Underground Heavy #7

19-11-11

 

IMG_0825.JPGWOoooooooohoooooo *mosh mosh* *pogo pogo* What a great night Heavy 7 was! Thank you to all the great bands, the great audience and of course to Backstage for hosting this event. This night was teeming with excitement, energy and occasionally tunings and laughs. The whole team at The Underground is looking forward to Heavy 8 in 2012. See you then. love Chris B xx

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Unto the Dawn

Setlist:

1. Refuse to Surrender

2. Virtual Reality

3. Suicide

4. Hands of Clock

Another Heavy night began, again (and perhaps fittingly), with a band that has a typical metal line-up and a typical post-80s metal name. Unto the Dawn do fit quite well within that category (if you would be willing to call it that), because their sound seems to be one of general 90s-onwards metal – in particular, the lead guitars tend to lean towards a style fitting of Mark Tremonti (who was a good guitarist with a distinct style, despite the hideous abortion that was Creed), combined with a general mid-tempo tendency which makes them sound almost like slacker metal (!! –an oxymoron?) despite the busy guitar-work. This deceptively lazy feel was helped by the drummer who, although had a routine style in terms of metal drumming, used volume modulation to his advantage – not a common tendency among metal drummers here in HK – which bears noting. Their hyperkinetic singer is not only interesting to watch, but has a relatively high-pitched screaming voice which puts him into the enviable category of singers who can scream like Matt Heafy. Which is not surprising, considering that the band does generally seem to take many cues from the sounds of Trivium – UtD’s particular conglomerate of thrash, metalcore and hard rock sounds much like 2004-7 Trivium. A very good thing, since this means that the combination of metal subgenres gels well and sounds unified, rather than like they’re just touching bases (a constant issue I take with contemporary metal bands, including those in HK). The singer’s stage persona, though, is more punk than metal – mock-strangling oneself with the mic cord is a classic Stiv Bators/GG Allin move. Furthermore, their songs tend to be short, and avoid the classic metal pitfall of transitioning from cool to wanky because of the length.

Refuse to Surrender featured a bit of Primus-like whimsical riffing, which was carried on through the set, though in much more diluted form. Virtual Reality was more of a chord-based moody song, much like those on MCR’s second album – the angst of the singer and the stormy guitars combined particularly well here. Suicide is their best-structured song, because even though UtD’s songs tend to be better connected than many local metal bands I’ve seen, this one was a particularly good example of non-repetitive continuity. It moved subtly between rhythms, and the breakdown was near-perfect on this one; plus there was a solo that’s Buckethead-worthy. Lyrically, though, the ideas are by and large hackneyed and very adolescent, and the instrumentation tends to lean uncomfortably close to that too. This tarnishes the experience (or it did mine, anyway) and gives the definite impression of “good, not great”. But, they’re only slightly more than a year old, so there are no verdicts yet; just an observation that these guys are impressive, and could be even better, if they work at their lyrics and style.

— Shashwati Kala

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Heta Uma

Setlist:

1. Unknown

2. Mongolian Rockets

3. Devil Style

4. The Man With No Name

5. My Bitchy Girlfriend

6. School of Hope

 

This is a band truly worthy of the epithet “heavy” because sonically, visually and tactilely, they are fucking heavy. Furthermore, they’re not a metal band, which puts them in a fairly emaciated and underexplored musical area among local bands. I’d like to address their description of themselves for a second, and say that this would’ve been clever 20 years ago. In a post-grunge world, “Anti-Macho, anti-Stadium, outcast, loners’ rock” seems somewhat overcooked and contrived, while the simpler “anti-mainstream rock” (which they also use) is pitched just right. Just sayin’.

But – that’s got nothing to do with the music – which is audaciously dissonant, deceptively unstructured, and has that wonderful quality of being right on the verge of chaos and implosion. They seem to have a tactic, if you will, of lulling you in with genuine riffs, and suddenly abandoning the riff itself while still stretching out the idea of the riff in weird and cool ways that would remind you of the word avant-garde. But, possibly my favourite thing about them is that they don’t succumb to the typical temptations and go into long extended jams filled with pretentious minimalism (or wanky solos). I subscribe to the line of thought that when a song is restricted to 3-5 minutes, the idea behind it crystallises in a way that hits you harder than the long-form version ever could. Plus, the fact that it’s a VEEEERY small percentage of musicians who actually have something to say and can express it in a long-ass song while keeping it interesting. It’s actually harder to express complex musical ideas in a short period of time, but this also serves to make them harder-hitting – one of the main reasons, as I see it, for the evolution of rock. I’ll (nearly) always value rock-based expression over the diluted, 20-minute ELP (prog-rock) epics (ugh). I’m one of those that think if Sister Ray were divided into 4 different songs, they would’ve been unimpeachable, rather than the sinusoidal trajectory its 24 minutes have in terms of effectiveness of feel (sorry Bob Quine). Heta Uma’s music, by contrast, is concise, abrasive, and powerful precisely because they have that hit-and-run quality – now that’s rock ‘n’ roll.

They’re somewhere between post-punk (No Wave specifically) and early-hardcore in their sound, and are exactly are the kind of band I imagine followed Friction, or Teenage Jesus and the Jerks to close out the night at CBGB’s (the former didn’t happen, I know, but a girl can dream…). Lots of weird-sounding chords and dissonant single-string guitar rants (‘cause they’re not really solos, are they?) that threaten to jump into orbit, but are bounded by the ocean-floor pressurised bass, and are then castigated for that attempt by the severe, rollicking and very Thomas Pridgen-like drums. There’s a constant near-violent tension that they create between the instruments, often added to by the vocals. Singer Kevin’s vocals sound like a Joplined-out version of Wendy O’Williams, and are nicely contrasted by bassist Sieon’s remarkably convincing screams (of pain?). The performances are full of falling about, lying on the floor, faux-amphetamined, GG Allin/James Chance-esque, knees-bent, running around advancing behaviour – oddly infectious, to watch.

They had the best start of the night – apparently, the temperature in the storeroom was several degrees lower than out in the stage area, and while trying to play the opening song, they had to keep tuning and retuning before aborting the song entirely. Frustrating for them, obviously, but it really worked as a show ‘cause it was mighty funny to watch. There seems to be a central idea to all their riffs, and Mongolian Rockets has one very similar to The Man… – this one is a sort of self-flagellating flailing riff, followed by long periods of conveniently indescribable instrumental awesomeness. Devil Style was played with a real slide, for a change (they’re usually improvised with things like beer bottles). There was a pogo-vs-tango discussion before My Bitchy Girlfriend followed by the very Teenage Jesus-like fake-out-punky song. School of Hope was still fast, but had a tune reminiscent of old blues (like Big Bill Broonzy played by The Mars Volta). They finished off with an unfortunately sappy vocal bit to finish, but that can be excused (and I wouldn’t put it past them to have intended it so). Overall, they sound much like the Minutemen during the Buzz or Howl Under the Influence of Heat phase – and I don’t get to make this comparison often, so that makes me very happy. An awesome set, made awesomer when you realise that they were basically battling their guitars for a lot of it.

— Shashwati Kala

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Shepherds the Weak

Setlist:

1. Gin & Tonic

2. Done and Dealt For

3. I Am I

4. Last Fight

5. Stand As One

6. Unbeaten

 

Basking in the afterglow of their performance at Underground Heavy #7, there seems to be little that can sum up their performance better than ‘fucking awesome’, from start to finish. A brilliant performance; the kind that reminds you why live music is always better. Especially when you have a band that gets down and moshes with the crowd. Even getting the audience to mosh can be quite a challenge in Hong Kong, not that you’d know it watching STW. Throwing in a bit of Sweet Child Of Mine between songs was a surprising but welcome way to get the crowd up before the last song. And the little bit of body-slamming towards the end would have given some in the audience a few things to remember the show by.

I imagine there would be few among the metal crowd who could ask for anything more than what Shepherds the Weak delivered. Loud, screamy head-bangy goodness. If metal is your thing, I would strongly recommend that you find out where these guys are playing next and be there!

— Keenan Manning

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RED

Setlist:

1. Welcome to the Empire

2. I Don’t Care

3. World Wide Will

4. About Tomorrow

5. Crossroad

6. Eternity

 

I imagine if someone told you that RED was a metal band, on sight, you would have no trouble believing them – one guitarist with teased-out hair, the other with partially-sequined pants and the long-haired bass player. Once you heard them play you would probably be convinced that they are a good metal band too. The organisation (“there’s no such thing as an unkempt heavy metal record–technocratic assurance is the soul of such music” – Robert Christgau), the exchange of leads, the strong vocals. The trouble is, competent as they are, and much as I may like their style (which I do – loads), they’re still skating the margin of sounding like a former Iron Maiden cover band by the skin of their teeth. The lead riffs, specifically, nearly all sound like some Maiden song that one has heard but can’t place (an observation made by a few people). (Which, for the record, I am fine with – it’s their prerogative what to sound like. Just that, this is supposed to be a review (la-da-fuckin’-da) so tough facts must be faced.)

The few points that do make them sound slightly different from Maiden’s numerous seventh-sons, are their tendency for the twin-guitar solos that sound more like Downing-Tipton, rather than Smith-Murray; since they don’t have styles contrasting enough. The things they actually play in solos, however, walk the line between heavy metal and hard rock (appropriate, considering how closely these two styles are related) – the content of the solos mixes the Frehley-Stanley “big-guitar theory” style with the metal already there (which is probably what Maiden would sound like if Murray were the only guitarist, no?). This slight difference gives them a different texture when combined with the operatic vocals, and is what allows them to play more 90s-Noughties stuff as well (which they have been known to cover). Overall, though, for those not positively inclined towards metal/hard rock this style will almost certainly seem myopic (and to be fair, some songs are too indistinct to remember); for those who are, it’s fun to pick apart the approach.

Welcome to the Empire made even me cringe with its pandering cheese-metalness but they made up for this quickly, with the more thrashy I Don’t Care. World Wide Will is a heavy metal headbanger’s treasure, with judiciously restricted solos and a real rhythm-based riff to hold it together. By Crossroad the songs seemed to grow out of the abovementioned tendency a little, and the rhythm section played with real groove and the solo was punchy – reminded me of Humble Pie. Overall, again, good but their margin for failure is really tiny because of the narrow niche they play within. The band’s collective attitude is great, and I would love to hear them branch out and stretch their abilities in less safe territory in the future.

— Shashwati Kala

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Puzzle Experiment

Setlist:

1. Intro: Empty Kiosk

2. You Know Nothing About My Life

3. Look Who’s In the Bottle Now

4. Make Your Choice

5. Dear Jessica

Puzzle Experiment seem to be another one of those bands that is too young to have discernibly pulled away from their influences which are, as is usual, pretty cool but that fact stops the band from having a distinct sound. The band’s performance was really high-energy and fun to watch, and their sound was fun enough to get nearly any crowd going. But, musically, they’re kinda in a tough spot. They don’t seem to have figured out which metal direction they want to go in, in the feel sense. There’s hints at death metal, thrash and pop-metal all tied together loosely in a Noughties alt-metal bundle. The resulting sound is, I’m afraid, quite generic because they seem to want to play all these styles at once! On the plus side, though, they have the ability to put down some quite solid rhythms, and the tunes are ever so slightly off-centre (one of the better things about alt-metal). Plus their singer’s screaming voice sounds a lot like Mouse from Eve of Sin and has moves worthy of them too, so they have good stuff to work with; though, he might want to consider training the slightly whiney nasality out of his voice. You Know Nothing… is a perfect example of their strengths – the guitars were dissonant and yet had a lot of 70s metal feel in the solos; a nice touch. Make Your Choice was dangerously shredded through to near-perfection and was, further, from the Eve of Sin school of metal. Dear Jessica was a weird place to end on, for it’s a much slower song and in the unfortunately-Noughties metal category – too cheesy for my blood. Still, there’s promise here and I think it’s early days for these guys yet (I think they’ve just been around since the year’s second quarter)– I wish them luck in finding their sound.

— Shashwati Kala

photos © Copyright 2011 by ANGUS LEUNG

poster by ANGUS LEUNG

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