TSEOnce upon a time, I’d have got to know about this concert from a flyer I’d been handed or maybe by looking at a scruffy note in a club or pub window. But this is 2013. It was a band member’s Facebook entry which alerted me to this free event in the Unicorn, a very nice pub in Camden

Twenty or so people gathered for the first band Derange. Not bad for 7.15 in the evening. A thumping rock groove commenced. We were under way. The female vocalist’s attire suggested that she’d been a fight with some prickly bushes. There was plenty of metal energy here. Led by the vocalist in the mobility department, these guys put themselves about a bit. It wasn’t just bouncing and head-banging. The ballsy, chunky rhythms were mixed with the occasional progressive section. I liked the way the band allowed themselves time for each section rather than trying to impress us with snapshots of their ability to do everything, as sometimes happens with newer bands. My only reservation was that it was like watching two stage shows, with the charismatic lady screaming, cajoling and throwing herself at it like her life depended on it on one side and the more sedate and cerebral instrumentalists on the other. But all in all it worked. The style ranged from pungent heavy metal and gothic-progressive to the hard rock of the last song “Ego”. The instrumentalists provided good support and the set was energetic and lively. For a band who apparently only came together last year, it’s clear that the ingredients are rich and the potential is there for a bright future.

After a ridiculous opening, Sayonara Sweetheart finally got down to business and impressed briefly with copious depth and sludgy power. The vocalist didn’t seem to be keeping up however, although it did get better, and the clean vocals were generally awful. I think the key to this was supposed to be the technical riffage and blend, which admittedly was complex and heavy, but the balance was all wrong. It was as if the guitarists were trying to outdo each other. I can cope with irregularity, in fact I quite like it, but this all amounted to nothing. The band got better when they livened it up. Simplicity became more. By this stage I felt sorry for them as no-one in the audience was prepared to bounce in unison. At last some translatable energy was woven into the wall of sound. The harmonized bouncing now became the norm. Perhaps they should bring along a trampoline next time. That would make it easier. Yes, this was heavy and chunky but the concept was lost on me. As the vocalist ran around his hapless guitarists, I was left with the impression of a lack of clarity and co-ordination.

On came the sons of R and B. That’s Royston and Biggleswade, with a bit of Enfield thrown in. There’s none of that R and B style round here. Black Polaris specialize in monstrous metalcore. I do like “S.I.M”, a track on the band’s excellent ep “Life/Death”. Check it out. They played it here. Sam the vocalist roared down our throats. Everything was cranked up. The sound was crushing, the melodies from the guitarists were irresistible and a little surprising in all this furore, and the energy of the performance was boundless. This is what we want. Intense energy is one thing but Black Polaris went further, enticing us not only with their interesting death metal progressions but also with their personality. This wasn’t just about headbanging. Growling Sam was in the crowd, while guitarist Paul made us laugh with his gurning. There was a comedy show going on here, without any loss of musical dexterity. The ever-youthful looking guitarist Gaz stomped and pirouetted and had a laugh, disappearing a couple of times into the crowd. In spite of all this mayhem, the band held it together. Their musical and stage experience showed. Sam pushed his vocal chords to the limit. If these guys are prepared to put in all this effort on stage, then so am I. We jumped in unison to “Mountains”. The thunder gave way to a bit of post metal, and then the guitarists delighted us with more melo-technical work while drummer Neil and bassist Luke provided a constantly beefy backbone. “Envisage” off the previous ep was like a piece of punk hardcore, lively as the occasion demanded. The set ended with “The Tyrant”. This involved a member of the audience lying face down to enable Gaz to play with him a little. But as the band members played with each other on stage, the musical output was again not forgotten as Paul and Gaz supplied a sophisticated guitar melody as if we needed proof that they can play seriously. The end was typically riotous. Black Polaris successfully mixed fun, energy, technical skill and strong song structures. This show was full of personality. It all seemed to be bordering on chaos but then it all came together. Fantastic.

Light touches do not feature in the repertoire of Beneath the Wake, who performed next. Thunderously dark metal was combined with post metal and doom-laden elements. This was utterly pungent. “The Shadows Nocturne” is an appropriately-titled track to sum up the pungent atmosphere of this band. Violent moshing began. There was a lot of posturing from the band on stage. The guitarist joined the crowd and goaded the spectators in the mosh pit. This ode to brutal heaviness continued. The ponderously dark and heavy metal threatened to make a big hole in the floor. Bang-bang-bang … screams … the intensity was total. There was an air of a violent Cult of Luna about it. Personally, I didn’t like the nasty edge that this overwhelming and difficult performance gave off, and felt that Beneath the Wake lacked the personality that Black Polaris had shown, but to be fair, they incited the crowd and elicited more reaction than any of the other bands so far. I suppose it depends on whether you’re into this style and method of presentation or not.

Some of the guys I’d seen or spoken to earlier in the evening came on stage. These guys were the headliners The Sun Explodes. The fact that everyone mingles and appreciates everyone else being there is one of the great things about these nights. The vocalist and guitarist wore face-paint. Unfortunately a lot of the spectators had left, leaving large spaces in the mosh pit. The extracts I’d heard of this band reminded me of Anubis Gate, but I found myself revising this view as the band launched into their big heavy progressive passages. This was totally different from what had gone before. This was the first time a dreamy atmosphere had been created. The band were clearly engaged in creating this rich, colourful and heavy sound. The vocalist’s range was impressive. Then suddenly the band went mental, the vocalist threw himself down in the audience, lifted his shirt and started pleasuring himself. “We’re from Carlisle, Cumbria, up north” he explained when he had finished. The second song started majestically and led to an utterly pulsating piece of prog warfare. There was a faint element of Pink Floyd as the band went on the march. Each development was interesting. An eerie and psychedelic passage followed. The guitar work was utterly compelling. The music had the tightness which the vocalist graciously praised in the other bands who had played previously. As The Sun Explodes approached each song, there was hesitation and clumsiness in the changeover, which belied the magnificence and dazzling creativeness of the musical performance. Melancholy and mind-blowing emotion blended into the heavy progressiveness. Symphonic style was used briefly and appropriately. The vocalist announced “We Build Mountains”, observing that mountains were like the themed song title of the night. Again there was energy but this time it was even more frenetic than before. There was an element of thrash metal about this track, which demonstrated the seemingly endless versatility of this band. Unfortunately I had to leave to catch my train after this so I only got to see just over half of The Sun Explodes’s performance. As I left to waves of progressive metal, I noted that this is a band worth checking out further.

As ever, it was a nice night out watching five UK metal bands, each with their own identity and style. All credit is due to the management of the Unicorn for staging these events. Even the beer’s reasonably priced. Well done too to all the bands for giving it their all and outing on a great evening’s entertainment.

Andrew Doherty