An evening of cosy death metal in a basement bar in Dunedin. Cheap cider and black t-shirts abound. Mostly students, but a few bogans too. 95% male audience, as you would expect…
My one previous experience of Refuel was The Mint Chicks 4 or 5 years ago, played at an insanely loud volume. It was so loud in fact, my earplugs began to disintegrate. So, I was understandably cautious as I descended the stairs into the bar for the first band, Warsaw. First up of 4 would be a local band I would imagine – there were quite a few bodies in front of the stage so I guess they probably were. The 3 numbers I saw were fairly decent, if you like Pantera, that is. I don’t particularly, but Warsaw were quite tight and the mix was surprisingly good. Obligatory gruff death metal vocals, belted out by a stocky, Pantera-tattooed, Billy Milano lookalike. It must hurt to sing like that, surely? The music was a 70/30 split – Pantera vs Queens of the Stone Age, and their last one was a Pantera cover, which went down very well indeed. Pantera are really quite popular here, for some bizarre reason :-s
Twist of Fate were next. Were they local too? Nah, they were far too good… What an awesome band. Again, a heavy QOTSA influence, but damn good though – buzzsaw twin lead guitars reminiscent of early Maiden but graduating to a far more proggy, really intricate sound which was clearly influenced by everybody’s favourite Scandic melodic death metal minstrels, Opeth. They boasted twin vocalists too, one ‘melodic’ and one ‘gruff’, in true Opeth style, but with a bit more interplay, more akin to System Of A Down. Bloody brilliant, up to the point where the guitarist decided to get some crowd participation going on, and incited a game of British Bulldog (or local equivalent thereof) in the audience. I’m not being an old fart here, I am nursing a recently broken toe and can’t have some drunken hairy buffoon stamping on my foot, OK?
Then onto Osmium. A three piece consisting of Groundskeeper Willie on bass, Michael Eavis on guitar/vox and A.N. Other beardy bloke on drums. Bit more of a doomy, stoner rock feel to it than the previous two bands, with a tinge of, you’ve guessed it, Queens Of The Stone Age. Hmm, seems to be a bit of a recurring theme… The vocals were exclusively clean this time, but sounded a little too clean for this sort of music, a bit like, er, Nik Kershaw. Great riffz though - more simplistic than the last lot, but heartily groovable.
Well, I’d never heard of any of the acts on the bill before tonight, and until this point, my entire knowledge of the NZ death metal scene was limited to 8ft Sativa. I was never much of an expert on death metal in the first place, and I’m just out of touch these days but it turns out that Sinate is mostly made up of ex-8ft dudes anyway, so I knew roughly what to expect. I wasn’t wrong. They are very, very heavy indeed. Pure death metal, but not in a particularly good way – I didn’t get into them nearly as much as the previous two acts. I like it heavy and all, but this was just a bit too heavy. I like heavy with a bit of respite, a bit of contrast. This was just heavy with outbreaks of more heavy. Too fast and outta control guitar solos, machine gun drumming, vocals like Lemmy through a distortion pedal – all fine on their own but a little too much when thrown together. I am being churlish though, it was a cracking gig, I just like to moan a lot, if everything’s not exactly how I like it.
Massive kudos to the lead guitarist, though not for his ability to cram 1000 notes from 25 different diatonic scales into each song, but for his wearing a Hawkwind T-shirt. I wasn’t aware that anyone in NZ had even heard of Hawkwind, let alone knew where to buy a shirt. It struck me as I was wandering home, ears ringing and toe-ache beginning to resurface as the cider wore off, that the Sinate guitarist was probably not even born the first time I saw Hawkwind, and that was in the latter half of their career…
Kudos also goes to the Heavy Metal Tromboner (oo-er missus) busking outside Refuel, and his impressive note-for-note (including all the solos) rendition of ‘Enter Sandman’. He was clearly classically trained to a high level, but presumably got thrown out of the NZ Symphony Orchestra for having long hair and tattoos. ‘Speck.
p.s. Apologies for the desperately poor quality of the images – my Blackberry can only take decent pictures in full sunlight.