LIVE: Employed To Serve / Ithaca / Watchcries @ Sanctuary LIVE!, Basingstoke

By Jay Hampshire

Halloween might be a few days away, but the spooks and scares are out in force on the streets of Basingstoke (which to an extent, they are most nights). There might be lots of folks thronging to the Halloween parade dressed in all sorts of costumes, but for the black t-shirted few wading through the crowds, there’s only one destination for aural brutilisation – Sanctuary LIVE!

Using this ‘only-a-few-train-stops-away-so-might-as-well-be-hometown’ show as a way to get their eye in before their upcoming headline tour, it’s Woking-based hardcore heavyweights Employed To Serve, bolstered by the melodious mathcore mob Ithaca and Brightonian sludgey hardcore quartet Watchcries (a late addition to the bill after Up River were forced to drop out).

It’s a big night for Watchcries, as it’s the album-launch show for their debut, ‘Wraith’. There’s not a hint of nerves evident as they tear through their set, bristling with pummeling drums, feral vocals and commanding riffs. New cuts like ‘Wild Flesh’ stand side by side with more time-honed numbers including ‘Daymares/The Sleep Of Trust’, the band hitting their stride once the sound mix figures out how to handle them. Ant Cole hunches over his kit like a leering hobgoblin, meting out near-inhuman fills and tempo changes, while Nats Spada eventually gives into the temptation to pace out into the crowd, roaring effortlessly. It might have taken a few tracks for the crowd to get on their wavelength, but such an assured performance has surely won new fans.

London’s Ithaca walk the finest of tightropes between structure and chaos, teasing both with their needling guitar work and galloping grooves. They shift easily between moments of deceptive, atonal calm and churning calamity, never losing a foam-mouthed, wild-eyed sense of urgent, desperate drama. Vocals soar and bark, snares rattle off and feedback hums in densely layered walls of force that both band and crowd find impossible to resist, the breathless ballet onstage mirroring the roiling pit.

Speaking of pits, Employed To Serve summon one that seems to test all the limits of the scant space of Sanctuary LIVE!, both horizontal and vertical. A boiler suited, afro-sporting clown (yes, someone had seen IT at the cinema) dives from the bar, managing to stage dive in a venue without a stage. Justine Jones marshals the crowd with ease, channeling the energy from band to crowd like a lightning rod.

Riffs stutter and descend, the set heavy with cuts from latest release ‘The Warmth Of A Dying Sun’, but still catering to the stalwart fans with tracks from ‘Greyer Than You Remember’. Despite being a band member down due to a back injury, the remaining four members are unhindered, ripping through track after track, remorseless.

‘I Spend My Days Wishing Them Away’ is a looming, steadily revolving masterstroke, subsonic grooves spurring the crowd to scream along. They treat us to a sweaty encore, their set ending far too soon. If they attack their headline sets with this level of vitriol and confidence, the tour will be a historic one. Scarily good, they showed us every trick and treat in their playbook.