JON HOPKINS | 17.11.2018 | Newcastle Boiler Shop | REVIEW and PHOTOS

JON HOPKINS | 17.11.2018 | Newcastle Boiler Shop | REVIEW and PHOTOS

Jon Hopkins – 17th November 2018 – Newcastle Boiler Shop

Review Neil Ainger. Photography Gav Wyatt 

Jon Hopkins - 17th November 2018 - Newcastle Boiler Shop
Jon Hopkins – 17th November 2018 – Newcastle Boiler Shop

Enclosed in complete darkness, curtains drawn, alone and eyes closed I have pushed play on an album time and time again since its release and immediately felt at ease. From the very first beats of Singularity, time has seemingly slowed to the crawl of a much more manageable pace. I have been able to feel tension leaving my body and fears dissipate. It is a powerful sensation and something I experience less frequently as I age. That unique, emotional connection that I can make only to music. Music can make us happy, it can make us sad, it can inspire and motivate. It can heal and repair. It is the latter that has tied me to this record this year, as if I were desperately clinging to it like a life raft until the storm can be weathered. It is not just a record I have become a fan of but one I have depended on during the most stressful and traumatic year of my life.

The impressive Boiler Shop venue in Newcastle has rapidly expanded in its popularity and its value to the city over the last two or three years and on this night it was filled with an infectious and exciting buzz of anticipation which could be felt throughout Nathan Fake’s bold hour-long support set. With 15 years of experience, Nathan Fake is no ‘standard’ support offering, if there ever really is such a thing, but rather an integral part of the evening. After 60 minutes of his intense, techno-infused grind the venue is at capacity and I’d swear that the energy in the air is potent enough that I could hear it audibly crackling. I was fortunate enough to be introduced to him afterwards for long enough to shake his hand and thank him for his set. Although the subsequent exchange was very brief he also seems to be very pleasant and this certainly adds to his charm.

From his humble beginnings playing keys for Imogen Heap in 1998, collaborating with Brian Eno and touring the world with Coldplay, Jon Hopkins journey to this, the promotional tour for his fifth solo record, has been one of twists and turns. When it seemed as though his career as a solo artist may never truly get off the ground, Hopkins could have easily found himself earning a solid living as a producer. This could have even proven to be a fruitful path to take. I feel, however, blessed on this night that this never happened and over the last ten years his career has simply gone from strength to strength. 2013s Immunity was a crowning glory. A reward for a steady ascent to the summit of his craft. It was met with widespread acclaim and following it up a whole five years later was always going to be challenging.

Jon Hopkins - 17th November 2018 - Newcastle Boiler Shop
Jon Hopkins – 17th November 2018 – Newcastle Boiler Shop

Those first beats of Singularity therefore are an immediate relief as well as the knife that cleanly cuts the electric tension of a capacity crowd, as the opening 20 minutes or so of the set are dedicated to his latest triumph. The title track serves as a slow and peaceful build into the albums lead single, Emerald Rush, which is met with a raucous cheer. Neon Pattern Drum is similarly received and is truly blissful in its delivery. Hopkins drives tirelessly through a consuming, trademark set of vigorous yet joyous bangers that are guaranteed to have a sweaty capacity venue both dancing and occasionally to be afforded a moment to breathe and bathe in the euphoria of the moment.

Hopkins makes very grounding and human music, taking sharp turns from energetic techno and percussive IDM to joyful, gentle piano music. It is the fragility and the vulnerability of his minimal piano music I would argue his set is lacking but there remains moments of a very real and intimate beauty in the remainder of his set, which featured some of his more prominent tracks in the back catalogue, such as Open Eye Signal, Collider and Luminous Beings.

During Emerald Rush, I find myself closing my eyes. Enclosed in complete darkness once more I could swear I am taken back to that all too familiar state. A feeling of standing alone, despite the heat of bodies as people dance around me. Completely at ease, despite the excitable atmosphere in the air. A feeling of time slowing down, solidifying a moment in time that frankly I wish would never end. It is a state in which life’s colossal and critical tests and trials are made to feel so small and insignificant that one is filled with a motivating reassurance that they can easily be overcome should you simply be able to survive just one more day.

Jon Hopkins live is a triumphant and jubilant experience. It is a warm and comforting exploration and celebration of the complex range of human emotion. It is the party we’ve been waiting all week for. It is the escape from all that is weighing on our minds. It is, frankly, whatever you need it to be. Whatever that may be, it is evidence that Hopkins is still very much on top of his game and, for me personally, I left thankful for what I had been given, for that which I encounter less and less, for that indescribable and overpowering emotional connection to music that little else can quite live up to.

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Grave Lines | Fed Into the Nihilist Engine | REVIEW

Grave Lines | Fed Into the Nihilist Engine | REVIEW

Grave Lines – Fed Into the Nihilist Engine – Album review

Review by Neil Ainger

While handing over my money for a cassette copy of the bands debut full length Welcome to Nothing earlier this year, I told bass player Matt at their merch table that as long as the first track they played that night (in January at The Cluny, Newcastle with Black Moth) was on the new album that I’d be buying that too. I was enamoured with the near 15-minute album opener Failed Skin from the very first gentle notes that were played that night and it is just as astounding on the record. It is an absolute whirlwind of gentle, almost gothic rock that builds into blistering. stinging sludge. Its beauty really lies in the vocals of Jake Harding, which are as powerful as they are haunting.

It is very difficult to pin this album down with labels, whether it be doom metal or sludge but of course this is no bad thing. Fed Into the Nihilist Engine stands on its own merits, of which there are countless. The album is driven by skilled and expansive guitar work such as the rugged riffs evident on Silent Salt, the psychedelic and chaotic noise on The Greae or the gentler acoustics of Shame Retreat. Julia Owens’ drumming is a key, precise constant throughout and serves as the backbone of the record and the vocals, simply put, may just turn out to be the most elaborate, alluring and potent vocals heard on any metal record this year. At times warm and lenient and at times guttural and jarring, Harding excels where so many others fail. He is distinguished, he is original and he squeezes every last drop of desired emotion from every wretched note and from every tormented lyric.

The record is sludge metal on a grander, Amenra-style scale. It is intelligent doom metal that is measured and never repetitive. It is dark neo-folk that probes at the most dismal of human emotions. It is bleak and misanthropic, it is cloaked in misery and yet it allows for brief but frequent moments of gleaming light. There can be beauty in darkness too, if you choose to look for it.

 

MANIC STREET PREACHERS | 23.04.2018 | Newcastle Metro Arena | REVIEW and PHOTOS

Manic Street Preachers | 23rd April 2018 | Newcastle Metro Arena | Review and photos

Review by Neil Ainger Photos by Gordon Armstrong (G’s Gig Shots)

Cursed with an atrocious memory, I can’t remember exactly when I first heard the Manic Street Preachers. I can narrow it down either to 1996 or 1998. A friend at school handed me a cassette on which he had recorded the band’s 1998 album This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours and I played it over and over again. However, I also have some pretty strong memories of the Design for Life and Everything Must Go singles, back when people still watched music channels. I think therefore that the band’s 1996 album Everything Must Go most likely served as my introduction to the Welsh three-piece, as it did for many people. Everything Must Go was a triumph over adversity, a defiant statement not to surrender and, as it happens, the bands first taste of real commercial success. They had finally topped the mountain.

Of course the fact of the matter is that while that seems to be how the story goes, and as much as it is mostly accurate, the band were not until that point unsuccessful. With a UK #13 album as well as a #8 and a #6 under their belt they were already quite a force, making headlines and pushing buttons. Everything Must Go however, along with This Is My Truth, went 3x Platinum and forced The Manics to the forefront of the British music industry.  These albums arguably remain the main reason the band continue to apply their trade in arenas and in venues of the size they do.

Over their 32 years as a band their style has often changed and evolved. From their inception as a riff-heavy, punchy “punk” band (although guitarist and lyricist Richey Edwards may be correct in his estimation that this particular label was a result of merely lazy journalism) the bands output has ventured in to soft metal, hard rock, post-punk, pop and folk and of course there’s the inescapable label of Britpop, as a guitar-driven British band reaching prominence in the mid-1990s. The Manics are, overall, a rock band. Their journey was beautifully portrayed the last time I saw them live, having made my way to the O2 in London in 2011 to attend the ‘Night of National Treasures’, a one-off show in support of their singles collection in which the band played their collection of 38 singles in a set nearing 3 hours in length. 7 years later and with a new album to promote I had expected to hear plenty of their new material but had hoped for the rest of their set to be anywhere near as daring or as ranging. I’m happy to say that I was not disappointed as on this night, the opening night of their Resistance is Futile tour at the Metro Radio Arena in Newcastle, the band not only showed that they could still assemble an impressive set but also included one or two unexpected little surprises.

Opening the show with the lead single from the latest record International Blue, the set did also predictably include a number of other tracks from the record such as Distant Colours, Liverpool Revisited, Hold Me Like a Heaven, People Give In and Dylan & Caitlin (featuring touring guitarist Wayne Murray on co-lead vocal). The new material glitters with melody just as much live as it does on record.  Hold Me Like a Heaven in particular proves to be immediately popular with their fanbase, prompting a very loud sing-a-long and frankly sounds strong enough to become a staple of an MSP set.

Often accompanied by vintage footage of the band, video and song lyrics, the band charged through a loaded set comprising of singles and album tracks old and new – as well as a couple of surprise b-sides. Sean Moore’s drumming sounds as thunderous as ever on the anthemic No Surface, All Feeling. If you close your eyes during the ferociously energetic Slash N Burn, melancholic Motorcycle Emptiness or pompously brilliant You Love Us you can almost be transported back to the Clash-inspired and politically-charged days of 1992s debut full-length release Generation Terrorists, although you would miss the beautiful video package of eyeliner, leopard print and spray paint which still prompts a reaction from sections of the crowd when Richey’s image makes an appearance. Some of the bands bigger singles, such as Tsunami, You Stole the Sun From My Heart and If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next are still met with audience participation.  Never a band to indulge in the encore, while everyone else takes a breather James Dean Bradfield (vocals/lead guitar) mellows the tone with acoustic renditions of Faster and Kevin Carter. The real treats of the evening, I would argue, came in the form of two songs the band have not played in some time and one they have never played live before. 4 Ever Delayed was recorded for the band’s Greatest Hits but was then never included. It has not been played live in over 10 years. Also dusted off was Let Robeson Sing, written about blacklisted black American singer, actor, athlete and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson. The biggest surprise of the evening by far was the inclusion of the instrumental Horses Under Starlight, released as a b-side of Kevin Carter in 1996 and which had previously never made the set list before.

Once a band that loudly made waves with youthful ambition, unwavering self-belief and a tendency to challenge the status quo, many years have passed since those days of spray-painted-shirts, feather boas and balaclavas on Top of the Pops. The four-piece became a three piece and they matured. No longer driven by the desire to escape, they explored, they expanded, they took risks. They followed their hearts. And now, where the iconic figure of Richey Edwards once stood are three touring musicians bringing yet another dimension to their live experience.  While I’m sure there are still small pockets of fans who are uncomfortable with it, it is simply fact, in my humble opinion, that tracks such as No Surface, All Feeling have never sounded so vast and with an additional guitarist, tracks like You Love Us and Slash N Burn finally have that layered, meaty sound they so deserve.

After tiring that This is my Truth cassette and learning Everything Must Go inside out, I still remember my teenage self buying and playing Generation Terrorists for the very first time. “Where was this all my life?”, I wondered. How could it have taken me so long to familiarise myself with the history of this band? The Holy Bible, no pun intended, became my bible. I played it on a loop, I read the lyrics, I re-read the lyrics, I sought to understand everything about the album, about its influences, about its subject matter, about the tortured nature of its principal creator. I carved embarrassing Richey-inspired scribblings as well as his lyrics into notebooks and school books and I listened to The Manic Street Preachers for comfort. Lots of children and teenagers struggle mentally and emotionally and a record like The Holy Bible was a comfort because not all children and teenagers realise that the way they feel is the way lots of adults feel also. I truly believe that knowledge would help so many.

Today The Manics are a very different band, for better or worse, and it’s easy to criticise. They may not be young, they may no longer feel outcast and they may not necessarily be driven by all of the things they once were. What The Manics are however are professional. They still apply their craft with care and precision, their passion is still evident, and they have shown an ability to roll with the punches, to adapt and to survive. For any new fans, they showcase their new material with a beaming pride and for those who have followed them for a longer time, they are loyal and aim to please all, varying their set with a wonderful balance and understanding. This tour will excite a lot of fans, especially if news of their setlist reaches them before they attend.

32 years together as a band is an unattainable goal for so many. Time can ravage a band. The Manic Street Preachers have entered what could perhaps be the twilight years of their sparkling career but the boys from Blackwood have entered this chapter with unshakable grace and dignity. The Resistance is Futile tour is, just like many prior landmarks in their history, a defiant statement not to surrender.

Setlist

International Blue
You Stole the Sun from my Heart
No Surface, All Feeling
Distant Colours
Your Love Alone is Not Enough
4 Ever Delayed
Dylan and Caitlin
Motorcycle Emptiness
Slash ‘n Burn
Liverpool Revisited
Horses Under Starlight
Ocean Spray
If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next
Faster (acoustic)
Kevin Carter (acoustic)
You Love Us
Walk Me to the Bridge
Hold Me Like a Heaven
Tsunami
Let Robeson Sing
People Give In
Show Me the Wonder
Design for Life

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EARTHLESS – Black Heaven – ALBUM REVIEW

EARTHLESS – Black Heaven – ALBUM REVIEW

Earthless – Black Heaven

Review by Neil Ainger

For the past 17 years the power trio from San Diego, California have been at the forefront of the modern day heavy psych scene, crafting long and complex instrumental psychedelic jams. The warped and roaming wizardry of guitarist Isaiah Mitchell (Golden Void, Howlin’ Rain) and the unshackled and commanding drumming of the brilliant Mario Rubalcaba (OFF!, Hot Snakes, Rocket from the Crypt) helps to harness the raw power of the Jimi Hendrix Experience while calling back to the likes of Leaf Hound, Flower Travellin’ Band and Amon Düül II.

Throughout their first 3 full length records, the band have offered mostly a series of instrumental cosmic jams between 15 and 30 minutes in length and very, very rarely have the band stepped outside of this formula – until now.

Four of latest release Black Heaven’s six tracks have Mitchell taking the mic and the longest track is just shy of 9 minutes in length. This is a very different Earthless and, as someone who loved the band exactly the way they were and never once pondered the introduction of vocals, I’d have to say the changes are very welcome. It certainly isn’t a case of out with the old and in with the new. Earthless, at their core, remain a tripped-out space rock band and Mitchell still wields his guitar with a swirling, abstract ferocity, however Black Heaven more clearly embraces a number of “classic” and blues rock influences and a more conventional approach with defined and organised choruses and verses.

One of the lead singles and the album opener, Gifted by the Wind, is reminiscent of the great Eddie Hazel ripping some killer solos over a Thin Lizzy track and the riff-heavy Electric Flame is a concise and incisive blues number that quickly spins out in to a fuzzy, euphoric trip the band have become known for.

Mitchell taking the mic is actually nothing new and while his vocal duties within Earthless have been very occasional, outside of the band he has frequented the mic. On Black Heaven his vocals are, at all times, authoritative and authentic. Rubalcaba’s drumming is as masterful and as dynamic as ever and with the wandering basslines of Mike Eginton (especially on the combustible title track) to complete the trio, Earthless’ greatest quality is perhaps their understanding and skill and I’d go as far as to say they have never sounded so tight. When you consider the switch to a more conventional approach, the embracing of a wider range of their influences into their sound and the more accessible nature of the record, it should attract fans of ZZ Top and Led Zeppelin just as much as those of Acid Mothers Temple and Boris and therefore should, you would imagine, be their biggest success to date.

Black Heaven is out 16th March 2018 on Nuclear Blast Records

Earthless
Earthless
DESERT STORM – Sentinels – ALBUM REVIEW

DESERT STORM – Sentinels – ALBUM REVIEW

Desert Storm – Sentinels

Review by Neil Ainger

With the release of 2015s Omniscient, I felt as though Desert Storm grew, though their output to that point was impressive in its own right. 2010s Forked Tongues was the first Desert Storm album I heard, having picked it up at a gig in 2012 where the band were supporting Karma to Burn.

The follow up in 2013, Horizontal Life, is not without merit either. There was something just that little bit different about their third release however. Whether it’s the better record of the three is up for debate but for my money it was just that little bit more accomplished, more focused. It was a band learning from their experiences and becoming more adept at doing justice to their explosive live shows in the studio.

On stage Desert Storm are loud and they are heavy. On stage Desert Storm carry with them an arrogance and a swagger befitting the meaty riffs and the gravelly tones of Matt Ryan’s voice which combine to create the sleazy, boozy and bluesy stoner sound the band have adopted over the last decade.

With Omniscient, the band continued down this path but were happy to stop off a little more along the way to reveal more strings to their bow and with the new release Sentinels, the band have simply taken one more step forward in this regard. Sentinels, simply put, is the band’s most seasoned and polished effort to date, as well as their most penetrative work lyrically.  

The opening track Journey’s End and the accompanying video explore the issues of mental health, depression and anxiety followed by Too Far Gone, which tackles alcohol abuse and addiction. Heavy topics for sure, set to heavy music. Journey’s End sports perhaps some of the band’s biggest and meanest sounding riffs yet and Too Far Gone breaks down into a blackened groove amid Elliot Cole’s frantic beats. Together, they really send the message that Desert Storm are still here and are still heavy however they’re not entirely unchanged in the three years that have passed between studio albums.

Don’t get me wrong, if you’re a fan of Desert Storm you won’t be pulling out your hair or penning any angry letters. The trademark bouncy, bluesy riffs of The Drifter sound as though they would fit perfectly on the band’s debut album and the likes of Gearhead, The Extrovert and Convulsion all feel very familiar. They do all however sound that little bit more fresh and full of colour, thanks in part to Jamie Dodd who recorded and mixed the album. His previous work with Orange Goblin is the perfect experience to make this band sound as heavy and as brutal as possible. The growth in the band can be measured mostly by the track Kingdom of Horns. Beginning delicately with clean, ethereal vocals, the near 8 minutes that follow are an epic, melodic journey to every corner of the band’s musical make-up and back again, a journey the likes of which Desert Storm has never truly taken before.

For a band that all have jobs also, it’s kind of hard to imagine where they get the time to put out four records in 8 years and to tour as often as they do. Desert Storm work hard, seemingly in all aspects of their lives, and their work ethic is not without reward. Sentinels is the bands most accomplished, most skilled and, simply put, best record to date.

Sentinels is released 16th March 2018 on APF Records.

Desert Storm - Sentinels

CONJURER – Mire – ALBUM REVIEW

CONJURER – Mire – ALBUM REVIEW

Conjurer – Mire

Review by Neil Ainger

Conjurer are a band that have been making a name for themselves the tough way, through hard work and touring. Following the release of their first EP ‘I’ in 2016, the band hit the road at every opportunity and were met with praise and open arms seemingly everywhere they went. Frustratingly, I was never able to attend a local show whenever the band came through Newcastle, and at Damnation Festival in Leeds I was able to see the extent of the praise the band are receiving when I simply was not able to even get anywhere near the stage on which they were performing. Conjurer, many will tell you, are the real deal.

Conjurer - Mire
The 4 piece from Warwickshire have created such a stir over the last 18 months or so that they already feel like a trusty piece of the UK extreme metal furniture and it is actually rather odd to think that this is the band’s debut full-length release, because it sometimes feels as though they have been around for much longer than they have. At times a band can take a few records to find their feet, and other times a debut album can become so anticipated that it’s very difficult for it to be anything other than a disappointment. On this occasion, neither of these scenarios is true of Mire.

Brady Deeprose (guitars/vocals) has been quoted as saying, of their approach to making the record “Once you start thinking about songwriting in terms of genre, you’re automatically setting up barriers between parts” and this outlook is really laid bare. The band visit death, doom, sludge, black and beyond while some post-rock-style sections blend the frequent and abrupt mood swings of the record together seamlessly. At times the resulting sonic assault sparkles in an atmospheric glow, while always being destined to viscously return to depths of misanthropic bleakness and Converge-like violence.

Opening track Choke offers a slow burning introduction to what lies ahead with repetitive, chugging sludge riffs and restrained, minimal drum beats before taking the first of many sharp turns of pace and hinting subtly at the album’s probing and exploratory nature.

The longest track on the record, Thankless, clocking in at 8 and a half minutes, immediately launches into a fury of driving blastbeats yet swerves through melodic choruses backed by clean backing vocals and back again with an expertise you won’t find on many debut efforts.

All of the differing influences perhaps converge best during the brilliant Of Flesh Weaker Than Ash. For over 7 expansive minutes the band’s ability to intelligently craft charming melody, interrupted by sudden and impactful brutality, while blending tight and technical instrumentation, is expertly encased in arguably the band’s most profound statement to date.

Believe the acclaim and embrace the hype because Conjurer have created a debut album way beyond their years and the scary thing is that this band is only going to grow stronger with every show they play, and unless they show any signs of slowing down then the sky could really be the limit in the coming months and years.

Mire is released 9th March 2018 on Holy Roar Records

Conjure Bandcamp store

DESERT STORM talk about Sentinels LP and tour plans – INTERVIEW

DESERT STORM talk about Sentinels LP and tour plans – INTERVIEW

Neil Ainger talks to Desert Storm about Sentinels LP and tour plans

I first saw Desert Storm live in Trillians, Newcastle with Karma to Burn and Druganaut in 2012, and then again with a similar line-up at The Cluny in 2014. You’ve shared stages with countless other great names in metal now. Who’s been your favourite to play with so far?

Ryan – They were cool shows for sure, Karma To Burn are always fun. We’ve had cool shows with Orange Goblin, Honky, Corrosion of Conformity and Weedeater to name a few. 

Your fifth album Sentinels is released on March 16th, your first release on APF records. Having been playing the hell out of it this past week I’d have to say this is your best, heaviest and most assured record to date. What can you tell us about the writing and record process and everything that went into making it?

Chris B – We set out with the intentions of creating a more consistent sounding, consolidated body of work. Lyrically the album touches upon more personal issues and subjects closer to us. Lyrics like this help people relate a bit more I think, as perhaps some of the issues they are dealing with too.

Ryan – Musically the album was written the same way we have always worked. Starting around a guitar riff myself of Chris has conjured up and if the rest of the band are enjoying it, we end up jamming it and adding more ideas until we have some kind of structure. Whilst the music is being rehearsed Matt will sit writing lyrics and contemplating vocal melodies….these will all be laid down last. 

As for recording most of the record was recorded with Jamie Dodd (Orange Goblin) in Hackney London at Flesh and Bone Studios, except Journeys End! We wrote this after and really wanted it on the album, but recorded that in Oxfordshire at Wordworm studios (where Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath sometimes records) with Steve ‘Geezer’ Watkins.

Opening track Journey’s End and the accompanying video touch on addiction, mental health and suicide. Are these issues important to you as a band?

Chris B – I think mental health is an issue that we all resonate with as a band and something that needs to be recognised. 

Ryan – It was a way of creating awareness, which is very important. Many people suffer from issues such as depression, anxiety, paranoia etc, including some of us personally. It’s important people can relate and seek help if required.

It’s no surprise that the new record sounds as brilliant as it does considering it was recorded and mixed by Jamie Dodd. Given his work with Orange Goblin, he must really understand what it is you’re aiming for?

Chris B – It was a really fun process working with Jamie Dodd, as he challenges to push ourselves of be more creative with our production, without being too intrusive.

Ryan – Yeah Jamie was great. It’s always nice when you work with an engineer that is also willing to suggest ideas to help bring some tracks to life. 

The tour for the record has begun. You’re off around Europe and have more dates back in the UK in July and August. What can fans expect from the live shows?

Ryan – Yes, currently in Czech Republic whilst we do this interview! The tour has been great and the new material is going down very well! Selling a lot of the new record too! Everyone can expect very loud riffs and lots of the new tracks in the set, as well as old stuff!

Another big UK support tour announced very soon for June as well. Keep your eyes peeled!

BLACK MOTH, GRAVE LINES and FAMOUS DAVID – Feb 2018 – Newcastle Cluny – REVIEW

Black Moth, Grave Lines and Famous David – 12th February 2018 – Newcastle Cluny

Review by Neil Ainger

Little is known of opening band Famous David and for good reason, as tonight was their first ever gig. Warming up a crowd light in numbers on a cold Monday night is no easy task and Famous David seemed to embrace the opportunity. It’s hard to define their set in terms of a genre as the band dipped in and out of post-punk, garage and psychedelic rock at will. Being hard to define is not a slight or a negative for any band and identity will surely come with experience. The band brought their set to a close amid a boiling heavy psych haze that sent me back to the bar with a little less of a feeling of the Monday blues. The fact that I found at the bar a tap takeover from Magic Rock only helped alleviate it further.

“Isn’t that the guy from Sea Bastard?” my friend asked as London/Brighton based Grave Lines took to the stage. I assured him it wasn’t, confident I was right. Guitarist Oli doesn’t exactly blend into a crowd and their appearance at Byker Grave festival at The Globe may have been almost four years ago but given we took our place directly in front of him with nobody to obstruct our view I think I’d remember that. Well, my hideously troublesome memory has beaten me once more as a quick search the next day has well and truly proven me wrong. Despite being a fan of Sea Bastard’s miserable brand of doom for some time, Grave Lines were new to me and how I wish I had been aware of them before now.

Their support set consisted of three tracks (albeit long ones), two of which were from their forthcoming LP entitled Fed Into The Nihilist Engine and as the gentle, almost slowcore-like opening notes in the first tracks leisurely and lengthy opening few minutes build in to an epic, aggressive and hypnotic fury I was immediately enamoured with it. Jake’s vocals range from mournful and melancholic to vigorous and forceful and the mood can suddenly change at any given moment, never offering the listener an opportunity to become comfortable and disengaged, never wavering in its intensity. Between the frantic and at times obscure guitar work, the remarkable vocals, Matt’s irate bass playing which only helps to add a further weighty dimension to the misanthropic murk, and Julia’s precision drumming, often seemingly playing as if she were independent to the rest of the band whilst simultaneously holding every single piece of the band’s sound together like a strong glue, Grave Lines are truly transfixing and immobilising and I urge anyone with an interest in doom and sludge to listen to the album when it is released. There is just no way it isn’t going to be something very special.

Fair play to Black Moth for welcoming such a strong band on tour with them because they really were a tricky act to follow. Black Moth, luckily, are no slouches. Their nine-date UK tour taking place to promote the band’s latest release Anatomical Venus, offers fans their first taste of the new material. The new album, they claim, will be their heaviest offering to date and tracks like Moonbow, with it’s psychedelic and garage rock influences, are played loud and at pace. It’s been about five years since I last saw Black Moth live and in those five years the band have been hard at work, releasing 2 full-length albums and sharing stages with the likes of Orange Goblin, Karma to Burn, Monster Magnet, Pentagram, L7 and Sisters of Mercy! The result is that Black Moth appear to operate like a well-oiled machine. Prepared and refined the band ooze positivity and are prepared with between-track quips and laughter.

Vocalist Harriet Hyde’s voice is authoritative and inviting and she has the presence on stage to match, dedicating new track Sisters of the Stone to her guitarist Federica as well as strong female role models the world over. It’s difficult not to engage with the band’s affable nature and they sound terrific. The dual guitars pinch and bite and the vocals ease their way through the mix with little to no resistance. Tracks like Tumbleweave, and especially Looner, from 2014s Condemned to Hate, sound somewhat more vicious on the live stage, Blackbirds Fall from the band’s first record, 2012s The Killing Jar, is every bit the slick, well-rehearsed crowd pleaser it should be and the new material is sounding fresh and full of promise. Some of the more untamed instrumental sections suggest that the claim to be heavier than ever may just prove to be true. There may be no shortage of a certain kind of female-fronted stoner metal and if that’s your thing there are plenty of bands out there to choose from. If Black Moth are going to ensure that they set themselves apart, it will be in the range of influences they bring to the table and a desire to continue moving forward. At the point of writing this I am yet to hear their latest release, but if this glimpse into Anatomical Venus is anything to go by then that may just be exactly what they have done.

MASTODON | RED FANG | RUSSIAN CIRCLES – December 2017 – Northumbria Uni – REVIEW

MASTODON | RED FANG | RUSSIAN CIRCLES – December 2017 – Northumbria Uni – REVIEW

Mastodon | Red Fang | Russian Circles – 6th December 2017 – Northumbria Uni

Review by Neil Ainger

I hate to lean on an old cliche but I am reminded of the saying that ‘good things come in threes’. Not a saying worth putting any stock in, of course. For starters, there also exists the saying ‘bad luck comes in threes’ and for that matter, if we believe there to be any real meaning in sayings such as these, good things also ‘come to those who wait’ and ‘come in small packages’. On this particular evening, however, good things almost certainly came in threes when Mastodon rolled into town with two heavyweights in tow.

The significance of the occasion was not lost on the majority of those coming out to see one of heavy metals current big hitters and a very healthy number of people ensured they were on time to catch Russian Circles kick the night off early on.

I feel as though bands that play post-rock and post-rock metal are often handed support slots because they set the tone for the rest of the evening. A kind of slow-burning and easily digested introduction to proceedings.

To make such claims about Russian Circles, however, would be nothing short of an insult. Delicate, fragile and effortlessly intricate one moment, as they slowly build a precisely crafted atmosphere, and chaotic the next as they tear it all down to the ground with intense and explosive riffage. The instrumental trio from Chicago are worthy of so much more than their quick half an hour set on this evening.

Red Fang from Portland, Oregon are no strangers to opening for some heavy hitters. Serving as the support for Opeth and In Flames will teach you all you need about working some big tours I’m sure. It’s, therefore, no surprise that the stoner riffers are about as professional as you could ask for, rifling through track after track while never forgetting to engage the audience and have a little fun.

Red Fang are a welcome reminder to those amongst us attracted more closely to the gloom and the doom that metal can be fun, while not sacrificing any credibility. Charging through favourites such as ‘Hank is Dead’, ‘Blood Like Cream’, ‘Wires’ and ‘Crows in Swine’, the crowd were full to capacity and primed and ready for the closer ‘Prehistoric Dog’ which landed predictably well.

By the time Mastodon took the stage there was barely a space to fill, made only too apparent by the arduous task of battling one’s way to the bar or to the toilets. With their two most recent albums making the top 20 in the UK and the top 10 in the US, the shift towards more commercially friendly music in recent years has been notable.

In fact, Mastodon have shown a real skill for writing compact, hooky, dare I say pop songs. The setlist on this evening was understandably dominated by tracks from the latest record, ‘Emperor of Sand’, with ‘Sultans Curse’, ‘Show Yourself’, ‘Precious Stones’, ‘Steambreather,’ ‘Roots Remain,’ ‘Ancient Kingdom’ and ‘Andromeda’ all featuring. Opinion is likely divided, but I feel the new material blends effortlessly into the fabric of a live Mastodon experience. Some of it perhaps lack the punch of a ‘Colony of Birchmen’, which was met with nothing but a positive energy, the tech-metal trademark sound of the likes of ‘Megalodon’, which sent the pit a few paces in front of me in to overdrive, or the complexity of the 13 minute ‘The Last Baron’, the closing track to the bands progressive metal masterpiece ‘Crack the Skye’ and a somewhat odd but welcome choice to open the show.

Mastodon are a band that haven’t forgotten where they came from and while the albums ‘Remission’, ‘Leviathan’ and ‘Blood Mountain’ are certainly not represented in the way they once were, the tracks that do make the cut offer the perfect balance to both remind us of where they have come while celebrating where they are. By the time the band close the set with eternal favourite ‘Blood and Thunder’, the pit has had a decent workout for the evening.