I hadn’t spent a Saturday night at Camden’s The Underworld since I was in my very early twenties. It’s a venue where I spent the odd youthful evening drinking copiously and foolishly entering into brain shattering head-butting competitions which I inevitably lost.
I had never as a more conscious adult returned to the venue, not for a club night nor for a gig. So having arrived there on a rainy Saturday for an evening of post-metal goodness as Kowloon Walled City and Minsk close their joint European tour, the venue remained exactly the same as I remembered it. The pitch black grids, the odd nooks and the deep sunken dance floor all remained the same. Ah memories.
The evening had a relatively early start time, with the first band coming on stage at 6.15pm. 6.15pm, I’d barely had a chance to get my usual five or six pints in before they’d placed a guitar on the boards. It was an early doors start, but without a doubt worthwhile to watch the first band of the evening Wren, who set the night on what would prove to be a steadily excellent path.
Watching their powerful and aggressive post-metal was like being punched in the stomach by someone you love, their sound is raw and loud but oddly attractive. Check out their 2015 split with Irk and the recently released Host, proper good them. As opening acts go you couldn’t ask for more. So don’t.
I hadn’t come across the next band, Ashford Kent’s Bossk, before. I’d heard the name but had never had a chance to listen to them. So when they began to decorate the stage with lit joss sticks I feared the worst. Now the thing about me is, I hate incense. Fucking hate it. Got a sensitive nose ain’t I. But in this case, the nasal funk of burning wood-sticks was most preferable to the overwhelming smell of toilet bleach that hung heavy in the air. A powerful smell that, to be sure, but it’s much better than having the smell of piss poking its way up your nose holes.
Anyway, having braced myself for a bunch of soft-rock hippies I was quite frankly blown away by Bossk’s genuinely moving post-metal grandness. From the opening song I was hooked. Their music is what might be described as ‘widescreen’, in that its textured and expansive sound transcends the formulaic metal riff template and adds an emotional dimension that is surprisingly gentle. It’s apparently the first time they have ever played ‘Kobe’ live too, which is a surprise as it’s an absolute banger.
I particularly enjoyed the fact that the singer, well screamer, Sam Marsh would lurk on his own to the side of the stage then bound on as the riffs kicked in and, like an uptight postpunk at a Raging Speedhorn gig, advance to bellow his guts out. All before pissing back off to the side of the stage, leaving the band to continue. Their recently released debut album, Audio Noir is excellent. I am now a big Bossk fan.
The band I was initially here to see were San Francisco’s Kowloon Walled City, visiting London (and indeed Europe) for the very first time. Last year they released their third album Grievances which is a real gem of a record, absolute class. Sparse and claustrophobic it was one of the year’s best releases, with carefully constructed songs that slowly unfold, making full use of spaciousness and the quiet moments between notes to create a tense, crushing atmosphere. The chance to see them perform live was clearly not to be missed.
To say their set was awesome is an understatement. Vocalist/guitarist Scott Evans began by addressing the audience, relating a touching story about his recently passed father, telling how excited he was, even at the height of illness, for his son and band to be touring Europe for the first time. It’s a genuinely honest and moving opening statement which lent the hefty sludge that soon poured from the speaker system a truth and directness that few other bands can achieve.
“All your grand plans and gritted teeth, they’ll cut you down to count the rings / Measure out your worst years,” Evans’ pained vocals cried on ‘Your Best Years”. It’s heavy stuff but energy seeped through the bleakness, making even the darkest of songs a doomy pounder of head-rocking goodness. Kowloon Walled City made translating their sound from record to the live arena seem like a fucking doddle. They replicated the desperation of Grievances and the grimier riffage of Container Ships perfectly, which shouldn’t be particularly surprising as Evans also recorded both albums, so he clearly knows how he wants the band to sound.
The honour of closing this awesome evening fell to Minsk, whose members spilled from the stage in an overwhelming concoction of pounding rhythms and multi-vocal sludge treacle. All of their four standing members (as it were – the drummer remained seated) seemed to be shouting and sharing vocal duties at some point during the set and it’s a dizzying sight, as a cacophony of triumphant prog-metal poured forth to finish the night in bewildering style.
Though the music is often intense, there’s a subtle playfulness to Minsk, and the deep heavy atmosphere that has been cultivated by the preceding bands was dispersed. As the band thanked the audience and other performers for a successful tour the mood in the room was that of a party. As we all know, “when it’s time to party we will party hard”, and Minsk partied, hard.
It was a great gig, with four totally immense bands. I left the venue with both arms full of merch, ears full of noise and nostrils full of Toilet Duck. I just hope it doesn’t take the U.S. bands as long to come back over as it did the first time round. If you get the chance to see any of these bands playing in a gaff near you snatch at it wildly with both hands, because you really will not regret it.