For any artist, the launch of a new work is a special occasion. For Norn Iron’s premier heavyweights, Sinocence, the unveiling of their new EP – the second instalment in their ‘No Gods, No Masters’ triptych – called for that something a little extra special. And so the band assembled a cast that comprised of four other of the top live bands from this part of the planet we call Mosh – an assemblage of rock and metal warriors, in turn, designed to push them to the limit of their own performance and ensure that they were at the top of their game.
First to pick up the gauntlet are the Gasoline Outlaws, a new name on the Norn Iron scene but one featuring a wealth of experience, in the shape of past and present members of the likes of Black Freeway, Last Known Addiction and Pay*ola. And their collective experience shines through as, despite having less than a handful of gigs under their belts, the Outlaws have a tight, punctual groove. Vocalist Matt Fitz (pictured left) is the living embodiment of the description “the wee man with a big voice”, and prowls the stage like a predatory panther with the scent of blood in its nostrils. Behind him, Adam Callaghan is obviously enjoying playing a slightly heavier style, with his short, snappy drum lines underpinning Chris Fitzsimons’ chunky, fingerpicked bass rhythms and Adam Parkin’s big beefy guitar sound. The songs themselves are solid and tight, with an aciditic edge that tracks you down and draws you into their hypnotic embrace like a pack of ‘Shrouded Wolves’ as the Outlaws pour their ‘Heart And Soul’ into an emotional and passionate set.
The remaining four bands had all shared a stage as recently as seven days earlier, when they threw their not inconsiderable weight behind this year’s instalment of the annual Blazefest charity bash. Donum Dei once again prove themselves to be a tight and deadly effective metal machine, building their sound from Dean Kane’s dense, throbbing bass lines into well-constructed and hugely effective traditional thrash workouts. Frontman Thomas Marshall (pictured right) pulls an extremely impressive line in facial gurns, while the band as a whole possesses an intensity which belies the timidity of their appearance. Once again they also show they are building for the future, with the unveiling of a new song, ‘Erased’, while the dense groove of ‘Gravelands’ once again demonstrates why it is one of the most popular songs in their growing repertoire.
Right from the opening notes of ‘Snakeskin Sinner’, Maverick have everyone in the room nodding their heads and clapping their feet, clapping their hands and (those who know the words) singing along – before their set is brought to an abrupt halt at the end of second song, ‘Electric’, when drummer Mike Ross announces he has smashed right through his snare drum, While frontman Dave Balfour engages in some friendly banter with both the hapless sticksman – who is rescued by the quick-thinking Bogdan from Conjuring Fate – and the crowd, urging the latter closer to the stage. With normal service resumed, the band race through the remainder of their consequently foreshortened set, closing with the ever rousing debut single, ‘Paint By Numbers’: nevertheless, it’s a great sign of the enthusiasm a band have for playing their music when the various musicians are singing along to the words, even when they’re not actually doing backing vocals!
As we have come to expect from both the band and the song, Conjuring Fate‘s opener, ‘House On The Haunted Hill’, impacts harder than a meteor in the Mojave Desert. Guitarists Phil Horner and Karl Gibson trade licks and solos with each other with an almost lackadaisical ease, while Tommy Daly’s vocal performance is particularly intense – although he leaves plenty of room for his characteristic humour when he sprays most of the assembled photographers with carefully a carefully aimed ejaculation of mineral water (as pictured left)! Highlights of the set include the ever more majestic ‘Chasing Shadows’, which starts off poignantly poetic before kicking everyone’s butt all over the floor, and the Maiden-esque ‘Mirror Mirror’, which sees Phil on his trademark wander around the venue. It’s another powerful and highly impressive set from a band who have maintained a consistently high standard since their return to action this time last year.
A stage swathed in red lights piercing clouds of smoke, and the music from ‘Game Of Thrones’ heralds the arrival of the band de jour – and the Sins do not disappoint as the opening salvo of THAT riff – ‘Long Way Down’ for the uninitiated – rips and growls from the speakers. As noted in our review of Blazefest, Sinocence seem to have a whole new energy about them since emerging from their recent sojourn in Einstein Studios, and this is clearly demonstrated by a vitriolic and ferocious version of ‘A Coda On Self-Slaughter’, which is delivered at breakneck speed.
Seymour’s earthquaking-inducing bass intro to ‘Ascension Code’ signals the start of the EP play through, which sees the band match the adrenalin of the occasion with the precision of the music they have spent the last few months laying down (with the help of the genius who is producer Frankie McClay, who is present to watch like a proud parent). Once again, the less forced vocal style which characterizes Moro’s performance on the EP lends warmth and depth to the new songs, while the pummeling passion of ‘In Kymatica’ sees both Seymour and drummer Davy Cassa rise to a whole new level of power mixed with physicality. A surprising highlight is the awesome ‘Valorous’: written about the death from cancer of a close friend of the singer, you can feel, hear and see the poignancy and suffering in Moro’s voice, adding a completely entrancing quality to the show – something which is all too rare in metal gigs these days.
The band are clearly enjoying themselves as they plunge headlong into their back catalogue for a closing triptych of fan favourites, with ‘Making A Monster’ sounding positively bestial in its re-invigoration and ‘Metal Box’ providing a suitably frantic finale, leaving the crowd baying, nay pleading, for more, to be denied only by the curfew.
A few years ago, I dismissed Sinocence as “metal by numbers”: in the intervening period, I have witnessed the band re-invent themselves and consequently go from strength to strength: tonight was a clear and defined showcase of a highly confident act at the peak of their powers, and more than capable of holding their own against many so-called “bigger” names – and possibly beating quite a few of them to a bleeding pulp and leaving them lying crying in a corner like a bunch of wannabe has-been Simon Cowell rejects.
Long Way Down / A Coda On Self-Slaughter / Ascension Code / In Kymatica / Valorous / Slavery By Consent / Covert Messiah / Making A Monster / Perfect Denial / Metal Box
Sinocence and Conjuring Fate return to the Limelight 2 this coming Saturday to take part in the fourth heat of Bloodstock Metal 2 The Masses Northern Ireland, along with Scimitar and By Conquest Or Consent. Doors are at 5pm and admission is £5.
Photos by The Dark Queen.