Saturday 17th November 2012, Marshall Theatre, Milton Keynes
When Jesse Hughes, singer of Eagles of Death Metal and Boots Electric, walks onto the stage armed with a clipboard and reading glasses and asks “Are you ready for rock and roll?” you know that judging this competition is a serious business. Alongside Jesse, the panel of judges are British record producer, Steve Levine; Andy Copping from Download/Live Nation; Kerrang’s Listing Editor, Jen Walker and Paul Marshall. The pressure is on!
Out of hundreds of entries carefully whittled down to a top twenty five, just five finalists will now battle for the title of Ultimate Band and win a prestigious slot at Download 2013 and full Marshall endorsement for a year. The nerves are almost rebounding off the walls inside the iconic Marshall HQ Theatre which is sold out to fans and supporters who cower in the darkness at the back of the venue by the bar.
Helping to ease the tension, the Ultimate Band winner of 2010, Sons of Icarus, take to the stage with the unenviable task of warming up the timid crowd. Vocalist, Andy Masson, beckons them to move forward for an enticing taste of what success is all about. As they pile through their short set it is clear why they were winners and how, two years on, they are still going strong. With cascading rock and roll riffs, meaty and mental bass and drums, their thundering songs, like “Not Myself”, demonstrate what a tight unit they are.
Then, the games commence and Jesse checks his clipboard. First finalist to take to the stage is Brighton based melodic rockers Nakedium. Looking like they’ve had a quick refresh after a day in the office, it’s difficult to figure them out at first, but, day job appearances aside, they deliver a strong set of songs “about real life” with clear, Bon Joviesque, arrangements and neatly blended verses and choruses that certainly harken back to the late 80’s. “Paint the World” has a catchy chorus slightly reminiscent of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”. There is, however, something a little bit Brian Johnsonish about the way singer Mark Lehmann bowls around the stage and with small teases of possible lead guitar solos from Howard Rickard that never seem to get going, it is bassist Sam Bryant who catches the eye mastering his five string and who is awarded the title of Best Bassist. Lee Bryant’s drumming keeps it all together well throughout the set, which includes the anthemic “Set Me Free”, a song about, well, yes, day jobs! Stadium rock is what Nakedium seem to be about, but, when a band are too wrapped in their day jobs to have a dynamic approach to their dream job, then pub rock must keep them grounded for now.
Next band up are Milton Keynes’ own hard rockers, Frantic Alice. Barely out of nappies, these pretty little rock stars have been playing together for just one year but boy can they pack a punch! Likened to Avenged Sevenfold and Papa Roach, they have some ferocious opening riffs and canter through their set which includes “Breakout” and “Misses Misery” with unrelenting momentum and attitude to match. Singer, Jakk Vanity has an exquisite immaturity to his voice akin to Brian Molko of Placebo or Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance and despite his nerves, he oozes confidence and connects with his audience from the start. Along with Jim Terror’s grinding guitar, Rob Dix’s deft bass playing, they have the aura of a band that will make it big someday. Today is not the day however, despite Allonby drumming as if his life depended on it.
This competition has attracted hopefuls from both near and far, but you can’t get much further than Tasmania, Australia. Electro prog metal band, Deligma, travelled with supporters in tow to be here tonight and for this belief in themselves alone, one hopes that their dedication is acknowledged. With ever changing moods and tempos highlighted by heavy riffs, solid rhythms and melodies, their music is a symphony of multiple dimensions that are made all the more poignant by Dylan Smith’s clean vocals whether he is singing like an angel or bellowing an aggressive scream. “Vendetta” with its machine gun-like intro sounds all the better live and displays what brutal modern metal is all about, whereas, “Misfire” is more gently paced. Yes, their dedication and their musicianship is acknowledged, but it is band member Guy Jeffrey who is crowned Best Drummer.
If one band’s fans could win an award then this would certainly go to the passionate supporters of Obey. Larger than life, these flag bearing, chanting fanatics weren’t going to let nerves get in the way of making this three piece metal band from Stoke-on-Trent feel as at home as possible. Steve Pickin, guitar and vocals, Josh Jones, bass and Matt Lane, drums, are influenced by Sabbath, Pantera and Lamb of God and from the moment they deliver their first distorted, bludgeoning riffs, you could believe that hairs might just be sprouting from your chest and that this is certainly the band that should be churning up the devils dustbowl at Donnington. Indeed, Steve Pickin could easily be Zakk Wylde’s younger, leaner and prettier brother, he certainly has the look and his punchy delivery on guitar earns him Best Guitarist. It is at this point in the competition however, that constant comparisons to other bands must beg the question – “But what is the Ultimate Band?” Surely the competition is not about who they sound like but that they have, at least, something new to offer? In a music world of genres and sub-genres this must be increasingly difficult for our judges tonight and when Obey tear into their final attempt to impress with “Suicide Shifter” there is still something missing although it isn’t the head banging groupies they brought with them!
Ok, so if comparisons must be made then what does their native Scotland make of Peepshow? Hanoi Rocks? Black Veil Brides? WASP? Alice Cooper? Wham! No, not the band, more the sensation that exudes as the first song is ignited by a note delivered like an electric shock. Launching into the unrelenting madness of “Let Go” ensures they now have all the attention they want and yes, if comparisons are allowed and if sexual variety is ignored for a moment, then these could be the bastard sons of Blackie Lawless and Joan Jett. Peepshow are the darker side of hard rocking glam metal. Loaded in eye makeup, frontman Johnny Gunn has total control and is one of those front men that relish in the pure theatre of performance. Taking his lead in equal measures are guitarists Rusty Gill and Dagan, Hex on Bass and Hammy on drums. With the likes of “Live Free or Die” and the loudest song of the night that has the audience singing “Here comes trouble”, they basically produce great songs. Head banging riffs, and sexy, sing-a-long, bad boy rock songs mixed with futuristic sounds, provoke the listener’s imagination and provide an aural and visual feast of moderate measures that can only get bigger and more filling with a small push in the right direction. Which is exactly what they get. Despite a dubious attempt to split the audience for a “who can shout oi oi oi” the loudest contest, they go home victorious with the coveted prizes of Best Singer and Best Band.
Lastly, a special guest band is closing the competition tonight and, it seems, are exposing some unsuspecting members of the audience to an infection of epidemic proportions. Fresh from their American tour supporting KISS and Motley Crue, young Cambridge rockers, The Treatment have arrived to prescribe us with a cure for nerves and show us all how it is really done.
Indeed, many here tonight are receiving their virgin dose of this band and at first it is nothing but awe and wonder on every face in the theatre. All studs and leather, the struts are in the right places, their mere presence is contagious; they are nothing but pleased to be there and it is not long before the crowd are jumping along to banging party songs like “I Bleed Rock and Roll”, “The Doctor” and “Shake the Mountain”. Hang on a moment. The Treatment won our hearts with the release of their first album “This Might Hurt” and as supports to Steel Panther earlier this year dressed simply in teenage black leathers, denim and shoulder length hair. What’s going on? They have returned from America looking a little “tampered” with, having been to see KISS’ barber and Spinal Tap’s wardrobe mistress.
Maybe this should be a lesson to all our finalists tonight? Keep it real guys. Keep it Cambridge. Keep it Union Jacks. Keep it The Treatment.
written by Anna Ghislena
This review is also available at www.stereoboard.com
NB: Since the contest winners, Peepshow, have changed their name to States of Panic.