Sonic Dissonance

Dates: September 15, 2023– September 16, 2023

It’s been a bumper bunch of new extreme metal festivals for Scotland in recent months. Those of us lucky enough to live in Glasgow were blessed with the wonderful Core. festival  in August, which featured a diverse array of fairly major international names within the various scenes, often for their first Scottish shows. It was so good, in fact, that a glowing review was published right here.

Edinburgh’s new festival, by contrast, was an altogether more low-key affair. Spread across three venues in the city’s Cowgate area, Sonic Dissonance’s inaugural weekend represented a rare multi-day metal event in the capital. As discussed in an earlier interview, a DIY ethos was central to the festival’s conception and organisation, and its comparatively less flashy (yet, dare I say, less mainstream) lineup set a tone and tenor wholly distinct from Core. But enough about all that… How was the music?

Friday

The first day began with Glasgow’s Stairmaster, whose lighthearted and rather silly approach to noise-grind worked as an unusual aperitif for the darkness to follow. There were strange masks and interesting outfits, and despite the technical difficulties, they clearly enjoyed their set.

My palate sufficiently whetted, I toddled over to catch another band from Glasgow. Scordatura have been releasing music since 2008, and their brand of aggressive, violent death metal goes down a treat. Engaging and crowd-pleasing, it is clear that the band has honed their songs and performance over the years. Per frontman Daryl Boyce’s excellent stage banter, it’s a shame that this is their only gig of 2023.

The hype was real for Gendo Ikari, who recently unleashed their debut to rapturous praise from this publication. To the surprise of no-one, it turned out that Rokubungi’s wild, chaotic energy translates superbly to the tightly-packed, claustrophobic crypt acting as the Banshee Labyrinth’s venue. It was difficult to focus on any one musician for too long before another caught your eye with some fantastic playing or stage antics. This band is definitely on an upward trajectory.

Gendo Ikari (Photo by Molly McLachlan)

 

Back down the road, relative newcomers Suffering Rites delivered some great death-grind with a sprinkling of more mid-paced death metal. Their professional, no-nonsense set was made all the more impressive following the realisation that this was only their second gig. A choice Entombed cover sealed the deal and cemented Suffering Rites as ones to watch.

Hailing from various points of the UK, Ageless Summoning’s relatively traditional approach to death metal enraptured the Bannerman’s crowd. One excellent riff led to another, drawing heavily from their debut full-length Corrupting the Entempled Plane, complimented by some excellent drumming and guttural vocals. Judging by both the size and palpable enjoyment of the crowd, the band clearly earned themselves some new fans.

Next up was Endless Swarm, who were playing a hometown gig tonight. Their blistering brand of grind-friendly powerviolence attracted a large audience, packing out the diminutive Banshee. Equal parts chaotic and razor-sharp, the tiny room was set alight. It all felt lightning-fast, despite the 40-minute duration, leaving the masses craving more.

As the first band to play Legends as part of the festival, Crepitation seized their opportunity to set the standard high. Despite unleashing an incredibly heavy, brutal tirade of slamming death-grind, there is a distinctively light-hearted tone to their lyrics, imagery and attitude on stage. Some politically-charged banter added another interesting flavour to a highly entertaining slam death show.

Crepitation (Photo by Molly McLachlan)

 

By contrast, Sunderland’s Vacivus took a decidedly serious, almost stern approach. Their sound is close to a pure distillation of punishing, mid-tempo death metal. The crowded room lapped it up like dessert travellers at an oasis, and the band more than obliged. Vacivus exude an air of professionalism, delivering songs from both 2017’s Temple of the Abyss and 2019’s Annihilism with precision and without losing their raw edge. 

Local lads Enucleate closed out the first day with their debut live performance. A busy Banshee Labyrinth was very receptive to the band’s energetic take on brutal death metal, which is particularly impressive considering the band’s current lack of recorded output. Ending the Friday night with a bang, these guys are definitely a group to watch.

Saturday

The Saturday was stuffed with even more bands than the previous day. The first I caught was Edinburgh’s very own Uir. From the offset, their engaging, Celtic-flavoured atmospheric black metal captured the crowd’s attention. There is something of a post-rock flair to their approach, as the songs build and reach an exciting crescendo. At a paltry 30 minutes, they deserved a longer set.

Up next was Forever Machine. Their delayed start time was almost appropriate for the music; the Glasgow ‘funeral thrash’ band unleashed a steady stream of slow, doomy death-thrash, leaving an abundance of space in the air as the excellent riffs and drumming rang out. Despite the gradual, almost sluggish nature of the music, their set simply flew by.

There was a palpable buzz surrounding Bannerman’s in advance of Nemorous’ show. Much of the excitement may have been down to the band’s impressive pedigree, featuring former members of Wodensthrone among others. As expected, the band delivered a professional, almost workmanlike slew of black metal with a gothic air, which satisfied the hungry crowd without setting hairs fully alight.

Back down the road, Wallowing were getting ready. One imagines that their preparation takes a little bit longer than other names on the bill, given that most bands don’t wear beekeeper outfits or large LED spotlights around their necks, Flava Flav-style. The band’s pointedly eccentric approach to sci-fi death metal was as crushing as it was extremely entertaining and theatrical, overwhelmingly heavy whilst remaining profoundly silly.

Wallowing (Photo by Molly McLachlan)

 

Of the two coffin-themed band names on the bill, Penny Coffin was first in line. Unlike their members, who are spread across Scotland, a lot of their major fans were clearly concentrated in the Banshee’s darkened halls: the near-full room was amongst the rowdiest of the weekend. The band put in a decent shift, with tunes clearly familiar to many ears in the audience, and doubtless plenty of new converts were made this evening.

Hull’s Mastiff emphatically closed the show at Legends like a mallet smashing a pylon irretrievably into the ground. Their brutalising, pummelling, truly enraged blackened hardcore punctuated the evening perfectly, with politically-charged fury intertwined with the grim esotericism so emblematic of the genre. Packing the heftiest punch of the weekend, punters left dazed and confused, but knowing that these bruisers are a class act.

As one of the best death metal bands currently operating on these shores, it’s hardly any wonder that Glasgow’s Coffin Mulch completely packed out the tiny Banshee. There was even a queue to see them, which hardly moved as nobody was willing to give up a prized spot. Indeed, they were so popular that I could hardly get in the door, let alone see the stage, but the glimpses I caught sounded utterly savaging.

A horde of black t-shirts bounded into Bannerman’s in eager anticipation of the festival’s headline act. Abyssal took to the stage clad in robes and bathed in a misty haze of ambient purple. Evil, sinister, and, above all, heavy as hell itself, the band’s distinctively dissonant yet technical approach to blackened death metal has found its natural home amongst Edinburgh’s underground caves. Performative, yes, but the dizzying riffage, diverging time signatures and scary atmosphere resulted in a truly memorable closer.

Abyssal (Photo by Molly McLachlan)

 

Luckily for us, the evening wasn’t quite finished yet. Featuring members of Mastiff, Catafalque’s altogether more cerebral and experimental sound acted as something of a comedown from the various forms of brutality offered by earlier bands on the lineup. Though it was far from relaxing: the band’s chaotic approach vacillated from harsh noise to droning doom, without much room for quiet contemplation in between. It is gratifying that one of the weekend’s most interesting and dynamic acts dotted a nice full stop to proceedings.

In our interview with the organisers, it seemed uncertain whether Sonic Dissonance would occur again, rebrand into another festival, or remain as a once-off project. However, based on the quality, quantity and diversity of the bands on the bill, the inaugural edition could only be described as a massive success. Whatever the future may hold, there is clearly enough ingenuity and gumption behind the scenes to make anything happen.

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