17 Oct 2021
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Gig Review: Blitz Metal Fest @ Dead Witch, Auckland - 12/06/2021

13 Jun 2021 // A review by Kev Rowland

Well, today was a first for me, coming to Ding Dong in the daylight! This was because it was time for Metal Blitz, a 13-band event being held which was planned to run for 10 hours but we all thought was probably going to take longer. When I arrived, I discovered that Mudshark had had to pull out, so we were now on for a round dozen, still a lot of bands. Each one was given a set time ranging from 20 minutes at the beginning of the event to 40 minutes by the end, and at only $30 this was a great way to hear lots of different outfits. Of the 12 playing today I had only previously seen 3, so I was looking forward to being able to hear music new to me.

First up were the Helmet covers band HATT, who were only formed earlier this year by Matt Perry (vocals, bass) (Project Bloodmoon, Halo of Ashes) and drummer Reuben Conn (Project Bloodmoon) and Aidan O'Loughlin (On Tick). Unfortunately, Aidan was unable to make it, so Will Mercer was brought in as a last-minute replacement, and together they put together the set of five songs in just a week. As one would expect from a band playing Helmet, this was rough and raw and incredibly raucous. One would not realise they had only been playing together for such a short time, given how tight they were, and although Will said to me beforehand that he was worried about his singing voice, it fitted in well with the music. This is heavy stuff, although I must admit it was unusual to see Matt onstage playing an instrument as opposed to throwing himself around as lead singer – but he has also just joined On Tick as bassist, turning them into a quartet, and that should be a very interesting change indeed, meaning they can utilize twin guitars. Songs such as Ironhead were brutal in their delivery, hard riffs taking no prisoners. It felt very strange indeed to be listening to music of this ferocity so early, but the crowd who were there were certainly lapping it up – people had turned up early to ensure they caught all the bands on the day, and they certainly were not disappointed by what was an incredibly powerful and frenetic start to the afternoon. Matt kept it tidy with thunderous bass tones, Reuben was a monster behind the kit (as well as taking lead vocals on a few numbers), while Will looked like he had always been there, riffing and driving the band on. What a great start and it was still not even 3:00 pm!

Next up were Moshpitt, the first all-Asian metal band I have come across in Aotearoa. Guitarist Aaron is from Malaysia, bassist Arata is from Japan, while drummer Jukka, guitarist Layla and singer Hao Cheng are all from China. So, from a trio we were off to five-piece with a very different approach indeed from what had gone before. Memory of South kicked things off with sonorous bass lines and gentle vocals, before the rest of the band kicked in and the vocals took on a far rougher approach. This was fast thrash-based metal with a real groove, driven along by a bassist playing a six-string and a drummer who kept it tight with plenty of work on the kick drums. The twin guitars riffed hard, while Hao Cheng sang melodically when the time was right, but often he could be found creating a harsh and over the top sound all on his own. Songs like The Eighth Day were memorable due to the wonderful basslines, and the different styles Arata was putting into the material. Each of their songs contained multiple sections, with guitar solos that tended to be more structured and considered than massive shred fests. The audience may have been blasted to the walls by HATT, but at some ungodly hour of the afternoon Moshpitt were really getting the crowd moving and there was plenty of headbanging going on. Somewhat unusually for a band of this style, halfway through the set they changed the tone by covering a Dylan song, One More Cup of Coffee, and while it was played somewhat straight, it has way more metal in it than the version which appeared on Desire more than 40 years ago. Mind you, this was just a breather and change in dynamics before they were crunching through Sucker, which had a moshpit going in Dead Witch, one of the few I have ever seen there, and the first of the day. There are times when their Asian influences come through in the music, and the result was a tight performance which got the crowd going, and by the time they finished with Round, Round and Round (which contained some strong doom elements) they had gained many new fans.

Karnack are a four-piece metal band from Te Awamutu, who say they are influenced by the likes of Metallica, Avenged Sevenfold, Foo Fighters, Iron Maiden, Trivium, Devilskin and Gojira, as well as punk and funk. This was the first female-fronted band of the afternoon with Renelia Whitmarsh on vocals and rhythm guitar, drummer Daniel Mackie, Zach Walsh on bass and Scott Pye on lead guitar. These guys are incredibly tight – a strong rhythm section keeping it together, loads of fancy flourishes from Scott, with Renelia matching the licks when the time is right for them to move into a duet while vocally, she is a mix between Doro and Angela Gossow. Those Who Dare was a powerful start, but that was just the warmup with Metal Punk crunchingly heavy as they riffed hard and fast. When they slowed it down it was the opportunity for Zach to provide some extraordinarily strong melodic leads on bass, and what really impressed me on this instrumental was the way they kept changing the speed and attack: it was incredibly varied in its approach and quite different to what I expected at the outset. Swallow the Sun was about nuclear war and showed the band back at their brutal riffing best, with Renelia altering her vocal approach throughout the song. There were also some interesting counterpoints, which in turn led to a much slower section, where the band became quite delicate: it is this use of different styles and dynamics which really made these guys stand out as one never knew where the music was going to lead, just that it was always going to be interesting. Of course, they had to go back to the brutal attack in the end! It was announced that Artificial Alliance was a real headbanger, and while that was indeed the case, yet again there was a lot going on within the music, with different riffs and tempo changes, but always with a real groove which got the crowd moving. Here is a band who have a real sense of humour and have loads of fun onstage, and it really comes through in what they are doing. I am really looking forward to catching them again soon.

Next up were Grym Rhymney, a band who have been through some line-up changes in recent months with guitarist Spencer Jew and drummer Kester Bennett only joining bassist Jamie Stuart and guitarist/vocalist Albi Ingram a few months ago. These guys play a direct form of metalcore, and they kicked things off with Haven, the opening number from their The Shadows We Cast Years Ago EP which was released towards the end of last year. The vocals are harsh and aggressive, with Jamie adding force to Albi at times, providing a raw and guttural attack. The crowd were still reacting well to the music, but to my ears this felt somewhat tame after what had gone before. Cycle of Hatred starting with a quite different style, much more laid back and picking, and when the band went into the riff this contained a real groove and passion within it which really made it stand out. Throughout, the gruff vocals demanded the most attention, but they often felt more powerful than the riffs and it was noticeable that the audience thinned out during their set although there was no doubt that those who remained were having a great time and there were going to be lots of sore necks at the end of the evening. I must confess that metalcore is a sub-genre I have always had difficulties getting on with and that was the same here – while there is no doubt that these guys are a very tight unit, and really know what they are doing, I found there was just not enough variety and contrast for this to really stand out. I am sure I am in the minority though as there were plenty of people having a really great time. They finished with City of Plague, which again started gently before the band went into the riffs, which in some ways was the most complex to date and it felt they had saved the best to last. It will be interesting to catch these guys again when they have a longer set to really show what they can do.

I love it when a band actually puts effort into self-promotion, so according to the guys, Disentra are a 4-piece melodic death metal band from Auckland and their sound “encapsulates a range of textures from Thrash, death and progressive metal. Focused around the feral meets flamboyant dual guitar attack of Hugo Pelzer and newcomer Matt Scarfe, vocalist/bassist Zak Whiting delivers both cleans and screams while holding down the rhythm section with drummer Johann Van Niekerk.” I really don’t feel like I need to add anything to this, but I guess I should! Zak has his 5-string bass strapped really high, as if he is a funk player, but that is just to ensure that when he is playing his complex runs, he can do it with ease. They say their music is for fans of In Flames, Opeth, Death, and as soon as Dissentra kicked into Beyond Respite it was obvious that we were seeing a band taking it to the next level. Johann was dominating the kit, with some excellent double kick work as well as playing multiple different rhythms, while Zak is a strong singer and the two guitarists were locked in, creating interweaved complex strands of heaviness. Zak did move between guttural and more melodic styles, but it was when he was attempting to force his lungs out of his chest that they really demonstrated their power, although Matt did sometimes join in on harmonies when the vocals were more melodic which gave another dimension. They clearly understand the need for dynamics, with different tempos and melodic structures within the same song, plenty of room for the band to shift things up, which means that when they come back into the main song the crunching riffs feel even more crushing than ever. Vile Lens was far more brutal, with a real groove inside the main riffs, and the audience really got into it. Their set was over far too soon – another band I look forward to catching again soon.

Unwanted Subject describe themselves as a kickass new metalcore band from Auckland and comprise Gerrit Nel (vocals), guitarist Francois Van Eeden and Ryan Jamesc, bassist GD Van Eeden and drummer Hendrik Lotz. They released a self-titled EP a while ago, along with a video for In My Eyes, and are now trying to play as many gigs as possible to get their name out there. They started very slowly indeed, with gently picked guitar and delicate drums, and then they were blasting into Till The End. Gerrit does not look as if he belongs in a heavy outfit, but vocally he has the chops with a guttural approach, and here we also have a band who have been working on their stage presence: everyone visually making an effort, as opposed to just standing back and playing. Guitars were being moved around and loads of shapes were being thrown. The audience certainly reacted with lots of severe headbanging and moshing taking place – in fact, it was quite risky to go down the front as there was a lot of long hair moving in incredibly rapid fashion. In My Eyes was apparently played more slowly than normal, still with plenty of aggression, and then they went into Parkway Drive’s Wild Eyes. They certainly got plenty of crowd participation on this one, and the double kick drums really made an impression. The crowd was with them throughout and by the time they got to Say Your Goodbyes they had made a lot of friends.

Black Sands were the seventh band on the bill today, and the first I had previously seen, so I knew what they were going to be delivering and I was definitely looking forward to it. They are an instrumental quartet comprising guitarists Cameron Owens and Ruaidri Keens, bassist Matt Hammond and drummer James Rimmer. James is incredibly quiet and affable offstage, and an animal on it, hitting the skins heavier than any other drummer I know, while in Matt the band have a musician who loves complexity and providing additional melody. Add into the mix an 8-string and 6-string guitar constantly providing melodies and counters and there really is not any room at all for vocals.  I could not make up my mind if Matt were being a monk or a jedi tonight, but all power to him for dressing up onstage. They kicked off with Bastard Sons, and immediately the complexity of all four musicians was simply stunning. These guys are just so incredibly tight, playing complex technical progressive metal, with elements of mathcore, so totally different to anything else which had gone before. It is impossible not to be awe of these guys, as the complexity and togetherness is at a totally different level to what has gone before. During Abrogation a head costume was delivered which turned James into some sort of Serpent King – very impressive. They may not have a frontman, but all the band are constantly moving while churning out complex melodies, so there are multiple focal points instead of just one. They really are one of the most impressive bands on the Auckland circuit at present, ferociously heavy, yet providing intricate music at speed. The musicians even swapped the bass and 8-string guitar at one point, because why not? The talent onstage is quite frightening. By the time they got to the end of Apocalypse of Eden they were absolutely smoking onstage, ripping up and down the frets while James did his level best to hit the skins so hard as to make the kit unplayable for anyone else. Awesome.

Forty Bucks Till Tuesday were up next, and they describe themselves as a Yakushima Assassin Clan Metal band from the distinguished Ghetto Streets and suburbs of West and South Auckland, and comprise George 'Shinobi' Iosefa-Ale (vocals), Andrew 'Spoon' Wanhill (guitar), Hayley Nessia (guitar), Carl Brannagan (bass) and Dean Brannagan (drums). The last time I saw these guys were at the Battle of the Bands back in October, and I knew that within the short set tonight they were playing the two numbers I really rated last time so was looking forward to it. They kicked off with one of those, Welcome to Purgatory, and we were off into Anthrax mixed with Life of Agony. There was no rest as they immediately followed that up with Mother Mercy's Keeper, with the band riffing hard and providing hard-moving thrash while George kept changing his vocal style and attack. They are another incredibly tight outfit – and while they may not have the changing dynamics of others, they know exactly what they are about and deliver with every single song. They are powerful and full of that hardcore energy and buzzsaw attack. I love that Hayley has a smile on her face and is having a gentle bop when it just Spoon leading the number, but she gets down to business and deals out some serious riffs when it is time for her to bring it. George is a force of nature, and even when the band slow it down, he is still there at the front driving it along. Girl in a Cave is the first song the band ever wrote together, yet it is powerful, down and dirty with a real filthy edge to it. They ended up with Crownless, a short sharp shock to the system and they were off.

The last time I saw Downfall of Humanity was at the Primacy album launch gig and was one of the bands I was really looking forward to tonight. They had the longest changeover as they were the first band to put up a backdrop, but soon they were off and kicking. The rhythm section of Ben Pegman (bass) and Ben Bakker (drums, BVs) keep the bottom locked down, and then in Alex Carleton and Bryce Patten they have two of the strongest guitarists around, tight in with each other, switching between support and lead as the need arises. Then of course at the front is Daniel Carleton who is a powering presence, not only due to the sheer size of the man but the way he switches between different vocal styles, always in control, with a commanding baritone which can switch to something dirty and nasty. SOAD are a major influence on the guys, but they also mix in mathcore, power metal, melodic metal and so much more in what they provide. It doesn’t matter what the sub-genre is, this is metal to the nth degree. Bryce provides melodic higher backing vocals when the time is right while Ben B has a much more animalistic attack, both providing support at the right time depending on how Daniel is singing at the time. Musically they kicked up a real groove which had the whole crowd reacting, and during Litany of Hate they even had a crowd surfer (apparently the first time ever at a Downfall gig). They followed that up with Chop Suey, which got the crowd in singalong mood and plenty of waving arms. Their set seemed way too short, and after they were the first band of the day to say they had t-shirts for sale, they launched into Discourse of Deceit and all too soon it was over. It truly felt like the bar had been lifted for those who were to follow.

Some bands come onto the stage totally relaxed, and then from off just set the place on fire, and that is exactly what Just One Fix did tonight. They are primarily a thrash metal band, but they put way more than just that one style into the mix. In some ways the musicians play very much separately from each other, with the bass often following its own deeply rich and low path which is at odds with the drums and different again to the guitar, but somehow, they combine to create something which is more than the sum of the parts. Every band up to now felt like they were striving for something, while these guys are packed full of confidence which comes from years of playing together and sharing the stage with some of the top international bands around, such as Megadeth, Sepultura, Death Angel and Biohazard. Ross Curtain has a deft touch on the kick drum, while bassist Ant Ward looks like a metal god – rarely have I seen someone so relaxed on the stage while playing complex runs and sporting a wonderful beard. On the opposite side of the stage is Sharne Scarborough who never stops delivering huge riffs at tremendous speed, and then at the front of the maelstrom is of course Riccardo Ball, who lives and breathes everything he is singing. New songs such as the recently demoed God’s and Devils were played alongside the likes of old favourites such as Proxy God, and they certainly sounded pretty damn fine to me. The whole place was bouncing by now, and the announcement that there was a new EP on the way was met with loud applause. These guys make the difficult seem easy, with complex runs and riffs coming together seamlessly. The bass is kept relatively high in the mix, deliberately so, as there are times when Ant mimics Sharne so that Sharne can drop out into a real shredder’s solo. The band could do no wrong and when they announced it was the last song with Crushed Beyond Reckoning, I was not the only one to feel disappointed. These guys are the real deal, a metal band at the top of their game, and I am looking forward to seeing them again in the near future and hearing the new music when it is out.

Remote first formed some 25 years ago, and although there have been some different line-ups during those years, Andy D (lead vocals, guitar) has been the mainstay. These days the band is completed by Rob on lead guitar, Jared on bass and Will on drums, the last two also both being in Primacy. Remote are a metal band which mixes and brings together multiple different sub genres such as alternative, thrash, groove and technical, and Andy at times sings clean while at others he drops into a far more gruff manner. Tonight, they started with A-Team, taken from their 2017 EP Riding A Tiger On Fire, and immediately the audience were moving and grooving along with the sound. Amazingly this was the 11th band of the day, and although not many people had been here since the very beginning, Dead Witch had been consistently full for virtually the complete run of the festival, quite an achievement. Andy dedicated a song to Downfall of Humanity and Just One Fix, saying that he felt those bands should do just that, and then launched into Dicks Out For Satan. While Andy plays the main riffs, Rob is noodling over the top, creating an additional layer which is quite compelling. From the newest song they went into the oldest one they have, Makeshift: apparently Andy wrote the riff for this one some 30 years ago! Vocals were swapped between Andy and Rob, and Andy took the opportunity to provide some lead guitar as well. This was followed up with what they called their only ballad, All I Ever Needed, but while it is a slower number, it is not what one would really call a ballad as it is still way too metal for that. Mind you, in the breakdown it definitely took on a Porcupine Tree slant, but only for a few bars before it turned back into a heavy beast. Home saw them hitting the groove again, and the crowd were right there with them, bouncing along. Andy has real confidence in his singing, which allows him to hit and hold long notes while the music is changing underneath, and then of course he can go to something far gruffer and rawer if that is what is needed. They ended up with the blaster which is Red Hat, and yet another band were done for the day, and everyone was ready for the final act.

That band was none other than Deathnir, one of the most important metal bands in the scene. I just happened to rewatch Alien Weaponry’s video for Ru Ana Te Whenua earlier in the day, and in it Henry can be seen wearing a Deathnir shirt. The guys have had the same line-up for the last few years, and these days founders Drew Carter (guitar/vocals) and Adam Johnson (bass/backing vocals) are joined by Brad Ion (guitar/backing vocals) and Raana Paterson (drums). This is thrash combined with power metal, with influences obviously from the likes of Metallica, Megadeth, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Diamond Head. Mind you, Brad was wearing a Death t-shirt so it is obvious where his influences come from. Unlike many bands who take the classic thrash as a starting point and move it in other directions, here we have a group of guys who obviously love Metallica from when they were a proper band (so more than 30 years ago), combined that with early Megadeth, and have taken that as a blueprint and brought in some other influences to flesh out the sound but never moving too far from the core. I did have a small chuckle when I heard someone in the crowd shouting out for Seek and Destroy, as I can imagine they do a very good version indeed. Adam also treated us to the first circular headbanging I saw tonight, which just must hurt in the morning. They also played a new song, Assassin, and the crowd were taught the chorus so everyone could join in. Each time they slowed it down it was just so they could come back even harder, and a delicate bass passage was just blown into smithereens when they launched into Die by the Axe which featured a really nice shredding solo from Drew. Metallion sounded as if it had come right out of the NWOBHM playbook from 40 years ago and was downright fun because of that. The guys have cameo roles in the new horror comedy slasher movie Buzzcut, so of course they played the song of the same name and invited everyone to go onto their Facebook page to find out details of the world premier taking place in Auckland later this month. They ended with Dr. Pain, and that was it. Well, sort of, even though their sound had been cut and all the house lights had been put on, the audience were shouting for one more, so soundman Dave relented and let them play an encore, Internal War.

10 hours, 12 bands, for just $30 on the day ($25 beforehand), what a bargain. Both myself and Dave were absolutely exhausted by the end, as we both worked all the way through without a break, but we got there. Congrats to Ding Dong Lounge for pulling off one heck of an event which was incredibly well run, and to all the bands who took the most of their opportunity and then quickly got off the stage so the next band could set up – the event actually finished with 5 minutes of the originally planned time, incredible. There were no egos on show, and a few times I even saw musicians assisting other bands with equipment issues, all attempting to help everyone do the very best they could. I have made notes on who I want to see again in the future, and to be honest that was the vast majority of those who played today.


Photo credit: Kev Rowland

 

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