Review by Gary spiller for MPM
There’s devilment afoot here in Bridgwater this evening; impish figures catch the corner of one’s eye as they dart about the double pitched pantile roof, dashing out of sight behind the red-bricked stacks when heads are turned. Their claws sparking, scratching as they scurry about.
Unanticipatedly a heavy, dank fog swirls about the town; it’s no longer a pleasant, sunny evening. A cinrereal eeriness creeps around, slithering into darkened doorways and now-sinister alleyways. A chill wind sweeps up the Parrett; the gas lamps alongside the quays that line either side of the river sinuously flicker casting yellow pools of light that struggle to penetrate the gathering gloom.
Through the murk comes the sound of hooves at a pace; the coachman working his equine charges hard. Passengers in the post chaise are unseen; heavy velvet drapes cloak its windows. The coachman’s otherworldly eyes glow crimson; bony-white hands gripping tightly his flickering coachwhip. Drawing up out-front of a hostelry, situated at the crossing of Eastover and the Bristol Road, a door opens; muffled footsteps can be heard but no figures are seen. Tonight we shall embrace the darkened shades of midnight.
A bright, searing light though there’s no following explosion; the summery evening regains control of the conscious mind. The gothic underworld dissipates in an instant. All around continues oblivious; this has been a distinctly personal occurrence. Amongst the chimney stacks, that break the angled lines of the roof three storeys up, there’s a brief flicker of movement. A thin, wry cackle carries on the sultry air; a broth of deviltry is brewing.
Thor, in a mythological crossover, glances over at Zeus; both shake their heads. Neither can take the acclaim for the gathering storm. It’s sweeping up from the South-West and looks set to produce a very heavy and equally precise deluge of sound and light upon a corner of Bridgwater. The meteorologists, in this corner of Somerset, have given up and scuttled out of town in search of something a lot more reassuring. Towards the epicentre so the hordes head.
This evening’s delectations certainly can be described as an eclectic mixture; in fact this can be applied to each band individually too. Plymouth-based stoner / groove metal outfit Six Sins Til Sunday – a late replacement in the support slot – set about tearing ‘The Alleyway’ in ferocious style.
Their cards are laid out on the table afront them with ‘Bring Out Your Dead’ giving off the wonderful aroma of a swaggering groove with ultra-gravelly harmonies wrapped about a fusion nucleus of pounding head-pounding beats. This is the heavy metal equivalent of a full-bodied wine; think of a completely grooved up and notched up Clutch and boom! Out front – and it really is out front! – Chris Newman’s raw, intense vocals possess power and subtlety that mirror the steamhammer energy of his band-mates that encapsulate the tasty six-string melodies that are laid down in ‘Masks’. These guys mean business; this is Anthrax dialled up to eleven.
Newman stalks the crowd and is comfortable in taking music to the audience who lap up his approach; Slayer meets Clutch in the thunderous pounding and heavy as thallium harmonies of ‘Road To Redemption’. A subjugating solo arises from the fretboard as the Flying V is coerced to within an inch of its life; Zeus nods to Thor, the power is strong.
There’s some friendly banter between Six Sins and Pip (Salem’s drummer) before the Devonian quintet roll into ‘Blind Faith’; a new track with crushing riffs. It’s coarse and powerful but heads in a melodic hook for good measure. ‘Life On A Cross’ is introduced, playfully, by Newman as “A love song”.
It garners a great response with fists pumping towards the low ceiling of ‘The Alleyway’; it’s early Metallica undertones lapped up and the gentler mid-song interlude taking us into the heart of the Six Sins cathedral. Newman headbangs amongst the crowd; tonight they have many new friends. “Get your middle fingers in the air” he commands “You know the words!” as Six Sins stampede into ‘Allegory Of The Cave’.
There’s opportunities aplenty to raise the central digit! The truly infectious plague-ridden hook of ‘Six Feet Down South’ takes down walls; it’s one hell of a thundering-groove that is emanating from the very pit of a darkened soul. Six Sins have gone down a storm; it’s hard to believe it’s some 20 months that they last played live – conincidentally at this very venue. A marker has been set.
To the ethereal, haunting strains of a classical intro the various segments that comprise South Of Salem take to the stage. Enigmatic skinsman Pip, having patiently waited to be joined by his cohorts, lets fly with a resounding roll from his kit. The atmosphere is building as the Bournemouth five piece soar into ‘Let Us Prey’; the very sirens call from their rocks in vain, this is a stronger power here.
The Coven is happy; the matter of vocalist Joey’s mic failing is overcome in an instant as he ‘swipes’ Fish’s and the errant piece of kit is taken away for emergency surgery. This is fast, furious, sleazy riffing and in an instant it’s clearly evident as to why there’s such a buzz around this Dorset outfit. This is the misfit offspring of Metallica and Motley Crue that was raised by Alice Cooper; a darkened soul from the mid 80s with a 21st century horror twist. “No one is getting out alive” that’s for sure.
Right into ‘The Hate In Me’ with its sashaying groove and snappy lyrics. Toxic six-string ‘twins’ Fish and Kodi handsomely entangle their crunching licks around the pulsating rhythmic nucleus of Salem that is lain down by tubthumper Pip and the shadowy figure of bassist Dee. This is hell on ten legs; a powerful core with infectious, hooky choruses. Everything that bad-boy rock n’ roll should be. It’s a simple formula that has been applied in various guises across the years. All that changes is the manner it’s delivered in and just two songs in there’s no doubt that South Of Salem are hellbent on doing things their way; a clear identity is evident.
Joey dedicates ‘Another Nail In My Coffin’ to Martin, “We’ve waited a long time for this” he exclaims before looking in mock disgust at Pip for missing the count-in. Joey jests “All you have to do is count to four!” but all is swiftly ‘forgiven’ as the oh-so heavy, industrial barbs set about snaring their prey.
The turbo-charged, nitrous-fuelled V12 dragster storms down the highway into the night; there’s nothing on the blacktop that’s going to catch this beast. Wailing guitars send the denizens of the pits of hell crashing into the courtyard outside; a dash of punky Rocket From The Crypt is thrown into the seething maelstrom of their mellifluous musical cauldron.
A proud, preponderate sense of identity reverberates herein; influences are proudly worn but given a new sense of purpose and direction as the ladle lifts the heady broth from the broiling concoction. A pounding Sunset Strip hook and beat accompany a sing-a-long chorus within the sincere and heartfelt ‘Made To Be Mine’.
Somehow, other than a couple of videos, I’ve quite deliberately ‘avoided’ hearing South Of Salem’s debut headline-grabbing ‘The Sinner Takes It All’ for this very moment. Wanting to see if the positivity and hype surrounding these five humble gents is a justifiable and tangible matter. After just four songs – each one an anthem – it’s a drawn conclusion that this is the very case.
Joey strikes the head of the nail firmly by emoting “It’s great to hear you all sing our words back to us”. It’s a mighty rare thing to discover yourself singing along to songs you don’t know; the infection runs deep and is reminiscent of the first time of seeing Those Damn Crows live. Different styles of course, but the same end result.
The rapid-fire crazy punky hellhound that is ‘No Plague Like Home’ bears witness to Salem offering yet more gloriously darkened riffs and beats from their wondrous alloy. There’s a jet-black heart beating within discharging waves of sinstral kinetic energy. At the very epicentre Joey strides to stage-front to take a closer look at The Coven. Introducing ‘Worldwide Homicide’ he observes that “This is a bit of a rarity”. It’s the bonus track on the vinyl version of the album and the assembled throng are delighted that it’s given a good airing tonight. There’s a touch of Judas Priest underlying matters as the Sex Pistols are given a LA makeover!
Salem’s gentle, sensitive side is exposed once more as the haunting ‘Demons Are Forever’ explores mental health issues within its powerful, resonant lyrics. A large percentage of the crowd sing with Joey – this is a connection of purity, every last word. A short but exquisite guitar solo follows a military-style snare drum beat ; there’s echoes of Metallica’s ‘Until It Sleeps’ around.
Before launching into ‘Dead Hearts Don’t Break’ an energetic punter lets his enthusiasm get the better of him as he mischievously heckles “Play something we know”. Joey, sensing a change of mood within the crowd, swiftly defuses the situation and things are re-railed with the minimum of fuss. A galloping cadence with driving licks that beautifully counter there’s a gothic ambiance.
Joey is an engaging frontman who possesses a sharp mind; spotting his playful ‘nemesis’ in the crowd he offers his hand to him. The punter steps forward and Joey puts an arm around him and states “This one’s for you, think you’ll know it!”. Jumping off the stage together, as one, the band tear into an edgy version of Velvet Revolver’s ‘Slither’ full of sulphurous, hellish attitude.
Sleazy rocker ‘Pretty Little Nightmare’ – dedicated to Ali and Claire – permits a chance to gather a breath. It’s Cult-like intro is honed into a psyched up ballad of illicit love featuring a scorching solo from Kodi’s Les Paul.
‘Severely Yours’, a headbanger of a rough, caustic riffing your, possesses a bad-boy demeanor that saunters demonically. Outside the darkness deepens further; the devil’s servants are afoot. The Wisht Hounds – having descended from their moorland lair, kennelled high amongst the granitic peaks – are howling as they stalk the deserted streets. They ride with The Huntsman who seeks to satiate his bloodlust. Hooves spark on the cobbles as claws scratch on the glass panes; the hounds hosting the souls of the hunted.
The Salem, unfazed, ratchet up to the max with the triumphant anthem ‘Cold Day In Hell’; its predatory depths hitting hard as Joey sings “I know you love me baby, you just don’t know it yet”. This is energy from on high; the demolition contract is complete after 60 minutes of enthralling anthems.
In short Salem have delivered 12 complete anthems with their own individual character tonight. This would be a fine achievement for a group with say five albums under their belt. However, there is nothing left in the tank for Salem; they’ve literally played the entirety of their debut album plus the vinyl’s bonus track and a solitary cover. Outside the coachman awaits atop the carriage; somewhere down by the river comes the howling of the hellhounds; devilment abounds.
Photography by Kelly Spiller for MPM