25th Anniversary Party, 27th & 28th December 2013
The Garage, London UK
Words: TK Smith

All hail Lee Dorrian, the curator and founder of Rise Above Records and the man solely responsible for the best damn Christmas present anyone could ask for. For the valiant and the faithful, the label president organized a two-day event showcasing the elite of his current stable of artists including Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats (billed for this event as The Sharon Tate Experience), Blood Ceremony, Horisont, Purson, Iron Man, Age of Taurus, Troubled Horse, Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, The Oath, and Death Penalty. Dorrian is a bit of a legend himself having sung for Napalm Death in the late 80’s and founded doom metal giant, Cathedral. His love of all things heavy gave rise to the label in the late 1980s and established a home to some of the best rock south of heaven.

Rise Above records is a class act going the distance to make the event memorable. High quality, silver metallic, screen-print posters designed by artist Arik Roper were available. A collector 7”-single was part of a free door raffle with a purchased ticket. The single, stamped in red or green vinyl, featured The Sharon Tate Experience track, “Christmas Killer” on the A-side, and Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell’s, “Blow up the X-mas Tree” on the flip. Only 100 singles were given away each night making it quite a treasure for the winners. The set times we held to a tight 40-minutes each with the headliner pushing an hour. Stage changes were kept to a minimum with a shared backline. Through the weekend, the bands became one with the audience often milling about watching their contemporaries jam, or at the bar sharing a pint with the some newfound friends.

FRIDAY NIGHT (DEC. 27): As the brisk evening air cast an eerie glow over the Highbury tube station, The Garage, one of London’s landmark venues, beckoned with its aging neon. A mid-sized club with a capacity of 800, it was well filled when first band Death Penalty took to the stage. Full-trussed lighting with a sonically balanced state-of-the-art sound system guaranteed each band got their fair shot. Death Penalty is the brainchild of ex-Cathedral guitarist, Garry Jennings and Belgian female vocalist Michelle Nocon (ex-Serpentcult). Fleshed out to a four piece for the show, the band delivered well-crafted slabs of hook-filled doom begging for a vinyl counterpart. Nocon’s clarion vocals are beautifully haunting and make for a lusty metallic edge against Jennings’ beasty guitar growl. Their highly expected debut should see the light of day by spring 2014.

After a quick set change, The Oath, possible the most eagerly anticipated band of the weekend, cast their spell with a mesmerizing foray into the Swedish dark arts. Led by the bewitching Johanna Sadonis (vocals) and six-string prowess of Linnéa Olsson (guitar), the Berlin-based quartet seduced the cheering throng with Sabbath swagger and Pentagram panache. Bassist Leo Smee and drummer Andrew Prestidge are skilled rhythm kings keeping the vibe simple, subtle and sublime. The band has only released a two-track single, yet the response has been electric. Sadonis told us after their show to look forward to The Oath’s recently recorded debut, as it will astonish in production and song craft. Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell mix a healthy dose of Budgie, MC5 and AC/DC with additional influences from the more obscure Sir Lord Baltimore and Dust. A dynamic power trio, they light the fuse and let it go. Their all-too-quick set contained massive doses of heavy riffs, pummeling bass and driving drums. Eclectic and tasty, they took no prisoners and left us all begging for more.

Horisont are the latest denim-clad phenomenon out of Sweden. They are retro-rock steeped in electric blues with twin guitar fury. Status Quo, Thin Lizzy, early Scorpions and UFO all come to mind watching the band’s turbo-charge set. Vocalist Axel is a unique find with a golden throat and Robert Plant-like posturing. The guitar duels were epic as the thundering bass and drum shook the rafters. Borrowing from Quo, they closed their set surrounding the drum riser, backs to the audience, guitars raised in salute - deafened by feedback. It was damn near emotional! So much had been said about Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats (The Sharon Tate Experience), we had to see them for ourselves. Hot off the heels of the Black Sabbath UK tour, the Cambridge four-piece were honed to a fine art. With heads bowed and amps humming they plowed through a distorted array of demon classics. “Mt. Abraxas”, “Mind Crawler”, “I’ll Cut You Down” were all there but when they extended “Death’s Door” mid-set it sent shivers down the spine. Big chunks of dense riffs, rolling grooves and their creepy Beatlesque harmonies were the perfect hook. Molded into a late ‘60s-early ‘70s slash /biker fest, they fully embrace what they do – and do it better than the originals.

SATURDAY NIGHT (DEC. 28): With ears still ringing from the night before, bearded giants Age of Taurus stormed through a crushing set pulled from their debut Desperate Souls of Tortured Times. Sabbath, Trouble, Pentagram are their heroes so it’s fitting they lock horns with some serious dark riffs, dazzle with decadent solos and conjure with the devil’s metallic blues. The band are a burly lot with long hair slashing in time to the tribal beat. Just as the audience was getting into their “Rush of Power” they sauntering off to the bar. Quick and dirty, but enough to break a sweat. Sweden’s Troubled Horse made a noisy reception. After a grueling flight, the nomadic garage band stumbled on stage for a stunning array of fist-pumping high-octane rock. Disheveled and a bit frayed, they pulled off a set that had shades of early Witchcraft and Graveyard mixed with their ‘70s lovin’ twin-guitar romp. Singer, John Hoyles is every bit the showman, commanding the stage and, at one point, almost strangling himself with the mic chord. Eclectic yet rich in texture, the band brought a soulful, erratic and dangerous element to the proceedings.

Purson, are led by Rosalie Cunningham (ex-Ipso Facto), the female Ritchie Blackmore. With wide-brimmed hat and red velour bellbottoms, she led her gothic band of minstrels through an energetic set that included highlights from The Circle and the Blue Door. Groovy psychedelic doom rock with dark ‘60s folk influences filled the air. The haunting organ, Celtic rhythms and muscular guitar built a set that was ripe with medieval overtones and Beatle-esque pop. Lords of Maryland, Iron Man pried themselves away from the bar long enough to deliver 50-minutes of biker doom. Led by legendary founder Alfred Morris III (the black Tony Iommi) the band has reached icon status not only for their 20-year career but their gritty tenacity. Building a set behind their current South of the Earth record, proved the band’s determination to demolish any and all naysayers. Groovy bass, sledgehammer drums, “Screaming Mad” Dee Calhoun vocals were at their peek but it was Morris that commanded the attention of the crowd as he ripped through one blues-heavy doom riff after another. It was a wonder to behold.

Canada’s Blood Ceremony closed the weekend’s festivities with a bombastic ride through five years of what many term “folkier Sabbath.” Watching them answers the question, “What if Iommi had stayed with Jethro Tull?” Lead vocalist Alia O’Brien roused the audience in satin shorts and a flute while guitarist Sean Kenney stunned with a dizzy array of chunky metal. Bassist Lucas Gadke and drummer Michael Carrillo kept the bottom end thick and murky as the band blazed through newer compositions “Witchwood” and “The Eldritch Dark”. The howling of the organ swayed beneath O’Brien husky croon as the band bolster the singer who juggled flute, organ and vocals. Older classics “I’m Coming With You” and “My Demon Brother” were near revolutionary as the textured organ and flute wove their way through heavy guitar and plodding drums. A spellbinding performance that was elegant, gothic and vibrant. Closing with “Coven Tree” sealed the deal, and elevated the band to grandmasters of Heavy Rock.

Website: Rise Above Records