The names on the poster read ‘Lazarus AD’ and ‘Bonded By Blood’: two bands which have had their share of words lovingly written by us in the past, found here, here, here, here and here. And it’s worth noting that only ONE of those was a live review. Otherwise known as the place where metal lives and breathes. Or falls flat on its over-hyped arse, falls forgotten and dies. It doesn’t matter how good your record is if you can’t make it connect with a room full of people.
Thrash metal is on its umpteenth revival now, and currently leading the US charge are proto-thrashers Bonded By Blood. When we spoke to them in the Summer of ’10, they had a bright yellow guitar and a different singer. From that you can gather that the vocals now come from a new throat, but the face melting riffs still come from that retina destroying six-string.
The headliner’s, Lazarus AD have a different take on thrash (more of which later) and are currently on their first UK tour, and actually, first European tour. Which means they’re on their first oversees trip. And they’re headlining. Not too shabby.
But, it’s a 4 band bill, so there’s a while yet before they show the Islington Academy why they’ve earned that billing. With their debut UK Show.
There’s nearly always one band on every bill who don’t quite seem to fit in. Tonight, openers Kill the Machine are THAT band. And you know they ain’t thrash from the second they take the stage, before even a note rings out.
You know how every rock club has that one big, scary guy? Well, it turns out he has a band. And a pretty good one at that. Their first track sounds a bit Pantera-y, the second lands smack into Kyuss territory. While their take on doomy, stoner rock is kinda hampered by the guitar being too quiet (nope, I’ve never known that happen before either), you can see where they’re aiming – with the right sound guy (or gal) KtM could blow peoples heads off – Doom metal with a South London Drawl? Vocals not so much sung, more yelled with varying pitch? Bring it!
Obviously feeling a bit out place among the younger, thrashier bands, they declare themselves to be ‘Abba at a Motorhead convention’, rip through another and hit the bar. Facebook would seem to be the best way of keeping track of what they’re up to.
Staying with the idea of first impressions, Abadden get a “holy fuck – they’re young”. After taking the stage to the music from Predator they launch into a Megadethy take on thrash, one that’s played at lightspeed, and if there’s space for a note in a riff or solo, they shoe horn in six more. Despite being beset by sound issues for a lot of the set, they make the most of the opportunity, and do seem to be winning fans. And it pretty much boils down to this – they can play, they can sing, AND they can mix it up a bit (there were a few classic rock style riffs mixed into the grimey thrash sound), BUT they just need a few ‘better’ songs – the last two were killer, but you felt they had to warm up into them. They’ve played the Hammerfest in Prestatyn, and they’ve got a pretty funky myspace going on. Give them a year or so and if there’s any justice, you’ll be hearing them from a much bigger stage.
When I say we spoke to Bonded by Blood, I really only spoke to Aladdin, the former lead singer. Former as in ‘left and replaced’. The new guy, Mauro is much less diminutive, but he’s still got pipes. Two songs in and he’s introducing the band, and new (ish) faces…. And given that he’s not been in BBB all that long, it shows a pretty high degree of comfort in his surrounds….
And while ‘comfort’ seems to be A word for it, it’s not quite right because it implies complacency. BBB aren’t the youngest of bands on the bill (given that they’re already on album number 2, it pretty much makes them the veterans of the night) and (musically) they command the tiny stage like no other band on the bill – actually, they kinda waked the whole venue like they owned it – from guitarist to Alex Lee’ calmly strolling around the venue with a yo-yo to the sight of Mauro charging into Lazarus AD’s pit, I’m struggling to think of a band I’ve seen showing that level of ballsiness.
Drawing largely from last years sci-fi concept album ‘Exiled to Earth’ (it’s the future, the Crong are invading and only a small band of freedom fighters can save us) it’s a tight set, and the band are using their allotted time wisely. So, there may not have been that much onstage chat, but there WAS a long setlist in it’s place. I was left feeling a BIT unengaged by this, but, on the other hand, I’ve seen enough bands with motor-mouthed, egotistical lead-singers who can’t shut up. There’s probably a happy medium in there somewhere, but what we got shown tonight was more a lesson in blunt efficiency.
Given the upheavals they’ve had, you’d expect to see at least one sign of faltering or a lack of surety. In the end you see neither, just three quarters of an hour of high speed brutality.
Strictly speaking, this tour is a double header… Some nights Bonded by Blood will be top of the bill, others it’ll fall to Lazarus AD.
Tonight was one of the ‘others’, so we got to see (relative) the Wisconsin newcomers show off their take on thrash.
And, if nothing else, it means that tonight is a handy tasting course in what thrash actually means. Or could actually sound like: since it’s a genre with a great many influences, and a great deal of history, a LOT of bands have stamped their individual style over the thrash sound.
Lazarus seem to have taken Metallica’s ‘Black Album’ tempo, and given it a Pantera groove. So, while it means that there’s nothing too groundbreaking, it does mean that muscle memory kicks in, and you know exactly how each musical passage will play out. For what it’s worth, that’s actually a good thing – there are times when complex time signatures, and songs with three different chorus structures aren’t really what you fancy.
Sometimes you just want to get drunk and rock out. Lazarus know this, that’s why they formed as a band in the first place.
But, every band needs a hook, something to elevate you from the other hordes vying for space on the airwaves, shop shelves, and internet bandwidth. Lazarus AD have dual (and duelling) singers.
Metallica famously went in for riff trading.
Lazarus have upped this and gone for lyric trading – on record, it sounds pretty cool. Live… well, its captivating, and if your neck wasn’t already fucked from keeping time with the riffs, you’ll twist your head right off as the source of the vocals switches from one side of the stage, and back again.
That said, though, despite having dual singers, there is only one frontman: Jeff Paulick obviously has the reins here, about as clear a focal point mid-song as the band setup will allow, and amiable between songs. Apparently London nearly wiped them out financially, with Southampton pretty much finishing the job – their tourbus was broken into and they pretty much lost everything they weren’t onstage with. Two lessons for all here – #1 Don’t leave a tour bus unattended, and #2 Don’t go to St. Mary’s (or better yet, don’t go to Southampton, it’s really not worth it.)
Ultimately, they amount to a pretty decent night out – BBB may well be a bit more of an acquired taste, but Lazarus AD have got a more mainstream attack, and should be more than capable of pleasing a wider audience.
I’m personally hoping that that whole Southampton thing doesn’t put them off coming back to the UK – given a bigger crowd, a bigger stage and a bigger venue to put them in, there’s the makings there for some serious spinal injuries.
Photos by Lucy Isdale (of Aperture Angels. Go check out some more of her stuff, she’s frickin’ awesome)
Many thanks to Talita at Earache Records for arranging the tickets.