Last night Swedish heavy metal traditionalists Portrait played a headline show in Limerick and they went down so well with the metal-starved locals that they sold all of their merch. So, it seems that a love of bands who follow the time-tested tenets of heavy metal established by Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Mercyful Fate et al during the ‘80s continues to thrive here in Eire.
Unfortunately, Hammer missed Sentinel who opened Portrait’s Dublin gig tonight at the Gypsy Rose; a small rock pub with plenty of character located in the city’s centre. But there was a good reason for that: At the same time, Portrait’s countrymen, At the Gates, were razing Dublin’s The Academy to the ground with a blistering encore of Blinded By Fear, Kingdom Gone and The Night Eternal.
From start to finish it was a special set for those in attendance, as the legendary At the Gates, led by the fearless Tomas Lindberg, tore through songs that spanned their entire career, with the expected highlights coming from the tracks aired from their seminal 1995 album, Slaughter Of The Soul. The impact of the early one-two combo of Slaughter Of The Soul and Cold was enough to crack vertebrae in your neck. Then add in how well songs from 2014 comeback album At War With Reality were received – particularly Death and The Labyrinth and the vicious title track – and you have a veteran band who inspired a multitude proving that their power and relevance remains intact.
After a drunken dash across the famous Ha’penny Bridge in sub-zero temperatures, Hammer arrives at the tight confines of the Gypsy Rose to a guy playing a terrible cover of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here to those sinking pints at the bar. Downstairs, however, Kildare four-piece Stereo Nasty  are setting up on the small stage.
Musically, Stereo Nasty take a different approach to most of their Irish metal contemporaries; shunning gnarly death metal for spikes and denim and a healthy dose of hard rock and heavy metal. Tonight, their stomping ‘80s-inspired songs show great promise ahead of the release of their forthcoming debut, Nasty By Nature. And now that they’ve a couple of gigs under the bullet belts, their live show has stepped up to match the verve of their music.
Rabid Bitch Of The North  would get a pass based solely on the pure brilliance of their name alone. Luckily, the Belfast trio are more than capable of backing up their moniker with sharp, thrash-flecked heavy metal. While hard-hitting drummer Chris Condie is a dead ringer for Robert Baratheon from Game Of Thrones and guitarist Gerry Mulholland stands legs spread with his jeans’ zipper (unintentionally) at half-mast for their entire set, Rabid’s bassist Joe McDonnell is still the primary focal point; mostly because his Bobby Ellsworth-esque shriek is an acquired taste. But lookalikes and dodgy zippers aside, there’s a real sense of fun to their frills-free performance. And behind the odd stolen Slayer and Judas Priest riff, there’s deft songwriting on display; although those here living after midnight could care less about such nuance as they swill beer to Rabid’s spirited songs.
Since vocalist Per Lengstedt joined in 2008, Portrait  have become a band worthy of your attention. Their excellent 2011 debut for Metal Blade, Crimen Laesae Majestatis Divinae, showed that they could compete with compatriots In Solitude and Ghost and that their popularity was set to rise. In retrospect, last year’s Crossroads was aptly titled; it was not as immediate as its Mercyful Fate-endowed predecessor and, musically, it marked a plateau of sorts for Portrait – especially when you consider the creative leap In Solitude made with Sister.
Yet tonight some of the songs chosen from Crossroads that sounded somewhat muted on record (At the Ghost Gate and Ageless Rites being two) take on new life when the five leather-clad members of Portrait play them with fierce, unabashed zeal: lank hair flying and heads banging in unison as the PA is put under serious pressure while trying to deal with the galloping, twin-guitar thunder summoned.
Obviously for anyone here that attended At the Gates tonight, Portrait, as a headliner, cannot compete with their elder statesmen due to time, circumstance, and a weight of expectation. But even though their movements and interactions are severely restricted because of the tiny stage, they’re entertaining and energetic in their own right, not to mention instrumentally watertight throughout. Lengstedt, in particular, has definite star power: his theatrical hand gestures and piercing, wide-eyed stare are just as engaging as his wailing vocals, which sound especially strong during raucous renditions of Bloodbath and the anthemic finale, Beast Of Fire; both of which goes down a storm with the sweaty, tired crowd.
Undoubtedly it has been a successful weekend in Ireland for this ambitious touring band who are still trying to build a following, and while it’s impossible for any ‘80s-inspired metal band to scale the heights of their inspirations, Portrait look intent to give it their best shot, evident by tonight’s storming performance in front of stereotypically sozzled Irish metalheads.