Why Glastonbury's metal stage is the ultimate antidote to vanilla festival fare

Earache Records are curating a metal-only area at this year’s festival - a landmark moment for the 2017 event, especially for those who prefer Ed Sheeran muffled by Extreme Noise Terror

If you’re anything like me, the thought of standing in the pouring rain, ankle deep in mud, while Ed Sheeran sings that bloody awful Galway Girl song, is enough to draw tears of despair from the eyes. Glastonbury is a huge event, an undeniable jewel in the festival calendar and the biggest, most famous rock and pop festival on the planet. For metalheads, however, its appeal has long been extremely limited. Yes, Motörhead and Metallica each performed at Worthy Farm in recent years, and ageing headbangers may recall that prog metal behemoths Tool made an appearance at the festival back in 1994, but beyond those rare token gestures, heavy music has been conspicuous by its absence.

However, all that changes in 2017, thanks to those splendid people at Earache Records – one of the most legendary extreme metal labels of all time. For the first time ever at Michael Eavis’s gaff, the sound of blistering, full-pelt grindcore will echo across the fields as the crusty, uncompromising likes of Napalm Death, Extreme Noise Terror and Singapore’s very own Wormrot hit the Shangri-La area’s Truth stage in a very real and thoroughly admirable attempt to, we must assume, scare the living shit out of as many novelty hat-wearing, face-painted George Ezra fans as possible.

A flyer for Earache’s metal takeover Glastonbury 2017.
A flyer for Earache’s metal takeover Glastonbury 2017. Photograph: Earache Records

This is much more of a story than Metallica’s headline performance in 2014. That was, in essence, a hugely successful, corporate rock band performing at a hugely successful mainstream festival. Given the way the BBC’s otherwise excellent TV coverage dealt with the whole thing, it seems reasonable to assume that the main reason for Metallica playing Glastonbury was to enable lots of inebriated berks to don comedy heavy metal wigs and pretend to head-bang because heavy metal is funny HAHAHA SPINAL TAP LOL. And so on.

Earache’s plan is much less susceptible to such misguided, condescending treatment. Although the full line-up has yet to be revealed, the label’s stage looks certain to be primarily occupied by extreme metal bands, many of whom will be entirely unfamiliar to the average falafel-juggling punter. But here’s the thing: Glastonbury’s annual crowd numbers in the region of 130,000 – and within such a huge cross-section of music fans, I am willing to bet a kidney and a couple of toes that there will be a substantial number of people that are either (a) genuine fans of extreme and/or heavy music or (b) former or occasional enthusiasts for music that sounds like a bomb going off in a building full of shrieking maniacs. My 81-year-old mother knows who Napalm Death are, incidentally, and not just because I used to torture my father with their classic second album From Enslavement to Obliteration at top volume when I was a truculent teenager.

Extreme metal isn’t some teensy, obscure scene that briefly amused John Peel and is only listened to by squinting adolescents: in fact, it’s about as creative and obdurate as it gets, supported and sustained around the world by people from all walks of life. It’s a true “alternative” (whatever that means these days) to mainstream music: confrontational and challenging in a way that a lot of the Glastonbury bill almost certainly isn’t, and in that respect alone, it’s a more than worthy addition to a festival that prides itself on the eclecticism of its bill.

The mainstream music world generally pretends that heavy and extreme music don’t exist, largely because there are so few metalheads or extreme music fans in positions of power in the media, but Glastonbury 2017 looks like a breakthrough moment for the inspirational noise that has been so integral to my listening habits over the years, not to mention thousands upon thousands of other people who – whether they know it yet or not – could probably benefit from listening to something from the opposite end of the musical spectrum to Ed Sheeran’s fervently beige radio fodder. You never know, Ed might even pop in himself and join Extreme Noise Terror in a rousing rendition of Bullshit Propaganda. Stranger (but less exciting) things have happened at Glasto, surely?


Dom Lawson

The GuardianTramp

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