Defending Two Castles

Rabid Bitch of the North hark back to a heavier time with three-track gold cassette tape release

If you didn’t already guess from their ferocious name, Rabid Bitch Of The North are a resolutely traditionalist heavy metal band, in every conceivable sense.

From the medieval-inspired artwork and runic font emblazoned on the cover of their latest EP, Defending Two Castles, to the fact that it has been released on limited edition gold cassette, it is blazingly obvious that the Belfast-based trio wear their old-school influences on their sleeves – or at least they would, if their denim cut-off jackets had sleeves.

Of course, a band can’t thrive on aesthetics alone and RBOTN’s hard work on delivering an undeniably eye-catching product would all be for nought if the music wasn’t up to par. Thankfully (to use some metal parlance) they totally wail. That means they’re good. Really good, in fact. Horn-throwingly good.

After a brief scramble through a drawer of old mix-tapes, I manage to find the trusty cassette personal stereo I wielded as a teenager (replete with Judas Priest and Slayer stickers), and gleefully pop in the tape. Hitting play, a wave of nostalgia washes over me akin to the feeling of adjusting the tracking on a VHS player or impatiently waiting for a ZX Spectrum game to load – joys that today’s teens will sadly never know.

But I digress. A ferocious galloping riff courtesy of axe-man Gerry Mulholland and frontman bassist Joe McDonnell kicks off the eponymous title track, Chris Condie’s thunderous drums providing an unshakable backbone. It is impossible not to instantly recall the big-hitting bands of the late 1970s, early 80s New Wave Of British Heavy Metal scene (NWOBHM, to the initiated) – think early Maiden, Priest, Angel Witch et al.

A chugging breakdown later and McDonnell brings his vocals to the party after (I can only assume) gorging on broken glass for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The frontman’s range is frankly incredible, with the falsetto operatics characteristic of Rob Halford, but with a sandpaper roughness that is imbued with shrill desperation.

In other words, ideally suited for a track which revolves around a ‘middle man sick and tired of in-betweens / wearing heavy armour / caught in the crossfire defending two castles’.

Incorporating a multitude of guitar parts and tempo changes, the rest of the track is constantly surprising, infectious and most importantly incredible fun – everything that, for my money, classic metal should be. Rabid Bitch Of The North manage to pull off the seemingly impossible; remaining unshakably old-school while forging a unique path of their own.

Elsewhere the pinched-harmonic laden ‘Sisyphus’ is a behemoth of a song, double-kicks and venomous diatribe telling the tragic Greek tale anew, while closer ‘Us Against Them’ is a satisfyingly punk-ish slab of middle-finger-up-to-the-man metal.

As detailed in the (extensive) liner notes, Defending Two Castles is ‘100% raw live’ audio – recorded in the studio, in one take. As such, some may find it a little rough around the edges. The production is unashamedly raw.

Then again, that comes with the territory, and is a by product of the sheer energy crammed into the 20-odd minutes on the tape. And for those who might find a cassette release a bridge too far, a digital version is available on RBOTN’s Bandcamp page.

With Defending Two Castles, Rabid Bitch Of The North have proved that not only can they deliver the goods, but that they are a unique musical force to be reckoned with. They have found their voice, and as a  result my tape player isn’t going to be put away any time soon.

Defending Two Castles is available to download from Bandcamp now.