Friday the 13th. Unlucky for some, particularly me as I was literally shat on from a great height by some inconsiderate feathery bastard on the morning of this gig. I know they say it’s supposed to be ‘lucky’ but I sure didn’t feel all that lucky. Mucky, yes, but lucky?
Thankfully, this was just about the only bad thing to happen to me on this ill-fated day, and by the evening I was feeling clean and raring to go, although casting a wary eye to the sky the whole journey.
I’m always happy to go to The Star & Garter – I’ve seen a hell of a lot of great shows there over the years, and played a fair few too, and the sound can always be relied upon to be thoroughly crisp and pummelling. Add in that tonight’s show was the first in too long to be promoted by highly-regarded local overlords Future Noise – and our very own Shaman – and I knew my ears would be in for both a battering and a treat.
First to hit the stage tonight were Stoke-On-Trent’s three headed purveyors of instrumental hardcore doom Rise To Thunder, playing what was only their second gig since founding bassman Pete Davegun was tragically killed in December of last year.
Recovering from such a shocking and devastating event must be a hard thing for any band, especially one as tight-knit as RTT, but with new bassist Ki being Pete’s nephew they managed to find a way to carry on and literally keep it in the family. Being a power trio means that bass is an absolutely integral part of the band’s sound, and after watching the set tonight I think it’s safe to say that Pete’s legacy is in very safe hands.
With the bass taken care of and drummer Muff providing the rhythmic and percussive spine it was down to guitarist Al to conjure forth the crushing tones of doom, something he did with aplomb, teasing out glutinous oozing filth and slabs of colossal chug from his guitar and amplifier with skill, fire, and, dare I say it, subtlety. An unusual choice of description for a man delivering downtuned audio-muck at high volume, but it has to be said that Al is one hell of a tasteful player, and this is the key to what makes Rise To Thunder so damn good – there’s a sense of grace to what this band does.
Pounding out thundering instrumental doom shot through with a rich vein of metallic hardcore crossover voodoo, Rise To Thunder‘s sound oozes out of the speakers and coalesces into diamond hard slow-mo riffola with the occasional bristling flurry of speed. Al alternates between massive open chords and shuddering chug whilst Ki glides behind him like a circling shark and Muff takes the direct absolutely-no-fucking-about percussive route. Think Sleep Volume 1, Karma To Burn minus the stoner angle, early Melvins, The Obsessed and shades of Stinking Lizaveta and you’re definitely in the right ballpark.
Slow-grinding their way through half an hour or so of choice cuts – some of which will be on their forthcoming album – Rise To Thunder filled the venue with their thick, soupy, chewy sound and drew quite the warm response from the respectable crowd. As an opening shot it’s a display of power that’s anything but vulgar and I pity the band that has to follow it.
As it happens that band was Tombstones, a Norwegian trio who were for me somewhat of an unknown quantity, having not come across them previous to tonight. The three hirsute musicians took to the stage to a mostly empty room and unleashed a sound not unlike that of Saint Vitus if they were plugged directly into the national grid, mixed in with a heaping helping of early Acid King, the rockin’ end of Melvins and the gritty filth of Venom, all delivered with a serious abundance of wired energy – particularly spilling out from guitarist/vocalist Bjørn-Viggo Godtland, who lurched and reeled around the stage whilst wringing degenerate filth from his guitar and delivering foot-on-monitor strident vocals, slightly submerged beneath that axe-filth.
Headband-sporting bassist Ole Christian Helstad took the lions share of the vocals and, whilst not quite as energetic as his guitar-wielding bandmate, was full of enthusiasm for playing at a venue that has played host to a number of his own peers and favourite bands.
Aided by the jazzy Bill Ward shuffle of drummer Jørn Inge Woldmo, Tombstones easily won me over before their opening number was even finished. I was a little perturbed to see how long it took the room to start to fill up again but, ultimately, I was so engrossed in what was going on onstage that I really wasn’t paying that much attention to the people around me. Anyway, it was their loss.
Reconstructing the set with the benefit of having been able to check out their back catalogue after the fact I’m pretty sure that most of their fantastic set was drawn from their last two albums, 2012’s Year of the Burial and their most recent opus, 2013’s Red Skies and Dead Eyes – I know for a fact that they played that album’s opening number Black Moon – along with a cheeky cover of Melvins ripper The Bit, delivered in sterling fashion and incorporating a nod to my own Melvins shirt.
Tombstones infectious energy spilled off the stage and spread through the room, which thankfully filled up as the set progressed, winning over just about everyone I’m sure. I loved every minute.
Now, tonight’s headliners Witch Mountain are a band who seem to inspire a lot of love in ‘the scene’, and they certainly had a contingent of ardent fans in the crowd tonight – with a healthy female quotient too, somewhat of a rarity at most of the beard-dominated events I frequent – but me? I’m just not quite convinced. Sorry
Obviously I’ve been aware of the band for quite some time, I’d have to have been living in a cave for the last few years to not have, but something about the band has always left me cold…mostly the vocals of Uta Plotkin.
Sure, she can sing – I’m not disputing that – but to my ears, she can sing a little too well, if you know what I mean? Her higher register vocals are lacking in dirt or edge, and so to my ears come off as cloying, kinda verging on that Euro-semi-goth-operatic pseudo-metal that seems to stink up labels like Century Media and Nuclear Blast.
It’s not all bad though as I quite like her lower register vocal, and the throaty growl she sometimes adopts, but for the most part I just find her voice too polite for my taste. Again, sorry kids.
I mean, guitarist Rob Wrong is a Hendrix-inspired shredmonster, ripping insane burning leads and slow-mo riffola out of his upside-down Strat, but that’s not quite enough to win me over I’m afraid, as along with the grating vocals I also realised I had issues with the general tempo of the songs aired tonight, as they all appeared to be in exactly the same plodding rhythm to my ears. Lushly-bearded bassist Charles Thomas and unenthusiastic-looking drummer Nathan Carson were clearly capable but seemed to just deliver every song in an interchangeable lumber, basically giving Wrong a platform from which to showcase his scorching runs and humongous chords, atop which Plotkin wailed one-dimensionally.
Maybe I’m being a little harsh, but their sound just did not gel for me. Tracks like Beekeeper, Shelter and a new one from an album due for release in September were all just cut from cloth of too much similarity and my mind wandered as the set progressed.
The closest comparison I could make to their sound would be to the most recent lineup of Hammers Of Misfortune if they had been severely tranquilised. Plod, plod, plod, wail, wail, wail, shred, shred shred….it wasn’t for me and I bowed out before the set was over.
Ultimately, you can’t like ’em all and, well, I always try to be honest. Often to my detriment but, well, fuck it. Witch Mountain? No sir, I didn’t like ‘um.
Scribed by: Paul Robertson
Photos by: Lee Edwards