Sunday, 4 May 2008

This Hope Lays Ruin/Maniacal/Burnt @ The Sugarmill, Hanley. May 3rd.

Review by Steve Dean

Photo by Simon Bamford

Three bands playing metal in various forms promised an interesting evening, and an interesting evening it certainly was.

This Hope Lays Ruin, a 5-piece from Stafford, were first up and after a comment regarding a hope that the audience finds them ‘good’, they launched into ‘Take a Walk’ - a powerful track that initially put me in mind of Gustav Holst’s ‘Mars, the bringer of War’ - and whether intentional or not, it worked very well. All of the following numbers, like the first, containing a great deal of staccato drumming, it seems to me that much of this genre relys on the complex tempo changes that every one of the bands on the bill utilised to great effect. Admittedly being unfamiliar with This Hope Lays Ruin’s playlist, the five compositions they played seemed fairly pedestrian compared to the following bands’ works, but on the whole they certainly generated enough hair-flying fire and energy to set a fair percentage of the audience off on a moshing merry-go-round by the time they reached their third song. However, the lack of vocal melody lines and guitar solos leave little to stick in the memory. I have to say that their song endings need attention too, most of them just seeming to peter out. Going by the vocalist’s opening comment, I suspect they haven’t got that many gigs, and therefore much experience, under their belt. What they do have though, is a lot of promise. On the whole, not bad at all.

Maniacal (pronounced Man-eye-a-kul), on the other hand, showed how it should be done. Although their songs also feature no actual melody lines and very little in the way of discernable words, so large is the range of confident frontman Tommo’s vocal dexterity, he easily managed to keep things unfailingly interesting throughout the entire set. Mix in some well-greased guitar solos and the whole concept demonstrated by the first band shifts up several gears. Beginning with a vast wall of feedback, they were in manic flight in seconds; the moshers eagerly taking their cue immediately. Organising the frantic mayhem from the stage, Tommo placed somebody apparently very willing into the mosh pit centre, lined up batteries of others either side of him and then ordered them to charge the hapless middle man while they blasted out a raging accompaniment. Hardly a tea dance, these gigs. The throwing of a blow-up sex doll into the mob mental a little later only adding to the bruising, but good-natured lunacy. The adroit drummer applying the necessary thunder, all three guitarists; lead, rhythm and bass, proved themselves technically very impressive; at one point the lead displaying a neat bit of showmanship by playing his guitar behind his head. Watching them leave the stage to very appreciative applause, it crossed my mind that headliners Burnt had a hard act to follow.

Appearing not to bother with big entrances, the members of Burnt wandered nonchalantly around the stage while necessary adjustments were made to the equipment before suddenly and effectively bursting into their opening number. I then got the point. Nice one.

Proving themselves Maniacal’s equal, although not entirely the same bag, vocalist Ant, brother of the prior band’s Tommo, actually sings in a more conventional fashion in places. Tight as an angry fist and very disciplined, Burnt took us through an exciting, well-rehearsed set of songs taken from their debut album ‘Rephrase the Lie’ and the new one to come; ‘Vertabreaker’. With respect to the excellent drummers already heard, I was exceptionally impressed by the man behind the kit here. Playing with immense power and energy he drove the band along like a demon as the rest of them showed their mettle (no pun intended) with striking prowess. Aside from the almost relentlessly chopping guitars, I noticed the bottom E strings of all three bassists present here this evening to be constantly rumbling, a definite and integral part of the overall sound. Of Burnt’s numbers, I especially appreciated ‘Birth’ from their first album and a track called ‘Backwards’, for the rendition of which, Ant pulled his brother Tommo up on stage to join him. The very next track saw the fired-up frontman down with the crowd, moshing with the best of them. Rocking out with the great riff of ‘Defy’, the audience were disappointed to find that Burnt were not allowed back to do a thoroughly well-deserved encore. It appeared that some daft law or other prevented it. A shame indeed. That aside though, it was a great night all round. Congratulations to all concerned.

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