With The Dead + Beastmaker @ HMV Institute, Birmingham – Monday 11th April 2016


Review by Paul Castles, photos by Rich Thompson

The appearance of With The Dead at Birmingham’s HMV Institute constituted a ‘not to be missed’ event with the newly formed doom ‘supergroup’ playing only their second ever show, having opened a two-night ‘mini mini’ tour in Manchester 24 hours earlier.

That isn’t to say of course that these are newcomers in the truest sense, not when individual past allegiances are so solidly aligned to such giants of the genre as Cathedral and Electric Wizard.

This was also something approaching a homecoming for With The Dead frontman Lee Dorrian, who hails from just a few hops down the M6 in Coventry. In fact when the band opened with the seismic thud of ‘Crown of Burning Stars’ you felt Lee’s parents could probably just about make out the sound from their living room, and that’s without the need to open a window.

Dorrian spent the best part of 20 years establishing the monumentally influential doom crusaders, Cathedral. One of their last appearances in the Midlands was around six years ago when playing the main stage at Bloodstock.

So there was a pleasing symmetry that Lee’s new band, formed only around 18 months ago, were giving the locals an early taste of what they’re about. In fact Dorrian and his new bandmates in many ways used the Manchester and Birmingham shows as a tune-up for their appearance just a few days later at the acclaimed Roadburn Festival in the Netherlands, an event for which Lee himself acted as curator for one of the three days this year.

Much of the material played was of course from their recently released self-titled debut album. Impassioned and inspiring, With The Dead gradually build an impregnable audio barrier, higher and higher, but without it ever being in danger of tumbling to the floor.

They even squeezed in a track from an already half-written follow-up album, ‘Cocaine Phantoms’ and this was one was so dark you could gaze into its core for hours without detecting even the merest hint of light.

‘Screams From My Own Grave’ provided a satisfying, and indeed stupefying end to a crushingly heavy set,  lingering longer than your gran on a Sunday afternoon.

Dorrian did leave the stage with a parting kiss of acknowledgement to the faithful, but the three musicians refused to budge, rolling on and on with a dissonant drone of introspective rhythms and controlled percussive attacks.

In fact by the time their 10 minute epilogue had drawn to a shuddering climactic halt, for all we knew Lee was at home in his parents’ front room enjoying a late night warming drink.

Aside from his own inimitable talents as a performer – don’t forget this dude even began life as the singer with Birmingham grindcore giants Napalm Death – Dorrian is of course the mastermind behind the superb Rise Above Records, home to such luminaries as Lucifer and Blood Ceremony.

Wearing his ‘Rise Above’ hat, Dorrian was also instrumental in the welcome appearance of the evening’s support act, Beastmaker. The Californian trio had been signed to his label after he had just the most fleeting of tastes.

Such is his conviction that the California trio are a band with a future that he shipped them over for these two UK shows, their first ever in Europe.

Beastmaker’s sound is nowhere near as dark or bleak as the headliners. It is though still a monstrous racket, with riotous riffs, full of rough edges. Frontman Trev is a likeable bearded maestro who commands attention with his energy and vitality.

Nor do Beastmaker fit the current doom template of long drawn out slovenly soundscapes that move with the agility of a two-legged hippo. As Trev reminded me before the show, one of Sabbath’s greatest ever tunes, ‘Paranoid’, was a short sharp shock to the senses.

Beastmaker set the scene with a full-on charge, lay down some wonderfully creative riffs, run riot over your senses and then pull the emergency cord just as your starting to get swallowed whole by their great rambling riffs.

The good news is that having had a brief taste of the UK, one which they’ve responded to with enthusiasm and gratitude, Beastmaker are back in Birmingham on April 30 when they support Canadian occult doomsters Blood Ceremony at the Rainbow.

With The Dead set list

  1. Crown of Burning Stars
  2. The Cross
  3. Nephthys
  4. Cocaine Phantoms
  5. Living With The Dead
  6. I Am Your Virus
  7. Screams From My Own Grave