Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Godless Festival @ The George Hotel, Burslem. May 17th.

Review by Steve Dean

Photo by Giglou

Featuring: The Black Box / NEX Offendo / Munki Fetus / Maraduke / Grass Stain / Apogee / Bad Coma / Red Eyes of Russia / Betrayal / Mantus / Run Fast Turn Left / Soma /Djevara / Eternal Shadow /Long Time Dead / Hebephrenic / Maniacal / Exopilots / Retaliation / Giro Junkie / Screwloose / Allerjen / Razorwire / Tiny Tigers / Enemo-J / Dead in Vegas / Stolen Creation / Lesbian Bed Death

With two stages running simultaneously - the ‘signed’ bands in the ballroom and the ‘unsigned’ ones in the much better acoustics of the cellar bar; sponsored by Unsigned Magazine - it would be an impossible task to review each band’s full performance, but having caught at the very least two of each band’s act, the best I can offer is a ‘snapshot’ of each, bringing an overview of the whole day-long event – and what an event it was…

First band to actually sound a note were The Black Box, a three-piece from nearby Kidsgrove. A young band, I was impressed that they were actually tuning up by ear, a skill I thought had almost been lost. Specialising in agreeably head nodding lead-heavy chunky riffs, they rounded off with a somewhat inapposite version of Ace of Base’s ‘All That She Wants’; which didn’t quite come off, but was interesting nonetheless.

Finding themselves the opening act in the ballroom, I felt that NEX Offendo would rather have gone on once the audience had warmed up a bit; there being a ‘clear light of day’ feel about the place at that time of early afternoon. This fact appeared to rub off onto their performance a tad, as a listen to their stuff on their myspace site demonstrates that they can do a lot better. Some good songs though, no matter what. Just try and avoid that short straw next time, is all I can advise.

A quick scamper back down the cellar bar found me just in time to watch two lasses going by the name of Munki Fetus, a guitar and keyboards duo, begin their act. Although their circus clown-like attire gave the impression their set would be one of fun and gaiety, their music unexpectedly leans very much to the opposite; being slow paced and melancholia tinged. To be fair, they appeared to be suffering confidence-denting problems with their Roland keyboard which obviously wouldn’t do as it was told and therefore their act wasn’t quite as dynamic as I’m sure they’d hoped. The next time it’ll be great though, won’t it girls?

Back up to the ballroom to catch Maraduke. Their music is best described as a heavy funk rhythm section with much assorted guitar effects spread thickly over the top. As a band, they appeared to be suffering from the same mild agoraphobia-like symptoms the vastness of the sparsely populated ballroom had apparently induced in NEX Offendo. It was at this point that I realised that the bands in the cellar bar, with its far superior acoustics and intimate club-like feel had got by far the better side of the deal. At least until the night fell anyway; and that was a long way off.

Returning to the cellar bar to the strains of Grass Stain in full flight, I was pleased to find the first band of the day to strut their stuff the way a rock band should. Posing like veterans, these youngsters played their hard and chunky stuff to the grunging max as a handful of the maddest dancers I’ve yet to see sprung and bounded around all over the place. I also have to say that 17 year old drummer Daniel Blachford is one of the loudest, gutsiest sticksmen I’ve come across in a while; as his pounding interludes in their last number bore serious testament to. In not so long a time to come he, and perhaps the whole band, will be something quite formidable.

Meanwhile in the ballroom 3-piece Apogee were strutting and posing energetically well themselves. Whatever was truly bothering the previous bands on this stage certainly wasn’t bothering these three and they put on a cracking show. Switching their heavy tempi with seamless ease, guitarist and bassist Jack Clulow and Ed Jarvis respectively barely stood still for a minute as drummer Tom Brookes laid down solid foundation. Some nice guitar licks as well. Great stuff.

I managed to catch the last song Bad Coma played in the cellar bar; well, it should have been the last song, but due to a band not turning up they managed to fit in another one, a cover by Tool. As a no-nonsense hardcore/metal band, Bad Coma are top-notch and with the classy Big Dan on lead and an excellent vocalist in Chris M, their powerful ‘I’m Fine’ had the audience violently, but joyfully throwing themselves about the place in manic abandon; as did their version of the Tool number; the title of which I unfortunately didn’t catch. Easily one of the best acts of the day.

After a visit to KFC, unfortunately Burslem’s only takeaway eatery - on a Saturday and at that hour anyway - I returned to the George ballroom to find Red Eyes of Russia were having not such a good time of it. The audience was once again pretty sparse, which the sheer size of the room only seemed to accentuate and the ‘broad daylight’ feel had returned. Arriving in time to hear their final two songs, I can only comment that the first had an interesting arrangement and accompanied by applause more suited to a cricket match, they appeared only too glad to get off. Having listened to some fine songs on their myspace profile, I can only conclude it just wasn’t their day.

Down in the cellar bar, I only managed to catch the last two numbers by thrash metal band Betrayed as well; except they were getting a much better reception. I have to say that drummer Stonier must be one of the fastest I’ve ever seen. So fast, in fact, it gives great credit to the band that they can even keep up with him. Some great staccato type singing in the last number and overall they sounded like an excellent band all round. Maybe I’ll get a chance to catch them again sometime.

Hailing from Derby, Mantus, also in the cellar bar, failed to receive the same reception. The somewhat depleted audience were denied any chance to offer any applause, as the guitarist appeared to insist on linking all the songs together; unless they were doing just one half-hour long number. That’s what it sounded like anyway. Whatever it was, with no room left for respite and being filled with little more than a collection of nondescript riffs and frenzied monotone vocals, loathe as I am to offer negative criticism, it was hard to deduce what they were actually trying to achieve. Perhaps I missed a point somewhere, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out what.

Walking back into the ballroom to view 5-piece Run Fast Turn Left and listen to their final 10 minutes or so, the first thing that caught my eye was the presence of a beer keg supported by a stand on the stage. From the two songs I heard, they sound like they have a lot going for them and I have to say that the beer keg, which was drummed on by one of the guitarists during the last song, actually added to the overall sound of the number very well. Original and interesting.

Back in the cellar bar, Soma, another 5-piece, had whipped the audience back into the frenetic atmosphere previously generated by Bad Coma, whose guitarist Big Dan they also featured in their line-up. Although I wouldn’t have thought it possible, they sounded many decibels louder than any other band so far and they delivered their attention-grabbing numbers with well-rehearsed panache and plenty of hair-flying relish. Terrific guitarwork from Dan and great vocals from singer Mark, a frontman who obviously enjoys himself, plus maximum effort from all members made this set one to remember. Absolutely first class.

Absolutely first class is a term that could also be applied to Djevara, a 3-piece up from London. Playing in the ballroom, singer and guitarist Bass (Usuyak Bassey) was quick to sort out the sparseness of the crowd by ordering all to the front, to which they promptly went. His audience now in position, he and his sidekicks Geoff Courts on bass and new drummer Sandro played a blinding set of energetically punkish, but passionate heavy metal with a stamp all of their own that impressed all that bore witness to it; going by the comments I heard directly afterwards anyway. Easily another to add to the list of best of the day.

A return to the cellar bar found young band Eternal Shadow belting out thrash metal at full pelt. Vocalist Dan Al-Khan gutterally growling along with the best of them, the whole band demonstrated a fine understanding of their chosen genre. Although they have recently lost one of their two guitarists, Nick Austerberry coped very well on his own, inspiring much mad moshing throughout their set; or at least the bit of it I caught. It never ceases to astound me how much battering these moshers can take; having never once seen any of them lose their rag during the constant bruisings and bashings. Admirable in a odd kind of way.

Catching Long Time Dead displaying some fine twin leadwork, their particular brand of kickarse heavy metal managed to achieve the best audience response so far; so far as the ballroom went anyway. Going by information on their myspace profile, they have been playing together for some time and their combined experience shows. Confident and with a kind of knockabout attitude, they obviously have a keen following. They also know their stuff – and well.

Returning once again to the cellar bar and finding manic moshing back in progress, this times to the strains of extremely heavy Hebephrenic, another band who obviously enjoy their work. A 5-piece with a female bassist and drummer, their music has a wide range of metal-based influences and it was good to see yet another band putting on an enthusiastic show. Their vocalist Nick McMullen spends a lot of time amongst the manic audience and some of the time he can be found somewhat dangerously sitting in the middle of the floor as all erupts around him. Brave man.

Next came came Maniacal, also in the cellar bar and having seen them at the Sugarmill only recently it was good to see them once again demonstrating a standard of musicianship that is always a pleasure to watch. They have an exceptionally fine lead guitarist, playing his guitar behind his head as the hair-flying mayhem explodes all around him. The audience love them and they can always be relied on to put on a great show. I have to add that vocalist Tommo is also a master of his style and a first rate frontman. I just do like this band.

Up in the ballroom, Exopilots were doing something a little different. Being keyboards oriented, they have a trippy, spacey sound that sets them apart from everything else I’d seen so far. They are certainly very heavy though, and have a lively frontman in vocalist Chris (I’m unable to find a surname; it’s amazing and a little frustrating that so many bands just use their forenames on their myspace profiles). They also have some interesting songs. Having only caught a few numbers, this is another band whose whole act I’d like to see sometime.

Although I only saw him a short while ago up the Glebe, it was nice to hear a few songs from singer/songwriter Giro Junkie once more. Playing his acoustic in the cellar bar, he more or less played the same set and he gave my ears a welcome relief from the relentless bombardment. He is an entertaining and able player and a nice bloke, to boot. It was good to see him again.

Back to the ballroom to see Dutch band Retaliation. They had driven for eight hours to get here from Holland and they put on an inspiring show. Although in the same vein as Maniacal, whose singer Tommo they once toured with, if I remember rightly, they put a certain stamp on their material and they entertained mightily. They have plenty of good ideas material-wise and have a dynamic stage presence that made all present at their fine performance glad they came. Nice one.

A quick dart down the cellar bar found 3-piece Manchester band Allerjen doing their heavy thing. Although they are powerful in the way all metal bands are and vocalist John Dower growls away in the correct manner, the lack of guitar solos and discernable melody lines make everything, on first hearing anyway, sound somewhat samey. They certainly enjoy themselves though and the sparse crowd in attendance made them very welcome. Splitting from the head-rattling norm, guitarist Paul Wilkinson seems to enjoy skipping around in a manner reminiscent of a morris dancer – and why not? Different there anyway.

Razorwire were next in the ballroom and like Djevara before them, solved the problem of much empty space by ordering the audience to the front. Containing organiser Dan Peach, this is another band who obviously enjoy themselves and they made for a very entertaining half-hour indeed. Vocalist Dave Scragg is a top-notch frontman and a fine singer. Some nifty guitarwork showed what a difference a good leadman makes and the high standard of musicianship made these a very worthy addition to the list of best acts of the day. Some great songs as well. Very enjoyable.

Usually gigging around London, Tiny Tigers are a little lighter music-wise that most of the other acts on the bill, their songs leaning more to the commercial market and putting me in mind of Blondie in places. Vocals are shared between Angela and Chris (no surnames on myspace), the two guitarists, and together they make a fine vocal pairing. Bassist Paula and drummer Steve supply an able rhythm section and as a band I would say they have a great future ahead of them. It was a shame there were was only a sparse audience in the cellar bar to see them. They were very good indeed.

Dead in Vegas are similar in theme to Razorwire, but don’t quite match their dynamic stage presence. They nonetheless have some fine songs though and demonstrate a well-rehearsed discipline. New guitarist Steve showed himself to be a fine addition to the band’s line-up, tickling some neat licks and playing his guitar behind his head at one point. I wonder if this is going to be a standard thing eventually? The ballroom audience appeared to have remained in position from the last act and gave them a satisfying reception; demanding a well-deserved encore at the end. Night had fallen now and the atmosphere had altered accordingly.

Having seen and reviewed Screwloose only recently, I was impressed by Stuart from Operation Error’s last minute stand-in for guitarist Andy who couldn’t make it due to work issues. They nevertheless played a fine 5-song set in the cellar bar and displayed all their usual fire and energy. By this time, I have to admit that my head was feeling a little battered from the relentless onslaught of band after band, but I could still appreciate a fine act.

Still in the cellar bar and the final act in there, Enemo-J rocked mightily from the minute they started to the minute they stopped. Vocalist Craig is a big man with big energy to match. The band crackling with fiery power, they knocked out song after powerful song with a drive matched only by the confident frontman’s boundless stamina. Well-drilled, they put on a terrific show and Craig’s invitation to get a mosh pot going at the end saw much fun-filled, but brutal bangings and bruisings as they brought their performance to an end. Great stuff indeed.

Penultimate band in the ballroom Stolen Creation were a little different yet again. A young band, they have a street attitude more associated with a hip-hop band than heavy metal; although crunching gutteral-voiced heavy metal is what they do. Having a radio mic fitted to his instrument, lead guitarist Jake Weston spent a lot of time stalking around the room, while vocalist Pete Crutchley roared and bellowed over the crashing accompaniment with a vocal maturity that belied his youthfulness. There seemed to be a certain rebelliousness in their act that may well have stemmed from waiting all day to go on. Interesting nonetheless.

Final act Lesbian Bed Death, also containing organiser Dan Peach, were different yet again, and very good they were too. In fact, if it were a competition, they would easily be in with a chance as the most entertaining band of the event. Their stage attire predominantly gothic, they have a mean vocalist in Luci4, a scantily-clad little lady who certainly does know how to put on a show. Her maniacal laughing as she rolled around the floor during their first number was something to behold indeed. I loved the great riff in their second number and the whole set was filled with strong compositions. Their final number, the catchy ‘Goth Girls are Easy’ had the crowd baying for more, but unfortunately, so Luci4 said, they didn’t know any more. Never mind, it was a great end to a great day.

Congratulations to Dan Peach for setting up the whole event and everybody else involved. I look forward to the next Godless festival, but for the time being, I think I’ll just give my ears a rest.

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