Among the many advantages that life in the English capital affords you, London enjoys an unbelievable volume of quality touring acts rolling their respective travelling circuses through town. For those in the know, it offers a host of opportunities to catch a glimpse of rising and potential stars before fame gets its grubby paws on them. I fondly recall watching Mastodon play to no more than seventy punters in the Camden Underworld, and even then I knew that it was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I caught God Forbid at the Barfly, which probably can't fit more than a hundred souls, and I witnessed Akercocke level a backwater club long before signing them to a contract had appeared on Digby Pearson's personal to-do list.
But tonight's talent-spotting has taken me deep into the trenches -- the Surface Unsigned Festival to be exact, an industry showcase which pits talent from across the UK against each other in a knockout-style tournament. Tonight, I'm told, is the regional semi-final, though Beelzebub only knows how Crimson Tears managed to make it this far. Aided and abetted by a singer who couldn't find a key if she changed her name to Auto-Tune, this is symphonic metal for teenage boys whose idea of 'cool' is a 48-hour "Dungeons & Dragons" marathon. With their imaginary friend.
Hadez don't fare much better, though at least their fan club -- all twenty-three of which have turned out for tonight's overture -- provide ample entertainment by losing their shit on an epic scale when their heroes break out their patchwork symphony of Metallica and AC/DC off-cuts. Equally in their favour is guitarist Sandin, whose fleet-fingered solos virtually guarantee that a far superior band will recruit him sooner rather than later.
Significantly more palatable are Karmalener. Reputed to be a mainstay on the Aylesbury metal scene, their brand of technical thrash is executed -- at least for the first two tracks of their set -- with enough masterful proficiency that they'd easily be able to hold their own in the company of Biomechanical and the like. Their performance is crisp and aggressive, and they clearly have an ace up their sleeve in vocalist Terry Sharpe, whose sheer range and powerful delivery is stunning. Sadly, the latter half of their stage-time is dominated by an unhealthy preoccupation with brazen Children of Bodom worship, not really allowing them to play to their strengths in quite the same way they did at first. Still, I'd be surprised if their name didn't turn up on a label press release within the next twelve months.
The evening's breakout honours belong to Kopperhed, however. Based in London and straddling the divide between Soulfly's primitive onslaught and Lacuna Coil's melodic, and dare I say infinitely more commercial sensibilities, they come on stage with the confidence and attitude of a band five years their senior. The fireworks of their opening track, "Chains" -- a mid-tempo groover augmented by a white-knuckle chorus -- fizzles slightly at the introduction of a ill-advised clean break, but it's "Die Alone" that underlines their real potential. Presented as a new addition to the Kopperhed canon, it's an aggressive, brutal and disarmingly mature effort. Their kilted frontman, Lourens Reichert, stalks the stage like he's about to throw down on a gang of nearby Kentish Town's youths, while Daniela Sorrentino murders her bass guitar with an assured pout; if only someone got her good and pissed off prior to a show, she could be this generation's answer to Sean Yseult.
The set never quite hits these peaks again, but still manages to attract and maintain the attention of a significantly larger crowd than any act prior or subsequent. There's a colossal roar of disapproval when their set is cut short due to time constraints, and it's no surprise when they're announced as contest finalists come the end of the night. The competition had best be doing their homework.