Gig Review: Bournemouth’s South of Salem are one of those bands that has been positively unshackled post-lockdown and have been on a rocketing trajectory ever since. With a killer debut in the shape of The Sinner Takes It All, the last couple of weeks have seen them embark on their full debut UK Headline Tour. Tonight was KK’s Steel Mill.
South Of Salem
KK’s Steel Mill – 3 November 2023
Words: Sophie James
Photography: Jason Samuels
Seeing a tide of rapturous social media posts from a host of previous dates, I was highly expectant, further enhanced by the addition of Scottish sensations She Buns Red. More on them to follow.
It’s no surprise that the final date of this pairing was a Friday night sell-out in Wolverhampton. This would have been upgraded if it weren’t for a certain Swedish virtuoso playing ‘The Big Room’.
South of Salem are always a mesmerising live act with levels of energy that are promptly reciprocated by the adoring fanbase. As is customary, album opener Let Us Prey sees them charge out of the starting blocks and is followed by the streetwise swagger of The Hate In Me. The front half of the venue punches the air with free abandon.
After two songs, we saw the airing of the first newbie in the form of the forthcoming album title track Death of The Party. The album is due out in January. Frontman Joey said, “Thank you to everyone who has pre-ordered it. We are a self-sufficient band. We do everything ourselves, and this really does mean a lot.”
Ordinarily, I would attempt to describe the structure, feel and influences of any unreleased number, but on this occasion, I must point out that the overall mix was disappointingly poor, to say the least. It prevented the discovery of any of the inherent colours and subtleties. It transpires that this was due to a combination of circumstances beyond the control of and absolutely no reflection on the band whatsoever.
From what I could make out, this barnstormer appeared to be a perfect fusion of early GnR and da Crüe, whereby you could imagine the video featuring the band cruising down the ‘Strip’. For a sizeable proportion of the crowd, it was their first hearing. All those fists continued to pump in fervent unison.
“Are you warmed up yet?” There could have been no doubt after Made To Be Mine. Joey’s vocals appeared to have a raspier edge than my previous encounter, which certainly accentuated the overall attack. A fine example of setlist savvy is to include this firm favourite after a new number.
“This one goes out to anyone who has experienced depression. All of us in the band have suffered at some point or other. You are not alone.”
Demons Are Forever paints a perfectly bleak mindscape. The ascending melody contrasts sharply with the spiralling desperation. As one might expect, Joey poured his heart and soul into it. Every artist has at least one song that is not only a showstopper but resonates so resolutely with the audience. This is South of Salems.
To restore the verve, there followed a brace of brand-new stormers. First was the new single, Left For Dead, which had a much more direct feel without losing any of its distinctive melody and virulence.
Hot on its heels came Static with charging riffs and harmony guitars, which further characterised their sound. Sporadically, that riff reminded me of Tony at his most Iommiest, i.e. when he decides to step on it. This song has been released with an Official Video today.
“How many have not seen us before?” Few hands were raised. “Wow! That’s a great testament!”
By now, the band were much more relaxed, firmly into their groove and as such was the perfect moment to indulge in the evening’s only cover, a pacey reimagining of Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell.
Performed with a vim that left the original trailing in its wake, Kodi was relishing the groove whilst sparring partner Denis revelled in unleashing his inner Steve Stevens. Plus, how could Darren not delight in pumping out that breakdown bassline?
“As this is our first headlining tour, with so many sold out venues, we get a chance to play songs that we don’t normally get to play,” introduced Dead Hearts Don’t Break. Despite its infrequent appearances, it served to further exemplify what a well-oiled machine they are.
The final new number, Bad Habits (Die Hard), commenced with a Cochise-like intro before it gathered pace. Once again, this hints at a more intensive approach. With the finishing line approaching, the mix had improved somewhat as the final brace built the rapturous intensity.
Pretty Little Nightmare was one of the evening’s highlights. Not only because of its execution and reception, but the greater separation between the guitars was only just now giving a true indication of the quality of the band and their compositional aptitude.
“You’ve got to use all your remaining energy on this one.” The frenetic No Plague Like Home demanded nothing less.
Returning to the stage, “It’s been awesome being on tour with these guys,” as the call went out to all corners of the venue for She Burns Red to join them on a raucous version of Cold Day In Hell.
I recall a guitarist friend telling me that he once told a member of the band that ‘Hell had been one of the best songs he’d heard that year.’ I cannot disagree with that sentiment, as it contains every element that makes South Of Salem so appealing. No better number to close this or any night.
With 80% of the debut played, a quartet of newbies and one classic cover, this was an exhilarating set highlighting the infectious allure of their material.
There is an intrinsic sense of melody in the vocals, be it in the uplifting balls-out rockers or the more reflective, sombre pieces allied to intense, enthralling, face-melting riffs that burrow so organically within the mind of the listener.
19 January 2024 sees the release of the aforementioned sophomore album, Death Of The Party. While the showcased material indicates a heftier approach, I have been assured that there is a balance to the album.
An ever-expanding following awaits most expectantly. Look out for further dates around this time.