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Red Seas Fire finish their UK run at London’s Surya

Red Seas Fire Vera Grace Box The Sky Sumer poster

January is a tough month for gig junkies and bands alike. With many punters trying to avoid breaking their promises to abstain from booze after the festive season – coupled with the fact that the first paycheque of the year is still a week or two away – it’s probably not a tremendous surprise that the turnout tonight is sparse, to be charitable. But, nevertheless, a spirited few have braved a cold Sunday evening in Kings Cross to check out tonight’s varied offering.

Up first is the triple-guitar attack of Sumer, who have embarked on a serious campaign of profile-raising since the release of their outstanding debut album The Animal You Are in late November, so tonight represents the third time I’ve seen them in as many months (and that count has been upped to four by the time this is published). Surya’s cosy little stage is just a bit too cosy for Sumer and their gear, so guitarist Jim is relegated to perching on the step at the side of the stage – not that he seems to mind.

I may have watched them perform repeatedly over the last little while, but that doesn’t make their performance any less compelling. With Animal firmly lodged in my favourite releases of 2014, I expect that to remain the case for some time to come. The choice cuts from the album aired tonight are given extra heft in the live environment, and their performance is made all the more enthralling as every single member of the band is clearly having a whale of a time performing them.

Not only that, but actually being able to see the fretboards helps those watching to unpick the richly layered sound, as well as gain a deeper appreciation for Toby’s imaginative drumming.

The two real high points of the set are the outros to the album’s title track and its closer, “End of Sense” – which is almost certain to sit as the band’s live finale for some considerable time to come. With the guitar parts locking in together, the sheer weight of air being moved by the four cabs onstage is exhilarating, even at this early hour. I would recommend that any fan of atmospheric progressive metal check out Sumer as soon as possible, and with their gig calendar filling rapidly, you should have plenty of opportunities to do so.

Next up are London trio Box The Sky - however, tracking down that relatively straightforward piece of information proved to be somewhat harder than it really should have been. The band were not included on the posters or the Facebook event. The virtual absence of any substantive promotion for the night can’t have helped attendance. Note to promoters: punters aren’t psychic. But, additionally, the one time vocalist Elliott actually says the bands name, it gets obscured by feedback, but we got there in the end.

Box the Sky’s sound is a very definite change of pace to the other bands on the bill, with their angular melodic post hardcore infused with a 90s alt-rock feel. Bands such as Dinosaur Jr, Placebo and The Strokes float through my head as comparisons.

There’s a slight gawkiness to the onstage presence, but their youthful enthusiasm – particularly apparent in the broad grin bassist Erin wears throughout the set – is endearing, and the band end up holding my attention despite the music not really being my usual cup of tea.

As a unit, the band still have a little work to do to tighten themselves up, but there a certainly some moments of inspiration in their songs, particularly in the second half of the set when they drop into a lower tuning. So there is some promise in the future of Box the Sky if they continue to build on the foundations as they stand.

Oxfordshire quintet Vera Grace deal with the paucity of onstage real estate by pushing vocalist Stephen Nulty and his mic stand out onto the floor in front of the stage, where he is often joined by guitarists Jonjo Williams and Rich Lester.

With a Misery Signals t-shirt being sported onstage, it is not hard to hear their influence on the band’s sound, along with a fairly liberal dose of Devil Sold His Soul. The net result is an expansive metalcore that is equal parts progressive and post.

However, despite the band having a full sound, it seems they haven’t quite harnessed it yet in the songs they have written. There is an absence of hooks that could make the tracks really memorable. Unfortunately, a goodly chunk of the reason for this falls on Stephen’s largely monotone barking. This is not an uncommon stylistic choice, so perhaps it is just down to personal preference, but it just doesn’t do it for me. There is also something of an over-reliance on the fast-picked, post-metal atmospherics and over-long song structures, too.

But none of these issues are particularly insurmountable, and some more time spent the the writing room may well yield results with a broader spectrum of appeal.

It is something of a night of contrast for tech scene stalwarts Red Seas Fire. The lead single from their upcoming EP, “Blood Bath” was played on the Radio One Rock Show and undoubtedly heard by thousands, but then they step out onstage in front of the hardy few that have hung around all night. It is a world away from the last time I saw them, playing to a packed second stage at Euroblast.

But it doesn’t visibly dampen the bands spirits as they charge through a selection of tracks from all three of their EPs. We are treated to no fewer than three of the four tracks that will comprise the soon-to-be-released Resolution. But, having just taken delivery of my review copy of that disc, I will save my detailed thoughts on these new offerings for when I write about that in the not too distant future. Watch this space.

I will say now that these new songs slot comfortably into the band’s set. As comfortably as relatively new bass player John, in fact, who stomps around his side of the stage like he’s always been there. The band’s slow but steady progression away from their overtly tech beginnings towards a more riffy, groove-based approach is serving them well and they have developed a clearly distinctive sound of their own, which is to their credit.

The band’s performance remains solid even through some minor technical issues mid-song with their backing tracks, which – at times – also sit a little too high in the mix, dominating over Pete’s guitar, but that’s a minor error and one easily rectified by a sound man more familiar with their set.

For the last night of the run, and faced with a less-than-optimal turnout, Red Seas Fire could have been somewhat forgiven for not throwing their hearts and souls into their performance – but, certainly from where I was standing, they still seemed to give everything they had to the show.

The crowd may have been small, but it was perfectly formed, and I feel I must round off with a special nod to a young couple who remained front-and-centre all night, clearly having the time of their lives watching all four of the bands. Well played, kids.

Red Seas Fire are now gearing up to release Resolution into the wild on 9th March, and already have a couple of big shows announced for the next couple of months – with Xerath in Leeds and then opening the already sold out Periphery show in London on 1st April. If you’re going to that show, it’s in your interests to get there early.