Unto Others // Zetra // Live Review // The Limelight 2 // Belfast

 

How do you win at gigs?

While there is no set answer to the above question, whipping out an extremely unexpected Thin Lizzy cover as a way of showing respect and love to a country upon your first visit is certainly high up in the list of potential answers. This is what Unto Others decided to do midway through their debut Belfast show at the Limelight on Sunday, March 14th. It was a decision that could not have gone down any better amongst the crowd, especially considering the song of choice eschewed traditional ‘Oirish’ hits like ‘Roisin Dubh’ and ‘Emerald’. Instead, the band unleashed a high-energy, electrifying rendition of ‘Cold Sweat’ that was virtually note-perfect, and that includes those solos. The cover was the cherry on top of an exceptional all-or-nothing set.

Speaking of all-or-nothing, the gig was mired in a state of confusion in the hours leading up to the scheduled door opening time. The lack of online promotion in the run-up to the night meant people were left confused about door times, stage times, and whether or not the gig would even happen at all, following a post by the band explaining their disappointment after the Liverpool show was cancelled and the Oxford venue downgraded at the last moment. Luckily, the gig went ahead despite slight uncertainty, and those that braved the cold, wet school night knew they were in for something a tad different when they arrived at the venue and saw the stage setup.

Positioned front and centre was a towering installation that would not have looked out of place in a modern art museum. Or a Halloween display. Four screen-monitors were embedded in a cradle of sculpted rock which resembled a crude claw-like shape, giving the overall effect of some neolithic monument built as a shrine dedicated to a future and futuristic deity. The two microphones standing on either side were draped in chains, as was the dual keyboard synthesizer set-up that took up the left side of the stage. A slew of pedals and effects boxes completed the intriguing scene, which understandably piqued the curiosity of those in attendance. When it was time, the far doors opened to reveal two individuals dressed in black robes and studded gauntlets, replete with corpse paint, who proceeded to advance ceremoniously toward the stage.

A glance at Zetra’s logo might suggest they’re an early-era Sepultura cover band. This could not be more removed from the truth. Instead, Zetra play an alchemically gothic mix of riff-driven heavy metal with synth-laden shoegaze at a doomy pace that sounds so wholly different that you need band mathematics to even attempt to describe it: take The Cure’s Pornography and add it to Type O Negative’s October Rust, add that to the result of adding The Sisters of Mercy’s First and Last and Always with Deftones’ self-titled release and This Mortal

Coil’s It’ll End in Tears, and multiply everything with the beautifully depressive musical sensibilities of Lustre’s Blossom. Do that and the final result would be somewhere close to Zetra’s sound.

Once they began to play their idiosyncratic heavygaze set, the four-stage monitors flickered to life, subjecting the crowd to a schizophrenic assortment of imagery ranging from macabre eyes and chaotic backgrounds to various designs of the group’s logo, including what looked like an early Zelda title screen, with it in a pointed red floating amongst clouds in a blue sky. The screens were testament to the band’s clear aim for their shows to be about more than just the music, to create an immersive audio-visual experience. While commendable, and undoubtedly memorable, the question remains whether or not it was ultimately necessary. Not because it rides fairly close to the line across which would land it in the territory of novelty and gimmick, but rather because the duo’s music and stage presence carried a self-contained verisimilitude of its own without the need for props, no matter how out-there the props in question are. Ultimately, though, the duo seems to be the type of band who probably don’t give a fuck about other people questioning the necessity of their stage set-up. And when put to it, the show was still better off for it, if only for being something unusual, something a little different.

As for their performance itself, Zetra cast a haze over the crowd that was as equally dream-like as it was nightmarish thanks to the juxtaposition of Adam’s hefty, fuzz-overladen guitar tone with the bright, shimmering synth of Jordan’s two-tier keyboard, not to mention the former’s utterly ethereal vocals which were as golden as his hair, a fitting metaphor considering how much it stood out against the jet black cloaks and facepaint as well as the sharp reds and cold blues of the stage lighting. Jordan’s slightly lower-pitched backing vocals provided an effective counterpoint to Adam’s, despite how they would have benefitted from being raised slightly higher in the overall sound mix.

A staple of new wave bands, the duo were supported by an analogue drum machine that brought their songs to life, giving them a brazenly loud, thumping pulse. The addition of a bass player would have provided the songs with even more life, however, and would have allowed for some additional creative interplay amongst instruments. But in saying that, the overall sound was superb, and the performance elevated Zetra’s music far above their recorded material, which is often a hard feat to pull off, especially when crafting an atmospheric soundscape on top of just playing music.

Certainly not for everyone, considering the general lack of dynamic range and the music’s narrow scope for audience participation. There were probably some in attendance that found Zetra to lie somewhere between fairly unexciting and outright boring, but nonetheless, the performance was impressive and their set had an element of spectacle about it.

Before long, Unto Others blasted on stage in a shower of energy, provided in no small part by lead guitarist Sebastian Silva who was careening across the stage in a flurry of hair and heels from the get-go. From the first song right through to the end of their set, the room was injected with a verve that shoegaze music just can’t deliver, no matter how heavy it is.

Formerly known as Idle Hands before a copyright claim meant they had to change their name, Unto Others also play a brand of heavy metal with a gothic touch, though rather than shoegaze or doom influenced approach, theirs is more Classic and NWoBHM inspired metal, with a phenomenal twin-guitar attack in the hands of the aforementioned Silva and frontman Gabriel Franco. Throughout their set, the two string slingers treated the crowd to some seriously tasty harmonised sections reminiscent of Smith & Murray, Downing & Tipton, and of course, Gorham & Robertson. These harmonised sections were among many highlights of their set, as they not only showcased the incredibly tight playing of the two (as well as everyone in the band, for that matter), but in doing so they often cosied up, standing side by side, leaning in together in those sorts of iconic poses that seem to be universally loved and cherished, and which add so much vigour to the live gig experience.

Drummer Colin Vranizan and bassist Brandon Hill were a pair of metronomes the entire night, hammering out each song’s rhythm and tempo consistently and reliably whether they be slow and steady stompers like ‘Can You Hear the Rain’ and ‘When Will God’s Work Be Done’, or else the speedy ‘80s-tinged ‘Give Me to the Night’ and ‘Nightfall’. ‘God’s Work…’ was a particularly strong showcase of the pair’s chops, as there were sections of the song in which they rumbled through whole bars to themselves. The two ‘Night’ songs, among others, really got the crowd going, with many in attendance throwing fists into the air, singing along, and shaking their hair.

‘…Rain’ in particular was a fantastic set highlight and provided vocalist Franco with a chance to show off his vocal range, replacing his normally Eldritchian style of delivery with something more melodic that had moments of Robert Smith embedded within many lines. His vocal delivery is important when you consider what is a pretty interesting facet of the band. On paper, a lot of their lyrics read like a double-cheddar, stuffed-crust Margherita, in that they are overloaded with cheese. But when the lyrics are translated through Franco’s performance and ability, both on record and certainly during the gig, this is not the case at all. He added maturity and emotional weight to them that demanded the words be heeded seriously, and his straight-faced, no-frills expression bolstered the effect.

Once their set was over, they’d barely walked two steps toward the stairway off the stage when cries for an encore erupted throughout the room. Due to the layout of the venue, the band weren’t able to properly leave and pretend they were finished before reappearing for a final few songs. Instead, they stood in a circle to the side, with the biggest hint of the inevitable encore being the instruments still slung over their shoulders. Within moments they were back on stage, wrapped in screams and shouts of approval, and blazed their way through the encore, ending with a performance of ‘Dragon, Why Do You Cry?’ that was exceptionally better than the recorded version found on their 2019 debut full-length Mana.

The amount of sheer energy, musical capability and professionalism of Unto Others cannot be over-exaggerated. It comes as absolutely no surprise then that they’ve been picked to kick off proceedings on Behemoth’s upcoming US tour with Arch Enemy and Napalm Death.

It was a great gig, enjoyed by almost everyone there if their many smiles are anything to go by. The contrast of the two bands’ styles and their intriguing fusion of genres complimented each other well, and provided those in attendance with not only a fantastic night out but also something outside the norm, which sadly happens less often than it should.

Review by Mark Russell

https://www.instagram.com/nativefear/

Photography by Wayne Donaldson

https://www.facebook.com/TWKOMmedia

UNTO OTHERS:

https://www.untoothers.us/

https://www.facebook.com/untootherspdx

ZETRA:

https://wearezetra.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/wearezetra/

TOUR:

https://www.livenation.co.uk/artist-unto-others-1324731

 

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