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Holy Roar X live review – London, The Dome/Boston Music Room

UK’s noise stable, Holy Roar Records, celebrates a decade’s worth of deliverance. Check out our live review...

Eva Spence from Rolo Tomassi, live at Holy Roar X

Celebrating 10 years of fighting for the underground and pushing boundaries in UK punk and metal, Holy Roar Records are showcasing 18 of their brightest and best bands over the past decade in an all-dayer suitable for everyone’s alternative palate – from stoner metal to post-hardcore, techy post-metal and balls-out punk. Opening proceedings in the downstairs Boston Music Room are frantic three-piece HELPLESS [8], who are strictly business, their grinding crust deafening those lucky enough to get here early. To keep away from clashes, the stages are staggered, and following upstairs in the much bigger room of the Dome are post-hardcore noiseniks UP RIVER [6]. Shirtless frontman Harry Huntington does his best to rally the crowd but despite the swelling sound, it fails to wholly resonate with the gathering throng. Back downstairs EULOGY [5] blast out some seriously meaty hardcore that unfortunately does little to veer away from the norm and into uncharted waters, but that’s where SVALBARD [9] come in. Swamped in dry ice and attracting one of the biggest crowds of the day, the bruisers from Bristol are truly captivating. Serena Cherry is a star in the making and the band’s blend of extreme metal, post-hardcore and punk is as hypnotic as it is savage. Keep your eyes on these guys. Down in the Boston Music Room, howling doomsters HAAST’S EAGLED [6] deliver gorilla-sized riffs. Not one of the biggest names on the bill, there’s unappreciative talking among the room at the edges and back, which takes away from the explorative impact somewhat.

Haast's Eagled: Soaring vocals

Haast's Eagled: Soaring vocals

Making like Eva Spence’s cousin, EMPLOYED TO SERVE [8] play through the whole of debut Greyer Than You Remember, its aggression prompting the day’s first crowdsurfer. The sound, however, gets cut off before closer As Cold As The Rest, leaving a disappointed packed room. Trying to define Brooklyn three-piece MEEK IS MURDER [7] is like trying to catch 100 squid in a paddling pool of Jell-O. Punk drumming smashes up against rock riffing, and the deranged screams of a man who’s trying to birth the universe from his mouth. Definitely not meek. THE LONG HAUL [6] look more strained, which isn’t surprising given it’s been three years since they hit the stage. But they’re also taut by nature, stiff-limbed frontman Harry Fanshawe remaining the embodiment of tension as his brothers in qualms expertly manipulate the angry energy around him. Where other bands on this bill are about fury, Sheffield’s BODY HOUND [8] are about control, taking great pleasure in weaving instrumental technical metal tracks. They work as a unit, playing off each other in impressive and progressive jams that earn rapturous rounds of applause. APOLOGIES, I HAVE NONE [6] have only recently joined Holy Roar, and also diverge from the label’s hardcore bread and butter, which could explain the half-empty room. Their atmospheric rock songs are more of a mainstream taste, but they play with no less intensity.

Vales' Chlo pits herself against the pit

Vales' Chlo pits herself against the pit

As dinner time approaches, the earnest punk of WE NEVER LEARNED TO LIVE [6] offers a welcome, melodious break in the chaos. Although, surrounded by a sea of experimentalists and artistry, nothing is making the Brighton five-piece stand out. The first slam-dancing of the day comes courtesy of snotty punks GIANTS [7], despite the majority of the day’s audience crowding outside around the food trucks. Vocalist Edward Parker hurtles round the stage in his Bad Religion shirt, trying to start circlepits with his band’s high-octane posi-punk, but it’s an unlucky time to try to rile the troops. It turns out that the perfect post-meal music is the spiritual sludge of OHHMS [8]. The heavy, desert rock riffs encircle the room while crazed frontman Paul Waller jitters and judders around the stage like he’s trying to dodge the music. It’s mesmerising to behold and a definite gem in the Holy Roar arsenal.

A blistering 20-minute set is all VALES [8] have to offer as they lay waste to their Clarity EP in its entirety. They’ve long been associated with Holy Roar, and have achieved something approaching cult status in UKHC circles. Eyes are firmly fixed on stage as the quartet show how punishing they can be, ending with Chlo Edwards screaming in the middle of the floor amongst the community labels like Holy Roar have built for bands and fans alike. Down in the smaller room, sci-fi doomlords SLABDRAGGER [7] are exercising the neck muscles with their filthy, stoner-friendly metal. Consuming the room like a sentient slime, the thundering sludge emits a trance-like state onto the audience who are bobbing as one to the sounds of the black abyss.

Back upstairs the crowd appears to have thinned somewhat for DEPARTURES [6] but the band are giving it their all anyway. Heading into the eighth hour of HRX, the expectancy for original eye-opening music is at a high, but the Glasgow heavies aren’t striking as hard as previous bands on the bill. There are no such worries down in the Boston Music room, though, as penultimate band HANG THE BASTARD [8] unleash seven layers of hell. The combination of adrenaline and booze in the venue is at an all-time high, creating an unadulterated punk atmosphere with stagedivers and headbangers alike losing their collective shit down front, while the barrier hangers consistently steal the mic to take over vocal duties. The room is fit to burst, with fans standing on sofas and tables to witness one of the scene’s heroes lay waste for 45 minutes of delicious mayhem.

But who else could close the 10th anniversary of Holy Roar other than ROLO TOMASSI [9]? One of the label’s very first signings who are still a part of the family a decade later (minus a slight break), the mathcore mavericks do what they do best. Drowned in blue light with electronics filtering in, all bets are off. Eva Spence’s spasmodic, contorted dancing propels her round the stage while her merry men shred and slam as hard as physically possible. Roaring, powerful performances of Party Wounds and Howl are immediate highlights, but it’s the sense of achievement among everyone on and offstage that stands out at the end of the night. On paper this is a celebration of one label, but it’s a reminder that the underground lives and it doesn’t give a fuck if you know about it or not.