RAGING SPEEDHORN / BY ANY MEANS / BURDEN OF THE NOOSE / BLACK SKIES BURN, 22ND JULY 2016, OXFORD WHEATSHEAF
Celebrating day release from the fetid dungeon that I like to imagine they call home, Black Skies Burn - Oxfordshire's four horsemen of the apocalypse - are here to ride roughshod over our ears with their unforgiving brand of thrash. It's saying something when the Extreme Noise Terror cover that closes the set feels a little like respite.
Burden Of The Noose, meanwhile, are proof that Birmingham continues to forge fine metal bands in its foundries. The short-notice stand-ins for Stoneghost are playing their first show of the tour with their own kit, and even a bassist down manage to up the ante with a set that is not so much intoxicating as asphyxiating, bringing intense pleasure but also the very real threat of imminent death.
"Come the fuck forward, I want you to fucking intimidate me", says the guitarist of hardcore crew By Any Means, a man with a Sick Of It All wifebeater and the physique of a 1970s wrestler. Not likely to happen anywhere, let alone in Oxford. Nevertheless, one of my unwritten rules of life is not to antagonise or disagree with someone whose neck is wider than his head, and so we're coaxed forwards reluctantly with the promise of a Motorhead cover, like a puppy wandering blindly into the blades of a combine harvester. The Troubles may be over, but Belfast is surely only peaceful when this mob are away on tour.
For a while, around the turn of the millennium, Raging Speedhorn often seemed like the sole credible standard-bearers for British metal, the only hope for salvation in the face of the US post-nu-metal invasion. Sadly, the pressure proved too much and they buckled, disbanding in 2008. But absence - as the saying goes - makes the heart grow fonder, and their reputation and legend continued to grow.
It's now two years since the Corby bruisers reformed - initially for only a handful of shows, just to see how it felt. It felt good. So good, in fact, that they recorded a split single with Monster Magnet, 'Halfway To Hell', and now have a new album out, Lost Ritual, on which the super-slo-mo heaviness of 'Ten Of Swords' - the sound of a woolly mammoth attempting to drag its hefty frame through a swimming pool full of gradually setting concrete - is a particular delight. Suffice to say they probably didn't spend their retirement making jam and tending to the garden.
As might be anticipated of a band who sound like a Nigel Tufnell side project and who have a song "about a midget we met in Manchester once", Raging Speedhorn are acutely aware of the innate ridiculousness of rock and refuse to take themselves too seriously, playing snippets of other songs and taking turns to have solos during the encore. What's more, they're able to roll with the punches - faulty lead, faulty mic, lead guitarist being wrestled off stage by an overenthusiastic fan - and come out smiling. As are we. It's not just earplug manufacturers who are pleased to have them back.
(An edited version of this review appears in the September issue of Nightshift.)