Mere months after their debut show in Manchester, “progressive Grindcore” act Empire State Bastard made their return to a much bigger and more polished ritzy venue. Their brand of intense fury made them a bizarre addition to the long list of bands to play New Century but the crowd were still very ready for the insanity to come.
Benefits were first and they were a unique act and an acquired taste for sure. The lineup is comprised of two synth players, a drummer and a vocalist and their sound seems like a mix of spoken word musings with harsh noise and Grindcore drumming behind it all.
The spoken word aspects are highly political, dealing with poverty, rejecting hate, oppression under capitalism and nationalist “flag shaggers”. It’s a difficult act to sell people on but if you have any interest in politics or the state of the world then Benefits is a band you need to experience as well as listening to their debut album Nails.
Benefits are fueled by pure anger and despondency with the state of the world but that’s the default state of punk and why punk as a genre is infinitely important. Like many others in the venue this was my first experience with them so it may take some ruminating to fully appreciate everything they’re doing considering how Avant Garde everything is. The attitude is absolutely everything to Benefits and it just happens that the drumming is incredible, the blinding aggression that frontman Kingsley Hall is beyond infectious.
Benefits doesn’t feel like a cynical project either, it feels designed to spread hope and awareness to just how much of a mess the modern world is in but that’s always been the spirit and intent of punk. Check out benefits if you’re sufficiently pissed off or if you’re not pissed off enough.
Empire State Bastard came up next which made for a very short night but that’s fairly common for a show with this amount of aggressive energy. It’s a brief night full of pure venom which is all it takes when it hits right. The set started with the vicious screech of “Tired, Naw?” which set the tone for what kind of show was about to come. It was ferocious, intense and extreme.
Harvest added a little bit more melody with the black metal style tremolo picked riffing and even some clean vocals from Simon Neil that helped add variety to the set. Simon Neil is arguably the biggest draw to most people due to his time with Biffy Clyro and a great deal of people realised very quickly that this set couldn’t possibly be further away from that.
Tracks like “Moi?” added variety and had an almost shoegaze influence. The intro set up an amazing sense of tension before the screams came back and the riffing kicked back. The bass was pounding all the way through the show and to call it punishing would be an understatement.
To most metal fans, the biggest draw is the inclusion of Dave Lombardo formerly of Slayer and currently of Suicidal Tendencies. His double bass work is iconic and he can still keep up with the rest of the band who are a fraction of his age. There’s no doubt that he’s still one of the greatest metal drummers of all time and to hear him move outside of his comfort zone into something more avant garde is as admirable as it is impressive.
Tracks like Sold and Palms of Hands are sonically punishing examples of the band in their most raw form. They’re short, sharp punches in the face designed for quick bursts of energy that inflict maximum damage which makes it all the more disappointing that the room was largely just standing still watching but that’s a typical show in Manchester nowadays sadly.
The blood curdling shrieking is incredibly impressive and it feels like Empire State Bastard is a band designed to reach some kind of catharsis and to just throw ideas at the wall with little consequence as to whether or not it works and it mostly does. Rivers of Heresy was played in full as well as a few singles so if that album wasn’t your thing then an Empire State Bastard show isn’t for you.
The electronica inspired tracks like Sons and Daughters and Dusty worked very well throughout the set and while the guitar and drumming wasn’t the main focus on those songs, they still displayed highly concentrated instances of brutality that were greatly impactful. The slower moodier moments like The Looming did wonders for adding variety. Given the intensity of the show and how brief some of the songs were, it was very easy to lose track of where one song ends and the next begins but that may add to the general vibe for some. Simply put, the reason you could love this show is the same reason someone else would hate it.
Empire State Bastard are an acquired taste but it’s also worth pointing out that the best and most authentic version of them. The record is a polished collection of songs but the live show is a raw display of pure sonic brutality bombarding the listener and every turn. Certainly not for everyone but worth experiencing if you have even the slightest interest in expanding your musical horizons.