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Friday 20th March 2015
Sound Control in Manchester, UK
Reviews & Photography by Mark Holmes
First up tonight are Tilburg-based, Dutch musicians Selfmachine. Maximising their half hour set by stampeding through a fast-paced, sonic assault of what they've chosen, themselves, to brand as 'Modern Metal', they provide a suitably energetic kick-start to the evening. Thirty or so punters are scattered throughout the venue, although Selfmachine's blend of thrash, death, groove, and melodic motifs seems to get a few heads banging. Collectively tight in the delivery of each and every song, it's frontman Steven Leijen who mars the overall punch of their tunes. While his death growls are effective enough, his clean voice strays off-key too many times, proving more of a distraction than interaction. Regardless, these Dutch metallers go down well with the majority of the small gathering in Sound Control this evening.
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The Agonist at Sound Control in Manchester, UK, 20th March 2015
Photograph copyright 2015 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
The night gets more serious, and fun, when Ferium take to the stage. Serious in the sense that their no-nonsense, death-based compositions, with enough technically innovative twists and turns to elevate them above mere genericism, are the real deal. And fun in the sense that these Israeli guys genuinely look like they're enjoying every single moment of their performance. That's reciprocated with the crowd as, when frontman Tiran Ezra requests that the dispersed onlookers all gather in front of the stage, every single person in the venue obliges and shifts forward. Now it feels more like a gig! And his tribute to beer shortly thereafter, culminating in his proclamation, "let's hear it for beer!" is an axiomatic crowd-winner!

In stark contrast to their fun, between-song humour, their incisively delivered platter of technical death is an extremely intense experience, and an intensely enjoyable one. Preconceptions, including my own, were that they might have at least some Middle Eastern traits inherent in their sound la fellow countrymen Orphaned Land. Not so and, in hindsight, a ridiculous presupposition. Quite the contrary, their music is firmly rooted in the West, and refreshingly so. Mixing up some of the genre's classic traits with discernible traces of Devin Townsend's more hard-hitting Strapping moments, and further sonic innovation in the vein of Chuck Schuldiner's progressive proclivities, plus some neatly integrated grooves here and there (no doubt carried over from their Pantera cover band origins), Ferium are one of the underground's brightest hopes. And, by the end of their performance, they've undoubtedly won over the crowd with both their music and jovial demeanour (...and beer!).
With the crowd warmed up good and proper, and still gathered en masse at the front, The Agonist take to the stage at 9pm sharp. Equipped with what I can assuredly declare as one of the twenty first century's greatest metal records, the recently released 'Eye of Providence', it's prime touring time for these talented Canadians, so salvaging the shows after the Otep debacle was not only admirable given the tight time constraints, but also a pretty vital move. And, of course, their fans that've turned out tonight are clearly revelling in the fact that a headline show for The Agonist naturally means more of The Agonist, so it's win-win for band and punters alike.

Opening with 'Disconnect Me', they're on fire from the off. Despite the small attendance (I'm sure that many wouldn't even have been aware of tonight's gig, re-ticketed and re-advertised as it was at such inescapably short notice), The Agonist perform, as usual, with their hearts on their sleeves, with high levels of energy, passion, and gusto. And the intimate setting works ever so well for those who've been lucky enough to attend; just about every crowd member reciprocates with enthusiastic headbanging and cheer so enthusiastically at the conclusion of each song that you'd think four times as many people were stood in Sound Control this evening.

Working their way through a set of innovative metal mastery including other new album tracks such as 'My Witness, Your Victim'; 'Danse Macabre'; 'I Endeavor' and 'Faceless Messenger', mixed up with older fan favourites like 'Panophobia'; 'Thank You Pain' and 'Dead Ocean', each and every member gives it their all. Danny Marino and Pascal "Paco" Jobin's fretboard work astounds as usual; Chris Kells' inventive bass work is always present; and Simon McKay's drums are simply breathtaking. And then there's Greek frontwoman Vicky Psarakis who impresses with her wide vocal range; delivering through both growls and the diversity of her clean voice. A short way into the set, she asks for a couple of minutes to talk about the forty degree fever she awoke with near the beginning of the tour, where she was forced, on doctor's orders, to sit out a few shows. She commends her bandmates for soldiering on in a predominantly instrumental guise, for which the crowd cheer and applause in equal measure. To be honest, Vicky doesn't look a hundred per cent recovered just yet, although it's wholly laudable that she still gives a hundred per cent through her vocals.

A shout out for front-of-house engineer, Mega, sees the happy Mallorcan rightfully greeted with loud applause for a stellar job on the desk this evening, as everything has sounded great through the PA. And as their set draws to a close, they eschew the pre-encore stage exit facade and conclude with 'Only Once Imagined' number, 'Business Suits and Combat Boots'. And it's been an exhilarating and emotionally-charged set from start to finish, loaded with their innovative metal idioms that they make look so effortless. A particular contingent of The Agonist's fanbase was previously afflicted with Alissa-centric preconceptions of the band, and very unjustifiably so. Tonight, though, once again, with Vicky's widespread acceptance, and the acceptance of her integration within the band, rather than simply fronting the band, The Agonist are now primed for major success. I just sincerely hope that they're blessed with a healthy dose of luck the next time they venture over to these shores. Personally, I think they'd make a perfect pairing with fellow Canadian Devin Townsend so let's hope some perspicacious promoters out there also see some mileage in such a billing.
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Tonight's show was originally part of Otep's 2015 European headline tour. Bad news broke late-February, though, with said band pulling out of the entire run at the eleventh hour and, unprofessionally and unrespectfully, without any form of explanation as to why. It looked like The Agonist, Ferium and Selfmachine were to be left out of luck and, indubitably, out of pocket. However, in a remarkably short time, the tour was salvaged with the majority of promoters agreeing to elevate The Agonist to headline status, albeit in smaller venues throughout some cities. Manchester, along with the three other UK dates, seemingly remained unaffected, with the gig re-ticketed for Sound Control. Unfortunately, due to low pre-sales, the show was shifted from the venue's main 450 capacity room into the much smaller, 150 capacity ground-floor bar. I'm sure a lack of viable promotion time for what is, effectively, a newly announced show was partly to blame, although it would prove to be a rare chance of catching The Agonist up-close-and-personal in the most intimate of settings...