After a promising first year, Merthyr Rock returns to the picturesque surroundings of Cyfarthfa Castle, now able to attract an even higher calibre of established band and shine an even brighter spotlight on Welsh and British emerging talent.
It falls to Dopamine to kick Saturday off and the local favourites do a solid job, their chugging post-hardcore and soaring melodies prompting the first mass singalong of the day.
Manchester’s Sonic Boom Six, on the other hand, feel like a band in transition, phasing out the 70s punk elements of their sound in favour of a bombastic sheen which, when it hits, recalls Skindred and Sona Fariq, but too often veers into Cher Lloyd bubblegum pop territory.
Over on the James McLaren Stage (named after the talented rock scribe who recently died far too young) Bastions bring some brutality to proceedings with their stark and visceral hardcore. About the only North Wales band taking their cues from Will Haven rather than Super Furry Animals, they incite the first circle pit, and frontman Jamie Burne bares his soul with heartbreaking intensity.
Emerging to the crooning strains of ‘Thank Heaven For Little Girls’, dual bass sleaze-groovers Exit_International proceed to pound the growing crowd into glorious submission. Scott Andrews revels in his role as local-boy-done-good and the impressive trio of new songs aired signals a filthier and poppier future, so the genuine crossover success of Death From Above 1979 surely beckons.
Back on the Main Stage, Yashin are a band hitting their stride and, although their brand of twin vocal glam metalcore is painfully on trend, they get the pit chanting and swirling with undeniable confidence.
Save Your Breath can’t quite match Yashin for swagger – their early Brand New-isms perhaps lacking the originality to truly set them apart – but they still make a valiant effort to keep the festival buoyant as night descends.
Pulled Apart By Horses, meanwhile, are fast evolving into a hulking beast of QOTSA proportions. Their supremely well-paced set fuses goodtime groove‘n’roll with Sub Pop scuzzcore until everyone is screaming “I’ll make you dance with my balls on fire!” with majestic abandon.
The stage is set then, for one of the UK’s best live bands to seize the day, and Skindred do not disappoint – uniting every clan of this audience in a way no dub-ragga-rap-metal band has the right to. ‘Newport helicopters’ abound, and Merthyr Rock sits comfortably in the palm of Benji Webbe’s hand throughout. His talented band may provide the petrol, but it is Webbe – a man who could teach charisma how to be more appealing – that is the relentless engine propelling this festival skyward. Triumphant.
Merthyr’s Buried In Alaska couple Hatebreed’s savagery with the thrash of Exodus in the aural equivalent of waking up halfway through a fight, sandblasting any lingering hangovers and even raising a smile with a Backstreet Boys cover.
A saunter over to the Main Stage reveals The James Cleaver Quintet’s bounding chaos in full flow, melding Big Black, Blood Brothers and Every Time I Die into something bizarrely sexual and British. It is one of the more impressive displays of the festival – the band punctuating reverb heavy atmospherics with smash grab robberies of art noise punk with tantalising aplomb.
Blowgoat are no strangers to chaos either, their boozy punk‘n’roll the perfect soundtrack as marauding frontman Paul Davies – Matt Caughthran’s violent, bleeding brother – stalks the field and everyone in it, screaming with gut-busting venom and generally fucking shit up.
There’s little bite or edge to what Straight Lines do, but they are the latest Welsh export emulating the successes of The Blackout and Kids In Glass Houses, and their catchy, hook-laden rock makes it easy to see why, instigating the first (and, mercifully, last) mass conga of the day.
Marmozets are a very young band and their excitement simply at being onstage is endearingly clear – bassist Will Bottomley’s vim briefly boiling over as he tosses a floor tom into the air – much to the delight of the audience (and tense slow motion horror of the sound guy). A collision of Human Waste Project and the more modern hardcore of Rolo Tomassi, Marmozets are a raw, instinctive band, and leader Becca Macintyre has a rare charisma that will doubtless see them soar.
Few frontmen (or women) in the world can match the cutting poetry with which Andrew Falkous articulates his acerbic world view, and Future Of The Left proceed to bludgeon a depressingly perplexed audience with their hypnotic brand of The Jesus Lizard-meets-Devo-meets-Chris Morris skulduggery, even airing a couple of gems from the McLusky back catalogue. Sigh. Your loss, Merthyr, your loss.
One of the most anticipated performances of the weekend is a reformed A, complete with Radio 1’s Daniel P Carter on bass. Self-effacing, underrehearsed and battling PA feedback, it is one of the messier displays of the festival, but there is still no disguising the nostalgic glee on the faces of band and audience when that riff hits, with even The Blackout’s Sean Smith jumping onstage to join in.
It is down to Kids In Glass Houses to round a magnificent weekend off and, although Skindred have set the bar high, they still do a sterling job of getting everyone bouncing, chanting and generally going nuts. The band’s obvious enthusiasm for headlining so close to home has an infectious magnetism that spreads like wildfire, and as the last of the ‘woah-oh’ singalongs ring out, it is clear the festival organisers have got their choice of closers absolutely bang on. Piled under the banner loosely termed ‘heavy’, Merthyr’s was an indisputably eclectic lineup but somehow it worked, and most factions will have gone home smiling. Apart from that guy chucked out during Bastions’ set for fighting: he looked pretty pissed off.