Category: Live Music

Live Review: Cancer Bats @ Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle - October 11, 2019

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I was lucky enough to witness Canada’s Cancer Bats in action back sometime around 2013 and was struck by the band’s intensity and obvious enjoyment with what they were doing. That was a Sidewave at Sydney’s Hi-Fi Bar supporting Bullet for My Valentine – which in this reviewer’s mind was a bit of an odd pairing, but whatever…

Seeing the band tonight in the Cambridge Hotel‘s diminutive pressure-cooker of a front room seemed to amplify the intensity of the band’s performance. With no photo pit, I was shooting from the mosh – experiencing the effect they were having on the audience first hand. The band tore up the stage with a set list bursting with tracks from just about their entire back catalogue, with highlights including ‘Sorceress’ and ‘Hail Destroyer’ from the album of the same name and ‘Gatekeeper’ and ‘Space and Time’ from latest album ‘The Spark That Moves’.

As a band not known for their five-minute-plus prog epics, they move through their 15-song set list rapid fire, broken up with witty banter from frontman Liam Cormier, including some classic Aussie piss-taking that the crowd laps up, despite being the brunt of the jokes. All in all, a great way to spend a rainy night in Newcastle.

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The Tea Party @ NEX, Newcastle - June 26, 2019

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I’m ashamed to admit it, but this was actually the first time I’d seen The Tea Party live. I’d been into their music since the 1990s and had seen one of Jeff Martin’s incredible solo shows way back in 2010 at Sydney’s The Basement. But I’d never been able to see The Tea Party.

Tonight, I was in for a real treat.

The night was opened by local Newcastle ‘Alternative Punk’ four-piece Linear. What lucky little sods they were. While the crowd was still pretty thin for their performance, opening for such an established and respected international group is no small honour.

Linear’s songs were pretty solid and the musicianship was strong, too. However, the vocals let the band down and I’m sure that more than a few punters were left wondering why another of the countless hyper-talented local outfits weren’t chosen in their place.

By the time The Tea Party took to the stage a little after 9pm, the NEX Theatre (still quite large despite the flanks being curtained off) had finally filled substantially. Opening with ‘The River’ from Splendor Solis, the band worked its way through a career-defining set that included tracks like ‘The Bazaar’, ‘Psychopomp’, ‘Save Me’, ‘Temptation’ and ‘Sister Awake’. They even managed to squeeze a faithful cover of U2’s ‘With or Without You’ right in the middle of ‘Heaven’s Coming Down’.

Despite the years, and Martin’s prodigious and prolific career, his rich baritone roar has lost
none of its impact and intensity. He stalks the stage with the swagger of someone who’s been doing it all his life, part Jim Morrison, even larger part Jimmy Page. Yet (and despite the violin bow and double-neck Gibson SG usage) it never feels like pastiche. Martin has made it all part of his DNA and his performance is certainly a large part of the success of tonight’s show (and we’d bet, any Tea Party show).

Bassist Stuart Chatwood is pretty restrained on stage. At times switching between bass
and a few keyboards and pedals. Drummer Jeff Burrows, complete with Mod hairdo and endlessly chewing gum, is a dynamo on the kit and propels the Tea Party juggernaut ever onward.

Together, they make a hell of a racket for a three piece and tonight’s performance does
nothing but cement their place in rock history and Australia’s heart. The Canadian band has always done well over here and if the new tracks they played tonight are anything to go by, they will continue to do so for some time to come.

Be sure to keep an eye out for tour dates in 2020 when the band tours on the back of its
30th anniversary.

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Born of Osiris + Chelsea Grin @ Newcastle Hotel - June 23, 2019
It might have been a chilly, wet Sunday night outside, but within the cosy confines of the recently-rebranded Newcastle Hotel, piping hot modern metal was cooking up a storm. While we missed local opening act The Wandering, Taree progressive metal four-piece Diamond Construct continued their evolution from awkward teens to stage-pounding purveyors of dissonant chords and brutal breakdowns. Their latest release is garnering them some deserved attention and tonight’s almost-cruelly short 25-minute support slot shows they can impress even on a tight timeline.

Salt Lake City’s Chelsea Grin has darkened our shores a number of times in the past, but rarely with the same line up. The crushing deathcore four-piece has had 14 members within its ranks over the last 12 years and this tour saw new singer Tom Barber screaming his lungs dry in Australia for the first time.

While Tom is about the only member to make decent use of the small corner stage, they’re tight as hell, with drummer Pedro Viveros’ guttural vocals the perfect foil to Barber’s more razor-like fry screams. About the only downside of the performance is from a select handful of crowd members who wrongly presumed the rest of us wanted to watch them throw their limbs around the middle of the dance floor like epileptics with brain injuries. Sadly, this ridiculous, anti-social nonsense meant a large gulf was left between the front of the stage and the back where most were unwilling to risk a wayward fist or boot.

Illinois natives Born of Osiris have only managed to host nine different guys in the group over the past 16 years, and its core members have all been in it for the long haul for over 10 years. That cohesion clearly shows on stage tonight. It’s a polished display of progressive metal that boasts techy, classical flourishes over the top of bruising, tight riffage and twin vocalists Ronnie Canizaro and Joe Buras bring a real sense of urgency to the performance.

By the time the headliners took to the stage, there were no signs of the flailing-limb idiots and the dance floor was full of enthusiastic punters wanting to see the eclectic metal band perform a comprehensive set list of tracks from across its back catalogue. Guitarist lee McKinney’s axe didn’t quite cut through the mix as well as perhaps it should have, given his technical expertise, but overall the mix was thick and full and the audience lapped up every minute.

Definitely the best way to enjoy Sunday night in Newcastle this week!

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Karnivool @ The Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle - May 30, 2019
This reviewer hadn’t had the pleasure of seeing the mighty Karnivool live since 2012 and 2013 on the Asymmetry tour. Both of those gigs were held at Sydney’s Metro and the Big Top respectively – much larger venues than Newcastle’s Cambridge Hotel.

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What I would witness tonight would only reinforce would only reinforce an already firmly held belief that the best shows take place in intimate venues. Although, thanks to the Cambridge posting incorrect set times online once again, I’m sure there would have been a few nonplussed punters who either missed opening act Southeast Desert Metal altogether or only caught the last few minutes of their tight, albeit reserved performance (posted start time was 9pm, but the band started at around 8.30 and was finished at 9.15pm). While the band were pretty static on stage, their driving, propulsive mix of hard rock and classic metal sees the half-full room enthusiastic and supportive.

After about 40mins of set up time, Western Australia’s Karnivool took to the stage in what was to be a more pared back production – more visceral perhaps – than what I’d previously seen the band offer. Most importantly however, is the fact that the band was no less powerful for it. In fact, being up so close, with only the Cambo’s small security pit between Ian Kenny’s Zen-like stage moves and the sweaty sold-out Newcastle crowd, you could argue that the limited lighting and production only added to the intensity.

Tonight’s set list covers the spectrum of the band’s output thus far, including what I think were a few new or unreleased tracks like ‘Animation’, ‘Reanimation’ and ‘All It Takes’. Crowd response to them is good, but it’s obviously the known and loved tracks from the band’s three albums that get the most response.

Karnivool are a national treasure. They’re often cited as influences and hit ‘fave band’ lists from notable musos around the world and for good reason: their recorded output is impossible to fault and their live performance – as witnessed here tonight at the Cambridge – is just as strong. With a solid, clear mix, all the guys’ parts are perfectly audible, which is a feat unto itself with the beautiful subtlety that flows beneath all of Karnivool’s music. Add to that the strong, engaging stage presence and you’ve got the ingredients for a perfect night of intense, involving and damned catchy modern progressive metal.

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Live Review: Heistfest 2019 - Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle - April 7, 2019

36CrazyFists + Superheist + From Crisis to Collapse + BLKLST + Take My Soul @ The Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle – April 7, 2019

Another Sunday gig at the Cambridge Hotel and another early start. Not a huge issue in and of itself, when the venue fails to list the correct start time on its own website until late into the afternoon of the show and you aren’t surprised when the bands on show tonight are playing to far fewer people than they would normally.

Sadly, one of Newcastle’s brightest new bands Take My Soul only plays to a couple dozen punters just after 4pm. Despite the lack of bodies, the modern, down-tuned, 7-string-wielding five-piece brings all the riffs as well as some stupidly tasty, crystalline clean parts that provide the perfect balm to the brutality of the heavy stuff. Their new EP is definitely worth checking out.

Melbourne’s BLKLST is on stage next and the crowd is still thin on the ground, but the four-piece make a huge racket for a single-guitar band. Self-proclaimed as a nu-metal/hardcore hybrid, they’re pretty on the money, with the band’s singer showcasing some moves and vocal influences very reminiscent of the late 1990s scene that spawned bands like Korn, Limp Bizkit and so many more. Super tight, the bass player offers some sick backing vocals, too. Definitely worth a watch.

From Crisis to Collapse is next to inflict their aural assault onto the growing crowd. Based in Byron Bay, the five-piece wasted no time laying waste to the audience with Technicolor bogan front man Angus Carter seemingly equal parts mental and brutal. While his on-the-edge-of-sanity persona is enough to grab your interest, the group’s riff-laden song list does the rest, with more meat on the bone than your local butcher. Sadly their fleet-fingered lead guitarist is lost in the mix during lead breaks.

When Superheist reformed in 2016, fans were suitably stoked to see the beloved metal/nu-metal band back on stages around the country. Back in the early ’00s, their albums reached into the Top 20 thanks to some cunning pop-sensibilities and excellent song writing.

So while tonight’s crowd might be there in part due to a strong sense of nostalgia, it’s not all down to their back catalogue. The set list is peppered with new tracks that are every bit as catchy and crushing as the old stuff – perhaps even more so, given their use of 8-string guitars for an even more guttural approach.

While guitarist and brainchild DW Norton might be the only mainstay in the band from its heyday, the current line up proves full of energy and presence – particularly singer Ezekiel Ox (Mammal) who spends most of the set out in the middle of the crowd.

We’re assured that this won’t be the last Heistfest and with a line up of bands like this, we can’t wait for the next tone.

Finally, Alaska’s 36 Crazyfists launch onto the darkened stage. Calling the Cambridge main room half full would be optimistic, but those present are all enthusiastic to see the veteran four-piece in action – at times a little moshing can be seen splitting the crowd into two halves.

Around since 1994, the band’s catalogue has been consistently strong and drummer Kyle Baltus (a member since 2012) absolutely pounds the skins tonight, providing the perfect basis for some tight, intense performances. They may have been the most mainstream-sounding of the line up tonight, but there are enough punishingly heavy moments to make everyone happy.

Singer Brock Lindow must have cooked himself tonight, wearing a Parka for at least the first half of the 13-song set. His voice sounded great in the more sung parts, but proved a little raspy in the heavier sections. Guitarist Steve Holt really shined there, providing a mean roar when required.

This reviewer thinks the Cambridge has some responsibility for this gig’s small audience. With a University-oriented weekly show called ‘Sunday School’ happening from around 8pm, the venue clearly wants to have its cake and eat it too. Only problem is that they haven’t done enough to inform everyone else.

The fact that their own website listed ‘Doors at 8pm’ until mere hours before the event had to impact attendance and the bands are the ones that suffered. Otherwise it was a great show full of strong performances and you should definitely pencil in the next Heistfest for 2020.

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Phil Anselmo & The Illegals @ Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle - March 31, 2019

It’s not every Sunday that you get to experience some of the crustiest, filthiest metal the scene has to offer while the sun is still shining (festivals being the exception). But here we are on a perfect Autumnal day, walking into the iconic Cambridge Hotel in Newcastle before 5pm to witness just that.

Sadly missing out on openers Potion, we’re glad that we’re there early enough to see Palm from Osaka, Japan rage the stage with its own unique blend of down-tuned riffage. The Cambo is about half full at this stage, but razor-throated singer Toshi bounces around the stage in full flight with a blood curdling scream that get the punters riled up. More than once there’s a circle pit collecting bodies in the middle of the room. By the end of the set, the band’s dreadlocked Aussie bassist is pulling a shoey from a random punter’s jogger.
Melbourne’s King Parrot is up next with an extensive set of its uniquely Aussie, filthy, rockin’ metal. The band’s energetic live show lives up to the hype generated by existing fans and Phil Anselmo himself, who has previous done a lot to champion the band on the world stage. Looking gloriously bogan as each member barges their way around the stage, humour is a major component of their image, but there’s nothing funny about the songs – which are brutal, crusty and have the rapidly-filling room hanging on to every riff. It’s easily the heaviest use of a Gibson ES-355 this reviewer has ever seen.

After a decent wait (even though it is still only 7pm!), The Illegals take to the stage amid a cacophony of distortion and pummelling drums. Former Pantera and Down (and many more besides) front man Phil Anselmo clenches his fists and plays a little air guitar side stage in the darkness – psyching himself up before launching into a blistering set that is split between 50-percent new material and 50-percent Pantera classics.

Perhaps the first thing you notice is that Anselmo still has an imposing presence on stage. The second thing is that he still boasts one of the best screams/growls in metal some 30 years after hitting the world stage on Cowboys From Hell (there weren’t any songs in the set list that let us gauge the health of his singing voice).

The Illegals are super tight, in a wonderfully ragged way and the mix is thick and full, which makes the aural onslaught of the blast beats and breakdowns particularly satisfying. While all the chosen tracks in the first half of the set get plenty of attention from the crowd (who clearly are also almost universally familiar with them), it’s no surprise that the Pantera tracks in the second half send everyone in the room into a state of apoplexy.

Mouth for War, Becoming, I’m Broken, Hellbound (with a medley of Domination and Hollow riffs), Walk and A New Level pretty much flatten the building and sound even more intense tuned down a couple of steps from the original recordings. At times the crowd threatens to drown out Phil’s barks and screams as everyone sings along to the classic lyrics that for many, influenced their adolescence.

During I’m Broken, Phil brings Toshi from Palm and Youngy from King Parrot on stage to help with the words. It’s not the last time the small Cambridge stage plays host to more musos. At the end of the set, the band invites all the other bands up on stage for a ‘jam’ to celebrate the end of the tour for Potion and Palm (a result of additional dates being added to the end of the tour with Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane being sold out).

It’s a barnstorming set and a brilliant afternoon of metal that leaves the room spent – even though it is still only 8.30pm!

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Live Review: Parkway Drive + Killswitch Engage @ NEX Newcastle - October 27, 2018

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First a word of advice: It can really pay to check the opening times for a gig on more than one website! Thanks to an erroneous door time listing on one ticket website, this humbled reviewer ended up missing the brutal Thy Art is Murder.

Thankfully I didn’t miss the mighty Killswitch Engage, who tonight were playing the role of main support. For some, that might seem like an odd place for a renowned international act. However, when you look out across the sold out room at NEX in Newcastle (the old Worker’s Club), it seems like a pretty shrewd move and one that will no doubt win the Massachusetts band plenty of new fans off the back of a typically super strong performance.

Formed in 1999, the band are veterans of the metalcore scene they helped create and it isn’t until you watch their full set that you remember just how many big songs they’ve had. Singer Jesse Leach is a better live singer today than he was in the band’s early days and handles the material of former singer Howard Jones with ease – which is no mean feat.

The entire group bounce around the large NEX stage with the hunger of a band still in their twenties and their tight set and road-worn professionalism will see them return Stateside with some extra record sales and downloads, for sure.

After a short break, Parkway Drive makes one hell of an entrance thanks to six concussion bombs and all the smoke machine action you would ask for. It’s just a taste of what’s to come for the capacity crowd here tonight, with the band bringing over $5000 worth of pyro, according to the pyrotechnician that ushered us off to stage left before those aforementioned explosions took place.

Indeed, Parkway could never be accused of not putting on one hell of a show. I’m pretty sure all the stage hire places in town would have been drained of their lighting rigs by looking at the stage setup here tonight. Thankfully, the musicianship lived up to the theatrics.

While I admit that I’m not the biggest fan of the band, I still found the whole experience too far removed from how I remember them when I last reviewed a Parkway gig in 2010. It felt like a different band to me. Despite Winston’s filthy screaming, newer material is more accessible (not a bad thing on its own), the band were all clad politely in matching black and it all seemed a little staid.

Now, I understand that a band needs to grow and evolve. These dudes aren’t the kids that took Australian (and indeed international) stages by storm over a decade ago. But that sense of danger and aggression wasn’t there. It sure as hell was in the crowd. In fact, the performance came to an abrupt halt after the fourth song in their set (‘Vice’) when an audience member was injured to the point of being stretchered out of the venue by paramedics.

After a 20 minute breather, the band launched into ‘Dedicated’ and the crowd went suitably apeshit. Realistically, if there are any grumblings in the Parkway fanbase over the group becoming the Aussie equivalent of Bring Me the Horizon or the ‘Nickelback of Deathcore’, you wouldn’t know it here tonight. It’s admittedly a tight performance, but one that felt a lot more one dimensional, with the exception of Winston himself, who clearly gave the show every ounce of strength he had.

Accuse me of resisting progress, call me stuck in the mud. I don’t mind. I just like my metal a little more dangerous. 10 points for being, by far, the biggest metal act in Australia right now, though. There isn’t another band on this continent hauling such a large production around – and you have to respect that!

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