‘WFTU: Drowned in sound with Oathbreaker, and SNFU deliver a blast of the fast
For the first proper edition of 2017, we’ve a tale of two front-people. A duo of equally spectacular lead vocalists for our listening and viewing pleasure. First up, we’re at another Anarchistic Undertones gig on a suspiciously sober Thursday evening in mid-January. The venue will be Gulliver’s, a nice little pub that I really like, and Joshua really hates. Headlining the evening’s entertainment will be SNFU, a band with a lengthy career and a wonderfully eclectic vocalist. Joining Canada’s skate punk pioneers we’ll have AVAS, Denim and Leather, and Revenge of the Psychotronic Man.
Later in the month, after realising the futility of attempting a dry (ish) January, we’re back in town, feeling much more ‘refreshed’. Enter another band with a stand out singer. Enter Oathbreaker. In town to hold a critically acclaimed post-metal master class at The Star And Garter, with supports from Svalbard, and Pijn.
SNFU, ROTPM, Denim and Leather, AVAS: January 19th, 2017
First up were AVAS, a band I have never encountered before. They’re a four-piece playing a style of positive-hardcore akin to the likes of H2O. Unfortunately, that kind of thing really doesn’t carry much traction with me. With the best will in the world, for a miserable git like myself, it’s always going to be a challenge to get fully behind tracks with names like ‘Brighter Futures’ or ‘Hopeful’. I guess I just struggle with the whole posi-hardcore thing at a fundamental level. For me, if bands play in a fast, aggressive style, I’d rather hear them screaming about nuclear Armageddon, or setting policemen on fire. Having said all that, they did open the night’s proceedings with a solid, energetic performance, and I’m sure those present who are not as deeply disenchanted with existence (or as stone-critic-sober) as myself found it most enjoyable.
Next up are a band I’ve been wanting to see perform for a long time, Denim and Leather. When I first heard their name mentioned, I had partially written them off as a cock-rock covers group from some shitty small town like my own. After hearing more and more people mention their live show, I resolved there must be something more to them. As it transpires, Denim and Leather are not a post-dated clone of Def Zeppelin from your local boozer. They’re an absolute rock and roll machine, drawing on an eclectic range of influences from early post-punk, to New York hardcore, and beyond. They do, however, hail from some small shitty town like my own.
The first thing that strikes you about the four-piece from ‘Burnage and Burnley’ is their look. There’s no real unity amongst them, no common theme. I mean, this isn’t a fashion article but you can usually have a stab at a band’s sound and be somewhat close to the money based on their attire alone. This is not so for Denim and Leather. Forming their line up, there’s a skate punk looking guy on guitar, and a man who looks like he personally bit the missing chunk from his own ride cymbal on the drums. Joining them are an impeccably dressed bassist who I can see smoking licorice papered roll-ups, and working on his laptop in a Starbucks. Finally, there’s the lead singer -best described as a mixture of Ian Curtis and Hunter S. Thompson. Don’t get me wrong, they all look like they play in a band, just not the same one.
Image aside, their set was everything I had hoped it would be and more. Chaotic, theatrical, and oh so fucking noisy. Echoes of bands as diverse as Magazine, and Minor Threat run deep in the group’s sound and there’s not a weak musician amongst them. Droning post-punk riffs sit effortlessly atop pounding thrash metal drums in a delightful ensemble that had the hairs of my arms standing aloft in respect. The stage presence of Denim and Leather was as equally spectacular as the noise they created. The Ian Curtis analogy works well here too so I might as well recycle it. Singer Cal jitters and jives across the stage, passionately delivering every line with equal measures of venom, lunacy, and despair. The performance was great and the bar had definitely been raised several notches for those that followed.
Taking to Gulliver’s stage next were local favourites Revenge Of The Psychotronic Man. The stripped back three-piece play a style of fast, hardcore punk, that definitely calls this side of the Atlantic home. Their classic early ’80s sound guarantees a lot of crowd action and being as long in the game as they have, their local shows are always well attended. Drawing from an extensive back catalogue of records, Revenge rifled through their material with precision and had the room moving properly for the first time that evening (an impressive feat considering the amount of people not indulging quite as much as usual). Revenge are a well oiled machine that delivers fast (ish), no-nonsense hardcore punk. It’s easy to tell why they are such a popular stalwart of Manchester’s underground punk rock scene.
The headline act of the evening was Canada’s SNFU, a legendary group of misfits who I remember from turn-of-the-millenium skateboard videos, and Punk-O-Rama compilations. I think I’m genetically predisposed to enjoy anything that was on Epitaph between the years of 1994 and 2001 so I’d been looking forward to the inevitable nostalgia trip that would ensue when SNFU took to the stage that night.
As the band tuned up and prepared to play, iconic front man, Mr Chi Pig was strangely absent. The musicians stood, semi-bemused, wondering where their vocalist had vanished to, before bass player and man mountain Dave Bacon interrupted the increasing awkwardness: “Will the gay Chinese man with no teeth please make his way to the stage?”
After several of these identical announcements, the crowd began to break and Chi Pig was finally seen heading towards the stage. The years have certainly not been kind to the punk rock veteran and as he sat on the stage steps watching his band play the intro to their set, I had my doubts if he’d be able to carry the performance off at all. Fortunately, when they kicked into the first song proper, he rose to his feet, fully displaying his spectacular attire for the first time under the lights. A true sight to behold. Skin and bones draped in sequins, lycra and a moustache, gripping the microphone and resuming the role of way-paving skate punk pioneer with ease.
Chi Pig didn’t entirely steal the show however and praise absolutely has to go out to his band for their performances. They were tight, animated, and faster than the records. Axemen Kurt Robertson and Randy Steffes undoutedly have some serious chops between them seeing them trade solos on matching guitars was just magic.
The thing with the stand out bands of the early skate punk Fat Wreck/Epitaph golden era is just how good their songs are and SNFU are no exception here. Overly flamboyant musicianship is left at the door, allowing their great melodic arrangements to take centre stage. The band finished up with Chi Pig being handed a guitar to strum along with an old crowd favourite. A moving image, even if Joshua failed to capture it. All in all, the evening with SNFU et al had been a thoroughly enjoyable, albeit freakishly sober, Thursday night in January.
Oathbreaker, Svalbard, Pijn: January 27th
Next up something different. Something very different. We’re going crusty. We’re going black. Set fire to your skateboards because it’s going to get evil. And what better place to do it other than Manchester’s Star and Garter? The evening’s entertainment will be headlined by Oathbreaker. I hope you packed your earplugs because I fucking forgot mine...
The first band of the night was Pijn. No, I have no idea how to say it and neither did anyone I was with that night, despite several theories being offered (“Pidge-Gin” being my favourite). As we made our way upstairs to the live room, they immediately had my attention. Already midway through their first track, the first impression was how crushingly loud they were. This was quickly followed by how well assembled their overall sound was. There had clearly been serious effort put into creating a colossal wall of noise and the end result was spectacular. The drums sounded absolutely fierce and a punishing bass tone helped to create a powerful and dark aura. Layered over the top were droning rapid down stroke guitar riffs, and truly haunting violin and lap steel guitar parts. The sum total of this interesting selection of sounds and instruments was body shaking in its intensity. Heavy, frantic crescendos broke into screams of controlled feedback and the frankly filthy sounding bass guitar cut objectionably through ambient passages, creating an intended uneasiness to the blackened, post-metal soundscape. I was highly impressed with the local band’s creativity and progressive approach to writing music. The evening was off to a flyer.
Another new one for me were the band that followed Pijn. Svalbard hail from Bristol and are probably my new favourite band at the time of writing this. I’ll say it plain and simple. They were fucking incredible. Playing a vicious brand of blackened hardcore, the force coming from on the stage was relentless. Heavy and fierce whilst simultaneously despondent and dark. The four-piece have no issue with paying homage to a variety of other extreme musical styles. They comfortably sit skate punk guitar riffery next to some of the most brutal death metal drumming and it all comes across exceptionally well live. At times hopeless, and at others uplifting, Svalbard’s music is given even greater dynamic by the combined onslaught of dual lead vocalists trading pained screams and barks with animosity and desperation. An innovative and ferociously fit drummer provided a beat that sounded part tribal ritual and part break neck death core. Honestly, fantastic. I can’t recommend Svalbard enough.
Finally, it was time for the main event of the evening, Oathbreaker from Belgium. They’re a band whose latest album “Rheia” catapulted them to the attention of many, myself included, after it received rave reviews and several selections for metal album of 2016 in various publications. In an incredibly reductionist comparison that’s so bad I probably shouldn’t even write it is they’re a bit like Converge, if they were fronted by Enya.
I’ve literally never seen The Star And Garter busier in my life. It was a task to get far enough into the room to see the stage and the comfortable position I had occupied up front for the opening acts was now completely unattainable. I’d have to make do with viewing the show from afar. The band assembled on stage behind vocalist Caro Tanghe and the performance began with the introduction to their latest record. Singing alone, Tanghe’s voice stunned the packed room to absolute silence. I don’t just mean “gig-quiet” either, I mean I could hear the guy behind me swallow.
As the introduction broke explosively into “Second Son Of R” the true power of Oathbreaker’s live performance was revealed. At times desperate, at others deranged but perpetually dark, the band recreated the intensity of their records with breathtaking accuracy. Tanghe’s performance was simply spectacular. The talent and control it must take to sing the clean vocals so immaculately and to bring the level fire and resentment to the screamed sections boggles the mind. She’s like a note-perfect banshee, cloaked head to toe in black, shrieking through a thick mane of dark hair. It’s a powerful image and it perfectly complements the intense power she commands when in front of a mic.
The thick crowd stood motionless for the majority of the performance, seemingly transfixed by the powerful sounds and striking images on stage. As the set wound towards its close Tanghe gave impassioned thanks to everyone who had come out. She went on to admit that everyone on the tour (supports included) had been ill whilst on the road. Considering this, her performance that evening had been even more outstanding. Finishing with two thrashier, heavier tracks from their earlier records, the evening ended with an explosion of pent up energy in the pit. A true joy to admire and a brilliant live music experience. Go and see Oathbreaker if you can.