The headlining act of the pre-party for Brofest, Newcastle, UK at Trillian’s Rock bar on Thursday night was the superb hard rockers Salem from Hull, UK. I must admit I did not know of them during their first period of life (1980-1983). This is not very strange as I was around 10 years old and was not into hard rock at the moment. With a rare vinyl single and a couple of demos the word did not get to Sweden and my little hometown in a time with no internet and no social media. Salem however contributed to what now is generally labeled as the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. The phrase is often used for bands that broke through and came out at the period (late seventies to mid 1980’s) in the UK: However there was a plethora of different styles. Many drew inspiration from the punk attitude and aggressiveness whilst others combined that with the classic rock influences from the 70´’s such as Deep Purple, Rainbow and Black Sabbath. Salem’s influences should surely rest with the latter and even more so to my liking.
The band reformed back in 2009 after their music was uploaded on Myspace and the guys realized that there was a demand for their music as new fans found out about them. There was however a challenge in that because by that time two of the members were living in a different part of the country. Lead vocalist Simon Saxby resided in the southern county of Kent and guitarslinger Paul Macnamara had moved to the southwest and Bristol. Since the reformation they have reissued a collection of their old material including several demos and the only 7″ that was released in the early 1980´’s on a CD called In the Beginning. What amazes me with this band is the sheer quality of the new albums they have put out since their reformation. Some acts use their past mainly to get gigs and spots at festival – this is not the case with Salem! I am talking about Forgotten Dreams in 2013 and Dark Days released last year. With so many strong tracks it must be hard to choose songs for a one hour set and as it turns out I am not blessed with my favourite song on this evening.
What we get however is a blistering performance that punches you in the face and the gut at the same time! The music is extremely tight and the guys seem to enjoy themselves on stage. I can honestly say there is no trace of rehearsal problems or limited time to prepare for this. After watching the first two bands take the stage I now recognize that there is a rock band on the stage. Simon swings the microphone stand as he was David Coverdale‘s unknown brother and the rest of the guys show they know how to put on a show with rehearsed moves and stage antics. This was a show that yearned for a bigger stage! The show was off to a blistering start with “When Love´s In Your Heart” from Forgotten Dreams. An excellent start to the show with a fast paced melodic rocker. They go on with two old cuts from the bands very early stages called “Fool´s Gold” and “Rock fever”. As a fan of the newer material I am happy to hear “Ask the Lonely” and Simon‘s vocals are completely stunning. I can´t believe the high notes that guy can hit and his voice seems even stronger now about 30 years later. Simon tells the crowd a bit about how he’s struggling with his diabetes and adds some sugar to his system between the songs. Another older song and the last part of a trilogy is up next; “Keeper of the Keys – The King” and I guess it is a song they are expected to play for their old fans sake. Simon suprisingly announces they will play a thrash song. If you think you will get a Metallica song you are wrong but it is at least one of the heavier songs called “Tormented”. It features some heavy guitar riffs from Paul Macnamara and Mark Allison.
The guitar playing is intense throughout the gig and Mark and Paul change solos beautifully. Adrian Jenkinson provides a groovy heavy bottom end to the sound and he is a real stage persona to watch rocking out all he can. Paul Mendham is the steady hand at the back and keeps the pace through every song and very much so in the melodic, yet heavy “The Answer”. Simon really shines vocally on this track and the fist is up waving in the air. After rocking their way through the fantastic and melodic “Break the Chains” (it is announced as their most Bon Jovi-like track) and the “The Other Side of Hell”. During that song they get the “cut it” sign from the organiszers and disappointingly have to drop two songs off the setlist which is too bad. They kick off the last song with the intro killer riff off Forgotten Dreams and I am in seventh heaven! This is an excellent track and definitely one of the best. The crowd response is huge and Trillian’s rocks with Salem on this night.
All in all, I think this is a stunning performance with a band that has not lost any of the fire that got them started so long ago. Many of the bands that have been around this long just stand there and play the songs but this goes not for Salem. They rock it out on the stage very much like for example Heaven´s Edge still do. They really care about giving it all on stage and it is all about performing in all senses of the word which includes the visual part. Although I miss my favourite track “This Heart is Mine” in the tracklist I leave the first day with a smile on my face and with the hope that they will play the big festival stage next time around. They´ve earned it!