Heat-Ray’s Final gig with Iron Harvest + XIII + Pastel Jack 16th September 2011

By Ashley Bailey, with parts by Shane Douthwaite

It has taken me some considerable time to type up this review; due to, for the most part, the fact I didn’t know how. I was left wondering; do I take the sentimental route or do I present it as more of a celebration, like a lolcat that has figured out how to use the toilet. I decided to adopt a state of equilibrium and drift in the middle.

The date was 16th September 2011. It was a little crisp for the time of year but there was an even more obvious chill in the air – a chill of sadness and anticipation. It is quite fitting that both Denim and Leather’s very first and very last reviews concern Heat-Ray. Semi colon, partial parenthesis. This gig was essentially Hull’s very own Big Four gig, featuring Hull’s four major Thrash outfits. When I arrived at the Ringside around dusk, the beer garden was beginning to fill with the usual suspects. After the rain forced everyone indoors I discovered that the gig was already running a whole hour later than originally planned. Which in my opinion was a good thing or else Iron Harvest may have just played to the other bands and the team.

When the upstairs function room finally did open it slowly filled up and by the time Iron Harvest took to the stage there were around 30 people in, but the crowd did continue to fill slowly throughout their set. This gig marked a welcome return for Iron Harvest after a line-up change (Chris now taking on vocals as well as guitar) and they started the show with a bang. This four piece sit smack bang in the middle of Metallica and Iron Maiden, with rough yet flowing vocals, chunky riffs and big choruses they have certainly become a band to watch.

To use adjectives that seem like they have just been torn out of a firework safety advert, the band certainly seems to have obtained an explosive and in your face attitude. And helping to achieve this is a rabid and snarling vocal style that is right up there with Thrash elites Hetfield and Mustaine; which is a far cry away from ex-vocalist Woody, who can capture the intensity and power of acts such as Dio, albeit subdued as though he were experiencing the crippling pain of standing on the prongs of a plug. But now we are on the verge of diverging more than Stephen King’s narration does when a character enters a new location that has yet to be described in the most minute of detail.

Iron Harvest played a sextuplet of songs, including a brand new one called Descent. It served as the perfect representation of Iron Harvest’s new-sound, for it featured long raging solos from Chris and guitarist Lawrence (both sharing lead guitar duties which allows for a duelling guitars feel), some proficient drumming from Will and heavy rattling bass from Joe – who also performs backing vocals. And of course a catchy yet explosive chorus. One criticism I need to point is that they are not visually entertaining, especially compared to the later bands who moved about the stage – and Pastel Jack’s vocalist Neil even roamed the crowd area.

Also included in the set was Embalmed and Operation Millennium. Embalmed begins with an unusual distorted intro before transforming into Iron Harvest’s usual brand of thrash inspired heavy metal. I particularly enjoyed the drumming on this track, as I felt it worked well with the heavy main riff. The effects are having two lead guitarists was especially clear on Operation Millennium which features more melodic hooks than a musical about the Butcher of Rostov and is abundant with guitar harmonies.

The final song of the set was the lengthy Brothers in Arms. This is the code of honour by which the band lives. An anthemic number with a huge memorable chorus, telling the tale of the strife of men standing side by side against all the odds. From taking all risks, through to paying the ultimate price. The message of unity, sacrifice and comradery of combat troops is what makes Brothers in Arms the perfect end to Iron Harvest’s exhilarating set.

If Iron Harvest were the foreshock of this seismic event than surely XIII were the mainshock (Seismology banter). The band took the stage and after setting up their equipment they faced the crowd like a tyrannicidal assassin facing his oppressor with gun in hand. They raise their instruments and gain the full attention of the crowd as a single ominous note rings out and hangs in the air as though the gun of the aforementioned assassin had just been discharged. Fans of XIII and regular readers of Denim and Leather will know what to expect, so instead of covering everything I’m going to adopt the elephant in a thong approach and only cover the important parts. It was a typically strong set from a seemingly unstoppable band, and this was proven to be extremely accurate when the various technical problems (the sudden lack of output from vocalist Dan’s guitar during The Longest Day and drummer Alex caught in a fumble with one of his cymbals) had the same overall effect on their set as trying to perforate the flesh of an obese man with drawing pins.

They played about half a dozen songs including the usual staples Fuckin’ Scum – for which there is always raucous crowd participation (helped in part by how cathartic picturing a real-life antagonist whilst shouting fuckin’ scum can be), Triskaidekaphobia – not least because of the talent it must take to fit a 17 letter word with 7 syllables into a contagious chorus, and The Longest Day. However the most notable aspect of the set was the debut of Down ‘n’ Out. The song is as close as one could feasibly get to recapturing the glory days of Thrash without donning a waterproof jacket and walking through the torrents of acid rain (points for the reference). Down ‘n’ Out was driven by a jarring tempo, typically domineering vocals and most importantly layered with accomplished guitar solos from Mark and Dan. This Tunguska event-esque destructive power was combined with Alex’s well paced and rhythmic drumming and James’ lithe bass playing. The outcome being a song that had perfectly captured the spirit of The Bay Area’s greatest, without compromising XIII’s own brand of Thrash. And the song went down a treat with the semi circle that had gathered.

Following in XIII’s destructive wake was Hull’s favourite melodic thrashers Pastel Jack. This gig marked the first time in a long time that PJ had played at the Ringside, so seeing them back on that stage was like a Friends Reunited moment – albeit once that didn’t end with sex or murder. Vocalist Neil informed the crowd that since it was a special occasion the band was going to ‘spice’ up the set with a few covers. The set broke the pseudo-tradition of starting their set withMethematic, which was switched to the preliminary song.

They instead opened with Day Like You, which went down particularly well with one member of the audience– an old man who, judging by his attire, appeared to have stepped straight from a film noir. He was like the mysterious stranger from High Plains Drifter – he appeared from nowhere, came and did his thing (e.g. what can only be described as dad dancing) and then disappeared into the night. Being fast paced and around five minutes long the guy did well to dance away for the song’s entirety. Next up was the first cover of the set – Two Minutes to Midnight. The most impressive thing about Pastel Jack’s cover of this song was Peter Delaney’s guitarwork. Since Pastel Jack only have a singular guitarist they lack an equivalent to the excellent Dave Murray and Adrian Smith combo, though this hardly made a difference as Pete sunk his teeth into the song like a rabbies laden dog biting the supple flesh of the hardy postman. From the simple yet effective main riff to Murrary’s memorable solo and Smith’s more melodic solo, nothing feels flat. Also Neil absolutely nailed the Dickinson’s operatic wails with his own melodic yet unpolished style.

Next came a cover of a very good Queen song – Stone Cold Crazy, my personal favourite Queen track, a love that is made all the more insufferable by the fact the only Queen songs that the layman appreciates arethose bloody four. For this song Pastel Jack did something a little different – they combined the aggression of the Metallica cover whilst retaining the vocal style and (arguably better) lyrics from the original. The song was absolutely fantastic, and definitely the strongest of their set, featuring fast drumming complete with double bass pedals from Tom and a fantastic bass riff that Dave easily dealt with. Following the barrage of Stone Cold Crazy camePart 2, the band’s pièce de résistance. The audience, which had slowly begun to reach the density of sort sol (an immense bird migration in Denmark), were invited by Neil to practice raising our fists in union during the song’s hook – the catchy chorus. After a few attempts in what was the best display of obedience outside of Crufts, the band was ready to continue. It was a fantastic feeling as everyone raised their fists to the air as they joined in singing – “we raise our fists, to you!” This was followed by the colossal Methematic, during which Neil paced the floor and went wild. Pastel Jack ended their set with a cover of Metallica’s No Remorse, and Pete was shredding his fretboard at such speeds I’m amazed the resulting friction didn’t cause a fire. The song included a few good drum beats from Tom but I’ve never really been a fan of the drums in Metallica. The raw energy and fury from No Remorse served as a fitting prelude to the headliners.

At 11pm it was time for Heat-Ray’s final performance. It is hard to believe that after five years this is the end of the line. In the time it would take to crawl across the Sahara, or move up the phone queue when on hold to Kingston Communications, Heat-Ray dominated the Hull metal scene and rocked the local scenes of countless cities across the United Kingdom. They became such an integral band that I never even imagined that I would one day be writing these very words, a feeling I imagine to be shared by the traveller who discovered he was destined to become his own progenitor.

After about five minutes the Titanic Heat-Ray themselves eventually came unto the stage, and what was immediately noticeable was that six members were on stage as opposed to the usual five. Now that seeming erroneous figure could be chalked up to the fact that by this point I had consumed more pints than there are members of Slipknot, therefore knocking my Parietal Lobe off kilter, but in reality the additional guitarist marked the return of original member Michael Parker. You’d assume that an additional guitarist would be detrimental to the overall sound of the songs, by making them too clustered, but it didn’t and instead added Mariana Trench levels of depth. Heat-Ray played a set of around thirteen songs for just over an hour, though this just didn’t feel long enough in all honesty. My tired self did, in fact, appreciate that the set wasn’t mercilessly dragged out to the proportions of David Tenant’s final Doctor Who episode. It was a well put together and loving set, that didn’t dwell on the sombre fact that this was band’s final gig but rather drew from the residual energies that come from five years worth of metal, cheap booze and loose women.

As Heat-Ray (sans vocalist Chunk) took to the stage with their epic instrumental Monster Planet,the crowd (which was now several rows deep) gathered round the stage bringing their collective anticipation and suffocating body heat. The song is mostly a mid-tempo affair which features a chugging main riff and a few short but sweet solos that hang out in the high note end of town, and it was lapped up by the ravenous crowd who banged their noggins in the upmost display of appreciation. The next song was my all time personal favourite– The Devil Killer. It has one hell of a chorus, which mostly compromises of Chunk screaming “The Devil Killer” in his booming voice, though its simplicity helped people to sing along. The pre-solo section is very nice indeed – being faster than the bloody Road Runner, perfectly complimenting Jimmy’s rhythmic drumming and setting up lead guitarist Dave’s shredding solo fantastically. It was around this point that a semi-clad young lady with a killer body took to the stage and began gyrating like some kind of sexy gyroscope. This was followed by Razor Blade Screams and the first of the covers – Cold Sweat. The song by Thin Lizzy (from the seminal album Thunder and Lightning) is particularly noteworthy for the insane minute long tapping solo, and it was clear that Heat-Ray’s guitarists were having fun contending with such a beast. Chunk managed to emulate Phil Lynott’s vocals remarkably well, considering Chunk’s singing style is more at home at a violent biker rally from a Mad Max styled world than crooning at an Irish Pub. Bassist Neil provided some solid bass – though the riffs were never complex or particularly challenging it did add a familiar undercurrent much like a valance sheet.

For Very Bad Things, ex-drummer Chris Best (aka frontman from Iron Harvest) took over rhythm guitarist Adam’s role, making them fall just one member short from achieving a full house. Marshal Law and Red Skies followed, the former features some excellent thunderous singing from Chunk. Their second cover wasThe Four Horsemen, the classic Metallica epic. It went down a storm with the crowd, and judging by the reaction from those in attendance it was unambiguous that everyone knew the lyrics. One aspect of the cover that struck me as odd was that they seemed to skimp overt the melodic first solo and went straight from the bridge back into the main riff. Following straight on The Four Horsemen’s hooves (get it?) was Heat-Ray’s own big, goose pimple inducing song – The Night witch. Starting with down tuned instruments, complete with hushed vocals and the occasional cymbal clash, the song gradually builds up the ferocity typical of a Heat-Ray song.

The cover of Black Sabbath’s NIB was Neil’s chance to shine for it is a bass power house, featuring some proficient funky bass sections. During the song I felt myself trembling at the soul in Chunk’s vocals during the chorus “Your love for me has just got to be real. Before you know the way I’m going to feel. I’m going to feel. I’m going to feel.” Heat-Ray ended their set on an absolute high with Heat-Ray and a cover of ACDC’s Shoot to Thrill – complete with the vocal tract annihilating high pitched, gravelly singing that Brian Johnson trademarked.

As swan songs go, I doubt Heat-Ray could have found a more fitting tribute. The room was packed denser than a tin of the least space conscious sardines, and photographers wanting to document this special occasion, were everywhere. Seriously, I haven’t seen this many photographers since the time George Michael first entered a public toilet post police officer incident. The usual banter between the band and crowd was plentiful throughout, and when a band have already played too well past midnight and the crowd vehemently asked for more. Showing just how much Heat-Ray have resonated with those involved with the Hull scene over the past five years, and a clear sign that the band will be sorely missed.