As the last remnants of what laughingly passed for “Snowmageddon” melted, turning Belfast’s streets to slush and ice, the city’s metallians and assorted other freaks braved the nevertheless freezing temperatures to head to the venue that is fast becoming the local mecca for same, the now iconic upstairs club room at Voodoo.
Zlatanera open the evening’s proceedings inside the suitably dark – and thankfully warm – venue with their dark, demonic grunt and grind. Their set is characterized by three elements: the increasing confidence of Andy Campbell, who over the 18 months or so I have been tracking this band’s development has grown into one of the most assured frontmen on the Norn Iron scene; the huge, rumbling bass lines of Anthony McKee, whose fingerpicked style adds so much warmth to the sound; and the mid-set triptych of songs devoted to Satan. The first of these, ‘Master Of Ceremonies’, pumps and thumps in a manner that, when you can feel your hernia vibrate you know this is seriously heavy shit, and the chanted “enter the cycle, enter the circle” refrain makes you believe in the dark powers far more convincingly than most faux face-painted black metal acts could only imagine in their wettest dreams. They also show it’s all slightly tongue-in-cheek with the “Satan is good, Satan is our pal” playback between ‘Master…’ and the towering ‘A Bad Case Of The Devil’. The band also debut a new song, ‘Delirium Tremens’, which – and frontman Andy guaranteed me this in the bar afterwards – they genuinely never had played together but was frighteningly tight, and demonstrated, as if it was needed, this band’s darkly bright future.
Slomatics were originally supposed to headline this evening, but inexpicably – and despite this being their tenth anniversary gig – dropped down to the middle slot at the last minute. They are a band who live up to their monicker: their slow sludgegrind – a term coined by my soon-to-be stepson (but subsequently copyrighted by his in turn soon-to-be stepdad) – is pulsating and automatically hypnotic, as they build huge, doomy soundscapes which belie their approach of two guitars and no bass. Marty’s vocals are as sharp and precise as his drumming technique, while David and Chris wrench the living daylights out of their instruments in a surprisingly relaxed mien, delivering hugely impactful riffs which gradually build the tension and then hit you with the unstoppable force of a tornado you have seen coming for the past 48 hours yet refused to get out of its way. Slomatics have an unusual style, but each and every performance, just like their recorded output, is enthralling and entrancing in a mysteriously subterranean manner. And any band that uses a cowbell is OK in my book!
Bumped up to the headline slot, Hornets have undergone a pretty major line-up change since PM last crossed their path, upgrading to a four piece, with the addition of a dedicated vocalist. However, they have lost none of their animalistic rawness, as they deliver another powerful and passionate set of intense, punky hardcore – the band describe their style as “ThrashPunk” – at its most acerbic and acidic. Their all-too-short set – just seven songs in less than 25 minutes – is taut, just like their granite-solid rhythm section and as and tightly sprung as the vocalist (although he’d have to go some way to beat the intensity of his predecessor, who, the first time I saw the band – in this very venue – smashed his head off a pillar while trying to open up a pit), as well as hard, fast and energetic.
And so, following a short detour via the downstairs bar for a quick inhalation of the finest Tennessee sipping whiskey (purely for medicinal purposes, you understand), it was back into the bracing night air for the brisk walk home, warmed not only by the aforesaid imbibation but the sludgy fires of punky hell and safe in the knowledge that, yet again, I had witnessed evidence that Norn Iron’s metal scene is in a very rude state of health. Bring on the remaining 11 months, mofos and bastids!
Photographs by the author.