As Twisted Sister once proudly said, you can’t stop rock ‘n’ roll. If proof were needed, you just need to look at the tsunami of talent rising from the music world right now, with incredible new artists emerging to compete for the gaps left by the legends who are packing away their instruments for the last time.
Kris Barras Band / Dea Matrona
The Apex, Bury St Edmunds – 26 January 2023
Words: Paul Monkhouse
Photography: Stuart Isteed
Whilst greats may be going or have gone, their influence and ground-breaking music live on in every high voltage note and shape pulled, that adrenaline rush or heartbreak echoing on for eternity. Bury St Edmunds’ sonically perfect Apex venue proved the perfect temple of noise to worship these gods, with two of the hottest bands on the circuit providing the spectacle.
Kris Barras Band
Kris Barras still looks as lean and hungry as when he was in his former life as an MMA fighter, his drive to succeed obvious. There is, though, a smile that often plays on his lips, a good-natured bonhomie that makes people instantly warm to him, his transition into a bonafide rock star showing that his switch from martial arts to Marshall stacks has been a fruitful one.
He’s put his time in, though, seemingly always on the road honing his craft, and with successive albums getting heavier, he’s taken audiences with him, blues fans mixing happily with metalheads tonight. Whilst Barras is undoubtedly front and centre, the band add their own megawatt energy to proceedings, the drums of Billy Hammett, Josiah J Manning’s guitar and new boy on the bass Fraser Kerslake all a well-oiled and wild machine. It’s a kinetic show, certainly.
Opening with the monstrous riff and huge harmony vocals of fan favourite Hail Mary is a euphoric start. Dead Horses packs an equally huge punch, Barras attacking his guitar with the same fervour that saw him floor opponents some years before. Kerslake’s wave of jazz/prog bass line introduces These Voices, the whole kicking into its killer, hook-filled chorus that seems to fill every inch of the cavernous space and a feral Heart On Your Sleeve saw the crowd jumping as one, lost in the sheer joy of it all.
Barras is a commanding presence. Standing at the front of the stage, he acts as ringmaster over the assembled throng from the ground to the dizzying heights of two tiers up, every move followed. What’s most captivating is his ability to go from a roar to a whisper, the set full of dynamics and not just a barrage of sound and fury as the band goes from the soaring Wake Me When It’s Over to the jagged rock of Hostage.
Hammett and Kerslake get a chance to shine in Chaos, their huge groove driving the song, and Manning also has his time in the spotlight, showing some dazzling fretwork as Barras eschews his own guitar and jumps into the audience to sing during Devil You Know as people grab quick selfies with him.
Providing the highlight of the night, Watching Over Me is stunning, Barras pouring his whole soul into every note during the heartfelt and incredibly moving tribute to his inspirational late father as phone torches light up the room like a sky full of stars. It’s an utterly mesmerising few minutes.
After the emotional weight, there was only one place to go, the band tearing into a gleeful Rock And Roll, the Led Zeppelin brawler given a lively retooling as the quartet have fun playing off of each other and throw in some of Kansas’ Carry On Wayward Son into the mix.
The set closes with a snotty and righteous take on This Is My Parade, turning it into a war cry that dares to take on all who oppose them. Barras is back in the crowd as he splits them in two and conducts a singalong that pitches one side against the other to increasing volume.
It’s a sledgehammer finish, and it’s just down to the visceral swing and style of encore Light It Up to bring the night to a triumphant close. The music gets heavier, the crowds bigger and Barras and band continue to grow in stature.
Your only choice is to get onboard or get out of the way, as this freight train has no intention of stopping.
Having made their names busking in their native Belfast, Dea Matrona are used to winning partisan audiences over, Mollie McGinn and Orlaith Forsthye having done things the hard way. That hard work has certainly paid off, the trio, including drummer Jamie, have the confidence and flair of three souls born to do this and their blues-tinged rock is both accessible and vital.
Theirs is a compelling mix of tradition and the energy of youth, raucous riffs juxtaposed with moments of sugar rush pop sheen, their crossover appeal plain to see.
A funky and fuzzy Stamp On It opens the set. The slow seductive blues touched with a modern edge and could be something that the White Stripes wrote at the peak of their powers. It was onto more familiar territory with their lively cover of Oh Well, the Fleetwood Mac classic given a buzzsaw edge before the fractured strut of Touches My Soul brings to mind a certain little ol’ band from Texas.
Adding to the frenetic fun, McGinn and Forsthye bouncing off each other as they run around the stage, is the swapping of instruments between the two at the start of each number. It’s a great trick that speaks of their skill in playing and perfectly complements the alternate and joint lead vocals.
Street tough Nobody’s Child and the arena rock of So Damned Dangerous are high-octane treats before they strip things back to the sweet harmonies, delicate picking and acoustic guitar of the folky Glory Glory I Am Free. Another cover in the form of Simon and Garfunkel’s Homeward Bound is beautifully arranged, and then it’s a race to the finishing line with a gloriously pneumatic Red Button and the gritty sensuality of Make You My Star.
Having last seen them at a celebratory hometown show at Belfast’s Limelight Club in June last year, your MetalTalk scribe was yet again swept away by the band, their quality and drive evident and their future brighter by each passing day.