While the West Midlands is generally regarded as the birthplace of heavy metal, and a hotbed of talent for its continued growth, usually most people’s focus is directed towards Birmingham. However, Wolverhampton also has a pretty active rock and metal scene, and one of its most recognisable and popular venues is The Giffard Arms. From the moment you walk into the place, you can tell you’re in a rock-friendly environment – coffin-shaped tables, near ever-present rock and metal DJs, and of course, the massive, occult-themed throne festooned with inverted crosses, pentagrams, and dragons for arms that dominates the centre of the bar area. The Giffard Arms regularly puts on gigs and club nights on its upper floor, and having been persuaded to attend by the extremely reasonable door price of only £3, I decided to toddle along to this particular evening of metallic entertainment.
First up were Nottingham-based death/thrash quartet Merciless Terror (http://www.myspace.com/mercilessterror), who immediately captured the front row’s attention by dint of vocalist Dale Lindsell launching himself off the stage right at us, lurching around as though possessed. The band’s material came across as a cross between breakneck thrash a la Slayer tinged with 90s death metal in the Benediction/Bolt Thrower vein, with occasional hints of Autopsy-esque doomy trudges appearing to break up the frantic riffage. Unfortunately, their set was rendered slightly disappointing by a combination of factor – firstly, bassist Dan Oldcorn’s contributions were nigh-on inaudible throughout, despite repeated exhortations from the stage. Secondly, some mistakes from the band also marred proceedings, with Dale accidentally kicking drummer Daniel Mulligan’s kick-drum mic over, Mulligan himself dropping a drumstick towards the end of the first track without a replacement to hand, and the band arguing briefly over who was going to count in the last song of the set. Still, when the band got it together, they were an entertainingly energetic, if perhaps somewhat forgettable prospect.
Next up: Birmingham-based death metallers Kataleptic (http://www.myspace.com/katalepticuk). Despite having only played their first live gig back in January 2009, the quintet blasted through their set of brutalising death metal with a seeming effortless ease and great stage presence – bassist Sean Brown in particular windmilling and throwing metal hero shapes like he was playing the main stage at Bloodstock rather than a pub in Wolverhampton. Vocalist Matt Walton possesses a particularly brutal roar, and drummer Scott Benton ably provides a pummelling backdrop to guitarists Luke Davis and Dan Benton’s riffage, which runs the gamut from sinister, tremolo-picked lower-register rumble to rhythmically hammering, brutal chugs. This is death metal without any hint of nods to ‘deathcore’ – the inspiration appears to stem from the likes of Sinister, Monstrosity, Prostitute Disfigurement and the like rather than more contemporary, breakdown-happy acts. As aggressive as the band’s material is, however, their stage banter reveals some sense of humour, such as when the brusing ‘Altercation’ is winkingly dedicated to the vocalist’s ex-girlfriend. A fine set of tightly-played, impressively brutal material.
Finally, it’s time for the headliners, Birmingham-based melodic black metal quintet Amongst The Survivors (http://www.myspace.com/amongstthesurvivors), and the proceedings jump up a level in quality once again. After Kataleptic‘s tightness and commanding presentation of their material, it’s up to the headliners to pull something special out of the bag – and when the band take to the stage, faces smeared in sooty grime and streaks of stage blood, it’s clear that they’re not treating this as some warm-up show. What follows is a set of black metal that is both accessible in its melodicism, invigorating in its usage of bursts of deathly aggression, and impressive in the band’s mastery of song dynamics, played with total conviction and gnat’s-arse tightness by the entire band.
Joe O’Neill’s throat-scraping, piercing screams are unwavering in their intensity, and are ably backed up by guitarist Steve Deathridge’s occasional backing roars – delivered while he and Dan Hughes peel off riffage that veers between tremolo-picking, more death metal-esque spidery runs, soaring lead licks and intricate dual harmonies with consumnate ease. The rhythm section of drummer Austin Miller and bassist Alex Ridley are no less integral to the sound – Miller showing himself able to blastbeat with the best of them, whilst also contributing more tastefully restrained beats and anticipation-building fills where appropriate, Ridley matching the guitarists’ dexterous fretwork rather than settling for less ambitious root-note riffing.
The set flows effortlessly from track to track, with the band having written between-song instrumental segués to make the set a more immersive experience, as opposed to interrupting the flow with atmosphere-puncturing banter. The setlist too is well-chosen and smartly-paced, with each song building in intensity towards the huge, from-the-hips-headbanging-demanding climax of ‘The Greatest Depravation’. By the time the last notes of the final track give way to the DJ’s selection of death metal classics, both the audience and myself are sore-necked, hoarse from screaming along, and raucously applauding a hugely impressive showing.