Audio Disease + Awake By Design + Disarm Goliath + Pencils for Pistols @ O2 Academy 2, Birmingham – Saturday 7th September


Review by Peter Keevil



Ovation Music Management is doing a sterling job in putting on regular showcase gig nights in Birmingham, Dudley and Wolverhampton. The formula is nice and simple, get 5 bands, get them each to pull in 20 or so punters and all of a sudden you’re playing to a room full of 100+ on a Saturday night in a major town like Brum.

Well that’s the premise anyway. In reality the 20 or so ‘punters’ are usually made up of family and friends as each of these bands are yet to create a real fanbase (that’s not a criticism just a fact of where they are in their fledgling careers). And instead of the imagined sweaty heaving mass of swirling hair to play in front of; you find that for each band those gaggle of loyal followers basically take it in turns to watch the act they had come to see – cycling through the venue and then moving on to bask in the afterglow with their music-playing brethren. Even the bands themselves tend not to hang around and can be seen exiting and carrying out their gear as the subsequent band plays their set.

Having said that, there are a few, a harden few, that were there to check out all the bands on the bill. I’d like to counted myself as one of those but unfortunately I turned up too late to see openers ‘In Denial’ and for that I apologise. No doubt our paths will cross soon.

The first band of ‘my’ night were the unusually monikered, ‘Pencils for Pistols’ – the type of band name one might find in the NME, perhaps on tour supporting The Wombats or such like. The name did not set my expectations for what was a three-piece funk-metalcore crossover outfit. They were certainly unique in sound and song structure as I found myself enjoying a good foot-tap to the funk rock sounds, underpinned by a harder edged guitar and all topped by nice clean vocals; with a suitable Americanised accent. I was surprised to find these guys so low on the bill.

But then it turned a bit sour for me as the vocal switched into one of those gnarly, death-grunts with no distinguishable lyric or melody. Next song in, I was again lulled into an enjoyable ditty of grove rock to then be brutally bludgeoned by the change in vocal style. By the next song, I was dreading the chorus…

Yeah ‘unique’ is good – generally; push the boundaries and all that; take you out of your comfort zone a little. I get it. However, this was one of those cross-over blends that just didn’t work as a blend. It jarred a little too much, like onion ice-cream. Yeah, I like onions and I like ice-cream, as separate courses. But in the same dish? Not for my palette, I’m afraid.

Like the other bands on this bill, I hadn’t witnessed Disarm Goliath before but had heard good noises about them from various corners of Midlands Rocks Towers. These guys are a straight-ahead metal 5-piece borrowing all the good things from a very varied NWOBHM – which was fitting seeing as we were in Birmingham.

The opening 30 seconds and all appeared true to form, I nodded to my friend and we both mouthed ‘Heavy Metal’ in unison. Then on trotted the singer, who later introduced himself as Steve Bell, and proceeded to produce the most startling vocal performance I have heard from an unsigned band in many a year. I’m talking Rob Halford (Judas Priest) and Eric Adams (Manowar) proportions here. Seriously, this could be game changing for Disarm Goliath. Steve’s range is phenomenal and is the type of thing that careers can be built around. And… as I found out after the show, he is self-taught!

If they can keep working on the material and improve the stage presence a little, these guys could revitalise the much lauded ‘Home of Metal’ tag. It’s that serious.

What followed for the two remaining acts of the night was an attempt to follow ‘that’. And in doing so both tried a little too hard.

Awake By Design are a 6-piece melodic prog rock/metal band. All decent players, for sure, with serious amounts of hair across the backline of twin guitars, bass and keyboards and fronted by an energetic and theatrical vocalist in Adrian Powell. Unfortunately their performance just blurred-into-one a little too much for me. Technically gifted guitarists looking at fretboards is not what I want to see at a gig. Powell tried hard to engage but was hindered by a small stage filled with co-band members. They could have done with taking a small step back and letting him use the space as he clearly wanted to do.

There was nothing terribly wrong with ABD by any means but they do need something more to make them stand out from the crowd. What I do know will help, is the larger stage when they support Queensryche in Wolverhampton in October.

Headliners, Audio Disease have ‘chosen’ a tough path. I use inverts around ‘chosen’ as it isn’t a conscious choice to want to play gigs when you form a band, that’s the natural part. The fact that it’s  a tough path is that they are young 17 year old guys still learning their trade in front of a live audience. And in front of a live audience, there is no hiding.

Let’s cover the good stuff… they look great! They are good looking boys and that will help attract a young devoted audience. Think – a ‘rock n roll One Direction’ and you won’t be far wrong. Yeah, they’ll get some stick for it along the way but I’d rather look this good, than not.

The songs cut through big time. Catchy, pop-rock, with plenty of hooks and chantable choruses. This is the type of stuff that Jam Bun Jovi rocked a million faces with but cashed in a long time ago.

What they don’t yet have it a stage performance. Nervous? Clearly. They were headlining a gig in Birmingham at the age of 17 so that’s more than allowed.  Tuning? Sorry vocalist, Tom but there were too many tuning issues as you just pushed it too hard. It’s certainly not easy but you need to find your comfort place on stage. Feel at home up there and it will happen for you.

Three cover songs in a set and two being Guns n Roses is ok for pub and party bands but for a headlining gig? … Audio Disease need to meet these challenges and come out stronger if they are to win over new fans, rather than people waiting another 6 months to see them again. They need to be confident in their own material and set it free; from what I heard it’s certainly good enough and I think a tighter 30 minutes set would have worked better than a covers padded 45.

What they need to do now, is rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Then the nerves will fall away, the songs will play themselves, leaving them to focus on the performance. It’s going to be interesting to watch them grow, there’s clearly potential to be honed. Time to get the polish out.