An Affirming Flame – On the Road with Burner

By Kirk Houghton

Lead image by Steph Evans Visuals.

South London death metal-hardcore unit, Burner, released their debut album on 23 June and started their promotional tour at The Black Heart in Camden on 1 July. I decided to catch up with the band as they passed through Luton for the second date of their summer UK and Ireland tour. Tonight, they support London black metal crew, Calligram, for the latter’s album release show at The Castle Tavern.

It makes perfect sense for Burner to open for Calligram at tonight’s gig. They recorded their debut EP, A Vision of the End, with Southampton-based engineer, Lewis Johns, who also produced Calligram’s 2018 EP before they signed to Prosthetic Records. Vocalist, Harry Nott, explains that the band had no great plan to sign a record contract for their 2021 EP, although doing so gives them confidence that they must be doing something right.

“It was partly down to our design. We never planned it, like, we never knew it was going to happen,” he says, in the noisy beer garden. The dealmaker in this instance was Lewis Johns. “For us, like, getting the chance to work with him, it’s one of these things where the record’s gonna sound great… Maybe there’s a chance that if he likes it, he’ll hand it over to someone… He’s the guy who has connections.”

The opportunity to release last year’s A Vision of the End EP on an established label looked like a lead that would go nowhere at the beginning of 2022. They knew that Lewis Johns enjoyed their material. He showed it to Irish metallic hardcore quartet, Bailer, who suggested they tour together, despite Burner having no social media presence or even a live band that existed outside the rehearsal studio. This encouraged them but also raised their expectations that the industry would make something happen for them. Harry admits he had second thoughts about whether they’d created a buzz or not when the band attended the Calligram/Mastiff show at The Black Heart in Camden on 27 October 2021. They hadn’t heard anything since tracking the drums at The Ranch in Southampton for A Vision of the End, yet they didn’t want to show their impatience.

“It was the night where we like, oh, you know, maybe it isn’t all that,” says Harry. “Maybe they passed on the interest and didn’t want to say… And then, they email us and say, “Yeah, we’d like to put it out.””

Above: Tonight’s show at The Castle Tavern in Luton sees Burner support London black metal favourites, Calligram. First on the bill are and Herts death metal crew, Dead Flesh.

Before they knew it, Sammy Urwin and Justine Jones were ready to release it via their Church Road Records imprint, which put out key albums from the likes of Svalbard and Voices over the last couple of years and now has the reputation as the up-and-coming label for contemporary British metal and hardcore acts like Heriot and Wallowing. The sudden change in momentum took Burner by surprise. Now they were the support name on Employed to Serve’s poster for their 2022 UK tour. They already had most of It All Returns to Nothing written and ready to record when their debut EP saw the light of day.

One of the biggest changes since then is the departure of drummer, Hugo Bénezech. As a founding member and astounding sticksman, he’s not easy to replace. I express my surprise that he left the band this year. “He’s from Brittany. He’d been in London for seven or eight years, if not more, and he was just tired of it, you know. It’s a grind, he didn’t have a job that he liked. He was just tired of the city, and also, in terms of his career, he’d reached a point where he wanted to do something else.” Harry has nothing but praise for Hugo, and he left the band on good terms. “No matter where he goes, no matter what he does, I just hope that he keeps drumming because, trust me, he’s one of the most talented musicians I’ve ever met.”

I’m curious about Harry’s accent. Burner’s bass player, Finn Gannon, has a rich southern Irish accent, which makes it all the more special for the band to be playing Dublin, Cork and Limerick at the end of August. At a guess, I’d place Harry’s inflections of voice on a Celtic-English spectrum like an expat Scotsman in Canada. “I’m from West Yorkshire. I sound like an American,” he says. My eyebrows arch upwards. I’m from East Lancashire. How can our accents be so different?

“Basically, when I was a kid – I have this question, by the way, every day, every time I meet anyone, so congratulations, you’ve joined the ranks of people that ask me that – I grew up not around a big community of kids – it was just my dad – and I grew up watching a lot of American TV, especially The Simpsons.” Later, after their set, I hear a blonde American woman ask if him if he has an American accent. It’s a question that must become tedious outside of London circles, where nobody bothers or cares to ask such things.

Above: (Left-to-right: Nathan Harlow – guitars, Harry Nott – vocals): Harry: “Hey, Nathan, the next person that asks about my accent is gonna receive a punch in the gob…”

The band take to the stage at 9.15pm after a roaring set from Hertfordshire death metal quintet, Dead Flesh. I’m still talking to the guitarists from the latter when I hear the first notes of the title track from Burner’s current album blast through the speakers. It’ll be a struggle to get to the front, so I take a detour through the bar area and wander in from the steps to the left of the stage. Two burly men in front nod their heads to the chunky metallic riffing. I remove my glasses and place them in my pocket just in case. This is violent music with an excess of testosterone. It’s hard to predict if people will be throwing karate kicks and windmilling through the floor area like stray propeller blades.

“This song is about war, and those that start war and profit from war,” shouts Harry at the beginning of ‘Hurt Locker’. The clarity of the drum work from new boy, Jack Bryant, is sensational. He shunts his blast beats into a surge of power that makes the floor shake. Guitarist, Nathan Harlow, hides a grin on his face as he watches his fingers fret the chords and fill the scales in the double-header of ‘A Vision of the End’ and ‘Siege Fire’. A couple of chavs stagger into the crowd with bottles of lager and camera phones during ‘Ingsoc’. One of them goes up to Harry and photos him at close range. His efforts to turn around and gee up the audience fail miserably. Is there anything more annoying than a moronic imposter in a tracksuit who pretends to understand the intensity of the music? (Fuck off, back to your shitty Ibiza trance anthems, mate.)

Above: Burner vocalist, Harry Nott, prepares to burst the blood vessels in his eyes.

The Castle Tavern sucks up heat like a hoover sucks up breadcrumbs from the carpet. I wonder if I might need to strip down to my Machine Head t-shirt and remove the jacket for the finale of ‘An Affirming Flame.’ My neck aches. Beads of sweat form on my forehead. I close my eyes in anticipation of the moment when the guitars drop out and a slow bass grind carries the song forward. Harry turns his back and crouches down to meditate on the lyrics: “And nothing changes/ If we don’t change ourselves/ This world is dying/ Condemned to living Hell.”

Some of the older rockers in the room wonder if they’ve seen anything more aggressive in their lives. These people stay at the bar with poker faces and half-drunken pints in their hands. This is a venue that defaults to Dire Straits on the jukebox during the day. Burner’s music can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Napalm Death. The chasm between the two is huge, yet one admires the willingness of the AC/DC enthusiasts to give Burner a chance.

A queue of people forms at the merch stall after the show to pick up the band’s latest album on vinyl. I buy a t-shirt and lament that they have no CDs available for It All Returns to Nothing. The sense of exhilaration is palpable in the room. The band have no immediate plans to write new material. This won’t be the last time I see them on a live stage in support of their debut album.

*** Burner released A Vision of the End on 23 June 2023 via Church Road Records. You can read our original review here and watch our visual appraisal on the SBR YouTube Channel here.