2022: A Return To Gigs
|Written by:||musclassia, omne metallum|
The summer of 2021 saw the first signs of life for live music in a post-Covid world; here in the UK, we had multiple festivals to enjoy in the second half of the year, as well as a decent number of standalone shows from UK bands. However, live music won’t truly be back until bands are able to tour across borders, and 2022 is showing signs of us returning to that state. With the UK dropping pretty much all Covid-related restrictions, both for everyday life and international travel, there have been European and American bands setting foot in the country to play loud and hard, and two of Metal Storm’s British contingent were there as witnesses.
Across a period of two weeks in late February/early March, musclassia (Matt) and omne metallum (Adam) made it to five gigs in London between them, one of which they attended together. Here is their summary of 15 days of metal.
Thursday 24th February: Rolo Tomassi, Oval Space (support from Pupil Slicer and Heriot)
Musclassia: My first gig of 2022 wasn’t the easiest to get to; this was my first time going to the Oval Space in Hackney, which was a solid 90-minute journey to reach (thankfully the return journey was smoother). Still, having enjoyed a great performance by Rolo Tomassi in Brighton last November, I was very much up for seeing them again so soon afterwards, particularly with their excellent new album, Where Myth Becomes Memory, recently released. The band were actually stocking their own beer, Where Malt Becomes Memory, at the gig, which was surprisingly pleasant.
On first was Heriot, a new discovery for me, but an enjoyable one. Playing a noisy, angry industrial-tinged strain of metallic hardcore, the group smashed through a set full of atmosphere and feisty breakdowns, highlighting themselves as a group to keep an eye on. The group got Pupil Slicer’s Kate Davies on stage for a guest appearance, which was unfortunately undermined by the microphone being effectively muted for half her time on stage (you’d think you’d make sure the mic was audible when you had an exciting cameo lined up); Pupil Slicer followed this example by featuring several guest vocal slots during their own set. Making minor waves with last year’s debut record, Mirrors, Pupil Slicer have built up a bit of hype already, and had just released a new single, “Thermal Runaway”, earlier in February, which they played in their set. To be honest, considering their classification as mathgrind and how abrasive I remember Mirrors being, Pupil Slicer’s set didn’t hit as hard as I thought it might, but it was enjoyable enough while it lasted.
However, I was very much there to see Rolo Tomassi only, and I was rewarded with a great set. Fans of their earlier albums might despair, as not a single song from prior to Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It made an appearance, but as someone who ranks their two most recent records high above their other material, I was more than satisfied by this set (although, considering how many songs from Where Myth Becomes Memory made the cut, how did “Prescience” not make an appearance?!); the Time Will Die songs sounded just as great as they did when I saw them play effectively the whole album in November, and the new songs also landed nicely. Probably the standouts were “Rituals”, “Labyrinthine” and the predictably awe-inspiring closer “A Flood Of Light”, but I couldn’t have any complaints about any of the songs: a good start to gigs in 2022.
Meanwhile, on the same night...
Thursday 24th February: Evile, Boston Music Rooms (support from Divine Chaos and Tortured Demon)
Omne: Having originally planned to catch Aborted on Wednesday, the cancellation of the European tour reduced my three-day run of shows to two. As big of a blow as that was, I was excited to see both Evile and Kurokuma again, having caught both at last year’s Bloodstock Festival.
Thursday night saw a three-band bill comprising some of the best names in the British thrash scene at the moment, the last show on a short tour that had been the first extended run by veterans Evile since returning after a few years of being largely inactive.
Having unfortunately missed them last year at Bloodstock, I was eager to see if Tortured Demon lived up to the hype live and learn whether their strong studio material from In Desperation’s Grip translated well live. This young trio from Oldham did not lack conviction or presence in their performance, showcasing some of their promise and power with solid renditions of “In Desperation’s Grip” and “The Invasion”. Unfortunately for the band, a muddy sound hindered and blunted the impact of their set, while the lack of a second guitarist meant they could not bring the same level of power live as they do on record. Certainly one to keep an eye on in future, hopefully this is just the start of an upward growth for the band.
Up next were Divine Chaos, a band riding a wave of momentum after a solid showing at Bloodstock last year, now sounding like a well-oiled machine that can drop a solid performance at the drop of a hat. Tearing through the likes of “Suicide Salvation” and “Murder For Sale”, the band had the tracks to back up their evident talents, translating well live and having the packed audience in the palm of their hands from start to end, taking advantage of the moment to release the kind of pent-up cathartic energy that a lack of live metal leads to.
It was then the turn of returning heroes Evile; however, it was odd and disappointing to see a band like Evile play a small venue such as the Boston Music Rooms, with the crowded room suggesting the band could have drawn well in a larger venue. This, however, had the benefit of treating those in the small room to an intimate show that packed in hits from across their back catalogue, playing a set that had something for everyone. While the biggest reaction was saved for tracks from Enter The Grave and Five Serpent’s Teeth, new additions like “The Thing (1982)” were well received, with the crowd being whipped into a frenzy of moshing and headbanging. Ol Drake may be a man of few words, keeping his comments between songs short and instead choosing to use their time to cram in as many songs as possible, but he has transitioned well to the dual role of vocalist/guitarist with ease; neither element seemed to suffer as a result of the other. With solid renditions of “Cult”, “Enter The Grave” and the surprise inclusion of “Descent Into Madness” being among the highlights of a packed setlist, Evile showed that they were ready and able to once again challenge for the title of best British thrash band.
Omne: Deciding I had to experience Kurokuma again after a strong outing at Bloodstock, the band had made the decision to attend even easier after releasing the solid Born Of Obsidian earlier this year. While I had jumped into the unknown last time, I was more than hyped to hear some of the most crushing and hypnotic riffs played through some loudspeakers once more. Attending alongside Matt, I ventured outside my usual domain of musical tastes, with a line-up that spanned extreme prog, post-metal and sludge; expanding my horizons one headbang at a time. While last night saw the bands play to a packed house, tonight’s attendance was way down on what it had been, with at most about fifty people being in attendance as the headliners took to the stage.
Musclassia: This was definitely the quietest of the four shows I went to during this period attendance-wise (although it had some competition, as I’ll mention later), but it just about filled out to a respectable audience by the time the later bands were playing. This wasn’t the case for openers Bile Caster, a three-piece sludge band from Leicester who performed to at most a couple-dozen early attendees, including ourselves.
Omne: This band was a surprise inclusion to tonight’s line-up, with me only discovering they were playing upon turning up at the venue. With zero knowledge about the band and their style, it was only as they played that I became aware of their doom/sludge style. While they hit hard initially, it was a set that had diminishing returns the longer it went on, with their performance being too repetitive and somewhat monotonous, meaning the band started well but lost my interest not long after. I did, however, feel sorry for the lads, with much of the would-be audience elsewhere as they opened up.
Musclassia: As someone with a stronger taste for sludge than Adam, I got a bit more out of Bile Caster, but agreed that it lacked a bit in terms of variety. Atvm, who made a stir with their debut record Famine, Putrid And Fucking Endless last year, countered that with a frenzied set. Frontman Harry Bray went bare-chested and gave a dementedly energetic performance, which the rest of the band backed up. I had quite a lot of fun with this set, and given the pace of most of the other groups playing tonight, they provided a welcome burst of adrenaline.
Omne: I surprisingly have found myself a fan of the band’s Famine, Putrid and Fucking Endless since I began listening to it in anticipation of this show; their brand of razor-sharp riffs mixed into post-metal experimentation caught my ears from the first listen. Live, however, I found my interest wavering; while the band were extremely hyperactive in their performance, I found the material didn’t translate as well live and the music came off as if a music school graduate downed several cans of Red Bull and hallucinogens before deciding to play the first thing that came to their minds. While “Slug” and “Sanguinary Floating Orb” came close to bridging the gap between their studio material and live renditions, I wasn’t as engaged as I hoped to be for much of the set.
Up next were Under, a band who combined the post-metal nature of Atvm with Bile Caster’s sludge, slotting in well here as it combined the strengths of both of the prior bands to make for the most entertaining performance of the day so far. While the band held my attention, I can’t say much of it was particularly memorable outside of two separate moments, with one track seeing the two vocalists scream about referees (yet saying nothing about VAR) and another song being about graverobbing (I think, anyway).
Matt: Although I know I enjoyed this band, I must confess that of the time of writing, my only memory is the bit where they repeated I think ‘gravediggers’ 10 times in a row mid-song, as alluded to by Adam above.
Omne: Once again, Kurokuma produced a performance that stole the show (though it wasn’t hard by today’s standard, it was even better than Evile’s performance yesterday). I have to give credit to the opening bands, however; while their performances earlier may not have been much to my liking, they saved the day by filling in for the bassist/vocalist of Kurokuma, who had tested positive for Covid that morning. Learning the set on the ride to London, they performed admirably and ensured that the show went on, with the vocalist from Atvm even managing to headbang wildly while singing the lyrics off of his phone at the same time.
With Born Of Obsidian being in regular rotation since its release earlier in February, I was familiar with the band’s crushing hypnotic grooves, headbanging in unison with the rest of the audience who were as transfixed as each other. With “Smoking Mirror” sounding just as dominating live as it is on record, the makeshift Kurokuma hit the ground running and never relented until the end of their set, the fifty or so minutes on stage more than making up for what had up until then been an underwhelming evening of music.
Musclassia: Yep, full props to the drummer and bassist from Under and the vocalist from Atvm for filling in during this set. I have to say, I didn’t actually recognize them playing “Smoking Mirror” during the set, which I was actually really looking out for. The only song I recognized for sure was “Sacrifice To Huitzilopochtli”; I might’ve just been too caught in the groove to pick up on the other songs from Born Of Obsidian, or they may have had to dig into their earlier songs to find material the stand-ins could learn on short notice. Nevertheless, this was the third epic performance from Kurokuma’s I’d experienced in the past 12 months; this is not a band to miss live.
Omne: With that, my evening drew to a close; while I had spent much of the evening floating between bored and mildly interested, Kurokuma left me with a big smile on my face (while several beers had left me with some wobbly legs) that capped off a fun two-day break of live music.
Musclassia: I’d preferred the supporting bands to Adam, but Kurokuma definitely stole the show. For me, it was a gig-free week coming up before two more shows to get stuck into.
Tuesday 8th March: Lorna Shore, Electric Ballroom (support from Distant and Cabal)
Musclassia: While Kurokuma had struggled to fill the Boston Music Rooms, Lorna Shore had the opposite problem; when they first announced a tour for January 2022, their London show was at the same venue, before being swiftly upgraded to The Dome, then O2 Islington, then Heaven, before being delayed for March due to Covid. When the American deathcore juggernauts finally reached London, they were playing to a sold-out crowd at the Electric Ballroom, and people were eager; I arrived shortly before doors open, and this was by far the longest queue to get into the Electric Ballroom that I’d ever seen, such that when the first band of the night made it on stage, the venue was already pretty full.
Supporting Lorna Shore were two more deathcore bands, Cabal from Denmark and Distant from The Netherlands. To be honest, there’s not too much I can say about them; I wasn’t really into deathcore before I discovered Shadow Of Intent and Lorna Shore a couple of years ago, and these bands kinda reminded me why. Too many breakdowns and too few hooks meant both these bands flew by without making much of an impact on me.
Still, I was expecting that; I was fully here for Lorna Shore. Well, we are truly past Covid based on their set; it’s been a while since I’ve been in a crowd where instead of a mosh pit, there was just a wave of movement in the first section of the crowd. This was an intense experience, as the band smashed out the ...And I Return To Nothingness EP before blasting a few of the singles from Immortal (with one Flesh Coffin track slid in), with the set ending with “Immortal”. Truth be told, something was lost in the transition from album to the live setting with Lorna Shore’s music; the symphonics just didn’t cut through the mix. On the flip side, Will Ramos is every bit as beastly on vocals on stage as in the studio, with everyone enjoying the ludicrous breakdown in “To The Hellfire”. Of the four gigs I went to in this period, this was probably the least exceptional one, but I’m still glad I got to see this band, and it’s encouraging to see US bands able to now tour the UK.
The final show in this little flurry was one that other members of the Metal Storm community have already seen as part of the tour’s French stint. I’d seen Conjurer play at the Boston Music Rooms venue below The Dome back in October 2019, but seeing how rammed their set was at Damnation Festival in November, I expected this to be rammed. Not the case: The Dome was bizarrely quiet when Rugby’s finest (hometown represent) took to the stage and smashed straight into “It Dwells”, the lead single from their upcoming sophomore record Páthos that was released the day after this show. As the band smashed through what sounded like a couple of other new songs, as well as hits from their debut such as “Choke” and “Hollow”, the room filled up and the crowd slowly livened up, with a little mosh pit sheepishly forming. Given the quiet nature of the crowd, this isn’t my top Conjurer experience, but it was still a quality performance, and once again bassist Conor Marshall decided to venture into the pit during the final song.
Conor Marshall in the pit
I’ve now seen Conjurer several times, but this would be my first time seeing Celeste, and wow, what a show. I have to admit, as someone not particularly acquianted with their music, most of the set blended together, but I can’t complain with a blend like this; the percussive barrage, huge riffing and epic atmosphere (accentuated by the red flashlights each member wore on their head) made this an enthralling experience. After a brief break, the band came back for an encore, at which point the crowd finally came to life, a respectable mosh pit forming for “Cette Chute Brutale”.
It was a pretty epic finale to both the night and the fortnight of gigs; it’s a few weeks until the next one that I’ve got a ticket to, but hopefully this is a positive sign of things to come in terms of frequent live music by quality acts.
||Written on 16.03.2022 by|
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