Reading, known the world over for it’s annual music festival, has seen historic performances from such revolutionary bands as Nirvana, System of a Down and Rage Against The Machine. But if you take a step outside the overflowing, muddy campsite away from the throngs of hungover / sunburnt attendees, the largest town in Berkshire suddenly transforms into a more hapless place when it comes to live music…
With gigs featuring both local and out of town bands plagued by poor promotion, low attendance and a general sense of apathy, it’s hardly surprising when bigger bands faced with the task of booking a trot around the UK completely ignore Reading and instead head east toward the capital.
Very occasionally the stars do align and an internationally renown group makes the extra effort to come down the M4, and any fans in the surrounding area circle the date in their calendar in red sharpie, and pull out every stop to make it there.
|Above: The Sub 89 on a beautiful overcast day.|
With that in mind, on February 21st the celestial orbs above our little blue green planet came into order as we were gifted with a reformed SikTh coming to lay waste to our humble Reading.
Now if you’re unfamiliar with SikTh (why are you reading this?!) the Watford sextet established in ’01 were the band that made the UK metal scene’s collective jaws drop after releasing the avant garde masterpiece ‘The Trees Are Dead And Dried Out…Wait For Something Wild…’ in 2003.
The record, which captured the group’s insane math core influenced energy and forward thinking musical approach matched by deeply visceral lyrics was light years ahead of it’s time and utterly unlike anything heard before or since. After the album swiftly became a cult hit, the band amassed a die hard following and toured the UK.
After a few brief stints around Europe and a trip to Japan, the group unleashed their second album ‘Death of a Dead Day’ in 2006, seeming poised for world domination. But the band split up the following year with the members heading their separate ways on to different projects.
As time passed, the emerging Djent and Progressive Metal movements took a firm hold, with many of the groups citing SikTh as a crucial engineer (second to Meshuggah) in the implementation of the Djent sound and inspired many a metal band to go in a more experimental sonic direction.
Thankfully SikTh re-grouped and played a storming headline show in 2014 at the Red Bull tent at Donnington Download Festival, then brought out the crowd funded mini-album ‘Opacities’ a year later. After a tour with Slipknot, original vocalist Justin Hill left to focus on his career as a producer.
The band recruited new vocalist Joe Rosser of guitarist Pin’s side project Aliases and spent months writing and rehearsing before finally releasing their first full length in over 10 years: ‘The Future In Whose Eyes?’ in June 2017 to grand critical acclaim.
But despite coming back to claim the crown, can SikTh who were always a band too unique for their own good and too difficult to pin down (pun intended) still deliver the goods in the live arena and prove to everyone they’ve still got what it takes 17 years after their inception?
After freezing our collective nips off, the sub’s doors are opened, tickets are checked and we ascend the stairs. Pantera’s ‘I’m Broken’ blasts through the PA and the smell of beer tickles the nostrils. Yes, it’s the unmistakable yet comforting atmosphere of a metal gig, the sole thing that’s missing now is an argument about whether Metallica’s last decent record was The Black Album or And Justice For All…
Once a chunk of the crowd have filed their way in, opening act Bristol's Valis Ablaze kick the evening off. While they win over pockets of people who cordially head bang along to them, for me they represented the sub genre at it’s worst as they plodded through a set full of regurgitated and recycled TesseracT sections.
Next up, Londoners Exist Immortal fare slightly better, as they are a much needed shot of energy. But after a while their songs also seem to bleed together, their breakdowns feeling cut from the same old cloth, although highlights are found in the odd intricately crafted guitar break, again it’s nothing groundbreaking. Which is a shame considering the musicianship and passion clearly on display here.
As soon as EI finish up they are soon forgotten, with roadies scurrying about the stage setting up drums, guitar amps and pedal boards, the excitement for the upcoming headliners reaching fever pitch.
SikTh finally take to the stage to a raucous reception and launch into ‘Philistine Philosophies’ cueing the crowd to go absolutely apeshit. Bassist James Leach shows off his slap skills during ‘Hold My Finger’ which gets everybody bouncing while ‘Pussyfoot’ sets the pit alight.
Tie Die wearing singer Mikee Goodman gets the audience shouting “LOOK AT THE SKY!!!” before the band smash their way into the Bill Hicks inspired ‘Skies of Millennium Night’ populated by Drummer Dan Foord’s scientifically crafted drum fills. New album track ‘The Aura’ goes down exceptionally well and the amount of punters yelling along to ‘The Golden Cufflinks’ - a song that addresses the closure of many a music venue in the UK - passionately cements it as a future live staple for the band.
The second part of the set is strictly classic cuts from the Death of a Dead Day album, now celebrating it’s 11 year anniversary. ‘Bland Street Bloom’ and ‘Flogging The Horses’ keep the crazies at full pelt and Mikee even hits us with a quick shot of spoken word ‘Mermaid Slur’ which is followed up by the impossible to dance to ‘Summer Rain.’
After ‘Part Of The Friction’ encourages the crowd to raise their middle fingers to all the unnecessary vulturistic bottom feeders of the music industry, the group gift us the darkest metal love song ever penned ‘When The Moment’s Gone’ which is absolutely colossal, the crushing riffs of guitarists Pin and Dan Weller still seem to require an abacus to work out after their impact.
Before an emotional ‘Where Do We Fall? new vocalist Joe Rosser takes the spotlight, declaring how stoked and grateful he is to be a part of the band, observing his movements on stage he fits right in as the ying to Mikee’s yang with all the unpredictable musical chaos happening around him plus he adds his own touch to the older tracks without trying to imitate original vocalist Justin Hill.
Speaking of the devil, the man himself makes a surprise appearance for the final screams on closing number ‘As The Earth Spins Round’ which is the icing on an already glorious cake.
It’s certainly not everyone’s night, there are technical problems and small signs of tour fatigue, but when you take a look around this room you can clearly see people on the verge of tears shouting along to every word, or others with permanent grins etched on their faces who simply can’t believe they’re here to witness it. The energy being expelled by the band and reflected back by the audience tonight is nothing short of magical.
This feeling of overwhelming amazement refuses to die out after the last note fades marking tonight a blazing success and further proof that SikTh are still the untouchable juggernaut they’ve always been, and that they are still very much needed in this mad world. Considering the reunion party has been in swing 4 years now no-one wants the rollercoaster to come to a stop yet.
An unforgettable event such as this proves that there's still hope for the future of Reading's music scene, but only time will tell.
The real question that remains is will we ever see another band as pioneering or inventive as SikTh?
We’d best keep scanning the forest for something wild…