Sunday, 16 March 2008

Hanging Iscariot/Skin Deep/Everything on Red @ The Sugarmill, Hanley. March 15th

Review by Steve Dean

Photo by Simon Bamford

What used to be plain old ‘heavy metal’ has now split into so many sub-genres and even sub-sub-genres, that I have long lost track of what within the music actually defines its title, basing my reviews on what sounds good to me, rather than how it fares within its field. Hanging Iscariot describe themselves as hardcore/screamo/funk. I can’t say I heard anything last night that I would call ‘funk’ as such, but I did hear some great screaming and hardcore delivered with scintillating attack and sackloads of energy. The consistant high standard of musicianship within the city never ceases to astound me and Hanging Iscariot are certainly no exception. This is an exciting band to watch and they have some great punchy songs, never being less than interesting in concept. I loved the rasping voices alternating with more conventional harmonised vocals in ‘I am Halo’ and ‘If This is Darwinism’ is one of the most enjoyably frantic scream-ups I’ve heard in a long time. Markedly changing pace for a spell, the intro to ‘Room 302’, has an attractive and almost eerie music box feel before the song suddenly goes into brutal overdrive. Engineered by Dug Dugmore, the band has an EP available with all three of these tracks on it. Get a listen; you’ll play it more than once.

Skin Deep had no problem maintaining the standard set by Hanging Iscariot and their repertoire also boasts some fine compositions. Vocalist Dom, with his strong clear voice is an impressive frontman and the whole band plays solid rock with concentration and verve. I was impressed to hear that 6-string bass player Barry Elwood had stood in at a moment’s notice due to their regular bassist having more pressing matters to attend to. He is an excellent player and I for one would never have guessed he’d never played alongside them before. Great stuff. Drummer Joe’s engrossing snareplay warrants a mention as well, as do Phil and James’ passionate guitarwork. They have obviously worked hard on their arrangements and it has undoubtedly paid off. ‘A Taste of Paradise’, with its ‘big production’ feel, is a particularly memorable composition and their final offering, suitably entitled ‘The Closing Scene’ is a number any songwriter would be proud of, and very well-executed, I must add. My only real criticism would be that the endings of their songs are a little untidy and need to be more clearly defined, presently leaving the audience unsure of themselves as far as applause is concerned. Something easily remedied though. Entertaining, passionate and gutsy. A very good act indeed.

Having seen headliners Everything On Red only recently at the Underground and having been left mightily impressed, I was much looking forward to seeing them again tonight and I must say they exceeded even my highly-appointed expectations. Bursting with enthusiastic abandon, they possess a particular ingenuity for arrangement and at times the unfamiliar could never guess where they will head off next. Beginning with the lively ‘Aesop’s Table’, their set seems to be over in no time as idea after idea is pieced meticulously together to produce a playlist that grips the attention from start to finish. ‘Circuses and Anarchy’ is a song that always brings the word ‘theatrical’ to mind, there being so much going on. Containing numerous ‘exits’ and ‘entrances’, the composition runs almost as if it were a short musical playlet. They seem to have a penchant for quirky song titles and their new number ‘Absinthe Makes the Heart Grow Fonder’, is a corker. It’s also a great song; being a tad more ‘riffy’ than their usual style and an interesting addition to their normal playlist. Everything on Red are Alex James on guitar; Tom Brown on keyboards and Sam Brown and James ‘Ratty’ Rathmell on bass and drums respectively. They all share vocals. Watching as they finished their set to thunderous and well-deserved applause, I can only confirm my earlier statement that they are destined for great things; their talent undeniable. They have an EP called ‘Casino Way Out’. It’s all on there. Find out about it.

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