Another weekend, another all-dayer in London. Gotham: eight bands in eight hours. The show takes place in the aesthetically appropriate setting of the Camden Palace, a large club in a converted 19th Century music hall. The building still retains its ornate gilded plasterwork and an air of Victorian elegance, although now it's stuffed with an array of sound and lighting technology that's entirely modern. One thing that's immediately apparent is that the acoustics are brilliant. This is a theatre purpose-designed for live performance - and in the days before microphones, too. Compared to the appalling acoustics of many other London venues, this is a major plus point. The bands will sound good tonight!
Once, an event like Gotham would have been something rare and special, and would have generated major interest throughout the UK scene. These days, however, our live music circuit is increasingly moving towards festival-type events at the expense of normal gigs - Flag Promotions, the promoters behind Gotham, put on three such events every year now, and other promoters do yet more. This means that larger-scale shows have become almost commonplace, and, as a result, there's no longer the same buzz about festivals and all-dayers that we once experienced - especially as the events themselves often tend to feature variations on the same relatively small pool of bands. Gotham pulls in a decent enough crowd, but the 1,500-capacity venue is nowhere near full - in fact the upper balconies remain closed throughout. Has the trend towards ever-larger events peaked? Is the festival-bubble about to burst? It's probably too early to say at this stage, but give it nine months or a year and we might have an interesting answer to that question.
The Ghost Of Lemora do a fine job of opening the proceedings. Their artful, late-night rock 'n' roll glamour is entirely undimmed by the fact that their set commences at 3.45pm. The singer is dressed up in what looks like Vivienne Westwood's idea of Dickensian street urchin rags. He drawls and gesticulates through a set of angular glam-goth tunes. They actually have a song called 'The Glamour'. Not just 'Glamour', but '*The* Glamour'. The addition of the definite article - a small thing in itself - trips you up, makes you wonder what's going on. This, perhaps, serves to illustrate the band's approach - they seem to come at things from odd angles. They certainly come at *goth* from an odd angle. Imagine Specimen if they'd taken an Open University course on surrealism. Imagine 'Dirk Wears White Sox' period Adam Ant if he'd got out of bed on the wrong side that morning. They're a weird bunch but their weirdness works. Encouragingly, a lot of people seem to agree. Despite the early hour, the band pull a respectable crowd to the front, and at the end of their set they win a round of applause significantly greater than some of the higher-billed bands will get today. Nice one.
The Faces Of Sarah have practically nothing in common with The Ghost Of Lemora, beyond the fact that they also have a 'the something of something' name. Musically, they're rooted firmly in the tradition of late 80s/early 90s four-square gothic rock, and one glance at the band as they troop on stage confirms that they don't do image. This is a band which sells itself entirely on the quality of its music, and you've got to respect them for that. These days, when sometimes it seems like all a band needs to get ahead is a handful of pre-programmed sequences and an ability to chant in a monotone over the top, TFOS's old-skool approach appears oddly quixotic - they're swimming against the tide and they know it. Fortunately, they're strong swimmers. Their major asset is their singer, Nick Schultz, who has an outstandingly good voice - although at the rate he sucks his fags on stage I can't help wondering how long it'll last. They brew up a strong rock noise - at times somewhat like The Mission at their most anthemic. If you're a diehard Mish fan, but you suspect that ol' Hussey will never write another 'Tower Of Strength', you need to check out TFOS. They make *just* the music you're looking for. There's not a great deal to look *at*, it must be said - Nick hunches behind the mic as if using it as a barrier between himself and the audience, while the band tend to just stand there and play. In fairness, the new bass player throws a few shapes which livens up his corner of the stage, and there's a female backing singer opposite him who does a few twirls, but the show doesn't really come alive until Candia of Inkubus Sukkubus runs on to lend vocals to the male/female duet, 'Misery Turns'. She leaps around with great enthusiasm and completely throws herself into the song, challenging Nick line for line. It's a great performance, but it does rather point up the band's general lack of visual verve. It's coming to something when the most exciting part of your band's set is the appearance of the guest vocalist - and this, perhaps, is the area where TFOS need to sharpen up.
Last time I reviewed Seize - at the Malediction all-dayer in Reading a few months back - I expressed astonishment that a commercial dance outfit (for that is what Seize are) was playing at a goth event. Well, here they are again, playing at *another* goth event, and I'm *still* astonished! I don't know who's making the decisions here - do Seize have a manager? Or is this their own idea? Either way, it makes no sense. Seize make bouncy house-influenced electro-dance with light, poppy, female vocals. Even if we push the goth-envelope as far as it can possibly go, until it includes EBM and all manner of related electronica, Seize still don't qualify as anything remotely gothic. They'd probably be very successful in the commercial house scene - so why don't they point their career in that direction? They're on a hiding to nothing, playing to goths, and I'm astounded that they can't seem to twig this basic fact. Just one glance off the stage during this performance should clue them in - the crowd thins out dramatically as people simply walk away. Interestingly enough, the set seems to have been re-jigged somewhat since the Malediction gig - they now take things a little slower, getting close to a trip-hop groove at times. I wonder if this is a deliberate ploy to win over the goths with music that's a touch darker than usual. If so, it's not working. The crowd reaction is no more than lukewarm, and although the singer remains cheerful throughout (and even dances enthusiastically with the keyboard-bloke to the last song) I can't believe Seize aren't getting the message. As I said before, they're not a *bad* band - they're very good at what they do. But they're massively out of place in the goth scene. Better opportunities surely await them elsewhere, and the goth scene has many more appropriate bands who deserve this slot.
D.U.S.T. roar into action with their trademark energy-burst. There's yet another new line-up - their drummer has been replaced by a chap in PVC strides. I'm not sure how many line-up changes D.U.S.T. have gone through now, but they certainly seem to have trouble filling that 'fourth member' slot. They've oscillated between drummers and keyboard players several times - and the frustrating thing is, the band sound so much *better* with live drums. A human being at the back, flailing away on the beat, creates just the right physical presence (not to mention sheer *noise*) for the band's gung-ho glam-punk approach. D.U.S.T. make so much more *sense* with a drummer. That's not to say the electronix-driven version of the band is bad, mind - quite the reverse. Their crazed, manic, energy is present and correct, and, under all the thrashing around, the songs are still as naggingly catchy as ever. D.U.S.T. are worthy heirs to Children On Stun's 'catchy songs' crown, although there's so much freaking out and rushing around happening on stage it's sometimes difficult to appreciate just how good their songs are. D.U.S.T.'s manic energy is the first thing that hits you: it's the dominant aspect of the live show, and sometimes it can overwhelm the band's more subtle qualities. So - we'll file this one under G for Good, but I really think it's time the 'fourth member problem' was sorted once and for all (and sorted in favour of the drummer-option, if you ask me!)
Midnight Configuration are the great survivors of the 90s UK goth scene. Other bands have come and gone, but Midnight Configuration just keep on going. They've never been universally loved - for many people, the sticking point is vocalist and main man Trev's singing style: his voice is loaded with effects until it becomes a headache-inducing 'Huuuurrrrggghh!'. For others, it's the band's trademark thumping electro-beats - if you're of the trad-goth persuasion, Midnight Configuration are probably your worst nightmare. Others can't be doing with the band's rather self-consciously 'dark' lyrical themes. But Midnight Configuration have ploughed on regardless, and through sheer persistence have built up a fan following which is certainly loyal - although, if their middle-of-the-bill slot here at Gotham is any guide, not massively large. Still, a combination of diehard fans and the merely curious congregate down the front as the band crank up. Trev looms tall at the mic. The beat starts walloping away, the guitar crashes in, and - hang on, where are the vocal effects? That trademark 'Huuurrrgghh!' sound has given way to something dangerously close to a natural voice. The effect is still present, but it's been backed off substantially, to the point where you can actually understand the words...most of which seem to be about hell and damnation. Ah, those old standbys! There are two dancing girls on stage: one, stage left, in a nifty rubber dress. The other, stage right, looks like she's just wandered in off the street. This creates an odd lop-sided feel to the show, but all eyes are on Trev as he declaims his lyrics with the melodramatic intensity of a quack doctor selling snake oil out of the back of a covered wagon. It's hard to know if we're supposed to take it all seriously, or if the band are playing it for laughs. Certainly, when Trev suddenly makes 'metal fingers' at us and hollers 'HAIL SATAN!' the effect is so funny that several people in the audience get a sudden attack of the giggles. Whether it's intentional or not, Midnight Configuration come across like a novelty-techno version of Cradle Of Filth - an amusing interlude at a show like this, but not, I would suggest, the stuff of which glittering careers are made.
The latest in a seemingly never-ending stream of ex-Nephilim bands, NFD, were originally scheduled to appear next. However, it seems they've pulled out. Frank of Flag Promotions comes on stage to explain that the problem was 'contractual difficulties' - but he doesn't sound very convinced. Whatever the real reasons behind the no-show, our substitute band is Altered States, the 80s-vintage goth-rockers who are currently in the throes of (by my calculations) their second come-back and fourth line-up. Their rumbustious, solid rock is always effective, but their on-off career over the last few years has made many of their old fans give up in frustration. Meanwhile, the band haven't really done enough to attract a new fanbase. Thus it is that their set is received with polite interest, rather than any kind of huge enthusiasm. As ever, the old songs get the best reaction. There's some new stuff in the set (apparently from a new album that's been in the works for two years) - but the new songs sound workmanlike rather than inspirational. Because of their history, Altered States always get respect from their audiences, but in truth they've been living off their old glories for too long now - and their new material doesn't sound particularly like it's shaping up to be *new* glories. If I were Altered States, I'd be rather worried about that.
At last, we're up into the headline-zone. Two imported bands top off the show - which illustrates the difficulty of finding genuine headline-status crowd-pullers from within the UK scene. We've got plenty of bands, and indeed plenty of *good* bands, but bands which have that essential top-of-the-bill impact? Ah. Now *there* we have a problem! So, all the way from Germany, please welcome Girls Under Glass. This is a band with a long and honourable history in the German darkwave/industrial/whatever scene (Project Pitchfork started out as GUG's support band!) and this guarantees immediate interest from the crowd. Their set-up is surprisingly conventional - GUG are, in fact, an entirely straightforward guitar-bass-drums-keyboards band, rather than the heavily-sequenced industrial technology merchants their history might suggest. But the music definitely passes the dynamic test. It drives along on a heavy-duty rhythmic foundation, the bass and drums hammering away like nobody's business. It's akin, I suppose, to vintage Killing Joke - with the essential difference that GUG's vocalist is a far more amiable and approachable presence than Jaz Coleman. Nobody's doing a bug-eyed loony act on stage tonight! The audience perks up considerably as GUG's intense rhythmic groove gets everyone moving. This is the kind of quality performance we've been waiting for - no gimmicks, no tricks, just cool, driving, industrial-groove rock. Xymox will have to pull out all the stops to beat this.
Clan Of Xymox have become a familiar band on the UK circuit over the last few years, and this familiarity has, perhaps, diluted their impact somewhat. The band's 1998 gig in London (the first time they'd played in the UK for eleven years) was a real *event*, which attracted a huge crowd from all over the country. Xymox themselves rose to the occasion magnificently, and turned in a great performance that's still spoken of today as one of the all-time classic gigs of the 90s. Modesty, alas, forbids me to mention the promoter of that show *cough* ;-) Now, however, the band are relatively frequent visitors to the UK, and while they still have their top band reputation, I think the 'must-see' element to a Xymox gig has fallen away a little. Perhaps the band themselves are also feeling a little jaded - their set tonight has a rather worrying 'autopilot' feel as the band cruise through a fairly familiar stack of tunes without breaking much of a sweat. They're far too professional to let things slide to the point that they do a *bad* show, but after Girls Under Glass, who seemed to really *want* to be here tonight, Xymox give the impression that they're just doing their job. Still, it's good to hear such songs as 'A Day' (still the number which gets the best reaction from the UK crowd) and 'This World', and the band's visual presence is highly effective. They've definitely got a certain style about them, and this is the element that commands the attention of the audience even if the show itself isn't exactly a blockbuster. They've got two three-song encores lined up (I can see the set list from my position at the front) but whether they played those encores I cannot say. The show's running late. All of a sudden it's 11pm and time to run for the last train home. It's Sunday night, and London closes down early. So, regretfully, I have to miss the end of the Xymox set.
As I walk towards the exit at the back, I'm astonished at how small the crowd has become - I guess I'm not the only one who's had to rush off to get a train home. There must be no more than 200 people watching Xymox at this point, and in a 1,500 capacity venue like the Camden Palace, that makes for an obviously, embarassingly, thin audience. Maybe this is why Xymox don't seem particularly enthusiastic tonight - they've travelled all the way from Amsterdam for what should have been a fairly major festival-event, and they end up playing to substantially less of an audience than they'd get at a regular gig. Not a great result for the band, and perhaps another illustration of why this trend towards festival events possibly doesn't have much of a long-term future. Next time you're in London, Xymox, don't do the festival-thing. Hold out for a straightforward *gig*, where the entire show can be built around *you*, and the more manageable size of the event will mean that over-running won't be a problem. And if your promoter won't accept that idea, tell him from me to put his ego in his pocket and do what's best for the *music* for once!
see all the photos from this concert here
Clan Of Xymox: http://www.clanofxymox.com/
Girls Under Glass: http://www.girls-under-glass.de
Altered States: http://www.altered-states.co.uk
Midnight Configuration: No website, but there's a recent interview with Trev here: http://www.proservcenter.be/darkerthanthebat/interviews.html
The Faces Of Sarah: http://www.thefacesofsarah.co.uk
The Ghost Of Lemora: http://www.geocities.com/theghostoflemora
Flag Promotions: http://www.flagpromotions.com
Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: http://www.nemesis.to
San Francisco, CA
May 10th, 2002
~review by Eric Rasmussen
When I went to The Pound on May 10th, 2002, I went to see Immortal. There were other bands, but as I didn't especially like them, it probably wouldn't do a lot of good to talk about them. Except for the opening nu-metal act, which was so intolerable I nearly vomited. But, clever as they were, they didn't give us a name, so it'd be hard to hunt them down with pitchforks and pointy sticks.
I was already pretty excited about Immortal from having met Abbath a few hours earlier to interview him (you can check out the transcription from this issue), and I was wondering how much different he would look on stage with his corpse paint and gear on. The transformation wasn't just the sum of putting on some make-up and picking up guitar. When Immortal hit that stage they were more than just three Norwegians with their instruments - they were black metal warriors.
You might think that sounds cheesy, but you had to be there to see it. They wore their corpse paint as naturally as skin and launched into an hour of razor sharp and light speed riffs that had the entire club moving. There was barely room to breathe it was packed so tight, and desperate as I was to see Immortal close up, I was standing only two people away from the stage and headbanging like mad with everyone else. With each new song the moshpit would explode violently again and I'd be pummeled in the back by the people being flung around. It may sound harsh, but oddly it wasn't. There was a certain peace among the people there. They wanted to see Immortal. They knew the songs, and they were out there to move and give Immortal their energy, their respect through strong physical reaction to the songs. Anyone knocked over was helped up, and even the most conservative people were eventually moving along to the music.
Magical is a word I don't use to descibe things often for two reasons. One is that it's a little corny, and the other is that it is most powerful when used sparingly. Immortal's performance is worthy of the word magical for the latter reason. They turned the club into an incredible mass of moving energy, one living entity that only knew a single purpose and fed off of the music.
And now that I'm through trying to articulate the Immortal Experience (tm), we can get down to the music. They played so many classics that it's hard to remember them all. Among my favorites were Withstand the Fall of Time, Damned in Black, Sons of Northern Darkness, and Tyrants. Each song came to life with explosive energy. The production on Immortal's newest album does them more justice than ever, but it's still difficult to compare to the stage performance. It's hard to believe the band members can move with such speed. The aggression was broken up in two different ways with two profoundly different effects. Either the song would slow down for an atmospheric section to let people breathe and gear up for the next full-on metal riff, or the band would alter the studio songs by completely stopping what they were doing to throw everyone off only to jump back in a few seconds later. The stop and start playing riled people up even more.
I whole-heartedly encourage metal fans to give Immortal a try and to check them out live when the opportunity arises. If you live in the Bay Area you should also visit The Pound, which frequently has metal concerts at good prices. If you're not an Immortal fan then you won't appreciate it on the same level that I and other Immortal fans did. Regardless, even if you've never heard the band before, Immortal is one of the most important groups in Scandinavian metal right now. If you call yourself a metal fan, chances are you'll get into their live music. The boundless energy epic feeling in the songs, along with the pounding drum and bass rhythm section, makes for music that is purely metal.
Immortal - Official Website:
Abbath - Vocals, guitars
Horgh - Drums
Saroth - Bass
San Jose, CA
June 6th, 2002
~review by Eric Rasmussen
(The photos are courtesy of Soilwork's official website at www.soilwork.com.)
This was my first time at the Cactus Club, and I was pretty impressed with it. The club was large enough to allow breathing room for anyone who wanted it, as there was a main standing area in front of the stage and then other sections with a bar, arcade, and an area to buy t-shirts and CDs. Of course, the club wasn't gigantic by any means, but I'm used to The Pound in San Fransisco, which has very little room to move once things get going.
With as large as the Cactus Club was, however, things filled up pretty good near the end of the night. Opening the show was Single Bullet Theory, and they did a good job getting everyone in the mood for some metal. Following them was Scar Culture, and then Killswitch Engage. All three bands did fine jobs, and especially with the latter two the mosh pits really got going. But since Soilwork is the only band I'm real familiar with and it's too late for anyone to see this specific tour now, I'm going to focus on them.
::cue Indiana Jones theme music::
Ok, do you have that theme playing back in your head now? It was the tune that heralded Soilwork's epic stage arrival. That was certainly unexpected, but everyone got into it and was chanting Soilwork's name. Seconds later the club exploded as Soilwork kicked right into "The Chainheart Machine." The driving riff had everyone moving, and the mosh pit was frantic. The performance was everything I had hoped it would be. The band members moved around the stage frequently, getting into the music and working everyone up. Peter Wichers and Ola Frenning would walk over to each other and play twin leads with amazing speed, clearly enjoying what they were doing. The effect wasn't lost on the crowd. Most everyone was headbanging, moshing, cheering, or generally just watching in awe.
The set continued as Soilwork blasted through a number of my favorites including: Needle Feast, The Analyst, Natural Born Chaos, As We Speak, and then two others that each contained a surprise... the first was on Follow The Hollow. The infamous Chuck Billy of Testament came on stage to sing with Speed. The crowd went nuts as they were chanting Chuck's name in unison and cheering him on. His singing added a lot to the song as the two traded off to round out one hell of a night. Chuck Billy exited the stage, and after another song Soilwork seemed completely intent on leaving - and then as everyone yelled and cried for them to come back we saw Peter Wichers approach Speed and say something.
I had no idea what was going on, but then they mentioned a second surprise. They called Eric Peterson, Testament guitarist, to the stage. He picked up a guitar and started jamming with Peter and Ola for the last performance of the night, The Flameout. Let me tell ya, it was really something to see Soilwork kick ass with two living legends. It made an awesome performance even more memorable.
It's hard to describe just what made this such a great performance. If you've heard Soilwork's music you know it's full of energy and grooves and solos (which are frightening to watch the guitarists play), and Soilwork completely lived up to their studio sound on the stage. Watching everyone bounce around and mosh made the energy even more incredible, and the band and audience fed off each other the entire time. I strongly suggest seeing Soilwork the next time they come through your area, because you'll be in for one hell of a ride. And if you still haven't checked out their studio music, get to it!
Soilwork Official Website:
Peter Wichers - guitars
Björn "Speed" Strid - vocals
Ola Frenning - guitars
Ola Flink - bass
Henry Ranta - drums