(NCS writer Andy Synn has been burning up his keyboard this week. Today we’re featuring Andy’s review of live performances by The Faceless, Born of Osiris, Veil of Maya, and Gorod in Leicester, England, on May 17, 2011.)
Leicester’s Sub91 is a nice venue. It was my first time there and I was definitely impressed. The layout is spacious but focussed, with a well-positioned sound-desk, a nice-sized bar at the rear of the venue and a large, open stage which provides a good space for the band as well as a clear viewing area for the audience to watch. A perfect venue for tonight’s tech-tacular spectacular.
First up were French Jazz-Tech-Metallers Gorod, who quickly get down to business with a bruising, thrashy assault of complicated riffs and complex song structures. New singer Julien Deyres supplemented the more traditional death growls with an additional hardcore/thrash bark thrown in for good measure, whilst drummer Samuel Santiago performed as an obscenely tight machine on the drums, potentially the best drummer on the entire bill, handling the multitude of timing and tempo changes with ease, while maintaining an unrelenting pace throughout.
Guitarists Mathieu Pascal and Nicolas Alberny were reasonably static presences throughout, capably delivering impressively technical trade-offs and hook-filled tech-riffs with aplomb, while occasionally dropping down for a good old-fashioned headbang, which only served to reinforce the old-school 80’s thrash vibe of their performance. Think Atheist, Sadus, Martyr, but with a more modern, tech-ed up and souped out extreme metal edge. (more after the jump . . .)
The real star though was bassist Benoit Claus, whose nimble fingers danced over his fretboard like lightning, delivering impressive tapped melodies and winding bass-lines while grooving down and rocking out to the thrashing chaos going on around him. He also served as a collaborative carnival caller with Julien, inciting the crowd to greater efforts and a louder response, which in turn fueled the band to even greater heights of intensity in their performance.
Touching on material from all three of their albums, these French tech-wizards delivered an impressive set, cohesive and flowing throughout. Tight and mechanical at times, flowing and natural at others, the band made the most of their limited stage time, delivering a master-class in oblique, angular dynamics, and extreme metallic fury. A band to watch for the future.
Veil Of Maya were up next and provided the evening’s sole disappointment. Though I have heard good things about the band on other dates, tonight something was clearly off. A very one-note set which seemed like one long breakdown did little to capture my attention in any way other than negative on this evening. Employing every cliché available to cover up for extremely basic and limited song-writing, the band often seemed content to simply move from one breakdown to the next by way of random dis-chords, derivative Meshuggah-isms and an excessive use of bass bombs several times through the duration of each song. If anything, the over-use of bass drops to transition between sections served primarily to highlight the uneven and forced construction of many of the songs, disparate parts forced together simply to provide something other than a constant stream of recurring breakdowns.
Yet the band themselves clearly have a lot of talent; bassist Danny Hauser employed some great finger-work between the repetitive chugging, happily noodling away in an attempt to add some body and substance to the overall sound, while sole guitarist Marc Okubo used a loop pedal cleverly and to great effect in the moments which called for greater depth and ambience than could be provided by the call-and-response nature of the crowd-pleasing breakdowns. Okubo got to demonstrate his significant chops during some of the high points of the band’s set, where the group broke away from their general stomping tempo to allow for some beautifully textured, multi-variate guitar work to shine through, providing a far more interesting form of musical exploration that was less aggressive, but more effective overall.
Drummer Sam Applebaum was a notable presence behind the kit, probably the overall star of the band’s set, providing some believable intensity and heaviness that was otherwise lacking in the group’s guitars. This could be attributed somewhat to the mix, which was a little flat, but also to the overly processed guitar tone which so characterises bands of this ilk. Even the constant processions of breakdowns were only really given any heft by the man’s powerful playing, the guitars more akin to being hit in the face with a pillow, their impact soft and annoying rather than punishing. Yet one can forgive the band this, the sound not entirely capturing the heaviness they so clearly ached to achieve.
It didn’t help the rather basic construction of the band’s songs that frontman Brandon Butler curated the set with all the feigned enthusiasm of a US gameshow host, his constant exhortations for movement coming across as forced and uninteresting. His vocals as well were less than stellar, not weak per se, but certainly weaker and delivered with less intensity and, potentially, less passion than any of the other vocalists on this bill. By the end of the set even the band’s die-hard fans (who predictably went crazy for each and every booming bass drop) had grown somewhat wearisome of his bland attempts at banter and the constant thudding use of generic breakdowns. Still, the band performed with a verve for what they do and connected well with their crowd, despite the limitations of their material.
Born Of Osiris were up next and attracted the biggest crowd of the night, which came as no surprise to anyone who has seen their star in the ascendant recently. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of the band, seeing the hype about them as something of a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes(tm), the band “just” technical, “just” heavy, “just” enough of a lot of things to attract a wide metal following without ever really defining their identity. However, tonight the band put in a great performance that, while still limited by some of the issues which dog them, proved to me they at least have the passion and dedication to continue to push on for a good many years yet.
It was also a pleasure to see six such musical misfits gel into a tight, coherent musical entity (even if the keyboards remain somewhat overbearing and, at times, more distracting than useful). Vocalist Ronnie Canizaro stormed the stage with a passionate, assured stride, his strong delivery accenting the textured and technically adept playing of his band-mates. Both Lee McKinney and Jason Richardson locked in well to trade off fluid, melodic solos and blistering riffage throughout the set, only their furrowed brows betraying the concentration required to keep their fingers dancing in step with the fast, jerky rhythms of each song.
Though the keys were too often cartoon-y or computer game-y for their own good, over the course of the set their sound leveled out to accent the music, rather than overwhelm it. Certain songs did continue to rely on rhythmic chuggery to convey a sense of heaviness, but the band displayed an admirable willingness to play around within the confines of their style and mess around with the delivery of their (occasional) breakdowns, and they produced a higher, more intense level of energy than Veil Of Maya. They also maintained a great rapport with the crowd without feeling the need to dumb down or telegraph their material to achieve this effect.
The sound suffered somewhat from the overly-triggered drums of Cameron Losch, although the man’s playing itself couldn’t be faulted — as tight and precise as one might wish. Composition-wise, the group still occasionally fell prey to employing a more lumpen breakdown or jarring keyboard break where something more flowing and natural would have worked better, and the over-processed guitar tone so common to the band’s style certainly didn’t help to naturalise their sound either, but they delivered a believably honest and driven performance that was pleasingly heavy and direct, without sacrificing nuance and style in the process. Credit must be given for the well-used Charlie Sheen quote which preceded crowd favourite “Now Arise”, as well as the pleasing maturity of the band’s performance, inciting more headbanging than hardcore dancing and gathering a passionate response from the crowd without ever pandering to it.
Not a progressive band in the way that many have presented them (too many of their supposedly progressive aspects are merely derivative of other, more progressive bands), the group are still a legitimately interesting, technical-deathcore group who avoid many of the pitfalls of the genre and exemplify many of its best aspects in doing so. Although I do not see them as being ever fully able to escape the “Sumerian ghetto” which they have inhabited for so long, I do see a real potential in the group to expand the limitations of the sound in the future, a process which they have already begun. An impressive performance, brimming with uncertain and untapped potential.
Headliners The Faceless took a while to appear, technical issues delaying their start time somewhat, which unfortunately meant that many of BoO’s crowd had left by the time the Californian chaos-bringers hit the stage. Yet hit it they did, with a hard and intense performance that focussed primarily on material from Planetary Duality, dipping back into Akeldama for a few gut-wrenchingly heavy numbers, as well as giving us a look into the future with a performance of “The Eidolon Reality”, the recently debuted tack from their upcoming, as yet untitled, new record.
The group’s death metal credentials are undeniable these days, the demonic roars and banshee screams of their new vocalist (Geoff Ficco) as brutal as they come, while the superfluously furious drumming of Lyle Cooper ripped and pummeled throughout the set, relenting only for those moments of cold, alien ambience which add such light and shade to the band’s material. The careful, limited use of backing samples and eerie keyboard lines gave the set a bleak, inhuman atmosphere which helped the band realise their dark, sci-fi concepts on the stage more fully, while musically their precision and aggression was mechanically lethal yet organically lucid, dreamlike melodies and ethereal clean vocals adding to the shadowy, ominous atmosphere of their clinical death metal assault.
New bassist Evan Brewer is a great addition, switching between picking and finger-work as necessary, utilising his bass-lines to accent and enhance the moody, hallucinogenic breaks of semi-clean guitars and jazzy structures, whilst also grounding and pounding the harsh, artillery assault of the groups syncopated guitar- and drum-based violence. Band founder and main-man Michael Keene demonstrated his singular musical talents throughout the course of the band’s set, his inhumanly tight playing during songs like “Prison Born” or “An Autopsy” all punishing rhythms and lethal technicality, giving them a much sharper edge by virtue of his vicious guitar tone and the flawlessness of his playing.
I almost felt bad for second guitarist Steve Jones, relegated to the secondary, yet no less vital position of supplementary guitarist, his own breathtakingly tight delivery ensuring there were no cracks in the complex, complicated material on offer. In addition, his understated melodic nuances served to expand the remit of the group’s dense, often claustrophobic sound, without ever becoming flashy or over-stated. An unsung hero.
Between songs the band offered little in the way of banter, focussed more on introducing each song with as little preamble as possible, and thanking the audience for their presence and participation throughout the course of the set. As credit to the crowd, even the less dedicated fans stuck with the band as they pushed and pulled the audience through a series of convoluted, labyrinthine compositions, resulting in some clearly puzzled faces and at times a somewhat muted crowd reaction.
The high point of the set was (arguably) a rabid rendition of “Xenochrist”, introduced as a song about “the otherwordly defilement of the virgin mother”. Its wildly chaotic, whirlwind riffs and creeping sense of dread epitomised the sheer audacity of The Faceless experience in one precise package, barbaric and ferocious yet shadowy and alien at the same time. The skull-crushing finale of “The Ancient Covenant” whipped the crowd into one last violent paroxysm of cathartic activity before the band left the stage in a squall of feedback-drenched noise and sweat-drenched bodies.