By the time I finish work and get through to Bannermans in Edinburgh, Atragon have already hit the stage. I get into the gig just as they rip into their second track “Sound In The Halls”. The venue is already pretty busy and plenty of folks have turned up in good time to support the local talent. Last time I saw Atragon was less than a year ago and initially I thought they were a wee bit wobbly, until they had warmed up. Now, eight months down the road they’ve shed a guitarist and trimmed back to a four-piece but what they’ve lost in personnel, they’ve made up for in confidence and facial hair.
Jan Gardner is a pretty engaging frontman, all twirly moustache and madcap rolling eyes like a young Ian Anderson. He fires into a bottle of Buckfast with an abandon that denies that mundane Monday feeling and proffers the dregs round the crowd. The band crank into the doomy “Matriarch Did Bleed” and Ruaridh Daunton more than capably creates a crushing wall of distort on his own, they still sound pretty hefty even if departed guitarist has moved on. Gardner occasionally descends into the dreaded yarl, but he’s got more than enough grit and howl to carry the set.
They end on “I, Necromancer” all chugging riffs and groove-Doom, definitely worth checking out their EP “Volume 1” or keeping at ear for them at any events coming up now they’re playing further afield.
Atragon have a presence and a confidence that makes them a real prospect for the future, they’re still a pretty young band. I’m keen to hear what the future album will sound like once they get around to finishing it. They also seem to be genuinely over the (blood) Moon to be on the same bill as Windhand and keep grinning far more than is seemly for purveyors of The Doom! They more than hold their own tonight but who can blame them for being pleased with themselves for playing alongside a line up like this.
Inter Arma were an unknown quantity to me, I hadn’t heard of them before, but I’ll be remedying that! Windhand‘s touring partners for this jaunt across the UK hail from Richmond, Virginia as do the headliners, so who knows what gloom must infest the landscape over there.
The band kick off with a new track, still untitled, and it’s decent enough but at this stage I’m not convinced. They have presence, for sure, with a distinctly blackened edge to their doom-mental riffs. Maybe partly due the singer’s frantic, manic character, like a wino who’s just stumbled out of a personal Hell and feels compelled to lurch towards strangers, babbling warnings about what lies in wait.
The deathly rasp continues throughout the next song “Epicentre”, hoarse and shrieked. It still fails to completely grab me though. I don’t know if I’m just too far back from the action or what it but so far I just don’t feel their set igniting and normally I’m a sucker for this sort of thing.
All this changes pretty quickly when they launch into “God’s Blood”. No point standing at the back, this draws me through the crowd almost immediately. An irresistible tribal tattoo starts pounding from the drums, a double kicker blast beat that just doesn’t stop. The song builds and builds, like a motorik Krautrock juggernaut dragging palmed chugging riffs in its wake. It’s immense! Its like the intro to ‘Overkill’ but it just doesn’t stop. The whole venue, everyone seems to sense the crackle of something awe-inspiring taking place. And still it builds, The next track, “Destroyer” sees them pulling off the same trick, but this time it’s the guitars that build the hypnotic tension palmed riffing giving way to flurries of almost Eastern tinged Raga, like the Stooges ‘Ram Dass’. The drummer rattles round the kit, fluid waves of toms and all the time the unstoppable throb of that kick. When they finish, everyone, EVERYONE! In the room can feel the tension release. Amazing!
With only a cursory line check and a request from Dorothia to the sound desk to up the reverb “…and put me in space!” Windhand cast off and drift fuzzily into “Winter Sun”. Foolishly, I’ve been persuaded to head down the front and I’ve positioned myself bang in line with Garrett Morris’s stack! As soon as he rocks into the massive dirty fuzz I realise this has been an almighty mistake. My ears are bleeding, it’s so loud it’s making my brain wobble inside my skull! I know I should move away, but I can’t. I know I’m missing out on hearing the rest of the band but it’s just rich sweet fuzzy overtone after fuzzy overtone and it’s glorious!
By the end of the first tune we’ve got our Doomclaws, out eager to grasp Satan by his hairy ball sac! I consider moving to a more equalising distort vantage point but they crank into “Amaranth” and I stay rooted to the spot. Morris is mesmerising, all hair, stomping and feedback.
In the end it’s the screaming feedback coda of “Amaranth” that does it for me and I’m driven centre and back. It’s a few minutes before my lugholes are sufficiently revived to realise the sound hasn’t been particularly muddy. Dorothia’s voice is well placed in the mix, more gruff and bluesy than on record, but still melancholic. The band chug into “Summon The Moon” – quite appropriate given it’s the night of the much vaunted ‘Blood Moon’ eclipse and there is a pretty full company of howling lunatics out tonight. The track is hypnotically slow, dragging across the floor.
Windhand fire into some newer material, the first track they play from “Soma” – the intense “Orchard”, all nasty sluggish bass, from Parker Chandler, who spends the whole show hunched over his SG bass looking hairier than Cousin It.
They press on with the evil “Cassock”, another newer track. No concession is made to any of the ethereal, folkier moments of “Soma” though, it’s the balls-out tunes all the way! Chandler on bass and Bogdan headbang away in sync, like a ghastly zombie Quo! All too early, it’s all over and as “Cassock” creeps away, the band unplug and leave the stage. It’s still early doors though and it’s pretty clear that we ain’t goin’ nowheres! It’s the drummer, Ryan Wolfe, who leads the charge and starts reassembling his cymbals, every one plugs back in and there’s a volley of cries summoning Dorothia back to the stage. The whole band seem genuinely pleased with their reception first time this far North, maybe they haven’t been aware of quite what a big deal this gig is for some of us here. I know I’ve been waiting for this debut North of the border for a couple of years. It’s a testament to the calibre of acts that Pisschrist have been able to bring up, that so many folks have turned up on a Monday night and I recognise folks who have travelled through from as far afield as Dundee and Glasgow for this show.
Windhand pour on one last viscous dollop of sludgey treacle for an encore, another track off “Soma”, the vicious, grinding “Feral Bones” and leave everyone standing stunned, deafened and doom-saturated. Only four months in and this is easily a contender for one of the BIG shows of 2014 as far as the Scottish Doom scene goes.
Scribed by: Gordon Cameron
Photos by: Alan Swan (www.facebook.com/EdinburghGigPhotography)