As the time that doors are due to open approaches, a queue of patient punters steadily grows, spilling out into the downstairs bar of the Camden Barfly. This is a positive sign. Tonight’s show brings together a number of points on the progressive metal spectrum, as well as being Earthside‘s first and only UK show – for now – and this queue is an early indication that they haven’t wasted their trip. Phew.
For unspecified reasons, the running order on the night is slightly different from the one advertised on the posters, so shortly after the queue has made its way upstairs, Voices From The Fuselage take the stage, and there is already a respectably sized crowd waiting to greet them.
I’ve written about the Voices live experience in the not too distant past, when they opened the show for Agent Fresco in Milton Keynes in late 2015. Probably unsurprisingly, little has changed; their gentle take on prog-metal glistens and shimmers, even if the mix is just a little bass heavy from where I am standing. Nevertheless, irrespective of how many times I see Voices, I still get slightly taken aback by Ashe’s talents: soaring to improbable heights, he’s a constant delight to listen to.
This does somewhat counteract the fact there’s not a tremendous amount to watch. Scott’s drums have been given a touch of reverb, and also seems to give a more confident performance than previously. However, the two guitarists and bassist mostly don’t even seem all that happy to be there, and their demeanor is more workmanlike than anything else.
There are cheers of recognition as Ashe announces final song “A Principle God“, so there’s definitely an appetite for what they’re doing, and Voices clearly have the collected talents to produce something very special indeed.
Since finalising their line-up last year, some encouraging noises have been coming out of the Brutai camp as they put the finishing touches on their debut album. We are treated to some of these noises early on, as following on from a new and dramatic intro tape, their set opens with the pair of singles released to prepare the ground for that release – “Relapse“, and the outrageously catchy “Deep“.
The band look and sound the part as they pile through these tracks, balancing the heavy and poppy elements. The progression of the band over the last eighteen months or so has been startling, gradually getting better and better every time I see them. This progression is starkly illustrated as old set staple “Onyx” sounds just a bit fussy and confused when placed amongst the sleeker new material. However, Christian’s recently reworked basslines on the track from their 2013 EP are spectacular.
We are treated to one more track from the upcoming album, “Of Ashes“. Heavier than the previous two, and a potential epic in the making, it really shows off Matt’s considerable prowess behind the kit, with some brilliantly imaginative use of triplets giving the song a really distinctive twist.
With “Flood” rounding out the set in a suitably chunky fashion, I am left positively chomping at the bit for that new album. Brutai’s real masterstroke seems to be in writing music that is heavy, accessible and yet still devilishly difficult to pigeonhole. It’s not quite heavy enough to be straight metal, a bit too clever to be metalcore and too heavy to be rock. Especially through this latest writing and recording process, Brutai have matured into a really distinctive, engaging proposition. Expect big things from them, and soon.
So we come to what was billed as the main event, but after a switcheroo for unspecified reasons earlier in the day, Connecticut progsters Earthside cede the top spot, but still receive a heroes welcome as they launch into their first ever show on British soil with a short, sharp volley of heaviness to make sure everyone is paying attention, before slipping into the more dulcet tones of “The Closest I’ve Come” from last year’s A Dream In Static.
Fresh from a short jaunt around mainland Europe with Leprous and Voyager, the band felt – as guitarist Jamie explains from the stage – it would be remiss to not pay us a visit whilst they were nearby. How thoughtful. As a result of this tour, the set feels tight, polished and professional throughout. Keys player Frank sports a keytar as well as his rack of keyboards, and uses it to properly showcase his part in “The Closest I’ve Come“, where rapid, two-handed hammering of the keys artfully replicates the fast-picking technique favoured by post-rock guitarists. So successfully replicated, in fact, that I had thought it was a guitar part when listening to the album last year.
Their slightly unusual configuration is also responsible for the non-standard stage set-up tonight. The drumkit has been pushed over to the left of the stage in order to accommodate a large projector screen on the right Frank. The size of the venue means that a completely unobstructed view of the screen is all but impossible, but the visuals paint in broad enough strokes for this not to be an issue. What’s more, Frank himself is a very animated performer, jumping and striding around the stage and air-drumming along with drummer Ben’s sinuous beats; his shirt is soon visibly saturated with sweat.
Through the musical equivalent of convergent evolution, Earthside have arrived at the same practical solution to the problem of being an instrumental band with a small posse of guest vocalists as Nordic Giants – shooting films of their performances to accompany the live music. The screen is filled with the face of Dan Tompkins as Earthside begin A Dream In Static‘s title track, my personal favourite from the record. The songs transfer spectacularly well to the stage, feeling a touch heavier, but also performed by the band with a barely concealed euphoria over the audience response.
It’s been a very long time indeed since I’ve witnessed a band so obviously having an utterly marvelous time onstage. Jamie gives sincere and thoughtful thanks to the other bands, as well as those who had helped make this evening possible. Later in the set, Frank interrupts the flow of the backing tracks to commandeer the mic and enthuse about the strength and warmth of the crowd response.
Unsurprisingly, the grand – or even grandiose – finale is the epic “Mob Mentality“. Through the screen, the band are virtually joined by Sevendust’s Lajon Witherspoon, and a full orchestra. The effect is sumptuous and beautiful, and the full ten minute runtime of the track passes in what feels like a heartbeat.
Earthside are then treated to what can only be described as a ferocious ovation, with protracted and strenuous applause. The band are openly astonished and – to be frank – so am I. We Londoners are somewhat spoiled with gigs, which can make us a pretty jaded bunch, collectively, but tonight the reaction proves that the risk Earthside took in coming over for this one show was completely worth it. These songs really come alive in the live environment, and Earthside delivered a performance that will live almost as long in our memories as their reception will live in theirs. Let’s hope they come back again soon.
With the best will in the world, there was no way that Toska could top Earthside’s response, but fortunately the band’s own instrumental, progressive approach is different enough for it not to matter. With no backing tracks, guest vocals or the like, Toska take the stage armed only with their instruments, a small clutch of effects pedals and a fucking hulking bag of riffs – which is fine with me.
Having been completely unprepared to be blindsided by Toska when I first saw them on this very stage last year, and subsequently wowed by their debut EP Ode To The Author, I am primed and ready for a set of what I have termed ‘stunt grunge’ and, yes, I’m going to keep describing their sound that way until it catches on. Join me.
In a bold move, Toska elect to devote the whole first half of their 30 minute set to new material. With Ode To The Author just a few months old, as well as the sheer weight of ideas poured into every one their tracks, this is impressive. There’s no discernible drop in quality either, and those not forced to leave the venue to beat the transport curfews are soon bobbing their heads appreciatively, despite the unfamiliarity, and occasionally wonky time signatures.
With Toska then playing a couple of tracks from Ode To The Author, including the fantastic “Chalk Teeth“, I am again struck by how rich and full a sound the three of them are able to kick out – something helped along considerably by Dave’s growling bass tone. Last time I saw them, Rabea mentioned from the stage that they were on the lookout for a singer. There’s no such mention this evening, and I do find myself wondering whether even the occasional vocal interjection might be a layer too far. Right now, Toska have a sound that finely balances the often disparate disciplines of meticulously planned technical detail and spontaneous jamming. The results are tremendously exciting, and it would almost be a shame to mess with that formula too much.
Whilst it would be fair to say that tonight really belongs to Earthside, it’s equally true that every single band on the bill delivered a headline-worthy performance, especially given the clearly distinctive sounds offered up by them all, it’s a sure sign that the progressive metal scene is in rude health right now, and there’s plenty to be excited about for the near future, too. A splendid night out.