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Thursday 4 November 2021

A View From The Back Of The Room: Ward XVI (Live Review By Simon Black)

Ward XVI, Vanity Kills, Dominic Nation And The Dirty Dead, The Green Rooms 30th October 2021

It’s not quite Halloween for this show night, but it might as well be. It is nights like tonight that me make me smile at the broadness of our little sub-cultural church, because even with as musically diverse a line up as this show had, everyone was in the spirit (living and otherwise), fully embracing the spooky mood and cheering on each and every band regardless of personal preference. It’s an odd location for a venue mind you, tucked out in the back end of an industrial estate north of Pontypridd and I’m warmed by the fact the room is full despite the fact that there’s a rugby international blocking the city up.

After the opening acts that featured dancing from the Metal Maidens along with some burlesque performances. The first band of the night Swansea’s Glam act Dominic Nation And The Dirty Dead (7) opened the proceedings properly with an energetic set and a look that sent me right back to 1986 (a time when I too could fit into size 24 jeans). This is dark and moody Glam with a political twinge in places that make it edgy and relevant, rather than pure 80’s recycled Sleaze (which let’s face it has had its day), although their stage gear might say otherwise. Either way, their front man Dominic is having a blast and keeps the mood going, doing exactly what every opening band worth their salt throughout history has done, which is kick the door down and get the party well and truly started. Sadly I end up having to miss the majority of their set whilst interviewing the headliners, but although they’ve only got the one EP under their belt to date, they’ve got the energy and enthusiasm in buckets to guarantee that this is probably just the start for these guys.

Vanity Kills (8) are a band I’ve been aware of but never really got around to seeing before, despite them being local. Perhaps because the project has had a bit of a stop - start existence perhaps, but either way they’re the act who have been around the longest on stage tonight and the experience of front man Joe “Crow” Aaron is palpable. Throwing himself round the tiny venue like a man possessed, he has me and everyone else in the room tapping along to their brutally energetic display of Industrial Cyberpunk that explains where the big bucket of free Haribos on the merchandise stand went to. 

If you’ve listened to their studio material, it doesn’t do justice to Aaron’s versatility, as he switches between clean and screamed lines live and without the aid of the electronic distortion used on the published recordings. It’s way more effective for the sheer rawness and live physicality of it, but all musical aspects of the material work so much better in the flesh and I know this is an act I want to see more of. And total and complete respect for their drummer who delivers a relentless pile-driving performance.

The headliners Ward XVI (10) are on their opening show of a UK tour that’s going to run up to their official album launch party at the end of the year, but then there’s nothing like a Global pandemic to turn your world upside down and throw your touring logic into reverse. Tomorrow night they’ve got a way, way larger support slot opening up for Cradle Of Filth at the Roundhouse in London - so you could forgive them for being perhaps slightly distracted by that, but frankly it does not show at all. Ward XVI first came across my radar when I reviewed their sophomore album Metamorphosis last year. 

A year and a bit later, the fact I still play this record quite regularly tells me that I made the right decision giving it one of my rare ten out of ten rankings, as it is quite frankly awesome and having had to bail out of going to Bloodstock at the eleventh hour I was delighted to get the chance to finally see them play some of that material live and right on my doorstep. I was even more delighted when I discovered that tonight’s show was in fact that entire concept album played in full and with a full on theatrical stage show that really did not hold back. 

The thing about Ward XVI, the thing that means that shows of tonight’s scale are likely to soon be a thing of the past once this tour is done and the bigger ones like tomorrow’s the norm, is because they play each and every single gig like they’re headlining Wembley Stadium. If you saw their set at Bloodstock this summer, you will be familiar with the props and theatrics, but their very first show there in 2017 as part of the Metal 2 The Masses was no different and proof of why the New Blood Stage and the competitions that feed it are so important to the UK Metal Scene. This is a band that wants you to get your money’s worth and they are going to deliver that regardless of how big or small the crowd or the venue.

Opening the show with the epic Cradle Song, frontwoman Psychoberrie has the room in the palm of her hand from the get go - something that won’t let up either, given her propensity from jumping across from stage to podium and all points in between (along with a panoply of costumed characters who pop up in front of you or behind you when you are least expecting it). Good theatrical rock ’n’ roll makes a wary audience concentrate for fear of finding themselves an unexpected part of the show, as the fan who turned up with her own inflatable chainsaw found when getting in Psychoberrie’s way with a real one. I can still smell the diesel fumes…

For an hour and twenty minutes the band plough through the material on the album, with each and every track giving us a new prop, character or moment to remember. The highlight musically was probably the excellent Broken Toys, a song that’s strong enough not to really need props and gimmicks, as the cheer that came up from the audience as its opening bars played out testifies. It’s a moment of lighter musical superficial energy in an incredibly dark and moody story, having some of the darkest lyrical themes of the whole piece taking you in the mind of a frightened, broken little girl hiding from her abusive mother. As a metaphor for the future serial killer that character becomes, you can’t help but shudder when you realise that in the future, broken toys is what her victims are to her…

And then there’s her voice. It’s haunting, moody and powerful as hell, disconcertingly making you empathise with the character in all her brutality, and supported with a crunchy tight instrumental line up that hopefully will retain some stability moving forward. If I have a criticism (and I’m really, really struggling to find one) it would be that some of the between song transitions could be a little jumpy and maybe benefit from a little banter with the audience to fill the gaps caused by technical issues. That said, they’re a consequence of this show not being isolated on a high and lofty stage, instead being an interactive in the round and in your face experience. 

But hey, it’s the first show of the tour and personally, that intimate experience that made you really felt a part of the show far outweighs anything that could have gone wrong and meant that the minor glitches were just that – an irrelevance. As I’ve said many times before, this is a band with a very bright future and I thoroughly recommend you take the opportunity to grab one of these intimate performances whilst you can, because next time round the stages are likely to be a teensy lot bigger...

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