Skullfucker II Review Part I

Please excuse me whilst I momentarily engage in an outburst of gratuitousness. I do deserve it after all, because after the Herculean task of typing this review up, I, like Ringo Starr, “have blisters of my fingers”.

After its successful four day run last August, The Skullfucker Weekender is back, and thusly it is time to dust off my best metaphors like I’m turning them out to Mr Darcy. As per last year, the Hollywood and Vine event has taken twenty plus local, national and international alternative bands and spread them over the four days of the bank holiday weekend. And similar to last year I took on the same roles as writer, photographer and Most Fertile Man in England.

From a personal point of view, I didn’t seem to enjoy Skullfucker II as much as I did the first. I can’t pinpoint why this was exactly; the calibre of the bands was just as good, if not better. Maybe covering the whole thing Han style (as in solo) played some part. Or maybe, just like Roger Murtaugh, I’m “getting too old for this shit.” Anyway, with this review I decided to go the whole hog and cover each band with at a least a small five to six line paragraph, perhaps out of determination to be the first person to ever die from wanker’s cramp.

Day one - Friday 6th April

Mighty Caldera, Innersylum, Speedshot, Shotgun Effect and The Rory Gallagher Tribute Band

The opening day of the event was probably the busiest, as it became as thriving hub for the denim and leather wearing legions. Unusually, this will mark the first time in the magazine’s ten month run of covering one of Hull’s finest bands – Innersylum.

Mighty Caldera had the privilege of opening the event with their unique style. The band shares members with Battalions and frontman Clatch’s solo project Half Deaf Clatch, and this was evident in set; which I can only describe as the combining HDC’s rustic, strip backed feel with the distortion and malaise characteristic of the former. Despite being a three piece, Gareth (drums) and ‘Soggy’ (guitar) helped to complete the depth with thunderous drumming and heavy distortion and effects. Caldera were possibly my favourite band of the event, helped of course by Clatch’s Southern Twangy vocal style.

Innersylum came next, and they were arguable the draw of the evening, if not the entire event - managing to pack the venue with recognisable faces from the local circuit; including those whose only appearance at Skullfucker II was to watch Innersylum. Since they are objectively the best heavy/power metal act in the local area it was hardly surprise they had attracted the largest crowd of fanatical supporters since Sutter Cane; especially since their gigs are infrequent. They showcased several of their newer songs such as My World and Desolation. Every member was on the top of their game here; Nick handled the monstrous NWOBHM riffs with the ease that comes with near two decades of guitar experience, Jamie padded out the songs with crunchy bass lines and Paul tied the package together with his understated yet powerful drumbeats. Armed with a voice ripped from NWOBHM and early Power Metal CDs Derk was of course the highlight – especially his non-sequiturs about food and other mind warping subjects.

The third band on stage was Speedshot a hard rock/ pop punk band hailing from sleepy Bedfordshire. They were quite heavier than one would initially assume, and after a few light pop punk anthems it was time to delve into the riff laden hard rock territory. Danny and Hobbit (?) were visually entertaining, and I don’t mean that in the creepy way that the police would take an interest in. The two mounted PAs, played with their instruments behind their heads and generally put on a display of great showmanship; which emoted the feeling of “yeah that’s pretty good, but can you do that whilst you are on fire?”

I saw penultimate band Shotgun Effect a few weeks prior supporting the legendary Anti-nowhere League and so I knew what to expect of them – rip-roaring hard rock with punk sensibilities. They wooed the crowd with their repertoire of fast tempo, hook filled songs – carried by the anthemic vocals of Martin, Richard and Jaymes; who as well as their respective instruments handled lead and backing vocals. Whenever I see them, I always enjoy Shotgun Effect – they play catchy, upbeat material with an underlay of heaviness.

In the words of John Cleese during his Monty Python era "and now for something completely different" as The Rory Gallagher Tribute Band were the headliners for the Friday. They are a fairly new band so at this point I hadn’t yet had the chance to check them out, but I was certainly looking forward to them as I like the work of the exceptional, multi-instrumentalist blues rock legend. The band tried hard to encapsulate all that was Rory Gallagher covering both his solo work – Messin’ with the Kid (a cover of a cover) and his work with Taste. Spike put a decent effort in trying to emulate Rory’s fret-board finesse, as well as his rough around the edges vocal style, to mixed results. Spike was also lacking in stage presence as he was mostly stationary unlike the man he was impersonating, who was known for having more charisma than a finishing school for James Bond types.

Day Two - Saturday 7th April

Featuring: Chimps on Deathrow, Tear of Eden, Prowl, Eye for an Eye, Juggernort and Kopperhed

The second day of the mammoth event was a tour du force of some of the heaviest bands to grace the venue, with a couple fantastic alternative/hard rock bands thrown into the mix.

Chimps on Death Row opened proceedings on the Saturday. Despite the relatively unusual band name, Chimps are an old-school rock/metal band with a solid vocal performance reminiscent of Layne Staley. I quite enjoyed Chimps’ set, which contrasted between their rollicking heavy riffs and percussion and Bidder’s powerfully melodic raw vocals. Co-lead guitarists Nik and Bidder blazed their way through the tracks with simple, catchy riffs and surprisingly fast yet soulful solos; the standout example of this being the highly addictive track, The Crunch. Chimps have more foot tapping guitar and drum fills than a plastering company run by Eddie Van Halen. I think I just about pulled of that joke.

Next up came melodic death metallers Tear of Eden who brought with them guitar harmonies, sweeping choruses and intense, brooding guttural vocals. TOE were my second favourite band of the event, as in terms of musicianship the band was tighter than Scrooge on Labour Day. From the furious double-bass drum patterns to the tremolo picking, I was won over by their incredible playing abilities; despite not really being fond of the melodic death metal genre. Vocalist Kevin Ashburn definitely deserves praise for his fantastic vocal performance and his ability to employ the harsh vocals characteristic of the genre, as well as seemingly Zakk Wylde inspired vocals.

Denim and Leather semi-regulars, Prowl, took to the stage charged with the not so envious task of being sandwiched between Tear of Eden and Eye for an Eye. The three piece alternative rock band from York played a highly charged, foot-tapping set; with frontman Ben leading the way with a versatile vocal style and snappy bass lines. Being a three piece, each member of Prowl has tightened and refined their abilities so no aspect of the band is left choppy. I particularly enjoyed the drum beats (handled by ‘Loz’) which helped to create a brisk, exciting pace.

Following the alt rock act were Eye for an Eye, a Southern/Groove metal band of Swindon. EFAE received a fanatical response from fans who had eagerly awaited the band’s return after their last stint at Vine. With a rough and dirty tone, savage riffs and catchy grooves, EFAE managed to captivate the crowd. Tom’s vocal style was somewhere between Black Label Society and Black Stone Cherry – a harsh toned drawl with an added hint of Southern Rock. The highlight of their set, Apocalypse Angel, featured some of the most memorable choruses belted up in the entire event. I’d recommend giving Eye for an Eye’s EP a listen; just like Jagermeister it’ll put hairs on your chest.

Forming the first half of an explosive finale was Saturday’s penultimate band Juggernort; a hardcore band with elements of thrash. I caught Juggernort at last year’s Skullfucker who instantly held my interest with sound bites of 80’s action movie themes and ‘dancing girls’. They were sans dancing girls this year, but they still played a rip-roaring set; which with the advent of their fantastic new material surpassed last year’s in intensity. Joel cemented his place as master guitarist, as he combined the speed and intensity of the thrash riff with precision point technicality, as he shredded his way through the fantastic solos. Hooligan was easily the best of the songs they played – featuring a great turn on bass from Andrew and some truly angry vocals.

Another returning band and headliners of the Saturday Kopperhed had the prestige of rounding off what had been a high octane day. And like how one would turn to Harold Shipman for enquiries about euthanasia, Kopperhed were the perfect candidates to follow the intensity laid down by Juggernort. Led by a frontman who takes the concept of an in-your-face performance quite literally, Kopperhed were a barrage of chugging riffs, and drumming as aggressive and relentless as a drunken beating on a Saturday night. They have a similar militaristic gung-ho attitude to bands like Five Finger Death Punch, but carry it off with greater precision and poise.