SikTh – Belfast, Empire Music Hall – 13 December 2017 Print E-mail
Written by Mark Ashby and The Dark Queen   
Wednesday, 20 December 2017 04:20

Having spent almost nine years in the musical wilderness, progressive metal innovators SikTh exploded back into action earlier this year, first with a tour supporting Trivium, which by all accounts re-ignited fans’ belief in their ability to deliver incendiary live shows, and the subsequent release of a new album, which they round year off supporting with a short run of dates, of which this was not only their penultimate but also marked their return to the Emerald Isle for the second time in just eight months…


It may have been the need to attract a decent crowd on a cold Wednesday night in the mouth of the financially-straining present-exchanging season, or more likely his usual desire to build bills which represent the best possible value for money for all concerned, and especially the fans who are so important to supporting this vibrant local scene, but Johnny ‘Shizznigh’ McKee has loaded the support slots with three truly heavyweight outfits to blow away the party-season cobwebs and shake this historic converted church to its Victorian foundations.


Altus 7


As mentioned in an earlier review, openers Altus once had a reputation for their revolving door of both line-up and stylistic changes, but in the past couple of years seem to have stabilized in both regards, settling on a concise, melodic death metal mien which sees them deliver a big, crunching sound driven by taut percussion and compelling bass work.  One thing which has not changed about the band, however, is Sleeve’s typical banter, which is reciprocated with trademark Belfast heckling when new song ‘Titan’ is quickly renamed ‘Tighten Ye’ by a quick witted bright spark off to the side of the stage.


Their extended lay off prior to their recent return obviously has done them a power of good, as not only are they tight as fuck, with rewritten songs such as ‘Suffering’ and ‘Malignant’ sounding immense, but they portray an ease both with what they are doing and within themselves, both collectively and individually, before Sleeve graciously thanking the small band of hardcore fans at the front of the stage for coming down early to support (and abuse!) the opening act – and recommending that they hang about for the next one as he hears that “their singer is rather hot”.


Drakonis 2


He’s referring to the fact that he’s pulling double duty, as he barely has time to throw his slap on and talc though his air before he’s climbing on stage once more to do the devil’s work and lead Drakonis as they bring their brand of dank and gloomy black metal to this equally dark and gruesome (at least outside) night…


‘Let Us Pray’, ripped from the orgiastic soul of titanic new EP ‘The Great Miasma’, evokes the primal rage that should epitomize BM in its purest form, with a mix of precision, technical aplomb and dark enjoyment.  You can’t help but crack an ironic smile at how good these guys (and gal) really are.  Sleeve demonstrates how easily he has moulded into the established line-up, as they lay down an apocalyptic rendition of ‘All Is Still’, while another new track, ‘Queen Of Swarms’, is later described as “the best track CoF never wrote” by Altus guitarist Mikk Legge – and we find it hard to argue with that summation! 


Despite guitarist Saul McMichael later admitting to suffering severe finger cramps, making it difficult for him to even hold a plectrum, and with my only complaint being a slight snapiness on Lee McCartney’s snare mix, everything about Drakonis is tighter than the new gloves Mrs A bought herself the day before, and with the aforementioned beast of a new EP under their belts the next 12 months could be huge for the five piece. And deservedly so.


7 Tonnes Of Beard 4


Apart from passing nods and occasional “how d’you dos” down the local pub, the paths followed by ourselves and the lads from 7.5 Tonnes Of Beard had not truly converged, until tonight. Which was one of the reasons we wanted to catch up them, having had events conspire so much in the past… They’re something of a local “supergroup”, made up as they are of current and former members of the likes of ASIWYFA, Diet Pills, Residual Effect, Stand-Up Guy, By Any Means and Gacys Threads: tonight, they make the mutual introductions with good minute-plus of feedback and white noise as pints of Guinness are passed onto the stage – well, you gotta get your priorities right, don’t you lads?


When they get underway, they deliver a dense, throbbing, sludgy, psyche-infused hardcore noise that grabs you by the ballsack, tickles it invitingly and then grabs it with an iron fist while screaming ‘C’mere you” right in your face and at the top of its voice.  The guitar harmonies of Andy Coles and Blane Doherty are so in sync that they could be in each other’s underpants rather than on opposite sides of the stage: the same goes for their relationship with bassist Johnny Adger, who at times acts like a third guitarist, leading DQ to declare they’re “tighter than a virgin’s fanny”!  OK then!  Yes, there are moments of dissonance in there but these aid the intensity of the overall aural experience, which combines some beautifully airy passages into the extreme density and ensures that this most definitely won’t be the last time &.5TOB and ourselves treading the same pavement.


SikTh 4


Now, to be honest, this particular venue, though attractive and well laid-out, is not best suited for full-on metal shows:  originally designed for the sort of thing its name describes, it’s PA perhaps lacks the full depth power needed, and the lighting is minimalist to say the least, which detracts from the full impact, especially for a band as widescreen in their presentation as SikTh


The guys do an inordinate amount of dicking about on stage, meaning that they take to it nearly ten minutes late.  When they do eventually kick it off, the mix on the vocals is truly atrocious, making both Mikee and Joe practically inaudible for the first third of opener ‘Philistine Philosophies’, at which point it improves slightly but almost as soon relapses, as both frontmen struggle to be heard (and its obvious that they can’t hear themselves either, as Mikee keeps indicating for the volume in his in-ear monitors to be turned up) before matters are finally repaired again.  However, no one in the pit seems to notice, as the energy levels rise higher than an explosion in a Red Bull cannery, and everyone gets drawn into what quickly turns into a confident and mesmerising set.


SikTh 10


Despite the ongoing technical issues which continue to pop up sporadically (Mikee’s in-ears seem to give up the ghost early on, while Joe fucks his up when he dives into the crowd) the moshpit doesn’t stop moving for the duration of the set.  But, this is no mere aural beatdown, as these guys prove that not only were they once one of the most dominant and innovative forces in the progressive metal movement, but they have returned re-invigorated and ready to knock the living daylights of the pretenders that have stopped into their spotlight during their time away, as the triple guitar and bass solo closing section to ‘Skies Of Millennium Night’ proves.


Yes, it may not have been the most suitable of venues, and they had their problems, both technically and with the severe lack of space on the stage, but SikTh truly delivered on every other level, immersing both themselves and those in the pit in front of them in the overall experience of an intense and riveting performance.


SikTh Feb 2018 tour header


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