Saturday of Supersonic plays host to the eclectic as Monarch leave their mark

Supersonic 2011 review

published: Tue 1st Nov 2011

Electric Wizard

Friday 21st to Sunday 23rd October 2011
The Custard Factory, Gibb St, Birmingham, England MAP
daily capacity: 2500
last updated: Thu 29th Sep 2011

The Saturday of Supersonic started much earlier, allowing little time to recover from the night before; it kicked off around 4:30. Taking advantage of some of the other things on offer aside from the music I went to the Theatre Space to see the award winning documentary 'Blood Sweat and Vinyl: DIY in the 21st Century'. It focused on the specialist record labels started by the members of US bands such as ISIS (Hydra Head Records) and Neurosis (Neurot records). It particularly focused on the fact that they prioritise the flourishing creativity of the bands they sign over profit, or any kind of exclusivity rights.

These labels are incredibly important in the avant metal scene, and it is important to highlight the effectiveness of their approach to the bands they sign. It was really interesting to hear from the people who run the labels why they do things the way they do. But the film did have a tendency to descend into sound bytes of various band members and label heads talking or debating over quite trivial points. One particularly tedious section was dedicated to various people from the scene trying to categorise Neurosis's music into genres.

Saturday's Space 2 was host to an eclectic, if a little unfocused selection of acts. It began with the experimental drone band Orthodox, unique in their influence from Spanish folk, going through the post black metal Wolves in the Throne Room, bluesy doom metal from Electric Wizard, and finished with the epic space/prog rockers Zombi. Without a unifying sound or theme holding it together, it was a stage for dipping in an out for whichever band took your fancy.

Wolves In The Throne Room
Wolves in the Throne Room drew me in, and blew me away. Theirs is a combination of the icy misanthropy of Norwegian black metal, and a deeply mythic theme of a yearning for something natural and ancient. And the best part is you know they don't just talk the talk (or scream the scream, more appropriately). The members Aaron and Nathan Weaver live on a self sustaining commune in the North West of the US, and they have said that one of the fundamental concepts of the band is to channel the energies of this landscape into musical form.

Their stage presence was perfect. Stony faced and shrouded in shadow, the gas lanterns which constituted the entirety of their lighting barely picked out their angular flying v guitars. They let their music do the work. Songs like I Will Lay Down my Bones Among the Rocks and Roots soared to epic and emotional heights, and Thuja Magus Imperium dominated with its majesty.

Whether it was due to their stubborn use of vintage amps or, which is more likely, whether it was down to the PA of the stage, the sound came of a little fuzzy, and lacking that crispness you find on the records. But that aside the integrity, sound and atmosphere emanating from this band was incredible. Dorset's Electric Wizard offered some light relief after such seriousness. With a band like these, you know exactly what you are getting, and you won't be disappointed in that respect. You won’t be overwhelmed either. Their bluesy pentatonic licks with their fuzzy doom metal distortion are satisfying, while the vocals and the effects on them give a psychedelic dimension to the music.

Electric Wizard
However, after a while the vocals actually begin to drag, their limitation both in terms of pitch and tune make them more of a constant and unwelcome distraction from the music. The Black Sabbath-esque look, with the flares, occult themed jewellery and long hair made them at least an amusing watch.

The Boxxed Stage on the Saturday was also devoid of a theme, with some more jazzy experimental and percussion led music like Berg Sans Nipple and the Skull Defekts interspersed between doom drone legends Pharaoh Overlord and Monarch. It might have been a better idea to have kept the doom side of things in one place rather than spread them over two stages and separate them within those stages too.

Regardless of this, there were some excellent acts in Boxxed. The Skull Defekts had a hard and relentless sound of discordant guitar and heavy drum hits that was both harsh and hypnotic. Pharaoh Overlord built up psychedelic, but incredibly dark and all encompassing textures.

But it was the headliner Monarch! that really left their mark. The sound was so deep and unrelenting it was actually quite nauseating experience being anywhere near the speakers. This may not sound like a good thing, but it was actually quite an appropriate feeling. The vocalist held the mike far away from her face, so as to give the illusion that her screaming was coming from some far off and unknown place. And at times she would add layers and reverb and build up a terrifying shrieking shroud of noise that eerily faded and gave way once more to the rumbling guitars.

The length of their tunes (if they can be called that), the defiant lack of crescendo or structural signposting, along with the gut wrenching depth of sound made the entire experience devastating, which is exactly what a doom drone act should hope for.
review by: Robert Knowles

photos by: Robert Knowles

Friday 21st to Sunday 23rd October 2011
The Custard Factory, Gibb St, Birmingham, England MAP
daily capacity: 2500
last updated: Thu 29th Sep 2011

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