29/10/19 - Forged In Fire Festival - Saturday 26th October 2019 [Live]

Last Saturday I returned to The Loose Cannon on Oldham Road in Manchester for day two of the very first Forged In Fire Festival. After the first day's satisfying dose of hard rock 'n' roll I couldn't wait to get stuck into Saturday's musical offerings. Due to prior engagements (primarily rehearsal with my own band) I arrived mid-way through the Saturday line-up. Those that were in attendance however had the honour of witnessing sets from Forlorn Hope, Autocracy, Gentleman's Brawl, Royal Bloom, Nocturne Wulf and the Matt Long Band.

Upon my arrival at the venue, 1980's heavy metal band Millennium were already on the stage doing their thing. Originally from 1982-1988 before reforming in 2015, the band's wealth of experience was immediately obvious. Led by lead vocalist and primary songwriter Mark Duffy, they effortlessly performed a whole host of tracks both old and new including “Revolution Calls” from their last album and 80's fan-favourite “The Devil Rides Out”. With this show marking the release of their latest album A New World the Millennium also showed off some of their new material too which sounded superb. It just goes to show that writing and performing good ol' no-nonsense heavy metal is a gift you can never lose.

Moving away from NWOBHM (new wave of British heavy metal) and leaning towards a more thrash sound the next band London based Death Valley Knights commanded a certain level of attention. With a twin guitar attack and an abundance of fast-paced guitar solos there was plenty to be admired in their performance. Although not as melodic as the previous act, Death Valley Knights more than made up for it with sheer thrash aggression. Their track “Shut Up and Drink” boasted a prominent bass intro and once the band was all fired up they got the crowd shouting “Drink! Drink! Drink!” along with them. This was modern thrash at it's finest.

Another London band, heralding some serious nu-metal vibes, Metasoma were up next. Featuring three members of Death Valley Knights (lead guitarist, drummer, and DVK vocalist switching to bass) alongside vocalist Vlad A. Lancu and rhythm guitarist Michal 'Misiek' Sedzielewski, the band well and truly owned the stage. Vlad's connection with the audience was particularly impressive and rather surprisingly the band fitted in an unconventional cover of Nirvana's “Come As You Are” which allowed him to really let it all out. The track was finally given the heavy metal treatment that I've always felt it sorely needed.

With a slight change to the scheduled line-up, Midnight Prophecy from Liverpool took to the stage earlier than planned due to Jack Rabbit Slams having to pull out at the last minute. The band answered Metasoma and DVK's modern metal styles with their own take on the NWOBHM sound. It was good to see the organisers switching things up sub-genre wise to keep things entertaining. Throughout their set singer Craig Cairns vocal range was showcased brilliantly, especially in track “Through The Fire”. Midnight Prophecy ended their set as passionately as they began with a twin guitar harmony that filled the venue.

Proudly taking the main support slot were Liverpool blues rockers King Voodoo. With a clever mix of funk and blues they navigated their way through their repertoire of heavy riffs, deep vocals and some real catchy hooks, taking all of us along for the ride. Stand out moments for me were their performances of “TVC”, the band's latest single, and a brutal yet respectful cover of “Tie Your Mother Down”, originally by Queen. Mid-set they even went all out acoustic too which showed another side to the band entirely. A great surprise so late in the night.

And last but certainly not least came Troyen: classic NWOBHM from the 1980's triumphantly resurrected to the delight of the crowd. It really was a pleasure to behold a band, who originally parted ways before I was even born, really giving it some and showing all of us how it's done. They opened their set with the provocative “Lady Evil” from their latest EP before breaking out “Dreams Never Lie” and Don't Send Me To War” from their 1981 demo, two tracks that sound as heavy and relevant as if they were written yesterday. The guitar solos of the 'two Steves' (lead guitarist Steve Haslam and guitarist/vocalist Steve McGuire) were second to none all through the performance. Mark Nortley's bass chops were fantastic and the drumming of Jeff Baddley was simply mind-blowing. Troyen brought their brilliant set to a close with “Storm Child”, the title track of their 2017 EP, and "Future's Friend", another track from their debut demo. Much like the rest of the band's set, both were tremendous. Good metal never dies!

And that my friends, was 'Forged In Fire 1'. It was a thoroughly enjoyable journey through a number of heavy rock/metal sub-genres populated by some awesome musicians. The camaraderie between all those performing was a testament to the scene, and the whole event was a joy to witness and a real pleasure to review. Here's to hoping that next year's line-up is at least half as good as this one; cause if it is we'll be in for one hell of a night.

All that remains for me to do now is to say a big thank you to Forge AMP for organising such an amazing event, to The Loose Cannon for hosting it and making sure it all ran smoothly, and to Craig Robert Johnathan, Ruth Cope and Stuart Pooley for letting me review it all. Long live rock 'n' roll!

Cheers!

Chris

Forged In Fire Festival - Saturday 26th October 2019

28/10/19 - Forged In Fire Festival - Friday 25th October 2019 [Live]

Last weekend The Loose Cannon on Oldham Road in Manchester played host to the inaugural Forged In Fire Festival: a showcase of some of the best hard rock and metal bands from across the country. Organised by Liverpool based Forge AMP (Artist Management and Promotions), 'Forged In Fire 1' featured fifteen bands spread over Friday night and all day Saturday. The event also boasted the talents of comedian Pete K Mally who compèred both days by introducing all of the bands and whipping up the crowd into furious cheering and applause whenever necessary.

Kicking off proceedings on the Friday night were Huddersfield alternative rockers Days of Riot who immediately took to the stage with classic heavy rock riffs in the vein of Diamond Head or Led Zeppelin. Frontman and lead vocalist Lewis Bojar gave a larger than life performance that even Robert Plant would be proud of. Particular highlights for me were “Stellaris” which had a full throttle almost speed metal ending and “The Dream” which had a more funk groove akin to Rage Against The Machine. Days of Riot finished off with “Fire in the Sky” which was filled with energy. A great end to a great start to the festival.

Next up came A Joker Among Thieves, a heavy rock band from Barnsley whom on this occasion performed as a three piece. They didn't let this stop them however and quickly proceeded to make the stage theirs with their own brand of bluesy rock. All throughout “Stomp on My Heart” bassist Tink could not stand still and, although they described “Addicted” as a ballad, it featured some impressive bass tapping the likes I have never seen. Definitely has to be seen/heard to be believed. Vocalist/guitarist Joe oozed real passion in his vocal delivery on “Don't Run Away” whilst also showcasing his guitar skills too. “Preachers Daughter” was perhaps the most intriguing track of all however with regular shifts in time signature that kept the tightly rehearsed band and entranced audience on their toes. As a musician myself I found this song especially entertaining. A Joker Among Thieves rounded out their set with the aptly named “Friday Night” and “Zombie”, the latter of which was as catchy as it was heavy.

And finally, Kent based rock band Gallows Circus closed the night in spectacular fashion, opening with the title track of their 2017 debut EP entitled Game On. Despite some minor technical difficulties following their first song (guitarist had to change guitar) the band demonstrated that the show must go on with frontman Ian Day taking on the role of stand-up. The chemistry between the band members was undeniable as they ploughed through all of the songs from their debut and then some. Ian even dug out a harmonica during their performance of “Above Snakes”, filling in for the slide guitar part that is on the EP version. In the spirit of true rock 'n' roll Gallows Circus even slotted in Fleetwood Mac's “Oh Well” mid set to give the audience “something to sing along to” as Ian quite rightly put it. The track went down a treat with a number of the audience indeed joining in on backing vocals. The band ended their set and the first night of 'Forged In Fire 1' with ultimate crowd-pleaser and their 2018 single “Fade to Believe”.

With that, day one of 'Forged In Fire 1' was over and boy was it a good one! I left the venue in high spirits and couldn't wait to get back in the following afternoon for day two of the festival which promised a considerable marathon of rock and metal. Please check back tomorrow for part two of this review where I will be delving into all that occurred on the Saturday.

Cheers!

Chris

Forged In Fire Festival - Friday 25th October 2019

25/10/19 - Darkstone - Kings of the Condemned EP

Darkstone is a an unsigned rock/metal band formed in Bury in 2013. At the end of last month they released their debut EP Kings of the Condemned featuring Richard Powell on vocals, Si Pendlebury on guitar, bassist Simon Priestland and drummer Dion Mills. Sadly by the time you are reading this, Richard has recently left the band and the rest of the guys are now looking for a new vocalist. Having gigged with Darkstone before and having found them to be a remarkable bunch of musicians and all round good guys, I would like to take this opportunity to wish them luck in their search for a new singer and hope that Richard does well in all of his future endeavours. And now to the review...

“Swallowed Whole” is hard rock to the core with towering vocals and intricate riffs in the vein of Diamond Head and Deep Purple. The bass fretwork is particularly impressive too right before the first guitar solo of the EP. “Serac” on the other hand is considerably more melodic, opening with clean guitar and bass before Richard's Dio-esque vocals come in. Early on in this track I can hear the Alice In Chains influence before the song shifts on a hairpin and some heavy riffing and soloing ensues. I love it when bands take multiple sub-genres within one track and make them collide into something new. Towards the end Simon channels his inner Dream Theater on the bass too which is awesome.

Third track “Warrior's Code” is different again with a chugging build-up on rhythm guitar and a bass line that expertly climbs all over the fingerboard. Much like the EP opener this song is steeped in hard rock tendencies with superb modern production and just a hint of heavy metal courtesy of Si's lead guitar work. The title track in penultimate position is probably the heaviest effort on this release with a thrashy opening riff that is regularly reprised throughout and several dramatic verses with a vocal delivery akin to Rob Halford of Judas Priest. “Alive” is the most modern sounding song of the EP but this is no bad thing. Far from it. This closing track really shows off what Darkstone can do when they play around with the hard rock/heavy metal formula.

Kings of the Condemned can only be described in one word: astounding! The EP features all round great performances and production. The bass and vocals really cut through the mix without being detrimental to the tone of the roaring guitars. I love the constant clash of hard rock, heavy metal, thrash, and prog that culminate in something spectacular throughout the EP. And there is no '-core' of any description which is personally an added bonus. The band themselves claim they are not the “next big thing” but I think with more albums like this one, they could be. In my opinion the rock/metal scene needs more of this. Lots, lots more!

Kings of the Condemned is out now.

Check it out on Spotify at the link below: https://open.spotify.com/album/65WVFJDIgIDKKF0s93d3A8

Cheers!

Chris

Darkstone - Kings of the Condemned EP