Neverborn “Decimator” launch @ Villa (Perth), 22 Jan 2010

Neverborn launch their third studio effort atop an outstanding lineup of local talent. Fuck we’ve got a talented bunch over here on the West Coast.

My role as reviewer has doomed me to a life of desperately trying to get to the gig before the first band starts, and more often than not failing miserably. Such was the case tonight with Sins of the Father, a band that I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing before, up first. Although I only caught their last three songs and the audio mix was quite awful (more on that later), the band’s traditional metal structures and old-school thrash riffs interspersed with melodic passages was a good start to the evening, even if the drummer was inexplicably standing up and shouting at people in between songs. Although the early crowd was small – maybe around 50 punters – there were a few getting into some moshing down the front.

Villa night club – formerly known as Heat – has been refurbished, and the layout and setup is very spiffy. The stage is nice and high, there’s a five-foot high LED wall behind it, the lighting is good, and there are tiers and stairs all over the place yielding many good vantage points to check out the action on stage. However, nothing can be perfect – the sound board is way up high on a mezzanine floor at the back of the venue, and as it’s mostly a dance music venue, good in-house sound gear is generally not required. As a result, the sound on the night was very muddy, with the vocals quite often being completely lost and the guitars generally being loud to the point of distortion and pain.

When the singer for Pale As Ashes announced that it was time for something completely different, he wasn’t joking – although that statement could have pretty much applied to every band on the bill that night. Pale As Ashes are what I’d call a groove metal band with obvious popular metal and alternative rock influences – down-tuned, bass-heavy, with lots of stomping – and they were pretty solid, obviously very well-rehearsed and comfortable playing together, if not particularly memorable. Tonight a band member encumbered with an arm case, whom I think was one of their regular guitarists, was popping on and off stage with an extra microphone to provide some additional vocals, although the aforementioned crappy mix didn’t let much be heard.

The venue was starting to fill a little more – I was later informed that 200 people came through the door – and Gallows For Grace setting up brought quite a few punters down to the front. As one of my favourite Perth bands, I’m always keen to see these guys live. With a new album coming in 2010, they’ve been kind of quiet lately, but quiet is about the last way you’d describe their performance on this occasion - the most extreme band on the bill, they really turned up the intensity. A three-man circle pit even spontaneously materialised. While I don’t want to harp on about the audio issues, let’s just say that of all the bands on the bill, the mix was least kind to Gallows, leading to a rather heated exchange between guitarist and mixer towards the end of the set.

The penultimate band of the evening was here to play some old-school thrash – and a beautiful thing it turned out to be too. Enforce kicked off their set with “we’re Enforce, we’re a metal band” and then proceeded to thrash the living daylights out of their instruments for the next 40 minutes. I love a band that plays straight out metal without irony or pretense, and this is what Enforce do. They also had the distinction of being the only band of the night to feature a (brief) bass solo spot. Horns!

The stage set up for the headliners was complicated and intriguing. Two robots flanked the stage (I was later informed they had been constructed by keyboardist and creative lead Jez Devereux from cardboard, PVC pipe, garden hoses and liquid nails), the signature demon head keyboard stand was hauled out, and several other dangerous-looking props completed the look. Later on, one of the robot's eyes started glowing and a smoke machine spluttered to life from within.

Neverborn took to the stage a little after midnight, and proceeded to unleash hell. As I’m quickly learning – my first Neverborn experience was less than two weeks ago, when they supported Chimaira at the Amplifier – their live show is somewhat deranged, mixing a busy guitar base with some wacky and very different-sounding keyboards, and melodies and harmonies where you’d least expect them. Jez, vocalist Chris "Big Mac" Swain, drummer Michael Vulin, guitarist Matt Bennan-Jones and bassist Josh Harris form a really, really heavy quintet.

Given that it was the Decimator launch, the boys kicked off with a new track, I am the Cure, before contrasting that with Burned To Ash, one of their oldest numbers and such a crowd favourite – no doubt for its very catchy chorus - that the song has been reworked for the new album.

It was also a night for guest spots. A short but memorable keytar solo led into In My Darkest (fucking) Hour, another song from Neverborn’s first CD, which featured Guy Bell from Enforce doing a lead break, fake blood dripping from his mouth (at least, I hope it was fake). At various times later in the set, the band was joined on stage by members of Arkaic Rival, Nexu/DFC/Wardaemonic, Sins of the Father, and local force of nature Tarren Whitfield.

The finale – Seven Levels of Hate, dedicated to a shady character in the Perth metal scene’s past – started off as an exercise in extreme anger but ended on a much lighter note, as pretty much everyone who’d been on stage that night crowded around dancing like idiots, skulling beers and generally getting in the way of the people actually playing the instruments.

It was a funny end to what had been a seriously good night of local metal. Neverborn themselves are an acquired taste – more than a little out of the ordinary – but if tonight’s performance was anything to go by, it’s a taste worth acquiring.