Music / Previews

Metal & Prog Picks: March 2017

By Robin Askew , Saturday Feb 25, 2017

Which are the greatest and most pleasingly unfashionable musical genres? Why heavy metal and progressive rock, obviously. What do you get when you mix ’em up? Prog-metal, which is twice as fabulous. Two of the world’s finest exponents of the craft play Bristol within a week of one another this month, namely the Devin Townsend Project at the Colston Hall and Gojira at the O2 Academy. As usual, there’s plenty of diversity too, from the ace soulful hard rock of Monster Truck at the Marble Factory to Latin metallers Ill Nino at the Fleece, crushingly heavy sludgers Crowbar at the Bierkeller, the intriguing return of ’70s prog-folkies Tír na nÓg at the Salt Café and, erm, Finnish bluegrass metal from Steve’n’Seagulls at the Fleece. There’s also no shortage of classic rock, from creaky old timers (Stampede at the Exchange, LA Guns at the Bierkeller) to frisky young pups (Broken Witt Rebels and Bad Touch at the Tunnels). And it’s a big hello and welcome to the inaugural Effigy weekender of all things underground and ‘post-metal’ (still not quite sure what that actually means, but Bossk are terrific regardless). Eyes down, then, for the full preview:

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Thekla, March 2

The former Murderdolls frontman brings his Undead, Unplugged tour back to the UK for another short series of what are billed as intimate acoustic shows. Expect somewhat less ear-splitting versions of songs from his entire career along with entertaining tales from the road with the likes of  Maniac Spider Trash and the Frankenstein Drag Queens, plus an audience Q&A. Support comes from Mr. Midweek’s own ‘outlaw country’ side project Bourbon Crow, making their UK debut. The headliner, meanwhile, has just signed to Nuclear Blast and unleashes his seventh solo album, Condolences, in June.

Bristol Heavy Rock Explosion Charity Show: Stampede, Lautrec, Stormtrooper

Exchange, March 11

Naturally, you’ll have purchased a copy of Bristol Archive Records’ splendid Bristol Heavy Rock Explosion compilation so will require no further encouragement to snap up a ticket for this nostalgic triple-bill. Reuben Archer, the talented artist fella who designed and built Bristol City Museum’s geology gallery, returns to front headliners Stampede and their predecessors Lautrec. Just don’t keep reminding him of how much he sounds like Phil Mogg, OK? Making a rare appearance with both bands is his guitarist stepson Laurence, who works in film and TV these days (he was propmaster on Broadchurch and Extras, among many other productions). Also on the bill are Bristolian NWOBHM act Stormtrooper, whose Pride Before a Fall album is out on Bristol Archive Records too. Spare a thought for hard working bassist Colin ‘Boggy’ Bond, who’ll be playing with all three acts tonight. And to add to the authentic period vibe, the Andy Fox Rockshow will be spinning vintage hard-rockin’ choons. It’ll be like Tuesday night at Tiffany’s all over again. At Reuben’s request, all proceeds go to Save the Children.

Devin Townsend Project/TesseracT/Leprous

Colston Hall, March 12

Hevy Devy returns for his biggest Bristol show after selling out the Academy and the Trinity (on his solo acoustic tour). See our interview with the great man here. He’s also bringing two excellent support acts: Brit prog-metallers TesseracT and Norway’s magnificent Leprous, who played a stunning show at the Fleece back in October 2015.

Monster Truck

Marble Factory, March 15

It’s been three years since Ontario’s Monster Truck last played in Bristol (at the Exchange on the Lords of the Riff tour, fact fans) and mightily impressive they were too, despite shamefully attempting to cadge pot off the audience. Brandon Bliss’s Hammond organ and those multi-part vocal harmonies make the Truck a rootsier proposition than more primordial purveyors of the mighty riff – though they’re never quite as rootsy as their chums and fellow countrymen The Sheepdogs. Ace new album Sittin’ Heavy was released last year and they’ve been raising their profile by touring the big sheds with Nickelback. Check out our interview with ’em here and see if you can resist the urge to buy one of their splendid Don’t Fuck with the Truck T-shirts.

Black Star Riders/Backyard Babies/Gun

O2 Academy, March 16

Three albums in and The Band That Used to be Called Thin Lizzy (But Really Shouldn’t Have Been Without Mr. Lynott) are finally beginning to forge their own separate identity. Naturally, there’s always going to be a Lizzy-ish flavour to Black Star Riders’ music with guitarist Scott Gorham in their ranks, but at least they’ve stopped writing material that kinda reminds you of better Thin Lizzy songs. And in an era largely bereft of proper rock stars, frontman Ricky Warwick has talent and charisma to burn. Support comes from snotty, punky Swedes the Backyard Babies, plus revived Scots rockers Gun, who headlined the Thekla back in October.

Mortiis

Fleece, March 16

Everybody’s favourite Norwegian troll makes a swift return to the Fleece after last May’s successful comeback show, which followed a mysterious five-year absence. Although he started out as a member of Emperor, black metal has never been Havard Ellefsen’s (for that is his real name) thing. His solo work is in the industrial metal arena, with detours into ambient music and even electro-pop. The Great Deceiver was his first album in six years and it’s now been joined by The Great Corrupter – a collection of remixes by knob-twiddlers working in a variety of genres from industrial to, it says, here, ‘deep experimental ambient’. Support comes from ‘post-industrial’ one-man-band PIG, aka Raymond Watts, who’s toured with everyone from Nine Inch Nails to KMFDM (of whom he was an early member). Hence this being billed as the Swine and Punishment Tour.

LA Guns

Bierkeller, March 17

Assured of a footnote in rock history for being the Guns to Hollywood Rose’s n’Roses and for frontman Phil Lewis copping off with Britt Ekland once Rod Stewart had traded her in for a new blonde, perennial also-rans LA Guns have hauled ass round the UK club circuit on many occasions. As so often with these bands, at one point there were even two rival LA Guns. But Lewis, who’s just turned 60, has now finally patched things up with founder Tracii Guns (a fella, for the uninitiated). Mr. Guns was the Pete Best of Guns n’Roses, being replaced by Slash after departing back in 1985. Anyhoo, they’re touring together for the first time in 15 years, with a new album, The Missing Peace, reportedly set for a June release.

Sonata Arctica

Marble Factory, March 18

Yay – power metal: keytars, grand orchestrations, dog-bothering grunt-free vocals and proper tunes that you can whistle. What’s not to love? (Stand down, snooty and dour fans of that popular underground combo Unreadable Logo – that was a rhetorical question.) Yet another great band from Finland, Sonata Arctica broaden their sonic palette with lashings of prog-metal and symphonic metal. Good job they didn’t stick with the original band name, mind. Yep, they were once known as Tricky Beans. New album The Ninth Hour is an eclectic collection that includes a topical song about Trump’s “fairytale for the ones with no hope.” It’s just a crying shame this gig clashes with… 

Gojira

O2 Academy, March 18

Gojira’s brilliant Magma was Metal Hammer‘s 2016 album of the year and wound up being nominated for two Grammys. Frankly, who’s going to argue with that? Even The Grauniad‘s 5/5 review noted that “Magma strikes another ferocious blow for originality and intelligence in heavy music,” and is “the kind of album that metalheads would love non-believers to check out, if only because it confounds all the usual stereotypes about the genre being unimaginative and dumb.” Their most commercially successful and overtly prog-metal release to date, it’s also the eco-friendly boys from Bayonne’s most personal album, being inspired by the death of Joe and Mario Duplantier’s mother. What promises to be the gig of the month sees them back at the Academy for the first time since 2013, when they were one half of that rather bizarre double-bill with Ghost. Support comes from US metalcore act Code Orange who recently became Gojira’s Roadrunner labelmates with the release of their third album, Forever.

Tír na nÓg

Salt Cafe, March 22

Here’s a surprise – and, indeed, something of a treat. Irish duo Tír na nÓg – aka Sonny Condell and Leo O’Kelly – were among the first wave of folk-prog acts alongside the likes of Pentangle, The Incredible String Band and Comus. Back in the early ’70s, before rigid genre divisions were imposed, they frequently toured with hard rock and prog acts, including The Who, Jethro Tull, Hawkwind and ELP. Indeed, Al Read’s The Granary Club: The Rock Years 1969 to 1988 reveals that they played Bristol’s home of rock on Mon 8 Feb, 1971, supporting Titus Groan, for which they were paid a princely £20. The pre-punk John Peel absolutely loved ’em too. They disbanded in the mid-’70s, when it became fashionable to sneer at such great music, but were lured back to the stage in 2010 to find a welcoming new audience as well as all the old buggers who hadn’t forgotten them. In 2015, the duo released The Dark Dance, their first album since 1973. It’s a safe bet that Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt has their full catalogue on original vinyl. Incidentally, Tír na nÓg means ‘land of eternal youth’.

Crowbar

Bierkeller, March 25

If large, gnarly gentlemen from New Orleans playing crushingly heavy sludge metal is your bag, then Crowbar should tide you over nicely until the next annual Eyehategod show. Kirk Windstein has quit his gig with Down to concentrate full time on the sludgers, who recently reunited with bassist Todd Strange. Get there early for two Bristol-based support acts: the youthful Awakening Hyperia and splendidly named extreme metallers Mortishead, whom we last caught supporting Fleshgod Apocalypse at the Fleece.

Ill Nino

Fleece, March 26

2003’s Confession was their biggest album, but Latin metallers Ill Nino have survived being lumped in with the short-lived nu-metal fad and continue to tour and record successfully.  They’ve certainly got a distinctive sound, blending melody with heaviosity and incorporating lashings of Latin percussion and Salsa-infused bass lines. Recent-ish album Till Death, La Familia is out now on the Victory label.

Steve’n’Seagulls

Fleece, March 28

So you thought Hayseed Dixie were the only bluegrass act playing metal covers? You thought wrong. Meet Steve’n’Seagulls. Their name is a corruption of ‘Steven Seagal’, for no obvious reason, and they all dress in authentic redneck garb. Inevitably, they hail from…Finland.

Broken Witt Rebels/Bad Touch

Tunnels, March 30

Recently out on the road with blues-rockers King King, Broken Witt Rebels are talented, youthful Brummies with interesting facial hair and an impressive line in soulful hard rock. They bagged Best Rock Act at last year’s inaugural Unsigned Music Awards, where they were also nominated as Best Live Act. That’s not bad going for an band with just three EPs, the latest of which is Georgia Pine, under their collective belt. Last seen at the Exchange with Massive, Norfolk’s classy Bad Touch are rootsy hard rockers with a clear US southern rock influence and should appeal to anyone who enjoys The Temperance Movement. Their new album Truth Be Told is out now.

Effigy Weekender: Big Business, Bossk, etc.

Exchange/Stag and Hounds, March 31-April 1

A big-value new addition to Bristol’s underground festival scene, Effigy spans the Exchange and Stag & Hounds, which means there’s not too far to stagger between bands. Friday’s headlining duo is Big Business – aka Melvins bassist Jared Warren and drummer Coady Willis – whom we last saw supporting the mighty Mastodon at the Academy back in December 2014. Further brutal earbashing is promised from Atlanta noise merchants Whores, Belgium’s Brutus, Cornwall doomsters Monolithian and Worcester’s very own Broken Oak Duet, who supported Boris at the Fleece in December. Day two brings the excellent, atmospheric Bossk, who are much better than that godawful label ‘post-metal’ would imply. Also on the bill are Employed to Serve, The Hyena Kill and a bunch of Bristol acts including Svalbard (recently seen supporting Oathbreaker), math rockers Memory of Elephants and riff merchants Goram, who include members of Sonance and The Heads (remember them, pop kids?).

COMING SOON

Here’s our essential diary of upcoming gigs that should be of interest to anyone of a rockin’ disposition.

John Coghlan’s Quo, Fleece, April 1

Wolf People, Exchange, April 5

Blackberry Smoke, O2 Academy, April 6

Taake, Exchange, April 6

Pallbearer, Thekla, April 8

Acid Reign, Exchange, April 9

Hellyeah, Thekla, April 14

Bristol Deathfest: Vader, Immolation, etc., Bierkeller, April 15-16

Hayseed Dixie, Fleece, April 19

The Quireboys, Thekla, April 27

Wretch/Iron Void, Gryphon, April 28

Black Spiders, Thekla, May 1

Inter Arma/Celeste, Fleece, May 3

Steve Hackett, Colston Hall, May 4

Tax the Heat, Thekla, May 5

Dan Patlansky, Tunnels, May 5

Katatonia, Marble Factory, May 8

Paul Rodgers, Colston Hall, May 10

Damo Suzuki, Exchange, May 12

Procol Harum, Colston Hall, May 16

Riverside, Marble Factory, May 20

Hawkwind, O2 Academy, May 24

Colour of Noise, Bierkeller, May 24

Skunk Anansie, Academy, May 25

KMFDM, Fleece, May 25

Syd Arthur/Morgan Delt, Exchange, June 4

King’s X, Bierkeller, June 12

Metal Church, Thekla, June 24

All Them Witches, Bierkeller, Oct 7

WASP, O2 Academy, Oct 25

Fish, O2 Academy, Dec 13

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