When you live in a big city, you get used to the transport network being fantastically busy all of the time, especially when most people are trying to get to or from work. Yet every now and then, things will suddenly become freakishly quiet. Through a bizarre and complex set of coincidences, you can find a near-empty train slide into the platform, rather than one you have to remove your least important limbs to be able to squeeze on to. This is broadly what happened to my gig calendar in September – after a frantic August and a run of announcements that appear to mean I’m going to spend more nights at shows than at home in November, I had almost nothing to see this month. Especially if we discount the traditional January Dead Zone, September 2018 might have been my quietest month for at least five years.
There had been two shows in particular that I had wanted to go to, but typically they coincided with a short trip to Paris I had booked. Part of going away, for me, seems to involve missing a show or two. There’s a first world problem for you. But, it actually transpired that both of those shows ended up being cancelled at the eleventh hour anyway – so I’d still be in exactly the same situation I am now with writing this up, just with fewer pictures of the Eiffel tower on my hard drive.
All is not lost, though. The two shows I actually went to were not common or garden variety, I spent an afternoon at a video shoot and I will soon be jumping back on the Eurostar in the direction of Cologne for the Euroblast festival, so we can have a bit of a look forward at what I have in store this weekend instead. Lots of fun.
As I’ve probably already mentioned, I don’t tend to do much homework on any unfamiliar names on a festival bill, to preserve that pure rush of adrenaline and endorphins you get from stumbling upon a new band. That does make writing previews a little problematic. However, this will be my third Euroblast, and I have seen roughly half of the acts before, so we can at least have a run through some selected highlights of what punters can expect.
It would be fair to say that Euroblast doesn’t sit quite as high in my personal affections as Tech Fest, but it does find itself in a closely tied second place with ArcTanGent. Euroblast is definitely closer in size to Tech Fest, but the key difference is that it is held in a two-room club rather than tents in a field. Obviously, this has a very positive effect on the average sound quality over the weekend, but it also means that camping on-site isn’t an option. For those of us that are a little bit longer in the tusk than others, this is something of a blessing. It’s possible to book oneself a bed in a hostel, bundled together with your festival ticket, but those of us that don’t have to watch our pennies too closely can spring for more exclusive accommodation.
The bands also start a little bit later in the day than most festivals, which means that revellers can fully enjoy the after-parties without having to be back in front of a stage at 11am the next morning to catch the opening acts. The two stages are linked by a large yard, providing plenty of places to sit, eat and chat, recharging one’s batteries in between bands. Euroblast has a very similar social, family vibe to Tech Fest, as well as a noticeable overlap in the bands booked to play, and in the community of regular attendees. There are no formal links between the two festivals, but they share enough common ground to feel connected. Oh, and naturally the festival being held in Germany gives the whole thing a more diversely European feel than any festival held on the island motherland.
This year, the biggest selling point for Euroblast for me is the quality of the trio of main stage headliners, who almost on their own made my choice to attend for me. On Friday night, we welcome Monuments back to the stage as they head out into the wild after a couple of years away, recouperating from the fairly brutal touring they put in to support The Amenuensis and crafting their third album, Phronesis, and its release coincides with the festival. Monuments are probably the closest thing there is to a Euroblast ‘house band’, having played repeatedly over the years as the festival has grown, so I’m sure they will receive a hero’s welcome. And, of course, it is onstage where Monuments really come alive. Euroblast is just the second date on a fairly long trek, and I’ll also be seeing one of the last dates of the tour when it rolls into London in early November.
Saturday night is topped by a rare and exclusive show from Swedish djent and meme pioneers Vildhjarta. With no new material for five years and no live shows for three, questions were starting to be asked, search parties starting to be formed. But here they are, safe and sound. Phew. With so little activity, it’s hard to know exactly what to expect (although we can probably rule out a radical change of direction into ska-punk) Will there be new material? Will it be a greatest hits set? For the sake of scrupulous honesty, it would be right to say that I’ve never fully connected with the band, but I suspect that if it’s ever going to happen, Saturday night will be just about the ideal conditions.
Closing out the festival will be Long Distance Calling, returning for a second time to headline the festival. It’s here that Euroblast really distinguishes itself as a European festival, as the band really do not have the profile in the UK to get anywhere close to the top of the billing. Which is a shame. They first pinged on my radar with their self-titled album, released back in 2011. Rather neatly, this particular album serves as a kind of fractal representation of their whole career – predominantly instrumental, with a brief spot of experimentation with vocals in the latter stages, before returning to letting the music speak for itself. Long Distance Calling may sit at the heavier/riffier end of the post-metal spectrum, away from the more twinkly and mellow instrumental prog that is more in vogue at present, but I am sure that after a full weekend of bone crunching heaviosity and twitchy glitchiness,their set will provide a pleasingly easy-to-swallow, sumptuous, wide-screen finale to the weekend.
Euroblast does feel a little bit like a gathering of the tribes, and this year a trio of bands – Caligula’s Horse, Circles and I Built The Sky – will be making the pilgrimage together from their native Australia, to kick off an extensive European tour that will also be hitting London in early November. Caligula’s Horse made a quick trip to Europe just prior to the release of last year’s excellent In Contact, and I was struck again by just how much beefier the band sound onstage than on record. In Contact went some way towards redressing that balance, as well as including some of their very finest material. I’m very much looking forward to seeing them again, now that I’m properly familiarised with the new stuff.
It will not be the first time Circles have made the trip, either, but this time around they have a slightly smaller circumference. Some line-up changes following the end of the touring cycle for debut full-length Infinitas have seen the vocalist and second guitarist slots vacated and consolidated into one Ben Rechter. Latest album The Last One is stuffed with the choppy riffs and big vocal hooks on which they made their name, so it’ll be interesting to see how this new material translates to the stage. I Built The Sky are more of an unknown quantity for me, but a quick scout through their frustratingly detail-light social media suggests they had their genesis in the well-populated ‘one man and his laptop’ bedroom project instrumental prog stables. Having their genre logged as ‘Cloud core’ and recently shared stages with Intervals, Plini and Heavy Metal Ninjas, it’s probably not going to require a genius to figure out what they sound like.
Any festival that lasts for more than a couple of iterations develops a cluster of artists who effectively become part of the furniture. Destiny Potato played their first ever show at Euroblast 2012, and have probably played more shows on these stages than other venue. It is therefore fitting that they will play their first show under their new Sordid Pink moniker this weekend. I certainly can’t be the only one hoping that the new name won’t represent a complete break from the past, and that we get a few favourites from Lun alongside some inevitable new material. However, as there is a strong case to be made that David Maxim Micic is the very best songwriter this entire scene has produced, I’m sure it will be magical either way.
Last minute changes to a weekend festival bill are both saddening and inevitable. Russian acts across the board seem to be having great difficulty getting visas to play outside their borders, and this has prevented Kartikeya from joining us. But the sting has been taken out of that loss by the addition of the many-limbed Ayahuasca. I’ve seen Ayahuasca exactly twice, and both times was at Euroblast, so being able to make it three for three is personally pleasing. The band will probably kick out the biggest, thickest sound of the whole weekend, sporting no fewer than eight members, including additional percussionists. This kind of configuration is inevitably going to lead to Slipknot comparisons, but Ayahuasca take at least as many cues from Arise-era Sepultura as they do from everyone’s favourite Iowans, so it’s a rather more feral proposition, and definitely a spectacle worth witnessing.
I’m also particularly pleased that three of my most favourite bands from the UK circuit will be making their first appearances at the festival over the weekend. I’ve already said a fair amount about Conjurer, Sumer and Valis Ablaze in previous editions of this column, so I won’t repeat myself too much here, other than to urge as many people as possible to catch their sets. I’m sure you’ll be able to find me near the front for each of them, clutching my trusty notepad, wearing my biggest grin and – in the case of Conjurer – the kind of gurns reserved for the very filthiest of riffs.
As I said at the beginning, I might not do much pre-festival research, but nevertheless there are three new-to-me bands that have piqued my interest. I’ve seen comparisons to Battles being made to Friday night after-party act Aiming For Enrike, and that’s enough on it’s own to guarantee I’ll be paying attention, and a quick dip into their discography suggests it’s going to be pleasingly quirky. Serbians Organized Chaos also leapt out at me from an idle listen to the official Euroblast Spotify Playlist(https://open.spotify.com/playlist/5mndE5Npu232PDTd0FxGQI), and the presence of David Maxim Micic in their number, this time on keys, is enough to ensure I’ll be there to see them. Finally, a group known as Heptaedium will be playing their first ever show at the festival. They have logged their genre on their Facebook page as ‘baguette core’ and list Meshuggah and Venetian Snares as influences. So I’m definitely curious, and expecting a bit of a trip into the leftfield.
And there you have it. Personal circumstances mean that I can only really go to two full festivals a year, which has effectively resulted in me alternating between Euroblast and ArcTanGent. Even with the strength of the ATG bill this year, I am confident that I’ve made the right choice, and that those of us making the trip to Cologne are in for another splendid weekend together. If you happen to read these words and see me wandering around the festival, do come and say hello.
Danish Demolition Tour – Boston Music Room
My main show of the month is a slightly unusual one. Billed as ‘The Danish Demolition Tour’, it bundles four quite disparate mid-tier Danish bands (no prizes for having worked that much out on your own) into one tour bus to do a quick lap of the continent together. Even before one starts to consider the actual bands, this is an excellent idea and the type of thing that I am surprised doesn’t happen more often.
The show ended up on my radar through the inclusion of recent Long Branch signees Siamese in the touring package. Having thoroughly enjoyed their debut Tech Fest performance over the summer, I was definitely looking forward to seeing them again, alongside three completely unknown quantities.
With there being no obvious pecking order for the bands, they have opted to shuffle the running order each night. This would seem like an excellent way to keep any egos in check, but that doesn’t appear to be especially necessary, given how relentless pleasant and personable every band seem to be. Maybe that was because they were only two dates into the run, so tour fatigue hasn’t kicked in yet, or it might just be that the Danes practice Olympic-grade niceness as some kind of national sport. I suspect the latter.
One noticeably unusual byproduct of the revolving running order is that tonight’s openers, Defecto, hit the stage with a full, professional production – a backdrop that only just fits on the wall behind the stage, a dramatic intro tape, a richly layered backing track and well practiced stagecraft. Their sound is a hybrid of Dream Theater prog, Justice-era Metallica and a pinch of Cowboys-era Pantera swagger for flavour. It’s not really something that I would go out of my way to hear, but the strength of the musicianship and the enthusiasm of the performance kept me fully engaged for the duration of the set. It is obvious that the band enjoy getting the crowd involved as much as possible, but this does also rather draw attention to the fact that there are not very many people here. A combination of factors, not least Chelsea Grin playing in the venue literally upstairs, as well as the early hour mean the attendance is thin, even if it does pick up somewhat later on. We also get another glimpse into their professionalism when guitarist Frederik has technical difficulties with two guitars in sixty seconds, and quickly disappears offstage. To keep the show rolling, he re-emerges with a crew member in tow, to finish off what appears to be a strap repair job with gaffa tape as he plays. Overall, it was a great mix of a playful attitude and some serious skills – I expect they’d go down an absolute storm with the Bloodstock crowd.
Aphyxion, too, have themselves a long intro tape and a big backdrop. However, when the song actually kicks in, it takes a little while for the guitars to become audible in the mix. The backline set up for the tour, incidentally, appeared to be quite ingenious – there was not a cab/head combo to be seen onstage all night, just a couple of monolithic looking rack cases holding Kempers and the like. With the same drum shells used by all four bands as well, it looked like the most painless set of changeovers for a touring package I’d ever seen. Aphyxion themselves add a couple more smoke machines to the mix, but play a fairly standard brand of metalcore that leaves me pretty cold. By far the youngest band on the bill, they also clearly need a bit more time to get properly comfortable on stage. Perhaps that’s exactly what this tour will give them.
Siamese arrive on stage in a slightly different formation to their Tech Fest appearance at the start of the summer. A couple of members had not been able to join the run, so their violinist filled in for the absent guitar, even playing a couple of his violin solos on his temporary instrument, and Defacto’s bass player pulled a double-duty to make up the numbers. It is obvious that these guys and their perky, poppy, lightly djenty take on alt-metal are the main draw tonight, and the crowd clusters tight to the stage. As I said after Tech Fest, vocalist Mirza is a born frontman, expertly working the crowd and fostering a real party atmosphere. New single “Animals” and crowd favourite “Soul & Chemicals” go down an absolute storm. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait too long to see them again.
It is left to Helhorse to round off the night with a truckload of dirty Seventies hard rock riffs, with all but the vocalist stripped to the waist from the off. Again, there is an obvious quality to their songs and unmistakable passion in their performance, but unfortunately for them, a significant proportion of the crowd had taken Siamese as their headliner for the night, and left the building. And I must admit that after I had watched the three songs I will give any band of my time, I joined them. Much like Defecto, I can absolutely see the merit in what they are doing, and how they are doing it, but it’s just not something I would actively choose to listen to.
Just to sum up, I think this tour was a great idea. It is true that I didn’t connect with any of the three bands that I was unfamilar with at the start of the night, but that is the chance you take. For me, Siamese’s set was still worth the price of admission on its own. Also, I can definitely think of a few people that I will mention the other bands to, being more in line with their personal tastes, so I guess that’s a small victory, at least. There’s definitely a conversation to be had at some point about the relative merits of touring packages as wildly diverse a this, but I think that’s for another time.
Employed to Serve video shoot – Tufnel Park Dome
This is a little bit different. Employed To Serve set up a video shoot, and put out an open call for anyone and everyone who wanted to be involved to come down. With nothing much better to do with my Sunday afternoon than lounge around playing video games, I wandered over to see what was happening. If nothing else, I reasoned, I’d get to hear a new Employed To Serve tune. And I did. I heard it a lot. I wasn’t keeping a count, and I did step out for a smoke break or two, but I must have heard the track at least a dozen times over the three hour session. And I wasn’t sick of it, so that’s probably a good sign. The track, incidentally, is called “Force Fed”, it is a typically vigorous uptempo stomper and I gather it is due to be released early next year. There was a really fun, relaxed and friendly atmosphere, and a lot of laughter in the breaks between takes. I won’t say too much about the particulars of the video for now, but if you’ve been to an Employed To Serve show, you probably have a rough idea of what to expect. I think it’s going to look (and sound) great.
October will be, unsurprisingly, dominated by Euroblast. Other than that, for various reasons it is looking like another fairly light month for me, but that all changes as October bleeds into November. Lordy. Between October 30th and November 11th, I’m going to be seeing Melvins, Caligula’s Horse, Circles, The Ocean, Rosetta, Will Haven, Palm Reader, Osiah, Jojo Mayer, Monuments, Vola, The Hirsch Effekt and Sumer (quelle surprise). Plus assorted supports. It’s going to be a lot of fun. But I suspect it’s also going to hurt quite a lot.