@The Cluny 2, Newcastle, November 21 2015

Featuring  acts as diverse as Palehorse, We Are Knuckle Dragger, Druganaut and Voe, Great North Amplifier Worship (GNAW) Fest has become something of a Tyneside institution – an annual shindig that has championed underground sounds, leftfield bands and the glory of feedback, riffs and serious volume.

And this year, though relocated to the Cluny 2 after four years at Newcastle’s Star and Shadow Cinema, the festival remained true to its spirit of independence and harboured the sense of intimacy that has marked previous events.

True, there was a setback for the organisers when Leeds duo Clenstch had to pull out at the last minute; traffic problems – and a dodgy clutch – put paid to their appearance. That was a shame, granted, but no one will have felt short changed by the four bands left on the bill.

Why? Take Lovely Wife for example. The North Shields twosome have been making waves in the North East with their sludgy, bass and drum assault over the last four years, and their opening slot at GNAW proved why they’re in demand on nights like this. It’s a joy to watch the interplay between bassist Evil Joe (resplendent here in a fetching brown suit) and sticksman Jamie Death as they kick out their thick, low end rumble, which veers from depth charge doom to Melvins-like gloop, with hints of prog rock and even dub in their onslaught. There are plenty of bands doing this drum/bass duo thing at the moment, but Lovely Wife are among the most entertaining.

Like the festival’s openers, Newcastle’s Waheela aren’t afraid of an improvised jam or three, and as GNAW regulars will know, they’re also a fearsome proposition, a five man groove unit that blurs the lines between genres to conjure an ancient, primal force which could spark the air aflame. Tonight they were on spectacular form, unleashing a more riff-driven set than we’ve often experienced, but no less hypnotising. Stripped to the waste and putting every ounce of being into his feral screams, vocalist Adam Potts could grace the fiercest black metal bands – but even Norway’s finest would have trouble competing with Waheela when they’re on this form.

Aberdeen’s Sunwølf, too, showed that ‘heavy’ doesn’t have to mean ‘metal’ – at least not in its traditional form. The trio were one of GNAW 2014’s highlights, and their instrumental soundscapes were equally as compelling at the Cluny 2; shrouded in darkness, they took their audience on a journey with them, exploring the might of the riff in all its glory, and gaining rapturous applause after finally downing tools. They should be bigger, simple as that.

Speaking of which, headliners Pet Slimmers of the Year (pictured) are yet to move out of the underground, but on the strength of last year’s album, Fragments of Uniforms, they could be talked about in the same revered terms as Pelican, Russian Circles, Red Sparowes et al.

And this show proved that the Peterborough trio can cut it live too… and then some. A masterclass in light and shade, of building drama into music, PSOTY showed just how exciting post-metal can be, and songs like La Tormenta will live long in the memory. Graceful and supremely gifted, the band  deserve much more exposure than they’re currently receiving  – but at least the North East had the opportunity to experience their sublime music.

Indeed, as well as a celebration of all things overdriven and noisy, GNAW is a showcase for the kind of talent which is often overlooked by the mainstream press, but demands attention. GNAW 2016? It can’t come soon enough.