I’d been looking forward to this show for ages, yet it felt somehow weird to say as much. And after the truly horrific events that took place in Paris on Friday 13th November, it honestly felt like even more of a coming together of friends and like-minded heavy music folk in the genre’s true birth city.
Grimpen Mire frontman Paul van Linden passed away on the 9th June 2015. Although I can’t claim to know Paul personally at all myself, I always thought he and his band were beyond killer. A pummelling maelstrom of genuine angst and rage, of riff and grime, of salt and roaring pain; the trio, helmed by Paul’s guttural insanity and ferocious bass tone, frankly bullied any and all audiences from whichever stage they slumped their weighty groove across. That drummer & close friend Ian Davis, together with Sirius Promotions, could instantly assemble a line-up of the UK scene’s knarliest, snarliest bands to play a Birmingham benefit show (no band charged a fee to play) in order to raise money for Paul’s young daughter Lizzy’s future school tuition is nothing short of a beautiful tribute to a quiet, humble, dry-humoured Brummie with an inhuman stage presence. Buying my ticket within hours of them going on sale I always knew that tonight there would be riffs, there would be beers, there would be tears, there would be raffles and there would be more hugs than any gig had seen before, but yet I was still unprepared for such a moving (in all sense) tribute to a man much loved.
Torpor kick the day off a little after 4.30pm and waste no time in sending us down to their grisly bowels of despair. Parting ways with vocalist Nats Spada has opened the remaining trio of Lauren Mason (bass), Jon Taylor (guitar) and Simon Mason (drums) out into a more rounded sea of further possibilities and directions, where all three members contribute vocals into a shrouded vortex of bleak destruction. Simon spends half his time behind the kit and the other half out on the floor bellowing his verses back into the triangle completed by Jon and Lauren, returning only to whip the London threesome back into their Meshuggah-meets-The Art of Burning Water blackened insanity.
Undersmile are up next and come bearing their usual tirade of sickly bleakness fronted by the wryly smiling faces of leading ladies Hel Sterne and Taz Corona-Brown. The guitarists, ably backed by their respective husbands Tom McKibbin and Olly Corona-Brown in the rhythm section, set the controls for the heart of the kaleidoscope of mystical horror and wretchedness that riffs alone simply cannot reach. Slowly swaying through three lengthy cuts from their HUGE latest LP Anhedonia, the gigantic Atacama Sunburn and Song Of Stones are surpassed only by the frankly devastating beauty of strength that is Sky Burial. As always, they remain a truly unique act in a sea of dead-snaking doom and with Lizzy van Linden watching on from the front of the crowd in her pink ear-protectors, their enchantment somehow makes the room feel more powerful and more together than ever.
Did someone say “riffs”? Well, chances are it was probably someone associated with Serpent Venom who hit the stage with an intensity that demonstrates why they are simply one of the THEE great doom acts today, globally. Taking the classic metal template forward into a new dawn, Nick Davies (bass) and Paul Sutherland (drums) smash out a groove deeper than the Ironbridge Gorge. Roland Scriver’s swirling riffage circles the venue, swallowing up and then coughing back out ears, brains and souls in a glorious outpouring of sheer Iomminess. Topping that lot off: Garry Ricketts’ vocals are up there with the greats of the genre and his enormous, haunting wail is as enrapturing as it is soul-cleansing. Years from now, when Pentagram and Trouble are long gone, wrinkled old rockers will raise a glass and cackle away the memories of that time they saw Serpent Venom play every pub in both London and Birmingham alike.
The Cellar venue is filling up now and that stack of bottled ales behind the bar is starting to take a dent or two. The audience are primed and ready to shake a limb or four and fresh from supporting High On Fire at the Scala, Slabdragger arrive intent only on riffing everyone senseless. Sam Thredder (guitar) and Yusuf Tary (bass) may look like pint-sized schoolchildren on stage backed by their giant ginger labrador of a drummer Jack Newnham, but their riffcraft and bellowing vocals are as polished as they are vitalising. The tectonic plate-shifting epic monsters of Burden and newbie Mercenary Blues from the long-awaited, February-due Rise Of The Dawncrusher album rattle skulls and bootys alike across the room. But it’s the tried and tested Regressions of Erronius Maximus and Murky Fen that truly ape the audience out as Sam wisely urges us all to “punch your mate in the face… yeah?” Slabdragger are on fire right now, so get out of the way or face being left behind in their dusty trench.
After Slabdragger’s giddying mess of carnage, Yusuf remains plugged in and something very special indeed happens next on stage. The remaining members of Grimpen Mire – guitarist Jim Goad and drummer Ian Davis – take the stage to hammer through a short set of ‘Mire classics in Paul’s honour with Yusuf heroically stepping in to replace the late, great man on bass and lead vocals. Put simply, it’s a triumph of both emotional weight and muscular musicianship as (after only one practise jam) Yusuf absolutely dominates Bloodcult Reborn, Crawl To Cold Earth and Grimpen Mire Part2, putting his own stamp on the deafening disembowelment of sludge-laden power. The audience sing along with every word and surge to the front of the room as one, drinks held aloft towards Paul’s great legacy. It’s heavy, in every sense, but this is one Grimpen Mire no-one really wants to crawl free of.
I must admit, I’m less familiar with the emotional strains and mighty riffdom of The Wounded Kings, so I slink to the back of the room to take stock and catch my breath. Nonetheless, the Londoners whip up a passion and frenzied energy in the room that is unmatched by the other acts of the evening as George Birch and Alex Kearney lead the charge through the hypnotic grooves and enchanting rhythms of one of the finest doom acts of our fair isle.
There’s only one band tonight who cannot be followed. Partly because, well, they’re the headliners, but also partly because they’re fucking Conan! With bassist Chris Fielding holed up manning the mixing desks back at the Jon Davis-owned Skyhammer Studios, former bass-player Phil Coumbe is back to fill the void alongside Jon and powerhouse drummer Rich Lewis. After filling the Cellar with their shrouds of amplification, the trio slam into a turbo charged new song with Rich blasting away from the off, before slipping back down into first gear for the epic crawl of Krull. Jon makes an impassioned speech, recalling fond memories of time spent with Paul van Linden on tour in 2012 and everyone toasts the passing of the man of the hour before Conan crank up gradually through the gears. Hawk As Weapon, Battle in the Swamp, Total Conquest and a crushing Foehammer round off a mini greatest hits set from the heaviest thing out of Liverpool since Stan Collymore’s waistline. The mob goes wild, necks are wrecked and the sweat and beer pours as it always has done and surely always will.
The night ends in triumph. Hugs are embraced, pints are sunk, raffle prizes are won and over £3,000 is raised in aid of Lizzy’s future college tuition. Those with a remaining glint in their eye, bands and fans alike, stumble off to Eddie’s Rock Club together to headbang into the early hours to those Thin Lizzy and Alice Cooper songs that no-one ever tires of hearing or dancing like an absolute goon to.
It turns out Grimpen Mire were wrong – this is not a bloodcult reborn, it’s a bloodcult that will never, ever die.
— In loving memory of Paul van Linden and Grimpen Mire.
Scribed by: Pete Green
Photos by: Benedict Culm
Video courtesy of: Letsrock MN