Almost every band on the bill is on Holy Roar Records, a label which attracted a lot of attention itself last year, most notably with Rolo Tomassi and Conjurer. Given that there seems to be a groundswell towards their output, tonight certainly seems to be indicator that it’s continuing, with the show being a near sell-out.
With no intention of easing people in or slowly warming them up, Brighton’s Watchcries  waste no time and get straight into first gear with their abrasive but well-crafted mixture of rhythmic hardcore and sludge. The Converge and Neurosis similarities may be quite easy to pick out, but their songs seem to shift in a wildly unpredictable manner, especially in ‘Transgressions’ and ‘Eternal Life’; they move from blast-beat sections to more punk inspired sections, and into slower doomier sections at the drop of a hat.
The flurry of ideas, combined with vocalist Nats Spada‘s shrieks and commanding stage presence, shows that Watchcries have made their mark here with punishing effect, and we’re more than warmed up.
Next up are a band that seem like a collective of sorts, Morrow , who describe themselves as ’emocrust’. It’s emotive, for sure, there’s certainly a crust punk influence, and the stringed instruments also help bring a more distinctive edge to their sound. Members of Fall Of Efrafra and Light Bearer are present, and Svalbard‘s own Liam Phelan is on violin duties. In a figurative sense, there are many strings to their bow as well; they do know how to switch it up, fleeting between slower post-metal influences and raw punk energy.
They wear their hearts on their sleeve, as well as their convictions. Their short in-between-song speeches about the need of more positive energy, especially in the DIY punk scene, goes down especially well. Some parts of their songs tend to go on a bit longer than they need to, but that’s not to any great detriment. Morrow deliver a captivating, emotional and energetic set which certainly perks some interest.
London’s very own Ithaca  seem to be going from strength to strength at the moment, receiving many plaudits and notable festival billings in recent months. Their live set is just as punishing as their recently-released debut album, ‘The Language Of Injury’, and it doesn’t take long for a sea of flailing fists and arms to appear down the front. Ithaca manage to stand out in more than one way, with vocalist Djamila Azzouz adorned in a glitter top and bassist Red Simsey sporting tie-dye get-up. Better than wearing all black like every other band, right?
‘New Covenant’ and ‘Youth Vs. Wisdom’ sound particularly menacing, with the latter’s breakdown getting slowed down to powerful effect. The moments of interplay between Azzouz‘s cleaner vocals and guitarist Sam Chetan-Welsh‘s backing screams also hold up very well, and they also both make their feelings known between the songs about the recent online controversy that both Azzouz and Svalbard‘s Serena Cherry found themselves involved in, and the chorus of boos from some of crowd also make it clear that reactionary bigots of any kind are not welcome here.
And so to tonight’s headliners, Svalbard , who you know instinctively wouldn’t have any worries about following what’s come before. The two-pronged vocal attack of Serena Cherry‘s roars and Phelan‘s shrieks are infectious, along with their multi-faceted musical canvas of post-hardcore, post-rock, and black metal.
It’s clear that Svalbard are have mastered the art of having many things going on musically, yet showcase raw, vulnerable power at the same time. Early in the set, after a shout of “This is what a feminist looks like!” from Cherry, we’re immediately met with ‘Feminazi?!’, a scathing riposte against the term, leaving everyone moshing in unity against sexism and idiocy.
‘Perspective’ and ‘Unpaid Intern’ whip up more fervour, with the crowd audibly chanting the lyrics back at the band, and singing along to the coda of ‘For The Sake Of The Breed’. There’s a modesty and understated nature of Svalbard that’s often underappreciated; both Cherry and Phelan give important mini-speeches, and seem genuinely grateful that tonight’s venue has filled out. As we near the end, ‘Disparity’ and ‘Revenge Porn’ again succeed in bringing the atmospheric qualities and the hard-hitting nature in equal measure.
Along with the other acts on the bill tonight, Svalbard have shown that this hardcore scene is very much alive and kicking back against the close-minded attitudes that pervade all too often.