TOOL: LIVE 2022

LONDON O2 ARENA: MAY 10TH, 2022. TOOOOOOOL….. CAN THEY LIVE UP TO THE EXCITEMENT IN YOUR TOOL-NERD MIND?

A shade after 8:30, they’re on. Fear Inoculum is up first, a gently building Toolscape to set the scene and IT’S HAPPENING, it’s actually bloody happening. Then it’s a three-decade rewind to Sober, which is huge but with this unexpected diversion:

“….happy birthday dear Danny … happy birthday to you.”

Woven seamlessly into Sober’s bleak spell is Maynard’s singalong for the big fella Carey on the drums.

“Old as fuck. It could be your last.”

A couple more waspy barbs and a quick crowd singalong later, we’re back into Sober’s dark underbelly where Adam Jones’s original video plays out on the colossal backdrop. This is followed by Undertow and Pushit. Is this a start or what? The playing’s as meticulous, forceful and exceptional as the records so there’s pretty much no point describing it. Every riff, break, drop, surge, polyrhythm, tempo shift or whatever it is that knocks you out when you play the albums is right there.

Which leads to this: if the music’s beyond question (and it is), what’s the point of a review?

It’s to somehow share the spectacle – because that’s what this turns out to be. It IS a spectacle. Lasers and lights and the huge backdrop’s never-ending liquid flow of visuals sucking you into a psychedelic odyssey of infinite godheads, third eyes, altered states and more make for a meticulously staged art show, though it’s very much Tool art. Like their album packaging, the attention to detail is exquisite. And a silhouetted, mohawked Keenan on the risers either side of the drums, crouching and swaying like a predatory sex gimp, adds to the illusion. Total integration, full immersion.

Tool play Invincible
Tool trip

Pneuma and Right in Two maintain the prolonged ecstatic hit but if there’s a lull (sorry, don’t shoot), it’s 7empest. Felt a bit of energy leak away in its second half. Having played it again several times since the show, I wonder why I thought that – still sounds every inch the Tool epic, still works as a Fear Inoculum finale. Maybe it’s more an album experience than a live thruster, but Fear Inoculum veers a little that way anyway. Refined and reflective.

But that’s just a minor plateau in 2.5 half hours. The highs are harder to pick because of the ridiculous levels sustained throughout. The Grudge – slightly faster than on record? – is one, as is Aenima’s venomous Hooker With A Penis. Tool still hit hard. And Keenan revelled in that one.

A 10-minute breather with an on-screen clock counting down the minutes leads to an encore: Chocolate Chip Trip, Culling Voices (Tool-on-stools acoustic intro) and a storming, poignant Invincible to finish.

It’s a sign of just how good a gig is that the absence of some of your mostest specialest tunes (Jambi Aenima Schism etc etc etc) doesn’t matter one fucking jot. With volume and visuals like these, Tool’s already exceptional music is ultra enhanced. It’s the full trip. We know the guys on stage are regular, if ridiculously gifted, mortals breathing air and blowing snot like the rest of us. But it’s more fun to pretend they’re not. Not tonight, not on that stage. Tonight, they’re aliens, riding a hallucinogenic vortex and brainwashing us with musical divinity.

And if that sounds over the top, so what? If you were there, you know. If you get Tool, you know. London, the O2: a gig for all time.

KILLING JOKE : LIVE 2022

LOVE. WAR. BECAUSE. VIRUS. Those are the first four tracks: Love Like Blood, Wardance, The Fall of Because, I Am The Virus. Funny how random words can sound timely.

Then again, Killing Joke track titles always do, and 2022 seems to be exactly the right time to see them. War, COVID, climate, hyper communication, they’re all fuel to the agitated perma-tension backdrop that is the KJ MO. Their time is now. Same as it ever was.

In Hammersmith for the last date of the current tour, it’s Love Like Blood that gets rolled out first, and even if we didn’t see The Big One being launched that fast, it’s a euphoric shot of unity to kick things off. Wardance cuts through next, then The Fall of Because. Which is, as ever, total psychosis. All rhythm and no groove, it tells you just how awkward and dissonant that early Killing Joke sound is. Pylon beast I Am The Virus barks huge, and by this point you’ve got the hang of the gig. You remember what it is that defines KJ live: relentlessness. The volume, the swirling lunacy of Geordie’s guitar, the permanent static, drones and crackle (or is it tinnitus?), the bass and kick drum vibrating your sternum. What you get live is a version of the band – the heaviest, least varied version. No spacious dub reworks, none of the recent dance-NRG uber anthems like European Super State or Big Buzz, nothing subtle like Primobile, no Ghosts of Ladbroke Grove ebb. It’s a one-dimensional bludgeon to the brink of the chaos.

Other tracks? Requiem, The Death and Resurrection Show, Mathematics of Chaos and Total Invasion are in there, as is The Wait whose tension-packed riff sounds more sinister and paranoid than ever. Best of all though is the apocalyptic This World Hell. Shit me. It’s heavy enough on Absolute Dissent, but here it’s a stop-start juggernaut in flames with a double kick that pummels from the inside out. And while we’re on that point, Big Paul Ferguson is end-to-end phenomenal.

A Bloodsport-Pandemonium encore wraps the night. Triumphant? Yeah, no question. It’s only in the dying seconds of stage time, just before everyone walks off, that Geordie’s face finally shows any expression – a huge smile as the band hug each other and thank the Hammersmith gathering. It belies the abrasion he’s concocted for the previous 90 minutes but this is nothing new. Effortless, expressionless force is his forte. Always has been.

How long can they keep doing their music live in this way? Don’t know, though the Lords of Chaos EP shows no sign of mellowing, not in the studio anyway. Bring on the next long player.

Want more Geordie? Check The Damage Manual

Killing Joke at Hammersmith 2022
Lords of chaos?

NAPALM DEATH LIVE: A FIRST-TIME REACTION

NEVER SEEN NAPALM DEATH LIVE? NEITHER HAD I. THIS IS WHAT YOU GET

Friday 11 March, 2022. Oxford’s O2 Academy. Upstairs, in the cosy bit – this is where Napalm Death 2022 are going to destroy. Ho-lee shit.

First, a disclaimer, just so you know where these words come from: I’m no Napalm pro. A handful of albums (Greed Killing EP, Enemy of the Music Business, Time Waits for No Slave, Smear Campaign, Fear Emptiness Despair) have spattered the past twenty-odd years and their obliterating Nazi Punks Fuck Off cover has been a pulverising favourite for even longer, but there are plenty of Napalm holes. Doesn’t matter. They’ve been a band for violent kicks more than regular listening and those albums, TWFNS especially, have more than done the job.

But what’s the reaction to the real thing right there, in your face?

SO. FCKN. HEAVY. It’s laughably obvious to say that but it’s all you can do when you’re in disbelief at what you’re witnessing. Napalm Death in the flesh at full pelt with even more density (how?) than the albums is unlike anything else. Precision, violence, intensity, a total revelation. A wall of noise. No tricks. Pure ferocity.

But that ferocity is shot through with friendship. No posturing, no machismo aggro and no barriers: Napalm Death are the people. Everyone’s welcome, which is all the more impressive given the musical hostility coming off the stage. Shane Embury, Mitch Harris and Danny Herrera are impeccably tight while Barney, aka the youngest-looking 52-year-old you’ll ever see, moves with an endearing, almost gentle eccentricity. But his vocal delivery is immense and full-on, song after song. Your only worry is that one night he’ll sweat away his entire body and be reduced to mist. A screaming, raging mist no doubt, but still: KEEP EATING, BARNEY.

Tracks played (identified here only because Barney announced them) include Contagion, Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism, Narcissus, Suffer the Children, Siege of Power, Scum and the epic You Suffer. Taste the Poison too (I did recognise that one, well done me). Nazi Punks Fuck Off, obvs. And a ton of other fast bastard cuts, none of them anything less than monstrous.

Odd as it seems, this Napalm Death experience has a lot in common with King Crimson. It’s all in the pre-gig giddiness and anticipation before the show, though it’s not just about seeing a band for the first time. It’s about seeing a certain kind of band for the first time – bands with next-level reputations, bands who are pioneers, bands that excel, bands whose live shows transcend but you don’t know how exactly because you haven’t seen them

yet.

King Crimson do it through a seven-man spectacle of orchestration, complexity and musicianship that sends you back to their albums with new ears. King Crimson on stage are entirely their own thing.

And so are Napalm Death. Bit less orchestration and slightly shorter songs, but no less a spectacle. INSANE. Time to add more mass to the ND back catalogue.

Resentment is always seismic

DESERT STORM: LIVE

FIRST GIG SINCE THE PANDEMIC. WHO BETTER THAN THIS LOT PEELING STRIPS OFF THEIR HOME TURF?

The Bullingdon, Oxford, October 21st, 2021

Never bought a ticket as fast after seeing a listing … first gig after lockdown/s is going to be Desert Storm? YES. Deep down, I’d quietly hoped the scheduling stars would align like this – surely the most dependably metallic way to break back into Oxford gig action.

But before they take the stage in The Bullingdon, it’s APF Records labelmates Battalions, straight outta Hull, whose sludge grooves and downer riffs hit the target hard. Tasty filthy, mmmm. Phil Wilkinson’s hostile screams belie his friendly manner so be warned if you’re a Battalions first-timer, like what I is: his zero melody style is harsh. But it’s a good set and the mood is right.

And Desert Storm?

Nailed-on quality, end to end. Simple as that. Black Bile, Vengeful Gods and The Machine are among the Omens tracks aired in this comically/pandemically delayed Omens album launch party, and soaring Sentinels anthem Capsized is a natural high. Long-term gig anchor Queen Reefer helps stir up a lively bit of moshing – how long since we’ve seen that? – but it’s the gig-ending double hit of Enslaved in the Icy Tundra and Convulsion (wasn’t it?) that vamps it up into something wilder. Colossal tunes, both.

And in the thick of that peak mosh action is Battalions’ Phil, who’s been slamming hard all night already so he gets the Undiluted Commitment to Metal award, no question. Doesn’t even lose his glasses. Or his beard. Respect.

There’s not much more to write because, really, this is a celebration more than a review. When I went to buy some merch – a 7-inch split single – after the gig, I got a “Thanks for supporting the cause!” from singer Matt Ryan.

A riff-heavy pleasure, obviously. Got to get out there and support our bands: we all need each other. But these guys make it easy because the records and the gigs are so damned good. Hope you’ve got a band or musician like this where you live – and if so, tell us.

WELCOME BACK, Desert Storm.

New Desert Storm album being recorded right now. Tour dates already announced for 2022. New line-up features bassist Mark Dennett who also plays with Battalions

Desert Storm red vinyl 7-inch split single Signals From Beyond
gig souvenir

MASIRO: live 2020 – review

MASIRO AT THE LIBRARY, OXFORD, FEBRUARY 27, 2020

Leave them wanting more. Is this why Masiro only give us 30 minutes of their virtuoso math rock attack?
Nah. It’ll be a scheduling curfew thing in The Library, but the end result is the same. This is nowhere near enough.

Oxford’s Masiro forge a space/mathcore collision that’s loaded with proficiency, technical aggression and melody, but to see it hammered out in real time is a proper thrill. Where Masiro’s albums conjure a precise, sometimes detached machine-like force over a sci-fi backdrop, here we get to see it done with humanity and earthiness – the sweat, the dropped drum sticks, the heat, the body-rocking and the big fuzzy ballsy bass, all without missing a metallic prog beat. It’s why we come to gigs like this: the chance of witnessing a little underground special.

As for the track titles … search me, instrumentals are kinda hard to put names on, but Grand Trine is definitely the final one (isn’t it?) and before that we get ‘a new track that’s pretty complicated … so we’ll try not to fuck it up too much.’ If they did, no-one noticed. Mesmerising.

Masiro don’t seem to gig too often and have had a personnel change recently, but why they aren’t a bigger draw than this is beyond me. Twenty-something people down here tonight? This music deserves many more ears.

Check this short Geodesics album review, hit the Bandcamp link within and load yourself a juddering Masiro shot.

JULIAN COPE live 2020 – review

JULIAN COPE AT SUB89 IN READING, FEBRUARY 2, 2020

Because Oxford no longer seems to figure on Julian Cope’s tour roster, and because yours truly wasn’t up for travelling anywhere – not quite fired up enough after Skellington 3 (patchy good) and Dope on Drugs (erm ….) – it meant a Live Drude Experience was casually written off when the tour was announced. Some other time, eh?

But then, Self Civil War came out. Bastard. Seems this most vital of rock and roll forces still packs a ledded HB, which prompted a lengthy Archdrude listening fest and shit-shit-shit – are there any tickets left for Reading???

Yep. Panic over. Let’s go see Julian on tour. Exciting.

Was it worth it?

The first quarter hour answers that question: the first track is Jehovahkill’s Soul Desert, SOUL BLOODY DESERT, and then a few minutes later we get Autogeddon Blues, not just all-time greats but also big-time responsible for my own initiation into Cope’s alterna-world back in the day. So yes, already worth it, and shame on me for not being arsed enough in the first place.

Anyway, the gig. There’s nothing radical in the set-up, it’s the tried-and-tested No Band format, just Cope solo with a semi-electric acoustic, plenty o’ pedals and rich prickings from his vast body of song. My Facebook Your Laptop and Immortal are the Self Civil War airings, Drink Me Under the Table‘s lusty one-nighter is the Drunken Songs rep, and beyond that we get disparates like Greatness and Perfection, Out of My Mind on Dope and Speed, Culture Bunker, Passionate Friend, They Were on Hard Drugs and Great Dominions.

And Cunts Can Fuck Off. Really. Childishly catchy, it’s a winner because of its explanatory tale starring Cope, a lost stone circle and an Irish saviour on a John Dere tractor. There are loads of barely-hinged tales like this. It’s why his shows always make for a great night out.

Back to the music and the home run: Pristeen crackles with Urthona-styled pedal mania overdrive, Sunspots is more raucous than fried, and the ‘too professional to be a folk song’ zinger World Shut Your Mouth shuts the door on a gig buzzing over with good vibes, as we’ve come to expect from this most on-it of performers.

Question is, will we ever see him with a band again, firing multi-instrument shots of widescreen musicality? Self Civil War’s unfettered axe breaks by Christopher Holman, who is Cope’s tech/support/accomplice tonight, tempted the idea that a band tour might emerge … it’s been a while since we had a gig like this, and maybe it is too late now, but a deep-cuts fully-plugged tour of his Head Heritage albums? Or something like? That’d be worth the travelling, no hesitation.

METALLICA: S&M2 (film)

AUDIO-VISUAL S&M SPECTACULAR – AND A LITTLE BIT OF THE UNEXPECTED

20 years after their S&M excursion with Michael Kamen and The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, Metallica return to the city for a two-date symphonic return: S&M2. For those who couldn’t make it – every Metallica fan in the world, statistically speaking – there’s been a chance to see the concert film in cinemas on October 9. Does it add anything to the Metallica canon?

Let’s warm up a little. You’ve got the biggest metal band of all time putting another extra out there for the fans (has any other band given as much footage as this lot?). They’re on imperious form. And they’ve somehow found time to prep for an orchestra gig and turn it into an international cinema screening so it’s pretty special, a proper event. These are all Good Omens, and with the band at a golden late age in their career, the idea of Symphony Days Re-revisited feels celebratory and critic-proof, which wasn’t necessarily the case with S&M 1999.

Bollocks to critical speculation though, this just feels RIGHT. An unexpected gift from one of the most important bands in your life.

The Ecstasy of Gold sets us off, as ever – always a hair tingler, it is many times more so when pumped with millions of orchestral vibrations and Metallica’s immersive in-the-round camera angles. Then The Call of Ktulu reminds us how infallible a composition it is, unwittingly built for a symphonic set-up.

But just when you think S&M2 might be a straight run though of the original, we get a change. The Memory Remains pops up early to showcase massive audience participation and The Day That Never Comes jolts us into a post-Reload reality – looks like non-S&M tracks will be in the set after all, so now it feels like a gig and we don’t really know what’s coming. GAME ON. Confusion, Moth into the Flame and Halo on Fire make Hardwired the joint most represented album tonight (with Metallica), and other huge cuts include For Whom the Bell Tolls, Wherever I May Roam, No Leaf Clover, One and Load’s titanic closer The Outlaw Torn.

Special mention goes to Master of Puppets, not just because you’re reminded (again) of how structurally fucking awesome it is, but because it’s where the show hits peak charge – the point where collapse into chaos looks most likely. It’s Master of Puppets … things get a little pumped but it doesn’t fall apart. Metallica and friends somehow stick with the score..

What really lifts this gig though are the touches (spoiler alert) that shift it from ‘Can we actually do this orchestral thing?’, which must have a been a concern with S&M 1999, to ‘We know we can do this. How can we make it better?’

Here’s how. Let musical director Michael Tilson Thomas lead us into classical tasters on primitivism and futurism during the interval. Put James on stage with no band, not even a guitar (looks weird), to sing Unforgiven III with army-sized orchestral back-up. Pull the plug literally and give St Anger epic All Within My Hands an oversized Alice in Chains/Jar of Flies acoustica outing. Pretty damned cool.

But best of all …

You remember Cliff Burton, don’t you? We do. So does Scott Pingel … and he’s here to pay tribute.”

(Anesthesia) – Pulling Teeth. OMfG. Cry? You might, you just bloody well might, because watching this virtuoso carve Burton’s solo out of his upright bass in San Francisco is a right-on tribute. Metallica have never been short of generosity, especially for their fans, and this moment captures that: honour paid to their lost past, gifted to someone outside the inner circle, within the show. A precious moment.

Nothing Else Matters and Enter Sandman finish the set – no surprise – but, as with everything else, the symphonic novelty pumps new blood. Metallica have conquered again with an ambitious project that might just put more adventurous fire up ’em. Will they ride a slower Reload swagger or two next time they get in the studio, instead of the slightly by-numbers thrash metal tack of Hardwired? Wouldn’t be surprised. Definitely wouldn’t be disappointed, either.

And Hetfield … you watch him knowing that in a few days from doing this, he checked back into rehab. Let’s hope he does what he has to do and gets well, but he’s in the voice of his life here, as is everyone on and around that stage. There are no minus points, not after a one-off large-screen viewing where symphonic heft surrounds you. It feels too good.

Metallica 2019, S&M2. Still the metal kings.

ALGIERS: live review

ALGIERS AT THE BULLINGDON, OXFORD, JULY 4, 2019

EXPLOSIVE.

Too much already?

I don’t think so. And, judging by the ear-to-ear grins doing the rounds at the Bullingdon, I don’t think anyone else thinks so either.

Algiers lock this 4th of July night down with a one-hour compaction of incendiary avant guitar soul – none of it smooth – and if Walk Like a Panther is your route into this band, as it was for me after a first hearing late last year, you’ll know what that means.

It means you can’t write much without sounding like a shallow, know-nothing arsehole.

Because that track feels like hundreds of years of humanity – struggle, oppression, vitality, love – packed into a fast-edit soundtrack to a burning world, and a lot of that’s down to Franklin James Fisher’s riveting gospel-range vocals. Potent and soul-full, you sense that Algiers are gonna convert that sound into something truly special live because they have to. With a track that fearsome, anything less than revelatory would be fraudulent.

And convert, they do. For just four people – Fisher voice, Lee Tesche guitar, Matt Tong drums, the loose-limbed Ryan Mahan on bass – they make a wild but blisteringly assured sound, almost building their songs as they go along – guitar and keyboard fragments recorded and looped, noise and beats pushed in and out, tambourines and chains shaken and struck. It’s real-time production and construction while playing, and the interplay within the band is loose and pure. If the power cut, they’d find a way to play. You feel they have to get the message out.

Two new tracks get played back to back, both peak-fury punk bombs. Don’t know what the names are but it doesn’t really matter, they’ll be out soon enough. Don’t know what most of the other tracks are either, except for Walk Like a Panther, Blood and The Underside of Power, because when this gig was announced, I held off buying any Algiers albums beyond the digi downloads already bagged. Why? It was a rare chance to see a band in as pure a form as poss, knowing that if they do their job (which they did) they’re gonna sell me the records easily anyway (ditto). Preparation ain’t the point. Participation is.

And tonight we’re bang in the middle of it, the eye of a spirit force: riot soul meets Gambino’s America pulling on Bad Seeds, Godspeed and Zeal & Ardor for as intoxicating a gig as you dared hope. Let’s just leave it at that. For now.

PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS: live review

PIGSX7 AT THE BULLINGDON, OXFORD, APRIL 10, 2019
One of the most anticipated Oxford gigs of the year, surely. The Bullingdon is sold out, the vibe is super charged and the fact that the support act gets a bigger crowd than many headliners here tells you that something is very definitely in the air.
And the support is? A duo. Mesange. Violin plus guitar drones and loops. Intriguing mix. Ethereal Myrkur meets wannabe Boris. Stage presence … less convincing. But the music, yes. Violin takes the lead and soars. Fresh. An ambient, gothic contrast to what’s to come.
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs kick off like it’s a King of Cowards run-through: GNT first, The Shockmaster second, and by doing that, the gig is already won. Shockmaster was one of THE riffs of last year, definitely one of my favourites, and to get this slow-moving bruiser in your face is a proper highlight. And do they tweak the riff, adding a bit of time-shifting drag on the back end? Wrong-footing bastards. Nice.
At this point, Matt Baty breaks out of his slow-moving zen intensity to admit that at this stage of a gig, he usually starts complaining about being too hot or having too much smoke on stage or whatever else is bugging his moanself. Not tonight, though. “There’s air-con up here – fucking brilliant! Top marks Bullingdon. And there was Scott Walker on the PA before the gig. SCOTT WALKER. Again, top marks Bullingdon. You’ll get a 5-star* review from us on TripAdvisor.”
We get a new song, ‘co-written with Jay Z and Beyonce’ – which packs a huge hooky riff – before something old (Sweet Relief) and a pair of KoC staples (The Gloamer and Cake of Light) take us home. Crowd is bouncing. Band has one more for us.

You’ll get your money’s worth, it’s 10 minutes long. It’s a fucking workout.”
It can only be A66, right?
And so it is, a full-pelt space-rock burn-up to the end and a ringing earworm for the rest of the week. Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs: the People’s Champions. Over and out.
*later downgraded to 4 stars because, “It’s bloody hot up here.”
A couple of Pigsx7 album reviews this way

DESERT STORM and DRORE: live review

DESERT STORM with DRORE at The Bullingdon, Oxford, February 1, 2019 (oh, and Conjurer headlined)

Is it the Deuchars IPA? The Guinness? The proximity of Conjurer?

Is it balls. The reason why Desert Storm turn out yet another magnificent support set is because Desert Storm just fucking are. How do they do it? Every time they take the stage you end up having the best half hour, so in some ways there’s little point reviewing the gig – go read any previous one. But that’s not fair, because we’ve got a duty to be in the moment to share the good stuff in this world, and this is definitely the Good Stuff. And we’ll get to it in a minute, because first, there’s the small matter of brute filth to get through: Drore.

As the band themselves put it on bandcamp, Drore is Drore. No-one can argue with that. What you want is what you get, and what you want is their uber growling scuzz-toned aggro all over your face. Job. Done. With pulverisers like Happy Accident and Skinjob loaded in the arsenal, the only losers are those who don’t get here early enough.

After that, what do Desert Storm do? Same as always: make you do your body-rocking swing thing through the Divine Power of Grooving Metal Riffs. The fact that the band feed off their creations as much as we do just adds to the vibe, like this kind of rock is not just a way of life but the very essence of life. Journeys End, Too Far Gone and The Brawl are among the Sentinels album airings, though there’s no room for the massive Convulsion tonight. Instead, the last two tracks are pulled from two Sentinels predecessors: we get Queen Reefer’s stupendous swing and thrash headcharge, and a closing Enslaved in the Icy Tundra, a track so confident that it drops a brief Clutch-funk break before remembering how metal it is.

Not much else to say really, is there? Desert Storm deal a proper metallic hit – again – and you WILL be rocking like a bastard to Sentinels at home the next day. Again.

Other Desert Storm and Drore wordage:

Almost forgot: Conjurer headlined. Who? Nah, not for me. Not that OTT scream thing. Maybe check Nightshift in March for a write-up.

Desert Storm and Drore

Desert Storm and Drore: no regrets