(credit: Scott Boelsen Photography)
4:30am on a Saturday morning: My alarm goes off and it’s time to get up. My friend and I have agreed to leave our home city of Melbourne, Australia, at 5am in order to begin our 900km (560 mile) road trip to Sydney, where we will watch our favourite band, Ne Obliviscaris, perform on their headlining Aussie tour. Both of us had seen them perform 3+ times in the preceding 12 months, yet we did not hesitate in travelling such vast distances twice in as many days to be able to see them again.
We were lucky enough to have met and known various members of the band, given we’re all from the same city, and the whole band were extremely accommodating when they found out we had made the ten hour trip to see them. Special mention has to go to bassist Brendan Brown who helped make us feel like a part of the NeO family, having dinner with us beforehand, sneaking us into the venue before doors, and ensuring we got to hang out with the band for a few hours after the show. This helped make the night extra special and, whilst those who’ve met the band know that such kindness and generosity is typical of their character, we didn’t make the trip expecting such events to occur. We had come there for the music, and so it’s on the music that we’ll focus our attention.
Sydney had come out in force for the show, with a large crowd turning out for melodic death metal outfit Daemon Pyre, before the on-stage arrival of the phenomenally talented Plini. Whilst his studio work has garnered acclaim from across the world, his songs were slightly re-arranged to better suit a live environment, with an increased focus on the other instruments leading to a heavier, fuller-sounding end product. The live mix and sound quality was imperious, as close to perfection as you’re likely to get, and both Plini and his touring band (two of whom also feature in the similarly amazing Helix Nebula) were at the top of their game. I spent most of their set entranced, my eyes closed as I was swept away, my mind transfixed on the melodies and virtuosity on display, scarcely cognisant of anything else. This peaceful, meditative state ended only once their set had concluded and, even after having seen them four times in as many months, I continue to be amazed by what they collectively bring to their audience.
In contrast to the extremely relaxed vibe radiating throughout the venue during Plini’s set, NeO’s arrival coincided with plenty of moshing, headbanging and windmilling. Yet, more than this, the performance evoked a myriad of instinctive, yet complex emotional responses. Given they’re my favourite band, I count each of their songs as one of my favourites, and could regale you with tales of their set at length; however, no song succinctly captures the entire NeO experience quite like ‘Pyrrhic’. For those unfamiliar with the song, I strongly suggest you check it out before reading on.
Despite being a very slim person, the song’s furious death metal riffing possessed me with such spirit that I couldn’t help but propel myself into the mosh pit, fuelled by an energy which saw me barge through even those significantly larger than myself. It is this passage of the song, the heaviest by far, which helps express surface-level negative emotions, those that immediately hit us when confronted with the appropriate stimuli, emotions such as annoyance, frustration, anger and rage. That is not to say that deeper emotions such as those of loss or melancholy are not present, indeed there are a multitude of layers to the song, but they do not seem to be the focus of the song at that point. Around the halfway mark the death metal comes to a close, replaced by a dissonant buzz which inexorably rises in intensity, drowning out all but a simple drum pattern as it evokes a sense of confusion and choking anxiety. What’s more, this passage can be seen as a turning point, not only in the nature of the song, but in the emotions it espouses, as it transitions away from surface-level emotions and dives deeper into those which perhaps underpin them.
Just as the dissonance appears on the verge of reaching its climax, it disappears in an instant, replaced by a crisp, clean clarity. The respite this brought allowed me an opportunity to take a breath and look around at the faces surrounding me. Following on from Eden’s fantastic piece a few weeks ago, that moment in time crystallised the relationship between space and music. The space of a live music venue providing a harbour for any who seek its refuge, a place of clarity and understanding where they will be safe from the dissonance and noise of the outside world. Within those four walls, a small community had come together to share in a unique experience, for never again would that same set of people be joined in one place, to witness those same bands perform in the same way. The dreamy post-rock passage which follows invited crowd participation, furthering this communal spirit, whilst all the while wrapping us in a soothing melancholy. The introduction of violin expanded upon this, its tone and melody mournful, pained and anguished, yet somehow simultaneously evoking a glimmering sense of hope. How such contrasting emotions could be juxtaposed against one another instantaneously, in the same passage, and by the same instrument is as awe-inspiring as it is intriguing, yet there was even more to come.
(credit: Meg Hewitt)
The song concludes with the reemergence of harsh vocals; depression, misery, grief, loathing and torment pouring out in each and every scream as Xen opens up his soul like never before. This tear inducing climax brings with it a remarkable catharsis, yet another moment in which the crowd are extended an opportunity to connect, in a meaningful way, with both those around them and the artists who composed such a masterpiece. Finally, from an emotional perspective, it’s important to note that there were also an abundance of positive emotions on display. After all, throughout the show I was filled with joy by the fact I was seeing my favourite band perform, and there were smiles to be had all around us. Ultimately, when considering the sheer quality of each bands’ performance, my unadulterated love and admiration for NeO’s music and, on top of that, the amount of time we got to spend around the band themselves, it was undoubtedly one of the highlights of my life.
Of course, I could scarcely think about all of the above during the performance, I was too busy simply enjoying the amazing musicianship on display. Whilst I could certainly feel all of the above, at the time it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is that you’re feeling: you just know that emotions are being stirred within and, given the subjectivity of such a discourse, the emotions experienced will differ enormously between individuals. In any case, it’s only after the fact that you can engage with such an experience on an intellectual level, thus adding an additional layer to the live music experience, one which lends itself well to those who enjoy deep thinking and an analysis of their own experiences.
While live music can be a way to express and cleanse oneself of negative emotions, the inevitable aftermath of such an emotional realignment is that you’re instilled with a buzz of happiness, enthusiasm and wonder. That is the reason why people keep coming back and back for more, why simply listening to an album on record, is not enough to sate a band’s most dedicated fans. It is why I was more than happy to spend 20 hours of my weekend in a car, to see my favourite band play in another state, knowing that in five days time I would be walking five minutes from my workplace to see them again in my home city. Many do not understand why others watch the same movie, read the same book, or see the same band over and over again. I hope to have shown that the reasons for doing this can go beyond simply enjoying the artistry on display, and that in a digital age where human connection seems to be waning, live music can help people meaningfully connect with, and understand, both themselves and those around them.