Headliner: Ghost Of Atlantis
Support: Dispute, Existentialist
The John Peel Centre, Stowmarket, Suffolk, UK
8 January 2022
I hadn’t been to a gig since February 2020, when I was taken to Malmö to watch Evergrey in their home country. A lot has happened since then, both personally and in terms of the Covid 19 pandemic. It all meant that I had been forced to endure the longest live gig drought in my life since that fateful day that my best friend and I ventured to London as wide-eyed 16- year-olds to see Metallica at Earls Court on their ‘Load’ tour around the mid-90s.
When news reached me that Ghosts Of Atlantis were to play a venue literally ten minutes’ walk from my home in the sleepy Suffolk market town of Stowmarket, I felt a compulsion to go. I mean, how often does a metal gig take place so close to home for me, and with a stoking headliner to boot? Almost never. We’re talking ‘blue moon’ territory. And yet, in the weeks leading up to the date, I felt undecided. Should I go? What will it mean for my shielding family if I go? Will everyone in the venue be vaccinated? Do I feel comfortable being in a venue so close to other people again? Should I mask up all the while? A million and one questions swirled around my mind before I finally decided to take the plunge and buy a ticket, admittedly after chatting it through with the more vulnerable members of my family first. With their blessing, a ticket was purchased and before I knew it, I was walking down into the town centre to a venue I’d heard much about, but never been inside. The John Peel Centre.
As I walked to the gig, I felt tangible nerves in my stomach. Not only was I worried about the Covid aspect of the evening but, after nearly two years away from live music, my nerves were as much to do with social anxiety as anything else…it’s the great thing about having your own website, I can use it as a form of therapy and there’s no third-party editor to stop me, or water down my words. I also hope that by articulating these feelings, it might help others who are in a similar situation and don’t know what to do.
So, with social anxiety at it’s acutest, as well as the underlying pandemic concerns, I took a deep breath and entered, ensuring that my Bloodbath face mask was present and correct.
Ah, awful venue ink stamp, how I’ve missed thee…or not. After having the temporary tattoo applied, I walked into the main area to be met by around 30 or 40 other punters, mainly congregated around the bar area at the back. I can neither confirm nor deny that I may have imbibed in medicinal drink to calm the nerves before heading out, but it was straight to the bar for a pint for me regardless.
I have about a million band t-shirts already, but being at a gig, it’s the law, so a purchase was made, and I took position somewhere centrally within the 220-capacity hall to await the first band on tonight’s bill.
The wait wasn’t long before Existentialist took the stage. Describing themselves as a blackened deathcore band from Essex, I was interested to see what this quintet might bring to the bill. Unfortunately, the sound was muddier than a hike in North Wales in winter and for the majority of the set, I could hear very little other than an indecipherable cacophony. Lead guitars were non-existent in the mix, along with almost everything else, save the bass and some of the lower growls from the vocalist.
It was a shame because the band were clearly a tight-knit outfit and knew what they were doing, especially the drummer, who seemed to have some incredible skills. Despite the sound problems, I could discern that Existentialist were a well-honed outfit and full of energy and intent all round. The seriously intense vocalist jumped off the stage at points, joining in with a two-man mosh pit, to which I got way too close for comfort at times. After two or three tracks, the bassist then decided to sit down cross-legged at the edge of the stage and there he stayed until the end of the half-hour set. Despite a general allergy towards anything ‘core’, I’d like the opportunity to see Existentialist again in the live arena, as I’m sure they’d make a lot more sense with a better sound.
According to the venue’s website and the social media posts, I was not expecting to see a band called Dispute up next. I can only assume it was a last-minute change from the billed To The Nines, but Dispute it was who took the stage with their self-coined brand of ‘double hard bastard Core’.
Not normally my ‘thing’ at all, I will concede that Dispute got me banging my head thanks to some solid groove within their material which was delivered with the benefit of a much-improved sound. It was a short but sweet set that lasted maybe twenty minutes at the most, much to the relief of Nick Frost look-alike vocalist, who was heard to utter “three more songs…it’ll feel like a fucking eternity!” whilst looking visibly hot, sweaty, and exhausted. I grinned, many laughed, and I found myself enjoying what this local band had to offer.
However, for all that, it was Ghosts Of Atlantis that I had come to see. Perhaps 70-100 strong, much of the crowd were clearly of the same opinion, as many visibly stepped forward as the quintet strode onto the stage. Bedecked all in black and with painted faces, it didn’t take long for two thoughts to enter my mind: firstly, here was a band with real presence and who presented a genuine step up in terms of quality on the night. Secondly, the sound was infinitely better; not perfect, but much improved on both support acts.
Opening with my personal favourite, ‘Curse Of Man’, the guys couldn’t have made a stronger start if they had tried. For me, it was the perfect beginning and immediately washed away any concerns I may have had about attending tonight’s show, especially when guitarist and man-mountain Colin Parks joined Phil Primmer at the microphone to deliver his distinctive clean vocals to stunning effect. The storming introductory track was swiftly followed by ‘The Third Pillar’, another fantastic song from the band’s debut album, ‘126.96.36.199’. By the time ‘False Prophet’ began, I was acutely aware of just how good this band really are, and why their debut album finished well within my top 10 records for 2021; put simply, it’s an album made up of banger after banger as tonight ably testified. And crucially, the band delivered the music with energy, enthusiasm, and professionalism, leading to a great performance overall.
The mix allowed all the musicians a chance to command the spotlight, but a special mention should go to drummer Rob Garner, who blew me away with his effortless performance. So tight and powerful, there’s just something about a great drummer in the live arena. Mind you, the self-proclaimed ‘angry Smurf’ Phil Primmer gave a great performance too, his growls and screams adding a layer of aggressive intensity to the material that I really enjoy, as well as a real presence.
All to soon, the forty-minute set was over and so was my first taste of live heavy metal in the better part of two years. However, it was a resounding success in my eyes. I missed my beautiful partner-in-crime who, having attended a few gigs with me, decided that I was no longer the person for her. I tried to forget this heartbreaking reality, though, and focus on the music. On that score, near full marks have to go to Ghosts Of Atlantis tonight, as they managed to bring me out of my shell and, during the anthemic ‘When Tridents Fail’, actually sing out loud and with passion, the strength of the music washing over me in glorious fashion. It was at this point that I truly realised just how much I had missed the cathartic and therapeutic effects of live music. And what’s more, I only had a ten-minute walk home to negotiate. That sure beats the hell out of a two or three-hour commute to and around London!
Ghosts Of Atlantis set-list: Curse Of Man, The Third Pillar, False Prophet, Poseidon’s Bow, When Tridents Fail, Gardens Of Athena, Halls Of Lemuria