Armada Drive LIVE @ the 4th Annual Maritime Tattoo Festival

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What I saw when I stepped foot inside the Halifax Forum - for the 4th annual Maritime Tattoo Festival - reminded me of a scene from a war movie or maybe an episode of M*A*S*H; a chaotic room lined with gurneys, soldier after soldier stretched out in various uncomfortable looking positions, medics patiently operating and removing shrapnel as their patients writhe in agony.

Only in this scenario the patients were paying customers, the medics were skilled tattoo artists and instead of writhing in agony most of the people being worked on looked absolutely thrilled. Okay, so it wasn’t like a war movie at all, but I thought that would be an ass-kicking opener to my article…and I stand by that.

The convention was a sight to behold. It was filled with walking, talking works of art. There were tattoos, piercings, body modifications and strangely enough, plaster vaginas (courtesy of Creative Body Casting). As a guy with no tattoos to speak of - but who has always had a lingering notion of “someday maybe I’ll get one” – I was interested to get a behind the scenes look at the thriving body-art subculture. It was a fun prelude to the reason I was at the convention in the first place; Armada Drive.

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Armada Drive are a relatively new Halifax four piece band consisting of singer/guitarist Rob Gillan, guitarist Graeme Brown, bassist Jonathan Parsons and drummer Kyle Smith. Their style mashes the classic and the contemporary with an emphasis on the rock. The most obvious comparisons to Armada Drive would be 90’s rock legends like Soundgarden and Alice in Chains, but the band also adds a more heavy riffage to the proceedings with nods to bands like Mastodon and Pantera.

The band’s set was an early one, starting at about 8:00 pm. Since people were still getting Tattoos during Armada Drive’s set, they had to play in one of the most well lit rooms I’ve ever seen a rock band perform in. The place was packed but not many people were making their way to the stage and it’s a shame because they missed out on a passionate and skillful set of balls-out rock & roll.

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Armada Drive didn’t let the circumstances outside of their control effect their live show. They plowed through a breakneck set of impressively radio-ready sounding originals (the tune Generation Why has been stuck in my head ever since) and some fun crowd pleasing covers including a first-riff tease of “Eye of the Tiger”, a version of “Ballroom Blitz” that the Armada Drive guys truly made their own with a half time breakdown and Rage Against the Machine’s “Bulls on Parade”. Smith handled the vocals to the latter two. He did a fantastic job, particularly on “Bulls on Parade”. It’s not often you see a guy who can rap while playing the drums, especially as well as Mr. Smith did.

All of the players are accomplished on their instruments and their sound weaves together well for such a new band. Rob Gillan has a great rock voice, it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of Layne Staley and Ian Thornley. He does a great job at screaming bloody murder after buttering you up with a sugar sweet melody. Kyle Smith, in addition to being a maniac on the drums, added some great harmonies to the choruses helping make the hooks really stand out. The songs have hooks for days and it’s one of Armada Drive’s strongest attributes.

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Graeme Brown plays his guitar with a lot of control. His sound is rhythmic and groovy with the occasional Dime-Bag Darrel style squeal. He pumps out some great heavy riffs and ended the set with a most excellent face melter of a solo.

A big part of what made Armada Drives songs enjoyable to me were the baselines. They took me by surprise sometimes because they weren’t typical of the modern rock style an uncareful listener might be tempted to lump Armada Drive into. The groove orchestrated by Jonathan Parsons helps make the songs something you can dance to without having to slam into things.

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Armada Drives entire set was enjoyable and solid. Their style is the very antithesis of what’s fashionable in the Halifax music scene right now and personally, I’m all up diversity (I’ll always prefer bands who try to be themselves over trying to be cool). I’d be keen to see the band again in a more appropriate setting like a dirty bar full of drunk people.

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After sharing a post-show bottle of Crown Royal in the parking lot with the band they kindly agreed to an interview. I’m not really much of an interviewer so I just tried to get the guys talking, which wasn’t hard. They had lots to say and the Noisography cameras were rolling.




- Review by Isaac Thompson
- Photos/Video by Tiffany Naugler

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