Another night and another dose of heavy music at one of the many venues Manchester has to offer. This evening I am at Retro Bar, a mere two minute walk away from Piccadilly train station, to see ESO and Sinnergod play an intimate gig in a small yet vibrant function room. Both bands are fresh off releasing new material, with Sinnergod having released the Behind the Corner EP and ESO the Nothing Left to Lose album. This small venue holds an equally small crowd of around thirty people, but they are in for a night that will leave their ears ringing and their love of good metal greatly satisfied.
Sinnergod take to the stage with a keyboard intro before launching into ‘Lovely Day 2 Die’. For the first time the tiny crowd is treated to both vocal and guitar harmony from Mark Hampson and Dave Jones, which will continue with gusto throughout the rest of their set. ‘Secret Place’ follows and here tremendous musicianship is on display as Hampson and bassist Karl Parker combine with long held notes while Jones maintains a constant and steady pace. Soon after Hampson executes a perfect, lengthy guitar solo. During the first two songs the volume was not quite up on Hampson’s vocals but that problem quickly fades to nothing as soon as ‘Der Kriegmarz’ starts, his voice is now loud and clear and thunderous. The same goes for Jones’ backing vocals, and during this song the second guitarist busts out a solo. Though it is a short one, it is nonetheless tremendously played. Clean and atmospheric guitars and keyboard open ‘World in Grey’, and the keyboard maintains a noticeable presence throughout. This time around Jones’ solo is significantly longer, and in keeping with the song it is ambient as hell. As ‘Revolution’ begins it is readily apparent that both guitarists are taking it in turns to create the atmosphere, and in ending the song both guitars combine their sound as one. An air raid warning siren signifies the start of ‘From Rocks’ and I must say I really like this one, it’s thumping and aggressive. There are more excellent guitar duels and trade-offs in a distinctly Maiden-esque track. The finale is a heavy, heavy performance of ‘Bang Ya Dead’, whose main riff is very reminiscent of Black Sabbath’s ‘Children of the Grave’. Throughout the set the little gathering of metalheads has been relatively stoic despite the exceptional quality of the music on offer, but during this song they livened up quite a bit. All in all this was one of the best sets of music I’ve ever seen, heavy and consistently well played, with each and every instrument turned up to eleven. The intriguing combination of Hampson and Jones extends beyond their duelling guitars, their vocal combinations make them seem more like two parts of one whole than two individual members of the band, and it is outstanding. The only negative I can ascribe to Sinnergod was the lack of interaction from lead singer Hampson with the crowd, for the man did not say anything to the people until about five songs into the seven song set, and for a group which has shared a stage with Blaze Bayley this is a little surprising. This does not, however, subtract in any significant way from the band’s performance, which was awesome, awesome, and awesome!
Now it was time for ESO to take the stage (watch our interview with them here), and on this stage lead singer Tobias Keast is definitely more comfortable than Mark Hampson was earlier, standing on monitors and interacting with the crowd as the set opened with ‘Birds in a Hurricane’ from the new album. Equally enthusiastic, if not more so, is bassist Cloud Cerberus, who is headbanging hard and jumping like a champ. The small crowd most definitely loves it, having moved right up to the stage and started to dance along. The opening of ‘A New Beginning’ has elements of grunge to it, indicative of the band’s love of variety which Tobias and drummer brother Luke talked about in their interview with me before the show. ‘Scream’ is a number notable for its great symphonic opening and also for how animated Tobias is, as well he should be, given the strength of the vocal patterns he employs in this song. At one point he desists from the use of the mere microphone in order to use a megaphone. Judging by the rapturous reception ‘Scream’ received I think it’s safe to say that the crowd really enjoyed that one. ‘Life is Lonely’ featured some tremendously solid drumming from Luke Keast. Before starting the next song, ‘Running Blind’ Tobias attaches a torch to the microphone stand in order to illuminate his face from below and give himself that evil, Halloween look. Unfortunately his vocals were very quiet on this one, although much of the audience’s attention had to be focused on Cloud who was jumping like a madman. You really can’t fault the guy’s enthusiasm. The brief vocal shortfall was soon forgotten as ‘We are Watching You’ began, Tobias here seemed more confident than he had been all night. Following this brilliant rendition there was a great little back and forth with the crowd in which Tobias asked how many times the band had played Manchester before and one eager audience member replied “not enough!” It was now time to unleash new single ‘The Divide’, which was played absolutely flawlessly. After that came ‘Droa’ which had a real feel of Soil to it. A popular number, this one had the crowd singing along, though most impressive was the way in which Tobias ended the song with an long, held scream. From there the vocals only got even better, with Tobias’ performance on ‘Watch This Drive’ in my opinion being his best of the night. The crowd were together in clapping their hands during the breakdown, and when it was announced shortly thereafter that the band would be finishing soon there was a great groan of disappointment. A great rendition of ‘You’ll Never Know’, a song with shades of Muse about it, brought the evening to a close. But not quite, for as requested the band returned to the stage to play an encore. At this point I should mention something about the venue. The function room at Retro Bar has a long, leather-clad bench the length of the wall opposite the stage. Clearly exhausted, Tobias decided that he would move into the crowd and take a rest here, proclaiming that he wanted to see the band from the audience. As the song started he reclined further, lying down to sing, as the little gathering of fans alternated between watching the band on stage and taking pictures of him. Later into the song he got up and began to sway in amongst the people, before getting back on stage to finish the night off with the promise that the band will be back next year. That was as unique a finale as I’ve ever seen.
I have tried to think how best to explain just how good this night was, but really the only thing I can say is that it was truly exceptional, and if any festival promoters should happen upon this review, I say this to you; Book these bands! Book them now!
Review: Michael Dodd