Review by Gary Spiller for MPM
Just the merest of drop kicks from the hallowed turf of the Millennium Stadium, heading in the direction of Cardiff Castle, is the historic Womanby Street.
Nestling on its western side is the iconic Fuel Club; a small-sized venue with a larger than life attitude. It’s garnered, deservedly, over the years a status as a passage of rites for rock musicians from not just the city and region but from across the UK and further afoot.
This evening’s lineup is a perfect example of this with an international touring outfit supported, most ably, by two rapidly rising Welsh acts. It’s a Thursday evening but the club is packed to the rafters; sold out a good while ago. Clearly the punters are in no mood to wait 24 hours to bring in the weekend!
This is the penultimate gig of a whistle-stop six-date UK tour for headliners Norwegian stoner-punks Bokassa who have been most ably supported, throughout, by the high-octane incendiary Merthyr metallers Florence Black. The hard punching trio ending 2021 on a high by hitting the upper echelons of the UK Rock Album charts with their first long-player ‘Weight Of The World’. Opening up this date are Florence Black’s fellow Welsh rockers Haxan; themselves making a fair bit of a buzz following a series of well-received dates to celebrate, belatedly, the release of their debut album ‘White Noise’.
With both opening bands having recently sold out the highly-lauded Patriot, recently refurbished and expanded, up the valleys in nearby Crumlin there’s a tangible air of expectation in the gathered masses.
By the time Haxan, clad head to toe in regulation black, take to the cramped stage there isn’t much breathing space left in the venue. What spare space there is onstage is taken up by a considerable sized set-list (A3 I believe!) which raises a few wry smiles down the front.
With no time for messing the power-trio are straight into action with vocalist / guitarist Sam Bolderson roaring the first lines of ‘Killing Time’ before encouraging “Make some noise for me!” as her band-mates Harriet Wadeson (bass) and Jess Hartley (drums) launch headlong into the energetic set-opener. As the crowd loudly shows their appreciation Sam, broadly smiling, notes “Get you lot getting fucked up on a Thursday night!”.
‘Gravedigger’ with its infectious chorus is powered through before rolling right into riff-tastic single ‘Nine Lives’. Sam is effervescent and happily observes “It’s nice to see some Haxan tshirts” before hitting ‘Black Sheep’ featuring Harriet’s rumbling bass reinforced by Jess’ powerful beats layered with Sam’s snarling riffs. A brief foray away from ‘White Noise’ brings ‘Bring The Thunder’ to the party much to the delight of the crowd.
It’s hot and sweaty; hands clap and fists punch the air as the feisty trio do indeed bring the thunder as they raise hell! The all too short 30 minutes set is brought to close in fine style with the most seasonal ‘Skeletons’; a rip-snorting full on fire-breathing dragon of a rocker that provides a bone-crunching finale.
Next on Florence Black require no introduction whatsoever; Fuel is by now bulging at the seams as anticipation of the local lads done bloody well taking to the stage builds palpably. Several high-profile festival appearances including an absolute stonker at this summer’s Steelhouse, which featured a guest appearance from Bullet For My Valentine’s Padge for a barnstorming ‘Breadfan’, have seen FB rapidly ascending. Having the likes of well-respected individuals such as Padge and Skindred’s Benji Webbe in their corner of the ring has certainly added weight to their credibility. However, that being said, there’s an inner strength possessed that is strong enough by itself to catapult this Merthyr Tydfil triumvirate skywards.
A low rumbling roar and boom! “How we doing Cardiff?” enquires vocalist / guitarist Tristan Thomas before his hauntingly raw, rasping vocals herald ‘Inside Out’. Heads nod furiously to the piledriving rhythms laid down by ever-steady bassist Jordan ‘Foz’ Evans and hard-hitting percussive demon Perry ‘Perk’ Davies whilst Tristan’s fiery fretwork is proudly ‘pyromaniacal’.
Drenched in sweat – such is the colossal effort already expended – Tristan looks out into the dark of the venue and asks “Are you ready motherfuckers?!!?” as FB launch into the frenetic ‘The Deep End’. Heads band and hair flies, with the floor bouncing in time to this utter metalliferous monster. ‘Ghost’ is aired, with a ferocity normally reserved for the hammer of the gods, in a mass of blurred thrashing with biting riffs and clawing beats aplenty.
The mood is calmed somewhat by the utterly devine tones of the Planet Rock favoured anthem ‘Sun and Moon’. The gathered assembly sings every word from the off with the trio clearly feeding off the energy. Every single precise note is ravenously devoured as FB effortlessly engage the darker power with precision whilst seamlessly switching back to the lighter shades.
Tristan responds “So ya wanna hear ‘Zulu’ do you?” as Fuel cries out for the opening song of ‘Weight Of The World’. Delivered with the overriding power of a runaway freight train the roof is in danger of collapse as the request is heeded with aplomb.
The riotously raucous set is brought to a close with a pair of EP tracks in the form of the deeply brooding ‘Smoke’ and the moshingly good wrecking ball ‘Breadfan’. The Black Cat has entered the city and triumphed.
Taking to the Fuel stage to the instrumental strains of ‘Freelude’ – the opening minute or so of latest album ‘Molotov Rocktail’ – it’s has thinned out a little in the audience. Having two well supported local acts opening up is a daunting challenge but it appears in the opening chords of ‘Last Night (Was A Real Massacre)’ that Norwegian self-proclaimed ‘Kings of Stoner-punk’ Bokassa are more than equal to the challenge ahead. Guitarist Jørn Kaarstad snappily barks out the song whilst unleashing wave after wave of pummelling riffs that go over the edge in to battle alongside crushing rhythms from bassist Bård Linga and drummer Olav Dowkes. The latter claiming later on in the set to be ‘half-Welsh’!
Hailing from Trondheim the trio dip into their back-catalogue unleashing the thrash punk devil that is ‘Mouthbreakers Inc’ from 2019s ‘Crimson Rider’. Effusive frontman Jørn hands over to sticksman Olav for a bit of between song banter and he extols the virtues of Cardiff at length. Like Jørn it’s quite apparent he enjoys a natter and some banter; they clearly take their trade seriously but don’t take themselves too seriously at the same time. Let’s face it we’re watching a band who have supported Metallica with Lars Ulrich declaring Bokassa as “His favourite new band” and describing them as “Insanely fucking cool”.
In fact with ‘Burn It All (P.T.S.D.E.a.D) having more than an undercurrent of Metallica within it’s hard to disagree with Lar’s assessment. ‘Low (and Behold)’ is an absolute beast whilst ‘Charmed & Extremely Treacherous’ sees the hooves of the demonic herd pounding in destructive time. Jørn and Bård feed off the dynamic kineticism of the crowd translating this into a barrage of meaty riffs.
It’s a one way ticket to Destination Annilhilation with the carnivorously tasty doom stoner ‘Here Goes Nothing’ before Bokassa showcase ‘Molotov Rocktail’ with a quartet of tracks off their new long-player. Commencing with ‘Godless’ with Jørn’s rasping vocals declaring “I won’t shed a single tear”. Bludgeoning banger ‘Hereticules follows on with a heavyweight chorus that burrows into the inner soul with consummate ease before rolling into the album title track ‘Molotov Rocktail’, Is that a hint of cowbell underpinning the catchy chorus?
The eclectic between song chatter continues with Jørn exchanging views upon various tv gameshows! The rapidly paced punk-infused ‘So Long, Idiots!’ intro’d with a stampeding bass line from Bård gets the crowd bouncing along. A rolling drum heralds ‘Genocidal Tendencies’ as Bokassa pogo headlong into the latter part of their set. A slower groove underlies dirty, rough riffs that build up to a thunderous ending that is raptorously met.
2015 single ‘No Control’ thrashes about with a machine gun etiquette eliciting a loud Welsh cheer which brings a broad smile to drummer Olav’s face. Jørn playfully declares that he hasn’t seen him this happy since “They announced the double big mac!”.
There’s hardcore appreciation for grooving punker ‘Careless (In The Age of Altruism)’ as a mosh pit sparks into life. The high energy punking ‘Walker Texas Danger’ takes matters up a few notches further.
Tongue in cheek Jørn ‘explains’ to the faithful that a trio of songs will end the main set before they return for an encore.
Two songs from ‘Crimson Riders’ in the shape of ‘Vultures’ and ‘Captain Cold One’ sandwich ‘Immortal Space Pirate (The Stoner Anthem) off ‘Divide & Conquer’ with a heavied up sprinkling of ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ slipped in for good measure.
Bokassa’s sense of humour shines through as they exit to loud cheers and Elton John’s ‘I’m Still Standing’ as an outro track. As promised they do return and wrap up the set with moshtastic punk-thrasher the wondrously entitled ‘Five Finger Fuckhead’.
A befitting end to a barnstorming set. In standard Bokassa fashion there’s one final surprise as they outro for one last time to Toby Keith’s country anthem ‘I Love This Bar’. Most apt really as we do love this bar and for all it stands for. In a world of faceless pubs and clubs be a Fuel Club.
Photography by Kelly Spiller for MPM