Sonic Forge Festival 2013

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All photos by Antony Pinder

My Sonic Forge kicked off early, soaking up the sun in the beer garden during sound check. First up in the Gershwin Room was Hollow World.  Their mix of melodic death and core-esque feels were delivered in a very tight set with great energy on stage (and off, as the singer ran into the pit). The crowd, which would swell to almost 800 by night’s end, had already begun trickling into the venue and there were a healthy number of people watching the first bands. 

Next up, Hadal Maw blasted open the Front Bar with their vicious brand of extreme death metal. They had a good crowd as the line outside kept filing straight into the room and one punter remarked to me that it was the best they have ever seen the boys play.  Setting the bar of intensity high, this groove-laden, eight-string monster gave one of the most brutal sets of the day.

Back in the Gershwin Room and lathered in corpse paint, Adamus Exul were pure evil personified. Their grimy black metal was articulated with the same misanthropic aggression found on their recordings and their live performance was twisted and engaging. My time watching them was divided, however, as fellow corpse-painted black metallers Hybrid Nightmares took to the stage in the Front Bar. These guys totally rule live. Their unique blend of whacky folk and black metal is nothing but entertaining and their tongue-in-cheek stage performance encourages the crowd to let loose and headbang.  The sound was a bit muddy to be honest, although it didn’t detract from their raw, blackened metal sound.

Into the basement, Northern Territory’s Miazma slaughtered the crowd with their fierce death metal. The sound in the basement suffered all day, as the tiny PA simply couldn’t handle the ferocity of the music, but the bands rose above it with the apparent intention of destroying the system altogether. Miazma’s truly brutal death metal was quite obviously enjoyed by the crowd, and proved why they are making waves in Australian death metal. Their unrelenting intensity and unwavering energy, coupled with their massive, catchy sound absolutely pummelled the sweaty crowd from start to finish.

Catching a bit of Truth Corroded in the Gershwin Room, the band were exhibiting material from their new album, which seemed to go down well with punters. Their thrashy, melody-ridden metal drew a healthy crowd and was well-executed on stage. The guitars cut through in the mix to highlight their melodic riffing and overall they gave a really solid performance.

A Million Dead Birds Laughing were next on my to-see list, and they too were playing predominately from their new album, Bloom. With only ‘King’ from the Xen album, it was interesting to see the new material performed live and it was well-received by the crowd. The standout song was widely agreed upon as the finale, where four vocalists (frontman Darren Leslie, guitarist/vocalist Ben Boyle, and guest vocalist’s Aaron Grice [Hadal Maw] and James Turfrey [ex-The Mung]) belted out ‘Equilibrium’ like a wall of pure fury.

Ruins always put on a tight show, and as night fell on The Espy the Tasmanians delivered another excellent set. Their rocky black metal drew a good crowd and the dirty groove of their music was complimented by a well-balanced mix. The powerhouse behind the band, Dave Haley, was pulling double duty and after slaying his set with Ruins, returned to the stage straight after with The Amenta.

Lathered, as usual, in black paint and seething at the crowd, The Amenta played one of their tightest sets this year at Sonic Forge. Perhaps it was the energy in the room, ripe with the tension of knowing that the band are heading into hibernation soon, or perhaps it was that the general level of crowd-drunkenness had begun to peak, but either way The Amenta drew possibly the biggest crowd of the night for what was a fiercely charged moshpit. Playing songs from across their repertoire of industrialized black metal, the theatrics of The Amenta never fail to match the intensity of their music itself. The mix amplified their suffocating aura, engulfing you in shuddering waves of sound and flashing lights while remaining crisp and well-rounded.

For me, the night was stolen by the pestilential fury of New Zealand’s Ulcerate. Taking the time to get their mix right, the sound was near flawless, which paid off by allowing their churning, dissonant riffs to be unleashed upon the audience with as much clarity as ferocity. Immediately, it was apparent how much more fitting the Gershwin Room was than the last time I saw them, which was on the dank little stage in The Bendigo Hotel during their last Australian visit. While their music undeniably has a proclivity towards dark, grimy settings, being able to see them on a sound system like the one in the Gershwin Room felt like the level of epic-ness they deserved. Debuting some of their new material from Vermis, the hypnotic, unruly power of their music pressed down upon the crowd with unknown force, and flattening you with the severe energy being projected from the stage. Disappointingly, the crowd was a little sparse compared to those of local bands, which is unfortunate since Ulcerate were undoubtedly the most brutal band of the day – just before the finale, guitarist Michael Hoggard collided with his headstock, finishing the set with a tiny trickle of blood forming in the centre of his  forehead.

Overall, the line-up for this festival was awesome, and it made for an awesome day. Every single band was of high quality, and the timetable was well spaced, allowing time to see the maximum amount of music, without having to miss out on too much of any set. What’s more, being so late in the year the festival feels like a way for metalheads to send out the year together, so horns up to that.

Review by Tennille Secomb

SONIC FORGE HIGHLIGHTS by Joshua Bulleid

Hadal Maw

In a live setting it’s always a good idea to open strong, and Sonic Forge 2013 does just that with the none-so-heavy Hadal Maw. Barely ten-minutes after the doors open, the Melbourne supergroup of sorts, featuring: House Of Thumbs’ bassist, Nick Rackham, on guitar; Alarum drummer Rob Brens; A Million Dead Birds Laughing guitarist, Ben Boyle;  Arcane Saints’ Jim Luxford on the Bass rounded out by Swimming With Sharks vocalist Aaron Grice; does nothing short of lay waste to the front bar with their astounding brand of super-heavy tech-death.

Boyle’s no stranger to this sort of crazy technical fare, but Hadal Maw’s riffs are more reserved and drawn out that those of his main band, and Boyle’s guitar playing is rendered only more phenomenal given the extra breathing room. However, the true star of the set is Grice, whose vocal ability and prowess as a frontman steal the show entirely as he struts around the stage looking every bit the part with his Nathan Explosion-style, long hair; spewing forth ungodly, guttural growls.

Hadal Maw are undeniably astonishing, creating intense excitement and hunger for them to put out a proper release (besides 2012’s two-song sampler, which can be downloaded free form their Bandcamp page HERE), and prove a hard act to follow for the rest of the day – perhaps only being toppled once when Grice is brought back into the fold, but more on that later.

Truth Corroded

Expanding their arsenal to include three guitarists – with the inclusion of Trent Simpson (ex-The Plague Black, ex-Humonic) – Truth Corroded took apart the Gershwin room with their unrelenting brand of groove-laden death thrash. The t-shirts adorned by the band, brandishing the logos of Bolt Thrower, Slayer and Whitechapel, gave a good indication of their sound as the pulverizing riffs emitting from their amplifiers.

True to form, the band laid down a thick and heavy set comprising of choice cuts from now classic albums, Upon The Warlord’s Crawl and Worship The Bled, as well as taking a few from the newly released (and unsurprisingly excellent) The Saviour’s Slain, which slotted in comfortably alongside the Chimaera-esque chug of staples like ‘Hunt All Heroes’ and ‘The Immolation Seen’ while showcasing, almost unbelievably, an even more frantic side of the band’s sound.

Vocalist, Jason North, stood at the front of the stage – barking like a man possessed – while, lead guitarist Darren McLennan effortlessly laid down endlessly impressive leads atop the onslaught concocted by their bandmates, including drummer,  Kieran Murray who had no trouble pulling off the parts laid down on record by legendary drummer Kevin Talley (Chimaira, Six Feet Under, Misery Index).

It’s a shame more weren’t present to witness this phenomenal set – the floor-coverage in the Gershwin Room thin at best – but it is equally likely that the sheer force of the set created a physical barrier, preventing entry to all but the most hardened metalhead.

A Million Dead Birds Laughing

Sonic Forge 2012 saw A Million Dead Birds Laughing’s first performance with new vocalist Darren Leslie (Ocularis Infernum) after the departure of Adam Stewart “to work on some personal issues.”  The change was a jarring one. Not to undermine the insane guitar work of Ben Boyle, Sean Aggett’s absolutely devastating bass, or the inhuman drumming of Dean Turner; Stewart’s diverse and quirky vocal style was a large part of what made AMDBL’s sound so distinct and appealing, and his stage presence was captivating and unique. Leslie’s vocals proved to be suitably powerful, but lacked (noticeably) Stewart’s diversity and Leslie’s somewhat stock, brutal-death vocalist stage persona.

A year down the track, by way of a spectacular set in support of Milwaukee cruststers, Enabler, Leslie has grown as both a vocalist and a frontman – sitting far more comfortably amongst the AMDBL line-up than the last time Sonic Forge graced these halls. The band also play to Leslie’s strengths, playing a set almost exclusively comprised of tracks from the band’s freshly released, third album Bloom (the first with Leslie). The Bloom tracks are noticeably more technical and frantic than the progressive tones of the band’s previous album, Xen, or the captivating song structures of the band’s seminal (can we say that now? I am) debut, Force Fed Enlightenment, and go over well with the formidable crowd gathered in the Front Bar. The speed and finesse with which Boyle plays is astounding – if marginally less so in light of his fantastic set with Hadal Maw earlier in the day – and Aggett’s bass is cranked up so loud that it physically shakes the stage and threatens to implode the chest cavities of those in attendance, especially on live favourite and hot contender for heaviest song of all time, ‘King’ (the only track not to be taken from Bloom).

While Leslie’s raw performance is to be commended, it is duplicitous in its desertion of the earlier, Stewart material – not to mention a shame to neglect the audience of excellent, staple-tracks like “Void”, “Requiem” or “161”. It is also disconcerting to see the band, once known for their themed suits (black shirt, red tie for Force Fed…; and white shirt, green tie for Xen), to be playing in only shorts and singlets. But oh well, “progression” means moving with the times as much as odd scales and wacky time-signatures and the band’s closing triptych completely remedies any lingering doubts about AMDBL’s future prowess.

‘Praxis’ – one of Bloom’s more diverse ventures – began the show’s last bracket, and was one of the set’s more convincing moments; then, of course, there’s ‘King’; with the set culminating in ‘Equillibrium’ – an elusive Stewart-penned track no longer “from the future”, which sees Leslie and Boyle joined by Hadal Maw’s Arron Grice and ex-The Mung vocalist James Turfrey for a four-pronged vocal attack that remained, unquestionably, the highlight of the event.

 

In Malice’s Wake

An otherwise outstanding set from In Malice’s Wake was almost fatally wounded by an exceedingly poor mix – reducing lead guitarist, David Graham, nearly inaudible and, bassist, Luke Blasso completely so when the deafening, high-gain tones left over from A Million Dead Birds Laughing’s set caused the bass head to tumble to the ground during the band’s second song. Even when the bass situation was rectified – involving the replacing of chords and an new DI – there remains, through the entire set, constant bass feedback and topping-out that severely muddies the band’s sound, and it’s a frustrating wonder that the sound engineers don’t seem to notice, or no one thinks to turn the gain down.

Due to these complications, In Malice’s Wake get off to a slow start with ‘Endless Possession’ and ‘Onslaught’ lacking their usual, solid, crisp punch. However, the band are as tight as ever and – after some encouragement from Bane Of Winterstorm’s Anthony Finch coupled with the filtering in of stragglers from Hypno5e’s set next door – the Front Bar is soon filled with the appropriate enthusiasm and physical response In Malice’s Wake deserve what with their last album, The Thrashening, being, hands down, the best thrash album of the last ten years and all.

In Malice’s Wake’s set culminates in a new song, which sounds on par with the band’s flawless back-catalogue, and a cover of Slayer’s ‘War Ensemble’, which sets all those who haven’t wandered off to catch Tasmania’s ultra-professional Ruins busily playing the set of the day in the  Gershwin Room, into a thrashonate (like passionate, but with thrash metal; Get it?) frenzy. Muddy sound aside, In Malice’s Wake do not disappoint.

  

Ulcerate

In the first, and seemingly only, delay of the day, Ulcerate take to the Gershwin Room stage almost fifteen minutes late, and it’s a real shame to cut short a predictably awesome set from Melbourne stalwarts Dreadnaught to come and watch the New Zealanders silently fiddle with their amp settings and sound check Paul Kelland’s expansive drum kit.

The disconnect is furthered when the band finally launch into their set, unannounced, and proceed to plough through four indistinguishable songs punctuated by further bouts of silent guitar tuning in between. Such arrests should be welcome relief amidst Ulcerate’s exhaustingly dissonant tones but, while they stand somewhat transfixed during the songs themselves, the instantaneous and expansive rabble that picks up from the audience at every given moment throughout the band’s set shows clear sign of disengagement.

Ulcerate’s performance is faultless in and of itself, but the lack of engagement renders it quickly tiring – an effect only augmented by Kelland’s being all but obscured in the stage’s rear shadows. In a year where all anyone seems to be talking about is the monumental achievement that is Gorguts’ Coloured Sands – pausing only to throw in, “hey, Vermis is pretty sweet too,” – that Ulcerate can practically headline such an event as Sonic Forge should be a cause for great celebration, but their reception is lukewarm at best – drawing a crowd barely half the size and completely lacking in the rabid excitement of that inspired by Orpheus Omega earlier in the day, and one which perhaps suffered vast losses due to the later half of the set clashing with, hometown favourites, King Parrot.

The vital delay at the beginning and Ulcerate’s impersonal performance are a far cry from the mesmerizing set witnessed at the Bendigo Hotel late last year, and ultimately prove to be fatal, resulting in a set noticeably lacking in the majesty of past headliners’ performances – such as Be’Lakor’s spellbinding set at last year’s Sonic Forge – from whom they could do with taking at least one note: a curtain goes a long way.

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