Last time I tried to see The Body – not two weeks previously at Roadburn – the queue to get into the room they were playing in was four people deep and snaked out of the venue and down the street, and those who had made it into the room itself were wedged in like sardines, but tonight, on a drizzly Wednesday evening in Manchester, it was an entirely different story. Not that it wasn’t a comparatively healthy turnout, it’s just that I didn’t have to ask the person standing next to me to fish my phone out of my pocket is all. My arms could swing freely.
Speaking of swinging freely, as I entered The Roadhouse tonight as Salford’s own practitioners of Prog TrojanHorse were already deep into their opening set of Knifeworld-esque avant spastic rock and bassist Lawrence Duke was wrestling manfully with his instrument as though attempting to subdue its bassy nature. Bedecked to a man in plaid shirts and notably hirsute, TrojanHorse were the dark horse on tonight’s bill, bringing musical athleticism, unpredictable time changes and keyboards to the table and consequently sticking out awkwardly next to the brooding darkness and bowel-churning harshness on display elsewhere. Still, they’re a top-notch band and wonderful players, but I fear this was not the bill for them.
Next up were another local troupe, and one of whom I was completely unaware of until tonight. Esoteric Youth took me back to the nineties hardcore scene, visually at least, with a trio of whippet-thin black-clad musicians onstage beating their instruments to within an inch of their lives whilst their frontman roamed the crowd in front of the stage, alternately stalking and yelling blue murder whilst ploughing between audience members, giving me fond memories of San Diego hardcore luminaries Swing Kids, Spanakorzo and Jenny Piccolo and UK bands like Stalingrad, Hard To Swallow and Narcosis. Musically, though, the band were pure blown-out filth of the first water, evoking the sound of bands like The Swarm, Left For Dead, Cursed and recent Converge material, all gnarled, disgusting bass, cavernous, clangorous guitar, propulsive drums and howling feedback. Occasional lurches into slow, pounding sections added additional heft to the band’s sound and a sick sense of exhilaration. I fucking loved it.
The appearance of Norway’s noise/sludge rock perverts Årabrot on the bill was a pleasant surprise to me, as I only found out that they were playing the day before the gig. Not a band that I listen to often, truth be told – I have issues with the vocals of frontman Kjetil Nernes, which tend to grate on me after a few songs – but I’ve been repeatedly told that the live arena is where they come into their own, so I was curious to see them.
Well, I’m happy to report that those people who told me that they were a great live band will not be getting a visit from the thump fairy – they were wonderful. Stark, slightly disturbing and at times hypnotic, my eyes and ears were riveted to the stage for the duration of their set. Awkward, gangling vocalist and aluminium guitar-wielder Nernes was dressed in an outfit that put me in mind of Brad Dourif in the film version of Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood, replete with wide-brimmed Amish-like preacher hat, and made for an utterly compelling figure, his mantis-like frame in sharp contrast to that of the diminutive female bassist joining him onstage.
I confess that I was surprised to see a bassist, and later another auxiliary musician playing a Korg MS-20 synth and additional percussion, joining Nernes and his drummer – the name of whom I do not know – as I was under the impression that Årabrot were a duo.
Adding to the plethora of things that I did not know, I can’t be sure of exactly what the setlist was, but I can say with confidence that HA-SATAN DÊOFOL and The Horns Of The Devil Grow, from the latest, self-titled, album were given an airing and – as with the rest of the set – greatly benefited from the thrumming bass tones that were added, bolstering the angular Melvins-esque guitar and drum battery of the original versions.
Nernes’ voice was also bolstered by the bassists occasionally terrifyingly creepy backing vocals, and was actually a fuck of a lot more listenable than on record, thankfully.
In fact, Årabrot impressed me so much that after the gig was over, looking back, I realised that I actually enjoyed them more than headliners, and final band of the night, The Body.
Not that The Body were bad – far from it, in fact – it was just that they are currently operating in a very stripped-down formation, as opposed to their recorded form in which they are joined by choirs and various collaborators, and so suffered slightly in comparison to the more dynamic and tonally variable sound that Årabrot offered. Particularly taking into consideration that I’d already seen The Body recently and the set that they played was essentially identical.
Still playing with a stand-in drummer, due to Lee Buford’s unfortunate travel anxiety issues, the duo – lead by guitarist/vocalist/noisemaker Chip King, one of the friendliest, most disarming people you could ever hope to meet, in stark contrast to the deeply unfriendly sound that he emits from his mouth and hands – tore into their set like hungry bears, with King’s naturally painful, hoarse shriek even more so due to the rigours of touring, his guitar sounding absolutely fucking disgusting – in the best possible way of course – and a variety of triggered samples linking the blasts of guitar, vocal and drum abuse that pass for ‘songs’. The samples ran the gamut from Merzbow-style rumbling static noise, through Japanese pop music to old timey country music and seemed to follow no particular pattern.
This random selection, teamed with the bursts of brown noise from King’s guitar, the tumbling, splashing kit abuse from the drummer and that shrill voice combined to add a dangerous, out-on-a-limb feel to The Body‘s music. The trouble is that they were only able to operate on that level, and could not recreate the textured, layered atmospheric approach of their recorded output. What we got was basically an ugly, viscous tarpit of black noise and little else, that, whilst it satisfied the visceral urge at the time, failed to take flight in the way that a record such as, say, All the Waters of the Earth Turn to Blood does and, upon reflection, ultimately wore thin.
Not to be negative here, but, I guess when a band’s recorded output is so nuanced and the live version is so one-dimensional, it can be disappointing. Hindsight and further reflection can also have a bearing on opinion after the fact, and what may have been enjoyable on one level at the time can, upon reflection, come up lacking.
I would most definitely crown Årabrot the winners tonight, with Esoteric Youth not too far behind, and I’d like to see both again. As for The Body, if they were to bring in some of their collaborators for a live show, that I would love to see, but I can’t see myself getting excited about seeing them in their two-man form again. Sorry.
Scribed By: Paul Robertson
Photos By: Lee Edwards