Asking Alexandria + While She Sleeps + Motionless In White @ Mandela Hall, Belfast – Wednesday January 16th 2013

Gigs like this make me feel decidedly old.  As I stand on the balcony looking out over the basement venue, the floor below me is a seething mass of pre-pubescent bodies, each and every one of them, without exception, younger than my own daughter… behind me, the bar staff are twiddling their thumbs and flirting with each other, as I am one of a handful of punters old enough to have the pleasure of enjoying a warm cider in a stupidly-thin plastic glass during tonight’s show.  The travails of being a rock journalist, eh…

Motionless In WhiteMotionless In White – whose backdrop blatantly and completely rips off Venom’s classic ‘Welcome To Hell’ artwork – take to the stage almost 90 minutes after the doors open, with the result that some of those teenagers who had queued from early in the afternoon in order to ensure their place at the balcony have already had to be pulled out of the crowd and treated for exhaustion…

The much-hyped US six piece prove to be a real surprise package, with their goth image and industrial-tinged hardcore sound:  sort of Nine Inch Nails meeting Marilyn Manson in a back alley knife fight with Glenn Danzig trying to decide which side to take!   Vocalist Chris Motionless certainly knows how to work the crowd (despite his microphone constantly cutting out every time he moved away from the dead centre of the stage – and his annoying habit of constantly reminding everyone of the band’s name), and they respond accordingly with virtually everyone in the place bouncing and jumping throughout their set.  Bassist Ghost is also extremely impressive:  looking how you might imagine Nikki Sixx as portrayed by Johnny Depp in the much vaunted ‘The Dirt’ movie, he is rock solid in keeping down the bottom end.

‘Infamous’ by Motionless In White is out now:

While She SleepsIt’’s not hard to see how While She Sleeps more or less swept the boards in many underground music polls and award ceremonies last year, as they ratchet the intensity level up considerably.  Surprisingly, however, the audience reaction, at least initially, is considerably more muted than that for the openers, but it doesn’t take long for that to change, and by the time ‘The North Still Stands For Nothing’ (the title track of their 2010 debut album) hits, the circle pit has started to lurch into live, albeit in a somewhat lacklustre manner.

The star of the show is undoubtedly frontman Lawrence Taylor, who is both charismatic and powerful.  He spends almost as much time in the audience as in front of it – much to the chagrin of the venue’s under pressure (and that’s being polite) security, who almost rip the jeans off him as he climbs the barrier for the rabble rousing title track to last year’s sophomore ‘This Is The Six’:  as it is, he merely loses his shoes (although they’re quickly thrown back on stage).

The rest of the band are tight and effective, especially twin guitarists Sean Long and Mat Welsh – the latter a sane counterpoint to the madness of his frontman, who finishes the night on the balcony, being restrained by no fewer than three uniformed guard as he attempts to hurl himself into the pit at the conclusion of the brilliant ‘Seven Hills’.

‘This Is The Six’ by While She Sleeps’ is out now:

Between bands, a walk down into the main foyer quickly shows how badly security are actually handling tonight’s show.  With the bars closed, the hallway is littered with exhausted, dehydrating teenagers;  those who are able to are queuing in the toilets, not to relieve themselves, but to risk all sorts of horrible stomach bugs by gulping a few mouthfuls of water from the wash-hand basins.  Appeals to the spotty youth guarding the access to the smoking area (the point of which is what, at an underage gig?) for help are met with a ‘not-my-job’ shrug of the shoulders.  A further confrontation ensues when those of us upstairs try to bring water down to those in need below:   fortunately, the situation is resolved when someone who appears to know what they’re doing arrives and points out that there are vending machines in the smoking area (so, it did have a purpose!).

Asking Alexandria - Jan 2013I must admit, I’d never really paid much attention to headliners Asking Alexandria until this gig was announced, and had wistfully dismissed them as yet another of those dreaded upstart ‘metalcore’ outfits – albeit with a bit more of a ‘pretty boy’ image than many of their contemporaries.  However, a couple of spins of their first two albums had proven to me that preconceptions all too often are proved wrong, as AA’s sound is certainly a lot closer to traditional metal – and even NWOBHM, in its spirit and innovation.

Their image certainly is very much the antithesis of many of their counterparts – all black T-shirts and ripped jeans, very retro and sleazy – and musically they are certainly head and shoulders above around 90 per cent of the acts of the same generation currently doing the rounds.  Danny Worsnop is not only an extremely good vocalist – concentrating on singing rather than screaming – but is also a frontman of the old school, constantly moving and interacting on a very one-to-one basis with his audience,

In fact, ‘old school’ is quite an apt description of the band’s overall approach:  guitarists

Ben Bruce and Chris Liddell deliver catchy riffs and good melodies, with plenty of harmony and interaction, while the rhythm section of Sam Bettley and James Cassells is not only tight as fuck but deliver a huge bass and drum sound which is one of the loudest I have heard in recent history at this particular venue (yes, beating even Manowar in the volume stakes!).  With it being almost two years since their last album, they take the opportunity to showcase a new track, ‘Run Free’, which is brooding, complex and dense and perhaps hints at a darker new direction for the band?

I’m one of those older fans who insist that today’s young upstarts know nothing about proper heavy metal, and do not know how to play it in a way that is genuinely exciting and enervating.  Tonight, Asking Alexandria proved to me that they are one of the very few exceptions to the rule – and I’m very glad that they proved me wrong.

‘Reckless and Relentless’ by Asking Alexandria is out now (see link below).

About Mark Ashby

no longer planetmosh staff
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