Date: 6th September 2019
Review by Jason Stone
Photography by Graham Hilling
This was my first gig review for the Independent Voice and I was looking forward to it. I meet up with experienced photographer and long time IV contributor Graham Hilling at the venue (and it is indeed called “The Venue”). After an interminable wait (and having to do that tedious pouring away my water thing) …in we go.
We are in “Venue 2” – the smaller of the two auditoriums. I’m thrilled to find a whole bunch of upholstered seats in there…the place is perhaps more reminiscent of a wine bar than a hardcore rock establishment…but that’s no bad thing -to me at least. Subdued but bright lighting, airy and comfortable.
As the time goes on the rest of the audience arrive…but attendance remained quite sparse throughout the night (50 people max in a venue which can probably hold 200 or more).
Despite my love of hard rock, my perennial gripe about music in venues this small is the sheer volume of the music (and tonight is much milder than some). In my opinion it’s doubtful if you actually need mics on the drums at all in such a venue (and I say that as a drummer!) but I’m clearly in a minority. Graham the photographer is forced to wear ear plugs as he is compelled to stay right down the front to ensure the best shots. “In these small venues it’s a case of get a spot and guard it with your life!” he informs me via text before we arrive….but with such sparse attendance tonight, it’s not really a problem.
The first band, XERO, get going…and they deliver the goods. They are an alternative metal/progressive rock band formed in Newcastle and based in Guildford; a quartet consisting of Steff, Jamie, Jordan & Alex.
Their music is, as they say, “fuelled by a mutual love for groove-based alternative metal”. They profess a disdain for “posing over playing” and it shows. Lead singer Steff gives us the snarls and roars, and lots of soaring high notes, with a set list consisting of such titles as “Come Home”, “Left to Wreck”, their new single “Saint” and “9 of 8”, amongst others.
Steff avoids the normal female rock singer uniform of short skirt, heavy makeup, stockings and high heels in favour of a fairly conservative outfit more reminiscent (at least at first glance) of a classical music performer…it’s a good change.
Musically, the band can’t really be faulted but they are by their own admission “progressive” and therefore not really my cup of tea. I’m in two minds about whether their slightly tentative stage moves are by accident or design. I was initially of the opinion that it was part of their prog-metal “listen to the music” philosophy – then as I pondered my review later on, I considered that maybe Steff in particular might feel just a little awkward or tentative on stage -but having reviewed some clips, I’ve settled on my original assessment…it’s just who they are.
Next on are DERANGE. Variously described as alternative metal/tech metal (or, to use their own term, “Sassrock”), they are a London-based band formed in 2013. Whilst opening act Xero may shy away from rock star posing, Derange (or at least singer Cat Pereira) embrace it with a passion.
She stands astride the monitor speaker for all the world like she’s fronting the headliner at Knebworth or Bloodstock, gesticulating at, engaging with and addressing the audience and expecting (and getting) responses.
She successfully cajoles part of the modest audience into creating a mosh pit, “You know the drill…you know the drill” she says, and a decent amount of slam dancing goes on throughout their set. Their songs include “The Thinker” and “Higher” “Runaway” and “Divide”. In short, Cat is a top-notch frontwoman…and she also has a great voice!
The rest of the band, Nick Crosby (Guitar), Justas Brazdžiūnas (Guitar) and Joe Macpherson (Bass) provide a powerhouse backdrop to their frontwoman. As Graham predicted they are the best band of the night…
The headliners VALIS ABLAZE are a five piece band touring for their second album “Render” – following up (almost immediately) on a well received debut album “Boundless” and its preceding EP, “Insularity”. There have been significant lineup changes over recent years resulting apparently in significant changes from their initial sound and direction.
“Providing an intriguing alternative to the progressive metal norm; low end grooves juxtaposed with soaring vocal lines, crisp milton-cleans and atmospheric synths, all driven by intricate rhythm work and growling bass” is how they describe themselves, and they are pretty much on the nose with that description.
Founded in Bristol, the band are apparently based in different towns and they describe getting together as a “cathartic but coalescent” experience.
Graham tells me I might like their melodic style and they are certainly that…as a player myself I was struck by the seven (eight?) string guitar of Tom Moore and the headstock-free guitar of Ash Cooke.
They use synth backing tracks on numerous songs. Titles include “Proxy”, “Hollow Heart” and “Paradox”.
The band’s music is full of big chunky riffs, atmospheric, melodic guitar tones, and similarly striking vocals.
They are tight, powerful and confident -albeit lacking the charisma that Derange had. Vocalist Phil Owen is not the stage presence Cat Pereira was and the bands impact suffered somewhat as a result (don’t feel too bad fellas, Hendrix only followed The Who at Montery because he lost a coin toss!).
…still a great metal band…
A good night had by all!