Holy Roar 7th Birthday @ The Old Blue Last, London [12/07/2013]

By Chris Marshman

Photo by Justine Jones Photography

Since its formation in 2006, Holy Roar Records has been the go-to name for all things heavy over the past 7 years. Its back catalogue (at time the time of writing encompassing over 100 releases) and roster reads like a “Who’s Who” of exciting and innovative music, not just in the field of hardcore but an array of genres and styles. With such a considerable impact on the underground scene, it would be churlish to deny them a little knees-up to celebrate their birthday, and East London’s Old Blue Last, which has already played host to some memorable Holy Roar shows is the setting for this showcase for HRR’s talents, both established and rising.

First up on tonight’s jam-packed bill are Exhaustion. One of the first acts that drew me towards Holy Roar was Throats, an incredible band who blended powerviolence, doom, d-beat, crust punk and sludge into a seething cauldron of noise, but since their breakup in 2011, their members have gone a little quiet (other than drummer Tom Pitts, who joined Crocus and subsequently Goodtime Boys). Exhaustion, who count ex-Throats guitarist Billy Trevey amongst their number, show a similar contempt for the listener’s eardrums as Trevey’s former band, purveying a harsh, uncompromising and intense sound. The band’s substantial amp setup take centre stage (no BVB-style fake cabs here, kids), as the guitarist, bassist and vocalist thrash and flail about the venue floor. The scattered cheers and whoops between each sonic blast proves Exhaustion’s extreme approach isn’t for everybody, but for those like me who haven’t quite got over the demise of Throats, get very excited indeed about Exhaustion.

With acts like Last Witness, Up River and the band next to play, Rough Hands (not to mention HRR founder and Pariso guitarist Alex Fitzpatrick) hailing from its environs, the South East London borough of Croydon is a unexpectedly fertile ground for aggressive, energetic hardcore. Sounding little like the band that gave inspiration to their moniker (“Rough Hands” is a track found on Alexisonfire’s “Crisis”), the quartet tear through a deliciously angry set, bringing the “mosh goblins” out of the woodwork. Rough Hands are neither particularly original nor unique, but witnessing the chaos they create is enough to keep tonight’s crowd entertained.

As a frequent attendee at Holy Roar shows, often I’ve gone in “blind” on a band (i.e. not checked out their material prior to the show) and been absolutely blown away by what I’ve witnessed – Svalbard amply play that role this evening. Featuring former members of More Than Life and Burning Skies amongst others, the Bristolian quintet play a unique and fascinating brand of “post-whatever”, sounding like the middle ground between much-missed UK post-metallers Rinoa, Cornwall’s Vales and the recently returned Modern Life Is War. Vocals are shared between three members, and soar atop the atmospheric and progressive yet forceful din their instruments (aided by an impressive amount of delay/reverb pedals) create. Of tonight’s trio of upcoming acts, Svalbard would be the one I would impel you to discover sooner rather than later.

Pariso are something of a mercurial proposition in the live arena – the quality of their performances can fluctuate wildly, from scintillating on some nights, to torpid on others. Tonight’s performance wavers more towards the latter category – though there are high points, the ferocious “Pigs” from new album “Consanguinity” being chief among them – the performance, on the whole, feels sluggish and half-hearted. Their fill-in drummer Callum, stepping in for the recently departed Alistair Fyffe, does a great job, but Pariso are still struggling to recapture the bottled lightning that saw them play a string of brilliant shows this time last year.

Conversely, Bastions are on phenomenal form tonight. Already an enticing live act, the Welsh quartet seem reinvigorated, despite recently parting ways with drummer Danny Garrod (what is it about drummers?!). The setlist encompasses both older material and cuts from newer ventures – earlier this year, the first part of their “Bedfellows” double EP was released, with its sequel on the way, and its concept-based content (think Defeater but less boring) is bedding in nicely alongside older tracks like “Augury” and “In The Shadow Of A Mountain” in their live repertoire. Frontman Jamie Byrne is intensity defined on this evening, but still finds an opportunity to hand the mic over for an incendiary guest spot from Alex Pennie of Goodtime Boys. A band who have built a reputation for an exhilirating live show, this performance felt like Bastions taking things to another level altogether. If Holy Roar Records stable are going to continue to produce bands of this calibre, alongside the rest of the Pink Mist collective, here’s to another 7 years – the landscape of British underground music would be far poorer for its absence.