Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Extreme Noise Terror @Home Club, Singapore

The buzz behind Extreme Noise Terror's first jaunt to South East Asia had been building for almost a year; the band was expected to play Singapore as well as Johor Bahru, the southernmost city in Malaysia that lies across the bridge from SG. Normally I would have been happy to skip the Singapore show (and the immigration hassle that came with it) to see the band in JB, but there was a significant difference between the Singapore and JB gigs for me - my buddies Bloodstone were playing the former. I hadn't seen Bloodstone in almost a year, when they kicked off an epic show that also featured Japanese thrash lunatics Hell and Hell and local legends Demisor and Wormrot. One mediocre metalcore act aside, that gig stands as one of my fondest memories of my stay in South East Asia. Also, I haven't seen any gigs in JB, and Malaysia being Malaysia, there was always the possibility that it could've been complete malarkey.

Bloodstone are one of my favourite bands in Asia; they combine the raucous thrash attack of early Slayer and Metallica with memorable songs and some "aw, shucks" charm for good measure. I sincerely believe they have the potential to break out of the region into the larger metal world. Unfortunately, this wasn't their night; equipment problems and possible "ring rust" combined for a middling performance from a band that has so much to offer. It was especially frustrating since this gig potentially could have boosted the band's profile. But the goodwill Bloodstone have accrued over the years isn't without reason; and with Singapore becoming a regular hub for touring bands, there will be other opportunities for them to deliver the goods. Here's hoping.

Desecration, despite being the ostensible co-headliner, opted to play second on the line-up to give the two members doing double duty in ENT time to rest up before their headline spot. Aside from vocalist Ollie Jones' unfortunate gaff of asking their Singaporean fans "How do you say 'Cheers' in Portuguese?" ('Singapore' and 'Portugal' do share three consecutive letters...so maybe that's the confusion...?), their set was a lesson in classic death metal, the British way. It has to be said, Desecration's sound was outstanding, further making the case for death metal trios - props to the guy operating the board. I've now seen Desecration twice, which makes up for missing Benediction at last year's MDF - six of one, half a dozen of the other, in my opinion.

You can't throw a stone in the punk scene in South East Asia and not hit someone who's in a "Dis", D-beat, or Tragedy-sounding band. Minus are one of many such bands throughout the region, and their heavy, metallic crust garnered the crowd's approval - including ENT's Dean Jones, who was conspicuously cheering from the side. He eventually joined the band on stage for their final song. A crusty torch has been passed, it seems.

Here's an honest admission - despite an adolescence punctuated heavily with British grind (Napalm, Carcass, and Bolt Thrower), Extreme Noise Terror mostly passed me by. The one thing that I own from them is Damage 381 - a death metal-leaning album seemingly at odds with the rest of their crusty discography, and notable for the inclusion of Barney Greenway during one of Napalm's stranger line-up shifts. I'm sure "true" ENT fans hate it. I love it, and that's probably evidence that I'm not a "true" fan. Still, seeing them for the first time made it clear why they're so revered by punk rockers who dress like Mad Max extras. ENT live is like a sandstorm of abrasive guitar and facepunching drumming, and Jones' vocals are Lee Dorrian squared - he's been doing this so long, even his regular speaking voice sounds like coffee beans being ground up. And he was only half the vocal onslaught - ENT, of course, famously made use of two duelling vocalists long before anyone else (and lest anyone forget that fact, Jones made sure to dedicate a song to his old partner, the recently departed Phil Vane). Taking the other mic that night was Raging Speedhorn's John Loughlin, whose own vocals are suitably bear-like and gnarly. Having six members crowding the small stage created an air of chaos appropriate to ENT's music, and the audience went apeshit, going so far as to pick up and carry a few big dudes who had no business being held above anyone else's head. Allegedly, Jones didn't know that South East Asia had such a passionate punk scene - based on the crowd response, he sure does now.

Stray Bullets:

• Disappointing set and all, there are few bands I enjoy seeing and hanging out with as much as Bloodstone. Always worth the bus trip.

• The best part of hanging out with Singaporeans: having someone to comiscerate with all my complaints about Malaysia(ns). "Give them a few more years to come to terms with the invention of the wheel before letting them drive cars" was met with wide agreement. I might have to extend my stay here.

• Home Club is becoming one of my favourite live venues in the region. It's one of the few places small enough to feel homey but with a PA system that treats extreme metal well. The location is in a touristy part of Singapore, which means lots of train stations are nearby, as well as lots of fun people watching when dolled up tourists walk through groups of tatted up crusties/heshers. The excellent record shop Hell's Labyrinth is a short walk away, if you need to kill time between sets. Plus, it's only a few blocks away from a dozen or so hostels, which makes it easy for metal pilgrims like me to check in, drop off your bag, and hesh out for a few hours. I even got to head back to my room to charge my camera battery before ENT played.

• Explaining to someone what a podcast is and why he might consider sending me a song for mine was like performing brain surgery, up to and including the part when I decided it wasn't worth it and walked away. The result would have been the same either way.

• Extreme Noise Terror aren't playing Kuala Lumpur on this tour, but that hasn't stopped some kids in KL from designing a flyer that looks like they are. Cheeky bastards.