Empyre + Bastette @ The Giffard Arms, Wolverhampton Saturday, 18th June, 2022


Reviewed by Paul Quinton

The burst of new rock bands over the last couple of years, for which the grand title of ‘The New Wave of Classic Rock’ has been coined, seems to have injected a genuine new energy
into the rock scene in the UK, and despite Geoff Barton’s surprisingly curmudgeonly review in ‘Classic Rock’ of 2021’s NWOCR compilation, it’s not just a retread of old styles and
even older riffs, there is some genuinely refreshing and ambitious music being made. Two of the bands featured on the compilation, and pleasingly two of the more ambitious and
individual ones, came to the Giffard on a wet Saturday night, drawing a decent and lively crowd into the old place.

This was a first chance for me to check Bastette out, and although they only had just over half an hour to make their mark, they did more than enough to make a strong impression. Obvious reference points are bands like Halestorm and The Pretty Reckless, not just because of the strong female presence, but there’s the same modern hard rock sound and attitude, and while singer Caroline Kenyon is the focus, the rest of the band sound really strong and tight, although with all due allowance for the limited stage space, and the fact that they were the support, it did feel like Caroline was doing all the work in engaging with the crowd, and on a bigger stage, the rest of the band might need to be a bit more outgoing. They opened with ‘Hunter’, ‘Psycho’ and ‘Talk About It’, the song included on the NWOCR collection, each of which has all the power you might need, although ‘Psycho’ is the heavier of the three, but there’s often plenty of light and shade in some of their songs, and this makes some of their stuff even more fascinating. They also played ‘Good Time Girl’, which is to be their next single, due shortly, another song that rocks along, but the set closer ‘Rollercoaster’, when they gave the song a little more space to breathe, really showed what they were capable of. There are plenty of good things to come from Bastette, undoubtedly.

This was the first chance I’d had to see Empyre with their own show, rather than as a support. Previously, they were third on the bill on the Mason Hill tour, and then they had a late afternoon slot at Hard Rock Hell, which is a thankless task at the best of times. Tonight though, it was their show, and with excellent sound out front (HRH, take note, please?), the band really hit some form. They opened with the slow building drama of ‘Waking Light’, a fascinating combination of crunching riffs and interesting time signatures, and having decent sound allowed the space and depth in the band’s songs to be more obvious, which made the music even more engrossing. The brooding waves of ‘Relentless’, for example, added to the intensity by showing a distinct tendency to the epic.

The band, with Henrick Steenholt on vocals and guitar, Did Coles on guitar, Grant Hockley on bass and Elliott Bale on drums, create what can sound like a dense, intense wall of sound, but having much better sound for this set let you hear all the light and shade in the music, not to mention more able to appreciate some excellent lyric writing, focussing on deep personal and real world subjects.

They did make a point of stressing that they’d be playing a fair portion of new songs at the Giffard, prior to beginning recording their next album, and they obviously have a lot of confidence in their new stuff. Some of it seems a lot more focussed, whereas older ones like ‘Just A Ride’ move quickly through the various sections, the newer ones sometimes are a little more measured, more restrained even, but then they can bring out a big, almost conventional lighter-in-the-air ballad like ‘Only Way Out’, from their debut album, Self Aware, although it’s heavier and far more intense than most examples of that particular genre. And yet, for all the intensity, there’s an obvious, if dry, sense of humour running through the band. One of their t-shirts lists ‘The Rules’, basically, no singing, no clapping along and frowning on visible signs of enjoyment, and singer Henrik remarks that they’re about to employ a new hashtag, #Killingthevibe, although that doesn’t rule out creating your own, and that’s something this band certainly does. This was a classy set, that was nothing less than impressive from beginning to end.

Both of these bands will be playing the NWOCR Festival at KK’s Steelmill in Wolverhampton on October 1st and 2nd later this year, as well as assorted support spots over the summer. You should make a point of seeing them, it will be well worth it.