The latest edition of SunTzu Night is now behind us, with its sixth edition taking place on February 8th, 2020. Let’s first define what the SunTzu Night is. It’s a monthly-ish gathering of metalheads from Grenoble in the venue called L’Ampérage, which hosts probably around 200 people in a big pit. Why SunTzu? Because that’s the name of a local recording studio, one of the major actors in promoting metal in the region. For their sixth gathering, they brought 4 bands together: Schräpnel, Sangdragon, Xaon, and Hellixxir; three French bands who are somehow connected to Grenoble, and one Swiss.
When talking about lesser-known bands, it’s always tempting to compare them with bigger names, more famous counterparts. So let’s get that sorted out right now, and then talk a bit more about them. Schräpnel packs a very nice death/thrash punch, not too dissimilar to that of Cavalera Conspiracy; Sangdragon weaves interesting black symphonic melodies with the voices of their two singers, one high and beautiful and the other low and brutal, and resembles, in that, to a sort of folk-ish Behemoth; Xaon plays a very decent death growls alternating with a clear voice, quite like what Dark Tranquility has to offer; and Hellixxir offers a great black/thrash sound, a genre I know little about, but one spectator assured me that the closest counterpart to Hellixxir would be Vornth. I would probably have gone for Kverlertak, but maybe only because their singers look (and act on stage) in the same way.
From watching Schräpnel, it’s quite obvious that they’re guys playing for fun, for passion. They do not have elaborate choreography or stage costumes, or anything like that. What they do have is energy, power, and, yes, passion. They want to prove themselves and they announced that they were soon going to record their first album, with songs titled “The Victim’s Agony,” “Torture Your Enemy,” and “Deicide.” After a very decent 45-50 minutes set, the room was clearly warmed-up for the next act.
Sangdragon, on the other hand, isn’t exactly your average minimalist-looking band. Fake blood? Check. Furs and leather straps? Check. Black and red make-up? Check. Swords? Check. Mandolin? Check. Oh, and their name literally means “dragonblood” in French. Yes, that’s how they are. And with songs such as “Winged Blade,” “Proudly March to Die,” “Final Battle,” or a cover of the Game of Thrones theme song, they clearly set the tone of their set within the fantasy realm. This was also my first opportunity to get on stage officially, to take pictures of the band in front of the audience, a truly frightening (and also über-exciting) moment.
Xaon, by comparison, is a very simple-looking band, but what the singer lacks in costumes he makes up for in energy. He jumps like a cocaine-fueled Axl Rose (yes, I know) and proudly wears a beard that would put even Marco Hietala of Nightwish to shame. Think Obélix meets viking raider. There you go! And add to that a solid growl and a decent clear voice. Plus, who doesn’t like an aggressive band that doesn’t hesitate to add a mid-tempo track halfway through their set?
As for Hellixxir, the headlining guest of the evening, they know they are the main act and they do request a lot from the audience; an audience that is more than happy to give them support, I should say, as the noise reached peak intensity in the pit. The band played a solid 11-songs set, showcasing the range of their talent, from “The Black Fortress” to “This is Your Punishment,” from classic black metal to pure thrash, they definitely deserved their place.
Overall, it was a very lovely 5 hours in that anarchist venue where the walls proudly display that “cultural rights are an intrinsic part of human rights.” I’ll be sure to come to the next evening in April.
Photos & text: Louis Tarpin