Pick Your Rock and Metal

Monday, October 31, 2016

LIVE REVIEW: Rewinding back the years to bring NWOBHM bang up to date as Saxon, Fastway and Girlschoo rock Belfast

SUNDAY night, Belfast, the night before Halloween - yet it felt like a night in the 1980s had been moved by a strange time vortex to a city transformed, a city where the Troubles have faded; and the metal that inspired a generation and provided escapism in the past was once again vibrant and vital.

Girlschool, Fastway and Saxon all played Belfast in the 80s, when the 'mainstream' was avoiding the city. Like punk in the late 70s, metal stuck a middle finger up to the sectarian divide, raised a can and rocked out.

That spirit of defiance and a determination to deliver accolades to bands who crossed the North Channel to play in Northern Ireland swept throughout the Limelight on Sunday (October 30th) as a cross-generational crowd gathered - in denim and leather of course - to salute the trio of NWOBHM stalwarts.

Sure, they are a bit longer in the tooth in 2016 compared to the heady days of their births, but they shame newer acts who can only but aspire to touch the hems of their jeans in terms of the energy, composure and craft.

Girlschool may have had many travails from the time the played with Motorhead in the long gone Maysfield Leisure Centre, beside Belfast Central Train Station, but they have lost none of the verve.

They mixed up tracks new and old, with as always the three ladies coming to the mics to give real oomph to each chorus. Kim's tease that many weren't born when 'Hit And Run' was released didn't stop the audience singing along in a track all too familiar.

Of the new songs from 'Guilty as Sin' the pair of 'Come The Revolution' and 'Take It Like A Band' (the latter dedicated to their late friend Lemmy) caught the spark of the past and once more turned it into live fire.

Closing with 'Race With The Devil' and a storming version of 'Emergency' the band and the Limelight were grinning with pleasure.

Fastway once played to an almost empty venue in the mid-80s in Belfast, but the Sunday night crowd were not indifferent to the band this October.

The focus may have been on 'Fast' Eddie Clarke for many years, but this is not a one-man act, with Toby Jepson leading from the front, cajoling the audience to reach deep in support. His experience as a singer and rock 'n' roll jester keeps the energy high in a set that tipped more than a nod to hard rockin' blues.

'All Fired Up' had a swing and purpose that drew the back stragglers away from the bar and into a maelstrom, while 'Feel Me, Touch Me (Do Anything You Want)' featured a bluesy lead from Clarke, as John McManus rolled the bass lines smoother than a muscle car eating up the miles on Route 66.

Closing with 'Easy Living' the pace and energy of the early part of the set had waned slightly, but did not diminish the appreciation of the audience at Clarke's return to what Jepson said was one of Eddie's spiritual homes.

Saxon are faithful to Belfast. From their first appearance in 1983 this was just over a year from their show in 2015 as part of the Warriors of the Road show.

Biff is a consummate performer, engaging and still energetic as they opened with title track from 'Battering Ram'.

When many acts urge the audience to chant, clap or sing a long it can seem like a cliché, but Biff is one of the metal originals and it comes across not as a stereotype but as a gentle tease and doff of the cap to the heady days when he was one of the metal standard bearers.

In an age when all the derivatives of metal have vied to be faster, heavier and more controversial Saxon's anthemic sound could be regarded as dated...except the band take such notions, tell them to feck off and play heavier and harder than some of their younger counterparts.

With such a well-regarded collection of songs reaching back across the years they were able to play some old, some not so old and some new - all received with an almost sense that the Rapture had descended on earth and was focussed on the Limelight.

Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt are more than just wingmen to Biff as they pull out masterful riffing and tasty licks.

'Never Surrender' has a message that sums up the attitude of a band and an audience that knows the glory days of metal are compromised by a media environment in which auto-tuned dance troops, reality TV stars and an obsession with fame without talent has become the norm. But, Saxon are not just about rewinding back the years: no, they are about putting metal in its proper context, for the fans by the fans, young or old.

When you see 50 year plus fans, standing next to a 20-year-old belting out 'Dallas 1pm' and 'Wheels of Steel' you know the band has hit the right note, at the right time.

Of course the likes of those tracks and '747 (Strangers in the Night)' and 'Princess Of The Night' drew the largest cheers, but make no mistake, this was not a nostalgia trip. This was heavy metal at its purest, tempered by the years, honed by the ups and downs, but most of all delivered and received with majesty with might.

Review by Jonathan Traynor
Pictures by Darren McVeigh
Reproduction by written consent only

Sunday, October 30, 2016

LIVE REVIEW: A dozen bands toast DistortionFest '16 across two venues for The Distortion Project's birthday bash

NINE hours, 12 bands, dozens of metallers and multiple pints. DistortionFest '16 was an endurance test as well as a marathon of metal decadence, but every painful foot, aching neck and hangover was a mere travail on a glorious afternoon and evening.

An international toast to metal, fans were treated to acts from the USA, Netherlands, Germany and Romania, plus aa visit from some Scottish cousins. None of the overseas acts and none of the Northern Ireland bands put a single foot wrong. There was even a breakfast of Corn Flakes and Buckfast tonic wine on offer...

A mild October Saturday (29th) heralded the early start, for
what was to be a feast of a festival, and a general mood of celebratory joy for The Distortion Project's 16th Birthday Bash.

Opening the proceedings were Erosion, who have been steadily working their way up the gigging ladder over the past year.

Given they were starting off with the autumn sunshine beaming through Katy's windows and it was an accomplished performance that set the tone for the day, and it was notable that several of the foreign bands were at the back of the venue nodding appreciatively at their prog tinged stoner groove.

The only flaw was that Mark introduced a new song...and tell the crowd what the title was.

To show that variety is the spice of metal the hurried transfer to Limelight2 immediately slowed the pace to sludge, with War Iron cranking the volume and bringing doom.

It is hard to perform this type of set with panache but amidst atmospheric lighting and a set that was, as always from War Iron. James from Terminus joined them for a song, while Baggy offered up the cereal and tonic wine - breakfast of champions.

Romania's Bloodway saw a trickle of fans become a few hurried walk for as their set of well constructed songs drew wavers into Katy's. A lot of the power came from the dynamic of the songs that displayed that rare ability to balance loud segments with more delicate playing.

Even though the day was still young there was a sense of the night as Drakonis brought the blackness to Limelight2 - Halloween revellers might don corpse paint, but for Drakonis this is their normal gig attire.

Featuring tracks off their new EP (review coming soon) they have managed to echo the classic black metal with their own sense of drama. A misbehaving mic stand did not dent their confident delivery.

Bloodthread were determined to get the mid afternoon crowd energised and flatten any visible flagging in Katy's. The rowdy Glaswegians have an anger and attitude that is both admirable and well executed.

When Zlatanera first emerged from the ashes of other acts, their Sabbath, stoner groove was immediately engaging, but some doubted whether it was wit or irony in their lyrical content.

Within two shows there was no doubt that this was an act who used metaphor and humour in the words to match the real potency of their music. Sure, we all love the Satanic trio, but on Saturday they once again pound a collection of songs that might doff the cap to Cathedral and Corrosion, but with their own distinct stamp. The follow-up to Legerdemain is eagerly awaited!

Once again moving between venues Germany's Valborg brought the doom theme back, but with more than a hint of prog metal. Most of the set was mid-tempo doom, but with the shouty vocals a perfect contrast with some of the shifting elements of their sound.

With exhaustion not too far off for many (or was it the consumption of beer?) any sense of the show suffering early evening blues was quickly dispelled as Rabid Bitch of the North getting the Limelight2 baying for classic metal shapes and soundly delivered hell.

Their anthemic choruses could overshadow the accomplished nature of a set that is littered with gems. Their recent run of continental dates have further enabled Rabid Bitch to measure out a set of meaty metal. As the 'other' revellers were donning their fancy dress for their rubbish disco the onstage declaration "Us Against Them" was a clear message of defiance welcomed by all in Limelight2.

Closing proceedings in Katy's in a half hour slot from 5:15 Sinocence eked every second from those 30 minutes. Their back catalogue, the two ' No Gods, No Masters' EPs so far from the trilogy means that they can choose from a plethora of tracks. As always, they choose well, with headbanging coming as the response.

Sinocence have a tight sound on the night, with poise, presence and power. It might be a 'Long Way Down' but they left all rising up in delight.

Dutch power metallers, Lord Volture, may have been unknown to most, but quickly impressed. They produce a well balanced set, with plenty of stagecraft and some excellent melodic lines in the mix of Euro Metal.

Their three quarters of an hour went by in a blur that stirred up many and teetered on the edge of tipping over into parody of the likes of Helloween, but stayed just on the right side of having their own identity.

One of the real strengths of metal is, for example, the diversity on show at DistortionFest. From doom and sludge to thrash and old school metal. If we were all able to push aside the genre boundaries that bedevil modern metal maybe more people would turn out for every show from The Distortion Project.

And, with a real sense of the 80s beginning to permeate the air Stormzone arrived with the usual confidence and purpose. The first show with Gordy behind the drum kit it was a seamless transition.

It has been a time since Stormzone graced a Northern Ireland stage, but there is no doubt that they are still a well prepped metal machine, with melodies, twin guitar lines and a set list of all the familiar fan favourites.

Time for the guys to get back recording and get back playing for all their devotees here and further afield.

Headliners Warrior Soul have almost achieved legendary status for all sorts of reasons, but the Kory Clarke crew have survived for a touch short of 30 years playing their politically charged American metal.

Opening up with the duo of 'Shock Em Down' and 'Punk and Belligerent' they are clearly five-piece that still feels they have a point to prove.

Unfortunately, diabetic needs of the review team (of one) allied with tiredness and more than the allotted safe pint level meant we bowed out after four songs, but from what was in evidence - and feedback from the hardy that stayed to the end - Warrior Sould have maintained the potency and anger that many acts of a similar vintage have lost.

With the dying embers of pre-Halloween parties almost upon the gig goers there were other shows to go to, and more opportunities to swallow what came to hand. Settling in after the show, with blood sugar levels okay, reflecting on what DistortionFest meant is not an easy task.

Yes, all the bands were impressive. Yes, all in attendance left with more than a smidgeon of a smile upon their face. Yes, it had a celebratory under-current. But, what also should be said is that we need the devotion of promoter such as 'Sir' James Loveday for taking the risk to bring a sensational line-up to Belfast. The faithful gather, as required, but tell your friends, nag your acquaintances, badger your workmates if they even have a hint of metal in their veins to get out and see the magical maelstrom of metal on their doorstep.

Review by Jonny
Pictures by Darren McVeigh
Reproduction by written permission only