After waiting outside the HMV Institute on a cold, rainy Friday evening, and following a long queue mixed up with indie fans, metalheads were finally allowed inside to the venue’s top floor for some old school heavy metal and doom in the form of Age of Taurus, Enforcer and Angel Witch. Though not many people were present, owing to the scattered nature of the Birmingham scene, the show’s overarching atmosphere remained one of dedication to the heavy metal spirit. The numbers may have not been very strong, but the passion in the room was there from start to finish.
Without any announcements onstage save for the beginning of guitars playing, Age of Taurus opened the concert with their own style of traditional doom metal. Taking a musically “epic” approach to the crumbling riffs and groovy rhythms of their chosen genre, thanks to sweeping drum syncopation and guitarist Toby W. Wright’s grounded singing range. It’s more expected for traditional doom vocals to morph into horrified, low-tuned soars, and while Wright’s voice is much closer to the ground than the air, they still channel the blues rock-based patterns of singing so associated with the occult, horror film nature of the music. ‘Always in the Eye‘, ‘Unborn Destroyer‘ and ‘A Rush of Power‘ were amoung the songs on offer in this vein, before the band soon finished with ‘The Bull and the Bear‘; a taster from their upcoming new album.
Less than an hour was afforded to the crowd, before Swedish speed/heavy metallers Enforcer came up to play. Despite the more gothic arrangement of black candles and gold-trimmed banners for their set, the group of fresh faced upstarts delivered a thoroughly energetic set which was a fitting contrast to the slower, lower sounds that preceded them.
Taking cues from the fast-paced notes of 1980’s rock ‘n’ roll and the heaviness of NWOBHM, frontman Olof Wikstrand and friends went straight into an outpour of free-ranged guitar solos and raw, intense singing and wails. It could have been the advantage of having youth on their side that Enforcer had played songs like ‘Black Angel‘, ‘Mistress of Hell‘ and the instrumental piece ‘Diamonds‘ with as much vigour as they did at the HMV Institute, yet it only added to the musical loyalty that was there. From the personal banter between the band and the impressive lack of tiredness from frantic instrumentation, which allowed them to slip quickly with ease into each track, it showed that these were young men who wore their hearts on their sleeves; the effect being that their joy also moved onto an audience which headbanged as furiously as they smiled. Even the much nerdier side of their music, namely through the action-inspired ‘Katana‘ was received as well as their darker, fantasy-based lyrical fare like ‘Mistress of Hell‘.
While Enforcer had brought a youthful kick to the show, main headliners Angel Witch brought the evening to a well-seasoned close with their old school, british heavy metal. Owing to the band’s role in the scene of NWOBHM which came to life around the late 1970’s – mid 1980’s, several of the audience came up to the front of the stage to watch their performance. Despite a recent line-up change for their current reformation, Angel Witch’s sounds stayed faithful and un-compromised to what can be heard on previous albums, largely thanks to original vocalist and founder Kevin Heybourne’s presence in the group.
The final hour and a half of the gig began with a introduction to Angel Witch’s sound from starting track ‘Atlantis‘, with its lively, dual guitar riffs and energetic pace. Though not entirely representative of the whole of the group’s sound, this choice of song helped give a good taste for newcomers of what to expect when followed by the more restrained and down-tuned ‘Dead Sea Scrolls‘. Though not a melodic rock band by any means, Angel Witch’s ability to switch within their own limits from a fast, “rocking out” mood to a more scenic atmosphere means that there is a good, auditorial shake up. Angel Witch weren’t as spunky as the younger Enforcer, but their musical stream’s shift in speed and strong performance meant that their traditional, old school sounds didn’t fall into monotony and – as was the case in Birmingham – the audiences attention were transfixed onto them.
While classic songs from the band’s back catalogue were being played out to an excited and expectant crowd; material from the newest album “As Above, So Below” were also given a live airing. In fairness, whenever an older band creates new music after many, many years, there is always the risk that their recent songwriting may fail to impress in a live setting, if not on record. However, since a number of the tracks on this record were written and then tried and tested live well before its current release in 2012, such a concern was thrown out the window. ‘Into the Dark‘ and ‘Guillotine‘ came out decently that night with their moments of zoned out, psychedelic rhythms and hard crushing notes.
The biggest drawback to the whole evening though, came not from either of the acts onstage but the venue’s initial schedule of a 10:00pm curfew. It made the show feel that it was ending much sooner than it had begun, but fortunately enough, there was enough time for Angel Witch to end with a live rendition of their self-titled song which was enjoyed not only for how well known it was, but also enabling the crowd to interact through the music by means of it being mandatory for them to sing along to the chorus.