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Hastily put together show with Cyclamen and Sworn Amongst

Cyclamen Sworn Amongst Agent Unicorn Camden poster

For bands of a certain level, touring rarely goes completely smoothly, but for Japanese tech-metallers Cyclamen, it is no understatement to say that their UK trek has been plagued with issues almost right from start.

Originally billed as main support to French deathcore merchants Nightshade, the headliners dropped off the tour just two nights into this sixteen date run due to a lightly broken drummer – but with hours of preparation and a not inconsiderable amount spent on plane tickets and equipment, Cyclamen were not about to throw in the towel themselves, resolving to soldier on with touring buddies Sworn Amongst.

If that wasn’t enough, losing the headliners at the beginning of the tour wasn’t the end of Cyclamen’s troubles. The response of the Camden Barfly to the news of Nightshade’s early departure was to cancel the show entirely. I’m sure they had their reasons. All was not completely lost, though, with the splendid fellows of Anivian and Dry Ice Promotions stepping in, a show was hastily convened at The Unicorn instead, so hooray for them.

Setting a gig up at such short notice is bound to present a few logistical issues, so openers Kill The King take the stage somewhat later than first anticipated. Throughout the set, the band are forced to fight running battles with feedback, which doesn’t exactly help their cause.

They are not helped either by vocalist Samuel’s apparent unwillingness to connect with the small early crowd. Either standing with his back to the audience or lurking at the back of the stage, perhaps this seeming aloofness is an attempt to find refuge from the feedback – but even so his constant growl also feels a little at odds with some of the more melodic musical passages.

The band’s real saving grace is drummer Geoff, who clearly knows his way around his kit, which helps lift the overall quality substantially. There are some interesting riffs here and there, but they are the exception rather than the rule.

Hull-based sextet Liberatae Mae have similar difficulties getting their point across. Some of this is entirely out of their hands, as it is difficult to understand vocalist Luke even in between songs, and his accent is not that impenetrable.

He is also forced out onto the floor, due to the band featuring three guitarists. This is the second time in recent weeks I’ve encountered a triple guitar line-up, and the second time it has served little discernible purpose. In fairness, there are a couple of quieter, textural moments, but more often than not the net result is to swamp the sound and bury any subtlety deep in the problematic mix.

The bass player also wheels out a substantial rig, which is a perplexing decision given that space is at a premium and every other band seems content to use the same bass cab.

Again, there are some tasty moments, but it is hard to separate genuine inspiration from sheer brute force – however there does seem to be some potential in their slightly sludge-tinted metalcore.

Whilst the first two bands seemed to be having terrible troubles with the sound quality, these issues almost completely evaporate as Agent take the stage, with all elements of their sound clear and distinguishable. This is a surprise, but a very welcome one.

Having first encountered them supporting White Moth Black Butterfly at the tail end of last year, I was truly disappointed to find their second album Kingdom of Fear was effectively a four-star EP hiding in a three-star album. However, tonight’s set was comprised entirely of the stand-out moments from the release, and was therefore hugely enjoyable.

Functioning as a tight, sleek and professional unit as a whole, watching Agent play it becomes clear that their real strengths lie in the fact they are effectively two pairs of musicians. Bassist Matt Flower and drummer Alex Alvarado provide a rock-solid, Tool-inspired foundation for the interweaving guitars of James Donaldson and Gerald Gill. James’s vocals, too, show that he has an ear for a hooky chorus. “Lunatic” sets off at an even more frantic pace than it does on record, but doesn’t lose the precision of the stop-start riff.

The band brought along a projector, and the moving images add an extra layer to the atmosphere, even if its unavoidable positioning results in it often projecting largely on to Gerald. In an ideal world, projectors are best suspended from the ceiling or lighting rig, but I suspect there simply wasn’t time for that sort of thing tonight – but nevertheless it bodes well for the future.

Agent’s set was a timely reminder that these guys have some genuinely great songs and the skills to perform them with flair. Definitely ones to watch in the coming months, and a highlight of the evening. Good work.

Touring support Sworn Amongst definitely aren’t messing about. Hitting the ground running, they pile into a ferocious set of no-nonsense modern metal. Having been in existence for more than a decade, these self-styled ‘Cowboys From Hull’ obviously know what they are doing.

Propelled by jack-hammer drumming and displaying some particularly deft rhythmic riffing, they set heads nodding and lips curling right from the first song. Fat and frantic verses segue pleasingly into beefier mid-paced sections and lead guitarist Jonny Barker shows off his fretboard prowess with some impressive soloing. Vocalist Sy James cuts an imposing presence, but with an eye on the time keeps between-song banter to a minimum.

I find myself stood right in the killzone of Jonny’s amp, but even taking that into account, his solo boost patch is still somewhat over-zealous, which does rather unbalance the mix. Nevertheless, with the earlier sound issues firmly vanquished, each track is pleasingly chunky.

However, as the set progresses, I find my attention starts to wane a little. Sworn Amongst have built for themselves a potent template, but it becomes increasingly clear that they rarely stray far from it. The songs start to blur together and there simply isn’t the variety to keep me interested once the initial thrill of their admittedly face-melting sound has worn off. This is a pity.

A couple of songs into Cyclamen’s set, I find myself seriously regretting not having done more homework. Their latest album Ashura languishes on my hard drive, having only found the time thus far for a couple of spins, but getting to grips with Cyclamen’s spiky tech-metal clearly requires more concerted effort than I’ve been able to devote to it.

However, it is also clear that there are plenty of genuine fans here who have spent the time and greet each song with a whoop of approval. In cancelling the original date, the Barfly have clearly missed a trick with this crowd.

The band’s specific configuration of musicians has been put together specifically for this tour with drummer Aled Lloyd not having played with the band at all before the first show – but having spent two weeks on the road, they all look and sound like they have been working together for years. With the complexity of the music compounding the paucity of rehearsal time, the fact the band are as tight as they are is nothing short of a triumph.

It can’t have been an easy tour for Cyclamen, but it is obvious that the joy of playing together, magnified further by the responsiveness of the crowd, is more than enough to offset the trials and tribulations.

Main man Hayato Imanishi is both effusive in his thanks for those who came out to watch and exuberant in his performance. Even though I am unfamiliar with the songs in the set, taken from albums Ashura and Senjyu, as well as the early Dreamers EP, it is impossible not to be swept up in the enthusiasm.

All told, the evening was a victory snatched from the jaws of defeat. With the final date of the tour happening the following night just down the road in Croydon, the easy way out would have been to just write off the London show. But a little bit of effort goes a long way, and everyone involved – bands and fans alike – was richer for it. Metaphorically, at least.