Wildfire Festival – set in the idyllic location of Wiston Lodge – may no longer hold the title of Scotland’s only rock and metal festival but it can lay claim to the title of the best. With a relaxed vibe, it’s a great weekend for the whole family with little ones and even dogs a common sight across the weekend. Having had an excellent time last year with its varied bill, somehow Dave Ritchie managed to put together an even better line-up and was even nice enough to give us our own stage which we booked, ran and organised – though the lion’s share of the credit must go to Mr and Mrs Mosh on that front.
Tent pitched right next to my car, I take a walk up to the arena and from walking in, it’s noticeably busier than it was at this time last year. Black King Cobra kick off the weekend’s proceedings on the Infernus Stage with their tight, groove-based hard rock. Despite their performance count still sitting in single figures, they deliver a tight set belying their youth. Their slot isn’t without laughs as frontman Callum Moran jogs across the room as the band kicks off, apologising because he “Had to tinkle” whilst regretting his brief cardio workout. It’s a great way to start the weekend and sets a high bar for the rest of the bands, most of which meet the gauntlet.
Triverse Massacre are one of the few heavy metal bands on main stage this year and if you had a long drive to the site or happened to be staying the night before, they certainly blow the cobwebs away over on the Incendium Stage. Blending together groove, death and thrash metal, they get the people headbanging and ensure they entertain the eager crowd. Like most other bands appearing over the weekend, they’re tight and you wish they were playing to bigger audiences whilst the mediocrity soars to the top.
Bringing in the chunky and muscular hard rock, Tantrum are one of those bands who get better every time I see them. If you shut your eyes, you’d be forgiven for thinking they were from the early 80s but the influences are baked right into the music to give it a modern sound, too.
Continuing the heavier start to the day, Disposable takes things into the land of thrash metal. One of the more engaging bands at the heavier end of the spectrum, the crowd are nodding along for the duration. It’s a nice set up for the weekend, warming the crowd up for what lies ahead.
Torqued surprise me in the best of ways. Creating heavy metal with equal groove and crunch, they’ve made a sound you’d expect from a six-piece. Yet there’s half as many people on stage. There’s almost a point where you expect Randy Blythe to storm into the tent and take over on vocals and there’d be no difference.
Beautiful Strangers bring their groove-laden hard rock all the way from Wales (much like many other bands do this weekend). With enough hooks to rival a fishing shop, their modern sound is one which is all too common. However, here, they do it with more skill than most can ever hope to.
Downtuned guitar work takes centre stage with Derange as the metalcore four-piece work their magic on the crowd. Although not wildly original, the band are captivating and intent on keeping people’s attention. They’re a band who are fantastic at what they do, further adding weight to the general opinion of the weekend that there’s so much raw talent in the UK, most of which is being overlooked.
Kaleb McKane doesn’t so much play his set with his band as he does conduct a seminar on guitar virtuosity, reminding me of Ali Clinton. Marrying melody with incredible technique and making it look effortless, there’s a few jaws in the room dropping. Pop a hairsprayed wig on him with some spandex and you’d be convinced the 80s were back with a vengeance. Wait, isn’t there already a band doing that?
One of the stranger bookings, Other Animals flood the stage as a nine-piece complete with strings and brass. Sadly most of this side of the band is buried by the guitars and in their tamer and sombre moments, reminds me of music you’d find in an Apple advert. Orchestral rock can be great with bands like The Red Paintings but here it falls a bit flat with them just trying to cram too much into the music and comes across turgid.
Tequila Mockingbyrd brings the Aussie hard rock to the table in only a way this three-piece can. With drummer Josie O’Toole the sole original member, their punky hard rock gets the crowd nodding along and they go down a storm, drawing a massive crowd. Having not been overly enamoured with them during their support slot with Bonafide, I have to admit this was a markedly better performance. It seems the new line-up has gelled well as they’re already tighter than the incarnation I saw in March.
Blending punk with metal, Eva Plays Dead are thoroughly enjoying themselves on stage. Much like other bands on the bill, their slot comes at the right time to change up the pace and prevents things from turning stale. Feisty frontwoman Tiggy Dee leads the four-piece through their all-too-brief set backed by some massive riffs to bring one of the truly unique modern sounds to life.
Massive are one of the most appropriately named bands on the go. With a big Aussie classic rock sound and an attitude to match, the pedal to the metal riffs have the sweat flowing freely in no time at all. Having been a fan of the band for a number of years, this was one set I wasn’t missing. Much like their compatriots (and oftentimes touring partners) Tequila Mockingbyrd, they ensure the crowd are moving for the duration and for many people, are one of the standouts.
Throwing the idea of a family friendly festival to the wind, what The SoapGirls lack in on-stage attire, you’d think they’d make up for with their music. Except that’s why they’re not wearing much; it’s to distract from that. It’s hard to take a band seriously when they’re more focused on image and they’d actually capture my attention more if it wasn’t for that. Their pop glossed hard rock isn’t anything new and when chatting with people across the weekend, the general first reaction was cringes.
Aaron Buchanan and the Cult Classics are the band I’ve been looking forward to all day, having seen them at Camden Rocks and Download recently, the standard was high. Which they then completely smashed. The ex-Heaven’s Basement frontman led his Cult Classics through songs from the par-excellence debut album such as “The Devil That Needs You”, “All the Things You’ve Said and Done” and “Morals” alongside Heaven’s Basement tracks like “Welcome Home” and “I Am Electric”.
Despite Aaron being the titular man, his fellow musicians are by no means hired hands, receiving just as much time in the limelight. The five-piece are bristling with energy, running like a well-oiled machine. As Aaron struts about his kingdom, the steam coming from his head by the end of the first song underlines how much energy is put into his performance. Had it not been for one other band on the bill, they would have stolen the weekend and even then, they gave them a run for their money.
Skarlett Riot are one of the bands appearing across the weekend who are no strangers to Wildfire and its previous incarnation as Les-Fest. They’re also one of the many bands to play that you know are going to deliver. With their pop-tinged melodic rock, they play to the small crowd as if they were headlining a stadium, the passion and professionalism on show is a lesson for many others with their endless energy.
Bringing melodic hard rock into play, The Jokers dominate their crowd who are clearly loving every minute, as are the band. They’re a tight and polished act and when their finale comes, it’s met with disappointment. There’s a sense they could have played double their allotted time and still have energy reserved. As with many bands here, there’s an obvious sense that the band are having as much fun as the crowd. Sadly, last year’s guest of Arran Cooper didn’t make a return to the stage but I’m told he loved their set regardless.
Wearing Scars act as a good break in proceedings between The Jokers and tonight’s headliners. With possibly the thinnest crowd of the day, the band are undeterred and batter through their set chock-full of melodic metal and hard rock. It’s a great palate cleanser even if the crowd seems lethargic. With indulgent yet tasteful solos, they’re possibly the most noticeable band of the weekend which slipped under people’s radars.
The Treatment take the stage by storm, determined to leave their mark on the weekend. However, they’ve never been a band I’ve liked. Having missed them open for WASP a couple of years back, it’s been a long time since I’ve actually seen them. Time hasn’t changed my opinion of them and whilst vocalist Mitchell Emms reminds me of H.E.A.T’s Erik Grönwall, I’d rather just listen to the Swedes. That being said, there’s plenty of other bands on the bill for me to enjoy and the majority of the crowd enjoyed themselves. And isn’t that what matters at the end of the day?
Photos by Gary Cooper.