Bat Sabbath at ChinnerysSupport: Acid Throne
January 16, 2024 at Chinnerys
Promoter: lout promotions
It’s always great to get the first gig of the year under your belt. It feels like the start of a new adventure and if it happens early enough in the year, a welcome escape from the wallowing turgidity of the Christmas holidays.
I was delighted to discover that Canadian punk metallists, Cancer Bats, were bringing their tribute act to our metal overlords, Black Sabbath, to a venue local to me in Southend. What better way to start the year, I thought, then celebrate where it all began for metal and to revel in an uncomplicated night of riffs and black masses.
My journalistic brain is also piqued by the question: why would you go and see a successful band pretend to be a different successful band? What are the benefits for the gig goer? And also for the band themselves? I get why tribute acts are popular – the musicians get to act out their fantasies of being successful rock stars and the audience get to witness up-close-and-personal a live performance by some musical icons that are now either expired or touring stadiums and arenas at vast expense to all concerned. But is Bat Sabbath somehow different, superior even, or just more of the same with slightly more familiar faces? I was hoping to find out, but if not, there was cider and extreme noise to comfort me.
I hustle into the venue, 0ut of the very cold January night on a quiet seafront into a bustling, already busy Chinnerys and am told that the support act will be on very soon. That turns out to be Norfolk-based sludge doomsters, Acid Throne, an act I’m not familiar with. A quick scan of their merch and of Google assures me that these guys will be laying down some vibes to remind us of where we are now and where it all began for metal. Using and abusing those same base elements that Sabbath transformed in their musical alchemy way back in the 1970s, Acid Throne will their own tribute, of sorts. The band is a trio with both lead and bass guitarists taking turns on vocals, although with your eyes shut it would be very difficult to tell which one of the guys was singing, as they both possess the same cavernous roar. The songs lean heavily into the sludge style, being that they are long, pained and there is a distinct lack of melody. However, there is a certain amount of drama, with plenty of changes of pace and atmosphere created by adept switching between doomy passages, thrashy charges and post-metal interludes. Job done, I’d say, the band leave to loud, grateful cheers, the crowd properly warmed up.
There is now quite a long pause during which time the DJ plays a selection of metal and hard rock classics, with the crowd singing along lustily to songs by the likes of Bon Jovi and Def Leppard – I’m not quite sure how the Dark Lord would feel about this, but everyone seems to be very merry.
Finally, Cancer Bats or should I say Bat Sabbath burst onto the stage and launch into a somewhat frenzied version of Children of the Grave. One of the first things I note is that lead singer Liam aside, all the band members are sporting handlebar moustaches. I don’t know if these have been grown in tribute to Tony, Bill, and Geezer, but if so, it shows a delightful commitment to the job at hand. Lead singer Liam meanwhile is sporting a fearsome set of mutton chops and is wearing a cape. Liam, it must be said is a fantastic front man and commands your attention for the entire show. Now stay with me on this one, but he looks like Robert Downey Jr playing Screaming Lord Sutch with the speaking voice of Jack Black as Dewey Martin in School of Rock. Got that? He doesn’t pretend to be Ozzy and neither is he being himself. He takes on the role of a rather po-faced, overly serious cult leader, here to lead the unholy rights in celebration of the greatest metal band of all time. He refers to the crowd as being from South End of Heaven on Sea and exhorts us to pay proper respect and to raise our voices and horns in celebration. I don’t have a problem with that and neither does anyone else in the room.
I only have one complaint throughout the entire show, and as a Sabbath devotee it is perhaps quite an important one, and that is that stand-in drummer Josh cannot replicate the groove or jazzy fills of Bill Ward. There are actually extra drums set out in front of his kit for Liam to bash away at during certain songs to help to replicate Bill’s inimitable playing. Now while this is visually great fun to see Liam smashing away at the front of the stage, for me it detracts from the show, highlighting what is missing, which of course is that certain spark of genius that was needed when the original four members of Sabbath got together and played. I have no issue with Jay’s bass playing or touring guitarist Jackson’s lead work, in fact I think Jackson does a particularly tremendous job. I may be being overly harsh on Josh; I was always going to be a tough crowd in that respect as Bill Ward is my favourite metal drummer.
The setlist is of course stellar – From ‘Supernaut’ to ‘Paranoid’, from ‘Iron Man’ to S’ymptom of the Universe’, every song is a gold standard classic, and all are delivered with a bristling energy, punkish attack and a shared, communal delight. Liam, again, doesn’t try to be Ozzy, (and all these tunes are from the Ozzy era), his voice is much rougher, steelier, and at times equally wayward! I guess what Cancer Bats have that your average tribute act doesn’t have is the experience that comes from being in a successful band and the chops and charisma that got you there in the first place. This feels like a proper show, and the songs don’t feel like revered antiquities dusted down to be admired from afar but rather living and breathing entities still able to surprise and move you.
The Sabbath worship comes to an end as it must with ‘War Pigs’, with Jackson replicating that epic mournful tone to crush the audience one last time. It’s a song that never grows old, to a degree you’d say unfortunately, what with the news just coming out of Yemen this week. The crowd sing back every word – some quite probably feeling the same as I that this is one of the greatest anti-war songs ever written and that its continued relevance makes the experience bittersweet. Whatever it’s personal affect, the song goes down a storm, naturally, and the band take the applause and acclaim for themselves and for the architects of all the great music they have performed. It’s not quite over, as after a brief disappearance they return as themselves, with Liam ditching the cape in favour of an Acid Throne hoodie – a nice touch. It seems Josh, the drummer, only knows one Cancer Bats tune so they launch it for a brief encore of (I think) ‘Pneumonia Hawk’, a pounding, riotous tune with a strong touch of The Jesus Lizard about it. I’m digging it massively and am very sorry when that has to close proceedings.
Well, that was fun for all concerned! I officially declare the 2024 gig season open!