Church Of Riff 2 at Colchester Arts Centre (metal)

Posted on May 23, 2012

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A Pint Of Bin promotion, on Thursday 17th May 2012, featuring Meadows, Suns Of Colossus, William English, Three Thrones and Slabdragger.

What a lineup. Any casual punter could readily be forgiven for being carried out in a box. Not that the sounds on offer were remotely toxic; on the contrary, they were entirely wholesome nut cutlets of crunchthudriffery, but seriously, heavy things can crush you, and things as heavy as this can crush you flat. Perhaps that’s why Colchester Arts Centre is ‘never knowingly understood’: stand under this sort of malarkey and you can wave goodbye to three-dimensionality.

Meadows.

Meadows had the good grace to run the first stage of the relay, as the event was their baby. The last time I saw them, they’d been enjoyable to see and hear, but they hadn’t enjoyed playing much owing to a dodgy stage sound and some sonic gremlins: on this occasion they were loving it, and it showed. Crushing riffs and angry screams were delivered with intensity and obvious relish; the band’s aesthetic involves assembling monolithic structures from massive blocks of destructive power, and then firing them at you really hard. On this occasion they reminded me why I count them among my favourite live acts.

This was the first outing for Suns Of Colossus. Rehearsals have obviously been going well. This band’s schtick is classic hard rock, with a distinctly southern flavour, helpfully signalled for the deaf by the Confederate flag hanging from the mic stand; I do like to see disabled access considered in performance practice. They played it straight and they played it hard. The bass player and guitarist both gave good value as far as their playing was concerned, but could definitely have looked a bit less reticent about it; the singer more than made up for it though. He is a charismatic rock performer of the old school, who makes the stage his own by inhabiting all of it, and who enjoys an intimate relationship with his mic stand, an aspect of rock showmanship sadly neglected in recent years. All in all, very entertaining, and when they all loosen up and give it some visually, they’ll be even better.

William English have only released a two track demo (which I reviewed here) so I was surprised how fully formed they seem as a band. They put in a really intense set, presenting themselves with a striking visual impact: nothing overtly theatrical, but each band member has a distinctive visual character and a dynamic approach to stagecraft. Their music is contemporary sludge with a streak of complexity, and the writing is all great, but it was the performance that really got me: I mean, these blokes held nothing back, and there is no better feeling for an audience than to know the band is giving you everything they’ve got. Some mindblowing shit right there.

It’s not long since I last saw Three Thrones play, but the contrast was striking. They’ve always put in a good set when I’ve seen them in the past, but they usually seem pretty shy on stage; tonight they were obviously very happy to be there. Their drummer is the most dynamic presence in their shows, and the two chaps up front are never going to be the sort of performers to leap around doing the splits and simulating sex acts with the equipment; that’s just a question of personality. But on this outing they were relaxed and confident, their body language and their playing both exhibiting a well-oiled, loose-limbed assurance. With their no-vocals format, and their simple, textural compositions, Three Thrones were clearly the evening’s most devout worshippers at the Church Of Riff, their music ruthlessly expunged of all else. Long may they continue in that vein, because they make a truly awesome noise.

Slabdragger.

While Slabdragger were getting ready to play, their bassist was testing his instruments, with a sound processed through some blistering, gritty distortion: it sounded, in fact, like a slab being dragged, which answered the first question I had about this band. I first came across this act while writing reviews for the sadly somnolent Live Unsigned, so my familiarity with their sound was based on some online tracks, which were great, but probably not that representative, and it was all a bit of a long time ago. What I said then did still hold true as a description of their music, to whit: ‘this is thick, treacly, heavy shit, that bludgeons you into a semi-conscious trance, best enjoyed at volumes capable of liquefying small animals’. Slabdragger knew exactly what to do with their headline spot, and played an absolute blinder, bestriding the stage with approachable majesty, and drugging us to the eyeballs with their hallucinatory aural intensity. This is another band with an arresting visual impact, especially enhanced by their guitarist’s selfless commitment to radical hirsutism; from writing, through playing, to stagecraft, all the ingredients were in place for a charismatic and brutal performance, that rounded off a very high quality night to perfection.

Massive props have to be directed at everyone involved in organising this night: it represents exactly the sort of grass roots scene making that keeps music a living art, rather than a professionalised consumer culture irrelevance. The Arts Centre’s brilliant sound engineer Chris obviously had a lot to do with how good everyone felt on stage, but the atmosphere was superb from the back of the house to the front. Roll on Church Of Riff 3.

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