We sound out White Moth Black Butterfly’s debut album and debut gig
Daniel Tompkins has been a busy guy. Since leaving Tesseract to the widespread dismay of their fanbase in 2011, he has lent his name and prodigious vocal talents to a number of projects. Now, just a couple of weeks after the final date of Skyharbor‘s first tour, he has returned to the stage for a short run of three shows in support of the release of the debut album from his latest project, White Moth Black Butterfly, called One Thousand Wings.
Tonight’s album launch show, the first time the band have performed in public together, draws a small crowd of curious fans and interested parties. Somewhat disappointingly small, given the presence of three other bands on the bill. But, this is the peak of the gig season and with so much going on, perhaps the crowds are spread a little thin in the capital at the moment.
First band on this evening are Agent, a band of New Zealanders who relocated to the UK a few years ago. The band do a good job of drawing the early birds up close to the stage, with a strong set of songs that sit on the border between post-grunge and progressive metal. If you can bear the double entendre, their sound is best described as ‘Tool meets Bush‘. Sorry about that.
Whilst all four members carry their parts well, bass player Matt puts in a particularly notable performance, with taps, slaps and pops aplenty, sometimes whilst handling backing vocals simultaneously, which is not at all easy.
The band put in a solid 30 minute set that is enough to entice me into buying latest album Kingdom Of Fear. Agent are definitely worth a look for those who like their music to be a combination of melodic and muscular.
The appearance on this bill of Polar Caps is perplexing to say the least. Their self-styled brand of ‘electroacoustic pop’ is about as edgy and/or progressive as The Lighthouse Family. Whilst perky and upbeat, it is as bland and uninspired as magnolia wallpaint.
What heavy lifting there is in the music is undertaken by the laptop backing track, leaving the guitarist to just strum a chord or two and, sometimes, just stand about entirely redundant.
Subsequent investigation has shown Polar Caps to be a vehicle for singer Owen Hughes-Holland, who doesn’t even bother to credit the three other musicians on stage. Oh, and their t-shirts carry a big picture of his face, which is spectacularly egotistical.
Still, it was an opportunity to pop outside for a smoke and nip to the bar.
At the opposite end of the ego scale come main support Heights, who quickly and quietly set up their gear, and don’t even bother to clear their equipment cases offstage before sliding into the two tracks of their recently released Trick Of The Light EP.
Whilst their stage presence is unassuming, the performance is truly magnificent. Their gentle brand of instrumental prog rock translates well to the live environment as the band loses themselves, and a good proportion of the crowd, in their mellow soundscapes.
The tracks are interesting and unusual, but never difficult or hard to swallow, making their set a thoroughly absorbing half-hour and one that set the mood perfectly for the headline act. Mission firmly accomplished.
White Moth Black Butterfly also take to the stage with a minimum of fuss, and proceed to play One Thousand Wings in its entirety.
[11th November 2013]
03. Ties Of Grace
04. The World Won’t Sleep
06. Midnight Rivers
07. Tired Eyes
I’ve been listening to the album for the last couple of weeks, and I had been scratching my head a little over how they would translate the songs into a live performance. Would it work?
For the uninitiated, we should be clear that White Moth Black Butterfly is a significant step away from the progressive metal arena in which Dan has made his name. One Thousand Wings is a quiet, down-tempo album of introspective, ambient electronica. The most obvious comparators would be Massive Attack and Sigur Rós, and also Faithless at their most minimalist. It is also clearly a deeply personal affair, with Dan pouring his heart and soul into the lyrics and melodies.
One Thousand Wings is unabashedly beautiful, but this beauty is bittersweet. There is a brooding, foreboding undercurrent to the tracks that comes most clearly to the fore in “Omen“, which indicates that the project, for all its delicacy, is also an exorcism of certain demons.
Despite the involvement of both Skyharbor’s Keshav Dhar and TesseracT’s Acle Kahney – the latter on “Ties of Grace” – guitars are used sparingly, and there’s not a single guitar part that could be called a ‘riff’. They exist purely as atmospherics, mingling with the rich washes of keyboards and strings.
One Thousand Wings is a late-night album for chilling out and winding down. So it is almost a surprise to see Dan and Keshav accompanied onstage by drummer Ben Ansaldo and bass player Chris Haywood. Chris, however, also brings with him a double bass. Whilst used sparingly, it can’t fail to add an additional plaintive, mournful layer to the tracks in which it is deployed.
As with the album, a particular stand out track is “Rose“, which sees the rest of the band take a step back, leaving Dan’s soulful, almost jazz-tinged vocal line to be accompanied by a piano track. He mentions before playing the song that they had been unable to source a piano for this gig, but the song is such a raw, naked display of both passion and talent even when performed to a backing track that I am convinced it will be devastatingly powerful when performed with an actual instrument.
It would be fair to say there were a couple of teething troubles, mostly with feedback, but they are perfectly excusable given this was their very first show. The guys in the band did a great job, considering they only had their first rehearsal just a couple of days before the gig. All three played with the restraint and discipline required to allow the songs to really breathe. I think the only suggestion I would make would be for drummer Ben to try switching out his sticks for rods in the future, but that’s a very minor and hugely nerdy point.
For the final two songs, the band are joined by female vocalist Jordan Bethany, whose fragile, ethereal voice adds another dimension to the sound, with “Faith” seeing the pair trading lines and sharing harmonies in truly sublime fashion.
The show is so pleasingly relaxing I end up watching the last third sat comfortably on the floor. I was certainly struck by the notion that the set is closer to a recital than a traditional gig, but that is no bad thing. Perhaps the band would benefit from performing in places other than traditional gig venues. I think a church would be ideal.
After the performance, the band slide off the stage and mingle comfortably with the audience. This was a relaxed and intimate event that was an ideal way to introduce WMBB to the live arena.
WMBB put on a captivating live performance that perfectly showcases the album. One Thousand Wings is an understanding and beautiful collection, with the minimalist instrumentation only serving to accentuate the quality of the songwriting contained within.
Its not immediately clear how often WMBB will get to perform live, especially given the international nature of the band’s composition. But while we wait for more dates to be announced, the album is sure to provide an ideal soundtrack for many a late-night wind down.