Amenra and friends show that Heaven is a place on earth. Or, more precisely, underground
Heaven is downstairs. I did not see that coming. Of course, rather than the celestial palace of eternal reward, I’m referring to the venue, nestled snugly in the bowels of Charing Cross station that is usually home to widely-renowned gay club nights. However, for one night only, on a surprisingly warm November evening, it is playing host to a fearsomely high quality bill of bands from across the post-metal spectrum. It’s probably reasonable to assume that the crossover between tonight’s crowd and the usual clientele is minimal, so we’ve been able to entertain ourselves in the lead up to tonight with all the jokes the regulars are sure to have long since tired of; “Are you going to heaven this weekend?”, “I’ll see you in heaven.” Oh, how we laughed.
But anyway. This probably isn’t the first time that the space has been used for a show like this, but it’s a first for me, and it doesn’t take me long on the inside to find myself wondering aloud why it is not a more regular fixture on the gig circuit. Sensibly laid out, with a very high stage and great light and sound systems, it’s a far more pleasant gig environment than, say, the comparably sized Electric Ballroom. We will do well here.
Opening band Torpor are about halfway through their set as I enter the venue and attempt to get my bearings. With the departure of original vocalist Nats relatively recently, Torpor are now a trio, with guitarist Jon handling the majority of the bellowed vocals. I’m also in the room in time to see drummer Simon step out from behind the kit for a spot of screaming over a dirgey riff. Perhaps as a nod to what would occur on this stage later, he keeps his back to the audience.
The band’s minimalist sound, filled out by a fearsomely large and equally filthy bass tone, is perhaps a little too straightforwardly doomy for my tastes, lacking the dynamics that would usually draw me in. Nevertheless, they are clearly doing the trick for a good chunk of the respectably sized early crowd, so the reception for their big, slow, lumbering noise is warm.
On tonight’s bill, instrumental sextet Talons are something of a wildcard. On a lineup looking quite a lot like an excerpt from a Temples festival poster, Talons are more of an ArcTanGent band; indeed, it was at the first ArcTanGent that I had previously experienced Talons’ haunting post-rock.
Talons’ USP is the inclusion in their ranks of a pair of violinists, adding an extra layer to their instrumental tracks and helping them overcome the creeping sense of deja vu that afflicts many bands of this stripe. By far the least heavy band of the night, Talons still draw plenty of punters into their slightly hypnotic world. It may not be overtly heavy, but their music certainly carries a degree of intensity, and a kind of nervous urgency.
A particularly nice touch is the use of effects on one of the pair of guitars that’s not dissimilar to the sound of the violins, giving one track an almost orchestral feel. Sitting somewhere between Godspeed You Black Emperor and And So I Watch You From Afar, they definitely win some new friends with their tight and well-paced set.
It’s been over a year since we were last able to witness a set from Monolith favourites Bossk, so anticipation is high as they take to the stage. ‘High’ probably being the operative word there, as Bossk’s spacious and sometimes doomy post-metal probably has a stronger claim to the ‘stoner’ moniker than the usual collections of refried seventies rock riffs to which the label is usually awarded.
This is perhaps underlined by the excellent and unusual merchandise they have on offer, including a grinder and a ‘rolling stand’. But, as I have no idea what these items are for, I buy a set of branded drinks coasters instead. Honest, Mum.
As the band take to the stage, we see that tonight’s line-up includes two temporary stand-ins. Presumably, prior commitments have kept a guitarist and their bassist away this evening. Keeping to their policy of minimal interaction with the crowd, their appearance goes unannounced and unexplained. However, both are more than capable of filling their respective sets of vacant shoes, to the point where I’m sure that anyone witnessing their first Bossk set this evening would not have noticed. Indeed, as they play their set almost exclusively lit from behind and thus in silhouette, even old fans towards the back of the venue may have remained unaware.
Bossk have spent much of this year assembling an album, due to be released early in 2016, and this is reflected in an updated set. A couple of new tracks are given an airing, and a re-jigged running order sees vocalist Sam venture out to join the others during the second track, somewhat earlier than has been standard since their return to active service in 2012. These changes to the set also mean that, for the first time I can remember, there’s no space for personal favourite “Define” this evening. This minor disappointment is more than made up for by the opportunity to have a first taste of the new material, which properly whets my appetite for the incoming album. Heavy and dreamy in equal measure, I seem to have my eyes shut for most of the set. Blissful.
Amenra‘s set begins simply. Vocalist Colin kneels with his back to the audience in the centre of the stage, giving a pair of metal bars a slow, rhythmic double-tap as the remainder of the band gradually file on and take their places. It’s a long, slow build of an introduction, and one that quickly draws the almost complete, practically silent, reverent attention of the crowd. Church of Ra indeed.
Amenra quickly prove their live performance to be a masterful display of minimalist discipline. Almost the only onstage lighting comes from the abstract, monochrome film projected onto the backdrop. There’s no banter between songs. The band all but wring their bleak riffs from the necks of their guitars. And then there’s the quite singular stage presence of vocalist Colin himself.
Colin spends virtually the entire show with his back to the audience. Completely lost in the music he whirls and lunges, as though riding the great pulsing waves of the music. Around the halfway point, he removes his shirt, revealing an enormous and fittingly stark back tattoo. It’s a testament to the minimalist nature of the show that it manages to turn the couple of moments where he simply turns around to face the enthralled audience tremendously powerful. Similarly, the addition of four simple spotlights, rising and falling across the stage from the back wall, three quarters of the way through the set, bring far more to proceedings than one might normally expect.
Towards the end, someone from the back of the room launches a huge balloon into the crowd. It is bounced around maybe half a dozen times, before it’s bursting draws a spontaneous round of applause. This really isn’t the time or place for inflatables. Nor, it would seem, is it the place for encores. The final song ends abruptly, and the band quickly and silently remove themselves from the stage. The rising houselights confirm they will not be returning, and there is some audible disappointment. The end of the set feels appropriate, however, and returning for a cheesy encore probably would have slightly spoiled the moment, so it’s probably for the best.
More than most bands, Amenra clearly invest a great deal of time, thought and effort in creating the best possible context for their bleak and foreboding post-metal, and that effort pays considerable dividends, making Amenra performances more an event than just a show, and one that fans of all things post should consider a priority to witness.