In these straitened economic times – marked from the music business’ perspective by increasing numbers of venues closing down and promoters going bankrupt – success stories are few and far between and thus should be acclaimed, celebrated and heralded at every opportunity. Which is exactly what today’s proceedings were all about – marking 15 years of The Distortion Project, Belfast’s premier metal promotion, and, in particular, the dedication and commitment over that decade-and-a-half of its head honcho, the one and only Sir James Loveday \m/.
Originally scheduled as a 21-band extravaganza spread across all three of the Limelight complex’s stages, logistical issues and costs ultimately mean that this journey ‘From Hell To The Unknown’ takes place in a slighter smaller format than first planned: but, this in no way diminishes the importance of the occasion, which brings together a mix of ten of the top bands on the Norn Iron metal scene, with three “blow in” English acts topping the collective bill.
Upstarts Donum Dei  have the unenviable occasion of getting proceedings off to a start, and they do so solidly, with their developing brand of neo-thrash which certainly sets an enjoyable tone for the hard bands of early comers – it is just gone noon, ffs – with their emphatic and convincing delivery. The latter is evinced by the quartet’s unveiling of a new song, ‘Torture Makes The Speak’, which has a nice, winding melody which is a bit slower but effective.
The sun is still streaming through the makeshift t blackout curtains hastily erected in the adjoining pub when Skypilot  slide into their dense harmonic vibrations, which mix beautifully with swelling melodies built across mysterious musical patterns, which in turn are built on dark, thrumming bass lines which rumble and roar like a volcano about to eschew its lava across the tiny venue. Next door, ‘Your Misery’ heralds the arrival of The Wildlings, in the shape of Rabid Bitch Of The North  and their frenetic NWOBHM-influenced assault. The rambunctious sramble of ‘Defending Two Castles’ is underpinned by Joe’s solid, Lemmy-esque bass and Chris’ dynamic double kicking – the drummer’s laconic and laidback manner almost gives the lie to his intense style – while Gerry shows a particular energy as his riffs and melodies combine effortlessly.
The lack of a stage in the bar venue doesn’t stop By Any Means  frontman Paul Docs climbing on every available piece of furniture to get close to the faces of the audience, who are now covering every square millimetre of floor space and ramming the smaller of the two rooms to overflowing point. The ever anthemic ‘Built On Respect’ summarizes the band, the event and the feelings of every one present towards the ever humble promoter, who paces the room like an expectant father as he checks on the minutest of details, while ‘No Last Chance’ is positively vehement in its message to another, non-present, local band. Like all of the bands on the bill, Conjuring Fate  are masters of their particular craft, and their twin guitar decimation proves once again how they were able to blow DragonForce off this very same stage last year. Karl Gibson, in particular, shows himself (up) as a great performer – and even beats his guitar-slinging compadre Phil Horner to the traditional CF venue walkabout!
As the event speeds into the mid-afternoon, Zlatenera  deliver their joyous doom-infused groove with an intensity the belies the earliness of the hour. Their thick, chunky riffs are topped off with Andy’s gruff vocals, with the sound, despite the sun still shining outside, eerily suited to the ghost-infused surroundings of this historic venue. Lighted candles and swirling incense herald the arrival of Overoth  to bring the main stage action to a temporary conclusion in titanic style; their dense, dynamic old-school DM displays plenty of technicality. The tightness of their sound is characterized by demon-summoning vocals, interweaving guitar harmonies and viciously knit rhythms, as they deliver a towering performance which matches their statuesque sound.
The focus temporarily relocates to the bar area for the remainder of the late afternoon, where the mighty Triggerman  return to Belfast after too long a gap to deliver their brand of metallic lurgy – and this is one infection you don’t mind catching, as the raw grunt and groove of the likes of ‘Hail To The Rover Gods’ is characterized by heavy, thumping riffs delivered with a “we-don’t-give-a-flying-fuck” attitude and in a manner which is both confident and strident. Sinocence , on the other hand, get off to something of a false start, when Moro breaks a string, but they pick up ‘Perfect Denial’ as if nothing had happened. With the riff of ‘Long Way Down’ so heavy that the bottles behind the bar are vibrating in their optics, the band speed everything up to make up for their lost time, foregoing all but the bare minimum of between song banter – except for Moro’s heartfelt tribute to promoter James and both the bands and fans who have kept the scene alive over the past 15 years (“it takes all three” he reminds all present) .
Zombified  bring the second “stage” action to a close with their intense and hypnotic pure death terrorism. Their huge sound dominates the tiny pub, with its frantic, frenetic bass-led rhythms and vocals which are capable of crushing a Palmyran temple quicker and more effectively than 1,000 tonnes of IS explosives. It’s a suitably apocalyptic end to the second third of the day – but there isn’t time to draw breath before the action resumes on the main stage, where Shrapnel  live up to their name, delivering a blistering blitzkrieg of old school thrash mixed with modern sensibilities. It’s proper order metallic mayhem delivered with blood and fury coursing through its veins, as the Norwich lads rip through their set with energy, enthusiasm and grit.
For many, the most anticipated part of the day’s event was the long-awaited return, to both live action (after a 25-year hiatus) and Belfast of the one and only Acid Reign  – and not a single one of the hardened souls now crammed into the larger venue is disappointed! A re-invigorated H hits the stage running and jumping… until he discovers his microphone isn’t working: it takes the whole of the first song for the singer and the equally baffled sound engineer to sort the issue (“it was fucking working when we soundchecked” says H as he acknowledges the bewilderment of both professionals). But, that’s a minor glitch, as what follows is sheer, joyous, anarchic, out of control, funny as fuck and totally enjoyable. H proves he has an unflappable memory when he temporarily rechristens the venue “The Rosetta for one night only” – addings that “if you don’t know what I’m fucking talking about they you’re too fucking young”… but everybody knows what he’s talking about because, like the singer, we’re all of a certain vintage – but not one which prevents us bopping, jiving, jumping and singing ourselves hoarse …
Xentrix  have the unenviable task of closing off the evening, but they do so with aplomb, with their highly technical death metal captivating and enervating in equal measures. There are some in the audience starting to fade under the pressure of this nine-hour solid metal onslaught – and a few people have been forced to leave due to the incessant walls of unnecessarily high speed white lights which have ruined the enjoyment of most of the sets in the main room – but the renascent trashers manage to keep the sapping energy levels going to end of the evening, thus ensuring that proceedings end on an appropriate high.
All in all, a great day of metal excellence, and a fitting tribute to everyone involved in the Belfast metal scene… not least its progenitor…
The dust may only have just settled on this stupendous celebration, but James Loveday and The Distortion Project show no signs of slowing down, as they present a triple header of gigs at the Limelight complex this coming weekend, starting with Raven and Rabid Bitch Of The North on Friday (October 23), followed by Screaming Eagles, Gasoline Outlaws and Baleful Creed on Saturday, and finishing with the Deathcrusher 2015 tour – featuring Carcass, Obituary, Napalm Death, Voi Vod and Herod – on Sunday.
- Photographs by The Dark Queen. All content © PlanetMosh 2015.