Three Dimensions of the Manchester Music Scene
Oh alcohol, how you lure me into your trap. Devil’s nectar, how you promise me sweet joy and gentle cuddles only to stab me in the back with hangovers the size of Boeing 747s, head pounding like Fifth Avenue on a Saturday night.
Three days, three very different gigs now behind me I lie in bed cursing what all that binging on booze has done to me. Fuck I feel old. I’m supposed to be young enough to obliterate an entire brewery for breakfast, I’m supposed to be a journalist god dammnit.
But I digress. Over the past three days I’ve seen a lot of things with regards to the heavy music scene here in England’s third biggest city – but greatest, let’s not beat around the bush. Here I will run you through what I found and what I think of the state of the scene, so bear with me, because the conclusions I’ve drawn and the feelings felt around these three decibel creating evenings, I think, defy general expectation. Bigger doesn’t always mean better.
Glenn Hughes ft. Doug Aldrich @ Club Academy
Two big names in classic rock join forces. Deep Purple, Whitesnake, Black Country Communion, Dio – these are two figures who have played on massive records and been key figures of 70s rock and beyond. Understandably the place is packed then for a set which sees the tiny sized but humongous voiced Mr Hughes take us through some choice cuts of his career, spanning those early Trapeze days right up to 2015. It’s incredible then, that they could be so dire.
Things didn’t get off to a good start when Ted Nugent mark II, with his dazzlingly white and evidently false teeth shuffled his way through a set of blues covers and originals. Jared James Nichols simply tries too hard, flailing his hair like a L’Oreal commercial, expecting the women to swoon and admire him. But musically this is just simple blues with ample space for egotistical solos. Nothing about the band grabs me; it’s flat and does bugger all to invigorate the crowd. He goes to the merch stand at the end of the show to revel in praise, of which he does get a fair amount, but he got nothing from me. I was bored. Plain and simple.
So with the stage set for a schooling from two established roadhogs, Glenn Hughes is bitterly disappointing. From the butchered opening rendition of Stormbringer it never improved; Hughes wailing unnecessarily all over the place – yes we get it, you’re 63 and you can still sing like you have no balls, congratulations – and it just makes the entire thing sound scrappy. The mix was poor, and I was stood next to the sound desk. Aldrich’s guitar was at times inconceivable which, after his mid-set solo which was sloppier than a blowjob off a toothless granny, was actually probably for the best. It takes me a long time to recognise Sail Away, the band’s tone as a whole more akin to muddy farts than rock n’ roll greatness.
Hughes too, a man who’s been there, done that and snorted the t-shirt, is quick to namecheck as many artists as he can between songs. While on many occasions a short anecdote about the late, superlatively great Ronnie James Dio would have been wonderful, and not something you can particularly get on record, here it screamed ego on Hughes’ part.
It’s all just a show for Hughes to love himself. This is a man who can’t keep a band together – because he seems impossible to work with – so is now working around it by going ‘solo’, bending over for the world to see the rays of light protruding from his posterior.
It just doesn’t feel like it’s about the music. Mistreated, normally a heart wrenching and powerfully evocative ballad is here an exercise for Hughes to excessively flaunt his vocal range. He drags the song on and on, pushing the notes higher and more flamboyantly, building to three minutes of needless acapella wailing, except very few people in the crowd seem impressed. Considering he said he was nervous to first perform this song live after Chad Smith of the Chilli Peppers encouraged him to do so – another namecheck ticked, why, if you don’t want to taint David Coverdale’s greatness do you do that?
I left during the drum solo. The musical highlight of my evening was Jack White’s Sixteen Saltines on the long, cold walk down Oxford Road. Normally a good gig warms me, leaves me with a really positive feeling. This was far from the norm however.
Deathcrusher: Carcass, Obituary & Napalm Death @ The Ritz
Now for a slightly ballsier affair. Death metal and glam tinted blues rock are, sonically speaking, worlds apart, but yet the very nature of these two shares is impeccably similar. For the death metal scene this is a big, big bill. Three mammoth acts, each responsible for so much defining moments in the movement’s thus far brief history, all coming together under the roof of some of the UK’s larger venues. It’s a celebration of heavy and the sheer gravity and importance of the event creates a staunch, suffocating gravitas in the atmosphere. The place is crammed full and it buzzes like a dodgy plug socket. The only difference from yesterday however, is that, instead of big names uniting for an self-appreciating, pedestal mounting evening, these bands are here to out-do each other. This is fucking war and it raises the bar higher and higher all evening. Yet there is no malice. These bands play for your entertainment over pride and selfish gain.
And so it’s Napalm Death who first lay down the gauntlet. Redefining viciousness, each song is a short, sharp slab of angular punk rock chaos akin to sticking your head in a plane turbine. Barney Greenway is a cartoon character frontman in the way he throws himself around stage like a ragdoll. Tufts of hair extend every which way as he headbangs in unison with a crowd who open up the pits with revelry as if he has indeed put his fingers inside that dodgy plug socket. Apex Predator – Easy Meat showcases contemporary Napalm with a fiery and feisty grit. It’s slow and forceful, building up one hell of a stage presence. The gorgeously titled Scum tests the structural robustness of this archaic venue before a smash through the Dead Kennedy’s Nazi Punks Fuck Off regurgitates bile and venom atop unrelenting blast beats and gilt edged guitars.
But fuck me, Obituary. With the gauntlet laid down so hard it practically leaves a crater in the ground, the Florida noise mongerers triple the magnitude of intensity and brutality with an apparent ease. 2014’S Inked In Blood was nothing short of inspired and those foot-to-the-floor batterings translate anarchically to the stage. As a unit, their balance is tremendous. Donald Tardy’s drumming may be avalanching, but he has a deft ability to point his crosshair at a killer groove amidst the pandemonium.
The thrash aesthetic of this band is intrinsic to who they are and it merges with a more insurgent death metal gruff to create a sonorousness that is both disgracefully heavy and easily palatable. Centuries of Lies goes for the jugular, Bloodsoaked is maniacal and set closer Slowly We Rot seems to take everyone’s breath away. The consensus is that this band is well overdue a headline set on these shores, all I can say is I’d pay the full ticket price for one song by these guys than for a full set of Glenn Hughes own take on murder.
As far as I care however, it’s Liverpudlian decibel smashers Carcass who claim the throne tonight. They’ve never been a band who has captured me on record but live they are always remarkable. There’s a classiness lurking in their murky depths and a graciousness about how they go about ripping you limb from limb. This is the kind of music you could both fight to and fall in love to – those supple classic rock harmonies layering the bloodshed and hatred with sweetness. It’s an uncanny juxtaposition, but it’s one that never fails to enthral me.
1985 booms over the PA, pure grandeur with a dollop of Judas Priest that sees their arrival onto the stage like that of royalty. Then the riffs kick in and they royally fuck up the place. Jeffrey Walker’s rasping refrain of ‘time to die’ crowns an insurmountable start before Unfit For Human Consumption and the atramentous Buried Dreams trade blows, the lead work in the latter inspiring.
Though my eyes are blurring, my balance completely obliterated by beer, my mind casts back to 24 hours ago as Glenn Hughes played a set which, in comparison to tonight’s blustering gales and gusto, was a mere light breeze. This got the heart racing, the blood pumping – the place grew savage, people turned more animalistic.
You leave the place weaker, breathless. But you leave the place knowing you have just witnessed something special. You rack your brain for appropriate superlatives then head to the pub to wax lyrical about what you all just saw. That dodgy plug socket has long since exploded and here we bask in the aftermath.
Halloween All-Dayer: Pist, Foetal Juice & More @ Rebellion
My hangover from Deathcrusher is still hammering away in my head like a pendulum in a grandfather clock. I drag myself through my shift at the bar, getting other people drunk and lamenting my liver’s faulting resistance. But when the clock strikes six I think ‘fuck it,’ grab a pint and then head down to Rebellion to celebrate Halloween Manchester style.
In theory, the scale of this show is the smallest and most humble of the three. The bands are all underground and still fresh faced. They haven’t had decades of debauchery and decadence to place them where they are today and Rebellion is a little smaller than The Ritz, but in many ways, this is the best night of the three.
On a night that would mutate into the venue’s most successful to date – the place an absolute state by the time it empties early morning, so full of bodies, some passed out, that beer cans and odd bits of Halloween costumes are strewn about the place looking like some sort of post-apocalyptic chaos – it’s not just about the music. Celebrating some of the finest acts our scene and beyond has to offer is the burning core, the beating heart of the event and everyone does truly care about the bands, but it’s much more than that. It’s a community, a party and a gathering of souls.
Eytan, the man responsible for the night, gives me a big hug as I arrive; “you’ve already missed eight bands!” I apologise, grumble something about work and head to the bar, past the stage where Leeds’ thrash fusiliers Redeye Revival, dressed as cowboys and Indians are smashing through their set. With a classic thrash metal backbone, they pack punchy grooves and roared vocals into the mix superbly. Things have started well.
As the night draws on the place couldn’t get much fuller. Denim jacket, beer swigging sardines spilling out into the smoking area and towards the back where merch stands are set up alongside the pool tables – and there are tonnes of blokes in drag too: “I know what to dress up as that no one else will think of”. The amount of random interactions I had with people in fancy dress was brilliant, from queuing for a pint with Hunter S Thompson, to a pumpkin attacking me with glitter and more, there’s a real sense of occasion and sizzling spirit spread about the place. This all happens to the soundtrack of Nomad, who once more deliver a solid set of down trodden sludge riffs, led by Drian Nash’s drunken hollering.
Unfortunately I miss Bong Cauldron’s set. Speaking to guitarist Biscuit outside afterwards, it turns out he broke a string after a few songs and simply gave up. He was too hammered to even try to re-string. It sums up the general theme for the evening and it means that by the time Foetal Juice take to stage, the crowd are more than ready for some more riffs. Fully donned in KISS regalia, their set is a savage slew of blast bits and death metal bombast; they play with tonnes of energy, character and power, their tongue in cheek element their calling card. Everyone has a smile on their face and you just know you’re watching something special – just like at Deathcrusher last night. 24 hours ago Carcass were proving themselves masters of their craft, that slick professionalism pushing them to a higher plain, and in their own way Foetal Juice do the same here. They even drop in a little bit of Detroit Rock City and the place goes ape shit. An incredible band, bolstered by the baying audience though they were, this is a band with some innate magic and voodoo that you can’t help but admire.
And so it would only make sense to round off this booze soaked evening, a triumph for underground music, Rebellion as an increasingly loved and valued pillar of the scene and of the people who keep it all alive, with Manchester’s ultimate piss artists, Pist. They’re dressed in drag themselves tonight, but by now we’ve come to expect such stupidity from the stoner rockers, so everyone sort of just nods their heads and accepts it as standard. As ever their set is bloody great fun. Dirty riffs, Dave Rowlands gravel squawking and a rhythm section to turn the place into some sordid dancefloor/mosh pit, it’s a routine smash and grab from the band.
Tonight, Pist and Bong Cauldron proved their worth. They showed that they can stand toe-to-toe with Carcass and Glenn ‘look at me’ Hughes – a supposed bona fide rock legend – and not only match them musically, but arguably be more enthralling and engaging.
Coverage of our scene and the bands that make it may be extremely marginal in the mainstream metal media – I’m trying my balls off to change that – but that doesn’t reflect its quality or lack thereof. Here I’ve spent three days soaking in three very different types of gig in the city centre. Different bands, crowds, venues and mentalities, but it’s the underdogs who came up trumps in my eyes. Their hunger and raw, unrelenting desire and love to do what they do – and for tuppence too – makes them thrive. Glenn Hughes will have been paid a fortune to play this tour, and he didn’t look like he cared. He wasn’t doing it for the fans or for the love; he was doing it to be admired. I saw through that. I didn’t come down to see an ego parade, I came down to hear songs I love, but what I was treated to was the disembowelment of everything I love about those songs.
Deathcrusher was immense, but on no other night did I feel truly at home than on Halloween, surrounded by drunken goblins and superheroes, by good friends and fresh, filthy music.
Long live the underground.
Words: Phil Weller