Plini at Satan's Hollow, Manchester

Support: Disperse| David Maxim Micic
March 16, 2017 at Satan's Hollow, Manchester

Despite the doors supposedly having opened at 19:00, it’s 19:20, and the queue is unmoving, and snaking around the building. Barring a few stragglers, we are basically the last people into Satan’s Hollow for this sold-out night of tech metal.

Satan’s Hollow is generally more known as a club venue than a live music venue, with a circular centre stage surrounded by a railing, forcing anybody who wasn’t first into the venue to watch from the side or to stare at the backs of the musicians’ heads. Horror paraphernalia is everywhere (as each band comments on at some point), from the Frankenstein’s Monster behind the bar, to the heads buried into the numerous pillars around the room, to the… erm, disco ball and fairy lights above the stage.

David Maxim Micic is up first, a Serbian guitarist known almost as much for his solo albums as for his work in Destiny Potato, who mix quirky pop into their djent. The quirkiness is something that carries over into his solo work, covering the guitar virtuosity associated with the scene, veering through soundscapes reminiscent of post rock, electronic sections, glitchy keyboards, and moments not unlike Dream Theater’s heavier riffs. And that’s only one song. While it can seem occasionally disjointed, it ultimately leaves the crowd satisfied.

Next up are Polish band Disperse, standing out slightly on the line-up simply by having a vocalist. Despite that superficial difference, however, they are more than at home amongst their instrumental neighbours. On their newest album Foreword, they have added a more alternative pop sound to the largely prog metal stylings of their earlier work, and it works a treat, introspective pop melodies giving way to jazz-like guitar, courtesy of their own virtuoso, Jakub Żytecki.

Disperse are also the first to prompt any interaction from the audience, new song ‘Stay’ prompting a mass click along. As with all the other bands on tonight, however, the show is primarily about the music; vocalist Rafał Biernacki focussing more on his keyboard work than any sort of crowd interaction beyond introducing the band, and they are all the better for it. Overall, the only criticism is that the half hour set is criminally short.

Australian guitarist Plini is another at the introspective end, his guitar work often sounding more like the soundtrack to a leaf drifting away on a breeze than an exercise in how fast one can play. He’s also an engaging frontman, opening with the statement, “I don’t even care what happens next, this is already the best show, let’s have fun,” before launching into ‘Electric Sunrise,’ the opener of new album Handmade Cities. The carefree, off-the-cuff banter runs throughout the set, including songs dedicated to Satan, the audience, and Oasis, and a promise to “lighten the mood, this next song is about hell…”

Musically, the entire band is ridiculously tight, as they run through just over an hour of instrumental tech metal. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel; bouncy guitar soloing juxtaposed with heavier riffing is hardly ground-breaking. It’s just done brilliantly well, and varied enough to never outstay its welcome. ‘Moonflower,’ with its heavy beginning, is a personal highlight. All too soon, they’re announcing their final song, ‘Away.’ But there is one more twist to come: midway through, Mike Malyan, drummer for both Micic and Disperse appears on stage, and attempts to join in drumming on the sole kit. Żytecki and Micic soon appear as well, adding their own guitar talents (or, in the case of Micic, having technical difficulties on the guitar, trying his hand as the third drummer, before the guitar started working again). It all seems slightly self-indulgent and out of place at first, but gradually builds to an impressive climax. There’s still time for an encore of ‘Paper Moon,’ perhaps the best showcase of his guitar talents in the set; a perfect emotive closer that you can’t help but hum on the way home.

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