The Brumstock Underground Rock-Metal Festival was an annual three-day showcase for the talents of a varied assortment of Midlands-based rock and metal acts. Organised by Black Scorpion Promotions, sponsored by Marshall, free of entry charges and held to raise funds for Birmingham Children’s Hospital, 2011′s three-dayer was held at the Old Wharf in the Digbeth area of Birmingham – and, sadly, was the last Brumstock for the forseeable future, as Dawn and Ian of BSP are apparently calling the whole event promotion thing a day – sad news for the many bands they’ve helped promote, and for Birmingham and the Midlands’ live music scene as a whole. Phil Whitehouse managed to make it to the first and second days of the festivities – you can read his account of the opening day’s madness here. Read on for his account of the second day’s acts.
Opening proceedings at 3:45pm were Birmingham-based traditional heavy metal quintet Wraith (4/5) – and while there was initially a touch of on-stage uncertainty as the instrument-toting members of the band stood around for a minute or two, occasionally assuring the crowd that “we really do have a singer”, as soon as vocalist Matt emerged from the public lounge sporting metal-studded leather gauntlets and epaulettes and the band launched into ‘Metal Ed’, the group had the slowly-growing crowd in the palm of their hand. The typical ‘opening band’ up-front sound was nowhere to be heard, allowing every note of Wraith‘s 80s-influenced, unashamedly fun heavy metal to be appreciated. While the old-school slashing solos and galloping drums provided a great backing for enthusiastic headbanging, it was frontman Mike’s performance that really rallied the crowd – rarely staying on stage, singing with metal claw outstretched right in the front row’s faces, fountaining beer over himself and waving a sizeable foam battleaxe aloft, his enthusiasm for and clear enjoyment of performing was hugely infectious, in he soon succeeded in getting the crowd chanting and air-punching along.
Following Wraith‘s cobweb-clearing performance were Wolverhampton thrash/stoner metal trio Frantic Empire (2.5/5) – and sadly, to these ears their set seemed to be missing something. The band ran through an undeniably heavy collection of tracks that blended full-blown aggro/thrash aggression and more swinging, down-tempo passages that recalled the likes of Down. However, while the band handled the tempo changes, scattered solos and more frenetic riffs with tightly-performed aplomb, the songs themselves occasionally felt a bit loosely-constructed, and in some cases simply went on too long – ‘Unspoken’, for instance, could do with having a couple of minutes lopped off, despite its engagingly aggressive rallying cry of “It’s time to wake up shut the fuck up and listen”. The vocals, too (provided by guitarist Alex and bassist Adam), while suitably aggressive, lacked charisma – I suspect the band would be well-served by the inclusion of a second guitarist to fill out their arrangements, and a dedicated frontman to allow Alex and Adam to focus on their playing, which they seem more suited to.
The next band on the bill were originally supposed to be Bone Mud, but unfortunately, their car apparently broke down on the way to Brumstock from Bristol – so, Derby-based hard rock/metal quintet Toxic Federation (4.5/5) came on a bit earlier than expected. I have to admit, my inner ‘true metaller’ initially switched straight to ‘sneer mode’ when I spied the band taking the stage looking like a cross between Guns N Roses and Poison – and was that eye-liner I saw the vocalist wearing? But the smirk was quickly wiped off my face by an astoundingly energetic, hugely professional performance, centred around a combination of vocalist Mitchell Emms’ explosive stage presence (beginning with him leaping almost directly into the front row and headbanging as though his survival was predicated on his nutting the floor, continuing with him exhorting the crowd to greater levels of screeching appreciation, and ending with him collapsing exhausted to the floor in the middle of the audience), laser-focused instrumental performances and memorable songcraft. Finger-tapped leads mingled with warbling, yet not-at-all retro keyboard accompaniments and chunky, sleazy rhythm riffs, all topped by Mitchell’s controlled, confident singing. A hugely impressive set from a massively promising band.
After Toxic Federation left the stage, it was time for Northampton’s thrash/power metal quartet Valhalla (3.5/5) – and they quickly established themselves as an act who may well be going for some sort of metallic land-speed record. Characterised by rampaging double-kick barrages, sweep-happy soloing and the sort of speedily palm-muted riffs that make your wrist ache just hearing them, Valhalla were easily the fastest band to play thus far. Luckily, their songs weren’t just faceless, lightspeed blurs – there were times where the tempo dropped to more mid-tempo pacings, and these moments were usually accompanied by some spidery, duelling scalular runs and more crushing, thrashy riffs from guitarists Jay and Daryl. As tight and exhiliratingly fast as the band were, however, Vahalla suffer slightly as a result of Jay’s faintly monotone vocal delivery – but that’s a fairly small gripe for such a satisfyingly breathless performance.
Next up were prog/power metal quintet Dakesis (4.5/5) – a band who you may have noticed have been covered a time or two before on this site. Well, that’s for a couple of reasons; one, they’re one of the hardest-working and most respected bands on the Birmingham unsigned metal scene, and as such turn up on the bill on nearly every other gig I go to in the second city; and two, I never get tired of their hugely entertaining live performances. Even when faced with the pretty cramped confines of The Old Wharf’s stage, Dakesis still manage to make even gigs as intimate as this one feel like stadium-sized shows. This has a lot to do with both the scope of their sound – encompassing NWOBHM galloping drums and dual-guitar harmonies, symphonic power metal swathes of orchestral synths and virtuosic guitar solos, and the kind of varied setlists that can seamlessly segué from the driving, rousing old-school metal of ‘Trial By Fire’ to the soaring, lighters-in-the-air balladry of ‘Broken’ -and their great rapport with the crowd. Throw in stage moves like guitarists Wayne and Matt playing the necks of one another’s guitar (flawlessly, I might add) for a harmonised solo midset, and present all that with the clearest live sound I’ve heard the band with yet, and you have perhaps the performance of the festival for me. Great stuff.
It’s a pretty good job Dakesis provided such a satisfying set, too – as unfortunately, once again set-time overruns and gradually creeping changeover times meant that by this point, Brumstock was running about an hour behind schedule – which meant, sadly, that I had to scarper about three songs into A Deeper Dreed‘s set in order to actually make it back home (having assured the saintly friend who drove to Birmingham to rescue me the night before that it most assuredly wouldn’t happen again). A shame, too, as the band’s idiosyncratic, contemporary prog/metal definitely made for an interestingly unique-sounding proposition. Even more unfortunately, I couldn’t make the third day of the festival, as the damage I’d done both to my liver and to my wallet over the first two days necessitated a quiet Sunday on the sofa before my return to my regularly-scheduled gainful employment.
Still, if what I had witnessed of the first two days of Brumstock was any indication, the festival as a whole would likely be characterised as a pretty resounding success. From what I gather, a pretty respectable amount of money was raised for Birmingham Children’s Hospital, and the attendees (of whom there were quite a sizeable amount to be packed within the confines of The Old Wharf, particularly on day two) all had a fantastic time. The venue’s sound engineer did a stellar job, overcoming the ‘first band sound’ early on the first day and providing well-balanced mixes from then on, and Black Scorpion Promotions’ Dawn and Ian were great hosts – warmly greeting bands and punters alike, and gently herding errant smokers indoors as each band took the stage while coaxing charitable donations from all and sundry. Both they, and Brumstock itself, will be missed from the Midlands live music scene.
Wraith’s Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/wraithband
Frantic Empire’s Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/franticempire
Toxic Federation’s Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Toxic-Federation/15351063140
Valhalla’s Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/valhallauk
Dakesis’ Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Dakesis