The music scene in Belfast has never really being considered as an effective platform for heavy metal bands to build a foundation upon which to propel them into the greater international music scene. But this writer, after watching a certain heavy metal gig in The Stiff Kitten, is compelled to argue that this sad reality must change. This night of metal not only restored my own personal faith in Belfast delivering great metal music, but also illustrated just how awesome our little province can actually be when it comes to this undermined genre. Showcasing four bands (Donum Dei, By Conquest or Consent, Little Miss Stakes, Sinocence) the atmosphere was admittedly initially lacking due to the low numbers who turned up. However this seemed to have little effect on the individual performances of the four bands, which showed confidence in their own abilities: many times bands rely on feeding off the energy of their audience which suggests they are attempting to divert attention away from their inadequacies. This was certainly not the case with this metal quartet.
Kicking the night off with the impressive Donum Dei, the mood of the entire night was successfully supplanted as the guitars broke through with ‘No Escape’, dancing around the fretboard with juicy hammer-on’s reminiscent of Metallica’s ‘Fuel’, only with a flare of thrash many fans of the mentioned giants looked for in that particular song. A high energy was established from the start and with the head banging verses and catchy choruses the passion of this band was easy to see. The lead guitarist, Stuart McLoughlin, laid down some impressive leads, subsequently followed by a welcoming dual guitar lick that provided a sense of melody. The bands next few tracks impressively maintained this ‘high energy’ while offering moments of musical variety with clean breaks, slow breakdowns, effective build-ups, interesting galloping patterns and also importantly a definite coherence between the four members. The vocals were excellent both in terms of stamina and style: Thomas Marshall really pumped out some powerful vocal lines, particularly in the bands concluding track ‘Courage from Within’, which saw the frontman singing for longer periods of time. However for me the key ingredient to this bands success was the effective and promising relationship between the bass (Dean Kane) and the drums (Alastair Marshall): regardless of what genre or band, it is imperative that the bass and drums work in unison. This band captured that essence properly and it grounded the work of the two guitars with reliable sound.
Act number two, By Conquest or Consent, were a force to be reckoned with. They differed greatly from the first act musically, bringing us down to the lower levels of metaldom and pumping out tunes which were both gut-wrenching and empowering. Everything that this band had to offer was achieved mainly through the singer (Pete). This guy was made for the stage: having the incredible energy of a young Phil Anselmo, it was like listening to a Velociraptor on acid, stretching his vocal chords to near breaking point but showing no signs of fatigue. Once this badass opened his mouth to sing (or more appropriately scream) he was instantly captivating. A notable number was the relentless ‘The Truth Wont Set You Free’, which gave us both melody and ferocity. It was at this point in the set where the performance was significantly improved. With hard hitting drums, deep sounding guitar riffs and a bass drone that would crush even the mightiest of colossus, this band created a sense of danger with sincerity. Possibly the greatest act of the night, they did much to continue the ‘high energy’ established by Donum Dei. The next band had much to accomplish succeeding By Conquest or Consent.
Act three, Little Miss Stakes, were immediately different from the previous two bands. Their body/instrument paint portrayed the members as illuminous skeletons with an attitude, and this really helped cement the band as a horror punk group. With their ink lighting up their stage against the dark backdrop it was like watching ‘Thriller’ if only it was giving a lesson in punk 101. The structure of their songs were much shorter, again reaffirming their punk heritage, and with the inclusion of an excellent cover of The Misfits ‘Scream’ LSM were able to make more use of the crowd. With songs like ‘The Girl Next Door’ the band maintained continuity regardless of the mix between heavy and soft that was interesting to listen to. They sounded like a watered down ‘Bullet for My Valentine’ with a much greater emphasis on establishing a punk mood and tone: this may be the result of the style of the vocalist (Mick Van Dyke). Song titles such as ‘Drag Queen Dracula’ further emphasised how ‘fun’ the band were and they didn’t care who followed them through their journey. There was much more effort put into creating a good live show as opposed to creating complex songs with layers upon layers of meaning, but then again this is the essence of punk: raising that middle finger and stating that ‘we do what we want’. A refreshing performance with a fun atmosphere, they once again captured the ‘high energy’ which prepared us for the next, and most anticipated, band of the night.
Sinocence, the main feature of the night and using this gig to prepare them for the upcoming Hammerfest, opened their set with battery-charging riffs, giving way to some powerful vocal lines. Instantly the most impressive member of the group was the drummer ‘Davy’, who throughout the bands set provided the audience with sweet drum fills and exciting jungle-like rhythms. What I was most interested to here was the inclusion of a wah-wah pedal from lead guitarist ‘Anto’, giving the entire night that much needed Kirk Hammett feel. Every song had something different to offer but it was ‘Makin a Monster’ which entered the band into a greater phase of excitement: at one point during this number frontman ‘Moro’ instructs his flock to ‘wake the fxxk up’. These ‘monsters’ demanded our participation. Showcasing a new song, ‘Slavery by Consent’, again we were treated to that jungle-rhythm drum beat and skull crushing riff work, but it was the verses which were the highlight of the bands set. Fast paced vocals married with fast-paced chugging were only suppressed with a brief clean break before entering into some mind-melting galloping riffs. The ability of the two guitar players to down-pick all of their riffs and licks looked impressive and added that classic thrash metal style to the whole operation. Every song offered the greatest opportunities to head-bang and go nuts, and this was perpetuated through the audience: some members of the crowd even shouted out for their personal favourites, which they were eventually awarded with. Concluding the set with a tantalising number which brought back that dazzling verse structure of pure heaviness and speed, the song ends with loudness and bigness from all instruments and the night is brought to a close.
Any reader of this article should be eager to listen to any of these four acts. The pure heaviness executed on stage was uplifting for any fan of metal simply wishing to here good music by passionate and energetic musicians, and I strongly believe this was achieved. Every one of the four bands offered great music and it should be priority for every metal loving man, women and child to check these professionals out as soon as possible. Matthew Rea, GiggingNI.com