Wolf

support Cauldron + Elimination
author GR date 09/10/09 venue Underworld, London, UK

I must admit that I had slightly mixed feelings about attending this gig - on the one hand it was likely to be a good night with great bands and a few friends, on the other hand it would cost over £30 in travel and take at least two and a half hour each way. Still, I find it very hard to resist heavy metal, especially in this case as I had only seen Wolf at festivals prior to this performance and the intimate surrounds of The Underworld were likely to produce a better live experience.

Elimination

I arrived just after Ipswich thrashers Elimination had started their set, and having missed most of their performance at the very same venue back in the summer (on that occasion supporting Forbidden) I headed straight for the stage, even ignoring the lure of the bar - a rare occurrence for me. What became clear as I stood and took in Elimination was that the tag of 'thrash', as I've even applied myself just a few lines ago, is selling Elimination's sound short. Sure, the thrash metal influence is there for all to see and underpins their music, but the compositions on offer also have a strong traditional metal influence, creating a more epic and melodic soundscape than I initially anticipated. In fact, I've just remembered that I saw these guys about a year and a half ago and seem to recall their sound at that time being more simple and straight-up thrash, which, while decent to nod along to in a pub, wasn't particularly interesting: just another band joining the thrash revival. Since that occasion the band certainly seem to have improved their song craft and gained a musical identity - something like a cross between Pitiful Reign and Dark forest, or Exodus and Iron Maiden for a less obscure reference - and with debut album "Destroyed By Creation" under their belts put on a confident and convincing show: shredding solos, galloping riffs, flailing long hair and shining leather present and correct. Given that some opening acts at The Underworld play to a handful of punters if they're lucky, there was a fair crowd watching Elimination and whilst they were never going to generate much in the way of audience movement, they did get a few people headbanging to the likes of "End Of Days", a song that was dedicated to fallen Evile bassist Mike Alexander. During (I think, although I can't be entirely sure) the album title track I was reminded of early Iced Earth in some of the structure and feel, with the vocals of frontman Neil Stevens adding the more overtly thrash stylings to the song. With its glorious and catchy ending guitar harmonies this number was the highlight of the set, before things were rounded off with the competent but slightly clichéd "Straight To Hell", Stevens trying his best to whip up the crowd for their last crack of the heavy metal whip. By no means truly outstanding - some of the songs and performance meandered through forgettable territory - Elimination have successfully hauled themselves above thrash mediocrity, at least in my eyes, and provided a decent start to the evening.

7

Cauldron

Suitably refreshed at the bar, it was time to check out Canadian trad metallers Cauldron. These guys received a fair bit of hype not too long ago, as Earache signed them up in their 'New Wave of Traditional Metal' campaign along with the likes of White Wizzard. Having missed out on seeing them the last time they hit the UK with Bonded By Blood and finding debut album "Chained To The Nite" a bit boring, I was interested to see if their material would fall into place in a live setting. A lot of the audience were obviously bigger fans of Cauldron's output than I am, as the trio received a rapturous welcome to the stage and (if memory serves me correct) launched into "Young and Hungry", one of the stronger cuts from the album. Cauldron's sound is very riff-centric, unsurprising given their single guitarist, and as a few songs passed I found myself nodding along to the 80s-worshipping guitar work but wasn't inspired to do anything more than that. Guitarist Ian Kilpatrick has certainly got the chops; seamlessly switching between big riffs and silky solos, and the band was pretty tight overall, but nothing they were doing really grabbed me. I found the real weak link in their musical armour to be the vocals of Jason Decay, which whilst not being bad were lacking in the kind of power and dynamism that's needed to carry off this sort of metal and gave quite a few of the songs a samey feel. Whilst I was not overly impressed with the sonic qualities of the band, they still put on a decent enough show; moving around the stage and utilising all the classic metal stage moves they could muster. At times I've got to admit these verged on being too contrived, but when a band's stage-wear is circa 1985 and they're belting out songs with titles such as "Conjure The Mass" it would be foolish to expect anything else. One thing that I think made a lot of difference to the vibe emanating from the stage was the fact Kilpatrick looked so damn grumpy for most of the set - only cracking a smile when conversing with a roadie. Whether this was because he wasn't very happy or just down to concentration and nerves I can't say, but it gave the impression he wasn't having much fun and drained some of the enjoyment out of the atmosphere. Still, towards the end of the set the songs and performance seemed to gain a bit more oomph and the general feel of the night was summed up perfectly by the eloquently titled "Drinking Beer and Making Noise".

Wolf

By the time headliners and Swedish purveyors of the steel Wolf hit the stage The Underworld was maybe 2/3rds full; not too bad given some of the abysmal attendances I've seen at the venue in the past. Opening up with the infectious and irresistible "Speed On", the first song on latest album "Ravenous" it was clear Wolf meant business and were on a mission to show everyone what a real heavy metal show was all about. They were greeted by much singing along and headbanging by the crowd, but at this point I was just glad that the sound was spot on, as my previous experiences of Wolf live came from Bloodstock - in 2007 their amps kept cutting out all together and this year the sound mix was slightly muddy and not helped by high winds. As if I had thought too soon, a few songs into the set vocalist/guitarist Niklas Olsson's amp malfunctioned and we were left with the single guitar of Johannes Axeman for the remainder of the song as knobs were twiddled and leads checked to find the source of the problem. In the end the whole cab had to be replaced, which led to the always slightly awkward situation of a prolonged gap between songs. Luckily the band aren't shy retiring types and Axeman took the opportunity to keep the atmosphere jubilant by talking about just how much Wolf love heavy metal and how happy they were to be playing for us. Now, you'd expect most bands to say things along those lines but with Wolf, and Axeman in particular, you get a real sense of the excitement and sheer joy at being able to live out their heavy metal dreams. The fact the guitarist commented enthusiastically on my Primordial tshirt as he walked past me earlier in the evening really summed up just how sincere and bullshit-free the band are. This is something that naturally translates to their performance, as they were obviously loving every minute on stage, running around and throwing metal shapes with big grins on their faces - the sort of thing that makes you really enjoy a show, knowing that the band are having just as much fun.

I can't recall the full setlist (and I was sober!) but more than half of it was made up by songs from the last two albums with an unsurprising focus on "Ravenous", which, given the strength of that album, was no bad thing. With the tragic passing of Evile's Mike Alexander at the start of the week, Wolf changed some of the choruses of "Hail Caesar" to "All Hail Evile" in tribute to a fellow brother in metal. A definitely highlight of the set was "Voodoo", in particular the point when the entire band kicked in with the main riff, following the guitar and vocal only intro - the whole venue, band and crowd alike, surged with energy as necks were snapped back and forth in unison; a moment of such intense enjoyment that it lodged itself in my mind as shining example of why I love this type of music so much. I'm smiling just thinking about it. The tail end of the set went back to earlier days, with the likes of "Evil Star" and "Venom" lapped up by the enthusiastic crowd, although I have to admit to not being familiar with all the older material played. Jolly bassist Anders Modd jumped down from the stage and took a wander through the audience during one number, reappearing after replacing a broken string - a testament to the effort being put into his performance! The thundering rhythm section, glorious harmonies and soaring vocals continued until "In The Shadow Of Steel" - a title that tells you everything you need to know about what was on offer - brought things to a close in fine old school fashion at a surprisingly early hour (better for my travel plans at least!). The UK has become something of a stronghold for Wolf in recent years, indeed Axeman told us it feels like a second home to them, and if the crowd reaction on the rest of this UK tour was anything like the one received in London then I can see them returning to our cities for many years to come.

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