Beer and Melvins in Mancunia
Melvins play a show which feels like the event of the century before Phil Weller goes to explore Ragnaröck, the new metal club night at Pub Zoo
“That was ridiculous, every conceivable moment of quiet was filled with drums,” blurts a slightly deafened punter as a slew of Melvinites spill out of the stuffy interior of Gorilla and out into the cold, brisk autumnal air. His companion is struggling for words in which he could respond with, looking a little breathless and taken aback by all that has just unfolded. Eventually musters up a short but sweet “fuckin’ ‘ell.” The breath makes clouds that float away towards Oxford Road and the hustle and bustle of the city centre on a Friday night.
Yet more people flood out of the venue and through a busy restaurant. Those sat down enjoying drinks and mealswith friends turn to watch as a veritable conga line of hairy, enthused fans make their way outside. Yet more expletives and superlatives fizzle out into the atmosphere as the doorman tries tirelessly to manage the burgeoning crowd. A bus rolls past, the driver punching the horn to clear the path before him of metalheads in awe.
This gig has been a long time coming and long too has it been sold out. On the dayy Facebook feed is full of ‘Melvins faces,’ of selfies pertaining nothing but a childish excitement and you couldn’t half feel it in the venue too.
Slowly but surely, Gorilla is booking more and more heavy bands to play its quirky, filing cabinet backed stage with the likes of Between The Buried and Me, Uncle Acid, Haken and Goblin all either due to play here soon or having been here recently. However, the prices here are enough to make even a rich, frivolous bastard balk - £4.50 for a puny can of Estrella is hardly on the same plain as Weatherspoons, even more expensive than the majority of inner city gig venues too. If it seriously wants to compete with other venues for heavy bands, they will find many people turned off by the prospect of X and Y playing Gorilla this time around.
That being said, as the stage was being set for a band it felt like the entire metal community were waiting with baited breath for, I was told that the upstairs bar was cheaper. This was excellent news. And so to there I ventured, weaving through what wasn’t so much a crowd, but a gathering of excitable sardines. En route I pass every man and his dog, trade hellos, hugs and nods of shared anticipation and appreciation in each other’s taste. The community aspect is abuzz here tonight and it’s absolutely brilliant to be a part of. Members of The Hyena Kill, Boss Keloid, Arke, Ascent, Prognosis, Mescina, Nomad and more are all here and that speaks volumes about the importance this band has had on, not just local bands, but heavy music in general since they crawled out from god knows where back in 1983.
I reach the bar and alas, £4.20 for a full pint of Sam Miguel – while tempting me to get out another booze mortgage – isn’t half as bad as downstairs. It’s better, even, cheaper and less pretentious drinking from a plastic pint cup than a 335ml can. It’s nonsensical but hell, I ain’t complaining. Knowing about this bar almost feels like a dirty secret.
It’s at that exact moment, as the cool, fizzy liquid begins pouring and bubbling into my cup that it begins. They sample the cough from the intro to Sweet Leaf, loop it, fuck around with it like some awful ketamine trip and a room full of happy faces morphs into faces of either purebred perplexion or ones that get the joke and piss themselves at the batshit idea of it. The band take to the stage to a roar from those faces not too baffled to react.
On my way down the stairs I stop and take it all in. The room is beyond packed, a palpable electricity sibilating in the air. Two drum kits, like strategically placed battle stations on some bullying navy warship are manned imposingly centre stage, flanked by King Buzzo with his definitive curly, anti-gravity hair and bassist Jared Warren, who looks uncannily like Professor Quirrell. Right here is a moment to saviour. The gravity of the whole thing slaps me in the face and in a weird way my heart flutters a little. I smile, take a gulp of that bargainous pint and soak every last detail in, I let it ingrain itself into my brain and lock it into my memory palace for years to come. You are prisoner there now, my child.
This all comes after Big Business, for the second time now, waltzed onto a stage and blew my proverbial pants right off my skinny pins. A two piece – and one half of tonight’s headliners – they are an out-and-out groove machine. Warren’s (Quirrell’s) bass tone sounds more Grizzly Bear than it does Fender Precision and he hammers out seismic riffs that tunnel into your psyche fists first. Sticksman Coady Willis makes full use of the extensive percussive range of his kit and together they make the strangest but most uncannily feral music. Watching front row you can’t help feel the power of it and it leaves you in complete awe. There isn’t much in the way of diversity but it’s not needed; a wham-bam-thank-you-mam set, they leave their mark, only for Melvins to then increase the bruising.
As King Buzzo throws himself around the stage, wielding his guitar like Leatherface does a chainsaw, thoughts of Maximus growling ‘are you not entertained?’ to a packed Coliseum come to mind and this is just as brutal. They wade through oppressive and sluggish riffs that bring with them a damnable punch, their sound a wall of sound and cynosure. In Buzzo’s mirrored guitar reflect a crowd following their every moment - Bride of Crankenstein is impenetrable, Youth of America both boisterous and adroit.
Yet for me, these doom metal cognoscenti rely too much upon the dual attack of their drummers tonight. As that passionate fan shouted about as we all began to congregate outside, The Ritz towering at us from across the street – sorry, The 02 Ritz, damn you corporatism – every moment where there could have been silence was instead a romping load of drums. A chance to breathe and properly digest such maniacal individualism would have helped appreciate it all I think, rather than put the show’s momentum in jeopardy.
Perhaps this is just my mind set at the time but, while it was incredible at points to see synchronised drummers beat the living daylights out of their kits, it became a little overkill. Big Business had come before them and delivered in a much simpler, rawer way that, for me, was far more effective. Melvins were brilliant tonight, but Big Business won more of my affection.
It’s still early as that bus flies past with the driver pleading for the road to be cleared of denim and hair. It’s not even ten o’clock but things have been pushed forward to accommodate some trendy club night or other – not something that particularly appeals to us rambunctious rockers.
But that’s hardly a problem tonight. A few minutes down the road at Rebellion there’s a grunge themed night of tribute bands, with Melvins ticket holders gaining free entry, there’s a death metal show at Retro Bar entering its final throes and there’s also Ragnaröck: A brand new metal club night at Pub Zoo. After a few quick drinks in Grand Central – Machine Head’s Halo, as always, blasting as I enter – that is where my companions and I head.
Debuting with free entry tonight and £1.50 drinks between 11pm and midnight – a breath of fresh air for my rapidly lightening wallet – the new night will take place on the second Friday of every month. Offering a feast of tunes which dip into some of metal’s oft over-looked subgenres (Power, Speed, Folk, and Melodic Death Metal – although there was no mention of post-glam shoegaze funk death) they intersperse those tracks with staple classics – Priest and Maiden for example – and the atmosphere is fantastic.
The room is perfectly dark but open. It’s all a bit grotty but it’s within these kind of dingy confines that metal calls its home and no one’s complaining. The selection behind the bar does leave you wanting a bit more, however. The best lager on draught is Carlsberg – yes, I said the best – and the fridge isn’t even turned on which takes the emergency Newcy Browns out of the equation. I suppose at £1.50 though, you might as well get rat arsed in that hour and so, somewhat inspired by the punch drunk prowess of Big Business, I introduce my liver to lager, rum and Jäger as quickly as possible.
Understandably, the rest is a blur. But that’s how it should be. The vibes there were really positive, everyone seemed to be having a stellar time – if only they had Stella on tap, god damnnit – and they happily took requests for songs. Not that I ever heard Gojira…I think.
See, I’m not the type for club nights. They are the breeding spots for egos and bellends; my calling is a pub with a decent jukebox and a few ales. But Ragnaröck, without seemingly trying – which makes it even more commendable – manages to encapsulate the metal scene’s sense of goodwill and community and take it to a slightly more invigorating level than ‘metalhead sat in pub.’ So, with that, I was comfortable and content.
Vickie from A Clockwork Opera – soon to be dreadfully hungover and hoarse, with a gig coming up – may have complained that they played the wrong Epica song, but that seems to be the only negative comment I heard of the night. And we’ll surpass my inquisition into if there is actually a right Epica song.
The place was emptying by the time we were politely told to bugger off and once more tonight I found myself in a crowd outside a venue, surrounded by happy faces. It was 3am before I knew it and the thought of having to work in the morning provided my evening’s second metaphorical slap in the face – I didn’t get any actual slaps in the face which, considering my cheek, which only blossomed after happy hour, is quite impressive.
I somehow avoid any form of hangover. I’m praying that next month, when I’ll almost inevitable return to Ragnaröck, the story will be the same. It’s great to see another heavy music club night come to fruition and it was smoothly ran throughout. Props to Mike Flemming and co for their hard work, you’ve created a bit of a monster there, but could someone find the plug for the fridge?
Words: Phil Weller