(Andy Synn reviews the performance in London on August 5 by Ne Obliviscaris, Xerath, and Brutai).
This weekend it’s Bloodstock Festival here in the UK, and this is the first year in a long time I’m not attending (not even for a day), simply because the overall line-up just hasn’t grabbed me this time around.
That’s no criticism against the festival mind you, but simply an acknowledgement that the chosen headliners this year just don’t really do anything for me (though, to be fair, following on from Immortal and Emperor in previous years would be difficult for any bands). And while the undercard does have a solid handful of bands I absolutely love — Enslaved, 1349, Agalloch, Ihsahn, Ne Obliviscaris – I’ve already seen the first two bands put on career-defining performances at Inferno Festival this year, and I don’t expect an 11 am outdoor slot to do the sound for Agalloch any favours either (particularly not in comparison to their own stunning performance at Inferno last year).
So really it’s only Ihsahn and Ne Obliviscaris I feel like I’m missing out on.
Except I’m not… because two nights ago I got the chance to see NeO put on an absolutely mindblowing performance in London.
However, the night’s promoters also made sure to line-up a couple of classy openers to whet our appetites for the main event, Prog-Metallers Brutai and Symphonic Cyber-core maestros Xerath.
The music of Brutai, a five-piece, melodically-inclined Prog-Metalcore act from South-East London, put me in mind of a less showy, less ostentatious version of Andorran metallers Persefone (a comparison which, I might add, was substantiated by the comments of my companions).
Throughout the band’s set, vocalist/guitarist Felix Lawrie shifted smoothly from a mellifluous croon to a nicely gravelly bellow, aided and abetted by the shining tones and shimmering keys of backing vocalist/keyboardist Alex Lorimer, and the metronomically precise sticksmanship of drummer Mathieu Bauer.
Though they suffered from some teething sound issues – with the bass cutting in and out of prominence, and the second guitar strangely muffled for an unfortunate amount of the set – the band still put on a good show, and certainly won themselves some new fans, despite the fact that some of Lawrie’s stage-banter fell more than a little flat.
Of course, Symphonic Cyber Metal stalwarts Xerath had no such issues connecting with the crowd, as their clearly defined contingent of fans was already amped up and ready before they even started.
If there’s one word which defines the band’s sound it’s… powerful… largely due to the veritable sonic sledgehammer wielded by guitarist Conor McGouran. Over the course of 35 minutes the band treated us to a wealth of crushing riffs and epic symphonic soundscapes drawn liberally from across their back-catalogue, led by ever-charismatic vocalist Rich Thompson and his mighty beard.
If there’s one criticism to be levelled at the group’s set, it’s that it largely stuck to just the one tempo, with not that many variations in dynamic or delivery (something that grew more noticeable as the band’s set – mainly comprised of the obvious “crowd pleasers” – went on).
Still, these guys know their strengths, and play to them very, very, well indeed. And if you’re looking for bold, widescreen symphonic-metal action, you really don’t need to look anywhere else.
Of course the openers were rendered largely academic within approximately 30 seconds of Ne Obliviscaris hitting the stage, as it became immediately apparent how and why they’ve become such a big deal in such a short space of time.
From the moment that “Devour Me, Colossus (Part I): Blackholes” burst into bloom, to the final, atmospheric crunch of “And Plague Flowers The Kaleidoscope” – along with, amongst a host of other tracks, an absolutely breath-taking rendition of the entire “Painters of The Tempest” composition thrown in along the way – the sheer level of talent, complexity, and pure, unbridled passion (not to mention stamina, particularly from drummer Daniel Presland) was nothing short of staggering.
The band had the assembled crowd, many of whom had travelled a significant distance to be there, eating out of the palm of their collective hand right from the start, yet never seemed to let this go to their heads or allow it to make them rest on their laurels. No, they all played as if their lives depended on it, with faces locked in an expression of either rapt concentration or almost incredulous joy.
Playing a mix of tracks from both last year’s Citadel and Portal of I (which I still contend is overall the better album), the Aussie sextet made their hour-and-a-half (give or take) set absolutely fly by, with one of the absolute best live performances I’ve seen in living memory… which, to be fair, given the amount I drink, isn’t really that long…
Be that as it may, this was an absolutely phenomenal performance from a band whose legend is still in the making