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Marshall Ultimate Band Contest - Marshall Theatre, Milton Keynes - November 23, 2013 (Live Review)

Tuesday, 26 November 2013 Written by Anna Ghislena

Standing in the presence of The Dark Lord (also known as Alexander Milas, editor of Metal Hammer) is a little unnerving. Mighty in stature and even mightier in his knowledge of all things rock and metal, he is perhaps the ultimate judge for this contest so far.

Now in its fourth year, the Marshall Ultimate Band Contest is about giving new opportunities to rising hard rock bands. Hundreds of entries are carefully whittled down to a top 25 each year and just five finalists are invited to play before the eyes and ears of a panel of judges at the Marshall Amplification HQ theatre in Milton Keynes.

Witnessing battle commence, Milas was joined by fellow judges Sophie K (Team Rock Radio’s breaking bands presenter), Stephen Hill (Metal Hammer podcaster and comedian), Steve Levine (British record producer) and Paul Marshall, artist liaison for Marshall amps.

Warming up the stage before the contest got underway were Pariso, an apt inclusion to the bill as advocates of the men’s health campaign Movember, a charity that Marshall also supports.  

Pariso stomped out a short, impressive set that indicated an initial bias towards the heavier end of the metal spectrum. Savage enough to rip heads from shoulders and reduce eardrums to mush, it was a high energy performance that immediately raised the bar for the forthcoming contestants.

There is a fine line between nerves and over-confidence. For the first contenders of the evening, Blackpool’s melodic metalcore quintet, Ravenface, that line was possibly an issue. Their tendency to assume odd, bird-like stances every now and then was either the result of a sense of humour or genuine nerves. They did, however, play brilliantly and influences from Trivium and Killswitch Engage were strong. With an ever-growing fan base plus two albums under their belts, Ravenface are sure to be heading for regular gig/festival circuit appearances, but the prize was not to be theirs this time.

Balls Deep, a hard rock/metal band from Stoke-on-Trent, almost take their music as far as the title suggests. Covering every angle, the band applied pressure at unexpected moments with crashing cymbals, ferocious riffs and roaring vocals, only to relieve the tension with the bounce of more subtle hooks and Rich Beresford’s ability to use his full vocal range. Likened to Pantera and Machine Head, their competition set was unabashed and brazen. Tight delivery from Rob Broad earned him the title of Best Drummer.

Softening the metal slant slightly were Motorfinger, all the way from Oslo. With influences from Soundgarden and Alice in Chains, the Norwegian quintet have a polished post-grunge/rock style and delivered an excellent set with natural professionalism that earned them two titles during the Final. With a voice boasting the strength and clarity of Chris Cornell, vocalist Maurice Adams won Best Frontman and Mortem Felumb took home Best Bassist.

As ever, in the male dominated world of heavy rock music, it is refreshing to behold a female-fronted act once in a while. Plastique brought eloquence and grace to the stage, along with an Apple laptop. The London based electro-rock trio are fronted by Brazilian Anelise Kunz, who has a voice like Debbie Harry battling Marlene Dietrich. Flanked by fellow Brazilian Fabio Couto on guitar and British DJ Gabriel Ralls, Plastique have an alt-pop and punk sound with a few Placebo and Nirvana influences thrown in. Despite a shredded leather dress, catchy riffs and laptop wizardry that conjured a multitude of hooks and beats, the band went home without a prize.

So what do the judges look for in an ultimate band? It is not difficult to observe the overall crowd pleaser; the band that bears the vital ingredients of musicianship, showmanship and professionalism. On this occasion it was bluesy rockers Bad Touch, from Norfolk, who won the titles of Best Band and Best Guitarist.

Long hair, denim and flamboyance were the finishing touches to what was already a strong stage presence, with natural audience rapport. With musical influences from Led Zeppelin to Little Angels, their style is classic heavy rock, which occasionally makes a welcome return to the market once in a while.  As the 2013 Marshall Ultimate Band, Bad Touch win a slot at Download Festival 2014, Marshall endorsement for one year and a spread in Metal Hammer magazine.

Finally, States of Panic, winners of the contest last year under their old name, Peepshow, closed the evening with their brand of futuristic punk metal. Nothing much has changed about them in a year, apart from the name. They still have as much hunger for success in their performance as they did 12 months ago and will continue to head for bigger and better things.


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