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Five-band Friday bill at The Unicorn starts slow but gets better

Continents Carcer City tour poster

Kicking off a five band bill when it is still light outside and there are only a handful of punters in the building is a thankless task at the best of times. Tonight, it falls to Oxford tech-metallers Perception.

The band seem noticeably uncomfortable as they play. Not only that, when the guitarist ventures up the fretboard, a yawning hole appears in the band’s sound. It feels like something is missing and, subsequently I find out what it is: under normal circumstances, Perception are a five-piece, but with their vocalist unwell and unable to make the dates, they temporarily reconfigured themselves. Most impressively, their bassist put down his instrument and took on lead vocals, and their rhythm guitarist switched to bass for this show and one the following night in Workington.

Under the circumstances, it feels unfair to say anything other than to commend the band for their dedication. The vast majority would simply have pulled out, so to put in the extra effort is praiseworthy indeed. Its certainly enough to make me want to check them out when they’re back at their full fighting weight.

Next band Summits have also recently lost a guitarist, stepping down from a five to a four-piece. They do have a more meaty, metalcore influenced sound, with some good chuggy sections and some particularly agreeable drumming.

However, their stagecraft is virtually non-existent, which significantly under-sells their music. Vocalist Jake whirls somewhat directionlessly around the floor, giving the impression that he feels he ought to be doing so, rather than wanting to. He also freely admits he has nothing much to say between songs, which helps neither momentum nor engagement.

Jake’s decision to stay off the stage for the entire duration of their set also makes it painfully obvious how little movement there is on it. Guitarist Matt is almost perfectly motionless and stares fixatedly at his left hand even during passages of single-chord chug. Bass player Chris at least maintains some eye contact with the crowd, but it is only the fact he is barefoot that shows that someone hasn’t nailed his feet to the floor.

This is a shame. Summits do have some pretty good songs, but if they aren’t going to put some more effort into their performance, they’re simply not going to turn many heads.

Set To Break fare only a little better, with at least some on stage movement – but somewhat perplexingly, both guitarists have chosen to set up their pedalboards at the back of the stage, meaning they have to turn around to switch effects. Not only that, but one guitarist seems to be somewhat over-interested in the sound coming out of the backline, and plays much of the set with his back to the audience. I find myself thinking that the band should both invest in some longer cables, and leave worrying about the sound to the guy behind the desk.

There’s not much in Set To Break’s rather derivative metalcore to hold the attention, but perhaps we are collectively worn down by three consecutive sets that, for their various reasons, don’t really cut the mustard. There’s definitely much for the band to do to set themselves apart from the pack.

But what a difference a touring band makes. Scousers Carcer City hit the stage with a come-at-me attitude and immediately grab everyone’s attention, demonstrating clearly why they have earned a place on both the London leg of the Tech Fest all-dayer series, and the main weekend event itself.

The transformation of the crowd is also pronounced, Carcer City are obviously the band that most people are here to see, and the reaction is strongly positive. The beatdowns – of which there are many – set heads nodding and a fair few limbs flailing.

Carcer City also prove that there is still life in the metalcore model, harking back to a time before the emergence of an armarda of unimaginative cookie-cutter soundalikes, with a sprinkling of modern tech for extra flavour.

The band’s secret weapon, it seems to me, is bass player Steve Anderson; as well as imaginative and well-executed basslines, he shares centre stage with vocalist Patrick and acts, effectively, as a second frontman. Bouncing around and bellowing along, he is able to provide a focal point for the bulk of the crowd when Patrick gets more involved with those right at the front.

Overall, it is a commanding performance and the most exciting of the evening. These guys have definitely been paying their dues on the road, and the benefits should now be apparent to all. Roll on Tech Fest.

Prior to the headline band taking the stage, there appears in the middle of the floor what appears to me to be a Continents branded coffee table. This does trigger in me a brief moment of reverie over new lines of merchandise. A Machine Head bean bag, perhaps? A Slayer bookcase?

Of course it was nothing of the sort, and was in fact a mini podium for Continents vocalist Phil Cross. However amusing it may appear out of context, it quickly becomes apparent that it is a minor stroke of genius. The trend amongst vocalists now more than ever, particularly in genres carrying a ‘core’ suffix is to sing/scream from the floor. The downside to this is that anyone behind the first four rows can’t see what’s going on. Phil’s podium gives him the best of both worlds, continuallty hopping between it and the floor. That extra foot of height also gives him full control of the pit, despite being of a slighter build than a number of its participants. It’s such a simple and effective device that I’m almost amazed I’ve never seen it before.

Back on the stage itself, the remainder of Continents do a sterling job backing him up. Their sound has the more punky vibe of old school hardcore, despite the sub drops. Its very much in keeping with the heritage of their label, Victory Records. The effective use of tempo changes and quality riffing make their set an enjoyably head-nodding one, even if they aren’t going to win any prizes for originality.

The crowd does thin out somewhat, presumably as a number of punters make their way down to Kings Cross for the Face Down club night at the Scala. Free entry gigs may work for getting people into a venue, but I suppose they have less compulsion to stay. Then again, the smaller audience does allow those so inclined more space for their spin-kicking and general spasmodic flailing, so I suppose that’s a plus, if you like that kind of thing.

The various strands of ‘-core’, however you choose to prefix it, often don’t do much for me on record, but done right live, it’s more often than not a great deal of fun – and Continents definitely do it right.