Following a pair of warm-up festival shows in Spain – well, they certainly were “warm” – Stormzone returned to the colder climes of their native Belfast for this, the official launch of their most recent album, ‘Seven Sins‘. They were also returning to a familiar venue, but one which has changed substantially since their last headline appearance back in 2012… Having been privy to a secret rehearsal the previous weekend, PlanetMosh’s Belfast team had an inkling of one or two of the surprises the band had in store for their diehard fans – but not even that prepared us for some of the developments which occurred as the evening unfolded…
To mark this special occasion, promoters – and Stormzone management – The Distortion Project had pulled together a varied supporting cast. The task of opening proceedings falls to the newly reformed Flang, a band who had been doing the rounds of the County Armagh circuit for a number of years before calling it a day back in 2012. To be honest, their attempted fusion of folk, punk and classic rock didn’t really float PM’s boat, especially with the sound mix obliterating any trace of the second guitar and the bodhran: it did sound like the rhythm section were playing one song and the rest of the band a different one all the way through their set, with the result sounding like an unholy fight between second rate Pogues and Thin Lizzy tribute acts after a night on the black stuff.
Youngsters Donum Dei crank the volume up with their developing brand of neo-thrash, which gets earlycomers’ heads nodding in appreciation. The vein of arrogance which had been detected during their own recent EP launch show has been excised, replaced by confidence, assurity and conviction in what they are doing. ‘Justice Fails’ – the title track of the aforementioned EP – is delivered with typical venom, while ‘Contribute To Chaos’ demonstrates how this young band are continuing to develop apace, drawing upon their own ‘Courage From Within’ and should let nothing curb their enthusiasm as they continue to look to a bright future.
The question circulating the room as Rabid Bitch Of The North set up is “what colour guitar will Gerry be playing today?”. Kicking off with ‘Your Misery’, the trio cram their allotted half hour with their trademark NWOBHM-influenced classic metal, filled with screaming vocals, wailing guitar solos, dense, rumbling bass rhythms and sharp, precise drumming from Chris, who proves once again not only why he is one of best double kick single bass drummers around but also one of the few who knows how to use his cymbals properly. It’s a short set, but one which once more demonstrates the tightness of the band, as they feed off each and the slowly growing audience and deliver erstwhile favourites such as ‘Help I’m Trapped In 1999’ and anthemic rabble-rousing closer ‘Us Against Them’ with their usual panache and vigour. [BTW, the answer to the guitar question was dark blue].
Birmingham power crew Vicious Nature had the unenviable task of filling the “special guest” slot: but, the veterans – the band is made up of former members of Marshall Law and Cloven Hoof – set about doing so with gusto. Their thick, chunky sound is a mix between the classic British metal sound of their collective backgrounds and sub-thrash. The experience of the band definitely shines through in their easy professionalism – and especially vocalist Andy Pyke’s interaction with the crowd – and their tight, solid delivery. The politically-charged ‘System Of Disorder’ manages to encourage a two-man mosh pit and evokes as good a singalong as they’re going to get from this still surprisingly sparse crowd, while ‘Dream Stealer’ is classic British metal, very much in the vein of ’90s era Priest, while they save the best to last with the suitably rousing and fist-punching ‘Fight For Your Life’.
Things take a decidedly downward turn during the final changeover of the evening, as somehow a plastic pint glass of water is spilled all over Stormzone guitarist Steve Moore’s digital pedal board, and both he and the crew spend nearly 20 minutes trying to dry the equipment out: but, there’s an old adage that the show must go on, and so it does… albeit 20 minutes late – and, immediately, breaths are drawn throughout the room at the sight, not of SZ’s normal twin guitar attack, but a triple assault! In addition to their towering, dreadlocked new addition, Junior, doing his damnedest to hide behind the speaker stacks stage right, the lads have also re-united with original guitarist Steve ‘Doc’ Doherty to bring an extra oomph to this special homecoming show.
With wails of protesting feedback emanating from Moore’s soaked equipment, the band appropriately tear enthusiastically into ‘Bathsheba’, the opening track from ‘Seven Sins’, during which frontman Harv saunters majestically onto the stage, looking every inch like his idol Biff Byford, in mid-length trench coat and shades: hell, even his flowing locks are adopting a similarly white-ish hue!
With time now of the essence – the protracted delay means the band have to shave almost a third off their original 75 minute set list as the dreaded early Saturday curfew races ever closer – the band rip straight into ‘Another Rainy Night’ before plunging, briefly, into their back catalogue for ‘Three Kings’ and the Dave ‘Basher’ Bates led ‘The Pass Loning’ – a song which possesses one of the best drum intros ever – before Harv quickly introduces the band and gets on with the business in hand…
Moore is obviously still struggling with the singular, unchangeable tone of his instrument as the band revisit the new album on ‘You’re Not The Same’, but he battles on like the professional that he is, and the other two guitarists have more than stepped up to the mark in not only supporting but doing their best to upstage him. Doc in particular seems to enjoy being back in the spotlight, playing with a massive smile on his face and even trying to push Harv out of the way to grab his share of the stage front. It’s therefore appropriate that the penultimate song of the evening is the one for which he wrote the riff and which gave birth to one of the other characters central to the Stormzone mythos, ‘Death Dealer’, before the band finally bring the curtain down on this foreshortened but hugely enjoyable evening in traditional style with the roof-raising ‘The Legend Carries On’.
Stormzone are a band derided by many “purists” on the Belfast metal scene. Yes, they are what you might call ‘niche’ – and, yes, they do appeal to a certain demographic. And, yes, they are more popular outside their homeland. But, they do what they do with passion and commitment – and that was clear this evening.
- Photographs by The Dark Queen
- All content © PlanetMosh 2015