REVIEW: GRINDHOUSE MANCHESTER – A FOREST OF STARS + HAAR + ACOLYTE + ETHERNAL

By on 15 December 2010

Words & Pictures: Rachel Mann

What better place for Grindhouse to make its Manchester home than the city’s favourite demonic haunt, Satan’s Hollow? In its glowing, smoky vault, four fine, dark-hued bands raise their collective metal horns in defiance to the sickly sentiment of Christmas. And fuck, do they serve up sombre, blistering and, in places, truly remarkable fare.

 

First up, Ethernal. This four piece deliver classic, very British black metal; sparce and spartan vocals, with progressions and riffs rumbling and dark enough to have been scooped out of a god’s underground kingdom. Their dissonant bluesy musings are unrelentingly sombre, sucking the crowd into some appreciative head-nodding. Sometimes most impressive during low tempo, almost proggy workouts, Ethernal’s standout track is ‘Order of the Black Sun’; by turns, fast, thrashy and bone-crushingly heavy, it holds a power which comes not from any theatrics, but from the sheer intensity of the band themselves.

 

Manchester’s Acolyte come as a surprise. Only in their second full gig, most wouldn’t have expected them to sound quite so well formed and, well, so damn groovy. Ok, this five piece aren’t serving up Austin Powers’ idea of groovy (thank fuck), but their blackened, sludged-up rock’n’roll, underpinned by some very dark bass, really can move when it wants. But they’re more than a one trick hell-hound;  they’re also proggy and spaced-out, capable of creating an impressive wall of sound. Think Hawkwind caught between a gutful of quaaludes and a nose of speed. In order to get properly noticed they may need to work on their subtlety, but the energy is potent.

 

 

After Acolyte’s more conventional chops, Scot progressive black metallers Haar move into more cerebral and technical territory. What they achieve at their very best is a disconcerting blend of weird-ass time signatures, intensely brutal vocals and long, slow grinds that worm through you as slowly as a hungry parasite. The dissonant twin guitars sometimes fight with each other and the riffs repeat until you can almost take no more, enabling Haar to generate a blackly delightful soundscape with the vocalist screaming and growling in a way that might delight one of Satan’s minions. Peddlers of mesmerising extended doomers, it was most pleasing when they seemed to be trying to break the record for the world’s slowest riff.

 

 

All in all, though, headliners A Forest Of Stars are a class apart.

Imagine if horror/sci-fi film buff Kim Newman decided to form a black metal band. Imagine a world in which Victorian Steam-punks meet Lovecraft and travelling fair, then detune their instruments and embrace Hell. If you can imagine that, you might be close to visualizing A Forest Of Stars. Truth is, it could be easy to take the piss out of these waistcoat-clad oddities – waistcoats aren’t metal, right? – but after what they serve up tonight, who would dare?

Their set begins in darkness, with trad-folk swirling ominously and bizarrely over the PA, before the haunting violin pitches in with a gypsy wail. This is bleak, almost symphonic stuff, swirling like black rain. Guitar, keyboard and violin howl while the bass and drums pump, creating a dark space in which the mean, intense frontman can work his sorcery. Fuck, he is intense. This band’s pumping black riffs, disconcerting wails, and fierce growls are the soundtrack for a fucked up version of ‘The Railway Children’, but what is truly remarkable are the flashes of a very English delicacy – especially some beautiful female vocals – alongside the majestic power.

You get moments of gypsy madness which speak of longing and loss and pain, and you get extended black riffs which feel gloriously corrupt. This is music for a satanic travelling fair, and such is their combined power, you forget how good the musicianship is. The drummer just gets on with blasting the grooves and the bassist is as impassive as a freaked-up Victorian dad. Much as they use technical wizardry, progtastic moves and punkish spoken vocals, this is music grounded in English folk. Many have commented on folk’s – especially Pagan folk music’s – connection with black metal; rarely have a band so underlined this fact.

An immense, brooding live display that utterly slays the crowd and places the Manchester Terrorizer Grindhouse on the map.

About Miranda Yardley

I'm Miranda. Bite me.

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