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The Misplaced Metalhead Volume Ten

Steak Number Eight’s UK Tour

Promoter: Play It Again Sam Recordings

Date: Thursday 3rd May 2012

Venue: The Cellar, Southampton

Bands: Steak Number Eight, The Smoking Hearts, Idiom, Circle of Reason

Ten Volumes in and I’m still reviewing music. Has much changed? From the looks of things I’m geting a bit more critical, a bit more in depth and a bit less willing to accept mediocrity or the ordinary with what I see. How fitting then that my tenth review comes reviewing a band so far outfield that it’s hard to comprehend their insane view of music at so young an age. Slow down though, I’m getting ahead of myself. There’s the whole evening to get through first.

With its odd shaped upstairs venue encompasing a staircase dangerously jutting in to the mix and a whole wall devoted to a raised platform running to the right of the stage The Cellar was a welcome change to my tried and teasted home ground of the encased box of the Railway. Once I’d got my bearings (and an extra fiver in my change for the ifrst pint – win) and my fill of the SOAD laden soundtrack the notes began to fade and the opening support stepped up to the raised stage behind the rails.

One thing became very clear as Circle of Reason took their instruments and that was the 14+ nature of the gig. A front row lined with Jailbait looked up at the band as they ran through their music bringing to mind elements of a slightly fiercer Nickelback or a very diluted Bullet For My Valentine. This was safe music; unassuming and largely radio-friendly rock with a couple of drop tuned track thrown in alongside vague flickers of harsh vocals (and that, in part, largely explained the relative age of the audience up front). I’m not a huge fan of this sort of stuff but what they did play, they played very well. While ordinarily I would’ve written these guys off straight away their lead guitarist (whose name seems to have escaped the internet) clearly had some flare as he took on the more complex melodies of the pieces effortlessly backed by equal precision on the bass. That said, with that exception there was a touch of a generic feel to what was being played here and I couldn’t help but feel bringing those complex melodies to the fore could probably help these guys to stand out more. I liked them, I just couldn’t bring myself to love them.

So with a lot of ears entrenched in safe and lovely rock music-land it was time for the suckerpunch from hell as the unbridled fireball of Idiom began their ferocious set. Combining a fierce hardcore bulldozer of sound with some seriously powerful riffage Idiom brought us back into the world of metal. Vocalist Matt Sharland was a one man fireworks display crossing the iron rail of the stage repeatedly to bring the noise straight to the audience, whether we wanted to come forward or not. The space was his to command and he took it by the leash in the same vein as some of the best frontmen out there. This was not just a one man effort though and Sharland was backed by the sonic bliss of truly brilliant hardcore laid down by headbanging guitarist Kris Gibbs, bassist Dan Harrison and seriously sharp drummer Grant Knight – even some funky interludes in the closing songs made sure the band didn’t restirct themselves by genre to much and, when the noise came back down, it was Sharland himself who threw me into th pit personally (along with some Baywatch style lifeguards….only at a metal gig!)

I had to have a serious sit down following Idiom as I nearly made the fatal mistake of moshing myself out before the headliners – a cardinal sin – but almost before I’d taken the first swig of my next cider The Smoking Hearts were limbering up to play the lead support set in preparation for the night’s Belgian headliners. I decided to take it easy through the first couple of tracks by the band and give myself a rest. I have to say, it took me those couple of songs to get into these guys. Like Idiom before them The Smoking Hearts embodied a spirit of hardcore with their sound but, whilst the former had embodied this through daring energy, the latter came out with sheer out and out power.

Each riff from guitarists Nobba and Barker was crushing, each bassline from goth-d up Calvin a slaughter and every time Matty slammed the drum it sent a shockwave. Singer Ben Mills brought to mind memories of Romeo Must Die or Cancer Bats and constantly trod the line of the stage whilst not daring to give that little extra push Idiom had accomplished earlier. If I can say anything against this band its that treading the line at that intensity for so long did leave the set feeling like it lacked variety – constantly full-frontal with little room to reflect or push further. Whilst technical difficulties slowed down the closing track it was worth waiting for, firstly because we were entertained with Metallified Queen and Blink 182 covers while we waited and also because the closer was where the glass ceiling shattered as every band member (except Matty) stepped over that line and took to the audience, the bar, the raised platforms (see, I did mention it for a reason) before LITERALLY jumping back onstage to end the set. If that’s not fucking metal, I don’t know what is.

If we ever needed something to embody the spirit of metal though, what was just around the corner would prove it to us. Doing things differently, being true to yourself, aggression, power, melody, intricacy, determination and sheer fucking grit – Steak Number Eight had been embodying all of these things on my iPod for the best part of a month leading up to this gig after their All Is Chaos album came free with Metal Hammer. I hoped desperately that I would not be let down by the band’s highly acclaimed live shows and trust me on this, I wasn’t. Backing their sonic assault of vaguely stoner-esque hard rock the band was backlit by flashing spotlights creating silhouettes and giving the impression of immensely powerful monoliths on the horizon. Alongside sparks and flashes of other lights washing the stage in a dazzling array of colours, this set ceased to be a gig and became a totally immersive experience. The music itself differed very little from what I’d heard on All is Chaos and the incredible ‘Dickhead’ and ‘Pyromaniac’ both sounded as mind bending and transcendental as they had through my headphones. The music washed over me and inhabited every pore of my body, soaking through until I was entirely at its mercy and taken away by wave after wave of sound and light madness.

Combining the mind-bending musicality of Mastodon with the sheer sense of spectacle associated with Tool the only thing that let these guys down was their audience, not wanting to join in or rock out on the same level as my hairy drunken arse was. Maybe they’re just not established enough in Britain to create the same buzz bands on the same level of talent can. The transition will be tough but with the backing of one serious music publication and a sound unlike anything I’ve heard before I’m sure they’ll make it and I will be fucking proud to be one of those arsehole hipsters standing there saying ‘I saw them back when they played tiny venues’.

 

Apologies in advance.

 

Summing Up

Circle of Reason: 6/10
Idiom: 8/10
The Smoking Hearts: 7/10
Steak Number Eight: 10/10

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