Regular readers of both this website in general and my scrawlings in particular can hardly have failed to have noticed that a great majority of the gigs I attend these days happen to take place in Birmingham. As befits a collective orbiting the birthplace of heavy metal as a genre, the Birmingham metal scene is a thriving one – a place where a bustling community of venues, promoters and bands regularly collaborate to put on night after night of musical entertainment. When the latest addition to Birmingham’s ever-growing collective of gig promoters, Labouring Breath Promotions, got in touch with me to pimp this particular event – their first, as it happens – it didn’t take me long to click the ‘I’m Attending’ button on the Facebook page. After all, I’ve reviewed all four bands on the bill for the site in the past (some more than once), and it’s always good to catch up with bands and see how they’ve progressed.
In the case of Stafford-based progressive/thrash quartet Malacite (3/5), quite a lot appears to have changed since the last time I saw them. Singer/guitarist Matt Jurkiewicz has cut his hair, for one thing. Also gone the way of Matt’s once-lustrous locks were former bassist Jack Traveller (now writing for this very website, and very recently taking on bass duties for this evening’s headliners Amongst The Survivors) and former guitarist Benjamin Cresswell, replaced by Chris Musgrove and Shaun Lindsley respectively. Their material, however, appears to have remained largely untouched by the personnel changes – Malacite circa 2011 still compose extended prog/thrash workouts that nod as much to …And Justice For All-era Metallica as they do to more aggressive acts like Death. Drummer Alex Buckley handles each twist and turn of the shifting song structures with aplomb, with bassist Chris right in the pocket with him, treating the crowd to flurries of headbanging to go with his nimble playing. Shaun’s guitar playing is impressively tight considering his relative newness to the band, although this is tempered by his near-immobility on stage – hopefully, some more gigs will see him becoming more animated. Contrast this to Matt’s dual role as guitarist/vocalist – occasionally flubbing some notes during more intricate lead sections, but otherwise keeping the crowd entertained with amusing on-stage banter and borderline-alarming facial contortions. All in all, Malacite prove to be an entertaining introductory act – with new material forthcoming and some more gigs with the new line-up under their belts, it’ll be interesting to see where they go from here.
Next up were Birmingham-based sextet Orylyus (4/5), and this evening marked the third set I’d seen by the band in just a few short months. It’s always a gratifying experience to watch a band evolve and up their game, so I was especially pleased to witness Orylyus pulling off the tightest, most confident set I’d seen from them yet. Their sound isn’t enormously easy to pin down – there’s quite a dash of Emperor-esque symphonic extremity, a good helping of Children Of Bodom-like ivory-tinkling and guitar-noodling, balanced with a knack for solid, heavy grooves. The previous two occasions I’d seen the band, the intricacies of their material were somewhat masked behind poor live sound – thankfully, this wasn’t the case this time round. Vocalist Andy Joinson held court with a full range of diverse vocal styles – guttural death growls, blackened shrieks, and (sadly, slightly-muffled) clean singing, while the rest of the band clearly relished actually having some room to move around on stage for a change and took the opportunity to headbang away with gay abandon. Their playing was tight, the set-list balanced (a dancier, In Flames-esque number I recall from the last gig I caught having been jettisoned and thus making the whole affair more cohesive), and Joinson is growing in confidence as a frontman. Orylyus will be heading off to record some of their material in the near future – I’ll be looking forward to hearing it.
Third on the bill were Birmingham-based death metallers Kataleptic (3.5/5), who were unfortunately hampered from the off by quite a muddy live sound. Apparently, the divide from largely-melodic, prog-tinged symphonic metal to down-and-dirty brutality proved to be a stylistic leap that the sound engineer couldn’t quite get his head around in time. Thankfully, the band’s material is less dependant on crystal-clear note articulation than it is on trusting the audience to go where the groove-and-blast rollercoaster takes them – and if an audience member were somehow incapable of registering the tempo deviations in the downtuned bludgeon, they could do worse than to take their cues from the on-stage antics of the band members themselves, who threw themselves into their performances with an energy that seemed almost perverse considering the intense heat inside the venue. Even though some of Kataleptic‘s sonic lethality was stripped by a murky front-of-house sound, enough primal heft remained to see them through a pummelling, sweaty set.
Finally, Birmingham-based melodic black metal quintet Amongst The Survivors (4/5) took the stage. As with Orylyus, this evening marked the third time I’d seen this particular cadré of blastbeat-slinging reprobates, and if you go back and read the reviews I penned after the first two occasions, you’ll note that I’m something of a fan. After the band’s sutiably creepy intro tape, I was gratified to note that the sound engineer had found his feet once more, allowing the band’s carefully-balanced blend of cyclonic blastbeating, tension-building dynamic shifts and earworm riffery (and, of course, vocalist Joe O’Neill’s distinctive high-pitched shrieking) to work their full effect on the crowd – who, by this point in the evening, should by all rights have been near passing-out from heat exhaustion, yet still found it in them to go suitably apeshit. The set was not entirely without issues – for one, Joe’s microphone died midway through the set, meaning he had to pilfer guitarist/backing vocalist Steve Deathridge’s mic and make his way over to Steve when it was time for him to contribute his deathly roarings. For another, the signature atmosphere-sustaining musical segués between their songs seem to have become a more occasional thing this time round – perhaps victims of an evolving setlist. These minor gripes aside, however, Amongst The Survivors put on another assured performance, serving once more to make me anxious for the upcoming release of their debut album.
Labouring Breath Promotions’ Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/labouringbreath
Amongst The Survivors’ Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/amongstthesurvivors
Kataleptic’s Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Kataleptic
Orylyus’ Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Orylyus
Malacite’s Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Malacite