Spawn of Possession, The Darkest Winter and others @ The Brisbane Hotel (Hobart), 8 Jan 2010

The gig had its moments, but overall was just a bunch of old brutal death metal bands not really doing anything new or original.


If you asked me to sum up the Tasmanian gig circuit (metallic or otherwise) in one tired cliché, it'd be “beggars can't be choosers”.  So after begging for big international bands to pay us a visit, we got one from Melbourne and one with a couple of Scandinavian members.  Could be worse, I suppose.


Opening up was a young local crew called The Darkest Winter, who, to be honest, were probably the most interesting proposal of the 'night' (used in the proverbial sense, since Tasmania in summer means the gig was over before the sun even considered setting).  


Apparently they only formed about six months ago, making them even more impressive.  They played that sort of metal which straddles the line between melodic death metal and metalcore (“Gothenmosh”, I once heard some smartarse journo describe it), but with a healthy amount of melodic black metal mixed in, Skeletonwitch-style to keep it interesting.  The vocalist was certainly one of the better metalcore screamers I've heard – well, except when he pulled out the Dani Filth ultra-high pitched screams – though he clearly wasn't used to being on stage and seemed kind of awkward when he wasn't singing.  


The guitarists were both also great from what I could hear – which, sadly, wasn't much, because the bass and drums overpowered everything, and the drummer seemed to have decided that normal drum beats were too boring for him and that he should put fills in everywhere, completely ruining it whenever they played a softer part.  Unusually for this sort of band (and probably because of the drummer) they fell apart during the slower moshing parts, and only really sounded tight when blast-beating.  


My main complaint with this band, though, was that they were trying a bit too hard to do the progressive thing with their music, and it only manifested itself in over-long, meandering songs with no structure or unifying theme holding them together.  Every song they played wandered around in riff-salad territory for a few minutes longer than it really needed to, leaving me waiting for the end of every song. 


Overall, though, I wouldn't mind if they stuck around the local circuit for a while longer.


A band who has stuck around the local circuit a while (they were around by 2004, I've no idea when they actually formed) was the next band, Separatist.  Which, without wanting to sound cruel, is kind of a shame because they're really bloody boring.  And they've actually gotten worse, falling into the familiar trap of playing 'slam'/brutal death metal which isn't quite deathcore, and the band would probably hate you if you did call them deathcore on account of how much of a dirty word metalcore and all associated subgenres are these days.  


Sure, the mixing's better, the band are more animated on stage, and last song The Harvest (which they wrote like five years ago) is actually slightly memorable instead of an exchangeable mess of riffs like all the others are.  But the vocalist's 'reeb'-sounding growls are tedious and his (thankfully rare) clean vocals are downright atrocious and the band can't quite keep up with each other at high speeds.  


The best part?  When the singer announced one of the songs, one smart-alec heckler in the crowd yelled back “you've played it!”.  I'm not sure he realised how right he was.  Of course, Tassie scene being what it is, half the crowd left after Separatist anyway.


Not that Melbourne's Malignus were heaps better, mind you.  First signs of trouble came when the bassist pulled out a six-stringer during soundcheck.  Now, based on the spikiness of their logo, I figured that made them either tech-death (which is a lot easier to fuck up than it is to do right) or really downtuned deathcore (which is damn near impossible to do well).  Turns out, they were just another mediocre brutal/'slam' death metal band with a bassist who was a bit full of himself.  Oh, sure, he used the superfluous strings for a little three second interlude, just like the guitarst doing a little melodic widdly bit – they're just token bits to keep the crowd awake.  At least the songs were short and never outstayed their welcome, but when that's the nicest thing you can say about a band you know it's scraping a little.  This music can be fun to mosh to but Malignus only had a couple of lone headbangers in their crows.


Which brought us to the main event, the two-fifths Tasmanian, two-fifths Swedish and one-fifth Norwegian Spawn of Possession.  This band got my attention in a positive way before I heard them, simply because the legendary Matthew Chalk (ex-Psycroptic, Mephistopheles, a whole host of other bands) was on vocals, and put simply, he's one of the finest and most versatile death metal vocalists around.


After a creepy backing tape intro (when was the last time you heard one of those at a pub gig?) they launched into... well, it was much the same sort of brutal death metal as the last couple of bands, but this time done right.  


The band were really energetic, the musicianship was great and they knew exactly how to get the crowd up and involved – which is pretty much the only way to enjoy this sort of music: by headbanging.  Spawn of Possession's music used breakdowns and tempo shifts really well, and were certainly the only band who had anything close to a pit going.