LIVE: 420 Fest @ Boston Music Rooms

By Jay Hampshire

Holy Roar Records have emerged as a bastion of original, dynamic and heavy-as-balls UK bands of late. Tonight’s sold-out show at the Boston Music rooms is a testament to those who appreciate the label as much as the varied array of bands on the bill, who represent some of the best acts from the contemporary ‘metal’ underground. While the choice of date offers itself up for plenty of jests and references, it’s also an apt metaphor: each set tonight evokes the phases of a trip influenced by the devil’s lettuce.

Manchester’s Pijn are the gentle ease in, the light up, those first few tokes. Wavering lap-guitar notes unsettle before rising like smoke into glossy clean lines. There’s an irresistible undercurrent of rhythm, building rimshots and bass hooks underpin the meditative, airy guitar layers. When it soars and begins to drive its classic post metal fare, calling on the spirits of Russian Circles and tonights headliners. It’s richly atmospheric stuff, shifting dynamically between the lilting and gentle and dramatic, tolling drones. Impressively focussed and undeniably uplifting, Pijn certainly prepare the way.

Conjurer bring that initial rush of intensity, the dawning realisation that your reality is altering, of just how fucked you are. Crushing doesn’t do the Rugby quartet’s set justice. Caught between breathless blastbeats and blistering riffs, they stride from snaking moments of respite and lucidity and towering passages of precision destruction. While older cuts like ‘Behold The Swine’ are just as raw and vital as ever, Dan Nightingale and Brady Deeprose howling and roaring their unbridled rage, it’s the newer material that elevates their set to truly staggering. They execute it with infectious levels of conviction and sorcerous energy, the more technical passages seeing them channel a heavier Death, and the moody, lighter instrumentals steering towards the shining waters of post. They leave the stage to uproarious appreciation, having set the bar unenviably high for those who follow. Their next release might see them cement themselves as the best UK death metal has to offer.

Next up, Ohhms capture that point where your mind is fully open – conspiracy theories, universal truths and the secrets of the cosmos are all accessible to you. The world clicks into focus, everything makes sense. They kick in with ‘The World’, a chugging, grooving mass of stoner-prog that showcases just how vital a listen to debut album ‘The Fool’ is as it moves through cascading drops and racing, uptempo runs. It’s surprising that they don’t take this opportunity to throw down some more new cuts, but instead indulge in a history lesson, taking the audience back to 2014 with a instrumentally dense, glacially majestic rendition of ‘Rise Of The Herbivore’ and a slightly stripped down (but no less powerful) ‘The Anchor’. There’s an unearthly, cosmic vibration to what Ohhms put on tonight, spacey guitar layers, ringing bass notes and deliberate, organic build ups placing them in the same realms as the likes of heyday Sleep – bluesy, soulful and more than a little sexy. Paul Waller belts out crooning cleans despite suffering a touch of laryngitis, and the Kent riffmongers acquit themselves admirably.

Croydon massive Slabdragger might be the perfect stoner party band. They’re the part of a trip where everything sounds ten times better, you’re ready to party, senses heightened. Yusuf Tary and Sam Thredder take to the stage dressed as Cheech and Chong respectively, acting up to the 420 vibe. They might not take the dress code seriously, but they sure as hell take their mighty riffs seriously. ‘Evacuate’ is absolutely rampant, an unstoppable, ripping ride that has Yusuf shrieking away like a scalded cat as Jack Newnham attempts to batter his kit unconscious (somehow not missing a beat despite wearing sunglasses inside on a pretty dark stage). Their bluesy licks and swagger are irresistible, and the good fucking time the trio have on stage radiates out like a cloud of potsmoke into the audience. ‘Mercenary Blues’ whirls you round the stratosphere with its constantly moving riffy lumber, smoothed out by Yusuf’s smooth, wailing cleans. Closing with an absolutely unstoppable ‘Dawncrusher Rising’ threatens to shake the venue apart, and there’s a smile on every face by the time Slabby D are done. A force of nature – one of the most exciting live bands in British music, not just British metal.

Headliners Bossk are a comedown – just not in the usual, negative sense. The gentle ease back to normality, the slightly tired, fuzzy headed final stop, the satisfied, relaxed calm. Sparkling, drifting labyrinths of guitars entwine and wrap around the venue, drifting to the roof like embers. A fluid undertow of bass is ever present, grounding things with big, ballsy hooks. What’s most noteworthy is how consummately professional Bossk are – while other bands may spend time chasing their own riffs, trying to pump up the crowd, the Kent gents are more than content to let their music do the talking. Solidly built, meticulously crafted layers run the gamut from moody shoegaze and indie influences straight through to towering, buzzing stoner rock. When Sam Marsh appears on stage to screech out into the void, it’s as another instrument, another part of the organic, effortlessly linked whole. They understandably favour material from long awaited debut ‘Audio Noir’, and it has a packed audience lapping it up. Arguably not as intense as some of the other bands on the bill, Bossk are no less capturing. A magnetic, undeniable presence.

It’s nights like tonight that reinforce the importance of labels like Holy Roar Records. A label comprised of ardent fans is something vital, and the fact that they were able to unite such an eclectic lineup is no small thing. For all in attendance, whether indulging in herb or not, one thing certainly tied them together – a truly historic night of holy riff.