Hirax @ The Black Heart
Review by Ann Sulaiman
Beloved by the European metal world for decades, Californian thrashers Hirax at last decided to pay a visit to the United Kingdom as part of their Spring tour. With a few others in tow, namely Brighton youngsters Seprevation and the London-based Virus and Necroriser; the intimate Black Heart venue in Camden was prepared to witness a fun, energetic night celebrating the faster side of the heavy metal underground.
Newcomers Seprevation were first to take the stage, having followed their peers throughout the UK tour. While their songwriting and riffs were in themselves predictable and restrained (often the case for young musicians starting out); the band’s enthusiasm made up for this, as they shredded into their guitars. Songs like ‘Slave To The Grave’ were easier to appreciate this way, with their head-bobbing hooks bringing out a few smiles here and there on the crowd.
This was especially highlighted by bassist/singer Luke Tupman’s question, “We’re here to play death fucking metal, is that alright with you??”, showing excitement in being able to play around the country with more established names of the metal world.
It was just as well, then, that London thrash veterans Virus came on afterwards. While only frontman Coke McFinlay was available from the original line-up, the addition of fresh blood from drummer Donna Grimshaw (previously of Decrepid fame) and Spaniards Adrian “Litro” and “Fulminator” meant new people to keep up with him onstage. Keep up they certainly did, as Virus performed their set tirelessly for everyone.
‘Raped by Mutants’, ‘Pray For War’ and ‘Lunacy’ blasted in full vigour from the stage, as McFinlay stood on the platform for admirers young and old. Despite only having released two EPs in recent years, Virus let it be known that they were alive and well, ready to create more music in the current era.
If Virus can be said to represent the older face of the British metal scene, then Necroriser could be taken as an example of its new incarnation.
Having moved from the South American continent to London, the trio burst into frenzied thrash metal with deep bass heavily strumming together with drummer Ruben “Brutal”‘s unrelenting speed. He even had a few extra drumsticks tucked away at the side, in case the ones he were using flew out of his hands in the process (they did).
‘Rebels’, ‘Fear’ and ‘Cleanse’ fell on the audience with vicious fire, leading a number of onlookers to grin wildly while aggressively making invisible oranges in support. If their move is arguably the South American scene’s loss, then it is decidedly the London metal scene’s gain.
Finally, the floor became packed as everyone went to the front for the night’s headliners, Hirax. Without a word, the Californians immediately threw themselves into the opening riffs for their set, before mailman Katon W. de Pena wailed into first track, ‘Hellions Rising’.
Hirax view themselves as a band who unite people together of all kinds and creeds through the banner of heavy metal; a statement which came true at The Black Heart, when all the men and women turned into an excited, ecstatic mass of fans, happily headbanging away throughout the music. While part of this could come from the fact of their strong discography and consistency, a great deal can be chalked up to the group’s immense joy and enthusiasm for what they do live.
It should be added that being part of the original Californian thrash metal scene brings a history, and it was with this in mind that the group had arranged their setlist for the UK tour: Katon dedicated the song ‘Baptized By Fire’ to deceased friend and fan Jesse Pintado (formally of Terrorizer and Napalm Death), whereas ‘Blind Faith’ was introduced with the backstory of its original release through Metal Blade, around the same time as bands Slayer, sodom and Trouble. Without any pretence of a man wrapped up in nostalgia, he encouraged everyone in the venue to pump their fists and scream for (the spirit of) heavy metal, all the while keeping up his own performance onstage through wild eye movements, manic grins and mock strangling rhythm guitarist Lance onstage.
It was even fun to watch Katon crowd surf along the audience, as small a space as The Black Heart is for this activity.
While a good share of Hirax’s contemporary songs were aired, from ‘Hostile Territory’ to ‘La Boca de la Bestia’; it was towards the end that they returned to the beginning of their career to play ‘Bombs of Death’. That people from the front row were calling out for more songs from this period only impressed the band further, as the crowd vigorously cheered for this particular fan favourite.