Music: Metal & Prog Picks: September 2017
Ah, the reliably clueless mainstream music media: where would we be without ’em, eh? When Steven Wilson’s To the Bone raced up the album charts last week, we got a rash of those surprised “prog rock revival” articles like this one by journalists who’d seemingly forgotten that they last hacked out such pieces just seven years ago. Hell, the progmeister even turned up on the BBC Breakfast sofa to be grilled about this funny progressive rock business that has had the audacity to thrive without tastemaker permission.
At least all this goes some way towards acknowledging that audiences crave something with a little more substance than this week’s posturing haircut dropping approved cultural references. And as luck would have it, everything’s turned prog round these parts this month, with two brilliant double-bills heading our way. Somerset’s The Pineapple Thief pitch up at the Bierkeller with accomplished prog-metallers Godsticks in support. A little more than a week later, Anathema hit the Marble Factory with Alcest. If you like your prog with a stoner metal twist (or vice versa), do check out Lausanne’s impressive Monkey3 at the Exchange. If all that wasn’t enough to make aging punk rockers incandescent with righteous fury, it’s just been announced that Yes begin their 50th anniversary tour with a date at the Colston Hall on March 13, 2018. Even better, this time they’re showcasing 1973’s fabulous, much-reviled Tales from Topographic Oceans – the first Yes album to top the charts – which was recently remixed in 5.1 by that Steven Wilson fella. We can expect to hear sides one and four in full, with an excerpt from side three.
Those with a taste for the heavier stuff should beat a path to original industrial metallers KMFDM at the Fleece and/or noisy bastard duo Jucifer at the Exchange. If you fancy a chuckle with your quality music, go for Jaret Reddick and the Lounge Kittens at the Thekla. And in the ‘unclassifiable’ department, we have the return of Sparks.
Fleece, Sept 10
Founded as a performance art project way back in 1984, German political industrial metal pioneers KMFDM have been doing the repetitive riffs’n’electronica thing for more three decades now and can claim be one of the genre’s founders, alongside Ministry, before the likes of Nine Inch Nails and Rammstein hit paydirt with the formula. Still fronted by founder and sole remaining original member Sascha Konietzko, they’ve just released their 20th album, Hell Yeah.
Exchange, Sept 13
Hailing from Athens, Georgia, this itinerant husband and wife sludge metal duo comprises the splendidly named Gazelle Amber Valentine (massively amplified guitar, hair-swinging, shrieking) and Edgar Livengood (drums). They travel continuously in their RV, possibly because no neighbour would ever want to live next to them, and certainly conjure up an enormous amount of noise for just two people. Next year, they’re due a huge popularity boost as stars of Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines and The Light Between Oceans director Derek Cianfrance’s aptly titled, long-gestating movie, Metalhead. Fittingly, it’s the story of a metal drummer who goes deaf when his eardrums rupture.
Thekla, Sept 16
That’s right, it’s him: the fella who fronts Bowling for Soup – the only pop-punk act anyone really needs in their life. He’s left the huge chap and the other two behind for this Heartache and Hilarity solo tour, which takes the form of a bunch of anecdotage and choons. Jaret’s been soliciting song requests on social media, so we’ll just stick our oar in and demand an acoustic cover of 1985 – if such a thing is possible. Failing that, we’ll settle for High School Never Ends. Support comes from Jaret’s chums and ace Southampton close harmony trio the Lounge Kittens, who specialise in witty reworkings of rock and metal songs (with a few hip-hop numbers chucked in). Get there early for this lot, because they were on brilliant form when they played the Exchange last October.
Bierkeller, Sept 17
Nearly three years on from their previous Bristol show at the Fleece, Yeovil’s leading practitioners of bittersweet modern prog continue their steady ascent by moving up to the Bierkeller. Mind you, they’ve been at this for 18 years now, having started on an indie label so tiddly and obscure that sales probably struggled to reach double figures. But this actually worked to their advantage as they emerged fully formed as a ‘new band’ in a time that’s much more receptive to their music thanks to the endeavours of proglord St*v*n W*ls*n. Their 11th album, Your Wilderness, features guest performances by Porcupine Tree/King Crimson drummer Gavin Harrison, Supertramp’s John Helliwell on clarinet (Nerd note: Supertramp composed their breakthrough album Crime of the Century in Yeovil back in the 1970s) and Godsticks’ guitarist Darran Charles, with orchestrations by Caravan’s Geoffrey Richardson. Harrison and Charles will be joining the expanded five-man line-up for tonight’s show, with Charles doing double duties with the heavier prog-metal support act. By curious coincidence, Alex James lookalike Pineapple Thief frontman Bruce Soord recently engineered the excellent 5.1 blu-ray mix of The Optimist by Anathema, who play the Marble Factory next week.
Exchange, Sept 23
Switzerland: home of the cuckoo clock, ludicrously expensive chocolate, ultra-secretive banking services for dodgy types and, um, metal? OK, perhaps not quite. Eluveitie are Swiss, obviously, as are/were Celtic Frost and all their precursors and spin-offs. So too are hard rockers Gotthard and ropy AC/DC clones Krokus. But that’s about yer lot. So let’s hear it for Monkey3, who are single-handedly responsible for an 8.76% (estimate) increase in their nation’s metal output. Walter, Kevin, Boris and dB started out as a Floyd/Sabbath-influenced jam collective, but evolved over 14 years into a psychedelic stoner band with welcome prog tendencies. Indeed, their ambitious and really rather splendid new album Astra Symmetry marks a full-on venture into concept territory. Check this mind-blowingly heavy shit, stoner dudes: “Taking its roots in the pristine abyss, Astra Symmetry is a journey towards sidereal soundscapes making their course over four progressive chapters revolved around the zodiac wheel, unifying astrological signs under their elemental nature. What begins in the deep waters ascends into thin air and acquires earthly consciousness before burning in the sacred fire.”
O2 Academy, Sept 26
Weren’t the early ’70s grand? Bands could secure a bona fide chart hit with three-and-a-half minutes of deliriously enjoyable, out-there glam-prog and Brian Eno became a star simply by looking fabulous while pretending to know what he was doing. Back then, Sparks slotted right in alongside the likes of Bowie, Queen (who once supported them) and Roxy Music with their quirky hit This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us, which made an unlikely teen heartthrob of moustachioed Ron Mael and a rather more likely one of his tousle-haired brother Russell. They then pursued a more mainstream West Coast sound and left many of us behind (while gaining a whole new audience) as they veered off into synth-pop. It’s a rum sort who’ll claim to love everything Sparks have done, and they’re certainly guilty of courting the snooty art-rock crowd (y’know – people who imagine they’re too clever to rock) a little too assiduously, but you’ve got to admire their refusal to be pinned down. New album (their 24th!) Hippopotamus was hailed by Classic Rock as “more of the same delicious idiosyncratic operatic seasick-giddy pop nonsense/genius”. Go here for the B24/7 interview with Russell.
Marble Factory, Sept 28
Remarkably, Liverpool’s Anathema have managed to completely change their music while retaining most of their original audience and winning over new fans. They started off in the doom metal underground back in the early 1990s, but soon began to spin off in a proggier direction. 1999’s outstanding Judgment, inspired in part by the death of the mother of the founding Cavanagh brothers (there’s three of ’em, if you’re counting), was the real turning point, and by 2001’s concept album A Fine Day to Exit there was no metal left in their music. Superb newie The Optimist is something of a sequel to that album. Support comes from France’s Alcest, who were last at this very venue back in November supporting the ultra-dull Mono. Probably the only band in the world to be influenced equally by black metal and shoegaze, hence the ‘blackgaze’ label, they’re still touring the Kodama album, which is heavily influenced by Japanese animation titan Hayao Miyazaki, specifically his 1997 film Princess Mononoke. There’s much crossover potential to fans of the likes of Sigur Ros in their weirdly hypnotic and beautiful music, so feel free to describe it as “post-metal” or “dreamy pop” if that makes you feel cooler.
Here’s our essential diary of upcoming gigs that should be of interest to anyone of a rockin’ disposition.
Saint Vitus, Exchange, Oct 5
Dragged Into Sunlight, Exchange, Oct 6
All Them Witches, Bierkeller, Oct 7
Supersuckers, Fleece, Oct 10
Windhand/Satan’s Satyrs, Exchange, Oct 13
Focus, Tunnels, Oct 17
WASP, O2 Academy, Oct 25
Dying Fetus, Fleece, Nov 3
The Hawklords, Bierkeller, Nov 7
Decapitated/Venom Prison/King Parrot, Thekla, Nov 10
Cradle of Filth, Bierkeller, Nov 11
Airbourne, O2 Academy, Nov 11
Von Hertzen Brothers, Fleece, Nov 12
Venom Inc, Fleece, Nov 13
Bad Touch/Mollie Marriott, Tunnels, Nov 16
Morbid Angel, Bierkeller, Nov 16
Robert Plant, Colston Hall, Nov 17
Caravan, Komedia, Bath, Nov 19
Opeth/Enslaved, O2 Acdemy, Nov 21
Fish, O2 Academy, Dec 13
The Darkness, Colston Hall, Dec 14
Extreme/Dan Reed Network, O2 Academy, Dec 18
Nazareth, Marble Factory, Jan 27
Arch Enemy, O2 Academy, Feb 14
Apocalyptica, Colston Hall, Feb 28
Yes, Colston Hall, March 13
Skid Row, O2 Academy, March 20
Epica, O2 Academy April 8
Jethro Tull, Colston Hall, April 9
Marillion, Colston Hall, April 17