse
05. I Am the Law
06. Antisocial (Trust cover)

Another act I have not had the pleasure of seeing, Danzig were to be the band next to last before Slipknot. The sound was loud, and the guitar playing of Tommy Victor, who if you’ve been paying attention, also plays in Prong, sounded awesome. Everyone sounded on point and it gave me high hopes for Glenn Danzig’s vocal performance. Unfortunately, for most of his set, his singing was the weakest aspect of the band. To give him credit, he moved on stage all throughout and was very energetic and passionate all at the same time. But the longstanding comments of his constant out-of-breath singing held true tonight. “How the Gods Kill” is an absolute beast of a song, but I couldn’t tell live due to Danzig’s lackluster singing performance. And with all of that said, waiting to be dreadfully disappointed by “Mother” their best song and usual closer, something strange happened. Danzing sounded amazing during that song. It almost felt like he was waiting to give it his all just for that song. And while I understand how popular and emotional that song is to all, if he could have sounded like that through his whole set, he would have been one of the best acts tonight.  It was remarkable to hear “Mother” sung beautifully, but frustrating that he didn’t put more effort into the rest of the material. Overall, disappointing, but slightly better than what I was expecting from Danzig.

And right at 11 PM, the headliners, festival creators and long time popular nu-metal group Slipknot entered the stage to a massive roar all throughout the arena. Never been a fan of their music and have constantly criticized their decisions, especially getting rid of their most talented member in my opinion, drummer Joey Jordison, I had to at least see what the buzz surrounding their live show has been about. For many years, friends of mine have shared the same disdain for Slipknot, but when it came to their live performance, they would acknowledge how impressive it was. Their sound was extremely loud, and reasonably heavy. This being my fifth time at this venue and the first time in the lawn for this stage, the pit was easily the largest and most active I’ve ever seen it to be. Singer and frontman Corey Taylor moved all around and gave the crowd all they could handle. His mask seemed to be giving him troubles here and there, but it didn’t impact the show.  “Eeyore” and “Three Nil” were met with big reactions and chants from the “Maggots” in attendance. As with bands that I’ve grown up to love, Slipknot was that band for those who couldn’t wait to see them. You can see how “important” the band was for them, and as with bands that have been personal for me, I can see how their live show can be emotional. I didn’t stay for their entire set due to beating the traffic home, but obtained their setlist and caught some of the live stream of their 75-minute performance. I will say that their music still does not do anything for me, but their level of sound and stage props made for a worthy show and gave those in attendance their money’s worth.

As many as there were lackluster sets by bands, Knotfest brought along some wonderful performances by some of the bands that I love, like Carcass’s captivating and show stealing performance, as well as some surprises such as Maximum the Hormone’s brillant Japanese style of metal. The night was a long and exhausting one, but metal still prevailed as always.

Set List:
01. People = Shit
02. Eeyore
03. Disasterpiece
04. The Negative One
05. Sulfur
06. Eyeless
07. Wait and Bleed
08. Dead Memories
09. Before I Forget
10. Three Nil
11. Purity
12. Custer
13. Duality
14. Spit It Out
15. Surfacing