2016 looks set to be a sink or soar year for festivals. While the losses of Hevy Fest & Temples (RIP) and Hit The Deck - ducking quietly into the aether without ever being announced for this summer - are keenly felt, Slam Dunk has gone from strength to strength.
Relocating the Midlands setup to Birmingham's NEC complex (the best transport links in the midlands, don't you know) seemed a statement of intent, and proved a masterstroke. Snaking queues for the wristband exchange aside, it's a well-thought out setup, and there are plenty in for Moose Blood to open the main stage. They sound great too, which helps.
Hellions fare just as well, the Kerrang! Fresh Blood stage bathed in sunshine for the Australians to open proceedings. There are plenty of eyes on Cane Hill, thanks in no small part to their statement self-titled EP. There's smattering's of KING 810 in their low end rumble and intensity, just enough Jonathan Davis in frontman Elijah Witt's erratic nature, paired with the occasional Corey Taylor-referencing roar. They're basically Slipknot's 2015 UK arena tour, but Gemini, Sunday School and Timebomb hit hard, while new addition The New Jesus looks to be a strong hint of what's to come.
If Cane Hill were all intensity, [spunge] were all fun. It's flipping the bird en-masse to every passing train - apologies, CrossCountry passengers - and self-deprecation 'we've been in one or two car parks in our time', accompanied by the typically infectious ska-tinged punk that has shaped their two-decade career. I'm still singing Kicking Pigeons under my breath.
Slam Dunk's biggest names may have come from across the world for the weekend festival, but the Impericon Stage played home to some of the UK's finest & most exciting bands.
Gnarwolves encapsulate that notion entirely, their set and the healthy numbers in attendance are testament to their DIY approach and knack for memorable songwriting. It's hook-laden punk, bristling with ideas and a victory for the hardworking, unfashionable bands plying their trade in a scene ruled by aesthetic.
In contrast, Waterparks display all the authenticity of a budget E4 mockumentary. Whining 'Europe is the land of opportunity, disobey what your parents say' might work on occasion, but hold off this time, kids - you'll need those parents for a lift back later.
For a radio-friendly festival like Slam Dunk, it's heartening to see as passionate a crowd for Heart Of A Coward. On a neon-splattered bill, they're an exercise in taut, technical metal orchestrated by Jamie Graham. The musicianship is stunning - as expected - but it's Graham's range and power, good enough to overcome the hit and miss sound in the Impericon Stage's hangar that crowns it.
Hacktivist complete the British hattrick. New record Outside The Box capitalised on two years of hype, and their take on downtuned riffery underpinning hook-laden hip-hop shows no sign of wearing thin. Taken and No Way Back sound far bigger than the confines of their stage, and while it would have been nice to see Jamie Graham return for a run through Deceive and Defy (as per the record), seeing Enter Shikari's Rou Reynolds pop up for Elevate more than makes up for it.
Now then. Where to start with Creeper? That the Kerrang! Stage can't contain the crowd, snaking back into the venue at large and along the accompanying walkways says a lot, and the prevalence of their Callous Heart merchandise across the festivals says more.
They've captured the heart of this generation, joyous songwriting paired with a touch of theatrics and no shortage of real character. VCR and Black Mass are met with a car park of bellowed words, and frontman Will Gould channels his Freddie Mercury for Henley's Ghost. It's Tim Burton's take on Bohemian Rhapsody, and this feels like it could be Creeper's first Live Aid moment.
Simply, they're the band that rock music has been missing for the better part of the last decade. The darlings of the underground just broke through. Believe the hype.
After witnessing something that special, it'd be easy to feel deflated. Fortunately, the Cancer Bats never miss. There's a tight, devoted crowd for them, and it doesn't disappoint. Opening with their Bat Sabbath cover of Children of the Grave, before dropping Sabotage early is truly brilliant, but segueing into Lucifer's Rocking Chair and joyously out again is even better still. A career-spanning run through capped by Bricks and Mortar proves it. No matter what festival, stage or venue, Cancer Bats will wipe the floor with you.
Of Mice And Men close the Atlas Stage with all sleek, radio friendly metal anthems and CO2 cannons. Sights set on arenas, the Orange County outfit draw serious numbers and the likes of Feels Like Forever and The Depths fill the space with ease.
Every Time I Die opt for a simple approach, battering the Impericon Stage with a wall of white-hot noise. A true band's band, half of Creeper take them in from one side, before guitarist Ian Miles disappears into the maelstrom without needing any encouragement. Frontman Keith Buckley is a bona-fide rockstar, and it's an exercise in doing what they do best, closing proceedings with a fitting roar.
Score one for the venue change, score another for a killer bill, Slam Dunk. See you in 2017.