Two-headed approach to a five-piece bill at Camden’s Underworld earlier this month
Opening up a five band bill on a Sunday is often a thankless task. With the doors only open for a few minutes, Bournemouth’s In The Hills take to the stage, and are only just outnumbered by the audience. They don’t seem perturbed, though, and the crowd swells as their set progresses.
The band launch into “Brought In By The Sea“, from their self-titled debut EP. The band’s stoner-sludge riffs come thick, slow and crushingly heavy. With the assorted amps, cabs and kit of four other bands in place, the usually fairly spacious Underworld stage feels unnaturally cluttered. After a tune or two, vocalist Choff frees up some space by jumping down and spending the remainder of the set prowling the floor. Choff has been stomping and bellowing around the south coast hardcore scene for as long as I can remember, so he is more than comfortable getting in people’s faces.
In The Hills put in a very credible performance, especially at this early hour, that is chock-full of satisfying, lip-curlingly heavy moments. Definitely worth checking out next time they lumber into town.
This is at least the third time I’ve seen London scene stalwarts Astrohenge ply their hyperkinetic instrumental prog. Unfortunately, they don’t quite do it for me. To be scrupulously fair to the quartet, this is the best I’ve seen them, and they have more than a couple of fully paid-up fans in the audience, so they must be doing something right.
For me, though, watching them is a faintly frustrating experience. The drumming is clearly exemplary and the pair of guitarists – this evening inexplicably bare-chested – do kick out some satisfying, high-octane riffage. But the lions share of my own issues with the bands sound stem from the absence of a bass player and the presence of a keyboard player instead.
Of course, this needn’t be a bad thing in and of itself, but I find that he is often guilty of over-playing, never hitting one note when three can be squeezed into the gap. The net result is that the tracks often sound fussy, needlessly complicated and occasionally discordant. Without him, it seems to me the band could sound like a proggy Karma To Burn – but they, and their fans, seem perfectly content.
Next up are Carlisle trio Manatees. I had caught their mid-afternoon set at the inaugural ArcTanGent festival at the end of the summer and I felt then that their sound was probably better suited to a dark and dingy club stage than a tent bathed in sunlight, so I was looking forward to their set more than any other this evening.
They didn’t disappoint. Their set was a gigantic, squalling wall of noise. Huge, hypnotic and faintly terrifying. I was thoroughly swept away in the great washes of artfully marshalled feedback and droning grooves, led by an enormous, fuzzed-out bass tone.
The band lock in to long, repetitive passages that reward the listeners with some tremendous dynamic payoffs. Sitting somewhere on the scale between early ISIS and The Melvins, their album – due to drop via Shelsmusic in the not too distant future – should be well worth checking out.
Following Manatees were labelmates Erlen Meyer, the French quintet from Limoges – and they were mightily heavy, and might have felt heavier were they not following the aural equivalent of drowning in a tar pit that was Manatees. Nevertheless, after receiving their self-titled debut album very well earlier this year, the set was certainly the main draw for me.
The band employ a semi-elaborate video aspect to their performance. This is both interesting and well produced, depicting non-specific but imagery-rich tableaus that compliments the narrative element of their music well. The accompanying strobe lights are used in moderate frequency, and this is certainly something some bands overstep on their stage show too early, but this doesn’t feel so with Erlen Meyer.
There is one small problem with the setup of the former, in that it hinders the transition between songs, which are a little over long, and although the crowd aren’t heckling, there are one or two calls here and there, and it’s potentially a sign of slight restlessness.
Performance-wise, the band were pretty strong, and whilst some of the intricacies from the record were lost (I couldn’t hear a couple of the accenting guitar lines in “Nuit“), it was altogether satisfying set with very little wrong. The vocal delivery of Olivier Lacroix in particular was spot on, and my thing entirely.
Heading up the bill were Light Bearer, a band I admittedly have had no exposure to previously. A self-styled combination of melodic post-hardcore, progressive metal, post-rock and ambient atmospheric drone, the group are fully six members strong, and fulfil a multitude of roles between them. At least three that I could see – vocalist Alex, guitarist Matthew and…atmosphericist?…Lee – had access to microphones, and rather than simply providing backing, all were well engaged and taking turns in leading vocal passages.
The band is very much about a message – further investigation has thrown up ”atheist/anti theist, feminist and anti speciesism” sentiments within the group, which I can certainly identify with to an extent, but something doesn’t quite sit right there for me. Alex wears his views on his sleeve, and whilst they’re admirable – if for nothing else being very principled – the delivery and reinforcement through the between-song chatter feels a bit uninspiring. Bear in mind this was the fourth gig I’d been to this week, I’d absolutely forgive that – my attitude wasn’t the best – but as a virgin mind, it turned me off rather than getting me interested.
That being said, conceptually the music is quite interesting. Newest album Silver Tongue is the second in a proposed quartet of work focussing on Lucifer – the titular ‘light bearer’ – and an alternative narrative to his biblical portrayal. The dynamism between the post and core aspects of the music echoes this I suppose, and whilst the tempo was a bit slow for me at the time, I’ll readily admit gig fatigue and an interest in proving myself wrong.