The Star & Garter, Manchester 14/09/08
Doom cult goblins of the industrial wastelands arise! Feast your bloodshot eyes on the above line up and quake in your dirty converse, my hirsute baseball-capped little friends. Black Sunday had arrived at the Star and Garter – the third Grind To Groove festival, courtesy of Future Noise, in association with Zero Tolerance magazine. Thanks to hard grafting folk like FN, the S & G is now established as the classic northern temple of the slow end of the metal underground, a veritable Victorian red brick Mancunian mecca of aural brutality.
Now first of all, an apology to opening acts Jonathan Ross and They Are Cowards. I missed them, on account of being a bit late. I had a superb roast dinner to polish off back in my countryside retreat before I climbed into the cockpit of my ever reliable Skoda Felicia. Sorry lads. I’ve seen Jonathan Ross countless times on the telly anyway. Smug twat. Anyway, by all accounts both bands were bollock rupturing and really got the day off to a suitably hideous and heavy start.
Nursing a chilled can of Vimto, I ascended the stairs to be confronted by the decelerated metabolic hell slurry of shipyard super sloths Volition. They cracked, wheezed and grinded their way through a classic half hour set of sublime sludge. Frontman David gutter-grunted and banshee-screamed down his mic, held aloft and away from his open Cumbrian gob of power like a tiny metal torch of pain. As ever, these trollish and grizzled booze hounds deliver the shit. Listening to Volition live is akin to being smothered under a great filthy blanket of misery and eternal sleep – they are a dark and frozen day in Barrow crystallised in anguished musical form. For any lover of really deep down low and hateful desperation, Volition never disappoint.
For my pitiful money, Pottery pin-ups Charger were one of the best bands on the day. These gnarled old veterans literally blasted away at the masonry with their astoundingly well drilled bilecore. Now down to a four piece, vocal duties are handled by the Viking guitarist Dan (grunt master) and Paul the manic death muppet drummer (screamalyser). Charger still gloriously symbolise the golden era of the foul midlands noise revolution of the nineties, when der Monkey and Speedhorn were crushing skulls and rupturing inner ears. Old and new tracks, all of ’em as powerful as lust, were put through their exhaustive paces, plus a brand new unrecorded number that was heavier than Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks, intertwined in a flesh cannonball, copulating in a big hessian bag. Charger were fucking bang-on – they gave the day furious pace and energy and attitude, the fuzzbastard power of an oatcake fuelled sex tractor, right in your girly face. Hail Satan.
The artist known as Stuntcock, aka scary gangster film star faced Paul Catten, ripped into ten minutes of extreme and sweaty electronica bionica. Screaming his molten lungs out with an incredibly primal power, Catten sent bloody shockwaves of pure low end energy through our aching bodies. I could actually feel blasts of super bass rippling through the hair on my head. During a lull in the sonic torture, his band mates lumbered onstage and the much anticipated and fiercely pioneering Sontaran Experiment came into physical being. The way these eclectic fuckers wield sound is pure evil genius. Playing the same stunning set I saw them spit out in Stoke back in July, TSE entranced and mesmerised the smelly and heavily tattooed audience with a ground breaking multi-layered meld of harsh fuzz bass, thick heavy guitar, mentally ill musical samples and furiously hit pseudo-jazz rock drums, all finished off with Catten’s genuinely possessed theremin drenched electronic insanity. TSE were the real sword bearers of the day, offering an experience that was at once cerebral and challenging and yet also purely and brutally physical. TSE differ from anything else around – all the other bands check them out and secretly wish they had something this fucking mad.
Bristol’s Gonga played a muscular fifty minute set of stoner sludge that tipped its hat to Josh Homme rock and the free spirit of drug drenched American biker boogie. I had the gut feeling here though, that something quite vital was missing from Gonga’s gig, something to do with attitude and vitality. Sure they went through the motions and rocked out but their performance lacked the effortless, lazy ‘fuck you’ balls out confidence that truly great stoner rock needs. As a result I noticed the sludge humping crowd were not quite as ‘into’ Gonga as they could have been. Nevertheless, Lee assures me that the new album is a real ace grower and top tracks like ‘The Greaser’ were certainly blasted out with proud aplomb. New singerboy Matt threw himself into the performance like a little rock monkey gone hot bong crazy, while the band super jammed themselves into sweat sodden exhaustion. Cool, indeed, but I’m afraid not all the required pieces were in place today for the Gonga squad.
By this stage my strong old back was aching and my newly de-waxed ear drums were beginning to enter a state of entropy. Esoteric took approximately a whole month to soundcheck (mind you, there are half a dozen folk in the band) and finally took the stage a little after ten. Undeniably they had a very expansive, powerful and tightly constructed sound and almost recreated a dark force of nature when in full throttle, akin to a huge electric storm that roared over my head. A solid set of tracks culled from their extensive recording history ensued and the fatigued crowd were once again roused into a state of headus nodus. However, I felt their sound was a little too polished and professional for my particularly foul tastes. Some of the evidence for this was to be found hanging around singer Greg’s partly shaven head – a (gulp) radio mic, last seen strapped around the clipped beard of Midge Ure, circa 1988. What is without question is the fact that Esoteric play massively competent and symphonic pieces of huge brooding quasi-gothic post metal menace and it can be said, in all honesty, that they delivered a well-honed performance of real force and conviction. What Esoteric do, they do very, very well, but…I knew it was just a little too ‘mature’ and slick for my own hideous preferences. In truth, I felt the certain stifling weight of contemporary prog bearing down upon me, a world of dull guitar tech magazines, humourless pretence and squeaky new leather trousers. Still, Esoteric had the unenviable task of ‘topping’ this mighty day off, and after the likes of TSE and Charger, this was always going to be somewhat of a challenge. But, like the seasoned pros they are, they delivered a big majestic metal finale, and the Esoteric fans were grinning like doom gibbons from Whitby. The end.
I felt a bit grimy and battered, like an old brown shoe, by the end of this most excellent day out, and well satisfied that blowing my local church out for just one Sunday was the right thing to do. So home I sped, down the old A34 towards the ancient hills of east Cheshire, proud and satisfied that my inner audio receivers were ringing like bloody buggery, even after wearing ear defenders like a fucking limp dicked speccy-arsed wimp.
Scribed by: Adam Stone
Photos by: Lee Edwards