There are very few bands in the country who would even consider putting on an arena-sized show in a pub, but Ward XVI is not an ordinary band. Having built up their reputation on two sterling albums and some inventive, theatrical performances, the inmates of Whittingham Asylum bring their latest mind-bending tour to venues throughout the land, and you can’t help but be impressed by the ambition and lunacy of it all.
Ward XVI. The Brickmakers, Norwich. 14 April 2022
Words: Paul Monkhouse
Photography: Steve Ritchie
Originally planned to coincide with the release of sophomore platter Metamorphosis, this nationwide jaunt sees the band playing the acclaimed album in full, complete with a full production that sees props, mannequins and monsters aplenty.
It’s a lot to fit into the small stage and low ceiling of the Brickmakers 2 venue, but, if anything, this lack of space makes things even grander and more immersive.
The stage was a riot of black and white bathed in purple light. The spoken word scene-setting Retrogression played over the speakers before the sound of a baby crying cuts through, and the haunting and warped merry-go-round music starts.
Clutching a teddy bear, Psychoberrie walks onstage from one of the large cabinets placed at the sides, the band easing into the gentle swing of Cradle Song, its sing-song intro morphing into something nothing short of epic. It’s an incredibly strong opening, full of drama as the vocals are full of nuance and power, the guitar work and solo by Dr Von Stottenstein earthshaking.
The nightmarish Mr Babadook sees the creature of the night emerging from the wings, taunting the sleeping girl in bed as we follow her story arc from babe in arms to the unhinged woman she would become.
Each layer as it builds adds its own horror, the shock rock akin to something that mixes the darkness of early, prime Alice Cooper with touches of Iron Maiden’s skill with heavy, prog-rock instrumentation. Broken Toys is a 1000mph twirling helter-skelter that switches to the grinding and smashing force of Imago, at its core, a sweet but poisonous confection.
The mental breakdown of the matricide anthem A Goodnight Shot is starkly portrayed, the drums of Bam Bam Bedlam and bass of Wolfy Huntsman adding a bone-breaking punch to the tableau. There’s an exotic flavour of the Far East to Burn The Witch and yet more scorching fretwork before things are shaken up again on the punky thrash of Catch Me If You Can and closing desperate cry Shadows, the suitably huge climax that brought things to an audio-visual crescendo.
Following the emotional wringer of the album, Psychoberrie announces it’s time to party, and a tumultuous Cry Of The Siren and the mad can-can of Toybox later, all that is left is to mop up the blood, sweat and greasepaint.
In a show full of such a carnival of horrors, the sight of huge beasts prowling through the audience, a nine-foot-tall Mother and a multitude of other delights, Ward XVI have transformed the humble gig into something extraordinary and certainly not seen on this scale for many, many years, if at all.
What they do next is anyone’s guess, but you can be sure it’ll be something special.
One of the most entertaining, inventive and hardworking bands in the country, there seems no limit to what Ward XVI can achieve when they set their brilliant and twisted minds to it.