Well, this is definitely an interesting way for me to start at The Moshville Times. Covering a competition that I’m no stranger to, having entered into it over two separate years in BloodThread (the second time getting through and playing Bloodstock Open Air). But also reviewing the event as a judge!
So this was a new, unusual and rather excellent way of doing things this year. The organisers, Servants of Loki, “toured” the different heats around the north of England at Carlisle, Whitehaven, Kendal and this being the last night, Dumfries in the south of Scotland. The big advantage in doing it this way seems to be bigger crowds each night as there are fewer rounds for fans to try and get to in their own area.
So, after getting in a bit early to discuss a couple of things with Steven from Servants of Loki, I made claim to a big comfortable looking sofa with a great view across the stage – none of your standing around juggling drinks (of the non-alcoholic type unfortunately), phone, pens and notepad for me…
First to hit the stage are the Dumfries-based Turbyne and considering it’s not long after 8pm, you can tell they’ve got a big following here as The Venue is already very busy. With no messing around, they launch straight into their first track and if you’re unfamiliar with them, what you immediately notice is the unusual line-up with them having only one guitarist, but two singers and a keyboard player filling out the sound.
Special mention has to be given here to just how good the sound quality is – everything is really loud but somehow manages to be clear and still have subtlety where required. The four song set here is undeniably fairly progressive and you can hear elements of Dream Theater coming through (especially the mix of guitar and keyboard), however the dual vocals help take them further in different directions; both heavier and more melodic with some unexpected and excellent vocal harmonies.
Debuting a brand new song as their penultimate track, which the crowd seemed to love, they played a faultless set and you can tell just how hard they work at this, showing levels of musicianship and tightness that many far bigger (and signed) bands would be jealous of.
Next up are the Scottish Tantrum. Before a single note is played, the colour co-ordination of their all-white instruments stands out, even the drummer’s snare! This is obviously a band with a distinct direction and unified focus on what they want to be. They open up their set and I’m reminded of early Iron Maiden almost right away, which is no bad thing, but with more of a rock n’ roll slant.
They power through their set with no messing about and are an entertaining watch and listen. With many good elements from the whole NWOBHM sound and a couple of welcome changes of pace at key points in their songs to keep you on your toes, this is a band with a lot of stage presence, energy and a clear love of what they’re doing.
A short while later, after the stage is cleared and the third act of the night, Lancashire-based Callus, are waiting to start on stage, I’m greeted with what has to be one of the oddest starts to a band playing I’ve seen: the bassist gets out an incense burner and lights a couple of sticks!?
Now, at this point, contrary to the band logo sported by the guitarist/singer and the overall look of the band and their instruments, I’m now expecting some sort of chilled out, meditative, alternative and possibly psychedelic rock sound… So, they begin their first song and I couldn’t have been more wrong – a doomy, sludgy opening riff brings a smile to my face and a short while later it changes to a fast thrashy section and this contrast contained in a single song sets the tone for their whole set.
Some great riffs and a tight and punchy rhythm section get a lot of the crowd on their feet and we see a bit of pit action that’s rare in Dumfries for a non-local band. These young lads have a genuine sound of their own and I’m keen to hear how their first full length album is going to sound later this year when it’s released.
For reasons unknown to me Aspire aren’t playing tonight, so instead we have N3rv filling their slot. Over (especially?) from Poland, they get started with an intro track and then plough into their first song which is an unashamedly modern take on the nu-metal sound. There’s a lot to watch on stage as the bassist, who is both extremely energetic and a bit of a giant, is also sporting a clown face mask and playing a normal sized, but tiny looking (in his hands) bass with multi-coloured strings and lights at either end. Meanwhile the singer is covering the whole stage and we again see the crowd make their way to the front with pits erupting for just about every song that follows.
Everyone on stage is quite clearly having a blast and they play an extremely tight set that goes down very well in Dumfries. With plenty of ability and range on the vocals and a band that knows they shouldn’t over-complicate things, this is music designed squarely at getting people on their feet and having a mosh/dance (delete as appropriate to you).
Once they have finished, people flock back to the bar again and from the snippets of conversation I could hear in the crowd, this was a definite success of a night that genuinely had something for everyone.
I make my way to the green room to count the crowd votes and discuss the bands in the case of a draw for first or second place. When we’re counting the votes out, Steven bursts out laughing and shows me that one of the votes for N3rv included a girl’s name and phone number! There’s a little bit of sadness for me at this point because I realise that two of the bands, who all played fantastic sets, have to be let down and find out they’re not going through. When the reality is that every band on the night played strong enough sets to get them in to the semi-finals.
First to get through are Turbyne and the cheer that goes up from the crowd is almost as loud as the bands were. There’s a lot of well-earned love for this band in Dumfries and it’s fully deserved. The second band going through are N3rv and the boys in the band looked genuinely shocked and delighted. I’ll be very surprised if both of these bands don’t make it through to the finals and/or further, as I’ve rarely seen two bands as tight and commanding on stage as either of them. Bring on the semi-finals!