support Skull Fist + Vanderbuyst
author EW date 03/02/14 venue Underworld, London, UK

Welcoming in my first significant gig of the year was this heavy metal showpiece, a collection of young acts all revelling in the various forms of head rock and heavy metal of days gone by. Unfortunately I was to miss Italian openers Gengis Khan, arriving into the Underworld shortly after the start of Vanderbuyst.


Other than noticing their name on the odd gig and festival line-up I had yet to previously encounter Dutch trio Vanderbuyst, whose logo on their backdrop I noticed bears strong resemblance to our headliners for tonight, in turn of course recalling the stylings of any number of 80s acts. The wonderfully clear sound emerging from on stage straddled the hard rock end of classic heavy metal, with my ears picking out Judas Priest references at their commercial best along with quite the dollop of Thin Lizzy in many of the vocal patterns that were went executed by the amiable bassist/singer Jochem Jonkman. For a relatively young band there did not appear to be many nerves on display (just take this excerpt for example - Jonkman to audience: "Do you want a slow and powerful one?", guitarist Willem Verbuyst in response: "Are you talking about your sex life?") which always goes down a treat when one considers the lack of personality often portrayed by inexperienced bands. Being allowed a generous 40 minute set Vanderbuyst's skilful performance quickly passed by to an appreciative reception from a barely half-full crowd eager for more.


Skull Fist

My one previous live experience with Canucks Skull Fist in this same venue supporting the same band from 2011 stands out in the memory as one of the best impressions any unknown band has ever had on me. Their infectious attitude and high-octane performance has lingered long in the memory, better however than any subsequent attempts to listen to their recent album "Chasing the Dream" which unfortunately passes through one ear and straight out the other. The common case of a band being better on stage than on record? I am inclined to say yes as while this performance couldn't possibly have the surprise factor of last time out the passion and confidence of the foursome keeps them an entertaining live act while the cocktail of glam-infused heavy and speed metal makes for 45 easily appreciable minutes of watching time.

Fist's brand of metal could be considered as a faster version of fellow Canadians Cauldron with extra dollops of shred thrown in for good measure, plus not forgetting the stagemanship as part of an act that includes rhythm guitarist Johnny Exciter playing for a short while perched on the shoulders of vocalist/lead guitarist Jackie Slaughter, a funny sideshow which occupies the mind with 'how?!' as they do it. As on record Slaughter's high end vocals don't possess much gravitas to enjoy to a great degree, while his delivery strangely reminds me of the legend that is Nigel Tufnell (think of the facial expressions and hairstyle), but his effort is commendable and completes another good showing from a solid developing band.



Having so enthusiastically praised their "Diamonds" LP at the time of release (and far from being the only one in the industry to do so) I find it a little dismaying that Swedes Enforcer haven't kicked on to bigger and better things since then. "Death By Fire" which followed was just not quite to the same level, while on stage the loss of guitarist Adam Zaars to his full-time occupation in the mighty Tribulation, pushing frontman Olof Wikstrand back onto rhythm, has hit their stage presence. But, for one of the shining lights of the retro heavy/speed metal scene, to only be half-filling the Underworld with a decent supporting cast - albeit on a Monday night - is a mildly worrying sign.

Still, you wouldn't really think so given the enthusiasm with which the remaining four members went about their business. Conjuring up an excellent presence on stage with onstage banners, candles and plenty of smoke creating a pall through which they stand out like trad-metallers of the apocalypse the run through of tracks taken primarily from their last two albums wastes little time in getting the assembled throngs moving down in front. Tracks like "Take Me Out of This Nightmare" and "Mesmerized By Fire" are played a good deal faster than their recorded versions and by their playing reminding me that had Enforcer been an 80s band their status as a leading light of the 'speed' metal camp would have been assured. Wikstrand, though amiable and evidently happy to be on stage, did not overstay his welcome with chatter between songs, filling the time with a barrage of easily recognisable riffs and vocal melodies, before ending the set with a not altogether convincing cover of Venom's "Bursting Out". Nothing to suggest Enforcer don't have the chops to step up a level from here, but nothing either to intimate a great change of fortunes lies ahead.

All photos taken by Greg Readings

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