No one would imagine in the last years of the twentieth century that Ashton-Under-Lyne would be showcasing a group of metal intellects with a political and social pulse. And so here we are on a chilly Saturday evening in the fall of summer about to study Visitor. The band ready to take the stage base themselves in various locations in Manchester and have a twelve-track album to dissect. Let’s do a detour through that, first.
A Reason to Atone opens with great nihilistic ferocity on ‘Invasion’, echoing the anxiety of our age with its proclamation that humanity has lost its way. Yes, it’s a familiar tone in the enveloping pessimism of western society, but it’s also a good indicator of where this album is going thematically. The chugging riffs of Parkway Drive are ever-present here with a vicious burst of blast beats and pulverising At the Gates rhythms that are heavy enough to make the clean chorus delivery sound novel. It builds the ideal platform for ‘Demagogue’ to continue the tempo with a remarkable performance on the double-bass pedal from drummer, Tim Marland. Early Killswitch Engage are never far away, but you can hear UK legends Stampin’ Ground in the menace of the verse parts. No doubt, Visitor listen to their hardcore as much as their thrash metal.
If you wondered about the subtlety of this album, you’re listening to the wrong record. Art like this has no obligation to reflect the zeitgeist of the age, but it must be up to the task of conveying an important political message without diluting the emotional language of the music. ‘The Nationalist’ offers a hint of melody underneath the vitriolic attack on the limitations of ethnic politics and dangers of white supremacy but remembers to cater for your metal tastes as well. At four minutes in length, it begs the question if there’s a better vehicle for expressing this viewpoint than through the medium of metallic hardcore.
With M-Theory Audio re-releasing the seminal Of One Blood by Shadows Fall this year, it’s a reminder of the importance of this band on the golden age of metalcore. Do you remember when the artists of the early 2000s vented their frustrations against the world like their lives depended on it? The members of Visitor do. ‘Overview Effect’ incorporates a tinge of Badmotorfinger-era Soundgarden among the bludgeoning staccato riffing and relies on the power of the tenor chorus to keep things fresh. It would have been daring twenty years ago, but in 2021 it sounds like every other metalcore band. ‘Tyrant’ is more like it. This is how you mix eye-bursting rage with punk fury and muscular head-spinning grooves. You can count on one hand the number of Conservative councillors elected to Manchester City Council since 1974, and you can tell why after the scorching gang vocals scream “Utilise the opposition/ Mobilise the art of oppression/ Demonise the mind over rivals (?)/ Legalise the art of survival.” These guys are not going through the motions.
Visitor would be called something like Vitriolic Tirade or Material Dissidence if they were a typical metallic hardcore band, but they come close to the harder edge of late 90s New York on ‘Taken by the Fog’, while ‘Infidel’ could pass for a Mastodon effort and is just a vicious in tone as it sounds. It asks the provocative question: “What are you willing to die for?” The subject is the militant Islamist who sees the enemy in every Kaffir walking the earth.
Clearly, there’s plenty to like about A Reason to Atone, but will the live performance match up to the raw energy of the record? SBR are lucky enough to be invited to tonight’s gig at The Witchwood in Ashton-Under-Lyne, Manchester, for our first post-lockdown show. Tonight’s crowd is ready for a bruising audio experience.
First on stage are Steel Mage, who may be a tender age, but don’t let that fool you into thinking anything – the complete opposite is the case here. Sadly, SBR missed most of the set (baby settling duties) and only caught the last two songs, but… wow! In these last few songs these thrash metal maniacs spit post-lockdown venom at their captive audience with samples of Boris Johnson over the top. We’re looking forward to a future with these guys around.
Visitor take to the stage as the bar starts filling up, with the bassist and guitarist adorning alien masks as they make their way to the ceremonial podium. To be frank, we get it. For one reason or another, we’ve all felt alienated or like an alien for the reasons we talked about in our review of A Reason to Atone. As a live proposition, Visitor have a lot to live up to if they’re to equal the power and muscle of their latest record. People are aware that this could be an exhilarating evening of bludgeoning metalcore or an event dragged back into the rough charm of a rehearsal room by the limitations of the PA system. One glance at the crowd suggests they’re determined to have a good time no matter what.
To call the ensuing audio experience an assault on the senses is an understatement once the distorted guitars crank up and the thick drum snares reverberate through the ears. Maybe we’re being biased. We haven’t heard live music as heavy as this for nearly two years. Are Visitor really this good, or do they know we’re all pumped and terrified of the adrenaline running through our veins like electric currents? The answer is both.
The muscular hardcore vocals sound great live. Jim’s open cord belting technique compliments Tim Marland’s chorus delivery with all the range and dynamics from their latest album. We’re still brushing down the hairs on the backs of our necks when they launch into ‘The Nationalist’ without a word of introduction. ‘Infidel’ is even more confrontational. This is the standout track of the set, from the opening screeches of the guitar work to every word screamed into the audience and communicated back through the iconic windmilling rituals of the hardcore veterans in attendance. Yours truly soaks up the spilt beer on his shirt sleeves (what a crime!) and watches in awe as the acolytes punch their fists into the air and spin their hair.
As a band with a local following, the lads throw in ‘Mindlock’ (an oldie) to keep the die-hards happy in the encore, and it’s also one final chance to split the dancefloor. The timing of the instrumentation is perfect and comes to a triumphant climax after one last spit-soaked tirade from Jim’s throat
Visitor are veterans of the scene in Manchester, but they can set their sights much higher after tonight’s invigorating performance, not to mention the glory of their latest record.
*** Visitor released A Reason to Atone on 19/06/2021 via Oily Plank. You can purchase the CD on Amazon and stream it on Deezer, Spotify and Amazon Music.