THE DAMNED THINGS. Borderline, London. 10.06.10

This really shouldn’t work. And not just live but, like, at all. Seriously, if someone had told you just a month ago that come today members of Anthrax, Fall Out Boy, and Every Time I Die would be taking to a tiny London stage to show off their new band’s new songs, you’d probably have asked them what they were smoking. But here The Damned Things are. And hell if they don’t sound superb. In fact, from feedback-powered start to big riffed finish tonight, they sound like they’ve been playing together for decades. And you can actually see people- it doesn’t matter which stars they’re here to see- working that out as this gig goes on.

Rob Caggiano stands strong and seems real rock of the band while Scott Ian betrays his elder statesman status and plays like a wild-eyed kid but third guitarist Joe Trohman is the biggest surprise. Dude might have been propping up pretty pop songs for the last few years but he can’t half shred too, adding both ripping solos and true grit to ‘Bad Blood’, ‘Grave Robber’, and the potentially world-beating ‘We’ve Got a Situation Here’. And Keith Buckley is a revelation too. Sure his voice has improved with every album and tour that Every Time I Die have done but it pays huge dividends here, the dude pretty much encapsulating rock god with every gravelly drawl, great hook or gigantic chorus.

There’s really no need for all three guitarists, you could probably make the exact same noises with just one, but that is perhaps The Damned Thing’s one nod to excess and the sort of pomp so regularly associated with any outfit dubbed a supergroup. Because this is no flabby vanity project or dull distraction, no part-time hobby for rich dudes from rich bands, but a group with a palpable fire and fury, a band making music that’s often more than the sum of its parts, and an outfit that feel like they could take over the goddamn world.



Summer is overrated. It's hot and sweaty and populated by bugs and smug shirtless gits. Minus the Bear know this and the Seattle band have mined a pretty marvelous seam of wintry, snow-capped indie pop over the last few years. Hell, even when writing songs about speed boats and bikinis they've sounded icicle cool. On album number four though, the white hot 'OMNI', they've only gone and embraced the hottest of seasons and produced some of their hottest songs too.

You can feel the burn from the off- opener ‘My Time’ shimmers like heat haze as bom-chicka-wah-wah hooks unfurl everywhere and Dave Knudson plays a lazy surf solo not on his guitar but the electronic omnichord- and it’s all pretty indicative of where this thing is going. We get throbbing basslines, guitars that glitter like bright white surf, airy clear-sky synths, even steel drums. We get lines about summer angels, hot nights and hotter sex (seriously, the band could probably get arrested for some of these lyrics), and music made for afternoons doing nothing, or maybe just doing something naughty, outside.

It’s not all top stuff. The verses of ‘The Thief’ push the sleazy vibe so far it sounds like a joke (although that chorus is just dreamy), ‘Animal Backwards’, which actually is highlight ‘Into the Mirror’ backwards, doesn’t work, and there’s no escaping the fact that something like epic finisher ‘Fooled By the Night’ would sound better flecked in frost not beaded in sweat. Jake Snider's vocals are still set to divide people too- if you've never heard passion in the dude's breathy drawl then you'll find none here either- and despite the talk of new methods and instruments Minus The Bear haven't reinvented a goddamn thing here either.

Really though, that’s fine. ‘Omni’ may be warm not wintry but it turns out Minus the Bear can be a band for all seasons. And in keeping almost everything but the temperature in a similar state as on their last few records they maintain a quality level and consistency increasingly rare in music let alone whatever genre folks are trying to squeeze them in this week. This is Minus the Bear pretty damn close to their best. Hot stuff.


NARROWS. Underworld, London. 05.05.10

Botch were brilliant. Sure, they sold few records and fizzled away rather than went out with a bang but they will always be standard bearers of smart, independent heaviness and will inspire a new band every day forever whether they like it or not. So to say that it’s good to have Botch frontman Dave Verellen back is an understatement. In fact as the dude opens his mouth and screams the first words of his new band’s debut London show, it feels like the last five years never happened, t-shirts and hair never scored a record deal, and hardcore is just as vital as used to be.

Before Narrows set about saving a genre though, Throats (just one of those bands with Botch in their influences list) throw down hard. And despite being frustratingly young it feels like they’re just inches (or a debut album) away from making the vital transition from angry boys to a black-hearted hate-fuelled expert outfit set to kill. Their weapons are relentless heaviness, big riffs, inhuman barks and ferocious fuck-you songs and very soon they’ll come for you.

Narrows are already here though- amps hissing, feedback flying, and, despite claiming that he’s forgotten to do this kind of thing, frontman stalking the stage like the good ol’ days. And Narrows is much more than Verellen too- alumni of Some Girls, Unbroken, These Arms Are Snakes and Tropics on stage not just making up the numbers but tying together the likes of ‘Chambered’ and the superbly spiky ‘Newly Restored’ with style and skill. It’s not Botch- it’s less like their rows upon rows of razor sharp teeth and more like a grimy, bloodied-gum pitbull’s maw- but it doesn’t feel like a competition anyway. It feels like hardcore punk done exactly right.

It all could have finished completely toothless though as a closing ‘Life Vests Float, Kids Don’t’ is crippled by a power cut but instead of looking embarrassed and sloping off, Verellen (“we knew something was going to go wrong”) just keeps screaming and screaming and finishes the song in the most gloriously gruesome acapella. It turns out to be the best, most dangerous and alive, moment of the night.

Botch were brilliant but their days were numbered, Narrows may be old dogs but they employ old tricks with vicious vigour and sound like they’re never going to let go.


WHALE WATCHING TOUR. Concert Hall, Reading. 25.04.10

This is special. Seriously special. Not like a great night out or brilliant gig kind of special, more than that, not bigger maybe, but better, definitely better. And that’s thanks to the members of the Bedroom Community, an international but decidedly down-to-earth recording collective that have somehow found their way to Reading, and the mystical magical sounds they’ve brought with them. Stressing the plurals is important too as the music really does belong to everyone tonight. From distant, chilling introduction to almost orchestral finish there are no distinct sets, no solid breaks between acts, just one rolling, weaving, stirring showcase of quality.

So Valgeir Sigurðsson’s desperately delicate combination of frozen-over
electronics and early-sun acoustics meets Sam Amidon’s cracked and ragged but perfectly fitting voice, Amidon’s weary words and banjo blur into Ben Frost’s almost-alien art-noise and somehow that sits perfectly next to Nico Mulhy’s contemporary classical compositions. But really everybody works on everything all the time. And a supporting cast armed with trombone, violins, violas, double bass, handclaps, and crinkled plastic aren’t crowded out either, instead adding all-at-once intriguing, interesting, exciting, and vital varied elements to the mix.

Together they run threads through ambient atmospheres, animal sounds, searing strings, booming bass that you feel in the depth of your chest and the juice of your eyes, acoustic folk songs, murder ballads, and soundtracks to movies that haven’t been made yet, and indeed already have, and two hours after the collective first stirred to life (although it feels like just 15 minutes have passed) they finish up a show set to stay with everyone in attendance for quite some time. See, seriously special.


THE BLED- Heat Fetish

There is an x-factor y'know. And it's not the hellish circus sideshow that is Simon Cowell's creation but a genuine unknown, immeasurable thing that can't be bought or sold but just is, or in the case of Tucson terrors The Bled and their fourth full-length, isn't there. Now it’s not that the band are no good- frontman James Muñoz still roars like a demon and the mostly new line-up behind him acquit themselves well- or that this a bad record- taken alone tunes like rabid opener ‘Devolver’, or the wall-of-sound wail of ‘Smoke Breaks’ work in all the right ways- but something is missing. Instead of highlight after highlight ‘Heat Fetish’ becomes a blind-rage mush, songs blending together instead of standing apart or adding up to more than the sum of their parts, and just four or five tracks in it sadly becomes a real chore to continue. Sure, single-song snapshots of ‘Heat Fetish’, taken from anywhere along the 40-minute journey, encourage all sorts of heady comparisons to Hopesfall, Every Time I Die, even Deftones, but where those bands have an innate ability to stick their songs to the inside of your brain, The Bled have no such glue, no x-factor, nothing. A shame.


RUSSIAN CIRCLES. Underworld, London. 13.04.10

Things like this don’t go unnoticed. Thing like Richter-bothering earthquakes, black as death thunderstorms, and the voice of god- things that shake the planet- things like Russian Circles. And sure enough the Underworld is rammed tonight, and not just with beardy weirdy dudes but proper actual people and everything. And of course it is- over the past few years this Chicago trio have turned from post-rock also-rans into genre-busting behemoths with a mammoth live show to match. From slow-burning, sinister start to colossal finish they carve out gigantic, titanic riffs, hypnotising rhythms, and songs that sound like could run on and on and on, so blessed are they with a life of their own. But alongside these rolling apocalypse jams there are moments of magical tender beauty too. Almost ambient interludes arrive like whispers or swell and segue into the next track, never taking away from the flow and energy of the show but building on it, adding vital space and giving just enough breathing room for people to take in how amazing the last song was and prepare for the next one. And the next one is always something- a quiet/loud dark/light slow-motion rollercoaster, a galloping headbanger, or the greatest instrumental that Metallica never wrote- all propelled forward by gritty bass tones, guitar loops and roars, and Dave Turncrantz’s particularly precise and bloody brilliant drumming. Raw but never ragged, not revolutionary but quite capable of causing fear, awe, or religious fervour, and honestly, absolutely, genuinely awesome- seriously, you can quickly run out of words trying to describe how big and brilliant a sound these three small men can make...

MARCH OF THE RAPTORS- March of the Raptors

Put together by members of *Shels, Fireapple Red and Devil Sold His Soul alongside alumni from across the British alternative music scene, March of the Raptors are about as close to a super group as the UK underground has ever got. And their self-titled debut, a dangerously fast and furious firecracker of a record, is pretty darn super too.

If you know what just one of the above bands sounds like then you may know what to expect here, and if you know what they all sound like then you’re pretty ready for it too. And if that’s confusing- considering the breadth of styles that could cover- then you’re actually on the right track. Sharp, scowling, schizophrenic, and sampling something from pretty much every alternative genre, this thing has got issues. Opener ‘Perish In Flames’ barrels along on punk percussion, quick riffs, and a mangle of roared verses and clean choruses, managing to be corrosive and catchy at the exact same time, ‘Grace Of God’ adds an air of doom and sludge to the mix despite continuing at breakneck speed, and final track ‘Unto Themselves’ is a proper epic that could be both Rise Against returning to their hardcore roots and some post-rock behemoths deciding to concentrate on the rock for once.

Despite the variety and skill on show though, it’s all over in the blink of an eye and while it might bite hard on first listen this is a record unlikely to go further than soundtracking a few ferocious parties and finishing mid-table on some end-of-year lists. But it is passionate and honest and heartfelt and, it is worth remembering, just the first snarls from an outfit that feel like they’ve plenty of room to expand and improve and eras left to run.


THE ALBUM LEAF. Bush Hall, London. 23.03.10

People say post-rock is boring, and they might have a point. On record The Album Leaf make few sudden moves. They softly whisper, weave through ambient soundscapes and make gentle post rock shapes that even leave the rock out most of the time. Live though, the band (for while their ship is steered by genius Jimmy LaValle, with 10 people on stage at any one time a band is what they are) supply twists, turns, alarms and surprises. Ok, so there are no thrash riffs or Lady GaGa covers, nothing truly shocking, but there are thumping drum-driven dance beats, shards of static, fiery feedback, and bells and whistles which you may not expect. And it’s not all pre-programmed either- sure, there are enough machines milling away to make NASA jealous but there are three guitarists, a string quartet, and a choir of backing vocals here as well and everything coming through the big speakers in the fittingly beautiful Bush Hall feels real, organic, and vitally alive.

And that proves essential as the show begins not with any warm, familiar favourites but a brace of titles from new album ‘A Chorus of Storytellers’. These songs could have sounded cold or callous or distant but instead feel fully fleshed-out and finely realized- ‘Perro’ a barely-there alien-song of an introduction, ‘There Is a Wind’ expanded from its already rock song beginnings until there’s almost too much going on at once, and ‘Stand Still’ shimmering and essential. The full band treatment isn’t always perfect for the softest of the band’s back catalogue, for songs barely a step up from silence on record but oh-so-serene and special, but tonight’s set doesn’t stop long enough to let any negative thoughts linger. Before you can grimace long at the drums thundering newly through ‘The Outer Banks’, tape loops lope from nowhere, synching with the projections put giant on the venue walls, to steal your heart and instead of debating the introduction of anything but delicate icicle chimes into ‘Vermillion’ you can only hold your breath as its new walls of sound build and collapse and start to build again. Alarms, surprises, and everything and nothing that was expected then- and people say post-rock is boring.



The Dillinger Escape Plan are cutting ties. More than that, they’re breaking chains, burning bridges, and not looking back once. And if it wasn’t clear on their last album, the incredible ‘Ire Works’, that this band no longer care one bit for mathcore, core of any kind for that matter, or their much-heralded past, then album number five proves it permanently- this is a band of pioneers intent only on pushing forward.

‘Farewell Mona Lisa’ is the first sign of where The Dillinger Escape Plan have pushed to in 2010. The sort of squirrelly beast that this band have made their own since 04’s ‘Miss Machine’, but better, it shifts and swells from extreme noise terror to tender croons to angry beehive hum. It’s defiantly individual and singularly brilliant and in five quick minutes it bursts the bubbles of those still vainly holding out hope for a return to the firestorm fury of Dillinger’s very early days. Hell, frontman Greg Puciato sings it straight to them, “What did you expect, that we would never leave home… You should never put your trust in any of us”.

That’s not to say there is no intensity or venom here. Dillinger are still a band capable of sandblasting skin and in two-minute monsters like ‘Good Neighbour’ and ‘Crystal Morning’ they have no doubt added further fuel to their live fire. But the band are best when expanding, perverting and pulling apart these tantrums, turning them into post-everything experiments and (gasp) proper songs.

‘Widower’ goes a little clumsily from soft (love songs licks and Mike Patton-esque singing) to hard (rat-a-tat riffs and screaming about death) but handles both ends perfectly, ‘Room Full of Eyes’ is all bared teeth, electronic buzz and brilliantly rumbling bass, and closer ‘Parasitic Twins’ is dark, intimidating, and atmospheric but oh so beautiful. And despite the fact that this is the longest album Dillinger have released, as it rolls to a close you only want it to roll on and on and on.

Sure, there are other bands that do all these things but rarely at the same time and never this good. Hell, no other band on earth could put off-kilter riffs, robotic on-point percussion, inhuman barks, baroque croons, glockenspiel, strings and David Bowie’s pianist on the same record and produce something this creative, cohesive and coherent. In short, no one else is quite this good in quite this way and probably never will be.

BLUENECK- The Fallen Host

If you’d been holding your breath for this one you’d be dead. Or breaking some kind of record. Not only has it been almost four years since Bristol pock-rock troupe Blueneck released their stunning debut but while the rest of the world got it back in November, the UK (or at least the last of the actual record buying public) has had to wait until now to hear follow-up, ‘The Fallen Host’. The wait though, has been oh so worth it.

From cinematic soundscapes and walls of moody sound to creepy-crawling atmospherics and piles of classic crescendos, this is bleak, brilliant, and powerful stuff. It’s the darker end of post-rock done just right. And while it is a mostly instrumental record (it’s two tracks and ten minutes before anyone parts their lips), when Duncan Attwood does employ a ghostly whisper or distant wail, it’s as vital and valuable as everything else here. Of course comparisons can be made- no Sigur Ros or Godspeed, no Blueneck- but instead of relying on cliché or copycat sounds, this is a smart and individual record that sets its own tone from start to finish. In fact, few albums of the last decade have conjured up the same quality of darkness.

Made for fans of Godspeed, Eno and Explosions In The Sky, and those people who possess the ability to lose themselves in music, this is an equally terrific, terrifying and turbulently emotional record. Go ahead, you can breathe out now...

MATHS- Descent

Stop thinking about single riffs and separate songs and album tracks- think like that and this is never going to work- instead start thinking about bursts of naked rage, nuclear reactor noise, music as raw emotion, and about records that work best as a whole, that need to be consumed in one go. Only then will ‘Descent’, the debut full-length from British boys Maths make perfect sense. Not that this is perfect, mind- it’s obviously early days for a band that currently owes a big debt to outfits like Envy, Orchid, and Saetia- but for all its flaws, ‘Descent’ does regularly rasp, thrill, kill, and feel brilliantly, brutally honest too. It’s a rolling storm of palpably sincere screamo that goes from slow-build atmospherics, across volatile mood shifts, to heavy, heaving-chest, heartfelt intensity that slows, swerves and speeds up without warning but never stops until its done. And then you’ll only want to start all over again. Here’s hoping Maths don’t follow every move of their obvious idols and disband without getting more than album on tape, because this feels like just the beginning of something great

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