SOS Festival: Saturday Review

For the uninitiated, SOS Festival is ROCKSECTOR RECORDS annual shindig, in Manchester, UK, showcasing the labels roster, as well giving a platform for emerging local talent and deserving bands from further afield.

Now in its seventh year, it has steadily grown, and has firmly established itself on the UK festival circuit. The home of SOS is the Radcliffe Civic, an indoor venue hosting the main (Dean Hocking) stage, and a smaller acoustic stage, with the music alternating between the two, so you are never stood twiddling your thumbs between sets.

Outside, torrential rain did its best to encapsulate the ‘British Summer’!

Inside, Manchester thrash newcomers, AMETHYST took to the stage, followed by the energetic AOR of THE IDOL DEAD. A great opening pairing, showing the early-doors faithful (of whom there were many) that this was going to be no genre-fest, but more of an ‘anything goes, as long as it’s good’ kind of event. To reinforce this, after a sublime, laid back bluesy set from THE GODDAMN ELECTRIC, BLOODYARD took to the main stage.

Yea Gods, what a wake up call! A brutal display from all, with special mention to vocalist, Donna Hurd who, despite her diminutive stature, showed more balls than a soft play area, prowling, growling, and getting up-close-and-personal with the crowd.

Appearing next, almost as a balm to the ears, were Belgian trad metalists, ETERNAL BREATH. When I say ‘trad’, I mean TRAD! All of the hallmarks were present. Air raid siren wails, twin guitar attack, galloping basslines… all present and correct. I’m sure I even heard a few nods to ‘Ace Of Spades’ and ‘Reign In Blood’ thrown in for good measure!

ASYLUM CITY ZOO brought their brand of groove-laden, thrashy hard rock… and a big pile of fans, judging by amount of ACZ T’s in the crowd! Normally, I might criticize a frontman for being tied to his mic, but with vocals that strong (as well as playing rhythm), and being flanked by the dervishes that are guitarist, Rishi Kumar, and kilted bassist, Bobb Fairbairn, there is no criticism to be had. New song, ‘Hold’ got an airing, and all I can say is, if that’s the strength of their new material, we’re in for a treat if/when the album lands!

Dutch maestros of metal, LORD VOLTURE took us back to the traditional. I was instantly ‘back in the womb’, hearing echoes of Maiden, Priest, Dio and Saxon at every turn. Vocalist, David Marcelis did a fantastic job of working the crowd, which he was duly rewarded with by a sea of horns and hair! I, too, found myself nodding and foot-tapping, with a wry smile on my face.

Hailing from the West Midlands, Rocksector’s own CAPTAIN HORIZON are a band I really want to go far. Their melodic rock may put them at the ‘softer’ end of the rock spectrum, but they showed great stage presence, and performed a set of very strong songs, Steve Whittington’s vocals having a Bolton-esque timbre live. One (non-musical) event I had to recount… a stray beach ball made its way on to the stage. Bassist, Alex Thomson kicked the ball back into the crowd… only it ricocheted off his mic stand, and straight back at him! It’s okay Alex, no-one saw it… much!

Prog and I have a difficult relationship, borne out of extreme climatic conditions! Last time it was -1 degrees Celsius. This time, it was a windless sweatbox that caused a major distraction! SPIRES are ‘prog’ in every sense. They are largely stationary on stage, playing long songs in unusual time signatures. That said, they are a musically (very) adept, tight unit, creating vast soundscapes that the sagely nodding crowd were obviously getting lost in.

After a superb acoustic set from WIZZ WIZZARD, playing stripped-back versions of his normally over-the-top, Dio-esque songs, it was time to be shaken awake!

INCASSUM burst on to the main stage. Powerful, technical metal performed amid a whirlwind of limbs and hair! If you haven’t seen Incassum before, the big shock comes from vocalist Sharleen Kennedy. Let’s be honest here, she’s an attractive woman, and often sings like your clichéd brain would expect, powerful and melodic, like Amy Lee or Floor Jansen, for example. Then, suddenly, in a beat, she growls like a satanic demon in its death throes for a verse, before flicking straight back into the melodic! It’s a ‘trick’ that stands them out from the crowd. Here’s the thing. I first saw Incassum a year ago, and if I’m brutally honest, I found them difficult listening. Now either my taste has evolved dramatically, or they’ve evolved. There definitely appeared to be more melody in the set I heard.

From the modern discipline of technical metal, we were next catapulted back to c1983, when Iron Maiden had broken through and were riding the first wave of popularity, with the unashamedly retro MONUMENT. There’s always space on any bill for this, in my mind. Original, strong compositions, performed supremely with confidence and unlimited energy. Peter Ellis knows two things very well: How to work a crowd, and how to wail!

The crowd, hot, sweaty, having supped a few sherbets and been treated to classic metal were up for it, but where to go? There was only one answer. A band who have really hit their form of late. A band who combine all the best bits of Maiden and Metallica, and forge them into something truly their own. A band who, if there’s any justice, will be the Download headliners of tomorrow… SAVAGE MESSIAH!

I’ve seen them several times over recent years, and watched them evolve into what they are today, the complete package, ready for world domination! Tonight, they were on fire. Dave Silver had the voice, Joff Bailey had the posturing, new guy Míra Sláma baited the crowd, and Andrea Gorio was the powerhouse driving it all from the drum riser.

That would have been a great way to finish, but we still had one more treat in store. ABSOLVA have been cutting themselves a bit of a reputation in recent years as exponents of high quality British Heavy Metal, and rightly so. Last time I saw them, they were a 3-piece, with Chris Appleton taking on all the guitar duties. Tonight he, Martin McNee (drums) and Dan Bate (bass) were joined on stage by Chris’s brother, and Iced Earth bassist, Luke Appleton on guitar. With a new albums worth of material, I was really looking forward to hearing the new stuff live. It didn’t disappoint. A lot of tonight’s set was taken from ‘Anthems To The Dead’, with fan favourites from first album ‘Flames Of Justice’ also getting an airing, with an emphatic response from the crowd. Days before the event, it was announced that SAXON’s Doug Scarratt would be making a guest appearance. He did. It was brilliant! Appleton is no slouch on the axe, and seeing him and Scarratt perform together was a fitting finale to an excellent day of Rock and Metal… and this was only Day One!

 

Bring on Sunday!

Review and pics: Rob Nankivell

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