With a musical heritage steeped in Indie, Alternative and Ska, Coventry has never really enjoyed a thriving metal scene. The birthplace of Cathedral and Bolt Thrower, the city has certainly contributed to the cause, but without a decent live venue for years, and with Birmingham just twenty miles down the road, most bands end up playing elsewhere. Even The Empire, the recently opened venue chosen for tonight’s darkest metal rumblings, boasts a “Ska Bar”.
A good-looking, decent sized venue built to aid Coventry’s (ultimately successful) bid to be UK City of Culture for 2021 holds about nine hundred people, and from photographs taken at previous shows, appears to be a warm and busy place. However, on this particular evening in November, it’s all rather chilly and sparsely populated. Clearly, the city’s hairier inhabitants are yet to realise there’s now an armed and fully operational gig venue right on their doorstep. Either that or they’re just afraid of a bit of cold weather.
Playing to about forty people scattered throughout the two-tier interior, opening act The Drowning are the living embodiment of the recent “slow Heavy Metal music playing” meme. Melodic, grinding Death Metal with occasional surges of speed, the Welsh act certainly deserve to play to more people than they are tonight. As do Austrians Hellavista who tear through a set of groovy Thrash Metal with song titles such as ‘Hellevator’, ‘Screwdriving Away’, ‘Rest in Pain’ and ‘Robolution’. Combining fast riffs, Kirk Hammett-inspired solos and Iron Maiden twin guitars, the band’s charismatic and enthusiastic singer, Dirty Harry, snaps and snarls his way through each track, with stage moves that seem to be two parts evil robot and three parts old-man-struggling-to-get-up-from-the-sofa.
With the crowd now having grown to a more respectable size, the first of tonight’s dual headliners, Entombed A.D. hit the stage, tearing through a fairly well-balanced set of old and new material with a flurry of drums, riffs, sweat, and silly facial expressions. After opening with ‘Midas in Reverse’ from 2016’s Dead Dawn (Century Media), the band plunge straight back into the depths of Clandestine (Earache) from 1991 with ‘Stranger Aeons’. ‘Second to None’ from the band’s last album Back to the Front (Century Media) is up next, with the classic ‘Eyemaster’, and ‘Dead Dawn’ following closely behind.
Two oldies, ‘Living Dead’ and ‘Out of Hand’ are followed by brand new track ‘Fit For A King’, taken from their currently unfinished forthcoming album, before the set closes with ‘Revel in Flesh’, ‘Wolverine Blues’, ‘Left Hand Path’ and ‘Supposed to Rot’, four of the best from 1990-1993. Singer LG Petrov, although playing to a much smaller crowd than the previous night at Damnation Festival in Leeds, isn’t letting that bother him in the slightest, having a whale of a time grinning, gurning, drinking, inexplicably spitting beer onto his own face, getting the audience to make silly grunting noises, and unsuccessfully clearing his nasal passages, the contents of his nose inhabiting his beard for much longer than necessary.
After a fairly long break, the crowd had grown again in size, and although still nowhere near capacity, now contained a sufficient amount of people to generate some much-needed heat. Unfortunately, and somehow in spite of the many equipment checks undergone during the interval, closing act Vader play large parts of their set behind an almost impenetrable wall of swirling dry ice. Also, with the vocal settings so low, the only time you can hear frontman Piotr Pawel Wiwczarek (Peter to his friends) with any true clarity is when he lets loose with one of his more ferocious roars, his usual hoarse bark lost amidst the barrage of drums and guitars.
Sound issues aside, Vader are still a magnificent sight to behold (when you can actually see them), especially with such rampant savagery as ‘Sothis’, ‘Testimony’, ‘Black to the Blind’, ‘Fractal Light’ and a particularly venomous ‘Triumph of Death’. Like Entombed A.D. before them, Vader had also played to a full house in Leeds the previous night, but once again didn’t let the relatively small numbers here worry them, getting down to business from the first minute to the last, smashing and thrashing their way through a bruising set of quality old school Death Metal.
WORDS AND PHOTOS BY GARY ALCOCK