First time at FAC 251 and it was a little strange. First impressions, it’s a strange little venue, steeped in Manchester history. This is the building that New Order famously built, and the Happy Mondays infamously destroyed. Being largely at the heart of the Manchester party scene it’s not exactly noted for hosting many metal gigs, but with Manchester still in the process of re-opening some of the regular places aren’t quite open yet.
Standing in the narrow venue, pushed right alongside the river Medlock, in the industrial centre of Manchester giving a strange shape. It’s kind of weird seeing people at different stages of returning to normal, this gig was packed. With the increasing trend of a negative covid test prior to attending almost anything these days, the gig itself had a massive influx of last-minute attendees, with 50 tickets very recently shifting and 30 paying on the door.
Coming to the iconic Manchester venue, to a gig put on by someone who’s rapidly becoming a local legend. Seriously, the meme of losing a single drummer wiping out a whole local metal scene, could genuinely have been based on John Badger, it’s not uncommon for a gig to have musicians pulling double duty, but Badgers the only one I know who can put on an all-dayer and play for all 13 bands on the bill. He’s not only organised the gig, but is playing in two acts tonight also.
After recently covering Summer Slammer 21 and Bloodstock, I was beginning to get back into the swing of live gigs again. It was clear that others were less sure and still finding their feet. Indeed, it took a while for people to make it to the front of the stage. Scanning the audience, it was possible to see a wide range of emotions as we all venture back to live music again.
Playing their debut were Gospelheim, a band who have been creating a bit of a stir on the local scene after a very well received debut single ‘Into Smithereens’. Some initial teething issues with the tech and sound, Bass drop outs and monitor issues and the clean vocals being initially quite low in the mix and drowned out earlier on.
The experience and professionalism of the musicians involved however meant this had minor impact. By the third song they’d put those issues behind them and broke fully into their stride. An enigmatic performance, occult elements of the music backed up with a backdrop of horror movies. An entertaining set showcasing songs from their forthcoming debut album, this was a solid opening set and brimming with potential, I’m expecting big things of Gospelheim, and look forward to catching them again.
Next up were Nottingham’s Underdark, who played largely shrouded in darkness. The spotlights barely caress the edge of the stage and only briefly every ten seconds or so illuminate any of the performers. The performance though was electric and shifted gears between quiet introspection and out and out fury, which would be the central theme for the rest of the gig.
This added to the bleak post black metal, blackgaze atmosphere. Be it by design or fate the most notable aspect of the performance was Abi Vasquez, who was utterly commanding on stage. They had the crowd eating out of the palm of their hand. With a vocal range seemingly capable of channelling something primal and at times monstrous. There were parts during the sound check where it could have easily passed off as a localised earthquake: always a good sign. I have been spending a lot of time since the gig listening to their music and it really hits the spot. They made a new fan tonight, ace stuff!
Third on the bill and playing only their third ever gig was Aqvirre, featuring Badger and Ricardo from Gospelheim. Playing only their third gig apparently, which seems incredible as I’ve been wanting to see these for ages. Yet, another band whose momentum got stalled by the ‘rona.
A bipolar performance from frontman Frenchie is one of the most compelling things I’ve seen on stage in a long while: admittedly there’s not been a great deal of competition the last 18 months, but still… Again, capitalising on the light and darkness contrasts musically and visually. Frenchie moving from a slow and still performance with his back to the audience to unmitigated fury and frequent forays into the audience to scream into everyone’s faces seemingly at the flick of the switch.
This was a performance you simply couldn’t take your eyes off, and the raw honesty and vulnerability of the performance, had me having to pick my jaw up off the floor more than once. A truly beautiful chaos.
It speaks volumes about the diversity of the Black Metal genre when an act like Dawn Ray’d seem the more traditional BM act on the line-up. Compared to the other acts they were quite minimalist with them being just drums guitar and occasional violin interlude. Furious guitars, howling vocals with shorter songs but just as cathartic a release of the frustration of the last 18 months.
I’ve seen Dawn Ray’d before and always enjoyed them live, they always give an air of freshness to any line-up as usually they’re quite different. With most bands on the bill utilising the contrasting between light and clean versus dark and heavy the impact of this was mitigated a bit when Dawn Ray’d continued the trend rather than broke with it.
Don’t get me wrong I enjoyed their set and probably always will do, there just wasn’t much about this that made it stand out as a headline set, which is to be fair my only minor criticism. They got the crowd going with an Antifascist speech about the powerful and solidarity with the working man, but that was one of few times all night when anyone had interacted with the audience directly. That however was followed by another song and the gig ended almost anticlimactically.
It will be interesting to see if the venue hosts many more metal gigs once Manchester is fully opened again. Had a great night, in a venue I might not normally have visited seeing four excellent bands. I’ve missed live music so much.
WORDS AND PHOTOS BY RICH PRICE PHOTOGRAPHY