Pick Your Rock and Metal

Sunday, July 27, 2014

GIG REVIEW: Thunder in Ahoghill - Stormzone and Donum Dei roar in County Antrim

WHEN technical difficulties strike, a band has two choices - suck it up and get on, or let it stop the show. Stormzone and Donum Dei both had technical gremlins strike, but they chose the former optiob and rose above and smashed the gremlins into the ground and delivered a feast of  metal.

That feast comprised Stormzone, playing a request set ahead of their Bloodstock Open Air appearance, while Donum Dei were making their Diamond Rock Club début.

For such a relatively youthful band they have evolved quickly, with a contemporary metal crushing sound, all delivered with a passion many more seasoned veterans would do well to emulate.

Thomas Marshall and Stuart McLoughlin were locked in tight in both riffs and heavy harmony guitar sections, and Stuart lashed through solos, wringing notes from the neck of his Les Paul with venom and precision.

Part of that precision within Donum Dei is the drums of Alastair Marshall, who maintains the tempo whether a full on assault with double bass runs, or beating the toms into submission. Buried... and Restless were impressive, but Restless had a couple of issues. The bass intro was lost and the harmony sections were off kilter.

Having said that they quickly recovered, and by the time Justice Fails flayed the audience Donum Dei proved themselves as worthy stand-ins for Maverick (whose guitarist Ryan has suffered an injury, forcing the band into an eight-week hiatus). But that didn't stop the Maverick team racking up at the Diamond to show their support for Donum Dei.

A deserved mention in dispatches must also go to  DD's bassist Dean Kane. While Thomas is the fulcrum as frontman, Dean is his manic side-kick, contorting both body and bass in a whirl of movement, loving every second on stage.

Make no mistake, Donum Dei are ambitious, confident but not cocky, precise, and that rarest of beasts - a really heavy band that can bring along both the rock fans and the metal heads in true appreciation.

Appreciation is something that Stormzone will never be lacking in the Diamond Rock Club. To call them local heroes is something of an understatement to those who travel far and wide to see the Stormzone lightning strike.

Just a few short weeks after attracting an impressive several hundred to their tent show as part of Sonisphere, Stormzone were on stage enjoying a trawl through back catalogue material and songs off their most recent release, Three Kings.

Setting something of a Diamond Rock Club record with more than 20 original tracks delivered in a two-hour set, Stormzone were both relaxed and rampant with twin guitars of Moore and Shields shredding the venue, while Harv was the jester cajoling all to enjoy and participate.

Moore and Shields make it their mission to just let their six-stings do the talking for them. Both are extremely accomplished, and at times astonishingly good, players: trading licks, runs and riffs to the Stormzone sound.

A trio of songs that have become 'Zone classics, kicked off the set as Final Journey, Spectre and Secret Gateway rolled like a clap of thunder to the sweltering audience. The two hours were concluded with another trio of Hail the Brave, Death Dealer and the Legend Carries On.

In between was a smorgasbord of classic metal. From the Celtic metal stomp of the Pass Loning, the balladic Beware in Time, the harmonies of Tugging at Heartstrings and Crying In The Rain, and the full on metal of Three Kings and Night of the Storm this was a set showcasing the range and talent of the band.

Having become the band that more and more people from across Europe are eagerly eating up all their shows, those who go along to see them at Bloodstock Open Air are in for a classy metallic assault.

And, Harv confessed that they may be changing their planned setlist after seeing the response to Bang Your Head, a track that hasn't been played live in two years.

That Graham has bass problems with his rig, did not fluster the band, carrying on while he made the running repairs, is a testament to a band sure of what they are doing and confident that they can deliver, and will deliver no matter what.

In a few short minutes Graham was back, locked in with drummer Davy 'Basher' Bates, who put in a A+ performance. From the complicated rolls and rhythms of the likes of Cuchulain through the steady showcasing of Never Trust, and standing atop his drum stool urging the audience - who really needed no urging - to clap along, wave their arms and show the horns Davy was on the money throughout.

Basher is the anchor that stops the flamboyant talent of the front four from flying away from their exuberance and their talent.

And right in front Harv deploys his voice as an instrument of intent, from high notes threatening glass to smash within a one-mile radius, to deep lines that have the throaty terror of classic metal.

There are those who could accuse Stormzone of playing music that is a throwback to the eighties, but that is to miss the point. The members have absorbed the metal they grew up with, placed a huge Stormzone stamp on it, and brought a touch of 21st Century class.

This isn't retro rock, this a storm front of  sheer metal enjoyment: where what could have become clichés in lesser hands have become a 21st Century live phenomenon, marrying the metal of our youth to the 2014 mindset. Yes, for all who may have stood at gigs, po-faced and reserved, Stormzone leaves each and everyone smiling.

Fans at Bloodstock are in for a treat when the weather brings a Storm(zone) through the Derby countryside, raising hell, raising fists and raising the semi-conscious to partake in another brew.

There is no magic formula to rock and metal, but there are secret ingredients that can raise it above the mundane...

Every member of Donum Dei and Stormzone has not only the talent, but the fact that they can rely and trust each other, they are a band of brothers, who make their individual skills part of team, part of a collective dedicated to metal. They are from Northern Ireland, they are metal, and we like it - what more can be said?

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