It was a cold, grey day in the birthplace of Heavy Metal and down one of the city’s drab side-streets lies The Asylum. Eager fans, many of whom were there long before the early 5 pm opening time attempted to stay warm, queuing in their droves in front of a Nightliner tour bus which was bizarrely parked directly outside at the venue’s entrance. While the Brits froze, the climate probably felt like home to the Ukraine’s most famous metal export and tonight’s headliners, Jinjer.
The Birmingham show, like many of the others on this short UK run, was a big fat sold out. Other venues on the tour found themselves upgraded although Birmingham is not one of these and fans literally had to fight to secure their tickets to this show. Many did not get so lucky. The current hype and frenzy surrounding Jinjer is exhilarating and as one of the bands setting the metal scene alight right now, we just had to be there to witness them in action.
First up were Ukrainians Space of Variations (7) who seemed genuinely delighted to be in the UK. It’s rare to see bands that occupy the 20-minute opening slot not perform like they’re the poor men at the auction and almost apologising for being on stage, but these chaps were something else. They performed their 20 minutes like they were the headliners and Birmingham loved them for it. Put it this way when frontman Dima Kozhuhar called for fans to raise their hands, everyone did. For a band unknown to many punters before the gig started, this was an outstanding debut performance in Birmingham.
Musically they offered up a satisfying genre-mix delivering neck-breaking groovy infused Metal licks in a head-on collision with electronic soundscapes before unexpectedly hitting post-hardcore choruses. Sometimes within the same songs. Which was oddly more satisfying than it sounds on paper. Then there were ballsy songs in their setlist like the mighty Tibet whilst songs like the Linkin Park-Esq Moonlight showed that the band were more than just one-trick ponies.
At one point Kozuhar jumped off the stage into the photo pit as Fuck This Place Up ended the set. The lyrics “we came to fuck this place up” have never been more appropriate. They came, they saw and they conquered. Period. Whilst it surely must be difficult for bands of this stature to tour on this scale, we sure hope these guys somehow get back to the UK in the future. A raw talent you should definitely check out.
With the opening act setting the bar extremely high, Finnish Metallers Khroma (6.5) certainly had a lot to follow. Like Space of Variations, the quartet fused together Metal, groove and electronic elements across their songs delivering the usual kind of death metal we’ve come to expect from the Finns – straight up, no-nonsense and technically proficient. By the time latest single Kill The Friction rolled around it had all got a bit too much for one over-enthusiastic punter down the front who repeatedly shouted and screamed: “You guys are fucking amazing!”. They closed proceedings with Machinal featuring screeching effects and a whole arsenal of heavy riffage.
Then came the turn of Canadians, The Agonist (7.5) who came to do one thing on a Saturday night and that was to party. They wasted no time in bringing the noise by storming onto the stage into the opening track from latest opus, Orphans, In Vertigo. And what a firecracker of an opener it was with completely bonkers drum licks, crazy shredding and a few choirs thrown in. There are opening songs and there’s this, as Frontwoman Vicky Psarakis opened up for the big roar into the verse. She was flanked by Danny Marino (Lead Guitars), Chris Kells (Guitars) and Pascal Jobin (Bass) who attempted not to smash their heads off the low hanging beams of The Asylum.
When heavy-hitters, Gates of Horn and Ivory and The Gift of Silence kicked in, it was here that the band found their stride. The first mosh pits of the evening opened and never stopped in a setlist built predominately on Psarakis era material. Old School fans weren’t short-changed either though with Dead Ocean and Panophobia providing a brief, but nonetheless satisfying nod to the earlier White-Gluz fronted days.
The band dug deep for one last blast in the form of As One We Survive before diving down to the merch stand to take photos and sign whatever fans wanted. A nice touch and more bands should do it.
But the night belonged to headliners Jinjer (9). The Asylum backdrop was replaced with three screens bearing a three-minute countdown and trust us, by the time that clock hit zero, the crowd was more than up for it, bursting at the seams for Ukraine’s rising Metallers to take to stage.
They opened with the intense, no-nonsense Teacher, Teacher before launching straight into Sit Stay Roll Over and Ape.
From there on their setlist was punishingly relentless rolling straight into song after song after song. Suffice to say, with just 80 minutes to pack in all the punches, the band wasted no time with needless between-song banter but rather opted for a full-on pedal to the metal approach. It’s an approach that more than paid off for such an intimate and minimalistic affair and dare we say it the gig is all the better for it.
What was also great was the well-rounded setlist offering up a nice mix of tracks from across the bands’ catalogue. You’d have been hard-pressed for them not to have played your favourites. 2016’s King of Everything got the biggest look in with the mega fan-favourite, I Speak Astronomy, present and accounted for, along with Just Another and Words of Wisdom. But songs from the recent 2019 Micro and Maro releases were the ones that really stole the show. Whether it was the reggae-inspired Judgement (& Punishment) with the crowd chiming in on the Boo-yah section of the second verse with Shamailuk or the eloquent On The Top with sauntering riff action and big vocals.
It was clear that Vocalist Tatiana Shmailyuk was in fine form and never really put a foot wrong. Her vocal prowess knows no boundaries, effortlessly switching from soothing Jazz-y melodies to full-on death metal growls. Her vocal lines are impressive and she doesn’t miss any notes. It’s not just the formulaic growls on the verses and cleans on the chorus’ structures that many other metal bands adopt but instead, she offers so much depth and variety that really sets her apart from other harsh vocalists (male and female). You never quite know where the songs will lead. In a live setting, it’s particularly impressive to watch her in her element and marvelling at her vocal gymnastics and the transitions in styles she makes. If Amy Winehouse had done Heavy Metal it surely would have sounded like this.
But it’s not just about her. Her Jinjer bandmates are equally as accomplished and polished in the live arena. From the dynamic and intricate drum patterns of Vladislav Ulasevich to the nifty bass lines of Eugene Abdukhanov to the unfaltering guitar riffs of Roman Ibramkhalilov. It’s groovy, it’s punchy, it’s proggy and the transitions between calm waters and heavy as hell carnage just work so well.
Of course, the night had to come to an end and Jinjer truly saved the best until last with the much-loved Pieces. It was incredible that 80 minutes into a set somewhere towards the end of a mental touring schedule that the band sounded this good. Not a beat was skipped and Shmailyuk’s vocals were nothing short of incredible by this point.
Fans in attendance know this was likely the last time we’ll ever see Jinjer perform in such an intimate setting. They’ll go on to much bigger things and we literally cannot wait to see what 2020 has in store for Jinjer because based on tonight’s performance there is surely nothing standing in the way of this Ukrainian Quartet. Nothing at all.