By Any Means
Two of Northern Ireland's most promising metal acts get the New Year under way at Voodoo in Belfast
With most people still shaking off their New Year's Eve hangovers, and dreading the impending return to work after an extra-long weekend, Belfast's metal community get back in the groove with 2015 less than 72 hours young.
The first gig of the year swings into action at Voodoo, featuring headliners By Any Means. What was initially promoted as a three-band bill is unfortunately cut down to two, with scheduled openers, THVS, having had to pull out a few days prior thanks to a knee injury suffered by their drummer. Therefore, opening duties are given over to Zlatanera, hailed by some as 'the most Satanic band in Belfast'.
Their obsession with old Lucifer himself is quite clear, in fact, with the middle section of their show dominated by a triptych of tunes dedicated to the Dark Lord. But they're jolly nice chaps, really.
A healthy crowd, made up of the great and the good, the bad and ugly of the Belfast metal scene has assembled by the time (after a few technical problems) the five lads take to the stage in swathes of red light and smoke to deliver a set characterized by huge, crunching riffs built upon more crunching riffs and underpinned by massive rumbling bass lines so heavy they could sink the Titanic all over again.
Vocalist Andy Campbell has grown hugely in confidence in the 18 months or so that I have been tracking this band's progress, and now has an easy and assured onstage manner.
Their sound, appropriately, is very much rooted in Sabbath-esque doom, but also draws hugely on latter day NOLA grooves. There is also an underlying stoner vibe, which gets heads nodding and necks snapping on the heavier, faster passages right from the off.
Set highlights include the aforementioned trio of 'Master Of Ceremonies', 'A Bad Case Of The Devil' – melodically, perhaps the catchiest track in their repertoire – and 'Idle Hand Sanitiser', as well as the acidic 'Holy Man's Crook' and the stonking, headbanging closer, 'Advance Of The Clodhopper'.
Headliners By Any Means, meanwhile, are very much the godfathers of the Belfast hardcore scene, a position they attained primarily thanks to the vision and determination of Yorkshire-born guitarist, Paul 'BAM' Anthony.
At the moment, however, they are also a band in transition, having recently lost charismatic vocalist Chris 'CC' Curlett, who has been forced to step away from the microphone due to ongoing health issues. This evening sees 7.5 Tonnes Of Beard frontman, Micky Higgins, temporarily reprising the role he played in the band's formative stages.
'On These Streets', from the recent Bearcat Sessions EP, gets the so-called 'hardcore dancers' on their feet – if you call stomping around in a semi-circle, arms and legs flailing wildly, without any respect for those around you 'dancing'.
Higgins may have been nervous about forgetting lyrics before the gig, but nerves are not evident as the adrenaline kicks in; he immediately owns the stage. Those at the front gladly grab proffered microphones and join in on anthems such as 'Hardcore Pride', 'Built On Respect' and 'By Any Means'.
New drummer, Gavin Brown – also vocalist with the temporarily in hiatus All The Kings Ashes, one of whose last gigs, ironically, was opening for BAM last April – may be playing only his second or third gig with the band, but he is tight and lucid throughout, and works well with bassist Chris McDowell.
Anthony, as ever, is the cornerstone, encouraging and cajoling in equal measure while wringing the life out of his trademark bullseye-marked Les Paul, grinding out potent riff after potent riff, as the set flies by in a whirlwind of flying limbs and eventually comes to a Titanic-raising conclusion with the tumultuous 'Using Both Hands'.
For Belfast's metal fans, the New Year hangovers may last a wee bit longer, and our necks might be the main focus of the pain synapses for a few days, but this gig is a great way to kick off what promises to be a hugely positive and progressive year in an already thriving Northern Irish metal scene.
By Any Means, 7.5 Tonnes Of Beard and Raum Kingdom play Limelight 2, Belfast on February 14.