A Grand Declaration Of War // Live Review // The Mandela Hall // Belfast

So this is a big one for the Belfast metal scene, the first all-out metal gig at the newly rebuilt Mandela Hall at Queens University in Belfast.

A big one for many reasons, its capacity and the grandiose nature of the event itself, six of Northern Ireland’s biggest hitters are on display this evening as a showcase of the quality within the N.I Metal Scene, a taster of you will for the unacquainted. The local scene has gone from strength to strength over the last few years, being heavily involved in the M2TM I have witnessed up close and personal just how strong that scene is, the bands that have come and gone via M2TM and those who have shone so brightly! And there have been many, it is getting harder and harder to call it every year and one such band is tonight’s opener Domhain who took the 2023 heats in their stride as one of the standout bands of the competition.

Tonight seems them and of course, the others make their mark on a much bigger stage, The Mandela is an impressive setting for tonight’s exhibition and Domhain kicks things off with a 5:30 pm opening slot. A healthy crowd has already gathered to witness the opening shots of A Grand Declaration Of War and what a band to do it, Domhain are unique in the landscape of the local scene, deeply entrenched in Irish Mythology, Black/Doom from memory with the most amazing soundscapes created by the band, the space they leave in the songwriting is something to admire, nobody is rushing to fill every single space with a barrage of notes, but they let the songwriting be the defining factor in making a bold impression on the Mandela crowd. A mighty impressive opening set, powerful from the off and with a flare for the dramatic Domhain is a band you will not forget in a hurry. A great start to the evening.



Up next are the mighty Sinocence one of Northern Ireland’s premier modern metal acts, The guys have been plying their trade for many a year and the lineups may have come and gone over that time, but they still are a formidable force in the N.I Metal scene! The energy off these guys is always contagious and once again they deliver in spades, teasing us with a collection of tracks new and old that remind us why they are so highly regarded, their army of devoted followers head-banging at the barrier to every thrash of the guitars and blistering guitar solos tossed out at will, there are many a hooligan in the crowd warbling along to every word of their songs, Sinocence have made an indelible mark on the local scene, young bands following in their footsteps wanting to follow suit, I’ve spoken to many a band over the past few years who have referenced these guys and aspire to reach their heights, it is fitting indeed that they share this fine stage this evening in celebration of Northern Ireland’s finest.



Northern Ireland’s favourite Symphonic metal group Ravenlight take to the stage next. These guys have been making serious waves over the past few years since their arrival in 2018.

This quartet offer something again that isn’t heavily represented here on the N.I scene, with Rebecca Feeney on vocals with her signature power metal / symphonic metal qualities she differentiates hereof from 99% of the bands on the NI scene and even more so from any female vocalists in the metal scene, so for an event such as this Ravenlight offer a breath of fresh air against the hefty backdrop of some of the bands on the bill tonight. The band once again allow for space in the songwriting to shine, especially in the guitar playing of John Connor and the drum work of Michal Bugajski who really brings another layer to the compositions with some intricate drum patterns. Ravenlight has been amassing an army of fans over the last few years and there is a fair amount of support here in the room this evening which is great to see, like many genres in the metal world each has its own devoted fanbase and I am delighted to see Ravenlight’s out in droves.



Now the niceties have been dispensed we have the filth of Insidious Void taking to the stage, 3 bands down, 3 to go and it’s going to start taking a downward spiral from here in terms of absolute, gut-wrenching filth with Insidious Void, Strangle Wire and finally The Crawling wrapping things up with the debut of their new music on a Northern stage. But before we get there Insidious Void is tearing The Mandela Hall a new one, tonight represents its metal cherry being well popped and I think it may need a new one after this set. These guys always slay it live, an absolute battering is handed out every time I see them live, I go away hurting and I’m usually working the venue, never mind the hardcore among us head-banging their overage asses off! Blackened Death Metal cranked to 11, I think this is what The Mandela Hall is made for! The PA is holding up well under the sonic assault, Let’s see if it’s still in one piece by 11 pm!



The penultimate band of the evening Strangle Wire are here to make their mark, One of Northern Ireland’s finest purveyors of Brutal Death Metal, these guys dish out pain on another level. An absolutely savage band on all levels from Peter Clarke’s guttural vocals right through to the backline from all involved, tight as a tigers ass Strangle Wire never disappoint. Tonight is of course no exception and it is clear from the crowd’s reaction they are a filthy bunch! The great thing is this band don’t look out of place at all up there on a stage of this scale, to be honest none have this evening, embracing the glorious surroundings of the newly built Mandela Hall as if it was a residency slot!

The front rows are lapping it up, a frenzy of hair tossing around almost as frantic as Peter’s pacing onstage Strangle Wire seem to have yanked another level out of this crowd.  It is like a crescendo as this evening’s proceedings are whipped up into a sonic tornado ripping its way through the room, a short 30-minute break in-between Strangle Wire and The Crawlings set will allow us to catch our breath as we await the debut of live performances of their latest album, All Of This For Nothing.



The Crawling are a vastly experienced band that brings the darkest of Blackened Doom Metal crashing down wherever they go, a beast of a band live, Many in the room are here for the first taster of their new album live in the flesh, a 7 track, 43-minute collection of songs that will rip the very flesh off your skin with it’s visceral sound. Live just takes it to another level, of course Bathed in red light I curse them from top to bottom and let’s add a little strobe in there to just to melt my melon a tad more, it all looks great, showcasing the vibe that The Crawling want to portray on the live stage, the manic nature of the lighting adding further depth and dimension to the live sound crashing around us. The use of smoke machines, fireworks and Co2 canons all add to the immense cinematic visual on display creating a magnificent spectacle to close off the evening at The Mandela Hall. If Belfast ever needed an evening of metal, this was it. Only matched by the splendour of the M2TM final I would say with the level of enthusiasm by the local fans, A Grand Declaration Of War was an undoubted success. One would say, maybe a regular event each year? Start saving yer pennies kids for August 2024 cos ya just never know!

A big thank you as always to all involved for all their hard work putting this together, James Loveday of The Distortion Project as always, grafting away in the shadows, a glass of red wine in his hand.

And of course to all the bands who made the evening so memorable, it was great to catch up with so many good people in one place, and that is really what makes these events so special, the community across the N.I Metal Scene has to be admired. Till the next one.


Photography: Mark McGrogan

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