|Axegressor / Scimitar / Cursed Sun - Belfast, Voodoo - 7th January 2016|
|Written by Mark Ashby|
|Saturday, 16 January 2016 04:00|
On the day on which he took the highly unusual - and brave step of launching a crowd funding campaign to help sustain his 15-year career as the cornerstone of Belfast heavy metal scene, the virtual one man army that is The Distortion Project’s James Loveday also kicked off the gigging year in the city with this first visit by Finnish retro-thrashers Axegressor, at the start of a debut three-day Irish tour which also saw them visit Galway and Dublin.
Mid-Ulster groove machine Cursed Sun get things off to a righteous start, opening their set with a brief tribute to Lemmy Kilmister, in the shape of a short, sharp burst of the WWE theme ‘The Game’, before summoning the apocalypse with the suitably entitled ‘Unleashed’. Although a little ring rusty – there are a couple of false starts during their half hour set – they are powerful and tighter than a Ballymena man’s wallet, and they start the new metal year off with a couple of new tracks. The first, ‘Cataclysmic Decline’ punches hard and furious but nevertheless contains beautifully textured layers of light and dark harmonies; the other, ‘Primordial Chaos’, has a dark groove firmly embedded in a dense double-kick-fuelled thrash vibe, with both tracks promising well for the new EP due in the not too distant future.
Belfast’s own Scimitar are the ideal choice for the main support slot, as their Bay Area-influenced thrash very much echoes the feel of the headliners. They divebomb straight in at the deep by opening with a new track, ‘Cursed City’ - tight, progressive thrash played at characteristically furious speed and with plenty of fire in its belly. The pace doesn’t let up with the epic ‘Erased From Existence’, a full throttle thrash assault built on a fiercely bombastic double kick rhythm, and the revitalized ‘Behead The Beast’, while ‘Black Death’ exhibits dense layers under its thrashy demeanour.
Like Cursed Sun before them, Scimitar also pay tribute to Lemmy, whom singer Jonny describes as his personal hero. What follows is an emotional (especially for the frontman) interpretation of ‘Ace Of Spades’, which is faithful and respectful, but with their own little twist, especially on Ryan’s drumming. Following a titanic ‘The Act Of War’, the quartet find that they are under-running on their set time, and so unveil another new song from their imminent debut album: ‘Sleepy Hollow’ is dark and atmospheric, with an almost gothic vibe, and is comparatively possibly the slowest song I’ve heard from them to date.
Axegressor look and sound like they have been ripped wholesale from the Bay Area of the late ‘80s and transported forward three decades (although, with his mirrored shades, frontman Johnny Nuclear Winter looks like that dude from thon Sum 41 video), as they tear into their straight forward, no nonsense traditional thrash. Technical difficulties at the end of their self-titled opener do serve to halt the momentum, however, especially as the language barrier somewhat kills the banter in which the front row attempt to engage the singer.
After a few minutes of futtering about behind the speaker stacks, normal service is resumed and the four lads are quickly back in their stride as if nothing had happened, getting heads nodding, horns raised and ‘Oi’ chantings from the small gathering at the front of the stage. Johnny’s thick Finnish accent makes it difficult to make out what he is saying between songs, even in such a small venue, but it is clear from the grin on his now glasses-bereft face that he and his bandmates are enjoying themselves: he even manages to joke about how, with temperatures there around -20̊, “I had to put my leggings on” when the band set out on their journey to Ireland (where same are just about crawling above zero – not that you’d know from his patch-covered combat shorts!), amidst constantly cajoling the crowd to give him more and more.
With big chunky riffs, blistering solos over rock solid rhythms and meaty hooks, topped of with passionate vocals, Axegressor deliver a well-balanced and paced set, with a good balance between breakneck speed metal and more densely intense moments, such as the slower ‘Mind Castration’ with its doomy vibe to the main riff. This is a band, I must admit, I had not heard of until this gig was announced, but initial research was promising and this impressive set sent me scurrying to their merch table at the end of the set to snap up their debut ‘Command’ and more recent ‘Last’ albums (from which their set was drawn): and many bands can’t ask for much more than that, as they did do a healthy trade in T shirts and CDs, showing that they had won over at least a few new fans in this particular corner of the heavy metal Überverse.
Photographs by The Dark Queen.
As referenced at the top of this review, The Distortion Project recently launched a crowd funding campaign in order to sustain its championing of the Belfast heavy metal scene throughout 2016. You can also support DP by attending some of their forthcoming gigs, which include:
Saturday 16 January: Rabid Bitch Of The North / Astralnaut / Caustic God – Belfast, Voodoo
Sunday 21 February: Ensiferum / Metastoll – Belfast, Limelight 2
Monday 29 February: Exodus / Lost Society – Belfast, Limelight 2
Monday 14 March: Cradle Of Filth / Winterfylleth – Belfast, Limelight 1
Wednesday 6 April: Conan / TBC / Slomatics – Belfast, Voodoo
Saturday 9 April – Overkill / Vader / One Machine – Belfast, Limelight 1
Friday 1 May – Corrosion Of Conformity – Belfast, Limelight 1
Your Uber Rockin’ Belfast team will be supporting as many of these gigs as physically possible. We urge all true lovers of heavy metal who live within striking distance of any of them to do likewise and help ensure that The Distortion Project keeps the music loud this year and for many more to come.
The Distortion Project also runs the annual Bloodstock Metal 2 The Masses competition in Northern Ireland. Details of the dates of the heats, etc. will be announced in due course, so keep an eye on the DP Facebook page for updates on these and other gigs.