Whilst it’s not the first time that The Humble Reviewer has been to The Band on the Wall, it IS the first time that I’ve written a review about a gig there. Tonight’s promoter Midnight Calls are keen to point out that it’s THEIR first gig at this venue, however, just as they’re at pains to let me know that they’re a female owned and run operation who represent female artists.

Not so unusually these days, co-promoter Lily is also a musician in her own right, so she’s maybe a little more aware of what makes bands and artistes tick in her role as band booker and liaison person.

In this, she’s ably partnered by Ola, whose responsibilities cover the publicity side of things, so if you’ve seen any posters for tonight’s events dotted around Manchester, that’s her work! “If you love rock and metal then this is the event for you!” they say, so, armed with extra heavy-duty earplugs and extra shock absorbers for the cameras, let’s see what tonight’s bands have to offer. 

With four bands on the bill, and headliners Sixth Wonder not scheduled to take to the stage until 23:15, tonight’s gig is going to be a late one – maybe not so bad if you’re based around these parts, but not so good if you have to get back to Glasgow as soon as you’ve packed up your kit, and tonight, this onerous task falls to headliners Sixth Wonder, with frontperson Rebekah telling me beforehand that two of them have to be up for work the following day.

They probably won’t even be home until 05:30 – it makes you remember that outside the glamorous (!) world of gigging, many of these good folk have day jobs too, another reason why when we come to gigs, we should at least give bands the courtesy of listening to what they’re singing, rather than trying to outdo them with chatter that could just as easily take place outside the gig.

Thankfully, tonight’s crowd (mostly) don’t fall into that category, treating the acts with attention and enthusiasm in equal amounts. 

High Sobriety describe themselves as “A female-fronted alt rock band from Manchester who deliver a distinctive sound via their dual vocalists/guitarists Amber and Tammy”. In this endeavour, they’re ably complemented by Mike on lead guitar, James on bass and Cameron on drums.

Having only formed last year, they’re still relative newcomers, but they’ve already plied their trade across Manchester – they’ve already played here previously, as well as Lion’s Den. They tell me they have two singles, “Problematic” and “Control” out already, and they’re planning to drop an EP in August, which worryingly isn’t all that far away (where HAS 2024 gone?) 

Launching into a happy and energetic set that features no less than four guitars on the go at one time or another, High Sobriety are a fine opener for tonight’s women artiste theme, delivering a dreamy set featuring some gorgeous harmonies from Amber and Tammy who alternate between playing off each other and to Mike, stage left and to James (flaunting the most flamboyant heart-shaped sunglasses I’ve ever seen) stage right.

“Control” reminds me a little of No Doubt’s “Don’t Think” as the two of them grow in vocal confidence with each passing song. “Problematic” is announced as being the third single from a five-track EP which will be with us very soon, and I’m sure that NOBODY would have any issues with me mentioning that the bassline is MOST reminiscent of The Cure’s, “A Forest” as it takes a suitably melancholic turn too, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that at ALL. 

“We’re very happy to be here – thanks for listening to us, honestly”, announce Amber and Tammy, almost sounding surprised to see us, but of course, these aren’t normal gig hours for a gig opener – whereas they’d usually be thanking us for coming out early, it’s now after 21:00, so there’s a sizeable crowd here, all ready to go. As they struggle for mid-song banter, they admit, apologetically, “Hmm, socially awkward people on a stage – how does THAT work?”, but it’s OK, we’re here to see them perform, not to hear them talk!

“This One’s 4 U” has a definite Stateside sound about it as the pace picks up for the last two songs of tonight’s fun-packed set. Set closer, “Burn” starts off in a sombre manner but builds up gradually to allows our two front women to finally let rip with the vocals whilst Mike, James and Cameron keep everything going in the background. A fine sound indeed. 

Should you search for “Problematic” and “Control” on all streaming platforms? Definitely. Should you hunt High Sobriety down (figuratively, obvs) and hear them live in the wild? Absolutely – mine’s a pint, though. 

High Sobriety played: One More Night, Control, 5 Years’ Time, Lose Yourself, Sepsis, Problematic, This One’s 4 U and Burn. 

Formed in 2021 from the remnants of a previous project, VMBRA (“umbra”, just so you’re clear) were formed with vocalist/lyricist Ai Sánchez and guitarist/songwriter Jack Hogg reviving old material to craft their debut EP, ‘RESVRGAM’. Bassist Pete Cook soon joined, with drummer Kieran Byrne completing the lineup in 2022 and “RESVRGAM” was released later that year.

In  early 2023, VMBRA began gaining traction, notably reaching the semi-finals in the Manchester M2TM competition at Manchester’s Rebellion (they’ve also played at Grand Central too). In 2024, and with a string of successful performances, under their belt, they have released their second EP, ‘DELAPSVS’, which has been featured in Prog Magazine’s 150th issue.

Drawing inspiration from a diverse array of bands including Porcupine Tree, Haken, The Dear Hunter, Karnivool, and Leprous, VMBRA crafts progressive metal (a new genre for me – yay!) characterised by powerful choruses, lush vocal harmonies, intricate riffs and structures, dramatic dynamic shifts and skilful genre fusion, all of which should make for intriguing listening. Let’s see how that works out. 

Well, they’re certainly a different proposition from High Sobriety, that’s for sure, but variety’s what makes for a good lineup, so all credit to Lily and Ola for assembling such a diverse range of aristes. Standing behind a keyboard which disappears midway through the set to allow more room for her to express herself, there’s more than a hint of Siouxsie Sioux (ask your parents – or maybe even THEIR parents) about Ai’s vocal delivery and visual performance which is ably backed by a very Muse-like sound, with supporting vocals from Jack, stage left.

Ai tells us that they’re very excited to be here, as it’s the first time they’ve played The Band on the Wall, before prepping her keyboard for second song, “The Crowd”, which, having opened with some sinister drones, delivers definite middle eastern overtones, over which Keiran batters away at a bewildering array of cymbals, and stage right Pete (good first name and thanks for the setlist!) draws some excellent bassage from a splendid looking 5-string. 

VMBRA are definitely a band who demand your full attention, not least because you don’t know what’s going to come next, especially with their false endings which lull us into an equally false sense of security as we applaud, before they pick up where they left off, and we all feel a bit daft. It’s probably fair to say that I don’t have a whole load of reference points for VMBRA, as genre-wise, we probably would never have crossed paths had they not featured in tonight’s line up, but I have to say, I’m rather glad we did – if you never experience something new, you don’t grow as a person, musically or otherwise.

As Ai packs away her keyboard, Jack tells us that it’s the first time that the next song in their set, “A Man Walks In” has been played live. “It’s gonna suck so bad, but I love it when bands make big boo-boos… and it’s going to be awful – who’s ready for an awful song?”. But we kind of know it won’t be, and indeed it isn’t – they sound like they’ve been playing it live for years. Ai’s haunting vocals fill the room and we stand transfixed – it’s like being lost in some far-off bazaar – you know it’s probably not wise to be there, but equally, you can’t drag yourself away either. 

Ai thanks both us for coming down as well as promoters Lily and Ola and “photographic legend” Rick, who’s busy checking what he’s taken on some impressive-looking kit, and talking of impressive kit, it’s Kieran’s expanse of cymbals that kicks off set closer “The Beckoned” which even manages to add some cowbell – always good. Ai’s vocals combine vigorously with Jack’s once again conjuring up something that’s slightly scary, but always compelling as Pete dials up the frantic-ometer and displays some fine photographic hair.

It’s almost like listening to music when you’re on holiday, but you’d be hard put to say exactly where in the world you were, if that makes any sense at all – VMBRA’s music really defines barriers, both geographic or genre-wise. Have they been added to The Humble Reviewer’s “Catch them if they’re nearby” list? HELL, yeah, and coincidentally, you can catch VMBRA next just up the road at the SOS Festival at Oldham’s Whittles Tokyo (5th – 7th July) and the Prog for Peart Festival in Abingdon (12th-13th of July). 

VMBRA played:  Creed, The Crowd, A Man Walks in and The Beckoned 

Of tonight’s bands, Tay Temple is the only one with whom I’ve crossed paths previously (supporting Skies Behind at 33 Oldham Street back in January), netting one of my all-time favourite photographs in the process. Tonight’s lineup is pleasingly the same as it was then, in the shape of Tay Temple on vocals & rhythm guitar, Jasmine Gordon on bassist & backing vocals, Jordi Shevlin on lead guitar and Antony Greig on drums.

Tay tells me that they’re currently gearing up to head into the studio in August to record new material and whilst they don’t have any firm release dates in place yet, hopefully we’ll see something later this year or early next year. 

They deliver an enthusiastic mix of pop/alt-rock with no-holds-barred hard-hitting lyrics that unapologetically highlight social issues, in addition to exploring the struggles of self-sabotage, queer identity and anxiety, probably best highlighted in “Sunglasses”, a track taken from their debut EP which tackles the issue of sexual assault and misogyny in a style reminiscent of 90’s riot grrrl bands. As I recall from five months ago, it’s in the live environment where Tay and her gang excel, so I’m looking forward to seeing how they’ve grown as performers since then. 

They don’t waste any time getting down to business with set opener “Fragile” as frontperson Tay combines a sense of fragility with an urgent need to get the message across, with bassist Jasmine delivering a fierce bassline that would have Fleetwood Mac’s lawyers scrabbling around and hunting for a CD of “The Chain”, just to be sure.

There is a phalanx of frantic fans (ooh, alliteration so early in the review) who chant, “Tay – Tay – Tay!” between songs and Tay clearly bounces off this level of support and encouragement. “I Can See Everything” is the title track from their debut EP, which dates back to last September — “Nearly a year ago – fcuk’s sake – where does the time go?” – is the question posed to us and it’s a good point – 2024 is nearly halfway through already with tonight of course being the eve of the summer solstice.

The song is a dreamy, almost shoegaze-y affair with Jordi’s guitar weaving intricate melodies (not by itself, obvs – Jordi helps a LOT) as Tay’s voice soars majestically, with the crowd clapping along after a little encouragement. 

“Sunglasses” is described tonight as being about feminine rage, “Which I’m sure a lot of people in this room have and about all the bullsh*t that we have to deal with and ignore”. “Just take a pill – everything will be fine” may be symptomatic of the advice oft dished out, but it’s rarely, if ever a solution to the underlying problem.

New song, “Just For Tonight” builds up slowly from Jasmine’s insistent bassline with Jordi’s guitar weaving its way in and out of Tay’s vocals as Anthony’s drums pound away furiously. I’m not sure if I’m getting the Jam’s, “Eton Rifles” or Magazine’s “Shot by Both Sides”, but Tay also brings in the joy of Penetration’s Pauline Murray, and given that they originally hail from Hartlepool, that’s Hart-ly surprising (you see what I did there? – you’re fired – Ed). You can’t always put sound down on paper, but I hope you get the idea, Dear Readers. 

A mid-song knock-knock joke that might JUST have been prearranged with a member of the crowd goes disastrously wrong, but it’s not a problem as we launch into the turbo-paced “Still Here” (DEFINITELY Magazine this time…) “That was fun, wasn’t it – I always get my workouts done in these shows” Tay announces, before telling us that she discovered her next song (a cover of Evanescence’s “Bring me to Life”) on Guitar Hero, and she’s been singing it since she was nine – the maths of this terrifies me, so I wisely choose to ignore it.

Tay and her gang deliver the song confidently and powerfully and there’s even time for one of her mates in the crowd to deliver a MOST metal growl into her mic. You get what Tay means about getting a workout, as from a photographer’s point of view, she never stops moving – always a challenge! A shout out goes to tonight’s organizers “Look how many people are here tonight – there’s obviously a need for (female rock nights), so keep fcukin’ doing them!” 

Jasmine’s bass rumbles worryingly (Joy Division’s “Shadowplay”, anyone?) into set closer/fan favourite “Piece of Sh*t”. Another gig done, another set of happy fans – what more could you ask for? If you like your rock loud, and with something to say, there’s a cult out there called the Temple of Tay (did that actually rhyme AND scan..?) – and you really need to really need to get out there and get your prayer mat out. 

Tay Temple played: Fragile, I Can See Everything, Sunglasses, Just for Tonight, Still Here, Bring Me to Life and Piece of Sh*t 

And, so to tonight’s headliners – Sixth Wonder comprise Rebekah Kirk on vocals, Dylan McVey on bass, Nathan Kirkwood on guitar and Sean Love on drums. Initially starting as Rebekah’s university project, Sixth Wonder grew into a Djent/Alternative Metalcore band from Glasgow, Scotland. Always a fan of a new genre, you’ll have to forgive my ignorance, but I’m immediately baffled by the term “Djent”, so off I scuttle to the darkest corners on the Internet to do some investigation.

The God of Genres tells me, “Djent spawned from prog metal and places emphasis on syncopation and dissonance and its angular qualities lead people to draw comparisons between djent and mathcore” – that’s EXACTLY what I was going to say, of course, but I suspect that tonight is going to be quite the learning exercise. 

They’ve already made a name for themselves having won the Best Metal category at the 2023 Scottish Alternative Music Awards, followed by a televised interview on BBC 1 Scotland’s ‘The Edit’, and their top performing song ‘Saboteur’ was aired on BBC Radio 1’s Introducing Rock Show with Alyx Holcombe shortly after release.

They’ve also been busy live supporting the likes of Dream State, Fearless Vampire Killers and Black Orchid Empire, helped no doubt by a healthy following on TikTok amassing over 300k views across all of their content. Their latest release ‘BRUTAS’ premiered on both BBC Radio Scotland AND BBC Radio 1, and even though it’s probably well past my bedtime, let’s see what they have to offer before their long drive North of the border. 

Eerie is the first word that springs to mind as Sixth Wonder open up their set with no introduction, and the crowd’s ears with no apology. Rebekah’s voice is powerful and haunting, but the opening bars of set opener, “Saboteur” give little clue as to what’s about to happen as she goes full-on metal mid song, and it’s this ability to switch between personas that intrigues me.

Stage right, Dylan’s bass takes no prisoners and Sean’s drums are relentless, backed up by technology that makes him sound like he’s some sort of percussion octopus (Band Name of the Day, anyone?) and stage left, Nathan provides more than able vocal support alongside some fearsome guitarwork, but it’s Rebekah’s split stage personality that grabs your attention by the throat and gives you a damn good shake. Those more familiar with this particular genre probably wouldn’t bat an eyelid, but as a newcomer, I’m absolutely captivated. 

Rebekah thanks us for sticking around to see them (it’s about 23:30 by this point) and introduces their next song, “Missile” and states, “If tonight you haven’t heard of us, we hope to convince you to join us by the end of the night and be a part of our family”.

Those of us who remain are definitely on board and there is much vertical shaking of both heads and hair (at least by those of us who still have hair to shake) – this music is captivating and compelling and beautifully delivered, accompanied by Rebeka’s inner demon from time to time. I’m looking round to see who has inadvertently played a Rolling Stones album backwards in order to summon her, but no – she’s done it all by herself. She thanks the promoters and tells us that tonight is Sixth Wonder’s first gig in Manchester.   

Current single “Your Way” slows the pace somewhat and Rebekah asks any of us who haven’t yet moved or got involved in tonight’s proceeding to come a bit closer and do so. I’m getting an even angrier version Rage Against the Machine as Rebekah and Nathan spit equal amounts of venom into their mics and Sean and his invisible drumming companions thunder away furiously at the rear, to the accompaniment of some very apocalyptic sound effects. It’s all very startling, but incredibly entertaining.

Rebekah throws her bracelet out into the crowd and she tells us that she spent a goodly amount of time making a large number of them the other night, and that they’re available on the merch stand on a “Pay what you think they’re worth” basis, including if, (as times are hard) for free, as “We believe that everybody who wants to have merch deserves to have merch”, to whoops of approval from the crowd. 

Just two songs left now, starting with “Your Way” which, to these ears at least has taken more than a cursory stroll through the avenues of Linkin Park. Rebekah’s poor vocal cords take another battering (much to our delight) as Dylan gives up any semblance of being the quiet one in the band and throws himself around with as much enthusiasm as his bandmates as, with a final thank you to us, they launch into frantic set closer, “Escalate”. I might have just witnessed something very special indeed. 

Sixth Wonder’s next gig is in The Garage Attic, Glasgow on the 24th of July in support of Australian metal band Future Static. 

Sixth Wonder played: Saboteur, Let Down, Missile, Brutas, Your Way and Escalate 

It’s fair to say that all tonight’s performances have been a source of much musical enlightenment to Your Humble Reviewer, and in addition to considering that I might just be a better person for witnessing them, I also don’t think that this event is going to be as challenging to review as I first envisaged (I sincerely hope that I was correct in my assumption).

What IS evident though is that whilst women continue to make major inroads into music of all genres, there’s still a long way to go, so events like tonight’s are more valuable than you can possibly imagine. Well done to Lily and Ola (plus Mum on door and wristband duties – and you thought you were just coming to a gig..!) 




By mykct