Metal Hammer Razor Tour: Devil Sold His Soul + Heights + Heart Of A Coward + Steak Number Eight @ Academy 3, Birmingham – 4 November 2012

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Review by Matt Bradley
It isn’t often that a tour like this rolls around. Four heavy bands, four different styles of aggressive music, all on the cusp of greatness and all put together by the UK’s premier metal magazine. Last year’s inaugural Metal Hammer-sponsored trek around these isles featured bands now storming alternative charts across the world including While She Sleeps and Sylosis. For fans of extreme music, the Metal Hammer Razor Tour is one of the best things to happen in the United Kingdom.

The first night of the tour opened up with Belgian sludgemeisters Steak Number Eight and as the four youngsters from the continent bulldozed through thirty minutes of down-tempo, calculated noise, those in attendance nodded their heads in time but little else. Though there was the occasional gentle section and a brief flurry of quicker riffs towards the end, for the most part the set was admittedly rather monotonous for anybody that wasn’t already a fan. The performance itself was passionate yet not without technical fault, as guitarist/vocalist Brent Vanneste seemed to snap multiple strings in the latter stages but proceeded to hammer his guitar in a rather Cobain-esque fashion whilst carrying on the vocal duties, which seemed rather unlike what most people of his age (the band’s average age is only 20) would do. Overall, it was an enjoyable half hour but a few songs honestly could have done with a minute or two shaving off them.

Second on the stage tonight were Milton Keynes’ progressive metal heroes, Heart Of A Coward. They kicked off with the incendiary ‘Shade’, during which a significant portion of the crowd yelled back the infamous words that triggered the YouTube ‘suffergram’ trend (look it up) at vocalist Jamie Graham. As the set carried on, the audience became even more receptive to the groove metal five-piece, with a pit opening up for brand new song ‘Dead Weight’, which the crowd were told will feature on the band’s next album, due out in spring 2013. Graham’s vocals switched effortlessly from growls to high pitched screams, to singing and back again, as is par for the course, as anybody that has seen these guy live will know and Chris Mansbridge’s skill behind the kit shone through as he lead the band through time signature and tempo changes as if it was a walk in Birmingham’s Rookery Park. HOAC went on to perform more standout tracks from their 2012 release Hope & Hindrance including ‘Motion’ and ‘Stand As One’ before ending their triumphant time under the lights with ‘Around A Girl (In 80 Days)’.

The penultimate group of the evening were one of the most loved underground hardcore bands to come out of the UK since Knuckledust in the 1990s: Heights. Bizarrely, as they briskly walked onstage there was silence from the crowd but as soon as they burst into ‘Eye For An Eye’ (after complaining about how bright the lights were), it was as if a grenade had exploded on the guardrail, with bodies flying everywhere and people clambering on top of one another to scream the words back into the face of relatively new frontman Alex Monty. Fans of the Hertfordshire quintet will know that they recently parted ways with their old vocalist and then-bassist Monty downed the four-string and stepped up to the mic to take on the role as the face of the band. The first few gigs were a little shaky in that respect but after countless shows on various tours, it was evident on this night that he is comfortable filling those shoes. Heights carried on with fan-favourite tracks such as ‘These Streets’ and ‘Forget’, as well as recently released single ‘Stray Rats’, however their constant moaning about how they couldn’t see past the first row really sucked away a lot of the atmosphere. Technically, it was a solid set of aggressive hardcore which in a venue that size should’ve been a set to remember but unfortunately the crabby attitude of the band in regards to lighting and the crowd not moving as much as they wanted made it indeed a set to remember…. but for all the wrong reasons.

A simple gaze across the Academy made it obvious that up next were the band that most people had paid to see. With at least half of the crowd wearing their merchandise, Devil Sold His Soul came out to a massive reception and burst straight into ‘No Remorse, No Regrets’, followed swiftly by ‘A New Legacy’. Despite the music not being the most aggressive or fast, vocalist Ed Gibbs threw himself around the stage, bouncing relentlessly, arms flailing and giving each lyric his absolute all. Guitarists Jonny Renshaw and Rick Chapple were intensely static, save the occasional headbang or sway, and whilst bassist Jozef Norocky’s instrument cut out briefly during the opening track, it was quickly amended which allowed him to provide the low end for the rest of the genre-defying sextet’s performance. Drummer Leks Wood pounded his skins with such power that numerous sticks ended up shattered throughout the set, while Paul Kitney poked, prodded and stamped on his synth/sample kit and pedals with what appeared to be no effort. Everybody at 02 Academy ate up the massive and, dare I say it, epic sound that DSHS produced, as they sang along with Gibbs on nearly every word. They hammered through five of the eleven tracks from latest release Empire Of Light, as well as a few carefully picked cuts from previous albums: ‘An Ocean Of Lights’ was a particular standout, as well tried-and-tested banger ‘Like It’s Your Last’. The best was yet to come, however, as they announced they were to end their set with the nine and a half minute final track from EOL, ‘End Of Days’ which took the Academy on a journey from explosive, aggressive metal through a brief few moments of ambience before the exhilarating and utterly heavenly melodic outro section to finish things off on a majestic high.

Tonight was a night that proved that, despite what the old folks may say, metal wasn’t better in the 80s. Metal is just as good as, if not better than, it’s always been. Anyone that says otherwise just isn’t paying attention.

Setlist: No Remorse, No Regrets, A New Legacy, An Ocean Of Lights, Dawn Of The First Day, VIII, Like It’s Your Last, Crusader, End of Days.