Live Review: Pagan and Sick Joy – The Star & Garter – Manchester – 13/05/2019

The ‘Evil Eye’ tour rolls into the UK bringing Australia’s Pagan to these shores for the second time this year. It’s a Monday night and The Star & Garter is quiet, but buzz surrounds the band and there’s the anticipation in the air.

You can count the crowd on two hands when Brighton’s Sick Joy (3/5) arrive on stage. They quickly establish a powerful sound, opening with a rollercoaster of enormous bass riffs.  It’s a scuzzy sound, driven by frantic drumming and a monumental bass tone. There’s solid energy to their set. It’s heavily indebted to Nirvana without ever needing to fall back on a hooky chorus. The band put on a simple and effective performance What they lack in inspiration, they make up for in confidence and you can’t fault them. The set lacks any really killer material, which is a shame because they could be really dangerous.

If blackened rock ‘n’ roll was not a thing before, it is now. Pagan (4/5) own it. Playing off the back of debut album ‘Black Wash, they don’t have a lot of material to work with, but they make it count. Riffs are thrown back and forth with abandon. Being young and energetic they seem to have been perpetually on tour. You can tell. It’s all very slick.

With only 20 people in the crowd, it’s an intimate show, but the band really give their all. Vocalist Nikki Brumen has an amazing stage presence. Her voice is stunning. Easily going from a deep growl to a scream and back again. Throughout the set, she captures every subtle variation you hear on the record and more besides. A real performer, when she’s not dancing or gyrating, she’s lying on her back cycling an imaginary bicycle. She’s both fun and powerful. One minute she’s smiling, the next she stares as if re-enacting The Exorcist. At the mid-point, she even anoints the air with beer declaring ‘Monday night mass’ before launching into a frighteningly powerful rendition of ‘Holy Water’.

Drummer Matthew Morasco deserves a special mention. His playing is both ferocious and shapes all the songs.  Attacking the hi-hat in a way that is fascinating to watch. Meanwhile, bassist Danny Basso basks in effortless coolness, pounding out the enormous riffs and adding counterpoint vocals. Live the contrast between the band’s two voices is more pronounced and it works extremely well.  Guitarist Xavier Santilli is quietly restrained in his performance but is a solid player. He’s somewhat hindered by the terrible guitar mix, which is only apparent because the support bands was so good, but he makes his point, throwing riffs and shapes whenever he gets chance.

The nine-song set passes all too quickly. Getting the arresting riff of ‘Death Before Disco’ out of the way three songs in seems an odd choice, but all their songs hold their own. ‘Year of the Dog’ is perhaps the highlight with the massive bass riff driving the song as Brumen and Basso trade screams in the most terrifyingly powerful way. His deep and slow, hers sharp and spiky. Finally, they close out with the atmospheric ‘Blood Moon’. It’s an excellent performance more than worthy of the material. Leaving you hungry for what they create next.

3.5/5

Sick Joy links: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Pagan links: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Bandcamp

Words by Ian Kenworthy (@WhisperingSand)

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