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Skindred + Dead By April + Karnivool + Confined Within @ Wulfrun Hall, Wolverhampton - Saturday 10th October 2009

6.45 on a Saturday night and Wolves is once again descended upon by ardent music fans. The Wulfrun’s doors haven’t opened yet and there’s a huge queue outside, filing its way up and around the corner to the Civic.

Good news for openers Confined Within, who greet us with their own brand of high-energy, heavy and melodic metalcore. This bunch of young lads are a tight unit, excellent musicians, and eager to make their might known. The band power through their set while frontman Ashton throws himself around the stage, up on the speakers and down into the pit, dedicating their second song – ‘Beginnings’ – to Mike Alexander (R.I.P.), the bassist for Evile who passed away less than a week ago.

Judging by this performance, this is the bands first foray on to a big stage and Ashton’s clearly excited about this. He attempts to engage the audience by spending more time down in the pit with the front rows than he does on stage. But for those any further back than the first ten rows, there is something amiss. Where is the singer?  All we see is a band on stage with a gap where the frontman should be.  He’s playing to a small venue and not to the Wulfrun audience.

They’ve got the musicianship, the might, and the music; but Ashton has isolated a huge percentage of the audience and probably cost the band any credibility they might have gained tonight.

Next up are Perth’s alternative rockers, Karnivool. I checked these out about two months ago when investigating the support acts for this show and I haven’t stopped listening to ‘em!

It’s their first time on these shores and I’m so glad to be here to be a part of it. They’re here to promote their latest offering, Sound Awake, a collection of tunes that picks up where their first album Themata left off, taking their music to more intense and focussed levels.

In their music you can hear the influences of Radiohead, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots, and the twisted polyrhythm’s of metal-maniacs Meshuggah. What differentiates these guys is that they’ve made the transition from imitation to innovation that a lot of bands fool themselves into believing they’ve acheived. This band has abandoned normal song structure, choosing instead to let the music go where it needs to; and time signatures change frequently yet never seem forced.

All of this is embodied in opener ‘Simple Boy’. The near-capacity crowd are blown away. There are a few fans of the band here and it looks like they’ll take away a few more tonight.

Vocalist Ian Kenny introduces the band and thanks the Wolves crowd for having them “in their house”, further winning us over by telling us that they passed through here a few days ago and were told that Wolves is a great heavy metal town.

We like him.

We like the band.

This is a band at ease on-stage who communicates with their audience through their musicianship and their masterful songs. Ian’s vocal range is outstanding, shifting easily between Radiohead-esque melancholic melodies and soft, angelic verses to the choral heights that few dare ascend. Jon Stockman’s melodic and mammoth bass growls along with Steve Judd’s sometimes simple, sometimes suitably complex drum lines, and Mark and Drew trade exquisite guitar lines.

Tonight, we get six of their finest: ‘Goliath’ – a title that speaks for itself, ‘All I Know’, ‘New Day’, ‘Roquefort’ (with that killer riff!), and they leave us with the soaring ‘Themata’.

In just six songs, this band have taken us places that most bands are yet to discover and explore.

The crowd shows their appreciation and I look around and see people at the back clapping hands over their head.

Karnivool will be back soon, we hope.

While checking out Karnivool, I also checked out Dead by April.

Where do I begin?

…or how quickly can I get this over with?

Pop metal is not a genre I enjoy, endorse, or endure. Dead by April is a boy band; a collection of homo-erotic, narcissistic, steroid-infected poster boys. They have muscles wrapped in tattoos, salon hair – because they’re worth it, no doubt – and a wardrobe of low-cut wife-beaters and too-tight jeans. This “pristinely new-formed entity” has a huge problem: they are “pristine.”

Their aim is to “bring their musical vision and dream to the great masses.” The songs are sterile and over-produced, engineered in the studio of record industry bosses intent on exploiting a young audience for quick profit.

Their set is predictable from the second the computer-generated intro begins. As you’d expect, they walk on waving devil-horns and hit us hard with a riff that promises a killer set. But what follows is the Boyzone of heavy metal.

The music is manufactured and as plastic as the band’s image, and the lyrics and the melodies would best suit Britney Spears.

Between songs they don’t talk to the audience; they turn their back on us – no doubt to touch up their mascara – while the intro to the next song begins. No smiles, no words, no contact. They save that for their mid-song struts and posturing.

These April-fools want to “blend musical extremes to an unheard and unprecedented level.” I’m all for cross-pollination in music, but this is the product of some incestuous encounter between some Cowell-like, soulless, vacuous, musical rapist and the fetid corpse of Fred Durst’s Lick Dickspit. The spawn of this illicit affair is the only child that would benefit from being babysat by Josef Fritzl.  Lock it up in a cramped, dank, little cellar in some long-forgotten location and the only person who has the key is buried with them at the bottom of the ocean!

The crowd is split: the front rows like them and show their appreciation, but the rest of us are shaking our heads in bewilderment and heading for the bar.

Dead by April?

We can only hope…

The crowd are back from the bar and waiting for the ragga powerhouse headliners Skindred.

Benji comes on, wearing white sunglasses and clad in a military jacket and hat, and wearing one skeleton glove (a tribute to Wacko perhaps?).

Electro-infested opener ‘Stand for Something’ from their latest offering Shark Bites & Dog Fights prepares us for what we’ve come for: a Roots Rock Riot of ragga metal. Benji’s vocals are raw while the beats and guitars soar to euphoric heights for the emotive chorus of "If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything", hitting us hard and fast.

On ‘Shark Bites…’ Skindred have experimented sonically, more specifically with the use of electronic elements, and thematically they’ve developed into a band capable of creating stadium-sized rock anthems that can soundtrack people’s lives and sit comfortably next to addictive metal rock-outs that’ll always make people sweat, chant and jump.

The gig is a stomp-fest of pure rock with some pop sensibility – significantly better than the previous band’s efforts – and a bit of funk thrown in for good measure. The members all shine and display individual musicianship and produce a tight set that throws the audience up the walls, all the time leaving them begging for more.

The band is the embodiment of high energy and everyone in the place from front to back is moving along to the music. Skindred know how to put on a show and Benji is talking to the crowd, getting them revved up and maintaining that energy throughout the set.

Skindred treat us to a set of songs from their entire back catalogue. We get classics such as ‘Pressure’ from 2004’s ‘Babylon’ and ‘Rudeboy For Life’ from ‘Roots Rock Riot’ and the band even break into AC/DC’s ‘Back in Black’!  The crowd sing along word-for-word to their rendition of Eddy Grant’s ‘Electric Avenue’.

Tonight, Skindred managed to further cement their reputation as one of the best live bands in the UK. Benji – who gets the award for best costume of the night – was on top form, moving like a blur around the stage, his commanding presence resonating through the entire crowd. Skindred never let up and the rest of the band match Benji's enthusiasm and drive all the way through.

Whenever you see Skindred, one thing is for sure: you leave the gig knowing it was damn good. They’ve got the songs, yes. But they’ve got something equally, if not more, important: honesty. Skindred aren’t and never have been 'in it for the money'. They do this because they love it, and that leaps off the stage at every performance. That honest, hard-working and down to earth ethic is something that so many bands - who seem to be more obsessed with their haircuts, and their tight jeans, than the quality of their music and their performance - lack in this day and age.

for Midlands Rocks

click here to view Tony Gaskin's gallery of photos from the gig...