The rock and metal community, perhaps more than any other in the field of music, always has been known for its generosity of spirit and support for worthy causes. For the community in Northern Ireland, few are more special or better supported than Blaze’s Appeal, which raises funds for the Royal Belfast Hospital For Sick Children, the highlight of which is the annual Blazefest, now in its fourth cycle.
The inspiration behind the event is young Blaze Shields-Pettitt, an otherwise lively little boy who suffers from Severe Bilateral Hydronephrosis, a condition whereby both of his kidneys are stretched and swollen, and which affects one in 600 people. In Blaze’s case, it was diagnosed during ante-natal scans: his condition is complicated by the fact that he also suffers from Vesicoureteral Reflex (VUR), a condition which reverses the flow of urine between the bladder and kidneys. After numerous operations – all of which Blaze has faced with a bravery and humour envied by many adults – his parents, Darren and Dawn, came up with the idea of combining their lifelong passion for heavy metal with their desire to show their thanks to the nursing teams at the hospital by raising invaluable funds. To date, the couple, together with NI’s ever generous metallians, have raised more than £10,000 – a total which is set to swell significantly after this latest, and arguably most successful, instalment.
With no fewer than three line-up changes in the weeks leading up to the event – the most recent coming on the actual morning of the gig – the historic Empire Music Hall was turned into a sweat pit of camaraderie and riffs for the second successive year, with eight bands lending their support and entertaining the several hundred fans who dug deep into their pockets to in turn support this very special cause…
Openers Lipstik Lizards (https://www.facebook.com/LipstikLizards) get things off to an energetic start, although this being their first gig with this line-up (and vocalist Matthew Duly temporarily taking up bass duties) shows with their somewhat rough but enjoyable approach. Donum Dei (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Donum-Dei/144914665575849) step into the breach after the last minute withdrawal of Maverick (due to a recurrence of vocalist Davy Balfour’s throat problems) for their second set in less than 24 hours, and once again perform solidly and with growing confidence.
Gigs of this type always throw up something special by way of a treat, and thus it was on this occasion as Rebels By Nature (https://www.facebook.com/rebelsbynature) re-united for one night only: at first as if these whiskey-influenced sweat-soaked rock ‘n’ rollers haven’t been away for two years, as they are as rowdy and rambunctious as ever, but things quickly go wrong, as vocalist Phill is obviously struggling, particularly physically, and he doesn’t help their progress along the comeback trail when he smacks bassist Hayley in the face with a flying mic, sending blood streaming from her face and forcing her to spend the rest of the set with her back to the crowd. But, musically, the four instrumentalists are as tight as ever, and it will be interesting to see if this one-off gives them a thirst for a more permanent reunion…
Altus (https://www.facebook.com/AltusBelfast) are a young band whom PM have followed closely since their arrival on the Belfast scene last summer: however, since we last caught up with them they have undergone a change in both line-up, with the arrival of vocalist Matt Cordner, and direction. The singer’s harder edged singing style has seen them introduce a more metalcore vibe to their previously groove style, although they do retain the darkness and depth, particularly at the bottom end of their sound. This jury is still out, however…
Opening up the second half of the bill, Baleful Creed (https://www.facebook.com/BalefulCreed) on the other hand produce no surprises with a set that is characteristically thumping, solid and tight – if slightly mellower and more restrained than normal.
Playing extremely infrequent gigs in their ‘homeland’ means that Sandstone (https://www.facebook.com/sandstonerocks) are one Northern Ireland band who have slipped under the radar of many local fans: however, tonight offered an opportunity for that fanbase to see exactly why their counterparts elsewhere in Europe have been so receptive in recent years. The Gothic-infused power metal, with its classic twin guitar harmonies and soaring solos, is delivered with panache, and, despite vocalist Sean McBay looking like he would be more comfortable on a much bigger stage, their charisma and ability wins them many new converts.
Worldsend (https://www.facebook.com/worldsendmusic) are another band who haven’t played Belfast in quite a while, but this does not stop them unleashing their distinctive brand of harmonic, progressive rock with the ferocity of a hurricane sweeping up the nearby River Lagan. With their melodies sweeping and soaring around the rafters of this former church, Eddie Currie’s passionate vocals combine with J’s well-honed and practised but fluid technique, all the while underpinned by the rock solid bass work of the ever dependable-as-concrete Paul Boyd and drummer Andrew McCullough. The majestic ‘Letters From A Lost Soul’, delivered with restrained fury, is a definite set highlight, as is the sublime solo of the nerve-shredding ‘Inconspicuous Others’.
The only thing missing from Stormzone’s (https://www.facebook.com/stormzoneuk) fiery homecoming is a battery of pyrotechnics at the start of ‘Where We Belong’: and this is a band who most definitely are where they belong – on stage, in front of a hugely appreciative audience and giving it large all round. They are a band who instil a unique passion in their hometown crowd – so much so that some fans even have flown home from Spain just to catch this special show! They are rewarded with a typical Stormzone set – and then some – as Harv (definitely one of the most charismatic frontmen in metal) leads his troops through yet another powerhouse of a performance, delivered with gleeful, almost childlike, grins throughout.
No smile is wider than that of Davy ‘Basher’ Bates, who is never happier than when, well, bashing 50 shades of shit out of his kit – although bassist Graham McNulty does, as always, give him a close run for his money, while the twin guitar attack of Steve Moore and David Shields produces enough fireworks to make up for the lack of pyro and simultaneously set alarm bells ringing at Belfast’s main fire station!
It’s often said that journalists like to have the last word… on this occasion, however, this particular journalist is going to leave that honour to PM photographer Marc Leach, who said on his Facebook afterwards: “Great show, great cause, great music, great people, great craic, great venue and an all round great night!” Honestly, could not put it better…
Photographs by Marc Leach: https://www.facebook.com/officialmarcleachphotography.
Check out a full gallery of photographs at http://planetmosh.com/blazefest-iv-photo-gallery-belfast-08032014/