Words by James Lavel
Photography by Elizabeth Sharpe (AKA @ummagummamumma) – FULL GALLERY HERE
After tearing through the Tivoli at last year’s Dead Of Winter festival, New Zealand sludge lords Beastwars made their triumphant return to Brisbane last night. Along for the ride were local legends Stoker, The Black Swamp and Sydney’s Black Rheno. It was clear I wasn’t the only one excited about the line-up, walking into an already buzzing Crowbar; the whole place felt like a gas leak waiting for the flame.
With the room already packing out, Stoker took the stage to a warm reception. It’s always exciting to see these guys play. Ethan Smith, Joel Zahner and Jarrah Thornell are all extremely talented musicians. They kicked off their set with Wake Up The Radio instantly demonstrating their skills and first-class song writing. Ethan plays guitar like a man possessed, tearing solos from his Stratocaster with ease. Joel is busy in all the right ways, matching the intensity of Ethan’s aggressive psychedelic onslaught. By their third song; Witch Doctor the room was buzzing. Jarrah was in full beast mode – the drum kit can barely contain the energy he delivers. Watching these guys live always leaves me feeling simultaneously inspired to create music and wanting to burn all my instruments. If you haven’t seen these guys yet, then get the hell out and do so.
Tonight marked a special moment for The Black Swamp. Not only were they supporting the mighty Beastwars but it was also Grant Scott’s first gig back since batting serious illness for the past year and a half. I’ve been a long-time fan of these guys, so it was humbling to see Grant back with such support and love from the room. Kicking off their set with Common Crows it was clear Black Swamp weren’t pulling any punches tonight. Moving straight into Event Horizon, Brendan Woodley and Rohan Downs were keeping things groovy while Luke Hosking belted out his guttural vocal offensive. Jessy Kenny and Grant slotted into each other’s 6-string sound scape beautifully. Bastards Of The Universe’s tore over the crowd keeping the pedal to the floor. These guys have great stage chemistry, working off each other and genuinely having a damn good time. Before they wrapped up chants of Grant bellowed towards the stage and they quickly smashed Headless into our ears. Having these guys back in full force is a big deal, and I can’t wait to see what’s on the horizon for these legends. If you consider yourself a fan of anything heavy, then do yourself a favour and check these guys out.
This was my first time catching Black Rheno and they blew me away. The raw energy these guys produce is insulting. If there was a soundtrack to being physically assaulted Black Rheno would write it. The fact that these guys are a three piece is extremely impressive. Mariano Palomares, splitting his signal between a guitar and bass rig, had a huge sound and a killer tone for each. Ryan Miller’s manic energy seemed contagious as the pit kicked into gear. They treated us to Something Fucking Special, Doug Miller smashing the kit with intention and ferocity. Amongst the power it was clear these guys don’t take themselves too seriously, Ryan calling a shout out to rollups and cheese stringers. They gave me vibes of King Parrot with some groove thrown on top for good measure. Halfway through the set they invited Grant Scott up to play a song, reminding him we were all goddamn happy to see him back. Finishing up on Vortex, Black Rheno made sure everyone was warm for Beastwars.
At last Beastwars made their way onstage to set up. Much like Grant from The Black Swamp, vocalist Matthew Hyde has also recently returned from a long battle with illness. So, it felt apt they play together tonight. I missed these guys at Dead of Winter last year and have been eager to correct my mistake, and what a mistake it was. Opening their set with 2016’s Call To The Mountain, Beastwars had clearly brought their A-game. Matt has an aura of a holy man (praising the fuzz lord)on stage, his stage demeanour the only thing calm about this band. James Woods’ thick bass tone carried us into Dune next. The room now full, Lake Of Fire had the crowd singing along. Clayton Andrews riffs are the perfect blend of heavy, groovy and catchy. It was interesting to see so many pedals generally reserved for guitar at James’ feet. It gave him so much tonal flexibility, at one point he kicked them all off and let the pure low end carry us all away. Something this band does well is just that. It was a hypnotic journey that was extremely hard not to lose yourself in.
Realms was up next with its catchy vocal hooks. Drummer Nathan Hickey moving the set along with expert precision. Keeping on their album ‘Blood Becomes Fire’, Tower of Skulls was next. Matt’s passion-filled vocals sounding huge front of stage. Clayton started the next track, instantly digging the nails of 2011’s Mihi into everyone. There was very little downtime between songs, demonstrating how to progress a set with no bullshit, just rock and roll. Caul Of Time followed by Rivermen & Empire saw front of stage get a little out of hand, security separating some overeager punters. Apart from that excitement, everyone else was smitten with what was unfolding on stage. Beastwars kept their groovy sludge flowing into our ears. Call Out The Dead showcased Matt’s vocal power. These guys made it look effortless. Next we were carried into 2019’s well received album ‘IV’ with Omens followed by Raise the sword. Beastwars brought the night to a close with Red God and the killer Damn The Sky.
This was the second stop of their four-show tour. You can catch Beastwars tonight at Sydney’s Crowbar and finally in Melbourne at Cherry bar on the 9th. Huge thanks to Christian and the Beasts Cartel team for helping make this all happen.
With thanks also to Maric Media