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Heights show they’re more than just a TesseracT side project

Heights Agent Sumer Toska Barfly poster 2015

Perhaps best known as for his work with TesseracT‘s, Jamie Postones is one of the most exciting British progressive rock and metal drummers around at the moment. Expressive, deft and incredibly talented, fans of his main band may or may not be aware that he’s also one part of Heights, a trio signed to Basick Records, with their own line on flowing prog – albeit of a wildly different variety.

They’re a much rarer prospect to catch live, and so the opportunity that presents itself tonight, taking over Camden’s Barfly, is not one to miss.

Getting the night off to a flying start, instrumental trio Toska take to the stage quietly – and let their music do the talking.

Almost immediately, Animals As Leaders jump to mind as a sonic touchstone – but to my ears, this is much more interesting. The tones and phrasing guitarist Rabea Massaad ekes out of his instrument are thick, sharp and purposeful. Each song – and they only play about four of them, exploring their ideas fully – is unique unto itself, but all are in keeping with each other. Hard, crunchy riffs build on waves of ambience and atmosphere, playing with melody and technicality in equal measure. Every new section has value – the harmonic intro to that third song, or the hard riffs and finger grooves of the final number – and it’s a thoroughly engaging half hour, during which you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone not nodding their head to something.

Performance-wise, Rabea, along with Dave Hollingworth and Ben Minal, keep things simple, but look like they’re having a whale of a time. Ben in particular is particularly fun to watch, playing with absolute precision but grinning from behind his kit in much the same way for which Boris Le Gal (Chimp Spanner, NeonFly) is known. It really adds something to the spectacle when someone is that expressive and appears to be having so much fun with what they’re doing. Bassist Dave, too, looks really into it, and his sound is broad and very, very satisfying.

It turns out that, whilst phenomenal as an instrumental unit, Toska are actually looking for a singer – but finding someone to match their talent will be a hard ask, and they really do deserve someone special who matches them perfectly; like Chris Barretto is to Monuments, Aleksandra Djelmas to Destiny Potato, or Arnór Dan Arnarson to Agent Fresco - someone who can unlock their sound and add something unique, rather than just ticking a box.

Toska epitomise just why you should always go to gigs for the opening band – especially when you’ve never heard of or listened to them. Sure, often such acts may be inexperienced or raw, but on the odd occasion you get yourselves a Toska, it all becomes worth it. There’s nothing quite like discovering the whole package – tight tunes, talented execution and engrossing performance – up close and in person. Keep a close eye out for these guys in the future.

- Chris

It would be fair to say that I have become most uncommonly smitten with Sumer. What’s more, they’ve given me more opportunities than most to develop that bandcrush, and tonight’s show is the sixth time I’ve seen them this year, and the eighth since the release of their debut album The Animal You Are late in 2014.

It is testament to the quality of Sumer’s songs that, despite their shows being such a regular feature in my calendar, they still draw me into their atmospheric progressive metal soundscapes. Playing basically the same set as we saw at Tech Fest just a couple of weeks beforehand, it is comprised of the best tracks from the album, as well as a short taste of what is to come in the future. A relatively brief and currently instrumental work in progress has crept into the set, with a stabby rhythm reminiscent of “Comfort Zones“, an early track by The Ocean. Promising stuff.

Perhaps the other key to the longevity of these tracks for me can be found in the three layers of guitars – providing armfuls of textural and dynamic opportunities, without the safety net of a backing track. Using the full weight of those guitars sparingly only adds to their impact, like the genuinely inspired build-and-release that is the culmination of set-closer “End of Sense“. Soundwise, the vocals feel a little muddy and tonight’s crowd seem largely impassive, even if each song is met with warmly appreciative applause.

Sumer will be back in the capital again at the start of September, playing a Facemelter event for our friends at Chaos Theory. If you haven’t yet taken the time to catch a Sumer performance, that would be the time to do so.

- Simon

Third up, Kiwis Agent feel much more at home to us in a club environment, and play with what feels like a lot more energy than at Tech Fest three weeks previously. We’ve caught them a few times like this, and it’s noticeable how much better their material works live than on record. The entire experience, complete with projected video visuals behind drummer Dean Gibb, is best taken in front and centre to let is wash over you.

Bouncy and angular, they’re unfortunate to play to a smaller crowd than the previous two bands, but it’s a weird night and not their fault. Perhaps it’s the crushing loudness of the previous act causing some to give their ears a break (remember kids: always use protection), but the reception from those assembled is again muted.

If you’re unfamiliar with Agent, they use their riffs as soundscape building blocks, driving on a base of groovy bass lines. Whilst less rhythmically technical, the comparisons with Tool are unavoidable, especially in James Donaldson’s clutching clean singing, which caresses the music like a loving parent.

Moments of stunning quality are less frequent than the previous two bands, but when they do manage to curl your lip in appreciation, they curl it right back. It’s perhaps unfortunate for them playing after two acts of such abject quality that they don’t come across as well, but they’re certainly not without their own charms.

- Chris

Tonight’s crowd has been noticeably reserved all night, but final confirmation of that comes as Heights slip into their headline set in a characteristically understated fashion. The ten foot gap between the lip of the stage and the bulk of the crowd – usually reserved for unfamiliar support acts – remains in place, so I seize the opportunity to grab myself a prime viewpoint, immediately in front of guitarist Al.

As well as being practically enveloped in Heights’ warm, soothing sound, this vantage point also gives me the best view of all four limbs belonging to drummer Jamie Postones. Jamie was off touring with TesseracT last time I saw Heights perform, so this is both the first time I’ve seen him play these songs, and also probably the smallest venue I’ve ever seen him play in. This is not an opportunity to be wasted.

Put simply, I am enthralled. There is little spectacle in Heights’ performance, other than the sight of three outstanding musicians working damn near perfectly together. Playing through a set drawn predominantly from their outstanding recent album Phantasia On The High Processions Of Sun, Moon And Countless Stars Above, as well as rummaging periodically in their back catalogue, the forty five minute set feels like it passes in mere moments.

Perhaps the greatest feat of Heights’ compositions is that they are considerably easier to listen to than they must be to play. The spidery riffs, labyrinthine structures and occasional polyrhythmic freakouts are deployed with a disarming nonchalance and obvious pleasure. The absence of vocals or the focal point of a frontman can sometimes pose problems for instrumental bands, but for Heights a singer would probably just get in the way.

As I expected, the main focus of my attention throughout the set is Jamie. Often with his eyes closed and head tilted, lost in the music, his playing is utterly mesmerising. I come swiftly to the conclusion that each of his limbs must be governed by an entirely independent brain. It is a rare treat to watch such a display of effortless skill in a room as small as this.

Heights will be returning to this very stage to open proceedings at the Basick Records 10th birthday party at the end of September. Those lucky enough to have secured themselves a wristband for the event in the two hours before they sold out completely would be well advised to get there early enough to catch their set.

- Simon

Chris Simon