It’s MONDAY, and it’s really the wrong end of the week for this kind of thing. But we are METAL and we are in CAMDEN. We’re guests of a Unified Sounds Cutting Edge event: An evening at the labyrinthine Underworld, home of London’s most ill-placed pillars, to watch what’s billed as ‘A London Metal Showcase’. So far, so good, and to make it better: most of the 5 bands are unsigned.
Now, ‘unsigned’ can mean ‘shit’ or ‘too damn weird for the record industry’. It can also mean that the bands are too savvy to sign any offers to date, or they’ve just not had time to appear on anyone’s radar. Unsigned bands are also hungrier: when getting your next show may depend on how this one goes, you can’t afford an off night; when no-one is promoting you, your records get sold on how YOU connect with YOUR audience.
AVENGE THEE + NAIME are probably the perfect choice of openers for this type of evening. Of the five bands billed, Avenge Thee + Naime are the youngest, hardest to pin down musically and probably have the oddest name I’ve ever come across. A hyperactive Canterbury band, they’ve brought along a sizeable following, and while they are easy to pin labels on, they are hard to describe. My ears heard flashes of Dillinger Escape Plan, with the odd bit of Mudhoney fuzz. Oh, and a tiny bit of Faith No More too. They’ve also had to recently borrow a drummer, and you’d never know.
Singer Adam is half natural front man, half compère. I’ve forgotten how many times I’ve been to the Underworld, but I’ve never felt this welcome before. The band finish their set with Adam thanking his mum, and walking through the crowd shaking hands. They’ve got a pretty far ranging set of UK dates coming up, even the ISLE OF MAN!!! Details of which, and a brand spanking new track can be found on the Myspace….
SIZEN are a totally different experience. With a swagger you haven’t seen since the Sunset Strip was relevant and grungey-metallic sound, you have to keep pinching yourself, lest you forget that this is Just The Underworld, on a Monday. This is a band who don’t seem to care that double bass drumming and growling or neck tattoos and tight jeans are the flavour of the minute. Melody and groove are paramount here: Singer Max is just that – A SINGER. I’ll bet it’s been a while since you heard one of those. Not a vocalist, whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean, but A SINGER. In the modern rock sphere it’s a bit unusual, but coupled with a sound that’s a bit like some of the more melodic grunge, or the bluesier bits of metal, it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Look – put it this way, I’ve spent a LOT more money, watching ‘bigger’ bands, and not been this impressed. Oh, and there’s a touch of that Aerosmithy/glammy rock in there too. But in a good way.
I could go on a bit here – but I really shouldn’t, just in case all you hear is ‘awesome, awesome, awesome…..’ and get the idea that I’m exaggerating a bit.
This is BIG ROCK in SMALL VENUES, and the only thing else I’ll say is SIZEN are on tour in October, so just go. Seriously. GO AND SEE THEM. Dates on the Myspace
I’d love to describe third band of the night, SILAS, in simpler terms. No sooner had I heard something that could be described as say ‘a bit Pantera’ or ‘a bit Orange Goblin’ than they’ve gone off and played something completely different. They describe themselves as ‘fusion’, and talking to the band themselves was no help: although it’s only after the words ‘jazz’ ‘soul’ and ‘funk’ have been bandied about, you can hear it in their sound. Actually, I’d better be careful here: it’s NOT a schizophrenic mish-mash sound-clash ala Faith No More, it’s a bit more subtle. It’s more of a jazz FEEL – the guitar will play off the bass, there’ll be a quick time change to a quirky rhythm, and the edge of the song has altered from razor sharp to blunt and crushing.
They’ve got big, thick, meaty riffs, lots of hair (bass player Matt aside) and a neat line in switching drummer and guitar players over. They slayed Bloodstock twice this year, and if you’re after something on the metal side with a bit more of a twist to it, check Silas out. Then go see them again, because the second show will be totally different. They’ve got a host of dates in the works, so keep checking their myspace.
I’m still not quite sure how you’re supposed to pronounce ‘ZOCALO’. All that matters is that they are self confessed Clutch worshippers, purveyors of a grimy blues rock sound that also channels Corrosion of Conformity and they are a much easier to describe prospect than most. This is horn throwing music. You COULD call it ‘Groove metal’, although, personally, I reckon that it’s an ugly term. That said, Zocalo ARE metal, and they’ve got a groove so deep you could lose a giant squid in it, so it DOES sort of apply. In the meantime we’ll have to agree to go with their self penned description ‘Blooze’.
This is the sort of band that should be playing everywhere – this is chuggy, riffy, greasy metal, the sort of metal that for some reason makes you thirsty, which is lucky because, inexplicably, you just found a drink in your hand.
‘Carved in Stone’ is just SOOOO fucking huge it threatens to knock over those stupid pillars and bring the ceiling in. It’s the perfect example of what Zocalo do – soaring and heavy, crushingly adept at both. There’s something going on here that just grabs you and, well, you just can’t stand still to it. If your feet aren’t moving, then your head will be. They’re playing dates on and off for the rest of the year – keep checking the myspace and Facebook pages for details.
Headliners BEHOLDER need the least introduction of all. They’ve started playing the lower rungs of the big festivals, and chances are they’ve played your local venue in the last month or so. They’ve reached that point in a bands career where tours are long, but progress seems to be being made. There’s a pretty epic tour diary here, here and here.
Unsurprisingly, given the array of talent that’s gone on before, Beholder assemble on stage, and just explode. They have to. And they play heavy metal. That’s all you really need to know.
Front man Simon Hall apparently woke up in Falmouth, hungover. It’s a fitting introduction to ‘Born into Pain’ – an epic monster of a song which twists and warps for a good ten minutes, almost going a bit prog for a while. There’s a short change of pace for a furious plugging of the new album ‘The Awakening’, before its title track gets a thorough going over for good measure too. They close with a rendition of Dio’s ‘Holy Diver’ – it’s a blinding cover and an awesome way to close.
I can’t work out if there is any one inspiration here; any one band I can say ‘They sound like these guys’. It’s just a heady mix of all the better bits of metal’s 40 years (woah, that crept up quick didn’t it?), and it’ll blow you to the other side of the room. Follow them on their myspace
Additional photos by Saul Bunn