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Red Fang, Torche & God Damn @ KOKO


When: September 27, 2016

In making the step up to a venue the size of Camden’s KOKO, tonight Red Fang stake their claim as one of heavy rock’s premier bands. Opening for them on what is to be their biggest UK headline show to date is therefore both an honour and a test. A test that much more daunting considering Torche, a headline act in their own right, are supplying the main support. As Wolverhampton duo God Damn fly into opener ‘Fake Prisons’ and flay every last bit of energy from the rapidly filling pit it becomes evident that not only are the band at home on a stage this size, they are in fact revelling in it.

Performing as a three-piece with the addition of James on keys, standout single ‘Ghost’ flickers and grinds through its crunching chorus and elicits a roar of appreciation from the crowd. With drummer Ash Weaver dressed in dungarees and a white t-shirt, his curly hair flailing in time with his sticks, it’s as if Mario sacked off saving the princess and joined a kickass band instead.

Singer Thom Edward actually takes the vocal prize across all three bands tonight, switching between clean and effortless scream with impressive control. God Damn bring their set to a close with the pulsing tap and groove of ‘Vultures’, leaving the stage to a well-executed crescendo of noise and then cut. The cheer that greets them confirms my suspicions that these guys are bound for bigger things with their killer riff-and-scream in tow.

As Torche take to the stage so begins tonight’s tale of a Jekyll and Hyde approach to heavy rock. Torche have eluded the standard genre pigeonholes for most of their career, employing a combination of crushing sludge riffs and up-tempo pop melody. With their last record Restarter they slowed the pace right down and in doing so split their fanbase. For fans who preferred the breakneck catchy hooks of Harmonicraft, the more traditional sludge pace present on Restarter dragged, and whilst there is a pummelling reward if enough time is invested, the album is markedly less accessible. There were however many who welcomed this heavier approach and for them the record simply added another filthy string to an already impressive bow.

I must confess that I fit into the former slice of the fanbase so I’m anxious to see how the setlist plays out. To my relief Torche front-load the set with most of the hits from both Meanderthal and Harmonicraft. ‘Grenades” opening guitar-lick still brings a shiver, evoking Siamese Dream-era Smashing Pumpkins. Steve Brookes and Andrew Elstner’s superb vocal harmonies on ‘Across The Shields’’ verse pull smiles from across the crowd as Meanderthal’s standout track hurtles into its double-time pounding outro.

Coming in at just shy of 80 seconds, Harmonicraft’s ‘Sky Trials’ distils everything that is great about Torche into one furious, joyful audio-uppercut. The band must have played this song hundreds of times but the sheer energy and pace on tap here induces frontman Brookes to grin widely, like he only just realised how insanely good his drummer is. As he sings “Lights on, in the kingdom” and a wave of recognition washes across the crowd, ‘Kicking’ explodes into view and the pit morphs into a sea of grins and crowdsurfing.

For me, what prevents post-Restarter Torche from delivering a truly great live offering are the introduction of the newer and slower tracks. ‘Minions’ visibly saps the momentum from the crowd and, whilst an undeniably heavy onslaught, when sat next to a plethora of frantic gems from earlier records the juxtaposition of two vehemently different paces makes for a frustrating lurch and lull. This is not to say that sections of the crowd are not pumping their fists to the down-tuned hammer riffs it’s just, personally, the contrast between Torche’s two musical faces is too big an ask.

Red Fang are days away from releasing their hotly anticipated fourth record Only Ghosts. Having set mouths watering already with the early release of ‘Flies’ and ‘Cut It Short’, the standard of both singles is unsurprisingly high, so as the quartet walk out to a huge cheer there is a tangible buzz in the air. Along with genre-mates Baroness and Elder, Red Fang are a band who really stepped up on their previous record. It would seem that playing KOKO has become a reward for heavier bands who’ve matured and really started to bloom.

Similarly to Torche, Red Fang have two distinct gears. The first and more well-known setting involves bass player Aaron Beam on vocals and catchier hooks. This more accessible pool is where the majority of Red Fang’s singles are derived from. The second gear puts guitarist Brian Giles in the vocal seat with a much harsher and irate delivery. This is often combined with a punkier approach to riff.

Where the difference with Torche lies is that this more brutal line of attack is not compromised by any easing off on the pace. Again I have to admit to preferring the catchier songs, but whereas on record I might be tempted to reach for the skip button, when Giles takes charge of this rammed opera house the sheer brute force of his delivery is superb. Both ‘No Hope’ and ‘Crows in Swine’ provide unexpected highlights tonight mainly because I didn’t expect to enjoy them so much.

Of course the singles are why Red Fang are topping this bill and as the grungy haunting punch of ‘Blood Like Cream’ swings out of the speaker early on, I pocket my notepad and venture into the pit. ‘Hank Is Dead’ and ‘Wires’ are perfectly paced for the swathes of beards to hurl their overpriced lager to the rafters in moist appreciation of rock music crafted to precision.

What is encouraging this evening is the ease with which the newer songs slot into the set. ‘Cut It Short’ is already able to reach into the crowds’ collective throat and wrench out a sing-along. As the band pulp the two aforementioned gears into a fierce new third, ‘Flies’ combines the best of both singers and bodes extremely well for the album only days away.

‘Prehistoric Dog’ is the song that made Red Fang and as the house lights raise before it has been played the crowd laughs in disbelief. When you have a song so good and so apt for the live environment that its omission draws such a dismissive response from your crowd, you know you’re onto a winner. Obligingly the band retake the stage and proceed to smash the life out of KOKO one last time.

With my writer’s cap already lost in the pit I take a momentary glance around and what I’m met with is a sea of faces singing their hearts out. Tonight Red Fang have more than justified their ascension to this larger venue and with Only Ghosts just around the corner it would appear that the only way is up.

David Jupp

Previous in Live

Kowloon Walled City and Minsk @ The Underworld

Kowloon Walled City and Minsk @ The Underworld
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. Luke O’Dwyer
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