Yes yes yes, I know this is only the third installment of this column, but already I feel compelled to break the pre-designed format a little bit. During August, I saw a total of twenty bands. With three very strong contenders for ‘gig of the month’, and plenty besides worth writing about, I was having a little bit of a crisis trying to pick one to write about in more detail. But then I remembered that I made the rules, so I can break them. Screw the rules. Here’s a run through of my month in full.
Tacoma Narrows Bridge Disaster – The Black Heart
The month starts in celebratory fashion, with a show at The Black Heart held to mark the ten year anniversary of post-metal stalwarts, Tacoma Narrows Bridge Disaster. In a neat little touch, everyone who bought a ticket is presented at the door with a download code for the band’s new single, set to drop a week after the show. I think this is something bands should do more often for release shows, and I certainly wouldn’t mind a couple of extra quid on the ticket price for it in the case of album or EP releases.
The show is opened by Maziac, who are only playing their second ever set. They bring an enthusiastic crowd with them, and their set shows some promise, but it is nevertheless early days for the band, and they still have some work to do.
The peculiarly named post-rock instrumentalists Flies Are Spies From Hell are playing in somewhat emotional circumstances, as one of their number had suffered a family bereavement that day. The band rise to the occasion, and deliver the best set I’ve seen from them to date, with their achingly delicate beauty and huge crescendos taking on an added poignancy. Both guitarists spend some time offstage, wringing the notes from the necks of their guitars whilst getting up close and personal with the front rows of the crowd. Flies Are Spies From Hell are clearly a band who are really finding their voice, and they are now well worth half an hour of any post-rock aficionados time. Check them out.
Sadly, personal circumstances pull me unexpectedly away from the venue just before Tacoma Narrows Bridge Disaster take to the stage. This is a particular shame, because I have seen them numerous times over the ten years of their existence, through many and various line-up changes, including vocal and instrumental permutations. It would be fair to say that the current line-up is absolutely their strongest, and this is equally evident in the quality of “Truth Escapes”. I’m leaving them in here, despite not actually seeing the show, simply to urge you to check them out next time. I will definitely be there.
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Sumer – The Black Heart
This evening’s run of mature, melodic prog starts in a slightly confusing manner. For no discernible reason, out of town quintet Visionist open the show at an early hour to an all but empty room. Visionist describe themselves as tech-metal, but roll out an almost full complement of modern metalcore tropes, complete with direction-less breakdowns. There’s little if any distinction in their writing, the execution is scrappy and they have nothing in common with the following acts, leaving us wondering if the night would have been better arranged as a three-band bill with the remaining bands getting ten minutes of extra stage time each. I’m definitely not averse to a mixed-genre bill, but it’s really very hard to see what Visionist bring to the event, especially in the pointed absence of tickets sold to punters wanting to see them.
Up next are Voices From The Fuselage, who have been rather quiet of late and we quickly find out why. It would be fair to say that the band relied on the material released in 2015 on Odyssey: The Destroyer of Worlds for just a little bit too long, but they return tonight with both a new bass player and a full half-hour of brand new material.
This new material ostensibly picks up where Odyssey left off, with shimmering, gentle and soothing prog shapes acting as a platform for Ashe O’Hara’s truly exceptional vocal talents. It is unmistakably beautiful, but at the same time not especially exciting. The band have never really looked particularly comfortable onstage, and if anything they look less so now than before the break. It would be fair to say that the music absolutely does not lend itself to the band chucking themselves around with furious abandon, but with everyone rooted to the spot and staring at their fretboards, there’s very little to hold the audience’s attention.
New bassist Josh also spends the entire set both facing the drummer and clinging to the root note. This latter point is a particular shame, as there are numerous points in the set where it feels like there is a yawning great hole in the sound that would be neatly filled by a supple and tasteful bassline. With all of this considered, it does seem to me that Voices are most comfortable as a studio band, and that their music is best enjoyed on record, not really having the bite or the presence to successfully make the transition to the stage.
Deity’s Muse have come to the UK from their native South Africa to play the Bloodstock festival, and are spending the preceding week touring the country with Sumer. It is a well balanced tour package, with the band’s sharing enough common elements in their sounds, but remaining clearly distinct from each other. Both bands begin with a melodic prog skeleton, and whilst Sumer add more alt-metal muscles to these bones, Deity’s Muse have more of a hard rock flavour.
It is my first exposure to the band, and their set is definitely an engaging one. At times, their sound could perhaps have done with just a bit more weight to it, but there’s an evident maturity to their songwriting that suggests more concerted listening will unveil some hidden depths.
And so we come to Sumer. As I mentioned last month, I am an unashamed Sumer superfan, having watched them play more than twenty times since the release of their debut album, The Animal You Are, at the tail end of 2014. In a similar fashion to Voices, new material has been conspicuous by its absence, but times are a-changing.
With more bands on the bill, Sumer perversely end up with a shorter set as headliners than they enjoyed as main support to Voyager last month. Subsequently, they only have time for one of the two new tracks they played for us in July, and on second listen, it’s driving rhythms and particularly satisfying chord progressions bode well for the future.
The Animal… material, though, has proved itself to be particularly hardy, and there certainly aren’t many bands who can still hold my attention after twenty virtually identical shows. Nevertheless, that is exactly what their dynamic, melodic and occasionally muscular prog has done. Probably the real key to this success lies in the disciplined way they have written music for three guitars (and bass) that doesn’t come across as a great big muddy mess of conflicting layers. This is a rare feat. Couple this with the raw dedication necessary to give me so many opportunities to watch them play, and they have been rewarded, over time, with steadily growing audience numbers. Here’s to the next twenty.
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Fishbone – The Underworld
For whatever reason, Fishbone have never quite gotten the attention they deserve on this side of the pond. As contemporaries of the likes of Faith No More and the Chili Peppers in 80’s California, they were instrumental in formulating the funk-metal fusion that first spawned rap metal, and ultimately nu metal. But despite some of their peers becoming global superstars, this never quite happened for Fishbones soulful and energetic stew, which is something of a travesty. Personally, I discovered the band somewhere in the early nineties, and have followed their ups and downs ever since. Wandering into the venue to watch an agreeably bouncy and professional but rather derivative support slot from The Popes of Chilitown, the crowd is alarmingly sparse, but fortunately as Fishbone’s time approaches, the venue fills to a respectable level.
Now, after many years of changes, Fishbone have reverted to as close to their ‘classic’ line-up as it is possible for them to get to in 2018, having at one point operated with just two founding members – frontman extraordinare Angelo Moore and bassist Norwood Fisher. To add to the nostalgia value of the show, it had been billed as a complete play through of their Truth & Soul album, to commemorate it’s 30th(!) anniversary.
The start of the show is delayed by a series of technical issues, first with the keyboard, then Angelo’s theramin (not a common problem these days) and finally with Norwood’s bass. But when they finally lurch into the swagger of “I Like To Hide Behind My Glasses”, it’s immediately obvious that we’re not getting a straight top-to-bottom play through. What we actually get, it transpires, is even better – effectively the greatest hits from both Truth & Soul and it’s immediate successor, The Reality of My Surroundings. As the latter was one of the two albums that turned me on to Fishbone in the first place, suddenly hearing tracks like “Housework” and “Behaviour Control Technician” unexpectedly played live after loving them for a full quarter-century is, not to put too fine a point on it, a fucking delight. It is perhaps symbolic of the currently sad state of world affairs that Fishbone could write a song a full thirty years ago and have it still be painfully relevant, but that’s exactly what has happened with “Subliminal Fascism”
Of course, these guys have been doing what they do for a really, really long time – so, it almost stands to reason that they’re devastatingly good at it. Fate might not have plucked Fishbone out for commercial success, but the result of that, at least from our perspective, is that we get a genuinely world-class talent, especially where Angelo is concerned, playing in a 500 capacity room. Angelo’s performance tonight is only constrained by the practical limitations the relatively small stage. His trio of variously sized saxophones, including a truly gigantic bass sax, have to be stored off to one side, which in turn means that he is forced to spend a proportion of the set picking his way through the other musicians standing between them and his mic stand. But, in terms of the quality of his singing, the stage presence, the between-song banter and even his crowd surfing, the venue is unlikely to see much better this year (especially as it is vanishingly unlikely Mike Patton will be returning any time soon).
In their hour or so onstage, they give us a combination of soundclash masterclass and trip down memory lane. With a bit of funk, quite a lot of ska, a pinch of jazz, bags of soul and a healthy dose of fuck-you punk attitude, Fishbone are a god damn institution.
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A Night In Texas – Boston Music Room
I’m not going to say a tremendous amount about this evening’s deathcore flavoured event, because it was largely underwhelming. Of the four bands I saw, two were not being especially ambitious with their talents and another was altogether too ambitious for their talents. I’ll leave you to speculate about which is which out of Orchestrate the End, Human Error and A Night In Texas themselves.
So for me, the night belongs to Harbinger. Having watched them play their second ever show just a couple of years ago, watching Harbinger gradually develop and mature has been a genuine pleasure. Taking to the stage as main support, they deliver a set of headliner quality, and probably the best I have seen from them yet.
We get a new song, “Compelled to Suffer”, taken from the batch of tracks Harbinger are currently in the process of recording for their debut full-length. The song fits in neatly with the songs from their existing pair of EPs, and packs a particularly chunky, nose-wrinkling breakdown. This is what we want.
The real key to Harbinger’s success, and a strong reason why they stand out so vividly on tonight’s rather lacklustre bill, is that it’s not immediately obvious how to classify their sound. They explore some kind of borderland that pulls equally from the beard-stroking cleverness of tech/prog, and also the knuckle-dragging brute force of deathcore. In Ben Sutherland and Charlie Griffiths, Harbinger possess one of the most talented guitar pairings pretty much anywhere in the pointy-logo scene, and they are honing these raw talents into a fearsome and incisive weapon. Expect big things from Harbinger in 2019.
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Plini – Islington Assembly
Instrumental prog-metal has been very much a growth industry over the last few years, probably driven in no small part by the relative ease with which it can be composed by a guitarist on their own in their bedrooms. It would be fair to say that, as a result, the market has become rather saturated with projects covering largely the same ground. However, tonight’s show brings together three acts who are conspicuously pushing the form in new directions away from the twinkly pack with their own unique twists on the form.
But before we get to them, the show is opened by the debut solo performance from Polish guitar wunderkind Jakub Zytecki, best known for his work with Disperse, but also pulling a double-shift tonight as Plini’s second guitar. Playing tracks from last year’s Feather Bed/Ladder Head twin EPs, it is obvious that the tracks have sprung from the same fretboard as the Disperse material, but Jakub’s solo material has a more dazed and dreamy vibe to it, pushing closer to the territory occupied by David Maxim Micic. The really unique twist that Jakub has put on this material is in his approach to rhythm, giving the tracks a kind of languid, shuffling funk vibe. In turn, this vibe is absolutely nailed by his live drummer, which goes a long way towards the overall success of the project’s first venture on to the stage.
But, of course, the star of the show here was always going to be Jakub’s guitar playing. As his set begins, the VIP area out on the floor quietly fills with pretty much every other musician playing tonight, all coming out to watch him play. There is an effortlessness to his virtuosity that is simply breath-taking, even after seeing many Disperse sets, and these songs are obviously tailor-made to showcase his talents. Much like Plini himself, Jakub isn’t really a shredder, even if he can throw out a blizzard of notes when the moment demands, but his real skills lie in the almost playful voice he gives to his instrument. His set is a big, warm, soothing half-hour musical hug, and a positively lovely way to start the evening off.
Toska are unquestionably the heaviest band of the night and, in a bold move, play a forty minute set drawn exclusively from their upcoming debut album, Fire By The Silos. In a previous life, I have classified Toska’s first EP, Ode to the Author, as ‘Stunt Grunge’ thanks to their riffier approach, but it would be fair to say that the new material takes them in more proggy directions. But, naturally, there are still some hulking great riffs on offer. Toska have been peppering their sets with new material for some time now, so a couple of the tracks are starting to sound a little familiar to me, including one aired tonight that boasts the single heaviest Toska riff to date. Beefy. But with their labyrinthine arrangements, push-pull time signatures and run-times averaging around eight minutes per track, properly getting one’s head around Toska’s music takes more time and effort than one can reasonably give when watching it performed.
But what it is possible to appreciate, however, is just how completely the three members of Toska operate as a single, finely tuned machine. Their unique twist is their slightly uncanny ability to play complex, technical music in a manner that feels as relaxed and organic as a jam session. It feels like prog that has been written standing up in a practice space, not hunched over a laptop. And, of course, everyone can get behind a big beefy riff, familiar or not. The show firmly whets my appetite for the album, and in turn for the first time I get to see them play these songs after properly getting acquainted with them. That’s going to be a blast.
Plini takes to the stage to be greeted by a truly rapturous reception from the capacity crowd. This show, Plni’s largest UK headliner to date, really throws into sharp relief the extraordinary journey Plini has been on these last few years. Barely three years ago, Plini came over to the UK to play his first show of any note at Tech Fest after completing his Trilogy of EPs, which then seems to have snowballed into a constant stream of tours and festival appearances, as well as finding the time to record an album and a recently released EP. He has, as some other Aussies like to say, been busy. And one of the rewards of all this activity, clearly, is a room filled with 800 adoring fans. Considering Plni’s last headline show was in a room less than half this size, I think we can call it a significant step up.
Elements of that last London show are recreated and expanded upon tonight, as The 1975 saxophonist emerges again to join Plini onstage, contributing to a series of songs throughout the night and kicking off by reprising the performance of Handmade Cities we saw at the Borderline. Plini is also periodically joined throughout the set by his original collaborator, pianist Luke Martin, and the contributions of both broaden the palette and bring some diversity to the sound. Mixing old and new, the set draws liberally from the original Trilogy EPs, and also the new EP Sunhead gets aired in full.
Something that the larger stage, and larger band, showed more clearly tonight was how Plini himself appears to see himself more as a band leader than a solo artist with a backing band, to the extent of physically moving out of the way to give each musician a brief solo spot in which to really shine. There’s a palpable absence of ego, evident in his collaborative approach which also manifests itself in the relaxed, matter-of-fact manner with which Plini talks to the crowd between songs, in much the same way you might talk to a group of friends in the pub. This bodes particularly well, I think, for Plini’s future career and should help him to avoid painting himself into a sonic corner.
It would be only fair to admit, though, that I did duck out and leave a couple of songs before the end. As beautiful and diverse as Plini’s set is, an hour of it is enough for me, especially when that hour includes your favourite tracks, and doubly so when it comes on top of two fantastic support slots. Frankly, I was full, and that’s no bad thing.
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Frontierer – Boston Music Room
It would be safe to say that everyone arriving at the Boston Music Room tonight is prepared for a pummeling, but for most opening act Itself Timeless are an unknown quantity. However, tonight is only their second show, and it proves to be something of a surprise attack. Mixing death and post metal, they come across as a more caustic and ferocious Amenra. Something that immediately stands out is just how well presented the band are despite their relative infancy as a performing band, to the extent that they clearly have someone who knows the set operating the lights, and having them properly sync with the music adds considerably to the atmosphere and impact of the dynamic shifts in the songs. It may be early days for the band, but it is a really strong showing, the band have definitely set out an ambitious and engaging proposition, and whilst there are understandably a few rough edges, they will undoubtedly be smoothed out over time, so definitely a band to watch out for.
I’ve not been writing for Heavy Blog for all that long, but I already feel like I’ve said a great deal about Conjurer. They’re certainly putting in the work, and have given me opportunities to catch them every month for the last three straight months. What’s more, they’ve also just been announced for Euroblast, so it’s barely going to be another month until I see them again. So I don’t think there’s very much I can say here that I haven’t already said recently. Taking the gamble that there wouldn’t be too vigorous a moshpit, I got in close and, rather unsurprisingly, they damn near ripped my head off, especially during set closer “Hadal”. You know the drill. Go and see Conjurer in a small space while you still can, because the chances are it won’t be for long. Outstanding.
One of the most remarkable things about this European tour is that it has virtually doubled Frontierer’s total gig count. Up till now, their live excursions have been limited to a few short bursts, usually centred around a festival appearance, so this was by far the longest run of shows they have undertaken to date. From following their social media, it has been apparent that every show has come close to measuring on the richter scale, so we are braced and ready for the onslaught as the band file onstage. But of course we’re not really ready. This is now my fifth Frontierer show, and the savagery of it still has me taken aback. Somewhat rashly, I have taken up a position rather too close to the speaker stacks, on the corner of the stage. It is fearsomely loud. I last until the end of the second track, and fortunately my personal favourite, “Tunnel Jumper”, before retreating to a safer distance to watch the band without my vision distorting from the volume.
The set is more weighted towards debut album Orange Mathematics than I had expected, and I regret not giving it at least a spin before the show as a refresher, but of the Unloved tracks aired “Glitcher” serves as a strong set opener, and “Electric Gag” gives the set a much-needed change of pace, with it’s slow, budgeoning grind giving us at least a different type of punishment from the frenzied melee attacks. Two things really jump out at me about the show tonight, the first is that they are clearly knackered from the run, but this is the final show and so they’re throwing everything they have at the set. Secondly, the net result of the run is that the performance itself is a lot more assured and they are really finding their feet as a live band. It now feels like they are really performing, rather than simply playing the songs.
We get a little taste of the future in the form of new track “The Molten Larva”, another slow, grinding track that also featured an especially shouty guest vocal from Employed To Serve guitarist Sammy Urwin. Clearly, being a transatlantic band isn’t holding Frontierer back. The main set concludes with “Bleak”, and culminates with both guitarists Pedram and Dan lying flat on their backs on top of the crowd, which has become something of a signature move. It’s probably going to be a little while now until Frontierer reconvene for some more live detonations, but I think it’s going to take us all a little while to recover from what we witnessed. Simply watching a Frontierer set is an exhausting affair, so god knows how punishing it must be to play one, let alone fourteen in a row. But, rather than lying down somewhere very soft for A Very Long Time, the morning after the show, the majority of Frontierer set off on the long drive from London to Edinburgh, where they were to prepare for a Sectioned show the night after that. Maniacs.
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Seething Akira – Elektrowerkz and God Mother – The Dev
Last month, I lightly ranted about how gig clashes were an awkward fact of life for London gig goers, forcing difficult decisions to be made. As it transpired, for my final live music excursion of the month, the best solution was to go to both of them for a bit. So my first stop of the evening was to see my favourite dance-rock herberts Seething Akira open for Cubanate at the infamous Elektrowerkz nightclub. Better known as host to the Slimelight goth club than as a live music venue, the building is an absolute delight, a decaying warren of industrial corridors and staircases leading in all directions, it’s like something out of Blade Runner. The show tonight is only utilising a small proportion of the total club. Elsewhere in the building, there is a wedding reception. Entry to the show itself is a slightly fractious affair, as a condition of the venue’s licence is that every single person entering the building must present photo identification. For London, this is absolutely not standard protocol, and those of us in our forties do not habitually need to carry ID. Fortunately, I had seen the warnings and come prepared, but many people had not, leading to some rather heated discussions with the understandably unsympathetic door staff. Always read the small print, folks.
The combination of the venue, its soundsystem, and an Electro-savvy sound man provide just about the ideal conditions for Seething Akira’s rowdy mix of drum & bass, dubstep and punk energy. Having watched the band in various settings over the last five years, tonight really feels like the band sound how they have always meant to sound, and how the poky little soundsystems in the pubs and clubs I’ve seen them play in before simply don’t do them justice. Of course, the work the band have put in over the years means that they are fully prepared to exploit these favourable circumstances to the full. Vocalists Kit and Charlie take turns in bouncing around on stage and out amongst the crowd, and this balance means that there’s always something going on that’s worth watching. The main entrance to the live room is virtually next to the stage, and for the duration of their set the traffic through that door is overwhelmingly heading into the room rather than out of it, which is a particularly good sign. The energy levels, despite the relatively early hour, start high and stay there, with the more uptempo songs in their set, like “Pack Animals” and “I Am The Devil” being the real stand-outs. It would be fair to say that Seething Akira have struggled a little to really find their audience, and tonight’s showing suggests they are very much at home with an industrial crowd in a party mood.
As soon as Seething Akira have said goodnight and started to pack down their gear, I hot-foot it out of the venue, around to the nearest tube station and head a couple of stops north to Camden, in the direction of another long-standing iconic venue on the London metal scene, the Devonshire Arms – more commonly known simply as The Dev. The Dev literally is a pub. At one end, there is a small stage, and the sound desk sits on the bar, about ten feet from the lip of the stage. The only way to the ladies toilets is through that gap between the stage and the sound-desk. There is also a large, regular clientele who come to drink in the bar every weekend irrespective of whether or not there is a band playing. This is the environment into which I have come to watch two hardcore bands with pretty visceral reputations. Lordy.
Both bands are over for a UK tour built around their appearances at ArcTanGent. I’ve seen Irish quintet Ilenkus previously, and squeezing my way through the pub, having arrived just as they are setting up, I find myself stood directly in front of the stage. We get a good idea about how the rest of the evening is going to go as vocalist Chris starts the set standing on the bar rather than the stage. As soon as the music starts, things get lairy.
There is more to Ilenkus than brute hardcore force, though. There is depth to their songs as well as potency. Amongst the chaos, Chris picks up a third guitar for a couple of tracks, a guitarist takes a lead vocal turn, Chris spends an instrumental package systematically working his way through the crowd to give people hugs. And they have a song called “Hunny Bunny”. What more do you want.
God Mother carry with them the weight of a full-bore endorsement from Dillinger Escape Plan. Signed to Party Smasher, and shipped out to New York to play at the final DEP shows, expectations are high. I’ve heard reports and seen pictures of the incendiary nature of their shows, and with the venue already noticeably on edge after the amount of off-stage activity during Ilenkus’ set, I wonder exactly what is going to happen.
I try to find a safer spot from which to witness the carnage, but it is virtually impossible in this tiny space. Even standing close to a wall, I still find myself face to face with vocalist Sebastian on multiple occasions as he repeatedly ploughs through the churning crowd.
It is hard, in these circumstances, to really get a proper handle on the music itself, but it is as fast and feral as the performance. We get a little light relief too, as Sebastian contrives a limbo competition in the middle of the pit, using his outstretched and fantastically long mic cable. The whole experience is tremendously thrilling, with God Mother clearly having earned the plaudits they have been receiving.
The set is over all too quickly, even if they do rather cheekily pile into one last song after being told they’ve reached curfew, sending the somewhat harrowed soundman into a visible meltdown. I guess that is punk spirit in action. I head out afterwards, resolved to get better acquainted with their material, and to hopefully see them again in a venue where you don’t have to be quite so mindful of tables and barstools.
OK, I seem to have gotten a little carried away. It’s been a busy month, and I’ve already said far too much. So this time, there will be no encore. I do know, however, that I have a significantly quieter September in store for me, so next month I’ll have a bit more space to stretch my legs and think about some broader subjects for discussion. If you’ve made it this far and there’s a subject you’d like to see examined here, then let me know in the comments.