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Tonight was always destined to be something very, very special, two of Manchester’s finest metal bands culminating a UK tour in their home town.  Everything about the evening is set up perfectly,  great, intimate venue at Alter Ego, a location really starting to make a name for itself on the gig scene in the city, a receptive and appreciative audience with high expectations,  all that’s required, the bands to pull out all the stops and deliver.  No pressure then!!   

And you have to feel for Sworn to Oath, the Stoke based trio travelling North to open proceedings with their melodic brand of metal. Sporting an impressive beard, front man, bass player and birthday boy Tom, works hard to create a connection with a relatively sparse crowd early in the evening as the band play a lively, energetic set.  Latest single “Last Call” receives the best reaction, although I’m interested to hear a new song which appears to be taking STO into heavier territory than currently inhabited.  Tom provides strong, clean vocals throughout, well supported by Dave on guitar and Al on drums, although Al’s probably keen to forget 30 seconds of his life, as two drum sticks find their way from his hands to the stage floor, before managing to retrieve timing with minimal disturbance.

As Incassum take to the stage, the crowd begin to gather in earnest and there’s a real feeling of anticipation as the intro plays prior to the band launching enthusiastically into “Daemons.”  Tonight’s set is built primarily around material from the forthcoming album due in April / May next year and based on their performance, that release is definitely one to look out for, the new songs being exceptionally strong.  In fact, there’s nothing about Incassum which hasn’t improved immeasurably since the “In Vain” EP from 2008.  Sharleen Kennedy surely possesses one of, if not the best female death growl around, while her clean vocals also go from strength to strength.  Further growling is provided by drummer John Curran and guitarist Chris Taylor, Chris also showing some nifty footwork around stage, to supplement his impressive fretwork.  Touring obviously suits the five piece, producing a wonderfully tight performance, although another major factor, the pure enjoyment  exhibited throughout, the sight of Curran and guitarist Andrew Snowden, smiles on their face, locked in, eye to eye, as they nail a particularly complex stop, start passage a pure joy to behold.  Snowden is also an absolute revelation around his guitar, fingers blurred by speed, moving like lighting around the strings and frets. Special mention to bass player Joe Scrim Till Deth, filling in after the departure of Rick Kershaw, who along with John Curran provide an immense rhythm section.  Difficult to pick a highlight from such a stunning set, although Sharleen’s personal favourite and closer “Blood Soaked Banner” is especially impressive. 

You want a band to watch out for in 2102, look no further, Incassum will be a name appearing on a regular basis within the U.K metal scene next year.

Set List

Cut Loose
Tie My Hands
Divine Rites
The Worlds Fear
Blood Soaked Banner

Spires are a step slightly further down the road than the majority of current Manchester Metal bands, their debut, full length album self-released back in 2010 and with no offence intended to Alter Ego, come next year, they will surely play much larger venues that the Princess Street Club.  Less frenetic than Incassum, a steely determination and intensity abounds within the playing of their highly technical progressive metal.  The main focal point is vocalist / guitarist Paul Sadler, providing most of the on stage movement and come the day he decides he no longer wishes to be a death growling, guitar hero, I’m sure many a local social club will queue to snap up his intrinsic Northern compere skills, wittily conversing with the crowd and handling a slightly over enthusiastic punter shouting for more early in the set.

With most headline bands, a five song set would be a disappointment, Spires aren’t however most bands.  Five songs constitute a lengthy period, four taken from debut record “Spiral to Ascensionwith the inclusion of a spectacular new track “The Fevered Spirit.”  “Spiral to Ascension” a particularly apt title, the music of Spires including more twists and turns than a Tour De France stage to the summit of Alpe D’Uhez, rather than songs, their compositions are metal symphonies, thoroughly brutal one minute, tender and compassionate the next.  Sadler moves effortlessly from ferocious bellow to soaring dulcet tones, top marks to Alter Ego's desk for excellent sound all night, leaving nothing unheard.  While Spires provide a more controlled stage presence to the earlier acts, their strengths centre around the intricacies and complex nature of the music, producing a thoroughly mesmerising performance, Al Jolley’s six string bass and Chris Barnard’s pummelling drumming underpinning every aspect of Sadler’s and Paul Cuthbert’s phenomenal  guitar work.  My personal zenith, Cuthbert’s solo towards the end of “Broken Hourglass,” eyes closed, totally at one with his seven string instrument, a minute of pure magic. 

As a fan of rock and metal music for much longer than I care admit, Paul’s Sadler and Cuthbert are undoubtedly one of the finest twin electric guitar pairings I’ve ever experienced, intertwining notes, chords and sounds to provide almost orgasmic pleasure to any fan of the finest instrument ever invented.  The aforementioned “Broken Hourglass” surely one of the finest pieces of rock music produced in the last ten years, if not ever. Surely 2012 will see Spires thrust further into the limelight, bigger halls, larger crowds ultimately where they deserve to be.  The future of Manchester metal is bright, Spires currently the most luminescent of lights.

Set List

The Infinite Descent
The Fevered Spirit
Broken Hourglass

Review/videos by Andy Barnes /Photos by Phil King