Hirax, Solitary & Insurgency @ Sound Control
Ears still ringing, people march out into the cold night air. Some of us hang back, drinking beers while howls of El Diablo permeate the air. The four members of Hirax hang with us, posing for photos with their fans, shaking hands and throwing the horns. They are not just musicians. They are like us. Fans of heavy metal first, legendary thrash band second.
Rewind a couple of hours and Manchester Rocks arrive as Insurgency complete their crash course in neck-twattery. We’ve witnessed these chaps before at Retro Bar and they shred the gathered throng to slithers, garnering an early evening mosh pit frenzy that stirs the blood in our veins. They are clearly a popular choice of support and rightly so. They’re savage in approach and delivery and give no quarter to the assembled mass. Ferocious drumming is piled into the mix of rumbling bass and fast fretwork as devilish vocal stylings soar high over the mix. Look out for their next outing, it’ll be well worth it.
You can hear the influences in Solitary’s brand of shit-off-a-shovel thrash riffery and a splendid cover of Testament’s Into the Pit gives confirmation. A technically proficient outfit, they deliver on speed and aggression in spades and they’ve got the tunes to make them a terrifying prospect and ones to watch. Thunderous double-bass drives the insanely fast metallic chops that have been honed to perfection since their formation in 1994. True to British form the onstage banter is down-to-earth, which seems to contrast starkly to the brutal 80’s infused thrash in their setlist, but it’s endearing all the same. It’s impossible to dislike a band this honest and ‘normal’. They are sonically interesting though and set highlights like Predator, themed around Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe’s murders in the late 70’s, bludgeon as hard as a ball pein hammer while twisting and turning as if to avoid capture. There are a ton of headbanging moments and the Preston mob are well received. Check them out.
Three quarters of Hirax take the stage and 100,000 Strong bulges from the amps as the venue PA crackles into life. Katon W. De Pena leaps onto the stage, a veteran of the thrash metal scene, with the energy and enthusiasm of a man half his age. Blasting into Hellion Rising his on stage enthusiasm spreads to the audience like a sneeze spreads germs but everyone is happy to be infected.
Great British craftsmanship fails on this occasion as Lance Harrison’s Marshall head conks out mid-song. A disaster? Not for these seasoned pros. Katon proves an engaging orator as a replacement is found and the onslaught continues while a beat is hardly skipped. Hirax’s back catalogue is fierce, but for me the overriding factor is the band’s genuine enthusiasm to be here. Prior to their headline slot at the recent Hammerfest this is the first time in a 30 year history Hirax have visited the UK. This is a band that helped pioneer the genre we know and love – THRASH. They rubbed shoulders and played gigs with Metallica, Exodus, Anthrax and Slayer amongst others. Legends, if you will. 30 years! How is this even possible?
Baptised by Fire sounds immense and De Pena stares straight into the eyes of those present, finding their soul and yanking them mercilessly into his performance. There is no absence of enthusiasm that one might expect from a musical veteran. If anything there is a rejuvenating comfort that even after so long in the game this man still has metal running through his steely veins. In fact fire and brimstone burns within all of these guys. Bass player and brother to Lance, Steve Harrison throws big shapes and drummer Mike Vega is a powerhouse behind the kit. It’s a stunning display of expert stagecraft as track after track is rammed home with the subtlety of a housebrick to the face. And where else can you fist-bump the guitar player mid-solo?
A touching tale about a young, long haired kid, who used to frequent early Hirax shows, leads into Hate, Fear and Power being dedicated to the late Jesse Pintado – the former Napalm Death guitarist. Band and audience alike put on a fine tribute of mosh pit devastation in his memory. Devil horns are thrown throughout the set as De Pena monologues about how heavy metal is a true, accepting brother/sisterhood that reaches far beyond petty prejudices of colour, creed and religion. All are welcome at this metal church, for we all preach the same message.
When the audience is finally battered into submission with old school thrash holocaust Bombs of Death, Hirax can definitely say they’ve made a lot of new friends tonight. Hopefully they will return to the UK soon and audience numbers will escalate, as they should when word gets around about this magnificent live band.
Those who were here this night witnessed greatness. So, in the tongue in cheek words of De Pena: “if you aren’t here tonight, you’re a dick!” And indeed you are. Possibly.
Words: Paul ‘Bat Thrashstard’ Cooke Photos: Frederick Apps www.facebook.com/insurgencythrashuk