Home Gigs Gig Review : Love Rocks Festival 2023 – Day Two

Gig Review : Love Rocks Festival 2023 – Day Two

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Review by Gary Spiller for MPM

The Friday morning after the Thursday night before! The music had, naturally, rocked 110% and while the beer flowed copiously the good times did, most certainly, indeed roll! Waking to cloudless skies and unbroken sunshine there was a collective pondering upon how Love Rocks could surpass the high bar set in across the board in 2022.

A fully-fledged opening night had drawn a line in the sand, a marker of intent if you like. A high-grade precursor for what was to come. Even the weather is hell-bent upon going one better; in the words of Fast Show character Poula Fisch “Scorchio!”

Scanning across the day’s line-up the overall consensus is that the rock crusher that is the Love Rocks stage is, without fail, going to produce a comparable, if not even higher, grade metallic ore. This is, without a shred of doubt, a musical lode beyond compare that is being extracted from.

It’s still firmly in the A.M. when London-based quintet The Karma Effect announce their arrival in a melee of crashing cymbals and chunky power chords. Formed back before the pandemic 2022 proved to be a breakout year for the band with festival slots including drawing a very large crowd to the second stage.

Proving themselves to be a most successful hard rock equivalent of the Pied Piper TKE take to the larger stage one brimming with swagger and a touch of much justified confidence. Eyebrows were raised in some quarters at the scheduling of this five-piece in the ‘hangover’ slot but in the mind of organisers Sanctuary Promotions there are, other than the headliners and special guests, no ‘ranking’ of bands. Their decision is fully warranted given the swelling ranks assembled.

Expert craftsmen they fuse together the classic and modern in a scintillating amalgamation; from the Black Crowes through to Bad Touch, via the Allman Brothers and ZZ Top, we feast upon their musical honeypot. Transfixing right from the off, with the powerage of the Les Pauls transmitting the gleaming, swaggering Texan blues of the set-opening ‘Wrong Again’ right through to their now hair-raising signature track ‘Testify’ there is barely time for breath to be drawn.

Juggernauting directly into the sweltering grooves of ‘Doubt She’s Coming Back’ the air sizzles as frontman Henry Gottelier, teasingly, raises a beer in the direction of the ensemble. He ushers forward guitarist Robbie Blake for an ambrosially down and dirty solo; it’s simply the way this five-piece rock n’ roll!

Amidst a set that leans, most understandably, towards their self-titled gem of last year there’s time to showcase something new too. With its easy-feel boogie shuffle welded together with a Zeppelin-esque fervour ‘See You Again’ casts a hook baited with an infectious slice. “A little taster of what’s to come” notes Gottelier.

Slotting in seamlessly between the contagions of ‘Mercy’ and ‘The River’ it bodes well for the forthcoming sophomore offering. All appears well and there’s just one forwards for TKE; upwards at a rapidly accelerating rate of knots! “A beer and a cigarette, rock n’ roll!” emotes Gottelier, it’s how they roll in these parts!

There’s something that sets Love Rocks apart; something which only a precious few subscribe to. The organising team listen to the fans, watch the bands, take on board recommendations and then invite you to their personal playlist in a live setting. It’s a speciality of theirs. Year on year the boundaries are pushed further in an outwards direction, the constraints of genre definitions are transgressed.

Bristol-based quadrumvirate Mother Vulture are the perfect epitome of this; this was a band high on the festival’s shopping list with their jaw-dropping energy at Steelhouse last year capturing the imagination. With some behind the scenes connections made the feral blues punkers became a late, and very welcome, to the 2023 roster.

There’s good reason for not permitting gremlins highly caffeinated products in the post-midnight hours; bear insightful witness to the dust devil maelstrom that is discharged throughout the next 40 minutes or so to gain comprehension! The Vulture’s worth, and notoriety, is increasing with each performance but there’s still a percentage of the unwary or unknowing within a crowd and it’s no different here at this relatively early hour; cue the startlement!

MV don’t operate on a fusewire, their on-stage introduction can only be described as nitro-glycerine propelled, Detonative to the utter core, in a whirlwind of limbs and pulsating rhythms and beats the sirens wail their infusive manta. Limbs blur concomitantly with enough energy to feed a sizeable conurbation; it’s at odds with their well-heeled attire but serves as the ideal introduction to The Vultures’ particular brand of mayhem.

Untameable guitarist Brodie Maguire bounces off the walls whilst bassist Chris Simpson does his best to break the 100-metre sprint record whilst going nowhere. Thankfully all receptacles are plastic as the glass-shattering vocal range of Georgi Valentine would result in a major clear up operation. All the while drummer Matt West hammers a steady beat seemingly impervious to the unfolding tornadic elements, the perfect contra-position.

A treble of single only releases in the shape of punked up, cascading ‘Tell Me’ along with the garage rocking ‘Habits Die Hard’ and ‘The Wave’ set a rollicking tone. There are touches of Motorhead, Dr. Feelgood breezing about but there’s an undeniably channelled fury which is unique. One further single, ‘Objectify’, is slotted in at the tail-end of the set with Georgi informing me, post-set, “We haven’t played that one in a good while!” Its spikiness is most welcome.

Last year’s debut album ‘Mother Knows Best’ grabs hold of the spotlight as ‘Fame or Shame’ buzzsaws with a Ramones-themed barbarity. All folks present are invited to drop into the ‘Rabbit Hole’ with the confines of the second stage proving insufficient for the band. Hither and tither they scuttle with unfathomable velocity; “Now we’re cooking” approves Chris, admiring the scenes.

Hammering the life out of his uncommonly alluring fluorescent pink Gretsch, Brodie sets upon ‘Honey’ with Matt thumping a sort of ‘Walk This Way’ styled percussive. This is a band that engage throughout, taking their kinetic to the masses without the requirement of enticement. Wryly noting “If we seem lethargic, I’ve had one and half hours sleep and just one Polo!” Chris takes stock.

With haunting tones Brodie and Georgi sit atop a speaker to bring ‘Shifting Sands’ in prior to a rousing uplift that fuels the darkest Sabbath depths with punk fury. ‘Not Yet’, straining and foaming, breaks its chains and brings the set to a climatic finale. The band want more, the fans want more but the timings dictate otherwise. Nonetheless The Vulture has swooped down upon Dorset and landed a mighty despatch.

With a Caledonian war cry She Burns Red have headed further south from their West Lothian headquarters than they have ever done before. If there was any doubt of their Celticness guitarist, and co-founding member, Andy Moore notes, mid-set, “We’re Scottish and we’ve just realised we came 500 miles for ya!” Quick as a flash fellow founder, bassist, James McCulloch adds “And we’ll go 500 more for you!” Endearment complete.

She Burns Red raw, bleeding brand of rock first came to our attention through a storming performance at last year’s Call Of The Wild festival. Captivated in a moment we have eagerly awaited this next opportunity to sample their Scottish pride which opening number ‘Tough’ provides in absolute droves.

This is a unit that loves to weave a narrative in their music and ‘Rise & Fall’ – a single release from last year – relates the lack of integrity in the upper echelons of power utilising the fake news. It’s a blistering track borne of the initial conversations that stemmed from Scott Hanlon (ex-Anchor Lane drummer) and Naz Scanferlato (guitar) joining the band. A sharing of ideals in common.

Since the steadying of the line-up there’s been a healthy stream of singles including the low, growling beast that is ‘Killing Time’ and the set-closing stirring anthem ‘Out Of Darkness’ that pulsates strongly across the Love Rocks arena.

The middle of the set is handed over to a hat-trick of essence from 2020’s ‘Take Back Tomorrow’ EP with the hard-hitting strike of ‘Gone’ pursued by the northern rage of ‘Copernicus Falls’. A metaphorical saltire is proudly raised as aim is taken in ‘Crosshairs’, firing the bullet from the chamber.

Moorland fog swirls, eddying then blown apart by the marauding horde descending from the mountainside. Celebratory horns are raised in the crowd, it’s time to ‘Run’. A searing solo from the Telecaster of Scanferlato forces a ‘Crack The Sky’ and before we know it a captivating 35 minutes draws to a close.

The debut album launch campaign is being finalised and judging on what we have been served in the Dorsetshire sunshine it’s going to be one of the albums of the year! Bassist James forms a heart shape with his hands as he salutes the crowd with a sincerity rarely seen; this is a band to keep a firm eye upon as there’s much more in the locker I feel.

The head of steam Devonian rocking trio Firekind had built up through the first half of 2022 seemingly evaporated by the turn of the year. Their sonic landscapes had drawn a good degree of expectations; a stellar performance at Planet Rock’s Winter’s End was followed by slots at Wildfire and Firestorm along with dates co-headlining with Loz Campbell and supporting Jack J. Hutchinson.

Slipping, somewhat, off the rock n’ roll radar things, for a while, looked bleak but following a couple of months of relative radio silence brothers Dan and Jas Morris made the announcement that drummer Dan Collings (D for short!) was returning to the fold. Introducing their last track ‘Desolate’ guitarist Jas reminisces, harking back to the days of their previous incarnation Rude Tiger, “[The] last time we played this together was eight to ten years ago in Thailand!”

The temporary hiatus doesn’t seem to have any effect, in fact there’s an air of re-energisation as they roll straight into the slick, precise alt-rock of opener ‘Walk In’. The pounding, airy atmospherics of ‘Defend’ provide reminder of the grandiose tones in part reminiscent of fellow Devonians Muse.

With broad smiles Dan and Jas gather about D’s kit; soaring, gliding on high the stadium-ready rock of ‘Adrenalin’ hits autocruise. The deep lyrics possess a studious tangent with Jas empowering “I met a man I knew the day I would die” with a touch of the Manics cast together with Stereophonics.

A couple of new numbers are brought out to play with the gentle emotive ‘Burns Like The Sun’ – “Every set should have a ballad, this is ours” introduces Jas – and ‘Ego’ adrenalized and energetic making the passage of time seem completely irrelevant. Currently in the studio with Josiah J. Manning (Kris Barras Band) things are looking up herein.

Meteorologically this weekend, bathed in wall-to-wall solar rays, we are about as far removed from the ‘Sound of Rain’ but with their spinetingling signature track Firekind bring skyrocketing thermals to this most summery of afternoons. Gracefully and articulately, as always, Firekind’s re-emergence is underway. We look forward to the coming chapters.

With brand new single ‘Ghosts’, the initial precursor of a much-awaited EP launch, sonorously creating architectural wreckage like an unruly poltergeist on a one-way ticket to the bowels of oblivion Ashen Reach stretch out a bony hand and resolutely grab Love Rocks by the scruff of the neck.

Recently trimmed down to a four-piece, following the departure of bassist Michael McCarroll, the Liverpudlian metallers are in a determined mood for sure. Twin guitarists Joe O’Sullivan and Paddy Cummins menacingly flank energetic, high jumping vocal Kyle Stanley afront powerhouse drummer livewire Jess Stanley, Love Rocks masses for the cogent sorcery about to be despatched.

The release of debut long-player ‘Homecoming’ back in 2020 won many deserved plaudits. The creative furnace flowed over with a metalliferous lava full of seething seismic forces, a new direction had been forged. A searing Sunday slot at last year’s Steelhouse, high up above the Welsh valleys, sealed the deal. Once deemed the privileged realms of purely the blues it’s apparent that metal acts can also put the ink on contracts at those crossroads.

Assembling, upon the main stage, to an earthquaking intro, surely bothering local geologists, Ashen Reach break all known scales with opening salvo ‘Broken Column’. An anthem truly from the crypt vocalist Kyle Stanley throws his complete self into the immersion. “We’re gonna kick the shit outta this stage and we want to see everyone headbanging with us!!” he roars.

Cloaked uniformly in black ‘Epiphany’ pummels the senses with Viking sensibilities; suddenly the efforts of the band’s trip to Guildford to replace a piece of errant tech makes complete sense. Destinies become clear as stars align to parallel the musical furrows that the blade of steel ploughs. The sun-baked crowd sing those three words “Holding out for” with industrial levels of gusto.

Free t-shirts are on offer to those who rock the hardest to ‘Heir To The Throne’, the arena jumps, unified, to this rumbling epic. Fire breathing frets sizzle unrelenting with scorching riffs and licks aplenty. Hands aloft wave side to side for heroic saga that is ‘Homecoming’. Clocking in at the merest fraction under nine minutes and the longest track on the album it lends its title to this behemoth is not only a crowd favourite but something that resonates deep within me. A joyful tear of reflection is wiped away.

The varying darkened tones of ‘Alive Again’ is a contemplative recourse regarding the anguishes and challenges of mental health. “[It’s] one of our heavier ones” notes Kyle; there are, unsurprisingly, no dissenting voices. Sending shivers down spines new single ‘Ghosts’ furnishes an already splendid set with a hair-raising ethereal crescendo. The portents for the forthcoming EP bear strong credentials.

The bar that has been raised, band on band, continues upon its upwards trajectory with what is one of the boldest bookings that the Love Rocks have made to date. If proof is required as to how far the ‘boundaries’ have been expanded at this festival, then look no further than the madcap mayhem that is Ward XVI! Bring theatrics to rock or is it taking rocking to the theatre? Either way this tri-generational family troupe are unique in their stunning delivery.

The first time we encountered them was their highly animated entrance at an awards ceremony a couple of years ago. Tumbling, careering down the red carpet like a brawling human-based snowball with arms and legs protruding with a straight-jacketed Psychoberrie at the very epicentre!

The inmates have, once again, escaped the confines to whip up their own particular brand of fury! Quite serenely inflatable chainsaws are, pre-show, handed out to the crowd before the asylum takes to the boards. A white robed child, bearing a lantern, takes the lead of opening track ‘Mister Babadook’ reciting the prayer, the initial engagement undertaken. I later discover that this is Matilda daughter of proud parents Doktor Von Stottenstein (Guitars/ Vocals) and Psychoberrie; MPM take their hat off to her!

Beware of the untethered nightmare behind the bedhead for the child sleeps no longer. Demons of the night and terrors stalk the darkened hours. Now bloodied toys bear testament to the unseen presence that enwraps with its bodyless arms. However, it wasn’t the monsters in the bed that were to be feared but her own mother. Thus begins the tale of Psychoberrie!

The gothic noire of ‘Imago’ enthrals, demon wings spread as Psychoberrie cuts an engaging figure out front. So cruelly the curse spreads to the technical domain as what appears to be the backing tracks decide to down tools. Unphased the Doktor along with impish sidekick Rico Rameres fills in with a burst of ‘Tribute’ before Rameres ‘storms’ off proclaiming “Well I’ve got a mask on!” There’s no awkward silence as the crowd is kept entertained; well, who doesn’t enjoy a burst of Maiden’s ‘Number Of The Beast’? The beast is stunned, with a crack of the tail and he was done.

Back on course, mother battles her addictions in vain as Psychoberrie offers her ‘A Goodnight Shot’. A poisoned short from the bottle first, before administering the bullet from the smoking chamber. Demon tends the incinerator, plenty bad souls to stoke the inferno. Fed in feet first the corpse is bundled to the afterlife to the cry of ‘Burn The Witch’. A clamorous roar emanates.

A solitary bell tolls, high upon its tower, “Temptation is driving me mad” declares Psychoberrie in the symphonic metal of ‘Cry Of The Siren’ as the walls are torn down by the incarcerated. The eclectic insanity of the circus bears down on Love Rocks in ‘Toy Box’ replete with giant out of control drunken marionette.

Whipping up a dusty devilment, as three children emerge from the toybox, Ward XVI storm the ramparts. Arm in arm, high kicking a large ‘Toybox’ circle forms out in the arena as the madness reaches its climax in the Dorset sunshine. “That was our most southerly circle” quips the Doktor! Ward XVI have come, overcame and conquered – quite the afternoon’s gainful employment. Their third album is awaited eagerly.

Geordie melodic rockers Twister have quite the act to follow but they’re not phased as they stride out to their rousing intro. Gathering their senses, afront their trademark ‘wall’ of Marshalls – image projection amplification at its best!! – the quartet launch into the polished realms of last year’s single, and now firmly a crowd favourite, ‘Secrets’.

At the tail end of last year things appeared, at face value, to be going swimmingly, for the band but since a triumphant festive slot at Ampliyuletide there’s been a degree of turbulence with a couple of line-up changes. Hugely affable frontman Stevie Stoker informs “This line-up has only been together for 13 days!” Tom Holland has switched to guitar with bassist Niall Whittaker being drafted into the ranks.

It’s testament to their hard-graft and industrious personalities that these changes have had precisely zero effect upon the high quality of output that Twister are broadly known for. The rock-solid rhythms of ‘Don’t Play Nice’ have lost none of their slickness “Doing the best to stay alive” sings Stevie, quite aptly.

Driving through the night ensured an early arrival “We got here at four this morning and I’ve been told I’ve only disgraced myself twice!” jokes the frontman. Rumours of sleeping bodies in the car-parking abound. The beating nucleus of the band ‘Trading Hearts’ is lively with no signs of weariness. Being one of the hardest working bands on the circuit pays dividends.

The ever-emotional ‘Monroe’ is more tearful than normal being dedicated to Fallen Mafia’s singer Hannah Neil who had sadly passed just a few days prior. The pugilistic entity that is ‘Fist Fight By The Waterside’ brings the mood back to party mode; it’s maxed-out and foot to the floor. We’re all sure that Hannah would’ve wanted things that way.

Love Rocks partakes in an ebullient ‘Feeding Frenzy’, feasting upon the tasty licks right down to the solid skeletal low-end provided, most ably, by drummer, and loyal lieutenant, Jack Corbett and his new partner-in-rhythm Niall.

Introducing the arena-ready ‘Favourite Underdog’ Stevie notes “It’s become kind of our anthem over the past six months.” Clearly a track that has grown beyond their initial creativities and taken on an identity of which they’ve fallen in love with. I, for one, are right alongside them as the sentiments contained within strike a resonant chord on a deeply personal level.

“We came and we conquered!” roars Stevie in the gloriously multi-layered melodics of the set-closing ‘64 White Lies’. No-one is going to dispute this line as Twister take thoroughly deserved approving roars after a kaleidoscopic 40 minutes. Every last ounce of their combined soul and energies have been poured into every last note. Trademark Twister in every respect catch them on tour with The Fallen State in July.

The Love Rocks’ elevator continues to climb next stop the eighth floor, home of good time rock n’ roll. We discover the Kiss-driven kinetics of Beth Blade And The Beautiful Disasters venting crowdwards as the day wends itself into the evening’s radius.

With a rapid-fire 1-2-3-4 from the ever-effusive BethBlade we’re immediately rocking out to the vibrant charms of ‘Tonight I’m With You’. Pointing directly at her partner Mark during the chorus Beth smiles broadly; a brief personal moment, that being stood right next to Mark, I inadvertently gate-crash.

Last weekend’s outing at Call Of The Wild sees the quartet completely match-fit here in Dorset, though wildly sparking six-string Luke Gilmore is minus the sombrero he proudly sported in Lincolnshire! One half of the ‘terrible twins’, either side of Beth, Luke checks in on his ‘brother from another’ bassist Dan Rowe. It’s carefree and it teleports us back to a time when rock was wild and untamed, riding free out on the plains.

Dropping to her knees, close to the stage edge, Beth leads the rocking during the hooky sharpness of ‘Give It All You’ve Got’, the no-nonsense percussion strikes of Sam Brain provide a mean son-of-a-gun framework for the ever-buzzing duo of Luke and Dan to sprinkle their particular brand of glitz upon.

Reviewing last year’s album ‘Mythos, Confession, Tragedies and Love’ I wrote “Beautiful things are often borne of angst and tragedy; from the darkened environs those with inner strength and a purity of soul will overcome that which challenges them.”

Drawing upon those traumas and challenges and turning them right on their very head has seen Beth and the band revitalised to the core. Lifted from ‘Mythos’ the delightfully darkened tones of ‘Undo Me’ possesses an arenaceous aura that overspills into the underworldly ‘Persephone’. The latter bringing life to lands once barren, escaping the betraying clutches of that which proclaimed false love. With the combined prowess of Lzzy Hale and Joan Jett Beth strikes a retributive chord.

A segment of ‘Purple Haze’ sizzles from Luke’s conflagrant fretboard as Beth re-tunes in readiness for ‘Down And Dirty’. Off the debut long-player ‘Bad Habit’ is full on with a lowdown sleaziness right out of the 80s. Chockfull of Kiss conviction and passion ‘I Ain’t Got Nothing (If I Ain’t Got Rock And Roll)’ sets the sun upon its horizonward path.

Beth dedicates the set-closing, show-stopping ‘Jack And Coke’ to Lemmy with a genuine reverence. It’s the quintessential rock n’ roll drink after all. The party will continue into the small hours as the bottle is passed around.

Delivering easily one of the sets of the weekend amongst a strong bill recently at Swansea’s Station 18 Festival Empyre are currently riding the crest of a sensational wave of proggish splendour. Following the release of their second album ‘Relentless’ at the end of March they have duly received a deservedly huge slab of critical acclaim.

Dry ice hangs heavily swirling in the evening air as the Northamptonshire quartet deliver expansive ambience of the highest order with the Planet Rock playlisted ‘Waking Light’. “The future’s bright if we fight for it” strains vocalist Henrik Steenholdt most aptly, his crackling with electric emotions. Simply unique, there’s precious little like Empyre on the circuit and this is what makes their worth high.

With plaudits including Planet Rock, Kerrang and Classic Rock their ground-breaking sonic atmospherics are fast garnering a loyal following. In a recent interview with the latter publication Henrik, in typical self-disparaging sardonic tones, observed “The bands we play with, like Massive Wagons, are way more ‘party band’ than us,” adding “We’re more morbid, introspective, darker. We have a joke that we come along and kill the vibe. The rules of an Empyre gig are: one, no singing; two, no clapping; and three, no looking as if you’re having a good time.” Looks like somebody has forgot to issue the memo here in Dorset!

‘Parasites’ swarms and envelops hauntingly as the sun descends ever nearer to its closing chapter of the day. Mystical necromancy is at play as the chorus thunders across the spellbound masses. Raising a glass at track end to a rapturous reception Henrik enquires “Is everyone drunk?” furthering, with tongue firmly inserted in cheek, “You’re gonna need to be! For some reason we were invited to kill the vibe!” In a mirroring of summer ’21 Empyre have been invited back to do this very thing at not only Love Rocks but Steelhouse too! Must be doing it well gents!

With a darkened introspective downbeat undercurrent of what curiously appears to be Blondies ‘Union City Blues’ latest single ‘Hit And Run’ weaves a cogent incantation with Did Coles’ soulful six-string majestic in its ascendancy. Switching back to 2019’s ‘Self Aware’ album signature track ‘Only Way Out’ glides gracefully with Marillion-esque beguiling enchantments. The puissance possessed is such that lava-flows would cease, and icecaps take on much-needed expansion.

Grinning, Henrik quizzes “Has that killed it yet?” The titular track of what is a serious contender for my favourite album of the year effortlessly shimmers before, with aplomb the quadrumvirate declare, with a Pink Floyd flourish, a ‘New Republic’ to bring the curtain down upon an astoundingly breath-taking masterclass. We have entered a new realm courtesy of these four unassuming, top-drawer musicians.

There’s no deviation from the acclivitous course we are being taken upon as local heroes, following a similar trajectory themselves, are ushered in by a doom-laden intro – think The Shining crossed with The Exorcist and you’re treading the correct path through the shadows.

Mists of autumnal intensity eddy, agitated by the supernatural passage of invisible spectres. Lights flash and strobe as South Of Salem set pulses racing and spines tingling as they assemble, one by one, stagewards. Flanked, either side, by the svelte litheness of a pair of gothic cheerleaders, holding placards proclaiming ‘We Prey’ and ‘No Way’, the quintet receives a euphoric reception. A clock ticks deafeningly, “Hope you got your shit together!” comes the rallying cry.

It’s full scream ahead for vampiric opening track ‘Let Us Prey’, an unrelenting howling beast that sears a benchmark into the night skies. A half century shades of red are threatened as animated guitar-slinger Kodi Kasper playfully ‘machine-guns’ the crowd with his gleaming Les Paul. Triple bursts of CO2 punctuate, send plumes of ethereality across the campsite.

Clearly pumped by the crowd’s adoration heavily tattooed front-man Joey Draper resoundingly clamours “Love Rocks let’s get this party started!” encouraging the gathered Coven to jump with the band. ‘The Hate In Me’ raucously untethers demonic spirits which skitter their fiery trails with reckless abandonment.

An extended ‘Made To Be Mine’ demonstrates that Salem’s showmanship has been raised loftily. Those recent tours with Wednesday 13 and W.A.S.P. have evidently reaping dividends. Cool as you like bassist Dee Aldwell engages constantly whilst across through the miasma Kodi thumps those cartwheeling Pete Townsend riffs.

Dedicated to each and every lady in the crowd anthemic ‘Pretty Little Nightmare’ runs amok in the most riotous of manners, the Love Rocks crowd lap up each and every morsel. Since its release nearly three years ago Salem’s debut album ‘The Sinner Takes It All’ (a neat play on ABBA’s no. 1 single from August 1980) has seen its creators undertake a whirlwind rollercoaster; every last track a banger!

As time progressed so the question began to form “How on earth could this slice of horror-soaked genius be bettered?” Well judging on the cataclysmic shockwaves of shiny brand-new number ‘Take It To Your Grave’ then I’d suggest that SOS are firmly on course to do just that. It’s powerful, entrancing with a solid punch fringed in a symphonic feel that exudes maturity. “The ghost of you is haunting me” laments Joey whilst Kodi furiously finger-taps his scorching fret.

As ever moving as the first time I heard it the sentiments of ‘Demons Are Forever’ mean an awful lot to an awful lot of folks. Recent tours have proven fertile creative ground with a reworked bluesy intro slipped in for good measure. A storming rendition of Billy Idol’s ‘Rebel Yell’ lifts the party mood even further, it’s pure rock n’ roll mayhem. Sir William of Idol would approve for sure! With the sun setting the hellhound pairing of ‘No Plague Like Home’ and ‘Cold Day In Hell’ raise the temperatures further.

Bands that could follow the intensity of Salem’s onslaught number very few on the UK grassroots circuit. However, with their final announcement, just weeks prior to doors opening the Love Rocks promotion played one hell of a screaming banshee of a bullet from a gun in the form of Welsh metallic power trio Florence Black.

Make no bones about these three lads have been ripping up trees for a good while now but have skyrocketed since the 2021 release of ‘Weight Of The World’ album. A quick scan at their Spotify figures give hint at how far they have come since hollering out of their Merthyr Tydfil roots. With an igneous core as red-hot as the iron works upon which their hometown once prospered and with an ingrained pride in their identity FB are making Merthyr rise again.

Headlining Love Rocks’ Friday night Florence Black follow in the footsteps of fellow Welsh outfit Phil Campbell and The Bastard Sons with a laser defined focus. Roaring out of the traps, turning the key in the ignition their V8 engine snarls and growls with brand new single ‘Start Again’ getting their hour-long set off with a furious maelstrom. With just one show, Bully On The Rocks in France, since its official release just a fortnight prior this is the first UK live airing, and it goes down an absolute storm.

There’s an abyssal, deep underground acrimony to ‘Bird On A Chain’; an intensity few can equal. A searing solo from Tristan Thomas along with his rasping vocals set a fearsome tone partnered with the low-end mastery of heavyweight drummer Perry Davies and unwavering bassist Jordan Evans.

The storm front of ‘The Deep End’ is brought in with a swift enquiry from Tristan “Are you motherfuckers good?” The ‘mfr’ count goes off the scale tonight, tangible proof that things are good in the FB camp. Given that there’s the none too small matter of two sold-out home turf shows at The Patriot and a prestigious support slot with Airborne coming up in the next few days there’s no holding back herein.

The infernal fusillade of ‘Smoke’ segues into the showstopper ‘Ghost’ seamlessly. Not for the first time, nor indeed the last, an impassioned Tristan roars “Scream for me Love Rocks!” Blood and sweat are expended in voluminous quantities. ‘Can You Feel It?’ lands a gate-crashing blow with an authoritative force.

Celtic pride resonates as Tristan, horn raised, makes his vibrant Les Paul purr with the intro of ‘Black Cat’; at times Thin Lizzy and at others Motorhead in basal essence this track is a clear live favourite bar none. The shadowy echoes of ‘Down’ are the ideal precursive compulsion for the unabated rampage of ‘The Ride’.

‘Pierrepoint’ flexes its muscles prior to the tribal chanting introduction of the epic ‘Zulu’ rouses spiritually. To complete the bakers dozen Florence Black, steam to a broiling finale landing a bout-ending 1-2 knock-out blow with their trademark visceral version of Budgie’s ‘Breadfan’ followed up with the Planet Rock playlisted single ‘Sun & Moon’. If Love Rocks had a roof, then it’s been blown in a thoroughly barnstorming hour. Florence Black’s finest hour to date!

Photography by Kelly Spiller for MPM

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