For many bands, it must be a burning ambition – often unfulfilled for all too many – to headline the most iconic venue in their hometown… in the case of Belfast, the venue in question is the Ulster Hall, a Victorian building which is the city’s equivalent, as more than one musician on this evening’s bill remarked, of the Royal Albert Hall. And the reason for fulfilment of the collected ambitions of six of the best local metal acts could not have been a better one – to mark the 13th birthday of the Distortion Project, the working name of one James Loveday, Northern Ireland’s premier metal promoter and a genuinely nice bloke who has given over a large portion of his life to the music that he loves.
First to invade the ‘Grand Old Dame of Bedford Street’ (as the venue is affectionately known among the local arts intelligentsia) were Rabid Bitch Of The North: the trio admittedly looked somewhat lost on the huge stage – which has hosted everyone from Led Zeppelin (‘Stairway To Heaven’ was played live for the first time on these very boards) to Metallica, AC/DC to Rory Gallagher – but were completely undaunted and delivered a hard hitting and enjoyable set packed with their trademark classic metal riffs, with punchy versions of ‘Defending Two Castles’, ‘Trapped In 1999’ (complete with guest vocals) and the highly appropriate ‘us Against Them’ finisher.
After the high energy of RBOTN, Skypilot brought a complete change in pace: their heavy doom-edged sound, characterized by long instrumental passages, proved not to be to the taste of many of the early comers, with a lot of people choosing to hang out in the foyer bar instead. Nevertheless, they delivered a typically solid set.
Zombified front man Pete Clarke looks as if he was born to inhabit the massive stage, and looked perfectly at home as the band ratcheted the brutality factor up to the maximum with their hard-hitting death metal grind. Their extreme sound may not have been to the taste of many present, but they performed with panache and undoubtedly won over a few new fans.
With numbers still very thin in the auditorium, ‘Derry quartet Triggerman nevertheless take to the stage with their characteristic energy and enthusiasm, and don’t necessarily open up a can of ‘Worms’ but a whole crate of whoop-ass. With front man Bap being the first to reference the enormity of the occasion for those concerned – “it’s a long way to the beer” he remarks – their fiery set reinforces the gratification felt by seeing the cream of local metal playing with full auditorium sound and light show…
However, as Sinocence take to the stage, one problem with the evening exacerbates the other: the low attendance – a venue which would be crammed to capacity for a second-rate pop band is less than a quarter full for this exhibition of the best that the local metal scene has to offer – means that deficiencies in the sound start to make themselves obvious. The mix on the Sins’ guitars, for example, is extremely muddy, and one has to strain to hear Anto’s solos, while Moro’s lead vocals are all but inaudible more than a few feet from the stage. The problems are most obvious when Sweet Savage’s Ray Haller joins the band for a rendition of ‘Killing Time’: his vocals start at a deafening volume and then virtually disappear, along with the guitars… but, the band appear unaware of the issues out front and play their bollocks off to deliver a blinding and otherwise hugely enjoyable set.
The sound problems continue with headliners Stormzone: the twin guitars of Steve Moore and Dave Shiels are mixed separately, with no crossover, resulting in a ‘dead zone’ about a dozen feet from the centre of the stage, while the upper end of Harv’s register again is completely inaudible as he suffers from an overly-bassy mix.
Again, however, the quintet are more than cognisant of the import of the occasion and set about the job in hand with aplomb, energy and their usual high degree of commitment, garnering an ecstatic reaction from the couple of hundred fans who have turned out to support the occasion. Harv bounces about the stage with more energy than a five-year old on Christmas morning, while the band are as tight and practised – if not more – as you would expect from NI’s foremost metal outfit.
A great night for all concerned – despite the poor turnout and atrocious sound (especially in the latter half of the night) – and not only a fitting showcase of the Northern Ireland metal scene and the commitment and dedication of those who give their everything to keep it alive…
Photographs by Marc Leach. For more photos from this gig, visit our gallery: https://planetmosh.com/dp13-rock-the-hall-belfast-photo-gallery-15112013/