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The Witchwood is a traditional pub and musical oasis surrounded by a sea of development.  At one point perilously close to being forced to close to make way for offices and car parking...... thankfully a local petition heeded by the council keeping a great venue afloat.  Tonight, the juxtaposition of worlds within it’s confines could be no more obvious as I find myself in conversation with a group of mature locals, while in the band room on the opposite side of the bar, the sound of a Death metal sound check holds sway. Very much like The Brudenell Social Club in Leeds, it’s great to see a mixture of people with completely different outlooks on life, intermingling so easily. Due to partaking in an interview with headliners tonight, Talanas, I unfortunately miss Candid Iniquity, although from the snatches I heard as the door kept opening, they sounded very impressive. 

My metallic night officially started with local quintet Incassum.  Formed back in 2004 at Salford University, they play technical metal, including on occasions a surprisingly funky element and within vocalist Sharleen Kennedy, have an unusual focal point for the genre.  Metal is undoubtedly a very male world, although Kennedy more than holds her own even on a stage packed with gear making movement difficult, a point she announces to the audience.  Her vocal moves seamlessly from the guttural growl, to cleaner more refrained tones, when mixed with outstanding playing, Incassum become a band well worth further investigation, particularly with second album due, hopefully in November / December this year.

Another local outfit next in Spires constructing a more melodic, progressive slant, switching readily to quieter, subtler passages amongst the death fuelled pandemonium, unfortunately, a feature tonight for all the bands, is the issue with the sound, making the vocals difficult to hear.  The power and musical ability, a joy to behold, I wished Paul Sadler’s voice had been more apparent as the union of growl and melodious tone is intrinsic to Spires.  Still, there’s certainly enough on show tonight to suggest an investment in debut album “Spiral of Ascension” is required.

In my opinion, with debut “The Waspkeeper” Talanas, has already produced the album of the year, a brilliant collection, extracting references from Opeth and Akercocke certainly, although moving onwards and upwards, injecting additional intensity and brutality.  Tonight is the first of a four date mini tour, which ultimately proves frustrating to the band. After the programme over ran, with a midnight curfew fast approaching, a hint of panic pervades around the setting up of the equipment. Perhaps for a split second, Joe Butterworth is regretting bringing along the complete single largest drum kit Mapex has commissioned to an individual, although the speed in which the band manage to assemble everything is nothing short of remarkable.  

At ten minutes to twelve, Talanas are ready to go, although unsurprisingly the exertions seem to have taken their toll, opening with a slightly clunky “Pray Speed the Fever” from the EP “Reason and Abstract.” The curfew is obviously on vocalist / guitarist Hal Sinden’s mind, at one point asking if they will be able to complete their set, which to the credit of The Witchwood, is allowed.

Unexpectedly, from a short, five song set, the EP takes precedence over the debut album, as both “Aorta” and “Diaphora” are aired, with “Messaline” the first introduction to The Waspkeeper.  Again, as with Incassum and Spires, Sindens vocals suffer even after asking for extra from his monitor, which is verging on sacrilege as he possesses one of the most powerful demonic screams known to man.  It’s incredibly difficult for metal bands playing small venues which really don’t suit the immensity of the sound, their material far more appropriate to larger expanses of space.  I’m amazed however to find The Witchwood almost deserted, only a meagre audience present, perhaps totalling a dozen people.  I really don’t understand why a field, which utilises such incredible technical ability and produces some of the most inventive music around can be so consistently ignored, especially within home grown bands.  Has there ever been a metal band nominated for the Mercury Prize?  It appears in the UK, we feel the necessity to look further afield, to Scandinavia, America and Canada for our metal fix, un-appreciating of talent under or own noses, quite simply tonight proved we can finger tap, hammer on, shred and pulverise rhythm sections with the best.

As Talanas finish with “Antiphon” and  “Aorta” they really hit their stride, Ewan Parry on lead exhibiting brilliantly intricate, finger ripping fretwork, Mark “Duff” Duffy, head down and animated on fluttering seven string bass,  Butterworth utilising absolutely his enormous drum kit and Sinden completing a surreal transformation, quietly spoken rakish raconteur to seething fiendish figure of diabolical proportions in one fell swoop. 

Circumstances dictated tonight wasn’t the best to witness Talanas, hopefully Birmingham, Southampton, Kingston and Bloodstock festival, will find the band in a more stress-free environment, able to concentrate fully on what they do best, producing the ultimate in progressive death metal.  

Set List

Pray Speed The Fever

Review by Andy Barnes        

Photos :  Katie Dervin -  Incassum and Spires.
               Andy Barnes – Talanas (Due to the last train)
Video:    Andy Barnes  

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