The Distortion Project: Rock the Hall
Friday 15th November 2013 – Ulster Hall, Belfast
Every Belfast metal head worth their black tshirt collection knows of the Distortion Project. Run by promoter James Loveday, the DP has been filling the Limelight with various shades of metal virtually every Saturday evening for the last thirteen years. This seminal anniversary, combined with it being Belfast Music Week, evidently prompted Loveday to plan the celebration of the century…
And what an extraordinary coup he pulled off. Six of NI’s top metal acts, all performing in that most hallowed of holy grounds, the Ulster Hall. The lineup reads like a ‘who’s who’ of the province’s top metal bands. From highly original (relative) newcomers Rabid Bitch of the North through to NWOBHM veterans Stormzone, it’s metal heaven almost from the minute the doors open at 5pm.
Rabid Bitch of the North are up first, looking nervous but determined on the vast stage. After a brief introduction they launch themselves full-tilt into ‘Your Misery’, creating an immediate wall of sound, made all the more jawdropping when you consider that it is all coming from just three dudes. Their old school influences are clear (Priest, Maiden, Motorhead) but they twist it and remould it and create something really special. A lot of that is down to vocalist Joe’s striking voice: a bit like Rob Halford but screamier, a bit like Mark Slaughter but way tougher, it is unique and powerful; no sign of fade or falter all night (respect). They fire out tune after epic tune, all dripping with chugging riffs, tasty guitar solos and ‘punch you in the throat’ power. Highlights include the bruising ‘Slave to the Man’, the galloping ‘Us Against Them’ and, of course, ‘Help! I’m Trapped in 1999’, during which they are joined onstage by several members of fellow rockers Scimitar and proceed to shake the Ulster Hall to its foundations. That’s RBOTN in a nutshell: an astonishing force of nature, like a wild storm encapsulated. Definitely an inspired choice to open proceedings tonight.
Skypilot take to the stage next. Although also a trio, they are a whole different kettle of fish to Rabid Bitch! Less ‘beardy metalheads’, more ‘understated rock dudes’, and their music is accordingly understated too; quite proggy, in fact. Put it this way: THIS is what Pink Floyd would sound like if they had switched to metal. It’s meandering and earnest, with a touch of bluesy swagger. Think ‘Smashing Pumpkins at their most bombastic’ and you’re on the right track. It’s also crunchy and gnarly and spirited, as blistering set highlight ‘MOAST’ demonstrates.
So far we’ve had ‘crazed metal’ and ‘proggy metal’. What else could possibly be next but death metal! The lights go out entirely, a Sabbath-y intro creeps out eerily…and Zombified hit the ground running. The band becomes a mass of flailing hair and limbs upon the suitably apocalyptic backlit stage as they roar (literally) through such brutal tracks as ‘Insidious Tragedy’, ‘Immolation Race’ and set closer ‘Morgue Angel’. Their sound is that of Motorhead on steroids; like you could pound someone’s head in just by playing this to them. Wrecking ball music (no, not THAT bloody wrecking ball). Between sticksman Gary’s full body workout drumming style, guitarists Jamie, Chris and Adrien’s headbanging and ‘blurred fingers’ speed and the demonically-charged Pete windmilling and stomping about in between vocal duties, they are an exhilarating prospect to behold. The delighted roars from the crowd at the end of each song are definite testimony to that!
Right, now: who wants some riffs? Course ya do! The masters of the riff, the mighty Triggerman take to the stage next, and proceed to rock the fuck out. With machine-gun deadliness they fire out riff after riff within glorious songs such as ‘Hail to the River Gods and ‘Valhalla’. Frontman Bap possesses another unique voice; his sardonic barking delivery sparks off those tumbling riffs perfectly. A quick glance around the satisfyingly full room reveals heads bouncing as if on springs: it’s an almost involuntary side effect of listening to these guys. Their brilliant mash-up of Pantera’s catchy grooves and early AC/DC’s classic rock is totally captivating against the backdrop of this most grand of stages. The band are animated and jubilant (no Anselmo-style po-facedness here). After a ferocious ‘Son of Solomon’ they depart, having proven once again what an absolutely blazing live act they are. Horns up!
A brace of old school metal guitarist stances fills the stage next as Sinocence prepare to dazzle the crowd. Part sleaze metal, part thrash and part pure rock n roll, the combination creates a powerful dose of melodic metal with added emotional kick in the form of vocalist Moro’s bruising, raw delivery. They thunder through tracks such as ‘Perfect Denial’ and ‘Makin a Monster’, all chock-full of driving riffs and punchy beats, to the delight of the crowd. Their set reaches a crescendo when a special guest in the form of Sweet Savage’s vocalist Ray Haller joins them onstage for a punk/metal combo masterclass. They blast through SS’s famous number ‘Killing Time’ to an ecstatic crowd, before wrapping up their energetic and strong performance with ‘Metalbox’, all chainsaw riffs and fret-bothering guitar solo. Bravo! Encore! Oh wait…
Sorry, no time for an encore…it’s Stormzone time! Appearing onstage in suitably dramatic fashion – nobody does ‘epic stage arrival’ quite like these guys – they immediately swing into the ‘woah-oh’-tastic ‘Where We Belong’. They are clearly utterly at ease in such grand surroundings, and comfortably spread out to utilise all the available space. Charismatic frontman Harv is a whirling dervish of headbanging, air-guitaring and metal grapefruit-ing throughout, and his Bruce Dickinson-y voice is particularly rich and powerful tonight.
At their heart, Stormzone are storytellers, and tonight the crowd get to hear the best: ‘Fear Hotel’, ‘Beyond the Grave’ and ‘Three Kings’ are among the highlights. They play their hearts out – as they always do. Their stage so is so well-rehearsed and slick that, in the hands of another band, it would be in danger of becoming a soulless parody, but Stormzone’s clearly evident enthusiasm talent and spirit saves them from that fate. With one nervous eye on the clock for the 11pm curfew, they launch into their magnum opus, the heroic ‘His Legend Carries On’. It clocks in at an impressive nine minutes long, but they manage to squeeze it in before the lights come on for the last time. With just time for a quick shout out to Loveday and the DP, they exit the stage as heroes once again, and leave the remaining crowd spent and beaming.
One stage. Six bands. One awe-inspiring anniversary bash. The monumental efforts of the inimitable Mr. Loveday paid off in spades tonight: there wasn’t a bum note, mediocre band or unhappy face in the Ulster Hall all evening. The whole event ran smoothly, sounded fantastic and looked amazing (well done to the lighting chaps!). If any NI metallers missed this shindig, well I’m afraid it ‘sucks to be you’ because this truly was a phenomenal night; one of those defining gigs that will be remembered fondly by the attendees for many years to come. ‘Celebration of the century’ indeed…