Loud, proud and hairy
The Ticket’s metal special lifts the lid on the best bands, labels and promoters from around Ireland. AOIFE BARRYunleashes the beast . . .
TO OUTSIDERS, metal is all about the leather trousers and juggernaut riffs. But for the people who populate Ireland’s metal communities, metal – and its many distinct genres – is a fascinating and constantly evolving form of music. Four decades on from Thin Lizzy, Irish metal bands are signing to influential labels and touring internationally, without needing to break into the mainstream.
Donnchadh O’Leary of Crunch Metal Productions manages two of Ireland’s biggest metal bands, Mael Mordha and Darkest Era. He says the internet changed everything for Irish metal, enabling bands to contact promoters and label owners and to attract new fans. “Before, you would have had a lot of good bands reaching a glass ceiling in Ireland,” he says, adding that more performances here from foreign bands also gave Irish musicians new aspirations.
However, he says that without mainstream support, there’s no way a Thin Lizzy would happen today or even a Therapy? because you have to go abroad to make it happen.
“Primordial and Gama Bomb are both good examples of that. Particularly in the case of Primordial, where their Irish following really seems to have grown as a result of their profile abroad.”
He adds, however, that for Primordial and most Irish metal bands, it’s not a case of striving for mainstream acceptance. He believes Irish bands can tap into their homeland – like Scandinavian bands that explore their countries’ histories and heritage – to make them stand out. “I think [Ireland] would be somewhat seen as being a country where the cultural uniqueness translates into the music, so a lot of the bands here that would be getting attention abroad would have a lot of Celtic and cultural influences,” he says. O’Leary says it would really make a difference if people in the mainstream music industry stopped treating metal “like WWE [wrestling] is seen in sport, like a joke thing – like it’s not really music”.
“There are a lot of bands that would have crossover appeal if they are given a chance and people would actually listen to it,” he says. The Ticket spoke to some of the bands, promoters and label owners who keep the Irish metal scene going to find out more about the health of Irish metal.THE BANDS
When the head of a record label tweets about your band, you know you’re doing something special. For Dublin’s Drainland, a comment on Twitter from Greg Anderson of Southern Lord led to the re-release of their album A nd So Our Troubles Beganon the influential label. “I thought it was a prank,” says guitarist/vocalist Jamie Grimes.
Drainland are one of many Irish metal bands who consider themselves part of a wider musical spectrum. Guitarist Aonghus McEvoy says of their influences: “When we started off, in our minds we had Swans and Sonic Youth as much as we had a metal band.” Grimes believes that there’s always been “really strong world-class bands” in Dublin – “I just think there’s slightly more of those over the last three or four years.” McEvoy praises groups like Altar of Plagues, who he says had a “cohesive vision of what they wanted to do.” Grimes says he’s had some Dublin venues “flat-out refuse” to put on metal gigs, saying, “oh it’s not really the kind of image we’re going for”.
“I think in Ireland venues act like they’re doing you a favour by letting you play,” says bandmate Stuart Geelon. “Whereas elsewhere in Europe they’re happier for you to come and play.”
Newcomers Wizards of Firetop Mountain have a simple MO: “Here for a good time... not a long time”.
“The ‘heavy music’ scene in Ireland in general is probably the healthiest it’s been in a long while,” says band member Wizzah E, with pubs like The Pint on Eden Quay and Portobello’s The Lower Deck hosting metal gigs. For him, a band’s reputation “is still built by getting in the van, going on tour, and bringing your music to new places and new ears”.
Galway’s Rites take their cues from old horror movies and bands like Sleep, Pentagram, and Black Sabbath, and have a penchant for playing hypnotic riffs in the hefty A-sharp tuning.
What they like about the Galway scene is how small it is, says bassist Nicola Cosgrove. Guitarist/vocalist Kieran Griffin says that the city now attracts more bands from overseas: “Without having to go to England I’ve seen so many bands that I never dreamed I’d see here.” Griffin says it’s “a nice idea” to think Irish metal will get more mainstream acceptance, but he doesn’t see it happening soon.
“A lot of people seem stuck in their ways and still have this idea that metal is so extreme, but for most of us it’s just [like] waking up in the morning. There’s nothing really shocking about it.” Trenches meld hardcore, punk and metal, with a DIY focus. “We try and do everything ourselves,” says member Gab Hielscher. “We don’t see ourselves ever making any money or wanting to make money.” For Gab, it’s the sense of community that draws him to metal: “I think it’s all about people helping each other out. If it was all very business-like it would be no fun, then you might as well write the music and play it for yourselves.”
Barry English drums in Cork’s I’ll Eat Your Face and [R]evolution of a Sun. “I have to say that there isn’t really a metal scene in Cork so much, and I don’t really remember there ever being much before,” says English, who sees a lot of crossover between scenes that have metal elements. He says that ,in general, metal “is still a big joke to most people”.
“Radio DJs will make a tedious Spinal Tapreference after playing an AC/DC song or say something about Ozzy Osbourne biting the head of a bat,” he says. “There’s plenty of countries nearby you can go to that will respect you when you play there and not treat you like a joke. It’s just a shame Ireland isn’t really one of them!”
Limerick’s instrumental progressive metal band Shardborne – Eoin Culhane, Ciaran Culhane, Ben Wanders and Cormac O’Farrell – have witnessed the Limerick metal scene’s “ups and downs”. This includes the closure of pubs The High Stool and Baker Place but also the creation of the Siege of Limerick, a free event that will bring hundreds of metal fans to the city in October. For Shardborne, metal stereotypes are easily quashed. “Many people think the music is for dim-witted, angry young men to get violent to, when the opposite is usually the case; metal is actually much closer to classical music.”
The hub for Dublin metal is Into the Void, a record store that opened in February this year. It is owned by label heads Darragh O’Leary (Invictus Records), Brian Taube (Sentinel Records), and Ian Lawless (Underground Movement), along with Máirtín Mac Cormaic (Sarlacc Productions), Barry Gallagher and Jonathan Barry (Blind Men and Occult Forces distribution) and tattooist Rob Currie.
It offers acoustic gigs and events as well as records, tattooing and caters for a diverse customer base. “There’s guys coming in wearing suits, there’s guys coming in who look like they would never listen to metal in a million years and they know exactly what they want. The place is open and welcomes everybody. [Whether] you’re a metal head, you’re a punk, you’re a rocker, this place is yours,” says O’Leary. He stresses that there are many distinct music scenes connected to Irish metal, but says that recently “all these barriers are coming down and people are getting on better,” creating a “huge creative drive”.
O’Leary spent his teens tape-trading, then he started a label, Invictus Records, which put out its first release in 1999. For him, metal explores elements of life that other genres don’t. “There is an inherent darkness in life. We experience it every time somebody dies, we experience it when something bad happens,” he says. “Metal is an integral part of expressing that. Some things are expressed within metal that you won’t find anywhere else, because in a sense metal is fearless in that regard.”
Into the Void, 3a Whitefriar Place, Dublin 2
Opeth, Cannibal Corpse and Napalm Death have all been brought to DUBLINby Dublin Metal Events, run by Fergal Holmes.
“Nobody was bringing metal bands here so it was a case of a frustrated fan trying to get people over that he liked,” he says of its inception in 1999.
Bringing bands here has its challenges, including the cost of transporting them, which can lead to higher ticket prices. But that has been no obstacle so far – the big names that DME attracts now play in venues like Vicar St and the Button Factory. “It’s definitely something I’m really proud of. I never thought I’d see the day.” Bringing in big names has had a knock-on effect on Irish bands, says Holmes. “I definitely think it made everyone up their game a bit because [they see] the opportunities are there.”
In CORK, Eamonn O’Neill, who runs The Key and The Gate promotions with Declan Synott and is also a member of People of the Monolith, sees gigs as an opportunity to introduce people to a range of sounds. “James Kelly from Altar of Plagues started putting noise [acts] on line ups – I liked that idea,” he explains.
“When I started I tried to mix [metal] up with other genres.”
GALWAY’s Us Vs Them is run by Daniel Hielscher, a member of hardcore band Only Fumes Corpses and Niefenbach, who make black metal from a hardcore viewpoint. He says that most of the heavier bands in Galway tend to come from the DIY, punk and hardcore backgroundsbut that band members might not all share the same influences.
He says many people like him started off listening to metal, diverged into punk and hardcore and then returned to metal
again. Hielscher believes that the ‘metal’ tag can sometimes limit a band, so aims for varied line-ups in order to “open people up to things that are out there. I’m trying to mix it up.”
There is no better barometer for Irish metal than the hugely popular MetalIreland.com, which celebrated a decade online this year.
“Ten years ago there was nothing in regard to a meeting place for metal in Ireland. It was Dublin or nothing,” says founder Ciaran Tracey. “What Metal Ireland did was bring an awareness of what metal was going on in Ireland, and make it available to everyone.”
Fusing death and doom since 1992.
Taking their cues from Thin Lizzy and classic rock.
Long-running blackened deathgrind heavyweights.
Seriously intense metal band set on world domination. myspace.com/warpathire
WRECK OF THE HESPERUS
Extreme band making self-described “anti-music”. myspace.com/wothesperus
Brutal sounds from Dublin. myspace.com/crowdcontrolgo
Galway-based crust and hardcore. bacchusband.bandcamp.com
Northern thrash metal. facebook.com/gamabomb
ALTAR OF PLAGUES
Atmospheric black metal signed to Candlelight Records.
COUNCIL OF TANITH
Doomy Dublin five-piece. counciloftanith.bandcamp.com