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Red XIII – Perceptions

Red XIII - Perceptions
Red XIII – Perceptions

There’s a moment during the song, ‘Illuminate’ where Sean Donovan growls, ‘I am the light, I am the light.’ The question is, what kind of light is he? I mean, there’s loads of lights you could be. For instance, you could be a light in a lighthouse in the North Sea, the red light in the window of a brothel on Cookson Street or a flickering street lamp perhaps. I kind of get the feeling that Red XIII are none of these though. No, Red XIII are a handheld UV light, used by CSI departments to show-up semen stains and blood splatters at grisly murder scenes.

Red XIII, apparently, are from Blackpool. They’re a super-heavy metalcore outfit that I’ve never seen advertised round here, gigging round here or even hanging around round here. I found out about them pretty much by accident, but f**k me, I’m glad I did.

‘Perceptions’ is their latest offering, a six-track EP with a dark agenda to strangle you with your own intestines. I’ve been listening to it on repeat all week and it’s started to do funny things to my head. Currently, this is the way I read the situation:

Red XIII claim to be from Blackpool. I haven’t seen Red XIII around Blackpool apart from yesterday on the bus when the guitarist got on whilst I was listening to Red XIII. Coinkidink? I think not. There’s obviously some kind of dark satanic plot going on here. My guess is that Red XIII release EPs that lure you in with epic musicianship and quantum time signatures, then as you slowly succumb to the hypnosis of the whole thing, BANG! They’re waiting for you at the mouth of a dark alleyway, ramming a bag over your head and throwing you in the back of a painter and decorator’s Ford Escort van. Next thing you know you’re tied to a chair in their practice room with Sean looming over you like Michael Madsen in ‘Reservoir Dogs’, but instead of cutting your lugs off, he’s ramming some headphones down your ear-canal and switching ‘Perceptions’ to top volume.

This is where we begin…

Track number one: Sleeping Giants. Well they’re not a bunch to hang around are they? A hammering whirlpool of a riff kicks in, then splashes down into a brutal-drop like ‘Fat-Man’ bellyflopping from a B29 into a Fukushima water tank. That’s the moment Sean’s drainpipe vocals kick in, recalling ‘Soul of a New Machine’ era Burton C Bell. Just as you think you’ve got his mark though, he switches styles into a tortured squall that wrenches your preconceptions off to the side like he’s grabbed you by the ear and is reaching for the razor blade.

If you think I’m exaggerating, watch the video, skip to 2.12 seconds and tell me that’s not the look of a man who’d do filth to your lugholes without a second thought. ‘Sleeping Giants’ sets the bar high. It’s never boring. Predictability, in my opinion, is the mark of bad metal; bad music in general for that matter. When bands are content to slip into 4 bars of this, 4 bars of that, follow it up with a new riff for a middle section, then back to the first 4 bars, interest dies. Red XIII never, never do this. They maintain enough familiarity in their arrangements to establish a Pantera like groove and yet skip through riffs and micro-managed time-signature tricks like they’re going out of fashion. It’s impressive stuff.

‘General Disarray’ carries on the battery, kicking in with a harmonic-heavy riff that more than once this week has had me struggling to remember I’m on a public bus and shouldn’t punch the seat in front of me each time it drops. The interplay between drums, guitar and bass is a joy to listen to. This band are tighter than George Osborne, drums split-second synced with the two guitarists. Top drawer stuff so far.

‘Trainwreck’ is conversely one of my favourite tracks on the EP and also the vehicle for the one moment I’m not too keen on. Right at the start the vocals go deep, then for just one line, they go a bit Cradle of Filth. It’s an aberration swiftly moved on from and the vocal style doesn’t reappear for the whole EP which leaves me wondering why it’s in there. Sean Donovan’s obviously got an impressive vocal range on him but this style reminds me too much of Black Metal, which I’ve never been a fan of. It’s a vocal style that appears more frequently on their debut LP but seeing as it never reappears on ‘Perceptions’ it feels a bit out of place and a needless throwback to niche bands that Red XIII easily outclass.

Still, as I said, the track itself is one of the strongest on the EP, switching thrash beats and Carcass-esque riffs with groove-laden half-tempo, stop-start riffage, backed up by a bit of china-boy cymbal-work that reminds me of Machine Head before they went shite. This is a good thing.

Track 4: The Bitch. Do you want to take a guess what this one’s like? That’s right; it’s f**cking heavy. A building intro hits another fat-as drop and the vocals resume their guttural assault. It’s about 2.27 minutes-in where this song really kicks off though. We’re back to the china-boy cymbal work and a synchronised bass/guitar riff, then all of a sudden it goes batshit mental. I swear Jason Dean and Ivon Coulburn must have to strap their left hands to the bed at night to stop them wandering off like ‘Thing’ from the Addams Family. How the hell do you get your fingers to move that fast in perfect concert with each other? As I said, satanic pacts be about these here parts. The riffing that finishes this song is incredible, floating like a butterfly, stinging like Chlamydia. It’s pretty jazzy, if that word can be used in this context, and a mark of really good things to come if these guys stick at it.

Track 5: ‘Illuminate’ At the moment, my favourite track on the EP purely for the evil bass and the brilliant end section. I’m guessing it’s Jason Dean who comes up with a lot of the riffs and the kid’s got some serious talent. At 2.38 a subtle beast of a chord change kicks the door in and sets up camp in your head. It’s currently refusing to leave mine after a good eight or nine days. It’s been the first thing that pops into my head when I wake up (I’ve been singing it in the shower for god’s sake) and it’s only made more potent by the positive turn the lyrics take from here until the end of the EP. ‘I refuse to waste my life, I’ll be the light in the dark’ spits Sean as the aural wave catches you in its wake, ‘Illuminate this city.’ Couldn’t have put it better myself. Take a bow, guys; great track.

And that just leaves us with the sonic assault of ‘Exploding Pet’. I’ve mentioned both Pantera and Carcass a few times in this review and, again, this track brings both bands to mind. The meandering musicianship of Carcass, backed by the relentless groove of ‘Far Beyond Driven’ era Pantera is a compelling combination and as the final detuned behemoth of a riff fades out with the refrain, ‘It’s your life, f**cking live it.’ I’m left marvelling at the status of ‘Unsigned’ on the band’s Facebook page.

I’ve been told by a few people recently that they don’t like me doing reviews that are too positive. Well in this instance those people can jog-on, do one or any other two-worded imperative that translates as ‘go away’. I’m going to carry on listening to this album, not because I need to review it, not because Red XIII are from Blackpool, but simply because I think it’s bloody ace.

Now if only they’d untie me…

Reclaim Blackpool - Mapping Sexual Harrasment
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