18 Jan 2022

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Gig Review: Blindfolded and Led To The Woods @ Dead Witch, Auckland - 15/01/2022

16 Jan 2022 // Review by Kev Rowland

I have been looking forward to tonight for ages, as Auckland went into lockdown in August with all gigs being cancelled until just before Christmas, and even then, that was with limited attendance. This means that tonight was going to be my first gig in five months, and given that I covered more than 30 in the first part of the year, that was some cold turkey. I had been due to see BALTTW back in September, on the nationwide tour for the wonderful Nightmare Withdrawals album, which made my Top 10 best New Zealand albums for 2021 (https://www.muzic.net.nz/articles/reviews/92933/kevs-top-10s-2021). Needless to say, that had been canned, but tonight they were finally making it up to Auckland from Christchurch and had some interesting opening acts as well. One of these, Bridge Burner, also made the Top 10 list with Disempath, so tonight promised to be very special indeed.

The gig was a sell-out, and even though the show started at 8:30, Dogtooth Amethyst had more people in front of them than I have seen for many headliners at the same venue. They kicked off with Anguish, and immediately singer Alanah Paige was fully into it. She dominates with vocals that are rough and raw while the band kick up a groove which is strong and powerful. Empty Hands may start more slowly but soon the boys lift it to a new level with a very powerful six-string bass often dominating. Their music is incredibly complex, with hints of Meshuggah at times, and they use a backing track to provide extra depth. They only had five songs to make their presence felt, but with numbers like the diverse Discipline, where the guys show how they can move from melodic metal into something more ferocious and back again, it is guaranteed that they made many new friends tonight. They really understand the need for contrast, as to make something heavy there is the need for there also to be light and softness or it just doesn’t work. Light and shade is everything, and they combine it with a very strong groove indeed.

There was a delay in the handover to Pale Flag as drummer Cody Johnson has the temerity to be left-handed. I was also somewhat confused as I thought this was an all-guy band but apparently bassist Alex joined after the last video and the website has yet to be updated. There were more Pale Flag t-shirts in the audience tonight than any other band, and there was a real feeling of anticipation. A swirling backing track led the band into Demise where they showed they were ready to take it up a notch and create an almighty pounding sound, with singer Isaac Drakeley having an incredible growling rough and raw delivery. While the first song was all about groove, Uprising was about sheer force and power, ramping up the tempo to be the quickest song of the night to date. The twin guitars of Jack Queenin and Liam Donald are ferociously linked, with the rhythm section providing all the support they need. They may not have had a great deal of room to move about on stage, but the crowd were more than making up for it with a mighty pit developing from the off.

There is something special about the way they are musically linked, and while the quartet provide the muscle it is Isaak who takes them over the edge with a dominant vocal performance. Knowing what was to follow with the next two bands I again realised just how special was tonight for the Auckland metalheads who have been missing out so much in recent months. Pale Flag may not mix the sheer volume as much as Dogtooth Amethyst, but they change tempo a great deal instead, moving from groove metal into areas which are much more at death tempo, but being approached from a far more progressive area with djent obviously being a main influence. They ended with their newest song, Human Error, and a request for the pit to pick up even more, which of course it did, with everyone reacting as the threw loads of different styles into just one number, creating an incredibly heavy vibe indeed.

Bridge Burner were only a quartet tonight, but they kicked into Separating Hand From Wrist with no warning and straight away we were lifted into complex grindcore and punk hardcore as they attempted to rip the ceiling off the joint. These guys head straight for the jugular, an absolute monster of an attack, and just when the listeners are recovering from one number they are into the next with the same blast and fury: sheer aggression with no room for niceties. If you don’t like the current song then don’t worry as there will be another here shortly, all delivered with the over-the-top attack that can only come from a band who are at the top of their game, delivering the noise as if their life depended on it. Singer Ben Read never stops moving throwing his heart and lungs into everything he does, drummer Louis Malloy is a sweaty mess from the time the first song ended, but Gary Brown (bass) and Josh Marsham (guitar) don’t move a great deal onstage as they are delivering complex riffs which do all the work for them.

Anyone who thinks to play music like this isn’t difficult has obviously not been paying attention to these guys as it is hugely complicated with high note density, all delivered in a manner which will rip your head off. They don’t mess about, they are here with just one purpose, and rarely speak between songs, just quickly getting their breath back so they can launch into another attack. It is relentless and powerful but listen intently to any of the guys in the band and one will realise there is an awful lot taking place with tempo changes, additional cymbal strikes to change the mood, vocals ripped from the depths of the body, while Josh doesn’t wasted time on guitar solos but instead keep the riffs pounding. Ben is so into it that at one point he was singing without the microphone, his very being wrapped in his dark intent. They pushed so hard that they didn’t even complete the set as before they were to finish with Further Failure, Josh had broken a string, but more importantly Louis had damaged his pedal board, so they called it a night. It is the second time I have seen them, and again have come away mightily impressed. Here is a band who really mean it, every time they play.

BALTTW did something I had never seen before, which is put up pullups of the album cover either side of the stage, and then they started the gig in complete darkness. The introductory tape is quite long, building the anticipation, and they had also brought additional lighting which was strobing. Then the lights were up, and they were off, kicking into the album with a vengeance. Here we have a death metal band who are taking it all to the next level, ripping everyone a new one. The last time I saw them live they opened for Sepultura and Death Angel and did not look or sound out of place that night at all, and they have only kept improving since then.

Technical death metal with elements of brutal, this is a powerful outfit who have been one of the most interesting extreme metal acts in NZ for some time now – I first came across them with the release of their second album, 2017’s Modern Adoxography which I loved, and last year’s Nightmare Withdrawals just cemented that opinion. They are another band who use contrast in both heaviness and tempo to drive home the message that here there is a group of guys who refuse to compromise what they are about, just to be played on the radio, and instead are staying true to their core beliefs. I have no idea how many times I have been to Dead Witch, but outside of the classic WBW gig last year this is the most people I have ever seen in the venue, and boy was it hot.

The energy coming off the stage was intense, with Nick a man possessed, yet always the guys were delivering massively complex runs and riffs, fingers a blur with Stace Fifield somehow staying on top of the juggernaut, always in the zone and often not even facing the audience as he puts absolutely everything into the performance. They use plenty of micro breaks in the music which allows everyone to quickly reset and come back in renewed, while the intricacy of the music is simply incredible. This is a band on a totally different level, playing with an intensity which show why they have such a deserved reputation. I only hope I get to see them again soon, as this was one heck of an experience.

I have a strange feeling that my first gig of the year will feature in my Top 10 at the very end. Every band delivered, and I look forward to seeing all of them again. Metal is very much alive and well in Aotearoa in the hands of bands like these.

Photo credit: Kev Rowland


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