There are so many good points here. Embrace Today’s second album holds 12 short, sharp songs that never outstay their welcome, there’s the ferocious drum-pounding of ‘Sing Me a Lullaby’, the ethereal female backing vocals on ‘Diamonds are Forever’ and the slower intensity of the title track. But, and it’s a big one, this is still generic straight-ahead hardcore. While it’s thankfully not be in any way ‘emo’ it does rant and rage about topics covered a million times over in songs that, if you own anything by Sworn Enemy, Champion, or Bane, will sound awfully familiar. Deathwish may well be a label that doesn’t need great strength in depth to succeed but when it comes to ET and ‘We Are The Enemy’ there just aren’t enough flourishes.


DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE+ John Vanderslice. Oxford Brookes SU, Oxford. 11.03.06

Oxford is about as far as you can get from the OC tonight; there are definitely no palm trees around, everyone's too wrapped up under scarves and gloves to work on their tan and it's bloody freezing. Seth Cohen would probably die instantly. But inside the Brookes University union Death Cab For Cutie only have two kinds of songs, love songs and summer songs- it's with that last kind that they bring California to the UK- great, catchy-as-all-hell, irresistible melodic slices of it. Tracks like 'Marching Bands' and 'Settling' simmer with the kind of heat you only get from sunstroke or a packed out gig.

But they're not the only ones that mess with the musical temperature gauge. On record John Vanderslice is another broken balladeer, moping lonely about suicide and fruitless dreams, but with the aid of a full backing band tonight his songs are transformed. They maintain their indie feeling but become the subtlest of guitar-pop, all breathy harmonies and handclaps, and every clever vocal or keyboard hook acts as the perfect warm-up for Death Cab.

The headliners have been on tour for six weeks now so they could be forgiven for forgetting what home looks like, let alone be able to sing about it, but for many of the collected emo faithful Death Cab are quiet, unassuming heroes and the greeting they get could inspire the dead. The band are on top form too, tight and hard, heavier than on record with frontman Ben Gibbard's voice cutting through the songs rather than floating over them. New single 'Crooked Teeth' gets a huge reaction, suggesting the bands' star is still on the rise, 'New Year' and 'Different Names' are emotional highlights and the seamless swapping of instruments and jokes with the crowd prove there is a sense of humour in there too.

Sometimes the band don't quite click, they've never looked or sounded like they should be playing in rooms this size. They never quite 'rock' either and stick to formula a little too often, including Gibbard's samey tone, which means songs mix into each other, but still there are thrilling highs and chilling lows. When Gibbard returns for an acoustic encore the room is totally silent except for those singing along, and it's moments like that, when the connection between band and audience is strongest, that Death Cab For Cutie make perfect sense.


CAVE IN+ Jacob's Stories. Zodiac, Oxford. 06.03.06

It's difficult to use up all of the English languages' positive adjectives in one review but here goes.

How often does someone chatting over your shoulder ruin a perfectly good gig? Well for Jacob’s Stories it kind of makes sense, if only because they are so fantastically, amazingly brilliant their ethereal and angelic tunes block every other sound out.

Having taken many forms in the past, all revolving around one Stuart Lee, tonight JS are a two person band with Lee's light but utterly captivating vocals augmented by his own beats and synths and accompanying violin player. They craft the stuff of egg-sized goosebumps, the sort of music that allows you to think that everything’s going to be OK. By the middle of their set, no one is talking within 15 miles of the Zodiac. Probably. Inside at least, everyone is listening.

After that, Cave In could have seemed brutish and clumsy. Well, after that, any band could, but although they inhabit the exact opposite end of the volume knob, Stephen Brodsky and company make music that appeals to the heart and the soul and for all the same reasons. Despite their near flawless evolution from hardcore screamers to drone rock balladeers and back again, Cave In remain criminally underrated. However, the chance to catch them and their moving, affecting songs this close up is a rare thing indeed. But rarity, it seems, is to be the norm tonight.

Cave In are ill. Brodsky's voice cracks and squeaks, he coughs his lines and stops to sip lemon juice. It shows but it doesn’t matter. They are a piledriver, a heady rock band but with a coach-sized spirit, a wealth of talent and a veritable treasure chest of songs to choose from. They jam riffs, thinking what they can play that might save some tonsils and they make up the set list as they go, advised by non-stop requests. They pick out gems like 'World Is In Your Way', 'Trepanning', 'Off to Ruin' and 'Dark Driving', songs that other bands would kill for, and toss them out to a steadily more receptive crowd. And when Brodsky’s voice finally blows out on ‘Big Riff’ and he asks Stuart Lee to the front the result is magnetic. Singer-less and sick Cave In are still magnificent

It may sound like clunky, karaoke, Spinal Tap-like hell but this was once in a gig-going lifetime stuff, the sort of thing that will never ever happen again.

Breathtaking. Exceptional. Perfect.

DOOMRIDERS+ November Coming Fire+ Shaped By Fate. Furnace, Swindon. 04.03.06

Self declaring 'the best band in the world', The Doomriders are in fact just plain not very good. What they do have is Nate Newton, and the promise of a member of Converge on show in close quaters like these is always going to sell a few tickets.

But before all that, let's get the quality musicianship out of the way.

After an unenthusiastic review of their debut EP, Shaped By Fate suggested their new material would make me eat my words, well, someone pass the salt. The band have always made a mockery of their recorded output with their live show and if their next release has harnessed the jagged energy flowing through the new songs aired tonight there will be simply no stopping them.

A departing crowd seems to suck the life out of November Coming Fire (but whether they leave to nurse SBF-inflicted pit-wounds or steer clear of the now terribly-unfashionable NCF boys is unclear). A shame because their music, once the stuff of many many other bands, has mutated into, admittedly mostly mosh free, but brilliantly dark riff-led noise. Now more Mastodon than Norma Jean they are infinitely inventive and thrillingly refreshing and therefore go down like a band without a MySpace account.

You can excuse people for walking to the front to take a picture of the Doomriders mainman and then buggering off back to the bar, especially when the band seem so amateur after what's gone before. They start and fuck up and start again but do nothing that you couldn't already find on any Black Sabbath or Misfits album. The thing is, unlike the band before them, Doomriders couldn’t give a shit what Swindon thinks and while they might not play their sludgy skate-punk rock-and-roll note perfect they do it with reckless abandon- an attitude and style that sucks people from the back of the room, throwing their fists and dancing like metalcore never happened.

Apparently there’s nothing like good, but possibly not very clean, fun to make the scene look utterly ridiculous.

VIATROPHY+ No Made Sense+ Outcryfire+ Embalmed Alive. Phatz Bar, Maidenhead. 02.03.06

From the outside in, Maidenhead looks alright. It's green, gracious and not exactly fast-paced but tonight it throws up four bands that seem more than a little pissed-off. What exactly is there to be mad about?

The fact that Embalmed Alive arrive onstage taking longer to introduce their songs than actually play them should only endear them to metal fans everywhere. Theirs is a furious mix of grind, thrash and hardcore that, when they work out how to make a proper show of it, could go down very well indeed on many bigger stages.

Outcryfirestomp and groove like vintage metal should, but quite how five teenagers manage to sound so damn, well… old, is remarkable. Some of their set hammers hard enough to grab the attention but elsewhere they find the gear marked 'plod' all too easily and take just a little too long to get the point of their songs across.

No Made Sense begin as a thrilling prospect but suffer almost the same pacing problems. They've fired their horribly fashionable lead singer and in guitarist Leo have a superstar in the making but the now three-man unit still churn out the same screaming metal without much change in tempo and wading through flowery minutes of widdling guitars and pointless sludge is never fun.

Viatrophy have all the right moves; the players are obviously talented and singer Adam is suitably violent, but their metalcore is equally difficult to enjoy as too often their fantastic, mammoth riffs are interrupted by attempted atmospherics. If they can reign in the desire to make every song a tribute to Unearth, start firing on all their own cylinders and their genre retains its bankable market, they have the ability to turn heads on a national scale.

Local scene shows can only go a few ways, occasionally throwing up real gems but normally producing self-conscious or self-important shit. Tonight fell somewhere in the middle, revealing nothing too special, but proving that there's enough rage, even in a conservative, middle-class commuter town like Maidenhead, to form the odd band, and get a few people to come along to a show or two. Wish you were here?