It is Friday afternoon, and the traffic is heavy. Which means that the motorway has the edge over ‘The Big Four’…and it is touch and go whether we are going to make it to Knebworth on time to catch Diamond Head...
And when we arrive on site our fate is sealed. We hit another hour long queue which means that The Big Four is actually, The Big Two and A Bit by the time we reach the arena – Anthrax are long done and Megadeth are nearing the end of their set when we take up position.
Tom Araya has a smile a mile wide for most of Slayer’s typically pummelling set, which brings War Ensemble, Seasons In The Abyss, South of Heaven and Angel of Death out to romance us.
“Here’s a love song…” Araya spills before the band fires into Dead Skin Mask.
Scene stalwarts and forever favourable, this is the old guard still showing the pretenders how to do it.
A blistering performance, with special mention to Gary Holt from Exodus, firing up on the guitar front while Jeff Hanneman is out of play.
Hanneman of course is still recovering from a flesh eating bug. You couldn’t make it up.
Titans Metallica were back at Knebworth for their second headliner in three years, and while thousands awaited their arrival on the main stage in the late evening, the band treated those of us in earshot to a sweet little sound check in the back of a truck.
They run through Hit The Lights and Master of Puppets, which later launched a fairly straightforward, powerful set from the San Franciscan thrashers, albeit with added excitement later in the set.
Seek & Destroy, Ride The Lightning and The Memory Remains jostle for position in a taut set with plenty of smashes, thrashes and well, hits.
Sad But True, For Whom The Bell Tolls and Enter Sandman get pulses racing, and when The Big Four reunite for Diamond Head’s Am I Evil?, bringing DHs Brian Tatler on stage for the roar that things turn up not just one notch, but ten-fold.
How to bring things to a close? Battery and Creeping Death are total crowd pleasers.
Another year, another splendid delivery.
Up and back at it on Saturday morning, we breeze into the Bohemia Stage in time for LA’s soul-rock sharp-suited quartet Vintage Trouble.
They work their audience too. Hard.
You might be new to their fold (and the band are less than 18 months old themselves), but you can’t fail to be moved by front man Ty and his proficiently slick chums.
A couple of weeks back they were supporting Bon Jovi on a stadium tour, and now they are playing to a half full tent at a time when most Sonisphere slaves are awakening to sore heads and dodgy memories from the night before.
But every last one of those experiencing the Vintage Trouble impression is suckered and they put on one of the most powerful performances not only of the day, but as it later transpires, of the weekend.
Welcome to the cult of VT. Join it yourselves – seek out Hand Me Down Blues as your rock-steady starting point.
We bump into The Answer backstage, and front man Cormac is waxing lyrical about the bands’ forthcoming third opus: “I think it’s gonna turn a few heads.
“I think rock n roll in general needs a good injection of positivity and energy and that’s what Revival is aiming to provide.
“I think you’ll be able to pick up on the positive vibe and the good times we had on the road with AC/DC – we came straight off that tour and immediately into the rehearsal space to try and translate all that positive energy in the song writing and I think we’ve achieved it.”
Cavalera Conspiracy break out the Sepultura classic Roots Bloody Roots among their set and we also snatch the tale end of Band Religion, checking in for numbers including Infected and American Jesus.
We also swap downpours for delicious acoustic rumbling with Black Spiders in the Fender Tent.
The sound might be naff, but the mood is rosy: “You’ve got the album?” Pete Spilby asks, “Then you know how it should sound!” before the Northern rock n rollers head into Saint Peter.
One session with this hairy, unkempt beast will cure all arachnophobes.
The Treatment do the tent thing too, offering a retro hard rock call that belies the youth of the Cambridge quintet…
Out the back, Paradise Lost are doing press and Gallows are lurking, but we can’t stop – Weezer are making a noise on the main stage with a set that delivers more than we expected – from opener The Sweater Song, to the closing strains of Buddy Holly, the band with Rivers Cuomo at the forefront, demand respect.
They throw in a couple of unexpected and perhaps bizarre choices for covers – with Teenage Dirtbag by Wheatus and Paranoid Android by Radiohead, but though the crowd may be damp to feel, in mood they are rejoicing in River’s band of decidedly merry men.
Last weekend Ayreshire trio Biffy Clyro tore up Milton Keynes Bowl as special guests to Foo Fighters, and tonight the trio step it up a notch with their first national festival headliner.
Starting familiar they cut loose with The Captain from the Only Revolutions opus, and the crowd shows mass appreciation.
Biffy and their tight skewered noise is peppered with pop sensibilities, but they know how to feed the hungry.
“It’s time to turn it up a notch!” bassist James says before they launch into That Golden Rule.
Small on words, but big on delivery the set also includes Machines, She’s Got a Match and Saturday Superhouse.
When they play Bubbles, the evening air is invaded by thousands of bubbles, but when they follow with Born on a Horse, there is no horse. Pity, that.
“We’d like to thank you guys for treating us so well, we know this is a metal festival,” Simon Neil says, although fans and band alike have been raised on a healthy diet of the heavy, heavy.
When Biffy then launches into Slayer’s Raining Blood, they get a nod of appreciation from even the hard to crack clan.
The ferocity of set highlight There’s No Such Thing As A Jagged Snake seals the deal.
Crowd pleaser Many of Horror, naturally, wraps up the set proper, before the band return triumphant for Glitter and Trauma, Cloud of Stink and Mountains, capping a momentous night for the boys who are finally, and deservedly a real dominating force embraced by the masses.
You know what you are going to get with Motorhead, and frills aren’t included during Sunday afternoon’s appearance, although they do have a couple of fire-breathing lasses heating things up towards the set close for Killed By Death.
Instead, Lemmy’s band of metal men pay tribute to former member Wurzel who passed away earlier in the week.
Then they get on with the business of this music making – Overkill is sweet, and In The Name of Tragedy is “dedicated to William f****** Shakespeare,” Lemmy tells us.
Drum solos we can do without, but the classics are essential.
“This is an oldie but goldie,” he says announcing Ace of Spades, “Sing along if you know the words...”
They depart leaving any random newbies to their fold under no illusions about their game: “Don’t forget, we’re Motorhead and we play Rock & Roll.”
We catch a chill in the pesky rain, rock up to see Opeth going down a blinder, and while the wet stuff does it’s worst, on the ground the collective sniggers of thousands continue uninterrupted as Bill Bailey brings musical merriment...
Did he really just sing a song about Status Quo’s dalliances with the devil?
The volume is too low for his set, but the essence is unmistakable.
A quick munch at the veggie stall and then, while headliners Slipknot do their best on the main stage, we step into the Bohemia Tent to check on Irish rockers The Answer.
They come bearing new treats from the forthcoming, third album Revival and old greats, and this is a band with a penchant for juicy choruses and tasty riffs.
As the set progresses, the tent fills, and if the squelchy, wet outdoors is making punters step inside, the reception says that those discovering The Answer for the first time are liking what is connecting with their ears.
“Revival is gonna revive rock and roll from the grass roots up. It’s gonna change your lives, its gonna change our lives,” front man Cormac guarantees.
Believable and brilliant, they leave a sunny disposition despite the downpours, thanks to material including new offering Piece by Piece and old classic Under The Sky.
What a way to wind things up.
We wouldn’t change a thing. Well, save for that nasty exit on Sunday night.
An hour and a half to get off site?
Almost as painful as being forced to listen to the entire U2 back catalogue...
Drudgery aside though and we are well up for the return in 2012.
We are scraping the mud from the wellies in anticipation...