Heavy Scotland 2017 – Weekend Review
Scotland bags itself an extreme metal festival. Fun ensues!
The grey cloud sitting low over central Scotland parted during the morning to reveal, perhaps the first proper signs that spring is in the air and as the sun peeks out in Edinburgh there are large numbers of people in black clothing starting to congregate around the Corn Exchange. It’s just past lunchtime and inside the cavernous, darkened venue someone is sound checking – loud.
So, here we are. Front and centre for this fledgling two day festival – the most diverse clutch of metal bands ever to assemble in the nation’s capital. This is Heavy Scotland – first of it’s name.
Saturday 1st April
Scotland’s own Centrilla have the unenviable task of being first on while the venue is still filling up. But in keeping with the general enthusiasm of the audience over the weekend, there are already plenty of people on the barrier ready to check them out. By the band’s own admission this is the largest audience they’ve ever played to and between songs their frontman sounds a little intimidated by the size of the room.
Not that he needs to – Centrilla’s clean, lean one guitar assault is principally metal core in nature, and while their staccato riffs and hulking drops don’t exactly challenge conventions they execute them with precision and conviction. Live, they sound a little less nuanced than on their moody, textural album, Memento Mori, and some of the softer vocal moments do get lost in the bombast but three songs in and they are in the groove, winning the crowd and kicking proceedings off in fine style. 6/10
Hailing from Wales with accents to prove it, Sodomized Cadaver peddle grass roots death metal a la, Bolt Thrower, Master, early Death and some of their more odious lyrics (“Raped by Ebola” etc) bear thematic nods to Cannibal Corpse. The whole thing is wrapped up in a kind of knowing, postmodern humour that, while amusing, fails to paper over the simplicity and relative banality of their tunes. Wearing your influences on your sleeve and referencing death metal’s ‘golden era’ is fine but you’d better make damn sure your material is up to scratch. Here, I feel, it isn’t. Pedestrian riffs are dragged out to colossal length and polite, workmanlike guitar leads from what appears to be the world’s smallest guitarist effervesce into nothing. Onstage, Sodomized Cadaver are as static and lifeless as the corpses they sing about. Their set seemed to go on forever and by the end of it, I was yawning. 4/10
Dyscarnate dwell at the opposite end of the death metal spectrum – the awesome end. This 3-piece steam straight into a song powered by one of the most spasm-inducing riffs I’ve heard in a long time. Sure, we all know that death metal tends to be brutal, but in this case it is also insanely catchy and Dyscarnate seem to instill everything with tons of relentless, pulsating groove. In seconds, heads are nodding, by the end of the first song, they’re banging.
At the end of their opening salvo, once the audience has been allowed to catch it’s breath, it almost comes as a surprise to discover that Dyscarnate are a trio of well-spoken, clean cut lads who look like people you’d be more likely to bump into at the gym than manning the gun ports of a contemporary death metal band. Accordingly, they offer no let up as they crunch from song to song with the style and precision of a Winchester rifle, powered by a dual vocal attack that covers both tight growls and neatly controlled shrieks.
They air some new songs this afternoon, so at least half their set is unknown to the audience, but the material is so immediately accessible, so engaging that it simply doesn’t matter and Dyscarnate grab themselves a lot of new fans this afternoon. I have the t shirt to prove it. 9/10
Warbringer are riding high right now, spurred on by an excellent album Woe to the Vanquished, an upcoming tour with Havok and perhaps their best lineup so far – one the we hope will put paid to their manifold changes of personnel. John Kevill is an powerhouse frontman in the old school thrash mould right down to the battle vest, massive boots and ability to hit a high scream like his testicles were caught in a vice. He is complemented by new guitarist Chase Becker who rips a string of fast, accurate leads that push all the right buttons with the crowd. In no mood to accept second place this afternoon they almost immediately demand (and are given) a sizeable circle pit which persists right the way through their set. They have an impressively wide demographic appeal – at one point a young woman asks me to yell for her favourite song (she doesn’t think her voice is loud enough!). This is the most excited I have ever seen a twenty-something year old female get about a war-themed retro thrash band!
Warbringer steam through “Combat Shock”, “Living Weapon” and of course de facto single – “Remain Violent”, leaving the crowd a sweaty, elated mess and I wonder how tour-buddies and fellow thrash revivalists, Havok, will choose to follow them. Or if they even can. 8/10
Perhaps it’s the fact that Warbringer blew out a couple of fuses before they started, threatening to impinge on their set, but Havok’s David Sanchez seems more grumpy and petulant than normal by the time he appears onstage. With the usual burning intensity he assures us that everything will be fine if we just think for ourselves. But with this kind of schtick, I wonder: are you still thinking for yourself, if you are following someone else directions on how to do so? Answers on a postcard.
None the less, the band look very cool with their white custom guitars and matching white drum heads as they belt out cuts from their excellent new album Conformacide before climaxing on live staple “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death”. Overall though, they sounded a little muddier and chaotic tonight than last time I saw them. Rough edges aside this band still dwell at the sharp end of what is not longer a mere revival but now, a decade on, more of a second golden era of thrash metal. But, were fuses the only thing Warbringer blew tonight? No, they blew Havok as well – right the fuck off the stage. There may be some awkward silences on that tour bus in the coming months! 7/10
I won’t lie, symphonic metal and some of the more ‘out there’ classical bolt-ons to the underlying template don’t always float my boat and bands come no more ‘out there’ than Italy’s Fleshgod Apocalypse who, on record, throw everything including the kitchen sink into the mix.
Preceded by an announcement that due to an – apparently serious – leg injury the drummer will be playing live only with his hands (and heart) tonight while the bass drum parts are handled by a backing track. No matter, this kind of music tends to be technical and reliance on backing is commonplace and widely accepted these days. Having received the blessing of the crowd for this, Fleshgod Apocalypse – to the uninitiated a bunch of renaissance Europeans who built a time machine, went to the future and formed a metal band – blast into perhaps the most brutal set of the night.
Onstage they are joined by an operatic soprano (a fully paid-up ‘fat lady’) and a fantastic classically trained piano player who looks a bit like Dr Evil. But these things are but adornments to what is actually just a really, really aggressive band who proceed to flay the audience alive with crushing blasts and tides of lightening quick tremolo picking. As the sun goes down, the room reaches fever pitch and the pit opens up like a whirlpool.
Fleshgod Apocalypse are more cinematic than symphonic and perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea but if you weren’t picking your jaw up off the floor after their set, you weren’t there. 8/10
It’s debatable whether Grave should have been higher on the bill than Fleshgod Apocalypse. My own opinion is that these Swedes – renowned mainly for their pre-Gothenburg sound death metal stylings that challenged America’s early genre dominance – should have been a little lower down the bill. Still, the point is academic – I have been waiting for many years to see Grave live – so here we go.
First off, their sludge-ridden, fizzing twin guitar attack is arrestingly gnarly. They kick off wave after wave of crawling mid-paced chaos that spews distortion onto piles of already barfed up fuzz. I get the impression that bulk of the audience doesn’t really know Grave’s material and there is an absence of standout moments in their set, but it really doesn’t matter, the mood is excellently high and Grave get welcomed like the returning champions they kind of aren’t. In the pit, we bind together like a massive human jellyfish and bounce like idiots, back and forth, to the pummelling accompaniment. 6/10
There are frontmen and then there are great frontmen. Men, who in decades gone by might have been called rock stars. Behemoth’s Nergal is one such man. They say he beat leukaemia. Beat it’s ass and then just went back to his work like nothing had happened. Looking at the athletic, sinewy man in the hood on the stage tonight – it isn’t hard to believe. In fact, I imagine that there isn’t much he couldn’t achieve if he put his mind to it. Behemoth are relentlessly heavy, unfathomably cool and they flawlessly execute their every moment on stage. Everything is timed to impress, to inspire and to move from the opening salvo of “Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel” from The Satanist, perhaps the greatest metal album of 2014 to the moment when the stage falls away to darkness only to suddenly reveal the band dressed in cowls and horns standing motionless at the helm of a barrage of snaking black metal goodness. The latter moment I later heard described by one young fan as ‘the most Satanic thing I have ever seen.’ I didn’t disagree with him.
Behemoth and Nergal in particular have done much to espouse Satanism as something more meaningful than simply the worship of yet another imaginary deity – it is a viewpoint that’s easy to sympathise with, but more than any of that, tonight was just a textbook example of how to put on a great rock n’ roll show in 2017. I left home this morning as a casual listener to Behemoth, someone who was aware of their canon and knew a handful of their songs, but tonight as the final strains of “O Father O Satan O Sun!” had been played and Nergal had acknowledged the significance of this, their first visit to Edinburgh, I left the venue and returned home as a devout fan. 10/10
Sunday 2nd April
It’s a credit to the organisers that for the second day on the trot, they have picked an opening band that, while obviously inexperienced, have the stuff to get the hungover Sunday lunchtime crowd brought back to life. Lucifer’s Corpus won a battle of the bands to be here this afternoon, but do not let that fool you. These guys drop like they’re wearing lead shoes and sound like are destined to be playing these kind of shows.
Part Crowbar, part Down, Lucifers Corpus remind me of a more accessible version of Krokodil with a sledge hammer of a front man who sounds like a lean, clean latter era Phil Anselmo. Their songs are focussed, peppered with memorable riffs and played with the kind of precision that never edges too far into sludge territory. Best of all though is their bass player, a young man with outstanding tone and attack. Sure, they’re a little green – the guitar player only looks up once during their set – but they’re a band to watch. For the second time in the weekend, I felt compelled to buy a t shirt. 8/10
The same can’t really be said for Disposable. Another unsigned, home grown act these massively dreadlocked thrashers look cool and attack the stage like men possessed, but the positives end there. They play fast – fucking fast – at all times and there is really very little to tell the songs apart. The intricacies of their playing are hopelessly are lost in the mix and the only thing that stands out is some rather loose dual guitar harmonies on one song and the odd outbreak of sloppy footwork from the drummer. I kind of felt their nods to Beneath the Remains era Sepultura but to be honest, everything was so indistinct, that I could be completely incorrect. Hopefully these guys will find a way to temper their fire a bit and then maybe we’ll find out what they’re really all about. 3/10
I really felt for the lads from the oddly titled Shiraz Lane! On a hard-hitting bill like Heavy Scotland they were by far and away the most lightweight band in the house (with the exception of Blaze Bayley who is, of course, exempt from such criticism!). By the time this Finnish five-piece took the stage with their brand of 80’s referencing sleaze rock, the crowd had thinned out a bit and frontman Hannes Kette had to work hard – I’ll rephrase that – had to toil relentlessly hard to win the crowd in from the sunshine outside. But succeed, he did.
Shiraz Lane sound a lot like what a supergroup made up of classic era Guns n’ Roses and Skid Row might sound like. They have a preening, cavorting vocal gymnast up front and a pair of guitarists who throw all the right shapes and squeeze all the necessary sweat and semen from those bluesy riffs and pentatonic solos. Their set is a mix of material from their, surprisingly long career and cuts “Wake Up” and the wannabe anthem “Go Home Mama’s Boy” from their current album put guilty smiles of pleasure on many faces. I’m not sure whether there is an ironic side to what Shiraz Lane do or whether they really are stuck in a genuine time-warp, but they dragged the crowd down with them for that 40 minutes and it worked, surprisingly well! 6/10
Belgium’s Evil Invaders hit the ground running with the kind of over the top, wild-eyed intensity that it’s impossible not to be drawn into and by now the crowd is nicely warmed up with the first pits of the day beginning to break out. Sunday’s room isn’t quite the orgy that Saturday’s was, but thanks to their efforts – we’re getting there!
Evil Invaders treat us to a masterclass in high speed thrash that, amazingly, rivals the precision of their albums and touches the upper limits of what can be achieved before the whole sound degenerates into a nonsensical blur. Consequently their set seems to teeter on the brink of chaos with riffs, dual harmonies and frantic solos intertwining while their two guitarists and a bassist throw shapes, teetering atop monitors then dashing to their mics to belt out deft backing vocals.
Their frontman – a bedraggled-looking, skinny-legged loony who looks like Morbid Angel’s Trey Azagthoth used to before he lost his fire – impresses with high vocals which soar over the melee. When he’s not singing, he’s grimacing, clawing the air, dry humping his guitar and generally hamming it up apparently without a trace of irony. Nice to see!
A quick whistle stop tour of their back catalogue which spiked with an awesome tune called ‘Stairway to Insanity’ and their set was over but rest assured the fastest band of the day played until their trousers almost caught fire! 8/10
Elder statesman of metal, Blaze Bayley has always had an affinity for the Scottish audiences and tonight he is given a hero’s welcome. His three-piece band of relative youngsters are all seriously talented musicians and in another detour from the general brutality of the weekend, they drop a condensed set, concentrating on Blaze’s solo career and current album, the aptly titled – Endure and Survive.
“Silicone Messiah” and “Calling You Home” are high points, the latter containing what (up to that point) won my pick of ‘best guitar solo of the weekend’ courtesy of a Gibson SG-wielding gunslinger. One of the most heartening things in all of this was the pleasure the Blaze seems to take in offering the spotlight his band. It’s a egoless and warm performance of songs to an audience, most of whom have been with him through his ups and downs. Aside from his vocal style and a couple of songwriting tics there are few concessions to Maiden in all of this – there doesn’t need to be. But they do end up addressing the pink elephant in the room by finishing on the excellent “Man on the Edge” from Blaze’s tenure with the Irons.
Afterwards, the man himself hangs around the march stand until everyone who wants a photo taken with him has got one. Later on I see him watching fellow elder statesmen Destruction from the floor – just one of the lads. 8/10
The UK’s own Ingested hail from Manchester and appear to have carved quite a niche for themselves in the field of gore-splattered death metal – their cover art and song titles making it impossible not to compare them to Cannibal Corpse (one of the guitarists is even wearing a Cannibal Corpse basketball shirt). Now, personally, song titles like “Skinned and Fucked” don’t really impress me much. What does impress me however is the complete and utter weight this band channel when they drop.
Their twin buzz-saw guitar approach brought back memories of Grave the previous night but here, the modernity to their sound is acute, defined by a bass that roams the lowest frequencies called back only by the militaristic precision of the drummer.
When they play fast – and they do – it feels a little formulaic, but in half time feel and during sections where they toy with syncopation and tempo it becomes greater than the sum of it’s parts and you can see where this band have built their reputation and their following.
Their frontman has to work a little to get the crowd on the same page as him but by the time they finish on their aforementioned charmingly titled single, we’re in it together and Ingested carve the room up into the widest wall of death seen all weekend. 7/10
Founded in Germany during the initial heyday of thrash Destruction are one of the legacy acts that highlight just what an incredible bill Heavy Scotland represents. I have followed this trio’s recorded output for many years but having missed seeing them at their commercial peak, I didn’t believe I would ever get a chance like this.
If I can just reconsider my choice of words here – calling Destruction a ‘legacy’ act sounds a little insulting – because opener “Under Attack” from their current album sounds as vital as anything they play tonight. Like a leaner, stripped back Kreator their sound is hard yet intricate, Schmier’s (he only needs one name) bass reading as rude and dirty beneath the lithe, sparing guitar chops.
There are plenty of older metal heads in the room tonight who know Destruction’s material only too well and “Nailed to the Cross’’, “Mad Butcher” and obviously, “Thrash ‘Til Death” make it feel like it’s 1984 all over again. That said, measured against the violent assault of Ingested their set felt just a little mannered and bland to my ears. 6/10
As a Finntroll virgin, I was a little weary of the folk metal tag, worrying what that might entail and how it might be received by a room that has just been feasting on banquet of brutality for the better part of two days. As it transpired, what I got was not a million miles away from Finland’s answer to Alestorm only with more blast beats and fake troll ears!
Finntroll reveal to the beat of a cavernously hollow drum sound and a rabid, barking, gurgling nutter of a vocalist who, in another life, may have actually been a troll. Their sound is a lot meaner and more modern sounding than I was expecting. Sure there are keyboard washes behind the music but the traditional elements of Finntroll’s music are on a tight leash and folk never overpowers metal (nor should it… EVER!)
When Finntroll do deploy a folksy wig-out, it tends to have a jaunty, sea-shanty type of quality which, while vaguely comedic is certainly not unpleasant and some of the most jubilant interactions with the crowd tonight are accompanied by these odd-vamping keyboard parts. Every day’s a school day, so they say and I feel like I’ve just graduated troll school 101. 8/10
There are many things I like about Arch Enemy, after all they offer on many levels the pure heavy metal experience – intricate songs, angry vocals and lots of grandiose concepts and theatrics. 9 albums into their career, Michael Amott’s ongoing metal masterclass might be considered to be past the career zenith. Yet with the release of 2015’s awesome War Eternal and the lineup changes on their subsequent tour, this seemed not to be the case. Arch Enemy are riding high and, if you ask me, it is because of two things: Alissa White-Gluz and Jeff Loomis.
I saw Arch Enemy in Glasgow a couple of years back. Then, Alissa was in her first period of touring with the band and Jeff had been announced as their new guitarist only weeks before. She appeared to be the most versatile vocalist the band had ever had (sorry Team Gossow!), but there was a feeling of tentativeness to her performance – like she still wasn’t entirely sure whether it would work out.
When we see her tonight, she is fully aware that shit is working. And then some! She stalks the stage like a cat – a very cross, very pretty cat… with blue hair and a costume that looks like it may have been designed by HR Giger that time he got trapped in a high end lingerie store. Her every move is poetry in motion, her every utterance perfectly deployed and each time she gestures to a section of the audience you can almost see the males (and probably quite a few of the females) therein melt a little.
I feel almost the same way about Jeff Loomis. Ahem! Sorry, no, I don’t feel anything like that about Jeff! No, only good manly stuff! Loomo (as I affectionately call him) is one of the greatest metal guitarists of his generation. Just ask Dave Mustaine who had his doors blown off by him then aged just 15. When he first stepped off with Arch Enemy he was restrained, modest, perhaps concerned about stepping on Michael Amott’s clumpy boots. Tonight, the men have obviously optimised their working relationship because he is off the hook and he…. SHREDS! Were the guitar leads on those classic Arch Enemy tunes ever that amazing before his tenure?
“We Will Rise”, “No Gods, No Masters”, “You Will Know My Name” and “As the Pages Burn” are all but reimagined and given new life. To the non-musician one of the weapons in Loomo’s arsenal is his ability to pick demisemiquavers very high on the fretboard with extreme accuracy. It takes years to achieve, years more to master. His input, particularly that clean solo spot he pulls at height of the show are absolutely dazzling. The band end (predictably enough) on “Nemesis” and with it’s final strains I can only look forward with excitement to hearing what their next album holds in store. With that, the last band of the weekend depart the stage leaving the audience bruised but happy. Great show. Although I ought to kick your ass for suggesting I have a man crush on Jeff Loomis! 10/10
I really didn’t know what to expect when I came to Heavy Scotland. Perhaps you’d think a fledgling event of this kind of ambition might fall a little short in places – perhaps be a little poorly run and chaotic. But this was not the case – the whole weekend was run with impressive precision and the staff and security really couldn’t have been any better. When Heavy Scotland returns (and it is a case of when) it would be great to see more sponsorship, better food and merchandise stalls on site but hopefully as word of the event travels these things will come.
It was an audacious piece of planning to take one of the most extreme metal bills Scotland has ever seen and plonk it right in the capital where people from all over the world come to gorge themselves on shortbread and ginger wigs – naff symbols of Scotland that tie in with her past rather than her future. But amazingly it worked. This event has the potential to not only support and nurture the metal community in Scotland but also to help it grow.
And when Heavy Scotland returns, Worship Metal will be right there on the front line!
Leave a comment