Xerath and Subversion, live in London

UK tech metallers combine brain and brawn for a night of brilliance

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It’s always heartening to see a venue, even a tiny sweat box like The Barfly, packed to the rafters on a Friday night for an evening that compromises exclusively of young British talent. So let’s take a moment to salute tonight’s bands for making a mockery of the notion that grassroots live music is struggling.

This won’t be news to anyone in the know, you’ll be fully aware that the pull of the more technical and progressive strands of metal keeps growing year after year. Which is great, but you just wish that some of the music was more ambitious - prog in the truest sense of being progressively minded, not just sticking rigidly to a formula that others perfected. Certainly this is true of** Subversion [6]**, who tick every box in the djent/tech/prog manual in a frustratingly clinical way. Electronic samples, eight-stringed palm-muted riffs, melodic vocals in the quiet bits and a strained, pained roar during the heavy bits. Frontman Jay Shields is obviously very happy to be up there, his exuberance is infectious although his stage presence and command of the crowd could do with a lot of work. Getting everyone to call him a cunt, for example, results in an odd and awkward moment that doesn’t help their set one iota. But this is a youthful outfit, and there is definite potential here. For all the over-familiarity of the sound there is no getting away from the fact that as soon as the grooves of songs like Catalyst kick in you’ll find your head bobbing uncontrollably. If Subversion concentrate on finding their own voice and harnessing the passion they have then they could be a very good band.

Xerath [8] are already a very good band, and a perfect example of what can happen when you take a set of already existing influences and mould them into something that is uniquely them. If the idea of Pantera going prog floats your boat then this band are for you. It’s technical and complex if you like a good ol’ chin-stroke, but this is no guitar-wank geek-off. This is primal heavy metal made for swigging beer, banging heads and beating chests to, but the difference to most of their peers is that it’s performed by musicians of frankly staggering ability. Drummer Michael Pitman spends the evening doing his very best impression of an octopus-limbed Dave Lombardo and guitarist Conor McGouran has more riffs in his arsenal than some entire subgenres. Songs from last years’ stunning III get an airing to a more than enthusiastic response from the throng, songs like the booming, swaggering maelstrom of 2053 are the perfect soundtrack to the kind of unrestrained violence that is going down all around the walls of The Barfly. In a world of copycats, pretenders and bands that study the rulebook a little too closely, Xerath are a breath of fresh air. Monumentally heavy, fiercely committed, singularly voiced… and keeping live music alive too. Good work lads.

Check out Subversion’s Facebook page here!

And Xerath’s Facebook page here!

Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.