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Although it’s not a huge venue, Tufnell Park’s Boston Music Room is a little off the beaten path, just far enough away from the usual metal haunts in Camden to consistently sell out – so it’s pleasing for tonight’s headliners, all the way from the USA, to have had the promoters regularly warning punters on the Facebook page about the event’s dwindling number of remaining tickets. By the time I get in line, they’re walking its length to find out who has one already, and who was hoping to buy – as there are only 2 left on the door. Excellent news.

Openers Employed To Serve are a band I fell in love with live, and it’s good to see the room filling up nicely as they take the stage scant minutes after doors; people are right keen for this gig, and that long queue outside bustles inside from the growing autumnal cold.

With a set comprised, in essence, of (nearly) all the absolute bangers from last year’s sublime Greyer Than You Remember, EtS dive straight in with opening trio “Live Without“, “Watching Films To Forget I Exist“, and the album’s title track. Each is replete with the band’s trademark bounce; an energy that exudes from their effusive, pulsing hardcore, despite its acerbic tone.

Every facet is great, but it’s often the drums that make Employed To Serve’s music that extra bit special; the riffs are bloody fantastic, and Justine Jones’ coarse bellows express the full range of her nasty, belligerent sentiment beautifully, but it’s Robbie Back, smacking away at his remarkably sparse kit, that adds an extra dimension. In ”Watching Films To Forget I Exist“, the rhythm schisms wildly from expectation; as technically astute as it is gritty.

Set closer “As Cold as the Rest” strips away all instrumentation, with its repeated bleak, tongue-in-cheek mantra setting the scene before the song proper kicks in to wallop their worthiness into the audience one last time. Employed To Serve are just an outstandingly talented and complete package, and it’s no wonder they’re often cherry picked for shows like these. We hope their upcoming slots at Damnation, as well as in Europe with frequent collaborators Rolo Tomassi and next year Mare, are as fruitful as the band deserves.

The only band tonight from which I’ve never heard a stitch prior, Venom Prison‘s rise has been pretty quick – despite only forming last year, they’ve already signed to Prosthetic Records, and just recently released their debut album Animus.

They’ve a clearly-defined vibe, much in keeping with the night’s grim, ill-tempered theme. Vocalist Larissa bays hoarsely from behind a curtain of hair, giving her a faceless aspect that benefits their vibe; a thunderous mix of death metal and blackened elements.

I can’t quite place my finger on why it doesn’t speak to me as strongly as the other bands on the bill, but it’s certainly not any issue of theirs; their performance keeping the room engaged and entertained. It’s perhaps drummer Ben’s tendency to slip between blast beats and the stereotypical punk gallop – without much variation – that causes my interest to dwindle, but it’s perhaps more in comparison to Employed To Serve’s particularly jarring and exhilarating beats.

Listening to Animus since, it’s clear why they’ve been picked up by one of America’s most prudent extreme metal labels, so they’d certainly be worth a revisit live; chalk tonight up to

Okkultokrati at first feel like an odd choice as main support, but as the Norwegians’ set gets into full flow, their suitability becomes more apparent. There’s not so much in the way of standard riffs, and instead they set about building an insistent, driving atmosphere.

Shades of dark rock and punk are occasionally apparent amidst Erik’s guitar parts, which despite lacking a great deal of variety, have a certain charm and add to the resounding pressure created by the rhythm section, in which bassist Boris is clearly having a great time – he’s particularly animated, making himself a focal point next to vocalist Henning.

And it’s Henning who adds the real edge to Okkultokrati, drifting between low, Peter Steel-like singing and snarling, blackened shrieks. The overall result, for much of the set, is sheer relentlessness; bludgeoning and dirge-like, but with pace. It’s a strange combination, and not at all what most will have been expecting, but intriguing nonetheless.

From the back of the room, when Trap Them take to the stage it seems as if only three of the band are present, with vocalist Ryan McKenney missing, yet as “Kindred Dirt” – the opener of both the set and brand new album Feral Crown – rings out, his voice is undeniably present. Mysterious.

As it turns out, it’s merely that he can’t be seen above the crowd because he’s sitting down, rather than standing – in a wheelchair, to be precise. Two days previously at Bloodshed Fest in Eindhoven, Ryan suffered an accident on stage and broke both heels and an ankle – and so a fairly common theme emanating from him between songs is to voice his resentment: “I hate this fucking piece of shit”.

But if anything, it seems to spur him on, and it’s apt; Trap Them’s entire body of work exudes malice and discontent. The setlist is, unsurprisingly, built around Feral Crown, in a rather unconventionally conventional way, playing the whole thing front to back but breaking the record into three chunks, interspersed mainly with cuts from 2011′s seminal Darker Handcraft – as well as “Guignol Serene” from 2008′s Seizures In Barren Praise – and interestingly nothing from previous effort Blissfucker. It’s with that first delve into Darker Handcraft – “Slumcult & Gather” – that the set’s pace really gets going. Feral Crown, whilst fantastic, is marginally less furious, and the older track really gets heads nodding in the room. Similarly, the classic “The Facts” – which sees the crowd yelling back main hook “I am that goddamn son of a bitch!” – raises pulses for set-closing duo “Stray Of The Tongue” and the positively apocalyptic “Phantom Air“, which sends us off into the night on a wave of ire and feedback. Expertly executed, and just the tonic for the cold months ahead.

Chris

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