It was bitterly cold that Friday night. Fortunately, The Unicorn in Camden was toasty inside, and playing host to several bands of the progressive and tech strain of metal, a burgeoning scene in the UK. The venue has consistently excellent live bills, and this was no exception, welcoming a heart-warming turnout of faces from the UKTM collective and beyond.
Opening the show were Leeds outfit Hieroglyph, who put in a faultless set of tenebrious tech-metal. While drummer Bradie Nixon was unable to make the engagement, the other five members make the most of the space onstage to spread out, with Mark Howes constantly pacing as a caged madman (or hardcore vocalist). He bellows his lungs out, a stark beastly contrast to the beautiful melodies of Valentina Reptile, who sways in time to the djenty rhythms. The band are playing their EP Freefall in its entirety, opening on ‘Weyland-Yutani’ with its meaty rhythms and melodic basslines. In fact, this is the first time I have heard Helen Tytherleigh’s bass be that pronounced in the sound mix, a welcome change from previous gigs. Guitarists Sam Butterfield and Jamie Rutherford unfortunately remain rooted to their spots flanking the vocalists, but they show their technical chops with ease, trading and harmonizing on riff upon solo, such as on ‘In The Air’. As final track ‘Tenebris’ rounds out, there are a number of impressed faces in the crowd, and as well there should be: Hieroglyph are moving from strength to strength, and I hear tell that new material is just round the corner…
It seems Clockwork finally met their match in William Young. The Londoner recently joined the Reading outfit, and like hand to glove his vocals fit over the twisting prog metal. Tracks like “A Path Beyond” showcase both his wide range of harsh and clean vocals, SikTh-like rap-roars included, and his desire to get up close and personal with the audience, wandering among them trailing his mic cable. It’s Rhys James who gets MVP award with his bass playing, though: it’s astounding to watch his lines unfold, all with a calm grin on his face. The guitarists and drummer are no slackers either, as the technical melodies and drum patterns fly out, complete with a few well-timed thundering drops. This set highlights a new chapter in Clockwork’s history, and it seems finally their star is in ascent. If the songs witnessed tonight are anything to go by, the future from these guys will be something to behold.
Next up are GlassEyes, fronted by Maxi Curnow, darling of the UK tech scene. Primarily known for his work on the STEM EP  and Friend For A Foe, it’s odd to see him step into a different guise here with an off-kilter genre for the lineup: GlassEyes seem to take more from the 90s emo and indie trends than tech and prog. The band certainly know how to do loud climaxes, and Maxi occasionally lets out a harsh roar, but most of the time it’s emotional mid-range singing over strummed jangling chords, or ambient-infused guitar lines, and a whole lot of foot stamping. It’s an enjoyable set, although a tad bewildering after the harsh tones of earlier, and it will be interesting to see in which direction this project develops.
It’s been a long road for Shattered Skies: nearly 4 years after the release of their début EP Reanimation, they finally see the release of their album The World We Used To Know and get to tour on it. The Unicorn is packed by now, and so the band take to the stage with big grins and their catchy and melodic metal in tow, frontman Sean Murphy front and center with his soaring vocals. The band seem very comfortable in their musical skin, and bring a balance of both old and new material for this headliner set. ‘Beneath The Waves’ and ‘Attrition’ represent the band’s heavier roots, guitarist Ian Rockett providing the brief grunts during each stunning chorus, while ballad ‘Elegance & Grace’ showcases the softer Queen-loving side of things, and ‘Saviours’ is sheer bouncy fun.
Despite the technical display put on already tonight, Ian and bassist Jim Hughes pull out all the stops in tightly nailing every lick and solo, while drummer Ross McMahon provides the weighty backbone to each groove. They storm through their set, rounding out triumphantly on ‘As The Sea Divides’…only to be met with surprise that they still have time for one more. After a hilariously impromptu snippet of Electric Six’s ‘Gay Bar’ – because why not – the band take an audience request for one more rendition of ‘Attrition’, which goes down a storm. Sean appears blown away by the crowd’s response, and gives heartfelt thanks as the band wrap up their set for the final time.
A fantastic evening overall, with excellent bands and a warm community feel. The Unicorn comes highly recommended as a venue, and I am quite sure I’ll be back there very soon.
1. “STEM is an experimental non-repeating 20 minute piece of music that spans many genres and dynamics.” Part of the proceeds raised went to fund an orphanage. Link to the Bandcamp here.