Is Northern Ireland the new mecca for metal
@ Diamond Rock Club, County Antrim
April 21st 2014
Review by Jonathan Traynor
Photographs by Paul Verner
AS four bands took to the stage in a mini-festival in County Antrim, Northern Ireland it is clear that the wealth and breadth of talent in this tiny country on the western rim of Europe is producing a swathe of metal talent.
This was the forth time that the Diamond Rock Club hosted an Easter Metal Festival, and the venue as always managed to lay on a feast for devotees.
While the Diamond is a small venue, it has attracted international names – recently Love/Hate, Cheap Thrill and The Quireboys – and its friendly atmosphere and feel of having a rock and metal family has always been one I have enjoyed: it is a rock venue that you can relax in. But, it is one that hosts more hard rock, with the occasional metal act. This Metalfest IV is part of the organisers reaching out to the heavier side of the spectrum.
I was personally disappointed by the venue only being half full, but it did little to restrain the four acts who displayed the variety of styles of metal that is flourishing in Northern Ireland. The Easter Monday date, the unusually sunny weather and the plethora of upcoming gigs may have effected the turn-out, despite the bargain entry price of £10.
The Diamond Rock Club nestles in a small village near the largest town in County Antrim, and when openers Altus fired their fearsome extreme metal into the tranquil surroundings it was a seismic event.
Relatively new in terms of this incarnation the band ply a pounding mix of Mastadon, 36 Crazyfists and all loudness in between. David Brady’s guitar work is adding a nice edge to the all-out wall of noise, but Matt Cordner’s roar brings it to a peak. As one of the later acts said it was like Satan was in the house, only this time he’s pissed off and ready to fight.
Building on their recent four-track ep release Altus have emerged from a transition stage and the five-piece (completed by Mike Legge on guitar, Darran Gourley on bass and Kieran Fitzsimmons on drums) must surely be considering their next move up the metal ladder.
- The Suffering;
- Nail In The Coffin;
- Stranger Among Men;
- No Escape;
- Beast; and,
- Born To Exist.
A Little Bitter are perhaps one of the most under-rated bands in Northern Ireland. With two albums under their belts and an ep being recorded they have the tunes and manage the difficult balancing act of playing metal, but making it accessible to a rock crowd too.
Jonny Armstrong is not only an accomplished front man, but his guitar work and solos lend a dynamic many bands would envy. I have always admired the coherence of A Little Bitter, and Seamus Donnelly’s work on a six-string bass adds a subtlety to the overall sound; and when necessary giving it a deep and intimidating bottom end.
Powered by Darren Pilkington’s drumming these three accomplished musicians produce a sound of such excellence that many miss out on the lyrical dynamic – although most of the audience keep their contribution to chanting “Genghis” to the song of the same name and joining in on the whispered words for one song: “ …tiny, little, harmless thoughts” is a menacing lyric.
In a nice touch, given his recent illness, A Little Bitter dedicated a cover version of DC’s TNT to Malcolm Young. It was the first time the whole audience woke up.
- Constantly Raining;
- Dark Tide;
- TNT (cover);
- Genghis; and,
- Further I Crawl.
Sinocence been one of the leading metal exponents in Northern Ireland, and have enjoyed success in mainland UK through their touring, further reaching new audiences with last year’s Les-Fest and their Hammerfest appearance this year that saw them cleared out of all the merchandise.
On stage the melodic thrash coherence is both precise and powerful and with a significant back catalogue to build upon the four-piece have raised their game recently – and raised the bar for many contenders – and despite sound problems on stage it did not affect their performance.
Known just by single monickers, Moro’s vocals and rhythm work lead off the set with the single release from No Gods, No Masters Vol1, Long Way Down. It is a statement of intent as the band unite in a set that proves that translating recordings to the live settings works when a band is committed to their art.
Anto on lead struggled with cable issues, but it did not affect the solos that were perfectly complementary to the songs rather than wandering over the fretboard for the sake of it.
Jim (bass) and Davy (drums) anchor what could be overtly complex songs with a variety and solidity that is best witnessed. I’ve always felt that Sinocence are one of the metal acts that can stand up to the mainstream magazines’ prejudices through inherent talent and sheer force of will.
Judging by the audience’s response their use of Prong’s Snap You Fingers, Snap Your Neck is a highlight, and serves to show how Sinocence’s own work can stand with so-called exalted acts.
- Long Way Down;
- Occam’s Razor;
- Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck (cover);
- God Complex;
- Denial; and,
- Metal Box.
There is a pervading opinion that power metal is a sub-genre that disappears up its own ass at times and is such a regressive part of the metal scene that it is too often relegated from headline status in the UK, apart from a few that have the PR push.
Northern Ireland’s Stormzone laugh at such attempts when they know their music reaches parts that other metal bands cannot – through fun, heaviness and a sense that the audience is as an important part of the show as the band.
From the opening tribute to their fans, Where We Belong, Stormzone, led by the charismatic Harv Harbinson, once again show that they are confident and professional. The experience of playing festivals on mainland Europe is pumped into every set, and I, like the others at the Diamond, know every chorus, every singalong moment and every stage move.
Such familiarity can breed contempt, but Stormzone are never complacent. Their Three Kings release from 2013 was extensively aired and The Pass Loning was a highlight with drummer Davey Bates – renowned for his work with NWOBHM heroes Sweet Savage – who shone on this track as well as throughout the set, the orchestrator of all in front of him, and smiling throughout.
The guitar combination of Davey Shields and Steve Moore delivered both rhythm and lead parts, with Moore’s soloing in particular shining.
No nonsense performances were the order of the night, with Graeme McNulty’s bass tight to the rest of the band and Harv announcing that the band were not going to go off and come back on again in the traditional encore cliché, they were just going to complete the set and meet the audience at the bar afterwards.
I’ve always believed that Stormzone are the band that bucks the trend, and show why the the TV channels and radio stations that proport to be rock outlets ignore what many fans really want – good honest heavy metal.
- Where We Belong;
- The Pass Loning;
- Fear Hotel;
- Empire of Fear;
- Beware in Time;
- Memory Never Dies;
- Three Kings;
- Hail The Brave;
- Death Dealer; and
- Legend Carries On.
Overall Metalfest IV showcased four of the real talents in the Northern Ireland scene, but any other six bands from the country could have been picked and delivered.
There is something brewing in the air in this country that is producing more hard rock and heavy metal talent per head of population than most other areas of Europe and further afield. History has shown that from Therapy? Through to Gary Moore and many, many others hard rock and metal is in the lifeblood of musicians in Northern Ireland. Altus, A Little Bitter, Sinocence and Stormzone show that this generation is no different in rallying the metal cry loud and proud.