It feels like forever since I was last at a doom gig that I wasn’t playing and this is my first time at this particular venue so as I entered the well populated upstairs room at Gullivers in Manchester there was a wee spring in my step.
I’m always excited to visit a new venue and I’m always excited to see Bastard Of The Skies, who had actually just hit the stage as I entered. I’m not used to gigs that actually start at a reasonable hour and on time to boot, so despite my springiness I was slightly taken aback.
Of course that was soon blasted out of me by the virulent sheet-metal-clad noise rock that the Blackburn-based Bastards were unleashing upon the venue from the stage, made all the more visceral by the excellent sound mix. As per usual, this was blistering stuff.
With gurning axeman Rob Beesley up-front, mirrorball lights glinting off of his glistening bonce, bobble-hatted drummer ‘Pudding’ Aldred thrashing the tubs and former-cybergoth-turned glamour chick Claire Horrocks holding down the low-end with vicious aplomb you do have to wonder exactly what guitarist/vocalist Matt Richardson is so worked up about…and make no mistake, this is the full-on ‘throbbing veins-a-popping, blood-curdling throat-shredding’ kind of worked up.
Beating seven bells out of his guitar and yelling blue murder, Richardson leads his Bastards through a raging set of nasty brooding sludge rock, mostly culled from sophomore album Ichor! Ichor! and latest smasher Tarnation, with a particularly nasty take on ‘A Punch In The Fucking Lungs’ being a personal standout. Why this lot aren’t universally beloved is a complete bloody mystery to me. Stick ’em on a bill with a band like Converge and they’d give Bannon and his men a run for their money, minus the gobbing and drooling of course.
Next up bleak Brummies Grimpen Mire school the room in a devastating lesson in exactly how it’s done. Coming on like an unholy hybrid of Unearthly Trance, Nightstick and the slow, thick woozy sickness of Autopsy, this doom-mongering triad unleash waves of filthy, lumbering, twisted swampy riffing interspersed with acid-fried spaced-out psych guitar solos from Jim Goad that seem to hint at the playing of both Nightstick’s acid bluegrass axeman Cotie Cowgill and, weirdly, the more way-out psychedelic emanations of Clutch man Tim Sult. A head-wrecking combo, to be sure, but a seriously tasty one nonetheless. Frontman Paul Van Linden makes for a commanding presence, growling out exhortations and pummelling his bass in time to the thorough drubbing skinsman Ian Davis gives his kit.
This is dirty, ferocious, tar-black stuff and it is fucking wonderful. Fans of the afore-mentioned bands who have yet to check out Grimpen Mire should make great haste to their Bandcamp page and drink deeply of their fetid murk. Despite being familiar with their recorded output this was my first time seeing them in the stinking purulent flesh and they fair knocked my socks off, AND my shoes.
As good as their album A Plague Upon Your Houses is, it doesn’t quite capture the power and filth that Grimpen Mire generate live. You can bet I’ll be seeing them again ASAP.
Unfortunately for me Ishmael‘s set tonight is their swan song. Vocalist Dani Hawkins and drummer Rich Robinson are, for some crazy reason, throwing in the towel. So my seeing them live for the first time tonight will also be my last, which really is a crying shame seeing as they were pretty fucking excellent!
What Ishmael delivered tonight was more or less what I’d always wanted the terminally disappointing French/Australian beat combo Monarch! to deliver – pant-wettingly ‘eavy cast-iron sludge fronted by a scowling harpy with a thoroughly corrosive shriek and no lazy-arsed amp droning cobblers. Believe me, we got this in SPADES tonight.
With axeman Rick Metters dropping chords like concrete slabs and grinding out slow-mo riffage, second guitarist Owen Hewitt adds his Man Is The Bastard-esque throaty hardcore vocal to frontwoman Hawkins lacerating scream, with bassist Jim Willumsen also throwing his tomb-scraping growl into the fray creating a three-headed bestial snarl that adds even more body and weight to the musical nuclear fallout crashing down around ’em.
I’ve found myself becoming personally very blasé about sludge over the last few years, mostly due to the sheer volume of utterly generic crap that has been cluttering the place up so to see a band like Ishmael come out and thoroughly DEVASTATE the room in a concise fashion fair warmed my jaded ol’ heart….why the fuck are they splitting up though?? Tchah. With nary a recording to leave behind as a legacy, it really does seem a damn shame.
Still, onwards and upwards eh?
Upwards, however, is not a direction that tonight’s headliners Undersmile would be familiar with, being as they are, a massive, crushing downer. In the best possible sense, of course.
The eerie, harmonically droning voices of guitarist/vocalists Taz Corona-Brown and Hel Sterne are like drugged-out siren calls, beckoning to some fresh hell furnished by the outpourings of avant-doom that their guitars evoke.
Looking at the severely ’70’s burnt sienna ‘n’ brown geometrically patterned carpet that covers the floor of the venue and these two elfin figures in flowery sundresses sweetly scything out sparse, brittle guitar muck and alternately emitting bloodcurdling screams and opium sweet harmonies I couldn’t help but think of the scene in Kubrick’s The Shining, in which Danny comes face to face with the pair of ghostly children brutally murdered by a former caretaker of The Overlook hotel.
Yes, Undersmile are more than capable of hitting THAT level of ‘terrifying’.
With the erstwhile other ‘alves of Sterne and Corona-Brown making for a starkly effective rhythm section – that’s Tom McKibbin on drums and Olly Corona-Brown on bass – Undersmile make for a seriously compelling proposition. Half Babes In Toyland coruscating female fury and half Khanate avant-sludge, the only other band that I can think of that even comes close to being in the same ballpark as Undersmile is Bloody Panda, and even they don’t have the range or same truly creepy edge that the Oxford-based quartet possess.
I honestly couldn’t tell you what the set-list was tonight, how much of it was drawn from full-length Narwhal, from debut EP A Sea Of Dead Snakes or their most recent split with Coma Wall, but I can tell you that by the end of their set – during which time seemed to simply stop working – I was totally bummed out and in a cold sweat of dread.
A job well done then, wouldn’t you say?
Scribed by: Paul Robertson
Photos by: Lee Edwards