Greetings, salutations and welcome, to the most autonomous wing of Sounds magazine. The brief is vague. If it’s fast, we’ll like it. If it’s heavy, we’ll love it. If it’s all of the above, done on a budget, then we’re really talking. Basically, we’ll be taking a look at a wide plethora of ‘extreme’ and DIY music. When we say ‘extreme’ we mean sounds that you wouldn’t want to expose your grandmother to. And when we say DIY we mean bands who do things by themselves and for themselves. It’s a vague term, sure, and its not an exclusive one. Admittedly, all stories will be told through the blinkered vision of a man who just really likes screaming and double-time drumming.
Put simply, these pages are going to be a celebration of underground talent. Bands who have perfected their craft on countless self-managed tours and have more heart than the entire Top 40 combined because of it. We’ll be looking at the folks that sleep on practice room floors, on couches at the back of venues and in unfamiliar apartments in Zagreb, Bristol and Hanover. Those bands that will happily play for petrol money and a few pizzas to small crowds in strange cities. It’s never been easier to self-produce quality music and publicise it online and all of the bands we’ll be featuring know this. If anyone ever tells you there’s no good new music, they’re lying. They’re just too lazy to look for it.
In this inaugural edition we’ll be taking a look at some heaviness at Brighton’s Mammoth festival and some melodious punk-rock on a sleepy Sunday at Manchester’s Retro Bar.
SLAYED IN BRIGHTON
For those of you who don’t know, Mammoth Festival is a largish underground metal festival with a lineup across two stages over three days. Unfortunately, owing in equal measure to my photographer’s work commitments and our combined stupidity we managed to see a total of four and a half bands. Not a bad return on the five hundred mile round-trip really.
So, the festival itself is a bit different in terms of tickets. You buy passes depending on the venue and days you plan to visit. This makes for a crazy number of possible combinations on the official website and must be a nightmare to organise. A full weekend pass to any stage is also available, however. Two venues were put on, each offering a slightly different ‘theme’ of metal, such as the black metal stage, for example. Whilst rarely my first choice of music to listen to at home, when requesting our passes I simply couldn’t turn down the option of an evening of black metal. Unfortunately, as we were so catastrophically late we only managed an hour of evil at ‘The Green Door’ venue. Luckily, it was one hell of an hour. For our listening and viewing pleasure we had the military themed stylings of Eastern Front.
If straight up theatrical black metal is your bag then you probably already love Eastern Front. They’ve got that hallow haunting tone to their music that is synonymous with the stripped-back sound of classic black metal. Unfortunately, the guitars struggled to cut through the mix and owing to the vast amounts of smoke pouring from the stage, I have no clue real what either axe man was adding to the sound. A real shame because other than that I thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere the group as a whole managed to create. The rhythm section was droning and punishing, exactly what you want from a black metal band and the vocalist snarled through the thick smoke, never breaking character. Blasting red lights cut through thick plumes, creating as much ambiance as it did issues for the photographers in the room.
Unfortunately, curfew was early. A real shame because I was just getting started. Blame the M25, I guess.
Nights in Brighton, however, even with the best intentions and earliest curfews don’t end promptly. Our accommodation for the evening was with the lovely Chris and Chris, our friends in progressive thrashers Almeida. Or, as they conveniently prefer Mason and Lowie. We headed back to theirs for an ‘early night’. I had my doubts.
Needless to say Day Two started late. Almost as late as Day One, shamefully. Thick heads usually call for hair of the dog. Heavy metal with a thick head requires a level of intoxication that you’d describe to an officer as ‘drunk’. So, several eye openers later, we made it down to the venue.
First up was a band I’d been thoroughly looking forward to, Osiah. Based on their own claims of being the ‘heaviest band in the UK’, I had forgone the customary listen I try to give to any band before I watch them for the first time. I therefore approached the show as a blank canvass, expecting either a cacophony of calculated chaos or a massive let down. The end result was somewhere in between.
First off, Osiah are definitely not the heaviest band in the UK, not even close, in my opinion. They perform a fairly generic, down-tuned, break-down loaded form of metal-core that lacks ferocity, speed and progression. Osiah are by no means a terrible band, just not really my bag and completely oversold in terms of self-promotion. I did, however, enjoy the vocalist’s performance, despite the mid-noughties nu-metal vibes he oozes.
Next up were a band that I did manage to check out before the show. Ingested are from Manchester, I guess I should have already known about them but, to my shame, I did not. Sitting at home, browsing the lineup before the show, I had a feeling I’d be into their music before I sampled. You know when a band has their ‘branding’ just right? The artwork on their releases, the choice of font, the name, and a quick look at a promo-photo all pointed straight down my street. This superficial method of judging bands before listening to a note played is by no means an exact science and has definitely been responsible for me ignoring bands for a long time that I subsequently enjoyed in favour of more sharply branded outfits. There would be none of this for Ingested, however. They had my attention already.
The show itself did not disappoint. A solid performance of death metal from a group who don’t take themselves too seriously and clearly have a lot of fun playing their songs. The set was slamming and was definitely the high water mark in terms of crowd movement at Mammoth. The set was brutal, technically proficient and varied. Rapid, blasting sections gave way to grinding sludge before delving back into the progressive death metal. Thoroughly enjoyable filth. Top marks.
The last band taking to the stage that evening was British heavy metal legends Venom Inc. Now, unfortunately classic heavy metal doesn’t really do it for me but their importance as a band can’t be understated. As some of the forefathers of extreme metal music, Mammoth Festival might not even exist today without them. Venom are a seasoned outfit who nail a catalogue of tunes older than most of the crowd or performers themselves and it was refreshing to see the appreciation the modern metal scene has for the veterans.
Unfortunately, we didn’t learn from the previous evening’s early finish and as such found ourselves gig-less much earlier than we imagined. Luckily, Lowie knew of some ska that was happening around the corner and reckoned we could blag it in for the remaining few songs. We tried and succeeded. Los Albertos are the darlings of the south coast party ska scene and the volume of people inside the club definitely reflected this. The venue floor bent and bowed under the stresses of what seemed like half of Brighton’s Saturday night skank-a-thon. The difference in atmosphere between the two shows we attended couldn’t really have been more pronounced and one thing is for sure, Brighton, on the whole, prefers its live music bouncing rather than grinding.
GET DEAD (US), AUTONOMADS, HOT MASS, ROUGHNECK RIOT AND AERIAL SALAD (Sunday 9th October)
A Fat Wreck Chords band in Manchester is always a good enough excuse to turn out on a Sunday, even if its one you’re not overly familiar with. Unlike Brighton, we were on our best behaviour for this one. That meant we actually made it there for all the bands.
Aerial Salad opened the show. The group comprises of three young, enthusiastic punk rockers from our own fair city of Manchester. They’re angry and angsty and I imagine they’ll go far. There’s already some exciting things shaping up for the trio as they’ll be playing the legendary ‘The Fest’ in Gainsville, Florida at the end of October.
Up next were the always entertaining Roughneck Riot. The Celtic-crossover punks blasted through several of their original super-charged jigs before stopping to take a breath and speak to the crowd. ‘Anyone else been up all night?’ lead singer Matty Humphries managed between deep gasps for air about five songs into the set. Having known several members of Roughneck personally, I have absolutely no reason to doubt this claim, I’m just surprised they were able to tear accurately through as many tracks as they did before coming up for air. The fact they’ve now been honing their skills for over ten years definitely aided their ability to smash out their songs so professionally. As well as their own amphetamine-driven folk-core, the band opted to play Bad Religion’s ‘You’, a cover that you’d have to be stone-deaf to not at least tap your foot to. Roughneck successfully got Manchester moving, a feat I’ve seen more established artists fail to do on a Sunday evening.
Hot Mass took to take the stage next. A four-piece band playing laid back American indie kind of jams with a definite punk rock spine. The group’s catalogue is surf inspired with catchy riffs and lovely, lazy sounding solos – think long swooping guitar bends on uncomfortably long straps. There are times that Hot Mass sound like The Pixies or Dinosaur Jnr and others where they reminded me of Epitaph records legends, Osker. It was certainly a chilled mix of influences that made me forget all about Monday morning. I forgave the occasional sloppiness in delivery, concentrating more on the song writing and lead guitar chops, both of which were exquisite. They’re definitely a band I will have on my radar from now on.
Autonomads need little introduction to anyone even slightly familiar with the Manchester punk rock scene. The group fuse dub-reggae with punk and pick up where acts like The Clash left off. Autonomads were one of the first groups I encountered when I moved to Manchester at the start of university and they have been an absolute stalwart of the community ever since. Always political vocalist Ian Perkins took opportunity between songs to celebrate the anniversary of worker’s rights protest victories and speak about black activist Linton Kwesi Johnson (who inspired the Autonomads track ‘Fight Them Back’). As always the crowd responded well to the established Manchester act and as usual I’m sure it’ll be another few weeks before I get ‘Our Elizabeth’ out of my head again.
Finally, it was time for the main event of the evening, Get Dead. The group hail from San Francisco, California and have released a few full-lengths through legendary punk rock label Fat Wreck Chords. I wasn’t overly familiar with their stuff before their show but there’s rarely anything that can be considered terrible on Fat Wreck so knew they wouldn’t disappoint live. I wasn’t quite prepared for how much melody the group were able to bring to their familiar sounding progressions. The epic anthems they delivered to the still sizable group were the perfect way to round off a hugely successful evening of punk rock in Manchester. Promotions teams Anarchistic Undertones and Moving North need huge congratulations for their tireless work at bringing out of town acts to our city’s smaller venues. The success of the evening’s music is testament to the commitment both teams have to punk rock music, in general.
So that’s all there’s time to cover this month. In subsequent issues, we’ll hopefully be a little less scatterbrained than Brighton and a little less last minute than the Get Dead show. Until then, keep your ears to the ground and your fists in the air.