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One-off prog show with a talented trio of bands

Chimp Spanner Shattered Skies Hieroglyph

Until the very morning of this one-off prog-metal show, the spectre of yet another tube strike was looming over London, but a last-minute suspension of the industrial action allowed all those in attendance to enjoy the show without the prospect of a much longer and/or more expensive journey home to sour the mood. Good times.

The first band to take to the basement stage of this cosy little Kings Cross venue are Leeds sextet Hieroglyph. In this notoriously male-dominated genre, Hieroglyph set themselves apart with the presence of Helen Tytherleigh on bass and Valentina sharing vocal duties with Mark Howes.

Hieroglyph kick out a big, full sound that is comparable to Lacuna Coil with a British progressive metal twist; Mark’s barks complimenting and punctuating Valentina’s powerful, often soaring melodic vocal lines. In what will prove to be something of a theme this evening, the band place fairly substantial reliance on a backing track, which doesn’t always go 100% to plan. Surprisingly, Hieroglyph’s backing clearly includes some lead guitar lines, particularly during the introductions. This is especially surprising as both guitarists are clearly capable of handling them.

Helen throws in some imaginative basslines – but with all six musicians and the backing track, at times it does feel like there is just a bit too much going on, which swamps a couple of the songs, drowning out some hooks and effectively flatlining the dynamics. Some of the songs also feel just a bit too long, and would benefit from being tightened up into shorter, punchier tracks.

It is still early days for Hieroglyph, but the signs are promising. All the components of their sound are clearly in place, so it is now just a matter of the band continuing to hone their songwriting and stagecraft. The band are already turning heads, and it probably won’t be that long before they are putting out stuff that positively demands attention.

Things have been relatively quiet in the Shattered Skies camp so far this year, but it seems like that is about to change. With Chimp Spanner‘s second guitarist Jim Hughes now fully installed in the line-up and sporting a particularly tasty looking six string bass, the band prove within moments of starting “15 Minutes” that they aren’t messing about.

I’ve not seen the band since their appearance as a three-piece at Tech Fest last year, and the augmented line-up makes their notably groove-led tech-prog considerably bigger and beefier. Jim’s bass playing is something of a revelation. Not just playing guitar lines on a bass, he slaps, pops and taps his way confidently through the set. His lines compliment Ian’s equally proficient guitarwork and the pair lock in tightly with drummer Ross McMahon to provide a solid foundation for Sean Murphy’s hooky vocals.

Drawing pretty much equally from their 2011 release Reanimation and their forthcoming album, due at an indeterminate point sometime this year, the set is well paced, with quieter numbers sitting alongside the more burly ones. Overall, it is slick and self-assured…to start with.

I had just properly noticed that the band had taken to the stage without any cabs or pedals, running everything through a magic box tucked behind a PA speaker when, in a sudden surge of feedback, that vital magic box coughed, shat itself and died. This knocks Ian’s guitar out immediately, and after a few bars the remainder of the band realise they can’t carry on. There is a faintly awkward pause while various members of band and crew figure out how to get back up and running again, with Ian and Sean filling time with some banter and a couple of frankly terrible jokes.

The problem is ultimately resolved by the voodoo of turning the damn thing off and on again, and the band get back to the business in hand relatively quickly. But the episode does show that the increased reliance on electronics does turn a band’s ability to perform into a binary position – either it all works perfectly, or it doesn’t work at all. The more complex the set-up, the greater the chances of something calling a total halt to proceedings. Definitely some food for thought there.

This technical hitch, however, does not detract from the fact that things are obviously falling into place for Shattered Skies. They have the musical chops, presence and – above all – the songs to step up to the next level. Three years between EP and album is a long time, but it is looking like it will be worth the wait.

Chimp Spanner, too, have a technical hitch or two to deal with, but they simply delay the start of this set. Chimp Spanner have never been a hard-touring band, and this show sits alone on their schedule, in between HRH in March and the upcoming Tech Fest in July.

The band are down a member, with bass player Adam busy with Monuments, preparating for live shows and the release of their much-anticipated second album. Drummer Boris Le Gal had been out on tour with his other band Neonfly until literally the day before the show, so the guys had no time for any pre-show warm up practice. Considering that Jim is also pulling a double-duty tonight, taking his Shattered Skies bass offstage and returning immediately with his guitar, the band could have been forgiven for not being completely up to scratch.

Not that it matters, of course. Despite main man Paul’s slightly panicked facial expressions as he tackled some of the trickier moments in his songs, its clear the three of them know their set inside out, and perform it with barely a missed fret.

Kicking off with “Bad Code“, Chimp Spanner run through some crowd pleasing favourites that are warmly received. As with the Tech Fest set last year, the centrepiece is the three-part “Mobius” from the All Roads Lead Here EP. Personally, I think this particular piece is pretty much the pinnacle of what can be acheived by the burgeoning bedroom-guitarist movement, and the pay-offs from the dynamic ebbs and flows of its fifteen minute run-time are deeply satisfying, setting the whole crowd nodding.

However enjoyable these tracks are on record, they are given some pleasing additonal heft when played live. This is due in no small part to the contribution of live drums. Even though Boris has had no time to reacquaint himself with this set, it is clear he is on top form, attacking his kit with his trademark flamboyance and totally nailing some seriously impressive fills. It really is a joy to watch

New track “Aurora also gets an airing, and is greeted with the same enthusiasm by the crowd as the old favourites, which bodes well for the future.

When we last spoke to Paul he was reluctant to consider a live recording. I still think this is a bit of a pity, as these songs take on such a different personality when performed, and I think its worth trying to capture that. But, with Chimp Spanner sets booked in for both Tech Fest and Euroblast and tickets resting on my virtual mantlepiece for both festivals, I will be making the most of the opportunities to enjoy Paul’s music in this context. You probably should too.