29 min read

Review & Photography by Manny Manson for MPM

And so, another journey begins, and once again my trusty buddy, Waldorf is sadly missing. He’s off to Download 2022 so I guess he is forgiven this time around.

For me, I point the trusty wheels north west and up the A50, M6, M62 to that music Mecca that is home to the Diddy Men, Cilla and the notorious Cavern Club, the stomping ground of many a big act.

Fighting my way through endless traffic jams, one caused by a UPS vehicle on fire, and over 4 1/2hrs on the road, I finally manage to park up and get my place at the box office, this and the doors don’t open for another 40 minutes. Bugger and there’s me with a bladder the size of a pea too!

All sorted and we are in with no problems, no guessing the first visit!

Making my way towards the pit, I scope out this new venue to me. Back half has a low ceiling due to a ‘priority’ balcony which seems open to the full house. The stage is quite small with adequate lighting, I notice that there is a lack of front light so this should be a fun one.

First up tonight we have a two-piece from Milton Keynes, going by the name of ‘TUSKAR’. I’ve heard good things about this band so I’m keen to see what they can smash me in the face with. As they come on, they get a great response from the gathered crowd, the place is ¾ full which is great for the opening turn.

Hitting the stage with a full-on wall of sound that proceeds to blow the bloody doors off, its easy to see why they are collecting a solid fan base. Their take on the Stoner, Doom sound, a genre I’m not familiar with but one I’m growing to appreciate, has the band straight into ‘To the Sky’ from the 2022 album, ‘Matriarch’. With drop tunings and a viscerally obnoxious tone, the guitar of Tom Dimmock cuts you in two like a sonic scythe. The drums from Tyler Hodges are hard and heavy, full of cymbal and blast beats. The pounding his kit takes is a credit to TAMA although I’m not sure what heads he’s using.

The onslaught continues into the Doom ridden ‘Toe Grinder’ from the 2017, 5 track release ‘Arianrhod’. The thunderous intro to this tune see’s Hodges working for his money, the dirty guitar scavenges around before we get the staccato screams from Hodges which make the hairs on your neck stand up, the song knocks it up a gear, before finishing with Hodges on his feet screaming out, the blood vessels all but popping in his neck and forehead.

After a minute or so of Hodges locked in a full-on scream, Dimmock is serving up a plate of nasty distorted riffs, his Telecaster guitar is detuned to hell, and the big man, below, is swinging on the strings hard! ‘The Tide is next from the 2018 3 track EP. This 7minute track builds, full of Doom and anxiety. With a bellowed lyric it immediately reminds me of Conan. Yes! this pairing is that good. The textures they are weaving in the Sludge filled mire of Stoner sounds is remarkable. The time signature changes give each song a great dynamic. Just as you settle in, they’re off and running somewhere else. The thunderous sound has the walls flexing and your eyes watering.

The final track ‘Grave’ is from the 2022 album Matriarch again. Bookending the set with the new stuff. This is full face melting stuff. Hodges voice is at you again. The guitar is dirty and rhythmical as the drums sound like a thousand Viking warriors on the attack, smashing everything in their way. A lazy guitar, sounding at odds to the previous onslaught, chimes out, it’s joined by the drums and immediately drops into a distorted cacophony of destruction and chaos. The drums crash around as you feel the song build into pure filth. The Shoegazer’s in the crowd are loving this one.

What a stunning opening set, full of menace and power chords. Bloody hell, I’m turning into a Doom Sludge Stoner, at my age too! Get and see them if that’s what rocks yah boat, hell even if it doesn’t go and support this great band, you’ll not be disappointed unless you’re into ABBA and Eurovision!

With a swift turnabout on a very small stage, A curtain is hauled in place, nice for those in front, we at the side can still see what’s occurring behind it so no worries. After what seems like an age, we get to 9pm BLS, listed start time, that passes swiftly and we’re still waiting. A gang has amassed to haul the curtain away when it drops so we could be good to go.

The crowd start singing to the Whole lotta Sabbath mash up being played, another sign that it’s about to kick off, sure enough Zakk is stood on his riser behind the curtain as with a huge flash of light and a bigger blast of sound, the curtain drops, the crowd go nuts and CO2 on either side of the stage go off, the crew pull the curtain out of the way before we get let into the pit! A great shot sadly missed.

We are up and away straight into 2002’s ‘Bleed for Me’. A great crowd pleaser and one that hits you in the chest like a freight train. The kick drum marks time as Wylde, is on it, a heavy riff pumping out as, one foot on the riser, he delivers the growling lyric from behind his chain, skulls and cross mic stand.

The machine gun guitar riff continues on into ‘Demise of Sanity’ again from 2002. Wyldes vocal is hard as the fists fly from the crowd. On the riser his hair is flying as he delivers a powerhouse of guitar shredding. His guitar nestled securely in the folds of his kilt, nothing on show here, move along.

‘Destroy and Conquer’ from Doom Inc.’ 2021’s release. With its early Sabbath feel, speeds along like the afore mentioned runaway express train. Jeff Fab on the drums is smiling away as he smashes out a thunderous beat. This track has a passing nod to the Doom genre before it goes into outer space with a spectacular solo, Wyldes guitar is explosive in its delivery. Larina is driving out some crushing riffs in support as they deliver a doom filled harmony that brings the song to a close amidst a flurry of pinched harmonics.

With their backs to the crowd the band start up into 2014’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ with its Jam style intro. Wylde mounts the riser, his arms are folded as his guitar feedbacks, he peruses the cheering crowd slowly. With Larina hammering on, Wylde points to all corners of the venue before Getting back on the vocals of this number from ‘Catacombs of the Black Vatican’.

Full of doom filled riffs it propels us along to 2018’s ‘A Love Unreal’ with its hard-hitting bassline slamming into the crowd, the dark riff bounces out as the three guitars sing the chorus before Wylde is back on the riser briefly, he’s certainly going to get his steps in tonight.

A visit back to 2021’s Doom Inc. for ‘You Made Me Want to Live’ starts with Wylde yet again on the riser as he delivers the songs opening licks, jumping down, he starts growling the lyric as the band kick in. The bass and kick drum are locked in tight as the lights change to the slaughtering beat. The solo is a joint affair between Wylde and Larina who is more than capable over on stage left, in fact when Wylde takes over you have to watch to see who is actually playing the lead. This is a great, slower tune that goes down well with the Fist pumping crowd, Wylde holds his guitar above his head as the last notes fade away.

A jump back in time to 2003 and ‘The Blessed Hell ride’ see the twin neck make an appearance. Again, Wylde is on the riser wielding this great lump of wood. Starting on the 12string he laments in only the way Zakk Wylde can as he has the guitar pointing skyward, he encourages the crowd to sing along, they don’t need no invite, they’re on it. Moving to the right of his tower of skulls he delivers a scorching solo before jumping back on the mic and finishing the song.

Wylde has now moved over to stage left and sat behind a flag covered Piano. “Can Can Can” – “You You You” – “Dig-It Dig-It Dig-It”, (a Warriors quote if I remember my film quotes) shouts Wylde, “in the name of Father JD, Father Jeff, Farther Dario and yours truly, the Doom Crew Inc.

It’s always great to see our beloved, allllllmighty, Liverpool, England, Black Label Society Family, god bless you guys cheers” continues Wylde. ‘Spoke in The Wheel’, The first Black Label Society song follows, this is from 1998’s Sonic Brew. It’s a slow narrative which has a slight nod towards the great Southern Rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd. With Wylde on the keys, the guitar work is left to Larina, who cracks out the solo perfectly, whilst stood in front of the piano. With a piano flurry to finish the crowd clap in appreciation to this great classic track.

A song know seen as ‘THE’ tribute to Dime Bag Darrel follows on, ‘In This River’ is from 2005’s Mafia. With Wylde on the keys, he sings this fitting tribute to his great friend who was sadly murdered while he performed on stage with his band, Pantera. A great loss to the rock music community. The crowd are a sea of phones as they record this great tune as big pictures of Dimebag look out at the crowd. “We love you Dime” shouts out Wylde as he wraps the song up.

What the hell do you follow that tribute with, as a digeridoo howl descends over the hall, DeServio is slamming out an imposing bass riff as Wylde gets himself ready on the riser once again. As the guitars fire up so do the CO2 canons as they immerse the stage in gigantic clouds ‘Trampled Down Below’ and its relentless bass crush your spine as it tries to rearrange your insides.

With the blue and white lights flashing around the stage and feedback galore we get another meteoric solo from the great man himself. Larina takes over the solo and climbs onto the riser as he does so, nice touch, as he jumps down and Wylde finishes the track off amidst flashing lights, screaming guitars and car police sirens he gives us a hair shaking flurry on the riser as, hammering-on’, he raises the guitar above his head to finish.

Acoustic guitar heralds the start of ‘Set You Free’, as the song builds, it carries on with the relentless, crushing wall of sound. Wylde has again changed guitar, this great song, another from 2021’s Doom Crew Inc. It teases everyone with its darker sound that screams out from the stage, the heads in the crowd are nodding along to the pounding beat. Larina and Wylde yet again solo in harmony, before Wylde cuts loose with a supersonic riff, his hair covering his face as it has done for most of the night. Another great swapping of solo’s follow as they both light up the room with a crunching solo as Wylde finishes the lyric and the song stops abruptly.

Kneeling before the drum kit with lights flashing red and white across the stage, a familiar sound strikes out, full of distortion it’s as if a voice box is being used, “Time to fire this fucker up” shouts Wylde, as they band drop into the heavy riff that is ‘Fire It Up’ another from 2005’s album Mafia.

Wylde copies the sound of the voice box as the drums crash around, DeServio has his foot on the ‘wedge’ as he delivers a rattling bassline, the kick drum of Fab is knocking the sense into the senseless as it impacts your chest, have they tweaked the levels on the desk? Or have my ears imploded!! Over the top of the hands I can see Wylde is up on the riser, trademark guitar nestled in his crotch as he delivers another scorching solo, speed, tricks, they’re all there as his hair sticks to his face, he jumps down.

The horns are flying along to this one, a crowd favourite, not many words to remember thankfully. Green spots cut through the haze as this song explodes into a guitar battle from either side of the stage, DeServio joins in as the guitars are up on the riser, his bass is fast, tight and dirty. The solo rages on as I get my camera bag knocked and two pints of beer spilt all over it, the guy nonchalantly carries on staggering around as I clean my bag.

The solo is back and forth behind me, it’s taken on an almost Scottish lilt before it changes to outright screaming filth, I get my bag sorted, having dried it down with my hoody just as the dirty riff finishes… can we have that one again please!

More CO2 fires off as we drop into my favourite track of the night, ‘Suicide Messiah’ with its early Sabbath ‘Doom’ vibe it rocks like the bad ass track it is. The haze filled venue is not and sweaty as the crowd bounce along to this anthem, another dual guitar solo rips out over a thundering bassline. The crowd are in fine voice singing along. A thunderous kick on the drums and some in appropriate slap bass sounds out which is soon remedied with Wylde and Larina’s scorching solo licks as Wylde thanks everyone before screaming “let’s get it on”,

‘Stillborn’ from 2003’s The Blessed Hell Ride close out the evening. The chainsaw riff is blasted by a thundering bass from DeServio. The song plays on as Wylde sings, his left foot on the riser as it has been for the night when he’s been behind the mic.

The sonic assault is relentless as the pair drive a battering ram of sound at the faithful who have travelled far and wide to catch the band before they play Download on the Saturday. With his guitar held high and yet more CO2 going off, the end of the song is a screaming barrage of guitars and Wylde beating his chest insanely before lifting his BLS cut above his head, his guitars is feeding back as he walks the stage saluting all, the band bow, Wylde salutes the crowd and spurs them on with the cheers as his guitar is screaming its head off. He exits the stage!

What a night, 4 ½ hours to get here and, by god, it’s been a night to remember. It seems that the enforced holiday has brought these musicians back with vengeance. The ferocity of the playing from both bands’ tonight has been unreal.

So, with a long journey home facing me I head back to the car, my ears ringing despite the ear plugs. Zakk Wylde is a phenomenal force to be recon’d with, the band loud enough to awaken the dead. Liverpool has another great band to add to its growing list of visitors.

If you haven’t caught the band on this mini tour, after playing Download on the Saturday, they have one more UK date. Sunday 12th at the Leas Cliff Hall in Folkstone. If tonight is anything to go by, it promises to be another mind blowing experience.

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