Having grown up a stones throw from Bristol, a visit to The Fleece in St Thomas Street is always a nostalgia filled home coming for me, a time when I had a disposable income and could trip up the road as often as I wanted and go immerse myself in some of my favourite bands.
Currently teetering on the endangered list; the venue is what I would refer to as ‘a proper gig venue’ – hot, intimate and a floor that if you remain still for too long on you find yourself sticking to it from the countless split beverages over the years. Now a journey of some 85 miles, my visits are more considered (especially on a work night) so having fallen in love with the new excellent Pallbearer album The Foundations of Burden and having a passing knowledge of Doom titans Yob, it was a slightly whimsical, spur of the moment decision to make the trip on a humid Thursday night.
Those who arrived early were treated to the eclectic, anvil heavy sounds of Newport’s own Spider Kitten. Having been around in many forms since 2001, the latest incarnation sees them as a four piece welding huge slabs of Doom that owes a debt to St Vitus onto the grimy grunge harmonies of classic era Alice In Chains.
Premiering 2 tracks from their upcoming Behold Mountain. Hail Sea. Venerate Sky. Bow Before Tree album (out 27th October on Undergroove) they kicked off the show with confidence and a self belief that saw two and three part harmonies delicately interwoven with a visceral, commanding performance. Intermingled moments of tenderness and psychedelia had you closing your eyes on the edge of drifting away one moment and head banging in the full force of the roaring fury and back again as the violence and brutality are tempered with lush melody.
Knowing nothing of them really before their set I was hugely impressed, particularly with drummer Rob Davies providing ground shaking percussion and delicate lead and backing vocals. If, as a fan of other worldly Doom that is as heavy as a sack of spanners, you haven’t experienced Spider Kitten yet then put the album release date in your calendar and make sure you catch them when they tour.
Pallbearer are Doom Metal’s hot ticket right now (as witnessed by the swelling crowd). Having gained huge respect for 2012’s Sorrow And Extinction, this year’s Foundations of Burden has seen critics salivating at a master class in uplifting and somehow triumphant Doom.
Quite content to keep the crowd interaction to a minimum, the quartet from Little Rock, Arkansas gave a stunning display of how to deliver mesmerising, beautiful rock music that transcends any title you want to try and put on it. The Fleece has never boasted the greatest sound and during the opening tracks the power of the music, with its rich layers and textures, over lapped to create a dense, yet intricate tapestry, it threatened to overpower singer Brett Campbell’s lead vocals and lent it a ghostly, other worldly quality like a message being communicated from the other side.
Given those constraints it did little to slow the power of the band and made Campbell sound like an additional instrument, adding more depth to the mix as the waves of sound washing over you. Fortunately by the third track, the epic The Ghost I Used To Be the vocals were restored to their normal balance in the mix and the band went from strength to strength delivering a healthy mash up of old and new material before leaving the stage following a precision rendition of Foreigner.
Playing a small, packed venue for the first time in the UK must be a tremendous boost for the band and those who got to witness this majestic, transcendental experience will have seen a band on the brink of something truly special.
For many bands Pallbearer‘s act would have been impossible to follow and never having had the chance to see Yob in the flesh I thought this might be the case, yet the band started commandingly with Ball Of Molten Lead from their The Illusion of Motion album. However during the intro to their second song (In Our Blood) technical issues saw a halt bought to the proceedings as Aaron Rieseberg’s bass amp went south. Undeterred Mike Scheidt tried to keep the crowd going as the four stringer valiantly tried to find and fix the problem.
Low end sound restored they started the track again and within moments it was like nothing had interrupted the set.
Scheidt, almost to the back left of the stage, seemed to focus on the intensity of delivering the atmospheric music rather than any fancy stage craft; his hypnotic clean vocals over the swirling psychedelics, contrasted by the raw bellows over the crushing walls of dense noise were utterly captivating.
With a new album to promote (the formidable Clearing The Path To Ascend out now on Neurot Recordings) the set was mixed with tracks familiar like The Lie That Is Sin and those destined to grow like Nothing To Win. Having had the gauntlet thrown down by the supporting bands Yob operated with complete control over the audience, throwing in super heavy riffs that made the bass vibrate in your chest and squalling feedback that seemed to drown out everything but the music as the shifting dynamism ebbed and flowed taking you on a sonic equivalent of a spiritual journey. Unbelievably the longer the band played, the better they got as more and more you were left with little choice but to surrender yourself to the power of Yob. It has honestly been a long time since I have been to a show that was quite so immersing.
Even as the set came to it’s logical conclusion with Marrow at 11.30pm and I had one eye on the hour and a half journey home and a 6.30am start the next morning, when they decided to cap off the evening with the near 15 minute Burning The Altar as an encore there was no walking away from the sheer rich potency on display.
Maybe I haven’t seen enough shows with Doom bands of this caliber, but both myself and my travelling companion were absolutely blown away by the whole evening. We went expecting a good show and to see if Pallbearer could deliver live as they did on record (which they did!) but ended up completely in awe of Mike Scheidt’s men. If you have even a passing interest in the Doom genre, this frankly is the best ticket going right now.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden