In an evening of contrasts the, at times, inevitable clash of bands was once again at the fore as the Cursed Sun official launch of 'The Amygdala' EP in Limelight2 was almost in direct opposition to Rival Sons first appearance on Saturday, January 21st.
Thus, two different sets of audiences assembled, with only limited commonality, but with a similar alienation from the mainstream of what passes for popular music and culture: proponents of that would gather in the same venues later when the rockers and metalheads dissipated into the Belfast night.
Whether any of those who packed out Limelight1 for Rival Sons would have under other circumstances have been to The Distortion Project show is debatable - maybe another five or six.
As it was a healthy number for early Saturday evening were there when the double black metal introductory acts for the night were on stage.
Neamhni's stuttering start a few months back has solidified and tightened with the work of Martin and Gilliland much more in synch. Rosso is a commanding presence, if at times needing to develop some more stagecraft than just headbanging.
With just a few loose ends to knock off Neamhni's bleak visions are becoming more and more solidified.
Alike in genre only, Drakonis come replete, like Neamhni, in corpse paint. They also adorn the LL2 stage with various mic stands of demonic imagery. But that doesn't detract from these Lisburn blackened metallers.
With their EP 'As They Rot' as a firm foundation there is a solid set of songs that have been allowed to evolve in the live environment with Cass as commanding as ever centre stage. McMichael and Hewitt have a telepathic understanding of when to hit off each other's lead work and with new releases being planned their growth is assured.
Thrash metal to the fore, blades held high (not literally this time!) Scimitar bang out a range of songs that are familiar but also delving back to their earlier material. Jonny's glint in the eye delivery has the thrash tropes down to a 't' in the same way that Chris and Ryan have the rhythm section nailed down.
Allowing Jonny free reign for ever more explosive solo runs the structures of each Scimitar track remains solid, with just enough fluidity to avoid rigidity.
Cursed Sun have always taken the traditional metal, thrash and contemporary edges of metal and melded them into a full-on assault that live combines with the charisma of Mr Cassidy to bring already excellent music to a vibrant pulsation of all that is good about metal.
But, with the Sun clashing with the start of Rival Sons the shuffling between venues began - take in the first couple of Cursed Sun, nip into Limelight11 for a few Rival Sons, then back to LL2 to catch another couple of Cursed Sun.
As was expected the metal might of Cursed Sun was in full flow, with seemingly renewed depth and confidence from the release of the impressive 'The Amygdala'. Whether the release has given them renewed vigour, or just that there is a real coherence to the sound is a moot point; from a sampling of their show further attention will come their way.
The contrast in audience sizes was immediate upon going into Limelight1. Rival Sons had the place packed and pulsating. There was even more present than when Meshuggah had the venue rammed the previous Tuesday.
There was an almost religious devotion to the crowd's response by the time the first few songs had been hammered out, something the band seemed knocked out by, especially at the end of 'Torture' when the audience kept on with the refrain long after the band were about to end the song.
Jay Buchanan seemed almost overwhelmed by the response, as the rest of the band had grins almost as wide as the stage.
Fresh from a night supporting Sabbath this felt as much like an impromptu jam as it did a headlining show. The band took on the challenge of the set as if it was just another night in Long Beach, but one doubts if they have ever had such a warm response in California.
While the momentum had been building throughout the set, by the time 'Belle Star' was aired there was a palpable sense of occasion building, which continued throughout, and by the time they closed with 'Hollow Bones pt2' and 'Keep on Swinging' they had accomplished what they had set out to do: warn up the full set for their headlining shows across Europe and have a good time while at it.
On such an evening of musical contrasts it is hard to draw any real conclusions. All five bands have tremendous sets of songs, albeit across a range of genres, and all have talented musicians.
The main difference, of course, is that Rival Sons have label backing and PR support that draws airplay and sales. However, there is one nagging thought. If the fans of metal who can ram venues for the likes of Meshuggah remain largely absent for the likes of the DP shows. Rightly many will not be able to travel, and are maybe only fans of some types, but if even a few per cent more would part with a fiver, then the opportunity to grow would be afforded to bands, along with those in attendance having something to do on a Saturday other than watch TV and play old songs again. Okay, that is something of a controversial thing to note after such a good evening of rock and metal, but...ponder on that and wonder "what if..." should you ever want to step out of a weekend evening and have some fun without expectations.
Review by Jonathan Traynor
Pictures by Darren McVeigh