By Baz Jones
Two all-dayers this weekend showcasing 17 British underground bands (all but one unsigned), held in "Leeds' most intimate live music venue". Which meant that the Cellars are a tiny little room under the Royal Park pub, about the same size as the back room at the Portland. Me, OML, Kit, Jimmer and Elizabeth Watts turned out on the first day which featured Silverburn, Beyond Redemption, Vae Solis, Honey For Christ, Epitaph, As She Screams, Rötschreck, Bloodstream and Dragonheart. I'll give you a run down of the bands and their demos which I picked up while I was there. In case anyone is interested. Also, though I recommend getting in touch with the bands yourselves, if anyone gives me some blank tapes I'll put some of the demos on for them if anything below sounds interesting...
First up were Silverburn (www.silverburnt.co.uk) [NOTE: that is NOT a typo!] who are a local band playing True Doom (or should that be dooooooooooommmmmmmmmmmm!!!!!!). I don't think they've been playing long but were surprisingly good, reminding me of Eighties legends like Saint Vitus, Witchfinder General and Pentagram, with frequent stoner references, recalling a less groovy Orange Goblin or Cathedral. The five band members filled the tiny stage but managed to be decently energetic and the singer looked suitably imposing (and stoned). They've got a four track demo out ("godisnowhere") and is also good - contact them via the website I guess. Best tracks are probably the second two ("Sensations Of Doom" - yes! - and "Cold Blessings") as these are the slower and more doomy ones. People out there who prefer the Orange Goblin end of things will probably get off on the other two more. Recommended. And Oliver-Michael was happy, which is the main thing.
Beyond Redemption were on next and played an interesting mixture of styles - their influences are obvious, but the combination made them hard to characterise. I guess "dark metal" is as good as anything; it's all just semantics anyway. They opened with "World of Pain" (also first track on the EP), which is an upbeat rocker which made me think of Sentenced a bit, with cleaner vocals. However, they followed this with a series of tracks which covered everything from technical death to (more frequently) post-black metal, incorporating both harsh vocals and electronica. Though some keyboard lines were lifted straight from the Kovenant, they are actually a much more interesting prospect than that; the surprising thing is that this mish-mash of styles actually works without sounding forced. The EP, "Injury Time", follows a similar track and can apparently be purchased via the website (www.beyondredemption.net).
Everyone should know Vae Solis by now. Baz (t'other one) and cohorts ripped through half an hour of immaculately played thrash metal to an enthusiastic crowd, creating the first mass mosh of the day. They're not doing anything new or innovative, but sometimes it's nice just to see a band doing something this honest and paying homage to their heroes. I managed to wreck my neck during the closing cover of Carcass' "Incarnated Solvent Abuse" which was an inspired choice, and contrasted nicely with the thrash of the rest of the set. I still haven't managed to get hold hold of any of their CDs (Baz?), but most people in Cambridge must have run into these guys at least once so I won't labour the point. Vae Solis rule. Go see them live.
It was always going to be tough to follow that, but Belfast's Honey For Christ had a fucking good go. Easily the most energetic band of the day despite having had no sleep and allegedly being almost unable to stand. They play pure unadulterated metal - slightly thrashy, but basically unclassifiable. The vocalist did appear to be having a hard time of it, and his voice wasn't up to scratch, but he made up for it by hurling himself into the audience at every available opportunity and by looking like Sebastian Bach. The rest of the band were pretty damn tight, despite the guitarist also making frequent forays into the audience. Their T-shirts said it all really - Motörhead, Sacred Reich... old metal. I don't think I would have bought their demo (not totally my thing), but I've ended up with one as the band were handing out promo packs to just about everybody. I've only got a cassette copy and the sound quality is terrible, but is still well-played, melodic, upbeat METAL, so if that's your bag go to the website (www.honeyforchrist.co.uk) and see if you can get a CD copy.
Epitaph closed the first session before a break for food. These guys seem to have been going for ages, and I'm sure I've run into them before, though I can't quite remember where. "Doom / death" pretty much sums up their sound - heavily keyboard driven, atmospheric and generic. They played well and were clearly having a lot of fun. Perhaps this was the problem - atmosphere is essential to these kinds of bands, and I'm afraid this relies on the band taking it seriously... hence the frequent South Park jokes and fucking around on stage stripped the band of all momentum and personality. The singer's voice wasn't up to much either and didn't appear to move his feet for the majority of the set; to their credit, the rest of the band had more stage presence but they need to sort out the singer. They've got a couple of demo EPs out - "Dawning" from 1997 and a new one, "Remnant Memories". Almost predictably, these are better than their live performance, though the production is a bit lacking. The material is strong and the atmosphere comes across well on record. If they can learn to just get on with it and play the songs, they'd definitely be worth going to see live; maybe I caught them on an off day. Website is www.epitaph.fsnet.co.uk if you're interested in the demos (go on, they are pretty good...).
After beer and sausage butties, and waiting for As She Screams to finish soundchecking we went down to spend more time waiting for Luca to get his act together and get on stage. Those of you who were at the May Brawl last year should know that As She Screams (www.asshescreams.com) are a quality band and they certainly didn't disappoint me tonight. Playing about half and half material from the "Final Pain" demo and new material, they put in a beautifully chaotic performance. They were running late by the time they got started, and seemed to have decided that the solution was to play everything faster, and not to stop in between songs in case they were told to stop. The second half of the set was entirely new material, presumably destined for their forthcoming debut album on Goat of Mendes records and came across really well. Luca's voice just keeps getting better, and the bass was just awesome, though he was clearly having to sweat to keep up the pace. They have no respect for genre boundaries, and hence you get bits of thrash, hardcore, death and doom. Like Iron Monkey, I'm beginning to think that I love this band way too much to be healthy. And their keyboardist is still mad as a balloon. Awesome stuff.
Rötschreck were up next. These Scottish maniacs delivered one of the more satisfying beatdowns of the weekend, with their potent mixture of death metal, grind and thrash. They have two vocalists handling the high and low growling, and at least one of them is built like a brick shithouse. The material does get a little one dimensional after a while, and they could do with a second guitarist to fill out the sound, but I was again really impressed. They've got an EP out, "Heatsink", which is allegedly available from Amazon, but failing that the website is www.rotschreck.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk. They should appeal to quite a range of people, as they have plenty of mosh-friendly Machine Head-esque thrash parts in amongst the death metal brutality, and the closing two minute grindfest was awesome - Extreme Noise Terror style!
I've seen Bloodstream before at a doom all-dayer last Summer. They are another local band, and I hadn't realised just how fat the guitarist is until down on floor level of the Cellars "stage". They have however tightened their sound up considerably since I last saw them and kicked out their old vocalist. Vocal duties are now being handled by Brick (ex-Hybernoid), who proves that death growls are just as androgynous as power metal wailing. More than anything else they remind me of mid-Nineties Yorkshire doom/death metal band like Dominion, influenced by all the usual suspects (PL, MDB etc.) but gradually seem to be finding their own sound, and mix in a bit of Entombed for good measure. Debut EP "Scarlet" out now, which features the old vocalist and is competent but nothing special (to be honest, I bought it a year ago and haven't listened to it for a while - I must go and do that after I finish writing this). Go to www.bloodstream.org.uk for more information.
Headlining the first day were Dragonheart. We only caught the first three or so songs due to having to catch the last train, but that was enough for me to make up my mind. I'm not going to go into a general slagging of power metal band (Terrorizer described that as "beating up on a really nice guy just because he's a bit boring"), so I'll leave it as this - Kit thought they were the only band of the day to really grab her. Oli would have loved them. Personally, I thought they were great musicians and were having bags of fun, but I think (with a very small number of exceptions) the whole genre is just too ludicrous. Not my thing at all, but everyone else in the venue seemed to love them and they probably know more about this kind of thing than I do, so if you like that kind of thing, go check 'em out (www.dragon-heart.net).