In a weekend of contrasts on Saturday I travelled 5 hours in the blazing sunshine to witness two hours of pure musical theatre as Iron Maiden performed their Maiden England history tour set; delivering a near faultless display to a sold out O2 arena that celebrated the pomp and bombast that has taken them to the top of the industry and kept them there for 30 years.
Sunday night I was driven down to the relatively local setting of Plymouth’s White Rabbit to watch New Orleans most belligerent sons Eyehategod play to a small, but partisan crowd. As the pouring rain lashed the car and made the A30 a treacherous and sombre affair to traverse, it seemed like the universe was saying that no matter your opinion on the subject, God does in fact, hate you too.
From the ultra-slick, multipurpose, entertainment complex, park-like setting of the former Millennium Dome with it’s ticketless system and £28 a time parking to the salubrious grime of Bretonside bus station; a concrete remnant of an era of architecture better off dead, where bizarrely, despite it being Sunday night and the rag tag collection of shops sheltering under the flyover with the Rabbit being largely empty, the tanoy still pipes out bland commercial tripe like Kings of Leon ‘Your Sex Is On Fire’ to anyone who happens to find themselves there.
The venue itself has changed dramatically since I used to promote bands within its walls. Formerly it attempted to be all things to all people, part live venue, part trendy wine bar, part bus station cafe and like all things that diversify too much, it fell way short of any of them. Now properly turned into a dedicated live music venue, the club is dark, hot and intimate with a familiar smell wafting from under the backstage area door. As four policemen casually carted off two guys in handcuffs whilst we waited for the doors to open I couldn’t help think that this is exactly the sort of place EyeHateGod want to be at.
First up Exeter’s Born of the Jackal faced the unenviable prospect of warming up the arriving crowd. Filling in for local band Ishmael who unfortunately had to pull out and despite being from out of town, it being a Sunday night with the spectre of work looming in 12 hours and an evening only the brave or stupid would drag themselves out into, the band threw themselves head long into working the room.
They may have only been in this incarnation for some nine months but ‘Jackal (featuring former members of the highly rated Cry Havoc and Red Mist) sound tight and professional, a full on, in your face metal experience with some rock and rolls grooves that are a distant cousin to Entombed’s death and roll era. They ripped through tracks from their ‘Cult of Anubis’ EP which was released earlier in 2013 and contains four tracks of modern metal that incorporates melody, thrash and more stoner like vibes (albeit in a gleefully vicious way).
Whilst the small stage can often limit the performers, Born of the Jackal possess a frontman who is visually compelling, like a whirling dervish and slowly but surely the band stirred the crowd from their early apathy and left the stage to rousing applause.
Next, Cornish two piece Monolithian was the band I knew nothing of before they struck a note. Comprising of just Simon Walker on bass and vocals and Shannon Green on drums this band play a brand of almost droning death metal doom. The wall of sound that came from the stage was immense for the, on paper, basic set up. Rather than being simple and repetitive chords, Simon wrings a massive spectrum of sound and textures from the bass to the point you are looking for hidden band members, whilst Shannon virtually destroys her drum kit with some of the most focused, pounding drumming of the evening.
Muted in terms of stage presence and audience interaction compared to Born of the Jackal, Monothilian are an incredibly focused duo; at one point Simon gets so lost in the moment that he steps back from the microphone, eyes closed, rocking out still screaming with full force and audible over the churning maelstrom of sound, it really was quite something to witness and the crowd unsurprisingly showed their appreciation. Clearly talented and with their ‘One/Zero’ EP released this year on a variety of labels, it is a clear indication of the song writing talents the band have, not to mention how strangely captivating this heavy doom crew are live.
‘Quick run, get in here, Cops!’
The quick turnaround between bands meant that half the audience were still outside grabbing a quick smoke when the headliners took to the stage. Having travelled not only from the other side of the pond, but further than the slightly freaked out Match of the Day team when Exeter hosted Manchester United in 2005, it was probably a little disconcerting for EyeHateGod to take to the stage in front of a half empty room. However frontman Mike Williams dealt with it in his own unique way.
‘Get the fuck in here, quick, Cops!’
Sure enough as the audience poured back in and the band crunched their way into new track and opening number New Orleans Is The New Vietnam all thoughts of rain, traffic, work could go to hell.
For all their reputation of being misanthropic and deliberately harsh, it is easy to overlook the fact that EHG are actually a very skilled Southern Blues rock band as well. Despite the cramped, sweaty conditions the band carve out huge grooving slabs of metal that share a heritage with close relation Down as well as their sludge swamp cousins Solient Green, meaning that for all the fast and nasty edges there are moments of sheer head banging joy that give you a mile wide grin.
The common thread running through those bands is of course Jimmy Bower and to the right of the stage he cut a laid-back figure, churning out riffs that most bands would die to have written with consummate ease. Having seen the man numerous times in other guises it was fantastic to see him ply his craft up close and personal and the sound in the ‘Rabbit mercifully did them the justice they deserved.
Centre stage the diminutive figure of Williams acts as the focal point, seemingly never far away from the sense of danger, malice and subversion that makes the band so deliciously unpalatable for some; screaming and ranting his way through Objection Overruled, but then hilarious between songs, mocking work in the morning, members of the audience and themselves as he slowly coaxed more enthusiastic reactions from the crowd. This in turn seemed to settle the band and they grew visibly in confidence as the set went on to the point where the momentum towards the end of the set was nothing short of a charging rhino.
Alongside their infamous grind/sludge arsenal of classics like Sister Fucker and White Nigger, the band chuck in a few new numbers including a face melting track called Medicine Noose which sounds as big and bold as anything the band have ever done. With promise of 15 new songs in the bag for the forthcoming album, the fact that the band seems re-energised and as tight as they ever have makes this a mouth watering prospect. Williams in particular seems to be loving life and benefitting from being clean, my friend and photographer Mike remarked between tracks that he has never heard the singer sound so fucking good before.
As the sweat ran from the walls and the temperature soared, the gig came to a climatic finish with Williams intoning ‘Everything is dead… everything… is… dead’ again and again.
As we reeled out into the wet and miserable night, with the tanoy now giving garbled announcements in multiple languages to tourists who weren’t there, I had to reflect that having been blown away two nights running by two very different experiences, one thing I can say is that on the strength of tonight one thing is certain, EyeHateGod are kicking and screaming.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden
Photos by: Michael Tarran