Home Gigs Gig Review : SOS Festival XIII Whittles @ Tokyo, Oldham , Day 2

Gig Review : SOS Festival XIII Whittles @ Tokyo, Oldham , Day 2

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Review by Gary Spiller for MPM

This is a festival that prides itself on championing the talent within the North-West region and day two openers Unknown Refuge fit the bill perfectly. Having hit us like the proverbial bolt out of the blue as a triumvirate at Love Rocks, the previous weekend, we were not about to miss these young Bolton lads in action early doors.

This afternoon the lads are joined by deputising guitarist Anthony Hale and it’s apparent from the very off with opening track ‘Drop A Gear’ demonstrating a much fuller sound than we had enjoyed down in Dorset.

Lead guitarist Jack Tracey has shaken off the effects of toothache and shreds, out stage right, with venomous gusto with the aphotic forces of ‘Shadows’ landing a direct hit, plumb centre. The heraldic currents of the anthemic ‘If The Gods Be Good’ has the crowd singing as dragonfire sears across the obsidian skies.

We’re treated to ‘Spearhead’, a number from the forthcoming EP, with its tantalising twin lead guitar and homage to classic Metallica.

The raw, bleeding riffs of ‘Battle Hymn’ rally the hordes to the field of conflict before the compounded Volbeat / Maiden underpinning of ‘To The Light’ brings their set to a fine conclusion. I can only echo what I wrote after their Love Rocks performance “Put simply this is one of the best young bands I’ve seen on the circuit; right there alongside Ethyrfield and Mad Haven in my humblest opinion.” Potential aplenty.

Rampaging from Wales and the West of England heavy metallers Rites To Ruin raise their collective sword and strike a resonating chord with a strength across the board. It’s metal with a symphonic edge with a hi-speed delivery.

Welsh vocalist Krissie Kirby (ex-Triaxis) is an engaging presence out front with a striking voice claiming, “I’ll be the bitch from your worst nightmare” in ‘Santaico’ that nestles neatly alongside the NWOBHM / Saxon undercurrents of ‘Free’.

Wearing their collective nerd badge with rightful pride they hit SOS with D&D inspired track ‘For The Love Of Gold’. Percentile dice at the ready as Krissie states “There are dungeons, dragons, wizards and bards but what I want you to do is roll for initiative!” Sabaton intersects with Maiden in set closer ‘Fire’ as the d10’s come clattering to a halt both showing nine. Top percentile indeed.

Every now and then something stops you in your tracks and grabs your attention quite unexpectedly. Takes you by the metaphoricals and gives them a good old twist. This is precisely what Sheffield’s Misery’s Smile did to us. With low-slung riffing and downright dirty rhythms their rocking gutter-rat attitude soon had our full focus. A completely unknown quantity until we entered the darkened interior of the Skull stage their magnetism drew us in, totally captivated.

A sleazy outlook that takes a leaf out of the book co-authored by The Wildhearts and Motley Crue rocks the very rafters. ‘Serenity’ catches the ear with growling, snarling hooks. Whilst debut single ‘My Misery’ leaves a scorched path in its wake; ice-blue flames torching all in its destructive way.

This is don’t-give-a-toss rock n’ roll at its lip-curling best. Original Heaven’s Basement vocalist Richie Hevanz is a livewire out front and engages industrially with a crowd that takes a bit of working. Respond they do however, the contagion is concentrated and by the end of the set Whittles is rocking. Firmly slotted into the “Ones to watch” category.

Rampaging out of North Wales Mad Haven quite literally explode on to the Skull stage with unbridled enthusiasm coupled with a focus of energy that is rare. ‘Wait To Continue’ roars out of the traps leaving the competition trailing in its wake. Guitarist Tom Rogowski, continually at one with the SOS crowd, finishes the outright rocking number with a flying leap that many a long jumper would be rightly proud of.

Youthful rabble-rouser ‘Get Lost’ pulls no punches as it ricochets about Whittles with a high kinetic AC/DC sort of Brownian motion whilst ‘What’s Left Behind’ packs an Aerosmith swaggering groove. It’s readily apparent that this trio – which is completed by master of the low-end Morgan Owen-Rees and Tom’s brother Alex thundering the beat – know their rock n’ roll apples. There are flashes of Def Leppard, Saxon, Diamon Head, Metallica but above all else there’s a sense of seeking one’s own identity throughout.

We’re treated to a brand-new song with total all out tub-thumper ‘Unfold’. The unrelenting energetic levels of musical dispatch continue through to the very end of set closer ‘Where Did You Go’ as this trio cement there most deserved place afront the finest young bands on the current grassroots scene.

Formed in 2019, when original Bigfoot vocalist Ant Ellis was approached by renown record label Frontiers tabling an offer, Kreek are now beginning to gain the traction that they thoroughly merit. Without any recorded material or even a band Ant set about realising the belief that Frontiers clearly held.

2021 saw the release of Kreek’s eponymous long player to critical acclaim; on a personal level one of my favourite releases in a year teeming with top-end offerings. This evening’s entire set is lifted from that album and there are no voices of dissent with this. Setting sail with the nautically edged ‘At The Bottom Of Hell’ Ant and his salty crew-mates are soon in the deep waters of the rock n’ roll ocean.

Launching the NWOBHM-drenched ‘Missiles’ with an ultra-rapid beat Kreek follow up this musical assault with the hard-rock volcanic eruption of ‘Meet Your Maker’. Ever the quintessential frontman Ant, twirling his mic stand, stalks the front of the Whittles’ stage.

Written about a recent US leader ‘Million Dollar Man’, ending yet another cracking set, takes the ordinary person’s take on the war-mongering approach of this self-proclaimed “chosen one.” What Kreek offer is arena-ready classic rock from the top-drawer delivered with a crowd-pleasing musical hook and engagement.

Brighton-based Aren Drift bring their alt-fringed take on nu-metal to the Skull stage plotting a new course. Taking to the stage to a prowling feline of a stringed intro they kick-off with tense ‘Light Hole’ that showcases Czech-born Radka Nemcova’s striking vocals that strike a redolence of Siouxsie atop a progressive, and unpredictable, force harnessed by twin phased guitars and unleashed by a rapid thundering beat.

Growling and snarling ‘Delirious’ has Radka taking the aforementioned Siouxsie and crossing it with Julianne Regan. Just two tracks in and there’s no doubt in my mind of the unique path this four-piece (this evening they are minus the services of their bassist) are treading. A gothic bell tolls as ‘Sirens’ lure the unwary mariner to their fate, the abyss devoid of light whirls in a maelstrom of chaos. The ‘Snow Queen’ doesn’t have tears to cry; burning cold envelops.

Bastette are on a seemingly unstoppable path to success; a rock-hard force that pleasurably caresses and flagellates synchronously. Fronted by the precious talent of singer Caroline Kenyon Bastette take to the Viking stage as drummer Rob Hirst crashes cymbals atop a shimmering intro.

Usual set opener ‘Talk About It’ is a sultry, fearless number that is well suited to the catlike stage persona that Caroline projects. Gracefully prowling stage front as Laurie Buchanan’s guitar howls at a musically full moon as she slams those chords through the stage floor. Aaron Lomax’s bass rumbles satisfyingly as he and six-stringer Tom McCarthy (Bootyard Bandits) appear more relaxed than down at Love Rocks, a reassuring presence stage right.

The new line-up is bedding in well and a chemistry is certainly sparking between guitarist Laurie Buchanan and Caroline; I for one hope that this musical pairing bears fruit in time. Recent single ‘Physco’ is a fixating seductive feline, a very refined creature of the darkest night.

From thermals upon high the kestrel swoops down for the kill; ‘Poison’ sinks its talons into the prey as Caroline fires an imaginary pistol as she sings “As you pull the trigger.”

The emotionally charged ballad ‘Sunglass’ drops the tempo for a moment before current single ‘Good Time Girl’ – check out the vibrant feelgood video that features pole dancer Liquorice Black and drag queen Kitty Velour – strikes with big cat confidence. The irrepressible pairing of ‘Rip Me To Shreds’ and ‘Rollercoaster’ hit a fine crescendo leaving me thinking that Bastette are readymade to support Halestorm when the US rockers are next in town.

Give them a stage and they will play. The Sons of Liberty are in town on a northern leg of their seemingly never-ending tour. Their wagon has rolled into Oldham wheels smoking with its occupants ready to apply a giant sized can of kick-ass southern rock to the gathered ensemble inside Whittles.

Bringing their very own home brand moonshine fresh from the still The Sons are right into action with new vocalist Rob Walker (Yesterday’s Gone) roaring “Hello SOS!” Virtuoso six-stringing hellraiser Fred Hale whirls about in a blur as ‘It’s My Bad’ breaks the levee permitting the evergreen ‘Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief’ to flood across the plains with its life-giving forces. ‘Up Shit Creek’ completes the opening hat-trick from 2019s ‘Animism’ in foot-stomping fashion.

Good friend of the Sons, and a fellow Bristolian, Perry banters “Who are you?” Rob looks at him in mock disdain and orders “Get out!” It’s that kind of night, plenty of fun and bourbon to be had at every turn. Blow for blow this is the set that tore Dorset a new one at Love Rocks a week prior; the machinery is in fine working order. All parts lubricated as required, shining brightly under the stage lighting.

The V8 beat of ‘Damaged Reputation’ sees The Sons’ attention turn to last year’s ‘Aces & Eights’ long-player with the rock n’ roll flood rampaging through the deltalands. The utterly riotous ‘Beef Jerky Boogie’ lifts the roof as the hour of party o’clock is struck. Possums scuttle from darkened corners as SOL turn up the heat on proceedings further as they close out the set with their brace of Planet Rock playlisted singles ‘Fire & Gasoline’ and ‘Ruby Starr’. Top notch gents, right up there!

It’s thoroughly befitting that Absolva wrap up the middle day of the 13th instalment of the SOS Festival. Brothers and guitarists Luke and Chris Appleton – who form 50 percent of the band – are crucial components in the organising team that is driven by their parents Lynne and Mark. The band’s first show was at an early SOS back in 2012. So full circle to this evening and to a packed Whittles courtyard Absolva step out on to the Viking stage. ‘Hells Bells’ rings out and we embark upon a journey through the back catalogue. From this year’s release ‘Fire In The Sky’ right through to 2012s debut release ‘Flames Of Justice’ it’s all there including a stage-invading dinosaur.

Most appropriately Absolva shine their first spotlight upon the current long-player with the title track – horns raised throughout the crowd saluting the local heroes – getting a sterling 18 track set underway. Grab hold tight the rollercoaster has begun. The Metallica overtures of ‘Burn Inside’ resound as the Appleton brothers exchange solos and riffs to the delight of all. With the rock-steady rhythm section of bassist Karl Schramm and drummer Martin ‘The Machine’ Mcnee laying down the bedrock foundation it’s a potent fusion.

We are taken back to 2015 for the anthemic ‘Never A Good Day To Die’ – the titular track of that year’s release and still a mainstay in the set to the day. We are most certainly not ‘All Alone’; ‘No One Escapes’ though it’s more of a case that no-one wishes to leave given the high quality before us.

The rousing ‘Legion’ 2020s from ‘Side By Side’ is partnered by the metallic romp ‘Burning Star’. Whilst high-grade metalliferous anthem ‘Rise Again’ is the sole extraction from 2017s ‘Defiance’. Delving back into the archives we are transported to 2014 and ‘Anthems To The Dead’ long player. A stunning rendition of the rally-cry of ‘Never Back Down’ is coupled with a jaw-dropping first-ever live performance of ‘The Altar and The Cross’. Our look back 8 years is wrapped up with ‘Live For The Fight’.

All that remains is the album that Absolva debuted in 2012. ‘Flames of Justice’ is the third title track of the set and we are treated to a third guitarist in the shape of Vice axe-man Tom Atkinson joining the on-stage ranks. Anyone for triple lead? One and all are more than happy to follow ‘Code Red’ before one last surprise is slipped in with ‘Refuse To Die’ off the latest album closing a truly memorable set. No-one will ever know who was in the dinosaur costume as the stage was ‘invaded!’

Two days and countless hours of superb, varied rock and metal completed and there’s still a day to go! We do it all again tomorrow!

Photography by Kelly Spiller for MPM

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