You know, I can think no better way of spending Easter Monday – for those of you not familiar with it, the end of a weekend of celebrations dedicated to the ancient Semitic goddess of love, war (aren’t they one and the same thing?), fertility and sex – than ensconced in the darkened confines of the best little rock club on the island of Ireland, supping fine Bavarian lager and pretending to be a teenager once again by shredding your neck muscles to four of the finest metal bands this particular corner of the planet called Mosh has to offer…
Ah, Ahoghill. To the outside world, a sleepy little village about 40 minutes drive north west of Belfast, nestled deep in the County Antrim hills – and the heart of Norn Iron’s infamous and equally intolerant ‘Bible Belt’. However, to the rock community, this haven of apparent tranquility has another name: Rock Central. Because, for those you have not read my lengthy ramblings about said place, it is home to the Diamond Rock Club – an intimate little venue above a bar on the corner of the village’s main square (from which it takes its name): a place which draws rock fans from all corners of this little rock ‘n’ roll outpost (and beyond) for what is always guaranteed to be a great night of music, beer, craic and tequila in equal measures…
This Easter Monday, the Diamond was hosting one of its rare forays into the heavier end of the rock spectrum, with its fourth annual Metalfest: hospitals were alerted, David Cameron’s COBRA committee was prepared for an emergency meeting and NATO were on standby – fuck Putin and the Ukraine, this was going to be genuinely messy!
Openers Altus (https://www.facebook.com/AltusBelfast) are quite possibly the heaviest band to have ever played this beautifully appointed venue (it’s better known for its classic/retro rock leanings, but promoter Derwin has a blackened metallian’s heart beating deep within). Now, regular PM readers will know I am a big fan of this young band, and believe they have huge potential; but, at the same time, I (along with other long-time followers) have been somewhat sceptical about their new direction since the arrival of new vocalist Matt Cordner.
On the strength of this evening’s showing, however, I have to say that their harder edged approach is slowly growing on me: my scepticism has never in any way been directed at the singer, as he is an imposing and impressive frontman who has helped inject a new confidence into the band and, if anything, has helped the four musicians draw more out of themselves, as the band’s overall sound is maturing and growing in confidence as they re-integrate more of their former groove metal feel into their newer ‘core approach. Bassist Darran Gourley, in particular, has become extremely confident, taking a more central role on stage, while Kieran Fitzsimons’ drumming has tightened his technique to a level of precision that it previously lacked.
It had been a long time (too long) since A Little Bitter (https://www.facebook.com/pages/A-Little-Bitter/185235472447) last graced a stage, but the trio definitely were glad to be back. They are a band who are hard to categorize – which is both difficult for a reviewer, but also a refreshing delight: if forced to, the best descriptive is hard hitting classic rock, bolstered by the added thump of Seamy Donnelly’s six-string bass, with a melodic but dark edge, combined with elements of progressive metal. Musically, they are so tight you couldn’t slip a razor blade between the cracks, while Jonny Armstrong’s vocal sounds as if Lucifer himself is emanating from the microphone, with his deep, harmonic delivery, as the band unleash a headbanging fury upon the club’s dancefloor. They also introduce a nice touch with a cover of AC/DC’s ‘TNT’, dedicated with affection to Malcolm Young.
Sinocence don’t fuck about as, despite the distraction of the arrival of a rather unusual bunch of particularly hairy Playboy bunnies, they crash into ‘Long Way Down’, a song possessed of a main riff so punishing its guaranteed to crush the North Wall as it pummels and levels all before it. The band, however, prove they are fallible, when bassist Jim Seymour (who seems to have taken over such duties) introduces ‘Occam’s Razor’ instead of ‘A Coda For Self Slaughter’, but Anto of the Night Watch is quickly on the case and ensures the Sins’ defences are raised…
If it’s possible for Sinocence (https://www.facebook.com/sinocence) to be so, then this performance is slightly more restrained than their recent demolition of the Limelight (http://planetmosh.com/sinocence-bull-riff-stampede-limelight-2-belfast-05052014/) but it’s one that suits the atmosphere – although when ‘Occam’s Razor’ finally comes around it is played with a new, sharper edge. A Sinocence set is not for the faint of heart as you need to be prepared to answer the clarion call of “wake the fuck up”: if you haven’t done so, then the visceral viciousness of ‘Perfect Denial’, with Davy’s demonic drumming and Moro spitting fire in the lyrics, will rip your spine out at 100 paces. The guys are on absolute fire at the moment, delivering live sets which almost defy description and building anticipation for the second part of their ‘No Gods No Masters’ EP series to almost tsunami-inducing levels.
This may be a small club show, but this is the sort of venue and gig that truly shows the merit of a band, and Stormzone do not scrimp when it comes to proving that the dynamics of every single show – be they to 60, 600 or 600,000 people – are of the utmost importance. Harv is the consummate frontman in this regard, reaching out to every corner of the venue and drawing his audience close to his chest, while at the same time delivering (alongside the rest of the band, of course) a show fitting of the most humungous stadium on the planet of Mosh…
If there is one band who do not know how to deliver a bad show, it most definitely is Stormzone: the five guys pour their hearts and souls into every second of their performances, playing with a passion and genuine enjoyment for what they do – I mean, if anyone can show me any other musician who plays an entire 90 minute set with a bigger grin on his face than Basher Bates then I’ll buy them a pint of JD!
It’s a set familiar to diehard fans, from the suitably histrionic opener of ‘Where We Belong’ (a song which epitomizes the spirit of this band) through the immense ‘Immortals’ into one of the best drum intros in the business, that for the brooding ‘The Pass Loning’, the harmonized solos of ‘Secret Gateway’ to the anthemic ‘Three Kings’ and the atmospheric ‘Empire Of Fear’. Despite the calmness outside, inside it is definitely the ‘Night Of The Storm’ while the soaring ‘Beware In Time’ brings even the most hardened metallian into the arms of his beloved and ‘Spectre’ surprisingly leaves every glass in the bar intact as Harv hits the highest note in his register.
As the last note of the arm-waving, throat-shredding, knee-quaking ‘The Legend Carries On’ echoes around the room, leaving every hair on the back of every neck standing on end, Stormzone leave this small venue, filled with diehard fans, knowing that there is only one place[flickrapi user=”planet mosh” get=”gallery” size=”z” count=”100″] they belong – and that’s front and centre with their hair flying, their necks snapping, their JD in their bellies and damning the consequences the next morning.
Where We Belong / Immortals / The Pass Loning / Secret Gateway / Three Kings / Empire Of Fear / Night Of The Storm / The Memory Never Dies / Beware In Time / Hail The Brave / Spectre / Death Dealer / The Legend Carries On
Photographs by Paul Verner.