It’s been a long wait – six months since the previous Heavy event – and the wait was delicious & worth it for the variety of music it provided the fans of heavier music. Thank you to all the audience who came to watch, support, mosh, dance, drink and enjoy a real live music night all courtesy of local Hong Kong bands and Wu So Lui’s great performance. Host venue Backstage – thank you. Lets do this again, soon!Chris B x
The Priceless Boat
1. Wai Han
2. Trees of Life
4. Crying Rain
5. Your Smile
This was the fifth time that the Underground Heavy carousel had taken a round, and it was time to up the ante. And that it was, right from the very first band. TPB are one of those rarest of metal-influenced bands, in that they have a female singer. And, lest you think that she does the whole Amy Lee—faux-opera-shtick, let me say that: NO – they have a female singer who screams. I mean out-and-out post-Slayer metal screaming – i.e. she’s good at it, too. Just for that, they rack up a bunch of points for their novelty. Plus, the guitarist fills in with singing-portions, so that the screaming doesn’t become tedious. Once you get past this fact, though, you may begin to notice that their style is not flawless. Their songs tend to sound conflicted, because of the blatant differences in the (broadly speaking) two houses of metal they inhabit – early 80s, with thrash just developing and still having a strong Sabbath and classic rock influence, and that of the Noughties, with greater polish, more zipping melodies and less sharp-sounding guitars. Development between these two distinct styles was sometimes lacking, and after a while you begin to consciously hear the switching between them. Which can get a little clunky in a live show, when you’re trying to concentrate on the performance. Countdown was an example of this, in which the different bits didn’t quite come together. Trees of Life was lacking groove in the drums, and the bass sounded (to me) a bit more hardcore than was appropriate. However, instead of the archetypal metal tempo-changes, it featured changes in beat, which was a nice change.
Having said that, this is typically a feature of a band that’s still developing its signature, and improvements can be anticipated. In fact, within their set itself, there were some songs that were clearly better-structured and filled out than others. And, as musicians, they appear to be quite competent– for which, when referring to metal, there is a high threshold, unlike punk or hardcore. Crying Rain was just such a song, more Zombie-esque in its approach, and a true success in what they were trying to achieve musically. There were some delightful speed metal solo portions in Your Smile, which melded excellently into the more grinding, rebellious 90s-metal sections towards the ending, and the song-structure just worked. Despite the fact that they can be underwhelming sometimes, and I would like to see them play a longer set, they seem to be going down the correct path. And the best thing to be said is that they do not need sympathetic judgement just because they have a female singer – they’re good enough that you can judge them just the same as other, good metal bands.
This is Ammunition
1. Pushed too Far
2. Tyler Durden
3. Left for Dead
4. Killing Zoe
6. Live Die Scarred
7. You Fucked Our Rock ‘n’ Roll
8. Burn the Flags
After having been left slightly cold by the previous set, TIA’s was a fully satisfying one. They have clearly visible (and audible) potential, and they did a hell of a job in fulfilling it. Right from the get-go, they were at full throttle, and their set just worked every sense of the word. The audience, who had been somewhat reluctant to show enjoyment up to this point, started to show some emotion – and although it was, initially, confusion, the situation changed for the better as the set went on. They sound something like the deep, pacy rhythms of Agent Orange (one of the first punk bands to mix punk and surf music) and the slower, pulverizing metallic style of Seattle’s Melvins. The commanding bass and thundering drums backed up a solid wall of guitars, which went from chugging rhythms to mind-bending solos with buttery ease. All this is topped up with the fairly nasal, yet still-venomous spitting of petulant, sneering lyrics by singer Pete. The combined effect was like a train driven by a psychotic engineer, more conducive to pogoing than traditional headbanging (which may explain some of the audience’s early confusion). The songs are all fairly short and pithy, which means that all of their awesomeness is packed into short, frenzied stretches, making for a very effective live act. The amount of energy in the performance was exhausting even to observers, and it made the songs even more primal and visceral. At points, the guitarist even jumped off-stage to plough his way, screaming, through the spectators, which was an excellent way to jumpstart the audience into action.
They sounded almost like the Accüsed at points (whose crossover thrash mixed many elements of hardcore and metal), especially during Tyler Durden. They have a more alternative side to their sound as well, as in Valkyries, whose texture-oriented dissonance made it sound more contemporary. By the time You Fucked Our… came around, you began to wonder just how many killer riffs one guitarist could have up his sleeve, because every song was juicily riff-laden. This did have a downside, as in Live Die Scarred, in which the riffing was a bit excessive, as well as very generic 80s metal in its style. Basically, for the most part, the tension created by the rhythm section was extremely well balanced with the levity of the guitar, and the songs grabbed you by the throat and didn’t let go – which is exactly why they’re playing in a Heavy show, isn’t it?
2. Walk Like You Rule the World
3. God’s Gift
4. The Last Words
5. I’m a Devil
6. Set to Kill
7. Political Game
The InnerCore were called on stage, with people demanding Slayer. The singer responded by saying that they were going to “blow this place up”. And, for all intents and purposes, that’s exactly what they did. They have a towering, thick metal sound, and definitely belong to the musical generation that grew up with thrash rather than ‘heavy metal’. This is seen not only in the music, but also in their stage manner – they go for an imposing yet detached demeanour, thoroughly involved in their own music, yet clever enough to engage the audience by challenging them. This resulted in the formation of the first durable circle pit I’ve seen here. This did not feature fleeting moments of pushing people around roughly, but a good number of people happily bouncing off each other. It was the best kind of pit – fun, energetic but not violent, and this was in large part due to the music. You could headbang to almost every line of every song, as there was plenty of groove in them. As a departure from this, the melodic range of their songs, even in many of the solos, tended to be in the lower register – a remainder from the Sabbath era. Singer Sansar did a really good job of interacting with the audience (as proved by his earlier success in inciting the pit), and kept them going in equal parts with his chatter, as with his singing, which he does in a way that sounds like screaming and singing at the same time, much like Chris Cornell (he even kinda looks like Cornel in the early Audioslave days).
They touched all the bases that metal bands typically like to – rapid solos, thudding rhythms, changes of pace, and vocals that seem to be doing more for rhythm than melody. This means that they have a fairly standard sound, but they are very good at what they do; so much so, that the conformism wouldn’t bother you (and there’s a lot to be said for that). They have the short-menacing riffs, much like King Ly Chee’s, and nowhere was this more accentuated than in Set to Kill. Political Game had more of a thrash feel, with a looping, surprisingly alt. rock solo. They added a little variety to their sound with the highly textural The Last Words, which was caveman-like yet sophisticated – the hallmark of good metal. All in all, their set was very enjoyable, and memorable for the sheer power that it struck with.
(Plus the fact that they got a real pit going – a tough ask, made to look easy.)
Wu So Lui 鬍鬚女
1. Shining Kiss
2. 10 Minutes’ Love
3. Where Did You Go?
4. Heng Xing
5. Love Trap
Aaah, Wu So Lui. Not much had changed about his set from the last time I saw him – there’s still the same cooked up drama, the very self-conscious manner of performing, the dresses, and the accomplice who proceeds to get beaten up. A big part of why the act works is that his acknowledgement of its comic basis is implicitly obvious, but never explicitly stated. The fact that he finds it funny and is enjoying himself tremendously up on stage also adds to the entertainment, with all the three ponytails going in different directions as he headbangs and jumps around on stage. This was, of course, the same approach that made KISS and others of their ilk so popular – making any implied femininity a butch joke. Which is good, because if he hadn’t tacitly indicated the joke, the persona would become a lot creepier and make people uncomfortable (a la the New York Dolls). The act is still essentially un-musical, and is hence stationary. There can be little change to its basic contents if the ruse is intended to be maintained; which means that if you’ve seen him once, you won’t see much different the next time. It is purely entertainment for entertainment’s sake.
However, the entertainment quotient is quite high, and people do enjoy the act – and this night was no different. He did the ‘over-earnest-talent-show-participant’ bit while opening Shining Kiss, abandoning it intermittently to do the ‘knees-bent-assaulter’ bit, while screaming the words. It basically remained the same through the other songs, with the oodles of cheesy pop-metal riffs provided his only back-up. This was inadequate on the night, as the volume of the track was way too low for the synchronised singing to be seamless – one kept being distracted by the thin-sounding track. Even though it was made progressively louder through the set, it never was quite enough. Luckily, most people would’ve been watching, rather than listening, the pantomimic activities during Heng Xing, consisting of a guy in a massive panda costume-head and a plant in the audience being ‘beaten up’ somewhat comically. 10 Minutes’ Love even featured a guest vocalist in the form of a petite girl, who could actually sing and scream, and compete with WSL. However, this was not taken advantage of as both singers were separate on stage, and didn’t use the opportunity of having someone else on stage. There was even a blow-up-nurse doll that was crowd-surfed around during the song. The set ended with Love Trap, which had the meatiest and arguably the best-quality backing track, and right up to the end, the audience was in all the way. While I still maintain that it’s not a musical act, it’s still an interesting interpretive metal pantomime (not to mention the only one around).
1. Fung Yin
4. Yik Lan
The show moved on the Trash21, for whom (I’m given to understand) the Underground has been waiting for quite a while. The second they started, you could tell why this was – theirs is a rare type of Noughties’ metal, without the unnecessarily polished feel or its largely myopic tunes. However, the decreased influence on solos and greater focus on the collective production of something hard-hitting are both there in their sound, and it brings to mind bands like the lostprophets during the best era (during Fake Sound of Progress and just before Start Something…any arguments?). There’s also quite a lot of groove in them, along with some patently thrash solos as well; the difference being that, the guitarists were able to finesse these bits in, with sufficient development to the contrasting bits. However, they seemed to overuse the headbanging rhythm-break, which began to seem very contrived after a while, as on 21. Awake used some powerful shredding to create a highly dramatic soundscape – not a technique and result that often pair up. Its jazz-funky feel was a real shock to the system, and was a great way to keep your attention on the song, as they offer a much better contrast than metal-subgenres; a method also used by local metaleros Sheperds the Weak. Yik Lan was even more of a departure, with some fast hardcore-style drums, even more of a jazz influence, and a more Paul Gilbert-esque method of shredding. While it;s difficult to say much concrete stuff about a band that you’ve only seen 4 songs from, it’s clear that they are good. Hopefully, we’ll see them again at the Underground some time soon.
1. Here I Come
2. Rock the Party
3. My Life
5. We Will Rock You
6. [Encore] Here I Come
If Trash21 hinted at funk, these guys wore it on their sleeves. They follow, quite closely, a Faith No More/Primus sound, with equally strong metal, funk and rap influences, and were the most original band of the night (by a good distance). Their sound is bass-heavy, and yet has plenty of levity, provided by the guitars. Good funk guitars typically have a persona with a ‘sense of humour’ (it’s very difficult to express exactly what I mean, but if funk guitars were a person, they would constantly have a very amused, slightly sneering smile on their face), and guitarist Sarad’s tunes definitely have that quality. Because they are heavy without actually being ‘metal’ they had the advantage of giving the audience something they hadn’t heard all night – consequently, they got a huge response from the crowd.
The rapping, I’m not a big fan of, but it’s the kind that doesn’t instantly antagonise people who don’t like rap. It’s good and consistent and uses the looping rhythm of funky metal very well, and that’s good enough. There’s a bit too much Hendrix in the compositions, though, and this can be overpowering at times – like with Rock the Party which just sounds like a slight variation on Purple Haze. My Life had a guest vocalist, Sandeep, called onto stage who supplemented the rap with fantastic, more traditional vocals. There were also the gloriously distorted with the epic feel, but no overt force – something like Soundgarden. The lyrics were really cheesy, but the other elements were so good that you didn’t mind it. Goodbye had very much of an AC/DC sound, but the solo adopted the idly probing style of Zappa. They also did a good interpretation of We Will Rock You, adding (along with other things) some pretty good, non-cheesy rap to it as well. The demand for them was so big, that it actually merited an encore, and they redid the very funky-with-bits-of-classic-rock-sprinkled Here I Come to end a really awesome night of solid music, and some of the best audience participation that I’ve seen for a long time.
photos © Copyright 2011 by ANGUS LEUNG
poster by ANGUS LEUNG