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Another free 5-band show at Camden’s Unicorn gets Simon’s eyes cast over it

The Argent Dawn, Black Tongue, A Trust Unclean, Fallen Apollo, Ovtacius show poster

However much I try to get to shows in good time to catch the opening band, events transpire against me this evening, so I walk into The Unicorn in time to hear the last song of Octavius‘ set.

I saw the band open up the Exist Immortal show at the Barfly not too long ago, and I saw that shortly afterwards, they lost one of their three guitarists. I am slightly surprised to see that rather than staying as a five-piece, they have chosen to replace him.

The sound quality in The Unicorn is, as a general rule, not as clear as at The Barfly, and what little I hear does still sound a little muddy and confused.

However, what is particularly striking is the size of the crowd watching them play. For the first band on a weeknight show, there are a sizeable number of punters in front of the stage. The fact they have hung around to watch the show instead of retreating outside to catch the last if the relatively pleasant spring weather does suggest they’re doing something right.

Fallen Apollo‘s vocalist takes the time mid-set to apologise for the thinness of their sound. The band, usually a quintet, are temporarily down a member having lost a guitarist. In all honesty, had he not mentioned it, I probably wouldn’t have noticed, as even in their reduced form this young band throw out a pretty dense sound.

Any holes are well covered by some imaginatively deployed dischordance from the remaining guitarist, and some seriously impressive double-kick action from the drummer. On the whole, the performance is tight and together, with the band showing much promise. As it stands, though, many of the riffs lack that spark of inspiration, so however good the band’s sound may be, the individual songs are not yet particularly memorable.

But time is definitely on Fallen Apollo’s side. If they can recruit a second guitarist of the same calibre as the existing members, and continue to write new material, things could well come together for them in the not too distant future.

Up next are Oxford’s A Trust Unclean. They properly turned my head as part of the same Exist Immortal show as Octavius, and so I had a good idea of what to expect, and they certainly didn’t disappoint. I find their knack for injecting serious grooves into weighty deathcore particularly impressive. Their performance is tight and it is perfectly apparent that they are all having a splendid time onstage. In a generally po-faced genre, it is refreshing to see a band so obviously enjoying themselves.

Although there is a sizeable crowd watching the band, the reaction at first seems oddly muted. Perhaps the band’s sound is a bit too ‘metal’ and takes those itching to throw down a little while to acclimatise – but suddenly, things fall into place and the guys at the front kick off in an impressive fashion. I say impressive, but a sudden and unexpected backward surge pins me and my gig buddy to the sound-desk. He comes off worse than me, taking a hefty blow to the chest. We then retreat outside so he can recover, and the wording of my recent op-ed on crowd behavior at these types of shows starts to form.

I am disappointed to miss the last couple of songs of A Trust Unclean’s set, but their star is firmly rising and I fully expect to see them again before too long.

A Trust Unclean

So we take up what we hope to be a safer vantage point to witness Black Tongue. The buzz around this burly quintet has been unavoidable, and it is clear from the number of bodies crammed into the tiny corner of The Unicorn that houses the stage that they are the principal reason tonight’s show is so well attended.

This is my first exposure to their hyper-slow, hyper-low doom-laden hardcore, but it is obvious by the crowd participation on the gang vocals that there are many experienced fans in the room.

There’s a hint of reductio ad absurdum to Black Tongue’s sound, as though they are taking the concept of the beatdown right up to, and sometimes beyond, its logical extreme. This makes for prime throwdown fodder, so wherever one may stand ideologically on pit etiquette, it makes sense to stay well out of the way unless you are prepared to accept the consequences – but many people are perfectly prepared, with a tight knot of hardened supporters clustered in front of vocalist Alex Teyen, and a continual barrage of various limbs and bodies behind it.

Watching Black Tongue and their supporters in full flight, I find myself bewildered and compelled in equal measure, to the point I honestly don’t know if I am watching out of enjoyment or morbid fascination. It’s worth pointing out that I’ve not felt this mix of emotions so powerfully while watching a band since catching a then-unsigned SikTh in the early noughties, so perhaps Black Tongue are really on to something.

But however potent a noise this tantrum-in-zero-gravity may be, it does start to wear just a little thin by the end of the set. Like a really hot bath, their sound is blistering to start with, but you do start to acclimatise after a while.

The crowd becomes noticeably smaller as the set progresses too, however it’s bolstered towards the end, as bass player Lloyd Newton ditches his instrument altogether and gets stuck in with the pit. This does speak to the dilemma bassists face as guitars get tuned ever lower, in that they encroach on the bass frequencies and makes them – at times – somewhat ornamental. Clearly, some kind of eureka moment in either equipment or technique is required.

But, provided Black Tongue don’t paint themselves into a violently gloomy corner, I fully expect we will be hearing great things from them soon, particularly with a new EP just around the corner.

Black Tongue

It is left to The Argent Dawn to close the show, and it quickly becomes apparent that they probably should have ceded the top spot to Black Tongue – such is the luxury of hindsight. The recently reformed quintet take the stage to a crowd virtually half the size of the preceding band, with two guys determined to make the empty space in front of the stage as large as possible. This is their first London show in four years though, so it is probably going to take a little while for them to build up momentum again.

Definitely more ‘death’ than ‘core’, their sound features all the standard fast and slow components one would expect. It’s a largely competent performance, although it does feel at times that drummer Adam is having just a little difficulty keeping up. However, there is little in their set to distinguish them from the pack, nor maintain the interest of a more casual fan of the genre like myself, so the call of the bus stop becomes too loud to ignore about two thirds of the way through their set, and I make for the door.

The free show model The Unicorn operates on has shown, particularly tonight, that it can be effective at getting people through the door, but it has also shown the flip-side: that there is little incentive for people to stay once they have seen the bands they came out to see.

(Images courtesy of Katie Croft Photography)