Complex arrangements and heavy beats make it prog-metal indeed, but front man Danny Estrin’s one-sided hairy mane and bright white jacket give it a decidedly 1980s glam-pop edge…
A three-band evening in Great Portland Street was kicked off by Shattered Skies, a hard-hitting Anglo-Irish combo whose power rock is difficult to pigeonhole – they bill themselves as prog-metal, but I’d peg them close to the metal end of that particular spectrum. Fresh-faced youth Gerry Brown, with his curly-topped short back and sides, is not everyone’s vision of a stereotypical rock front man, but his powerful, clear vocals and confident, genial presentation are well up to the mark. Guitarist Ian Rockett is a shredder of note, doling out two-handed tapping and sweep picking with aplomb, without ever letting it override the music. I’m told he’s an excellent keyboard player too, but for now, the synths come courtesy of a pre-programmed backing track controlled from behind the drum kit. The highlight of their set for me was the excellent, mainly hard-metal Arisen, with its unexpected slow, jazzy break in the middle. An excellent half-hour set from a band to watch.
Coldbones were a different proposition again. The instrumental 3-piece describe their music as post-rock, but their introspective, shoegazing vibe came completely out of left-field at a predominantly metal gig like this. Full of ambient synth washes and warm, Telecaster tones, their atmospherically trippy set was played mostly in the dark, except for occasional loud and proud passages punctuated by bright-as-the-sun strobes. The audience took to it with applause and cheers though, so I guess some there must have known what they were in for. Kudos to the guys and the organisers for invading a screaming metal evening with effortless instrumental cool.
All must step aside though, because Aussie rockers Voyager took the place by storm. Fifteen years and seven albums into their career, the sheer size of the sound and energy of the band filled the hall more than the sub-capacity crowd. First thing to notice is that 229 The Venue is very low-ceilinged, and apart from little guitarist Simone Dow, this is a very tall band. Complex arrangements and heavy beats make it prog-metal indeed, but front man Danny Estrin’s one-sided hairy mane and bright white jacket give it a decidedly 1980s glam-pop edge, which is also evident in the music – especially when he wields a scarlet keytar, armed with carefully-chosen synth-pop tones, which he does with considerable skill. Second thing you notice (if you are a bit of a guitar nerd at least), is that there are altogether too many strings on stage; a 5-string bass and two 7-string guitars set out the band’s stall as futuristic rockers, in line with their space-rock name. Only two tunes tonight from new album Colours In The Sun, one of which, the pop-laced but undeniably powerful Brightstar, was a highlight of the evening. Other high points included the awesome Star Into The Night from 2011, and 2009’s popular Lost, which morphed into a huge, extended wigout based on Sandstorm, a viral instrumental from popular YouTube artist Darude. The band by this point was jumping up and down and throwing shapes, which would have made for some spectacularly energetic photo-opportunities given sufficient light or a decent camera.
I would have to say that, given their undeniable talent and storming set, and the fact that they have flown 12,000 miles to be here, it’s kind of a shame that we can’t present them with larger venues and larger crowds. Not that they showed any signs of disappointment; to the contrary, Voyager embraced their audience with gusto. Definitely a spectacle to be seen.