Live Review: Callous Hands – Birmingham

Live Review: Callous Hands – The Flapper, Birmingham
3rd November 2023
Support: Djinova, Gnawing Hunger, Ashborn
Words: Matt Noble
Photos: Damian John

Death Skull Promotions have been slowly but surely making a dent in the Birmingham metal scene in 2023. From their first show in late January, they've hosted a wealth of great bands at The Flapper, from Dead Mob, Kensei, Lay Siege, Hands of Attrition, Kill The Witch, A Titan A Deity, After Smoke Clears, Slump, Phantom State to Hand of the Host, to name a few. Tonight's bill sees Callous Hands headline - with one of their guitarists, Jim, part of the promotions team.

First guests of the night are Ashborn with a rare Birmingham appearance, my last time seeing them being at HRH Metal shortly before the pandemic, under a different lineup. From the very first riff, they show that tonight will be uncompromisingly heavy. With ugly grooves, screeching solos and cool, dark interludes, it's a blistering set. There's a vicious, mid-to-late 90s style of heaviness that reminds me of Sepultura at times. Their drummer in particular puts on a heavyweight performance, with some brilliant death metal drumming that's inventive with his use of cymbals, blasts, interesting fills and complex rhythms to drive each song. Ashborn's vocalist also commands the stage, whipping and windmilling his hair, but matched with a great set of pipes.

Next up are Gnawing Hunger, who I've never seen before, though they've been on my radar for a little while now with shows starting to crop up more often. Tonight they're very heavy, very groovy, and have bags of attitude and confidence in another excellent set. They're very tight as a unit and mix it up sonically with a guitar swap midway through that alternates the modern, super-detuned sound with more classic metal-inspired fretwork in a higher register. Their lead vocalist brings a fantastic presence and energy with him tonight, engaging the crowd relentlessly and moving around with purpose. He's versatile as a performer, with powerful screams, soulful cleans, and some great lyrical themes as well. The band will tick boxes for those who like groove and hardcore influences in their heavy music, but also with an inspired touch of melodic death metal. Ones to watch!

Djinova are the main support tonight. A well respected death metal/deathcore name in the Midlands after an appearance on Bloodstock's New Blood Stage and the acclaimed 'Apocalypsis Infinitum' EP, it's their first Birmingham appearance in some time. Currently operating as a guitar/bass/drums trio, while there isn't the same movement onstage without the presence of a lead vocalist solely dedicated the mic, they more than make up for it musically with an uncompromising, brutal set. Their drummer handles most of the vocals in what I can only say is one of the most impressive displays of musicianship I've seen at the Flapper. He delivers a crisp and self-assured death metal vocal performance while simultaneously tackling blastbeats, double kick patterns and the physical demands of extreme metal drumming.

He's flanked by the other two, who hardly put a note wrong in a watertight performance, requiring incredible technicality and precision. The guitar leads are on point and their bassist also impresses with deft two-handed tapping made to look almost effortless. 2021's 'Tale for the Dead' and a fun closing cover of 'Roots Bloody Roots' are definitely highlights of the night for Djinova. Though there's fewer of them tonight onstage compared to the last time I saw the band, the musicianship and raw sonic power is still very much present and there's plenty to suggest a very bright future still lies ahead for the Coventry-based act.

Headlining are Callous Hands, winding down a busy year that's seen them perform extensively up and down the country in the buildup to the excellent 'Trapped in Animated Flesh' EP, released just under a year after they performed at Bloodstock. A melting pot of death metal, hardcore and groove metal, all songs from the EP are played tonight, with the early one-two of 'The Cycle Remains' and 'Suffocate' a treat for those who've got to know the release well. There's also representation from 2021's 'Earth Mover', as well as material before even that - and some impressive, unheard new songs that suggest Callous Hands have plenty of ideas left in the tank to push forward for a big future.

The guitar work is spot on tonight, with both guitarists capable of adding layers to the sound. Both Eddy and Jim have their own flavour and uniqueness while fitting into the cohesive sound Callous Hands have made their own. Kyle is also an understatedly technical bassist with real flair and style. Adam's drumming always impresses, confidently going from beat to beat, blast to blast, fill to fill, holding everything together, while Kieran dominates centre stage, using the Callous Hands-branded stage props to front the band in a self-assured yet composed way. The crowd can be pretty lively at times for them, especially during the groovy 'Earth Mover' that they close with, which sees Jim run out into the crowd and jump around for the last breakdowns of the night.

Whether you like the big choruses of 'The Great Unknown', the primal heaviness of 'Suffocate' or the fat grooves that are present in virtually every song, Callous Hands has something for everyone if you're a modern metal listener. Their commanding headline set seems to end too quickly, but as a bright spark in the Birmingham metal circuit it will be interesting to see what comes next for the quintet.

Photo Credit: Damian John Photography

Photo credits: Damian John Photography

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