High On Fire
Central Station, Wrexham
(review n pix by MWJ)
Good job Iíve got Spidey-senses or Iíd probably have missed this gig altogether. Despite being aware of it for weeks the only way an out-of-towner would be able to find out it was actually starting at 6pm was by having a sneaking suspicion they should check the web-site that had of-so-helpfully been updated with this information a mere day before. This check I made at 6.30pm so if anyone was passed by a man in black in a black car turning the air black and blue at extreme speed on the A55 at about that time, my apologies.
Seem to be two reasons why this was so, to make it a "14 and over show", encouraging the kids in, boosting the numbers etc., which patently hadnít worked as there was probably less than 40 there and the majority definitely over 18, some of the youngsters even disappeared in the face of the scary noise from the headliners. The band are on quite an extensive UK tour so this would also thin the travelling crowd. The other was that after 10pm the club, like the rest of Wrexham, is turned over to nightclub for the literally thousands that descend on the town for their repetitive beat based entertainment. Far cry from when Wrexham was a mecca of extreme music throughout the North West, but then thatís when it was an industrial slum, now on the road in through Gwersyllt etc. the endless ongoing new developments indicate itís boom time . Still, when it comes to gigs of this ilk in North Wales Iím glad of anything, beggars canít be choosers, and I donít look gift horses in the mouth etc.
So despite driving like the wind, resisting Central Kebab House temptation, and collecting my wristband to make me look old enough to purchase one bottle of beer for £3 (didnít make that mistake again), completely missed first band Callisto. Disappointed, as had heard an mp3 of the residents of the Earache label earlier in the week, and the thought out noise-core had been appealing. My local correspondent had said they played an impressive set, although it was mainly just to him sitting at his table. Must have been a bit frustrating for them.
Winnebago Deal were already playing upon arrival. A two piece, of guitar/vocals and drums, they had a feel of noisy post-grunge, a bit like Fudgetunnel but also heavily into the punkier-stoner rock vibe of bands like Fu Manchu. Some songs were instrumental, building up from the sparsest of drawn-out thumping beats to driving, aggressive but rocky riffs, instruments not treated with much respect, good to see. Vocals didnít really cut through well enough to give any lyrical context to what they were about. Obvious to see tight, intuitive working relationship between the two members, they put enough changes into the songs to maintain interest despite their stripped down set-up, just about struggled into the positive against my antipathy for lack of bass-player (this better not be a trend) but personally think ISOR achieve a much more impressive spectacle and sound as two-pieces go.
Probably not the biggest crowd High On Fire have played to on this (or any?) tour but they called what folks there were up to the front and delivered an intense set whatever. They are on Relapse Records, my favourite home of mental noise, the label that today is what I feel Earache used to be, but have a pretty unique niche amongst the various genres of extremity that the label supports. Thundering drum rolls kick off before the guitar and bass also punch in with a wall of relentless riffing. Main guitar-vocals man Matt Pike used to play with legendary stoner doomsters Sleep and while the overall sound may have similarities in its deep, bassy distortion the tempo has been revved up to a pummelling pace, the description of Motorhead meets Slayer rings very true. What it inspires in the minds eye is surfing on a mudslide, your insides shaking, feet vibrating, adrenalin exhilaration. The drumming is just phenomenal, almost tribal in its non-stop pounding repetition, the best heard since Jason Roeder from Neurosis (and heís taking it easy these days, he he), canít believe he keeps it up for the whole set. The bass is, wellÖ deep, muted but with the riffs ripped out (even breaking a string) of it while the player stands, eyes closed, either stoned off his tree or carried away on the wave. The guitar riffs are not over complex but hammered home with sheer joy, gap-toothed smile from Matt on occasion showing theyíre not just going through the motions but obviously enjoying the mayhem. Topped off with growled vocals on shamelessly metal dungeons and dragons-type subjects. Mainly songs from their very highly rated latest "Blessed Black Wings" album are played, the title track is a monster, almost a "Reign in Blood"style intro of stabbing drums and shifting guitar riff. Most pleased to hear "hung, drawn and quartered" as a definitive example of their runaway juggernaut sound, other stand-outs "to cross the bridge" and "speed wolf", though there wasnít a duff song amongst the lot, even one described as "a dirge" was soon another exercise in ruthless riff-mongering.
Posters offered an after-show party with the band at the Talbot but as the night was so very young (and I suspected the band would be into a wholly different sort of partying than you could get away with in another expensive Wrexham nightclub) headed back along the coast, stopping off for punk-style refreshments at the Dudley Arms and a subsequent, much more sensible bed-time. The next day.
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