A yearly event hosted by Digbeth’s The Old Wharf pub, organised by Black Scorpion Promotions (known less formally to their many friends and admirers as Dawn and Ian) and with backline gear provided by Marshall, the Brumstock Underground Rock-Metal Festival was a three-day showcase of some of the Midlands’ best and brightest rock and metal acts – and with the whole thing being a free admission event run to raise funds for the Birmingham Childrens’ Hospital, during it’s existence it was both an excellent way to be introduced to some particularly promising acts as well as donating towards a worthy cause.
I’m using the past tense because, sadly, this year’s installment of the Brumstock Festival was purported to be the last – BSP are calling it a day, much to the dismay of many of the punters present and a number of the bands performing on The Old Wharf’s stage – many of whom exhort Dawn and Ian to change their mind about shuttering BSP. Still, there’s no time to be melancholy – from the time the doors opened on the first day to the moment I eventually staggered out into the evening, having missed my last bus home and having to resort to drunkenly pleading with a driving-license-holding friend to pick my stranded ass up, there was beer to be drunk, and metal to be absorbed.
Kicking off proceedings were Birmingham-based melodic death metal/prog newcomers Orylyus (2.5/5). I’m not kidding when I describe them as newcomers, either – I was told that Brumstock was only their second live performance as a band. The sextet certainly have a keen sense of visual presentation – singer Andy Joinson appears onstage draped on an appropriately shabby-looking monk’s cowl, singing into a microphone whose stand is wreathed with vines, while the rest of the band take to the stage caked into blood and grime. Unfortunately, however, the stage in The Old Wharf is hardly the largest, leaving the band fighting somewhat for room. After a fittingly gloomy, symphonic intro tape, the band launch into a set of speedy material, characterised by sweeping orchestral passages, frantic double-kick-driven drumming and a trade-off between intricately melodic guitar playing and the odd prog-tastic keyboard solo. Unfortunately for the group, their live inexperience combined with the cramped confines of the stage caused them some issues – Joinson broke an XLR cable fairly early into proceedings, while the band’s uncomfortable proximity in such cramped conditions caused one of the guitarist’s hair to get caught in the other’s headstock – amusing from the crowd, certainly, but it punctured the atmosphere they were going for somewhat. Still, despite an up-front sound that took a while to clear and some nervous wobbles in tightness and timing, the band managed to acquit themselves acceptably well.
Next up were Dudley-based thrash metallers Incendia (3/5), who benefited from a clearer sound than that afforded to Orylyus as well as from clearly having somewhat more experience at playing live. The band’s particular brand of from-grooving-to-grinding thrash requires a synchronicity between the players to fully nail the tempo changes, not to mention the occasionally-deployed dual solos such as those featured within the set’s highlight track, ‘Say Your Prayers’. The band’s original material showed a knack for balancing breakneck, early-Sepultura-esque thrash with groovier, more Pantera-like mid-tempo headbang-worthy passages, while the vocalist’s snarls and growls were pleasingly vicious. His clean vocals, however, were less impressive, showing something of a lack of range – which made the band’s choice of covers during their set particularly baffling. Running through a somewhat under-rehearsed version of Velvet Revolver‘s ‘Slither’, the singer chose to interpret Scott Weiland’s performance as a sort of gravelly shout, while a run-through of Dio‘s ‘Holy Diver’ – well, it just really shouldn’t have happened.
Following Incendia were Birmingham-based trio Meat Hook (4/5), who proceeded to tear the audience’s faces off with a set of high-octane punk/metal which showcased vocalist/guitarist Meaty Mikey unleashing rabid, strangled barks that were rarely even within nodding acquaintance of a tune (and were all the more threatening for it) and frantic, Gallows-meets-Sick Of It All shards of lacerating riffage, all while bassist Meaty Jake added ample weight to the slashing riffs and occasional furious soloing from Mikey, and drummer Jay gradually worked himself into a flailing frenzy with aggressive, heavy-handed drum-pounding that reached near grindcore-esque levels of intensity from time to time. For all the band’s unhinged bluster and full-throttle aggression, there was a surprising amount of technicality buried beneath the charging aggression – though perhaps the only opportunity to take a step back and consider that during the trio’s set was the brief mid-set hiccup when the drummer lost his place during a song, necessitating a do-over. Luckily, the band didn’t lose their sense of humour over it. “Looks like we need to teach the drummer our songs,” Mikey confided in the audience. “Don’t worry – we’ll beat him up for it later.”
So, it’s entirely possible that while Birmingham death metallers Haerken (4.5/5) were taking to the stage resplendent in kilts, knight’s tunics, monk’s robes and various other medieval accoutrements, Meat Hook‘s drummer was receiving a kicking outside – however, while he might have blanched at the rough treatment, he could hardly have asked for a more appropriate soundtrack. Vocalist Laird Logan (The Scot)’s guttural, scraping roars describe tales of ancient warfare over a melodic death metal backing that recalls a more Renaissance Faire-esque version of Amon Amarth, or perhaps more accurately, an alternate-universe version of Bal-Sagoth, slowed to more crushing tempos and stripped down to a more primal, less orchestra-happy form. The band put on the most assured, confident performance of the evening – Laird Logan never once breaking character (if, indeed, he was ever ‘in’ character), addressing the audience in a thick Scottish accent and introducing each track in suitably Olde English terms, while the band themselves brought forth strident, rhythmic, yet undeniably memorable music as arresting as the group’s visual appearance. The crowd responded with enthusiasm, beer spilling as pints were held aloft to calls of “HAIL! HAIL!”
Following Haerken’s performance would have a been a task for any band – unfortunately, Burton-based thrash/hardcore quartet Fractured (2/5) weren’t quite able to continue the upward trend in quality since the day’s beginning. A lot of that can, as with Orylyus, most likely by attributed to the band’s relative inexperience – the group only formed in late 2010, after all. And it’s not as though the band didn’t try their hardest – vocalist Ben Sheriff put on an energetic performance, and one suspects that he needed a lozenge or three after his throat-rending exhortations. However, the band’s material wasn’t fantastically memorable, and they seemed occasionally to be playing just outside of their abilities. Couple that with a momentum-killing mid-set pause caused by a broken snare drum, and the embarassing moment where the group attempted a cover of Machine Head‘s ‘Old’ only for the vocalist to end up about a verse ahead of the rest of the group around halfway through, and you’re left with a sadly underwhelming result.
Sadly, by this time in the evening, events were running about half an hour behind schedule, and so I only got to catch about two songs’ worth of headlining act Collision Process‘ set, as a result of my having realised my last bus had already departed and having to leg it to bum a lift off a friend. However, the brief snippet I caught of the quintet’s technical/progressive metal mélange was sufficiently impressive to make me sincerely sorry to have missed the rest of the set.
Orylyus’ Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/?ref=logo#!/Orylyus
Incendia’s Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/?ref=logo#!/pages/Incendia/107095689360861
Meat Hook’s Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/?ref=logo#!/pages/Meat-Hook/216012213094
Haerken’s Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/haerken
Fractured’s Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/?ref=logo#!/Fractureduk
Collision Process’ Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/?ref=logo#!/collisionprocess