This was a progressive/symphonic metal triple-header, but sadly I only caught the dying embers of the Damnation Angels as I ascended the stairs. Pretty good it sounded too, but the Northern Line had effectively robbed me of the set.
French outfit Spheric Universe Experience were up next and I made sure I was there from the start. Just as well because it was a low-key entrance. There was no backing or intro music and the band slightly stumbled on to the stage doing a fair impression of the road crew.
It didn’t take long for the band to make their presence felt, though. Front man Frank Garcia has serious range allied to his powerful vocals and brought the first track to a climactic conclusion with high end notes of glass-shattering precision.
The band delivered everything you would expect of the genre, with sweeping keyboards, precision guitar playing and plenty of time and rhythm changes. Second track ‘In This Place’ was particularly effective with a great double bass drum weave and a surprisingly coherent sound. This was not always the case and sometimes the tracks sounded a bit too disorganised, unrefined and muddled. A few too many random twiddly bits.
The band worked really hard though. Garcia did not stop cajoling the healthy, diverse crowd into participation throughout the gig. At one point he said, ‘We come from the south of France where we have a burning sun. You don’t need a burning sun here because you burn from the inside, yeah?’ Quality rap!
During ‘Sceptic’ Fred Colombo strapped on his keytar for a bit of 80′s-style grooving with Vince Benaim on guitar in a Chuckle Brothers ‘to-me-to-you’ soloing fest. Colombo then turned to the crowd, flashed a big cheesy grin and scuttled back behind his bank of keyboards. Absolutely 10 out of 10 for entertainment.
There were more great guitar/keyboard interplays and some catchy vocals throughout the set. ‘Echoes of the Stars’ from the band’s first album went down well. It was a huge spiralling ballad powered by John Drei wielding a six-string bass the size of a railway sleeper.
The final track ‘The Key’ was almost a neat summary of the set. Good in parts, great playing, big energy, but just a little disjointed and clinical.
The differences between Spheric Universe Experience sand headliners Threshold were immediate and unequivocal. The Surrey prog-metallers bounced out on stage and kicked out a mature, tight sound with subtle changes of pace and direction, oozing controlled power from the first note of ‘Freaks’ to the last bar of ‘Slipstream’.
This was a great all-round show. Apart from the enveloping, immersive music, Threshold were visually impressive, too. From the off, guitarists Karl Groom and Pete Morten were changing places and front man Damien Wilson was everywhere. Even Johanne James on drums was a compulsive stick twiddler, and never missed a chance to grab the limelight. The inventive stage set-up helped. Drums and keys were on risers tucked back left and back right, respectively. This gave a sizeable space in the centre for the band to perform their set-piece instrumental breaks. Which they did with aplomb.
The band played the ‘For the Journey’ opus in its entirety, plus a few old favourites chucked in amongst. It worked. The album is strong, but live, the tracks take on an even greater sense of both drama and steel edge that the studio versions don’t quite catch.
I also think that the singing is better live. I wouldn’t often comment on the backing vocals as the lynchpin of a band’s performance, but here they really gave the overall sound more depth, substance and harmony. ‘Turned To Dust’ was a good example and so was the powerful vocal hook on ‘Lost In Your Memory’.
Maybe also the album versions sell Wilson a little short. On the other hand, it’s possible I was just distracted by his irrepressible livewire delivery. Wilson could talk for England. He’s a likeable friendly chap and chose to prove it by regularly jumping in to the crowd ‘for a chat’. On one occasion, this involved him running to the back of the auditorium to meet his fans before peeling off the first two verses of ‘Pilot In The Sky Of Dreams’ from the bosom of the audience.
He also climbed the speaker cabinets, up the railings into the balcony and then reappeared at my right shoulder, almost knocking my pint flying, before high-tailing it back to the stage in time for his next vocal part.
The playing was top notch. There were some guitar harmonics during ‘Mission Profile’ that I don’t think have even been given names yet. Karl Groom was particularly fluid all night. The growling bass on the excellent ‘Watchtower On The Moon’ went straight to the pit of my stomach.
‘The Box’ was possibly the highlight. The track where it all seemed to come together for Threshold. A bloke down the front particularly enjoyed it, giving the air drums some serious hammer.
Or it might have been ‘Autumn Red’ where the repeated refrain ‘Sometimes I know you’re looking at me/Sometimes you find the greatest beauty/Sometimes you see a blaze of glory/Sometimes I know you’re looking at me now’ was genuinely sinister, played out over an intense chug.
Then again, set closer ‘Ashes’ was right up there too, given a right wallop on just about the heaviest, meanest guitar sound of the night.
This was a thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable gig, at all levels and by all definitions. Good stuff.
Review by Dave Atkinson
Photos by Paul Clampin/GRTR!
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In this show, first broadcast on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio on 2 February 2020, David Randall plays a selection of tracks from some of the artists who impressed at this year’s Giants Of Rock event in Minehead (24-27 January).
Featured Albums w/c 17 February (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 NEWMAN Ignition (AOR Heaven)
12:00-13:00 BLACK SWAN Shake The World (Frontiers)
14:00-16:00 CORMAC O CAOIMH Swim Crawl Walk Run (indie)
Power Plays w/c 17 February (Mon-Fri)
SHAKRA Turn The Light On (AFM Records)
THE NIGHT FLIGHT ORCHESTRA Transmissions (Nuclear Blast)
RYDERS CREED Lost Soul (Off Yer Rocka Recordings)
FRAMING HANLEY Puzzle Pieces (Thermal Entertainment LLC)
ROBERT HART Mysterious (Escape Music)
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