This month’s Words From The Underground is shamefully short. With the whole of February teasing a tickling of snow over the Scottish highlands, I’ve selfishly tried to keep the weekends commitment free. Watching webcam weather feeds in a state of cat-like readiness, poised to pack up my board and head to the mountains at the first sign of a heavy dump, gigs have taken somewhat of a back seat. That’s not to say we totally reneged on our monthly responsibilities. We’ve been pretty busy planning a couple of special features on Manchester Punk Festival in the coming editions. Next month, we’re hoping to meet the teams behind our city’s biggest celebration of DIY music and have a chat about what goes into making an event like MPF happen. Depending on how much bullshit we can get the folks from Anarchistic Undertones, Moving North, and TNS Records to talk, we might even throw some spot light on the performers not to be missed over the course of the weekend. Following our pre-Fest edition, we’ll be out in the field at MPF itself for three days of music, mayhem, and musings. The line-up is frankly astonishing for the entire weekend, so there’s going to be a lot to cover.
In the meantime, we did manage to get over to one live event this month. The trusty Retro Bar played host to four bands of the death metal variety. Whilst not being something I usually seek out, that’s kind of what WFTU is all about so we gave it a go.
Ancient Ascendant, Austerymn, Burial, and Conform to Serve: April 25th, Retro Bar, Manchester
Conform to Serve kicked off the evening’s music. They play a brooding form of blackened death metal that isn’t afraid to get a little thrashy at times. Hailing from Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, the group are relative newcomers, releasing their debut EP, Industrialised Worship, last June. For such a young band, they were a tight opener and definitely show great promise for the future. Their concoction of doom inspired riffs layered with black metal vocal delivery easily created a suitable aura of evil, with a a bit of lightening fast shred thrown into the mix. And why not? There’s enough guitars (and strings) on stage at a time. If you’re anything like me, seeing a band wield three seven strings immediately sparks interest. In this case however, all that extra fret board isn’t being used that creatively. For that reason, I feel that the third axe is probably surplus to requirements. Of course, it does make their breakdown sections sound particularly monstrous, so swings and roundabouts, I guess.
Taking to the stage next were local three-piece Burial. An all together blacker outfit, Burial perform a brand of death metal that is stripped back to its bare bones. Songs resemble some demonic funeral dirge, only backed with rail gun blast beats. An excellent combination, I must admit. Derek Carley, of Wolfbastard fame, fronts the local troupe and tackles both high and low death growls alone and with precision. This is particularly impressive given Carley’s revelation about half way through the set. Admitting he was out late the previous evening watching Singaporean grinders Wormrot performing at Soup Kitchen in town, he went on to reveal that he’d got so sozzled that he managed to piss himself. If my hangovers are anything to go by, it’s a small miracle that he was even able to take to the stage without getting bladdered again – let alone perform with the conviction and venom he managed to muster. “Hair of the dogging” is always a fail-safe method to get myself through a second consecutive gig, but I’ve never had to hold it together long enough to play ten rapid fire black metal tunes. Impressive work indeed.
One thing I did pick up on was how quiet the Retro Bar was. I’ve been to many gigs in the iconic Manchester venue and being into such niche music, shows can be sparsely populated. I’m used to audiences of only twenty or thirty people still being able to create a pretty good atmosphere. Granted, this is mostly at punk shows where everyone knows each other and the bands themselves have become friends over the course of many visits. The show at the Retro Bar that night was a stark contrast to even a Tuesday night punk performance in Manchester. Quiet, polite applause punctuated tracks. It kind of reminded me of the first show we covered for WFTU, Mammoth Festival, in Brighton. The atmosphere was stuffy, and subdued despite the strong early performances on offer. However, things may have been different had Wormrot not been in town the previous evening.
Anyway, musings aside, back to the sounds. Performing after Burial were Austerymn, a band of death metal purists from around my end – St Helens and Wigan to be precise. The group have a surprisingly lengthy history that I was largely unaware of. They were formed under a different name around 1990, and quickly rebranded themselves in 1991 as Perpetual Infestation. Performing until 1996, the project was put on seemingly indefinite hold in 1996. After an eleven year hiatus they returned as Austerymn and have been active since. Their overall sound is one of classic death metal, real old school stuff, in the vein of At The Gates or Morbid Angel. Josh summed it up nicely in his ever poignant and poetic way: “Proper moshers these”. Unfortunately, I have to admit Austerymn’s performance was not the tightest and sloppy musicianship hugely stands out in the genre they play. Despite the occasional loose section, their lead guitarist’s fretboard mastery made for impressive viewing. The never substantial and ever thinning crowd was treated to a great exhibition of classic metal shredding and a good bit of shred always sits well with me, regardless of context.
Finally, it was time for the headline act of the night, Ancient Ascendant. Another band with over a decade playing together, the four-piece’s sound takes us back towards the blacker side of death with strong nods towards groove and thrash. Coming from Reading and London, their Retro Bar show was the band’s first visit to Manchester since 2014. Despite this, numbers remained low for their performance. It seemed that most had turned out to watch the local acts and disappeared before the headline bands played. This again is somewhat alien to me as most of the punk scene seems much more accommodating to music that might not be “their thing”. I was somewhat surprised by the lack of people in attendance especially when considered alongside Ancient Ascendant’s “melting pot” approach to music. They take cues from a wide range of influences suggesting a broad appreciation of all things metal amongst their members. With such an array of styles forming the overall sound, I was surprised that more had not given them a shot. However, the actual performance was similarly loose to Austerymn’s and even featured a pretty monumental botch at the end of one of their new numbers, hinting that the band were not on absolute top form that evening.