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North Of The Wall, 13 April 2013: “Things have never been better for Scottish metal”
It’s a mild, refreshing spring day in Glasgow and the incoming warm winds bring hints of summer. The local metalheads, however, are living up to the stereotype and spending virtually the whole day in a dark room for the inaugural North Of The Wall festival. Terrorizer couldn’t wait to see what the event served up from an overlooked Scottish scene, so with high hopes – and big smiles after finding out that pints were only £1.90 in the venue – we venture forth.
Getting the ball rolling are Common Gods. The fresh-faced lads play capable, occasionally adventurous death metal, held back only by a gauche shyness that they really needn’t let get the better of them. For a northern, oft-frozen land of mist and myth, Scotland is fertile ground for folk metal and Norderobring channel it with aplomb. They have all the war-painted gimmicks of perennial jesters Turisas, but the blackened trollisms from serpentine frontman Duncan McLaren clashing with the synth-laden passages make for a more commanding sound. It’s easy and lazy to compare local mainstays Farseer to Iron Maiden but, when a Clive Burr-commemorating cover of ‘Wrathchild’ fits seamlessly into their own set, it’s fair to make the link. Their adroit power metal is emotive, with seemingly non-stop lead guitar skilfully entwined with it all. Most enthralling are the wolf-like pipes of vocalist Dave Bisset, his stratospheric squeal punctuated by a back-bending, crotch-in-yer-face swagger.
A drastic change of pace arrives with Atragon, who can be described with just about every derivative doom metal description there is. Initially a little lost on a bemused crowd, they gush out palatable green-tinted sludge and a low-end rattle that, after even a half hour set, must be affecting the integrity of the building’s foundations. Between their sonic monoliths come bursts of flange-addled stoner rock, and it’s in these that they find the most admiration. The baton is then passed to Headless Kross, who continue the theme. They may be a beardy trio like ZZ Top but, as opposed to sharp dressed men, the scruffs have their feet firmly on the Clutch, only easing up to fire off triangular atavisms of noise. The droning of the past hour does seem to be wearing thin by their climax, but the cheers that follow suggest punters are headbanging and not trying to stay awake.
Diementia face a dwindling teatime crowd, but it does little to deter them from serving up some tight brutality. Capturing the accessibility of modern groove metal – and at times nodding even further back to The Big Four et al – they provide a sound that isn’t groundbreaking but certainly goes a long way towards shaking up the room. Black metallers Maelstrom these days share Akercocke’s suited-up image and, as always, deliver a similar sound of black bile over plaintive, progressive refrains. The sudden coming-to-life of strobe lighting accentuates it all, making their presence a fully visceral one, and it’s all held together with a vision that sets the bar for what’s to come. Returning to the live scene with their first gig of the year, Ascension, after technical delays, have no trouble in whipping up a storm. The power metallers deal in the overblown, possessing a technicality that borders on unbelievable, but it’s not quite the epicentre of their sound as it’s the soaring, warm melodies that make them undeniably captivating.
Scordatura then invert it all through a down-tuned onslaught of that kind of back-to-basics, conservative parent-baiting death metal and, in doing so, incite undoubtedly the most movement in the crowd so far, especially when ex-Cerebral Bore frontwoman Som Pluijmers appears to trade off lines and stomach lining with Daryl Boyce. Achren, one of the more accomplished bands here this evening, offer similar thrills, but are more of a black hole sucking in everything jagged, crushing and menacing about metal, and pull it off with a smirking confidence that can only stem from their globetrotting fortunes.
The metal purists and drunk hangers-on then line the stage for headliners Holocaust who waste no time launching into ‘It Don’t Matter To Me’ from 1981’s The Nightcomers, touted as a hidden treasure of the British scene of the time. And it’s cue flailing heads atop patched denim jackets down the front. Now a three-piece, this change in personnel, in a rather oxymoronic fashion, both tightens and strips down the sound for the better. They showcase the in-sync telekinesis at the heart of any power trio worth their salt, but it also enhances the garage-born punk spirit that was integral to the NWOBHM movement. While it’s easy to tag such acts as also-rans of the New Wave, the conviction they put into the pseudo-seminal ‘Heavy Metal Mania’ and ‘The Small Hours’ suggests they’re a band still very much in the running, standing as a tribute to the eternal dedication that this music continues to spark in people.
And so comes the end of the night, with our tinnitus a little bit worse and the Glasgow metal scene a little bit better for the experience. The camaraderie and commitment on display here tonight is palpable, and independent events like this have strengthened in recent years. Hopefully it’s all been a part of building solid foundations for this festival to continue.
Oh, and did you think we were going to leave without taking the chance to talk to Holocaust?
What was the metal scene like when you started out?
John Mortimer (vocals/guitar): Around the time we started, what you had were cover bands doing classic rock songs. It was just seen as entertainment, but what was relevant to young people was punk. I had a problem with both – the covers bands was just show-off entertainment, whereas punk attacked my inspirations like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. ‘Dinosaur music’, they called it! I wanted those bands to be relevant, so we sought to do that. You don’t need to throw away the past completely.
Mark Mcgrath (bass): Metal then started to re-emerge after punk. It was pretty exciting, because suddenly these guys who couldn’t play… well, could play. We grew up right through that, and we loved it.
Metal has always seemed to stay underground in Scotland, compared to other countries where metal bands seem to get more limelight.
Mark: Yeah, we’ve always been tucked away, with only one or two bursting out of the scene now and then. But I think that’s what gives it longevity. What hit us when we went abroad is how common metal is at discos and stuff. We’re playing this to support the young guys trying to push themselves out there. There are some real crackin’ bands here, and we all need to stick together.
John: That’s the good thing about this festival: it shows off all the different styles of metal there are in Scotland. There’s a much greater range of influence nowadays. I think the idea of underground versus mainstream is something that belongs in the past, and North Of The Wall is part of the removal process. It used to be that big media would decide what people were exposed to, but now, with the Internet, people can decide for themselves. It’s a great, great thing.
Scott Wallace (drums): Facebook definitely has a community. We play with bands and keep them as online friends, and promote each others’ gigs. No one is in control apart from the people who are interested. It’s a much more natural situation where similar bands will support each other, not compete for big label attention. It’s a mutually supportive community now, and that’s why things are happening more for this band than in the past.
Do you influence Scottish metal?
John: It would seem so! One thing that we’ve noticed is that a lot of young people turn up who weren’t even born when ‘The Nightcomers’ was released and say they like it. It’s really nice, and great to continue to communicate with people. I don’t feel like we’re doing something from the past. When I wrote ‘Heavy Metal Mania’ I was 15. I’m nearly 50, but it feels exactly the same when I play it. Things have never been better for this band, and for Scottish metal. Let’s hope it keeps growing!
Holocaust release the EP ‘Expander’ on April 19th and the album ‘Sweet Liberty’ in August via Facebook.
Words & Photos: Andy McDonald