Two of the most exciting and expansive releases of the year are Mamiffer‘s The World Unseen and Sumac‘s mighty What One Becomes. Live performances from both are a little sparse; Aaron Turner is officially in Every Band Ever, and already pulling double duty tonight. A cursory glance will show that everyone else is in at least one other major project.
Turner’s most recognisable work may be from past band Isis, but undoubtedly his most exciting projects are still ahead of him, and anyone even slightly aware of the post-metal genre is agog at the pedigree of the lineup.
Sadly I miss Janne Westerlund‘s performance through covering interviews, though I’m introduced to him enthusiastically by Mamiffer’s Faith Coloccia. Having gathered stray notes into my bag and mentally preparing to be That Guy with a rucksack at a show, I wander down to see Mamiffer start their set.
A lazy comparison would be Björk fronting Earth, or Kate Bush surprising us all with the doom album of 2016. The lugubrious piano songs give way to harsh, crashing soundscapes and then back into twinkly melancholy once more.
There’s a point and a focus to everything; the noise elements seem a little left-field but they’re done carefully and artfully. They last just long enough to unnerve an unsuspecting audience before that drops away and the shimmery keyboards click back in.
Contextually, a lot of people are here because of the Isis stamp writ large. So many acts have seen their popularity swell on the back of the frameworks Isis developed and so many acts wear their Panopticon influence on their sleeve; the chance to see Turner play two consecutive sets is a giddy thrill. However, Coloccia emerges as a stunning favourite early on; flanked by the indomitable Turner and guest bassist Brian Cook (Russian Circles, ex-Botch & These Arms Are Snakes), she cuts an imposing figure. Overwhelmed by a mountain of gear, as she reaches the soundscape elements her manipulation adds something of a wizardly edge to her otherwise minimal performance. It doesn’t seem deliberate, but it’s still really cool.
Eventually the spell is broken with a simple “thanks” and they pack down without much more fanfare. The audience are enthusiastic and the general chatter seems very positive; there’s at least one comparison to Chelsea Wolfe. Mamiffer’s profile isn’t huge but they’ve impressed the crowd. Bristol is a friend of melancholic, shimmery music. It won’t be long before they’re asked back.
There’s a bit of a wait for Sumac. The crowd is in fine spirits, a decent turnout for a Wednesday. Quite a few of them are drinking Jaegerbombs and are visibly excited. A lot of them have large beards.
Of course, the largest beard of all belongs to Turner, who re-emerges glorious on to the stage after the interval. Sumac launch straight into some of their latest bangers, recognised in the first riff by enthusiastic cheers from pockets of the crowd. Sumac have had excellent press from this record, bolstered by their flavour of aggressive post-metal being in vogue and the stunning pedigree of their members. The crowd has a sparkle; a little spread-out, those who aren’t in their own Jaeger-fuelled heaven still look transfixed.
Turner is a beast. His roar is phenomenal, reminiscent of Baroness‘ John Baizley but more unhinged. Every riff is given his own personal treatment; as a guitarist he’s so much more angular than his post-metal peers, effortlessly adding atonality to add punch to already crushing riffs. There’s not so much experimentation at play – that was Mamiffer’s strong point. Having said that, there’s a jazzy spirit at work, and though there’s little that’s completely left-field there is a hearty sense of musical adventure.
The band also work as a classic power trio. With a bare-bones lineup the band avoids indulgent tangents. There’s a cool dynamic between the looser stuff between songs and structured tracks that fits them well and allows them space to experiment without compromising the cohesion of the main pieces. More often than not the tracks on display are to-the-point, and though the expansive songs often top the ten-minute mark they never feel rambly or inconclusive.
Contender for star musician must be Nick Yacyshyn on drums, whose powerful fills are incredibly precise; throwing in unconventional cymbal flourishes, he embellishes what is a very low-end sound and he adds tension to the long gaps between songs. Turner spoke about the joy of improvisational elements shortly before their set and this rings true here. Elsewhere, Brian Cook – unsung hero of Mamiffer’s low-end – is stellar here and doesn’t get enough credit for pulling double-duty. It’s tempting to draw comparisons to Isis or Baptists, or Russian Circles, but crucially this feels like a different beastie: looser but also more immediate; more impactful; tenser.
Sadly the late start means I have to sneak off and miss the last song, but by this point the crowd are fully engaged and the band have hit their full swing. The Fleece looks healthy and the merch people are bracing themselves to be swamped. As I leave, I notice Mamiffer have a shirt with a cat on. That tips the scales – though a lot of people waited a long time to watch Sumac, the evening belongs to Mamiffer.