With the onset of February we are getting a little busier. 2nd, Protest The Hero, 6th Del Amitri, 9th Molly Hatchet, 14th Monster Magnet, 15th Dream Theater, 19th, Sons Of Icarus, 20th Skyclad, 25th Soulfly, 26th Cadillac Three

And maybe a couple more to be added.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

BASEMENTFEST DAY 2: Beholder, Under Blackend Skies, Left For Red, Valous @Roadhouse 26/8/12

Day two – notwithstanding the fact our mate the compare is still there (although pointedly not for the headliners) – always looked better than the opener. Whilst we are gutted to have missed Disarm Goliath who’s early slot means RTM can’t get there, there is still much to enjoy on paper.

Not least amongst the treats are Valous. A line up change has seen them bumped up the order and on the evidence of their thrilling half hour it is a very much-deserved promotion. They pedal similar meaty hooks to that of The Almighty in their heyday and with songs like “Locked Up Inside,” “Fools Dance” and newbie “Blisters” – apparently from a new album they are releasing - they are most definitely worth having a look at.

Another set of West Midlands metal stalwarts, Left For Red, are next. Evidently they are close to Valous – and there is a warm atmosphere amongst all the bands this evening – and they too operate in a distinctly British metal vein. They are unpretentious and fun, and with man mountain frontman LC providing a focal point they are always enjoyable. Alongside the tried and tested “Empty Shell” and “Shatter,” they too choose to unveil a new song and “Mercy Fight” sits very snugly indeed in their cannon.

Birmingham’s Under Blackened Skies have no problems following this, and the past few years on the circuit have turned them into a formidable live act. Easily the heaviest band on the bill this evening, they are almost Black Metal in their approach, and although “Faceless Devastation” remains their best song, there is always much to enjoy, including a fine “Sense of Reason.”

Back in March, at this very venue Under Blackened Skies were the main support to Beholder. Whether by accident or design, it has worked out that way again. Equally curiously Beholder played that UK tour to unveil some songs from a new album, entitled “The Black Flag” which was apparently to be released just after. As of yet the album still hasn’t seen light of day, which is a shame as it sounds like it could be a monster.

Whether they want just to tease us, or the album – a follow up to the stunning “The Awakening” - has suffered some setbacks is unclear. What is certain, however, is the “…Flag” songs are very heavy indeed. Frontman Simon Hall cuts an angry demeanor and that suits the mood of the new songs like “Toxic Nation” and the title track perfectly.

Like in March they mix the new stuff with plenty of songs from the debut, kicking off with “Heretic” and playing “Snake Eyes” before insisting on the weekends first circle pit during “Razorline.”

Hall launches into his usual impassioned speech about bands not needing record companies during “Here I Stand” before a truncated set is brought to a close with the best of the old in “The Awakening” before bringing in the new with “Footprints in the Sand.”

RTM’s impatience to hear the new album notwithstanding, the fact remains that Beholder are even better now than when RTM first clapped eyes on them at the Hellfire Fest at the NEC in 2009 – and they were pretty damn good then.

One of British metal’s best kept secrets, Beholder were absolutely the best band possible to close a celebration of underground metal.

BASEMENTFEST Day 1: Point Blank Fury, A Thousand Enemies, Salvation @Roadhouse Birmingham 25/8/12

RTM has never found itself at Basementfest before, but the chance to see a pretty decent line-up of unsigned metal is enough to tempt us from a Saturday night by the tele. Even if the Saturday night does contain the Gypsy Pistoleros as the headliners – but we have no intention of hanging around to watch them this time.

We also have little time for the compare for proceedings either. And if we may offer a word of advice to the organisers for next year it would be simple: The last thing a metal festival needs, or metal fans want, is a fella in a suit talking about the raffle and making crap jokes before the bands come on.

What we do want is new metal bands to have a look at. And thankfully Basementfest has these in abundance. Indeed part two of day one has a band who are playing their very first gig. Despite their inexperience Salvation are actually pretty good and showed great potential. Sort of a retro groove metal band – think Pantera covering a Rival Sons song – they race through 25 minutes of their stuff. “Pray For Me” is a highlight, but they are worth keeping an eye on.

A Thousand Enemies have been going for a little longer than that and the Nottinghamshire mob are beginning to make some waves for themselves. RTM saw them support the execrable The Morning After earlier in the year and by all accounts they were their usual selves during a storming set in the New Blood tent at Bloodstock the other week. Even the loss of their usual drummer tonight can’t dampen their ebullient frontman Bane, who has evidently got himself as annoyed with the “comedian” as RTM: “Where’s him in the suit,” he says, as the band are ready to start. “Come on pal, aren’t you ready to talk shite before we play. “ There followed some rather painful banter before ATE get down to business. And what business it is. Enemies attack their set with gusto. Ok we have seen it before, even down to Bane making his joke about them playing a song called “Fucking Ages” (It is actually called “Forever And Day”) but by closing number “Valve” even the people who have never heard them previously must surely have been won over.  Bane then wins extra points for telling the compare to “fuck off” to rapturous cheers.

So to Point Blank Fury. As far as RTM is concerned the Fury boys are the headline act tonight – possessing considerably more talent and songs than the aforementioned band of Gypsies. The last time we saw them, back in June, they were breaking in a new bass man following the defection of their old one to Absolva, Chris Appleton’s post Fury UK venture, tonight they sound even better than they did that night. 

Essentially they play the same set as they have been since reforming, and you know the drill, “Ashes,” “Change Tomorrow” “Love Ain’t Always Easy” and more. This is their last gig of the year, according to Dale Jones, the guitarist, who promises they will return with a new album in 2013. They have already reclaimed their crown as the Midlands most promising band this year, so you hope he’s as good as his word.

So they last song they play of 2012 is signature tune “Night Skies” which sounds as superb as ever, before bidding us farewell.

And with that its time for RTM to disappear too, partly because the compare is back. With raffle tickets. And also the Gypsy Pistoleros are setting up behind him.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

BLOODSTOCK DAY 3 12/8/12 @Catton Hall

Given the indignity of a ridiculously early start time you could perhaps forgive Corrosion Of Conformity for being a little bit cheesed off and going through the motions a bit. Not a bit of it! Instead, the now three-piece deliver a set of rare intensity and riffing.  Without former member Pepper Keenan, COC don’t play anything from their mid-period, instead opting for a large number of new songs from their new album – “Psychic Vampire” sounding particularly special - and a smattering of songs from their first couple of records. They delivered a quite outstanding 40 minutes.

Not being death metal aficionados RTM takes its leave during Nile, ancient Egyptian themed brutality, opting instead for the New Blood Tent. Hakin’s frontman Brian sports a Fred Durst style red cap but there the similarities end. The Welsh band are billed as being, like Nile, from the death end of things, but to RTM it sounds like they have as much to do with Conan-esque doom as anything else.

Dreamcatcher are a much different proposition. The six piece fuse prog and melodic metal and come up with something not to dissimilar from the likes of Neonfly. They only manage a short set, but it is a thrilling one, closer “Take Hold” and “Never Look Back” particularly enthralling.

Its tough to do thrash metal well these days, even tougher when ridiculous scheduling sees the end of a young thrash bands set clash with the start of Evile’s on the main stage, but Reign Of Fury take it in their strides “we’ll race through it” jokes front man Bison Steed. They have no need, because, although they don’t, as yet have a new take on things, they are a band to look out for. “Envy The Dead” has a confidence and the twin guitar work on “Born To Die” was stunning.

Which brings us to the aforementioned Evile. Now relatively experienced campaigners, the Huddersfield band have overcome adversity to be a tremendous propostion. No British group has come up with thrash songs as good as “Cult” and “The Thrasher” in years, and they even find time to give “Centurion” its live debut during in a set that not even the rain can spoil.

Not content with two thrash bands in a row, it’s off to the Sophie Tent for the hat-trick and Slovenia’s Nocteferia emerge as the day’s surprise packets. “Slave To None,” “Democracy” and “Murder” are all, quite frankly, brilliant and the band can look back on their first trip to the UK with immense pride.

Over on the main stage, we catch the end of Anvil, and as always the suspicion with the Canadian triers is that they have never quite made it not through any bad luck, but actually because they aren’t all that good. “Metal on Metal” sounds excellent, of course, but you have to wade through a lot of mediocre stuff to get there.

Of all the bands that you would expect to make the sun come out, Paradise Lost are fairly low down on that list. But nonetheless, that’s the rather incongruous sight that greets them. Frontman Nick Holmes is a little disgruntled at this and dispatches a roadie to get sunglasses. Holmes is also barefoot, although this, he informs us is because the stage is slippy and not because he “wants to look like that c**t from the Black Crowes.” PL then set about showing just why they are the best band of their type out there. Just like their headline tour in April PL play a lot of the stunning “Tragic Idol” opus, which they mix with oldies like “Forever Failure” and “As I Die” before they finish up with a magnificent “Say Just Words” which induces much fist-in-the-air action.

French metal is often neglected, but Headcharger are looking to follow Gojira into our thoughts. Their sound is more Pantera based groove metal than their compatriots and in truth there is nothing especially memorable to their set in the Sophie Tent, although “The End Starts Here” – title track to their new album – is a diversion and they have a decent stab at “Communication Breakdown.”

Dimmu Borgir in the light is an odd thing! On their tour last year they were bathed in dark light throughout, now clad in leather and corpse paint they look entirely different. Thankfully they sound just as good though, and put on a sublime performance. “Ritualist” remains perhaps black metal’s most accessible moment, and “Mourning Palace” is grandiosely brilliant, over the course of an hour they show exactly why they are modern black metals finest band. Although the ever modest frontman Shagrath sees it differently, “I suppose you are all ready for Alice Cooper now,” he says.

And so it is 50 minutes later that the original shock-rocker brings his circus to Derbyshire. He does so with a show that is an exact replica of that which he played last October, which while nowhere near as good as the previous Theatre of Death trek in 09 is still a superb gig. The first part sees Alice racing through some classics and “I’m Eighteen,” “No More Mr Nice Guy” and “Hey Stoopid” are exactly that, before things lose a touch of momentum with a succession of solos and newbie “Ill Bite Your Face Off.” He’s soon back playing “Poison” and “Cold Ethyl” as well as creating monsters and getting killed. Of course it ends with “Schools Out” and a giant party, which really is all you need from Mr. Furnier.
This was three days to celebrate the magnificence and diversity of Heavy Metal, and as events go it was perhaps the best of the 2012, and with Anthrax already slated for 2013, who knows, next year may be better still.

BLOODSTOCK DAY 2 11/8/12 @Catton Hall

RTM didn’t have any idea what cinematic metal was, but on the grounds that Benediction were on the main stage at the same time, we thought we would go and check out purveyors of the genre, Splintered Soul, in their early slot on the Sophie stage. On doing so we found that the Dartford band were a type of epic power combo, with a female singer and a violinist, but who still managed to be engagingly metal.

Next up were Savage Messiah who we know all about. Frustratingly they are served up the festival’s first poor sound, which rather takes away from what should have been a superb half an hour. Happily things get fixed before “Insurrection Rising” closes things, and you hope their time will come.

Poor sound is not something Londoner’s Dripback need to worry about. Producer Russ Russell is on the sound desk for their set and they get to showcase their peculiarly British brand of groove, death and thrash metal without concern. They are a brutal option, but show much better than they did when supporting Biohazard a few months ago.

Croatia’s Infernal Tenebra are on their first visit to the UK and clearly enjoying themselves, they have songs called “Bloodstained Chaos” and “Art Of Survival” and not the slightest hint of originality, a fact they acknowledge themselves by covering Kreator by the end of proceedings, but they were certainly entertaining.

Which is more than can be said for female fronted Rising Dream. Pretty good on record, they lose momentum when the drummer loses his pedal and never get it back.

Perhaps the least metal band on in the tent today, Brighton hard rock heroes Furyon kick off with “Disappear Again” which is not only the best song they have by miles, but also perhaps the best song of the day so far. The band have plugging their “Gravitas” album for a couple of years so it is relief that they air some new material in their set – and even better when the song, called “Nothing On Me” is a belter.

From here it is back to the main stage to see the reformed Sanctuary’s NWOBHM influenced set. They aren’t bad by any means and new song “The Mirror In Black” is an endearingly retro affair, but it is hard to see what all the fuss is about, and by the time their best known song “Battle Angels” is aired a lot of the buzz has gone.

Perhaps the crowd was instead waiting for Hatebreed to play their only UK show of 2012. If they were no-one was disappointed, as Jamey Jasta’s men delivered on a massive scale. The biggest circle pit of the weekend is soon greeting them “Born To Bleed” and “As Diehard As They Come” are hardcore/thrash masterpieces and it is such a stunning set that it will tough to follow.

Unless, of course, the band following are Testament. Perhaps the fifth of the big four thrash bands, if you will, the Bay Area veterans walk off not only with the honour of being band of the day, but perhaps of the entire weekend. Kicking off with “Rise Up” (one of four tracks they play from stunning new album, “Dark Roots Of The Earth” ) they show their skills in a frankly incredible way. Frontman Chuck Billy, air guitars his mic stand throughout a set that included classics like “Into The Pit,” “Practice What You Preach” as well as newer numbers like “More Than Meets The Eye.” Simply stunning – they made us miss Orange Goblin and we still didn’t care, they were that good.

Tonight, is according to Robb Flynn, the 20th anniversary of Machine Head’s first gig. To celebrate this fact they are playing their only British date of the year in front of 12,000 of their closest friends. And playing five songs from debut album “Burn My Eyes” in the process. Lets be fair, at this point in their careers MH could do this type of thing standing on their heads, and they would have to mess up massively to make “A Thousand Lies,” “Death Church” and “Halo” sound bad. For RTM’s money, the songs from most recent record “Unto The Locust” don’t match up, but lets not quibble, as always things ended by letting “freedom ring with a shotgun blast,” and it was hard not to enjoy.

BLOODSTOCK - Day One @Catton Hall 10/8/12

Sometimes you just know you will feel at home.

Walking into Catton Hall for the first time, it is clear that it is exactly the sort of place we should always have been at. Not least of the reasons why is the crowd. There is a refreshing lack of people who attend festivals but who don’t actually like music – the sort of people who you might get a V or Reading, say.

But walk into the Bloodstock arena and it’s hard to tell who is in a band and who is in the crowd, and that’s how it should be when dealing with Britain’s premier metal festival.

And that’s why Malefice immediately look perfect to kick things off. One of the very best British bands, they just continue to impress. “Delirium” and “Omega” were designed to be played at these types of events, thrash on a massive scale; they continue to deserve their success.

From thrash to power and another of RTM’s faves, Freedom Call. By rights they should be awful. They are entirely ludicrous and pompous, but they are also superb and for Germans, they keep their tongues firmly in cheeks. They are here, they say, to start the “Heavy Metal Party” and are tremendous fun.

Another of RTM’s favourites Grand Magus are up next, the Swedes a touch lower down the bill than might have been expected, but they are no less entertaining than you would have hoped. No one can argue with songs of the quality of “The Oar Strikes the Water,” “Valhalla Rising” and set closer “Hammer of the North. Perhaps a place in the upper echelons of metals elite still awaits.

Up until the moment Moonsorrow walked onstage Catton Hall had been bathed in glorious sunshine all day. Perhaps fittingly the sun goes behind a cloud in time for some Portuguese Doomy Black Metal. Despite having two superb new albums out they are the first slight let down. Perhaps they would be better in a little club, where the darker atmosphere they create might come over better, but on a festival stage in mid afternoon their songs don’t quite resonate.

Iced Earth, though were born to make a big sound. Now including former Fury UK man Luke Appleton, they seem on a mission to bring the denim quota up. Far more overtly heavy metal than Freedom Call, Iced Earth’s set is a magnificent and joyous affair. Main man Jon Schaffer grins his way through, while new singer Stu Block looks steeped in the role. They knock out the day’s first ballad “Watching Over Me” as well an astonishingly good “Anthem.” Older tracks like “Damien” and ending number “Iced Earth” also manage to sound fresh. As always Earth are a triumph.

It’s hard for Sepultura, you would guess. Once metal’s big hopes, they are now firmly in stalwart mode. Their best days are behind them perhaps but they remain a fine live draw. Frontman Derrick Green gives it everything he’s got and if you can’t enjoy songs like “Refuse/Resist” and an incendiary “Roots” then Bloodstock ain’t for you. They even fetch Ripper Owens out on “Territory” and are very good indeed.

The aforementioned Owens is here as frontman for Dio Disciples, who fittingly perhaps are on the stage named after the man who’s like they celebrate. Ronnie James Dio remains one of the iconic voices in metal, and hearing “Holy Diver” is always a thrill, but RTM opts to head to the Jagermeister stage to check Absolva. Ex Fury UK men Chris Appleton and Martin McNee’s new venture, while there is Midlands interest too as former Point Blank Fury bass man Dan Bate is in the group.

Happily despite being only five gigs old – and with Iced Earth’s Luke watching on -  Absolva might be the real deal. The addition of a second guitarist as foil to Appleton has beefed up the sound and there is an instant appeal to songs like “Code Red” and “Breathe. “ Ones to watch.

Like Moonsorrow, Alcest are another band to suffer from a festival setting. With Watain due on the main stage, the crowd in the Sophie Lancaster tent is a little more sparse than might have been expected. While “Autre Temps” might be a damn fine song on record, here it lacks spectacle.

Spectacle on the other hand, is what Watain do. Surrounded by corpse paint and flames, theirs is a set that is surprisingly good. Part gig and part Ritual it is a captivating performance of a quality that RTM didn’t expect. “Reaping Death” and “Waters Of Ain” are black metal with a modern bent and even the sceptics are won over.

All that is left is for Behemoth to close things off. And it is a task they perform with aplomb. In many ways the feelgood story of the day, just the fact that front man Nergal has beaten leukaemia to even be here is great news. That they are excellent is merely a bonus, but the from the minute they kick of with “Ov Fire And The Void” to the ending of “Lucifer” they deliever a black metal masterclass.

Beat that, day two!

Saturday, 4 August 2012

TYGERS OF PAN TANG, Agincourt, Diamond Lil @Roadhouse, Birmingham 2/8/12

It’s not often that you get to see a song called “Sex Injuries” – in fact it might well be the daftest song title in history – but then, if you ever watch Diamond Lil you probably will. Stalwarts of the Brummie basement scene, Lil, you suspect might always be at that level. There’s nothing wrong with their songs, but nothing that makes you desperate to see them again.  “Bottom Of A Glass” is pretty catchy but that is about as far as it goes.

Agincourt are the second support band tonight and they are much, much better. Back in May RTM saw them support rather ludicrous power metallers Stuka Squadron and they were an entertaining and engaging affair. Tonight is no different. The song they are named after is perhaps their best, but their twin guitar onslaught is worth watching.

Time, it seems, has not been overly kind to the Tygers of Pan Tang. Formed in 1978, they were once at the forefront of the NWOBHM movement that spawned some of the greatest bands the world has seen.

However, spin forward 34 years they have reconvened with just one original member (guitarist Robb Weir) and there are barely 20 paying customers here for this gig.

Although this isn’t a reformation that has been a recent affair, indeed the line-up of the five piece has been relatively stable for the past decade (barring last years addition of former Whatever and one-time Almighty bass man Gav Gray) and they appear anxious to play us a lot of their new album “Ambush,” which is out in September. Early indications are that it is going to a pretty decent affair, certainly if CD opener “Keeping Me Alive” and “These Eyes” are anything to go by anyway.

Of course there is an extensive rummage through the back catalogue, set opener “Euthanasia,” “Live For The Day” and perhaps best known song “Spellbound” are enjoyable enough. As is “Don’t Touch Me There” – the problem is that the latter also shows the problem with the concert. Tygers front man Jacopo Meille tries to start a singalong on the chorus line, and there is no response whatsoever. He tries to get clapping started on closer “Rock N Roll Man” but that too dies out.

It's not fault of the bands – or indeed the crowd – it is merely just that evening such as this can never be fantastic, by virture of the fact the tiny audience feels uncomfortable and the band itself can’t be enjoying it too much either. And yet the guitar interplay between Weir and Dean Robertson as well as the class of the new songs, showed the band still have plenty to offer.

It’s a shame, because it had the potential to be fine evening, but ended up not being especially memorable. Pub Rock par excellence, is probably the best way of putting it – which probably isn't what the Tygers of Pan Tang  had in mind.