Words and Pictures by Wayne Simmons
One weekend in late December, Rise Above Records, fine purveyors of eclectic metal and rock, celebrated their 25th year in business with an Anniversary party. Several hundred rock fans gathered for a kickass line-up featuring some of the world’s best doom and occult rock bands. And thanks to our good friends at Megabus and the London underground, yours truly was there to experience it.
The Garage was our venue; a sizeable rock club in Islington, London. Overpriced drinks in hand, Ms Wayne and I found ourselves a perch and got ready for some killer grooves.
Being the new baby of Cathedral’s Garry Jennings, I was expecting a lot of doom and gloom from opening band, Death Penalty. What I got was a raunchy mix of early Motley Crue and Dio. Belgian lead vocalist, Michelle Nocon, strutted on stage like a modern-day Lita Ford, pouting and slapping her hip to the beat of Frederik Cosemans and Raf Meukens’ driving rhythm section. Her vocals were good, the tunes tight. But this isn’t a band at its best just yet. Everything needs time to gel, especially that all-important live chemistry.
Watching second band, The Oath, set up, I knew occult rock was afoot: the look of this lot; their whole vibe; had a late 70s/ early 80s feel, and yet the band themselves looked to be in their twenties. For a band so early into their career, then, The Oath put on a sterling live show, delivering some great tunes. Linnéa Olsson’s riffs were solid, Johanna Sadonis’ vocals pitch-perfect. Sure, it’s what you might expect given their look; Sabbath meets Doro meets NWOBH; but it all felt incredibly polished and I, for one, will be lining up when their debut album drops later this year.
With a name like Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, you know you’re in for trouble. Sure enough, these likely lads from Hastings blew the doors off Friday night. It was all very Tap meets That 70s Show, their sound and vibe not unlike fellow Brits, Gentleman’s Pistols. And while I wouldn’t say this is my cup of tea on record, Sir Cloudesley were certainly a barrel of laughs to experience live, and tight as fuck to boot.
Eight thirty. Time, then, for a load of bearded blokes in 70s gear to flood the stage. Turned out it was Horisont, our fourth band of the evening. Alas, their Zepplin-esque grooves just weren’t rubbing my lamp at all. Nothing wrong with them, per se, and definitely plenty of people in the room feeling it. But I wasn’t.
Thank God, then, for Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, tonight masquerading as The Sharon Tate Experience. Now, this was my first time hearing Uncle A and yet they had me from the first chord. Then came those two-part harmonies and I was right over to the merch stand for everything of theirs I could find. Think Ghost B.C. meets Selim Lemouchi & His Enemies, or indeed, The Devil’s Blood, and you’re on the right track. Strong melodies and heavy guitar made this set immediately engaging and Uncle Acid the perfect way to close our first day partying with Rise Above.
Sadly, we arrived at the venue too late to see Age of Taurus, so, for Saturday, Troubled Horse were our kick-off point and probably the biggest surprise of the day. Now, these days, I’m not really a fan of garage rock, but these kooky swedes certainly brought something new to the table. Their sound was modern indie fused with occult rock tendencies (think The Strokes meets Pentagram) and it really hit the mark for me. I was right over to the merch stand again, walking away with a CD and tee on the strength of this performance alone, so definitely a high recommend.
Despite an iffy start, struggling with sound-levels, third band Purson soon found their mojo to deliver one of the best performances of the whole weekend. It’s a peculiar vibe they’ve got going, reminding me of 90s throwback bands such as Jellyfish and Red Kross as well as contemporary mainstreamers like Florence and The Machine, and yet somehow they manage to be one of the brightest new stars on the occult rock circuit right now. Rosalie Cunningham’s vocals were to die for, not to mention that storming lead guitar concluding the set. This was a great set from a band that should be huge this time next year, if there’s any justice in the world.
Iron Man were up next, their old-school stomp rock proving a little dated for my own personal tastes. But you couldn’t argue with the performance; before a sizeable moshpit of diehards, these guys gave their all and some.
Save the best for last, they say, and Blood Ceremony certainly delivered a performance worthy of their headlining status. For the uninitiated, this is THE occult rock band of the moment; a frothy mead of Sabbath, Uriah Heap and just about every 70s horror film you’ve seen. I’ve followed their career pretty closely since catching them back in 2006 or so when they toured with Electric Wizard and both their songs and live presence have come on in leaps and bounds. Alia O'Brien is the star of the show, her vocals and keys and flute and general witchiness the central focus throughout the entire set. Being the UK debut for new album, The Eldritch Dark, made this performance even more special and Blood Ceremony a fitting way to close Saturday night.
I’m a huge fan of London’s Desertfest and this felt like a prelude to that, if you like. Kudos to the Rise Above crew for putting on such a great show at a reasonable price with some wonderful acts in attendance. In five years, they’ll be celebrating thirty years in the business and I hope to be with them again for that party.