Memoriam – The Asylum, Birmingham
As the year winds to a close, it was fitting that my 40th gig (including three festivals so many more bands seen) in 2016 was an absolute monster. Travelling with Matt and our death metal loving buddy Lee to Birmingham on a dour Sunday in December isn’t most people’s idea of fun but we really love the live music buzz.
I’d never been to the Asylum before. It’s a decent venue, despite a shocking lack of appreciation for the real ale. With a 600-person capacity, it gives the Midlands a decent sized venue for bands slightly left off field and who pull the 400+ crowd. Mind you they’ve had a range of bigger names too, with Exodus and Trivium unsurprisingly selling the place out in recent times.
Opening the evening were local outfit Absolution (6), back in the metal fold following their return in 2012. Some of our older readers may remember them skirting around the edge of the early 1990s death metal scene. The band stated that they played old school death metal. Well, they certainly played death metal, with vocalist Neil Hadden, a veteran from the beginning of the band grunting with gruesome delivery. The band’s apparent curiosity with serial killers manifested in many of the songs, such as Shallow Grave. They were aggressive, brutal and unfortunately repetitive.
A Celtic Frost cover was a brave choice in the middle of their set and it just about edged over the line. I was struck by how amazing Frost had been, delivering such complex sounds as a three piece; the five members of Absolution just didn’t get close. However, credit where credit is due; the band obtained a reasonable reaction from the crowd although inter-song change overs were sloppy and there appeared limited cohesion at times.
On a bill of death metal a doom soaked band didn’t seem the obvious choice. However, this was a night for Birmingham bands and Kroh (7) are another local outfit. A 40-minute set flew by, the combination of their Sabbath/Portishead/My Dying Bride induced misery and dirty riffs met with wide approval. All eyes were focused on the elfin Olivia Sobieszek whose powerful vocals and enthusiastic response to any applause was warming. Flanked by the duel guitar fuzz of Paul Kenney and Paul Hampton and supported by the energetic drumming of Rychard Slanton and the crushing bass lines of Dewan Donovan, Sobieszek did a great job, commanding her space centre stage. The band played a selection of tracks from their vinyl only release Altars and were rewarded with a warm round of applause at the end of their set.
There was only one band that the assembled 350 or so punters had travelled to see and that was Memoriam (9). For the uninitiated, the band are fronted by legendary Bolt Thrower vocalist Karl Willetts, who spent much of the evening wandering around mixing with the crowd. Absolutely no ego with this man. Alongside Willetts Benediction/Sacrilege bassist Frank Healy, Benediction guitar ace Scott Fairfax and former Bolt Thrower drummer Andy Whale. Although the band originally formed to deliver cover versions the creative juices have been flowing nicely with The Hellfire Demos whetting the appetite for 2017’s full release.
With The World At War theme blasting out the band launched into Memoriam, a crunching battering which left those in the audience who may have been dozing with a rude awakening. Willetts amazingly deathly growl is just immense, his timing superb. Grinning like a Cheshire cat as he spotted friends and family in the crowd, this event was part Christmas party part jam room. It was also pretty fantastic and when the band slipped in their version of Captive (Sacrilege) as well as the pounding of Spearhead from Bolt Thrower’s The IVth Crusade there was much banging of the head. Alongside these classics, the new stuff from the band sounded fucking mean, with the merciless assault of Resistance, the grinding battery of Drone Strike and the majesty of War Rages On impressing.
Willetts is the complete frontman, giving a shout out to the Cardiff lads who had made the trip along with those battle-hardened Germans who made the trip from their home country. As the band slipped into Inside The Wire from Bolt Thrower’s Honour, Valour, Pride it was with some warmth that I reflected on the reward for our efforts getting to Birmingham. This was an evening to savour. Brutally brilliant.