Live Review: OTEP + Psycho Village + My Own Ghost + tHOLA @ The Bread Shed, Manchester on February 15th 2019

Through the never-ending stream of information on social media I manage to decipher that the OTEP gig has been moved from The Factory to The Bread Shed. Apparently, the stage has been removed from The Factory – maybe it’s been stolen, abducted by aliens or lost down the back of the sofa. We may never know. Now you might call me old fashioned but I do prefer a gig venue with a stage. So, with the hope that I haven’t being duped by social media fake news, I venture to The Bread Shed.

Fredy Salzmann from Swiss band tHOLA implores the crowd to move closer with a menacing twang in his voice. The limited early numbers comply as the band persevere with their entertaining brand of melodic speed-metal; something akin to Godsmack mixed with thrashy elements of Pantera. Powerful guitars give way to driving bass and in turn gruff yet melodic vocals, and then the loop begins again. It's an enjoyable loop, and what they may lack in technical craft they make up for in well-constructed songs and enthusiasm. More people trickle in during their set and they grow in stage presence and bravado as the room begins to fill.

My Own Ghost follow, and provide a more traditional euro-rock offering. Most notably they’re unbelievably slick performers, and the Luxembourg quartet set about their set with purpose. In Julie Rodesch they really do have a singer with a dynamic voice. It’s not operatic like you might see with a band such as Nightwish, but it has a pure tonal clarity that manages to raise each song above the norm. If you’ve ever wondered what one of those pseudo-rock Eurovision entries might actually be like if they listened to more Tonight Alive or Lacuna Coil, then My Own Ghost might just have your answer.

Psycho Village stride out in front of the big video screens that fill their stage setup, and take a couple of songs to get to grips with both their sound and the limited space on stage. Maybe they should remove the stage to help them out...oh hang, wrong venue. Hailing from Austria, their stylised yet forceful electro-grunge is entertaining and engaging.  The three-piece lack the bite and edge of a band like Filter, but still manage to deliver their set with great musicality and confidence. You feel there’s something really interesting here if only they could dispense with the style-over-substance stage act, and despite their energy you get the impression that they haven’t quite won over the crowd tonight.

Whilst all the bands so far have been fun, the problem is they’ve all seemed slightly too straight-up wholesome for this crowd. There's a thirst and appetite in the room tonight for high-octane, socio-political, aggressively delivered metal. Will it be satiated by OTEP? There was never any doubt. Anyone who's ever tapped their foot to a Rage Against the Machine song (surely everyone) should catch OTEP next time they play. It’d be easy to make that comparison based on the intrinsic message of confronting injustice that underpins virtually every song, but it’s equally how they convey those rousing, important messages via in-your-face rap-groove-metal where the similarities can be seen. The unnervingly delivered ‘Apex Predator’ demonstrates them at their best – seamless moving from melodic and spoken word vocals with jazz-like backing to visceral hardcore-tinged post-thrash in an instant. There's a swagger and assured presence to every member of the band, but none more so than Otep Shamaya herself. ‘Zero’ and 'Equal Rights, Equal Lefts' showcase Otep as an inspirational medusa; once you catch her eye you’re frozen in admiration at her ability to switch vocal style from spoken word to growling, or rapping to melodic singing. Each style has an unquestionable hardcore brutality to it though, and it's beyond impressive. It's not just Otep Shamaya who impresses though, with every band member intensely dedicated to their performance. They are individually superb musicians, the best she’s ever played with by her own admission, and her trust in them to deliver alongside her is evident to see. Many bands seem to have shied away from anti-Trump material, but OTEP hit this topic dead and centre. Newest album 'Kult 45’ is a direct reference to those who blindly follow the 45th president, and Otep even brings on a fake severed Trump head for set closer 'Confrontation'; the crowd lapping-up every aspect of the performance. They surprise us all by launching into an encore cover 'Wake Up' (Rage Against the Machine) which slays the room, and leaves everyone with a massive grin on their face. Now, I wonder where that stage went...

Words by Matt Fraser