Manchester Metal is alive and kicking, just ask anyone who was at NQ Live last night to witness the launch of Dark Horizons, the debut album from the latest addition to Rocksector Records. Expectations were high as three top class bands were booked to support Babylon Fire and despite an early start, the mood was buoyant and the anticipation was intense.
There was a healthy attendance already when DamageScape opened proceedings with the excellent ‘Damage’. It was loud, it was powerful and true to form, Gemma Fox’s vocals were top notch. DamageScape are a vastly underrated band and as they progressed through their set, those in attendance came to appreciate just how good they really are. Stephen Platt’s lead guitar / backing vocals, supported by Sarit Black’s awesome bass lines and Matthew Mills’s driving cluster beats sparked euphoric appreciation from the crowd. Gemma Fox is not just an accomplished vocalist, she’s a cracking guitarist and a brilliant songwriter as well, which was proved beyond doubt when they performed my favourite song of the set, ‘Refrain’. It’s a powerful ballad and no matter how good it sounds on record, nothing compares to hearing it played live. It was amazing as was the whole set which was concluded with another excellent song ‘Get Away’.
During the changeover, everyone was buzzing and all agreed that we couldn’t have asked for a better opening band than the amazing DamageScape.
Next up were I.C.O.N. and that was the trigger to up the metal content a notch or two. They strutted onto the stage like gladiators into the arena and their performance was no less impressive. They got straight down to business with ‘Cold Divide’ , a heavy rock song with superb vocals from Mark, spitting light hearted venom at the fans close enough. The set was a guitar fuelled extravaganza littered with scorching solos from Scott Knowles, hair flailing in all directions, thunderous percussion from Aaron Youd and tremendous bass lines from Reece Bevan. ‘Inside The Out’ & Messiah Complex’ continued the aural assault and the band generated enough energy to power the national grid.
The stage however belonged to frontman Mark Sagar whose fiery swagger pre-empted a boisterous set and generated an animated response from the crowd who were now hyped up. One of I.C.O.N’s outstanding features is how Mark can effortlessly engage the crowd, enticing them to take an active role in each and every song, whether it be vocally or punching the air in unison. ‘Prizefighter’ was the perfect opportunity for Mark to involve the crowd with shouts of “ Let’s hear you Manchester” and the crowd duly obliged.
They concluded their all too short set with ‘ Seven Second Warning’ & New Born Lie’, both songs had fans with their hands in the air clapping and appreciating the hard work and effort the band were putting into their performance. I.C.O.N.’s stage presence was immense, this was a real metal performance not just a few songs thrown together but a thoroughly entertaining set that will linger in the memory for a long time to come.
Inside the Out
Seven Second Warning
New Born Lie
Local metal merchants Derision turned the screw even further with their merciless, aggressive brand of pure metal. They berated ears with Tony’s primordial growly vocals underpinned with Eddie’s relentless guitar licks and solos. Not to be outdone, John battered the drum kit with impunity and there was not an ounce of subtly with Seddy’s hypnotic bass lines. Derision are a totally in your face hard-core metal band not to be taken lightly and their ever growing fan base appreciate the power and energy these guys generate when the take to the stage. They blew the crowd away with this cracking set and take my advice, if you get the chance to see them live, grab it with both hands, you don’t want to miss what is an incredible experience.
At the first hint of guitars tuning up, the smoking area outside emptied, the bar cleared and people crammed round the stage area like a swarm of starving soldier ants. Yes the moment we had all waited for, arrived. Babylon Fire took to the stage and their opening shot was the brilliant instrumental ‘Gates To Oblivion’. The crowd roared as this haunting melody set the scene for what was to be an unforgettable album launch. Then came ‘Clarion Call’, the opening track on the album and there was a tangible atmosphere present as heads ,hands & feet moved throughout the song, especially during Rishi’s blistering solo and Mark recreated his superb vocals in a live setting. It was gearing up to be a corker and I had no doubts at all that Babylon Fire are as potent live as they are on record…maybe even more so.
It was then Mark Cooper’s turn to take centre stage, so to speak with his solo drum count in, to ‘Darkness Draws Me In’, fast paced, furious shredding with a slightly mellower mid-section that contrasts perfectly with the raw aggression of the rest of the song. It is rumoured that their next song ’Blood In Blood Out’ is going to be a video released soon and if that is true, it’s going to be a stunning video.
This track is brilliant with subtle tempo changes and frenetic drumming throughout. The temperature had risen considerably by the time ‘Stripped Away’ kicked in and everyone was having a great time, I was already covered in sweat (mostly other peoples) but this was how metal should be played and to fans who demanded perfection, which is exactly what they got. There was a section in the song where it slowed down and I half expected to see lighters in the air but in this day and age, all I could see were iPhones.
‘Democracy’ carried on the rampaging metal that is now well established as Babylon Fire’s forte on this stunning album but they cannot be classified as just another metal band. It is obvious where their influences originated but what Babylon Fire have done is to take these influences and mould them into a totally unique and individual sound to create what in my opinion is one of the best debut albums I have heard. By this point you couldn’t squeeze a rizla paper between the fans at the front of stage, it was that packed. Rishi’s intro to ‘Shattered Crown’ had the rockers rocking, the heads banging and the air punctured with devil horns and fists, awesome doesn’t even come close to the atmosphere and excitement that was being generated here and I wouldn’t have missed this gig for anything.
Do Babylon Fire do power ballads? Good question! I don’t think you could say they do but the closest you are likely to get to a power ballad is ‘I Still Remember’ . In parts it does have the feel of approaching that genre particularly at the beginning and the end with acoustic guitar adding a haunting melody. It is another brilliant composition and a real credit to the band that their song writing versatility seems to know no bounds.
Marks lyrical and vocal ability are arguably the best there is on the current scene and no more is it evident than on ‘Wrath Of The Fallen’. I loved it on the album but watching them perform it live in front of an enthusiastic horde is something else altogether. It was mesmerising to the point of hysteria and that was just my view from the back, at the front it was just a seething mass of writhing bodies living every note, every drum beat as if their lives depended on it. A spectacle to behold and an experience to be relived over and over again.
There was no let up with the next track ‘Within The Mouth Of Madness’, it plundered the depths of the soul and straddled the dividing line between primitive rawness and pure metal. Adding this extra dimension to their repertoire protects Babylon Fire from accusations of jumping on any particular bandwagon and when they returned to their roots with ‘Freight Train’ it rubber stamped their credentials as a diverse and original band, the like of which has not been seen for a long time.
Alas! The end was nigh as they played their final song of the evening. ‘Rise Through Babylon’ was a fitting conclusion to the set and every man and his dog were rocking the venue to its foundations, not a single body who was standing was still, all were swaying and moving to the monster grooves that Babylon Fire were hurling at them indiscriminately.
Everyone had a brilliant time and I can’t remember an album launch like it. It was also memorable for my partner Angie Smith who was invited backstage to capture some exclusive photos of the band and who is still buzzing as I write this. All the guys in the band, were really friendly and spent an age meeting & greeting fans, having photos taken and chatting to everyone.
MARK D: LEAD VOCALS
RISHI MEHTA: LEAD GUITAR & VOCALS
RYK SWILLO: BASS & VOCALS
MARK COOPER: DRUMS
INTRO (GATES TO OBLIVION)
THE CLARION CALL
DARKNESS DRAWS ME IN
BLOOD IN BLOOD OUT
I STILL REMEMBER
WRATH OF THE FALLEN
WITHIN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS
RISE THROUGH BABYLON
I must also say a big thank you to Lynne Hampson from Rocksector Records who made the whole event possible and for inviting us to be part of such a brilliant night.
If I had to rate this album launch on a scale of 1 – 10 , I would award it a 10 because perfection has no equal.
Review by Joe McKenna.
Photos by Steve Brinkman