Pick Your Rock and Metal

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

LIVE REVIEW(S): 21 bands in 16 days - who says there's no rock and metal out there?

THERE'S something of a feeling amongst a certain vocal minority who sometimes claim there's nothing to do in Northern Ireland if you're a hard rock or metal fan - you know the type, the one's who flock to Sabbath, Slayer, Maiden, Metallica or any of the 'big name' bands.

Yet, over two weeks we and our colleagues saw 21 bands - and had we the chance we would have been able to add several more; and there were many more acts playing across Northern Ireland.

Acts we caught were from around the world and around the corner: Los Angeles, Stockholm, London, Melbourne, Dundalk - plus all the Northern Ireland acts.

We saw packed venues and venues with 20 paying punters. What was common throughout the shows was an energy bleeding off the stage from the biggest bands to the smallest.

Rather than try to review each and every show we are going to review the 16 days of hard rock and metal that blitzed across this small country of barely 1.8m people on the extreme north western edge of Europe.

Here's the list of the bands we're going to attempt to summarise through words and pictures.
  • St Vitus
  • Orange Goblin
  • Scimitar
  • Zombified
  • Gama Bomb
  • Katabolosis
  • Scimitar
  • Cursed Sun
  • Conjuring Fate
  • NASA Assassin
  • Dead Addiction
  • Altus
  • Black Sherriff
  • Maverick
  • Ajenda
  • Electric Mary
  • Donum Dei
  • Conjuring Fate
  • Rabid Bitch of the North
  • Between Horizons
  • Thundermother
 Quite a list...quite a set of bands...

Opening the festivities on Halloween night was the double header of St Vitus and Orange Goblin. The usual parade of people decked out in ridiculous outfits was on display....and outside Limelight2 were the stupid people who spent a fortune on fancy dress outfits to try and outdo their normal sad lives.

And, St Vitus could have come as relics from a bygone era with Dave Chandler sporting a headscarf atop his long locks.  But there was no doubting that while they were celebrating 35 years as a band the music sounded fresh and vital; a mix of doom, sludge and even punk anthems.

Chandler was vocal introducing songs and delivering repartee, while Wino Weinrich concentrated on roaring through the set. Billed as playing 'Born Too Late' in its entirety that is too narrow a description of the show.

First of all - liquid refreshment seemed to have been imbibed in titanic quantities by all the band. It did not affect the performance of the band at all. Mark Adams' bass and Henry Vasquez's drums were a pure metal rod linking the overall sound.

Chandler played outstandingly throughout and Wino's voice has more than held out...although he may have been a little surprised to find that the bottle of Jack Daniels he passed round the crowd returned empty. Perhaps he should have been warned we like a gargle too.

'White Stallions' 'The War Starter' and 'Born Too Late' itself were stand-out tracks that served to remind us all how influential St Vitus has been on the sludge and doom evolution.

Familiar to all Belfast's idiosyncrasies regards drinking and raucousness Orange Goblin are greeted like old comrades at arms. Their heavy stoner groove metal is an accomplished force of elemental metal, led by the man colossus that is Ben Ward.

New songs from 'Back From The Abyss' sit comfortably with back catalogue numbers as testament that Joe Hoare, Martyn Millard and Chris Turner with Ward flay the venue.

New tracks 'Sabbath Hex', and 'The Devil's Whip' were highlights along with 'Into The Arms of Morpheus' and 'Quincy The Pigboy'.

Ward's easy banter with the crowd, the immense riffs and the overall primal sound of Orange Goblin are the perfect balance to the banality afflicting the music scene.

With ears echoing to the might that was 'Red Tide Rising' we meandered our way to Queen's University Student Union's Sub Bar. We missed out on the first two acts (gig planners....) but were there as Scimitar took to the stage to launch their ep 'Plague In The Vatican'.

Replete with appropriate/inappropriate costumes they were energised and on Halloween fire as they played to a barely quarter full venue. The attendance no doubt affected by the earlier gig and the Headbanger's Ball event in a neighbouring venue.

Zombified were next up -  delivering their usual terrifying onslaught of death metal and circle headbanging. Pure fucking excellence.

As for Gama Bomb - well it does what it says on the tin - a bomb of speed/thrash and humour.
Philly is his usual self as the manic parade leader, while Domo and John shred away to their hearts content.

A new song -  whatever next...this seemed to be a show to shake off the cobwebs as GB head towards pre-production of their new release.

Barely a pause for breath and we assembled at Limelight2 the next day (Saturday 1st November) to celebrate the release of Cursed Sun's launch of their ep  'The Fall and Rise' but first up who should we find on stage by Scimitar again...Same as before the 'Plague In The Vatican' ep was featured heavily, with the title track once again sounding immense.

Katabolisis brought their brand of death metal/deathcore from Portadown to the stage and thankfully were able to push aside any concerns there were over the 'core' in that description with a muscular set with some nice lead guitar work

Cursed Sun left no-one in any doubt of their intent with a full-on metal performance as Jonesy laid a furious full-on assault, barking and scream anthems of discontent, while Jonny kept the lead work solid.

This was a nailed on set that showed Cursed Sun are at the top of their game tapping into the extreme metal vibe.

We then paused for a while. By pause we mean that we boarded the train for a journey to Ballymena and a short taxi ride to Ahoghill Rock City and the Diamon Rock Club, for the venue's Halloween bash (well the ancient festival of Samhain was across 31/10 and 01/11).

Dubious costumes aside Conjuring Fate were in grand form, as Tommy railed us all with tales of 'Backwoods Witch' and that 'House on the Haunted Hill'.

NASA Assassin need no such fancy attire to fit into the Halloween setting. Their soundtrack to the apocalypse brings its own menace and mirth to proceedings as The Watcher weaves tales of dark times, crime waves and super colliders. Original, witty and wonderful.

With a lift back to sanity from Mark and Adele, it was time for the Belfastmetalheadsreunited review and photo crew to take a break.

A very short break as we were back at the coalface on Thursday 6th November to witness the Planet Mosh promoted Belfast leg of Black Sherriff/Maverick mini-tour.

Openers Dead Addiction performed a tasty wee treat of a set, especially given the fact that this was their first ever live performance.

Great guitar work, great vocals and a tight rhythm section...sure you could ask no more.

Belfast noisenicks Altus have re-shuffled their line-up over recent months. What that has done to these loud metal monsters is they have more depth to their sound, no longer seeming to be just one tone at times. Instead they now sound much more dynamic, with more sense of purpose coming from the stage.

Black Sherriff are three parts German and one part Northern  Ireland... In a set that divided opinion they featured tracks from their 'Night Terrors' album, delivering the show with aplomb and buckets of energy.

'Give it All', 'Kill The Wolves' and 'AC/DC Sunday' were among the stand-out tracks.

Maverick are currently building momentum ahead of the launch of 'Quid Pro Quo' and between wide grins, powerful vocals and a tight, tight show that proved - if it ever needed to be proved - that this 10-legged monster is getting ready to dominate.

'Paint By Numbers' is already a classic....

Next night we journeyed once again to the Diamond Rock Club, where Ajenda were opening for Aussie rockers Electric Mary.

With Jenny's blues imbued voice and Gav's silky slick guitar work they once again proved themselves one of the most under-rated rock bands playing at the minute. Again 'Hatred and Greed' was a stand-out.

Electric Mary travelled all the way from Melbourne to kick off their UK tour. They had a few rehearsals at the Ahoghill venue to knock the kinks out. Sounding every ounce the hard rockers featured were songs from the recently released 'The Last Great Hope' ep, with 'Sweet Mary C' set to become a future live favourite for many years to come.

Following the journey back, and a mis-adventure with a denim jacket (yes, it is possible to put one on upside down) it was time to re-group for another blast from The Distortion Project.

The promised gig was beset by problems, leading James Loveday to declare it the "most cursed in Europe". Headliners Weapon UK had to withdraw after the drummer broke his hand. Then Midnight Transmission had to pull-out with the singer suffering from throat problems.

And, new headliners Rabid Bitch Of The North had equipment problems meaning they had no sound check...

But, as the cliché goes, the show must go on....

 Donum Dei ripped into their set, and it was immediately apparent that the short break from gigging has energised the band. Thomas continues to grow as a frontman, and his interchanges with lead axe man Stuart McLoughlin are becoming smoother with each show, while additional flourishes from Stuart show his emerging further as a shredder. How Dean Kane maintains the rhythm with Alastair Marshall on drums is an as yet unsolved mystery as Dean roams the set, slings his bass into all sorts of contortions and headbangs at the slightest provocation. 'Gravelands', No Escape' and 'Justice Fails' were stand-out songs.

For the second time on this metal odyssey we were entertained by the compelling metal excellence of Conjuring Fate. They are a band that has become ever more engaging live.

Tommy's range seems to have grown over recent months, while Phil and Karl's interplay and trade off solos work in all the ways needed. Steve and Bogy are ever more powerful keeping the sound nailed to the floor. Once again 'Backwoods Witch', 'Apocalypse' and 'House On The Haunted Hill' kept everyone enraptured.

 Rabid Bitch Of The North have developed over the past 18 months, with the Bloodstock slot amongst the triumphs. Despite the pre-gig problems Joe and crew ripped into their ferocious brand of metal. Joe's voice hit highs that threatened to smash windows miles away.

The trio sound as if they are double that number - as Chris and Gerry with Joe grind you into submission. While we have a few reservations about the pink guitar (nothing wrong with pink, but maybe it's not metal enough. We'll lend a can of emulsion paint...)

'Defending Two Castles' and 'Us Against Them' - anthems of disintegration in a dystopian world.

While some headed off to other gigs we needed a wee break before rounding off the metal 16 day odyssey.

Sunday evening at the Pavilion saw us gathered with other acolytes at the altar of ThunderMother.

Before we enjoyed the Swedish/Irish rocker we were brought into the bosom of Between Horizons from Dundalk. Lauren, Steve, Shane and James were an unknown quantity to all gathered, but were a treat to the ears.

Mixing hard rock, alt grooves and metal intonations they are a band who should get more dates in Northern Ireland.

But with these 21 shows it could arguably said that the best was last. Thundermother.

Quite simply a par excellence performance of hard rock. These five ladies deliver a knock-out punch on stage, from opener 'Man With Blues' to closer 'You Make My Day' this was hard rock as it's meant to be.

Clare Cunningham, the Irish singer with this troupe of troubadours, is a chanter with real power delivering power and passion, but still with enough melody to engage and lend subtlety to the rock attack.

It was lead guitarist Filippa Nassil's passion for AC/DC that led to the creation of Thundermother, and with her Gibson SG and powerful licks that Filippa pays homage to her heroes and adds her own distinctive style to the solos.

Tilda Stenqvist on drums and Linda Strom on bass are as solid a hard rock rhythm section that you'll come across, while the Italian - now adopted by the band as a fellow Swede - Giorgia Carteri keeps a handle on all the proceedings with solidity in her rhythm playing.

It would be unjust to try and pick a highlight track. Whether it be 'Rock 'n' Roll Disaster; 'Thunderous' or 'Dangerous Kind' they were all played with true flair.

Using every inch of the stage, striking the right poses as opposed to posing, engaging with the crowd, this was hard rock as it should be.

When the acclaim from the small audience died down it is to the credit of each and every band member that they took the time to chat with, have their photograph taken with and sign everything that was asked.

Put simply - Thundermother rocked, and should they find their way back to Northern Ireland the place will be packed.

So emerging into the dark after 16 solid days of rock and metal there were some reflections.

At this stage it is fair to say that we move from reviewing to a diatribe.

Bands like St Vitus, Electric Mary, and Thundermother travelled a long way to play Belfast, as part of UK tours.

While credit must be given to the promoters - James Loveday, Derwin McFarland, Mark Ashby, Carolyn McGimpsey and Ciaran Campbell for taking the risk, one must reflect on the fact that live music acts can deliver and there are shows out there, it will only stay alive if punters get out there and back the music.

Review by Jonny
Pictures by Metalplanet Belfast
All material copyrighted
Reproduction by written consent only

Below is a visual reflection of just some of the shows from Metalplanet Belfast...

No comments: