Archive for March, 2010

Cult of Luna in Finland, February 2010, Part 2 of 2

Posted in Gigs with tags , , , , on March 15, 2010 by Noise Road

Cult of Luna @ Lutakko, Jyvaskyla, 27/02/10

Somewhere Along the Highway

 

As I turn from the bar with my Karhu III beer in mitt, I finally get a chance to breathe after the poorly executed, frantic dash up from Helsinki.  I’m waiting for Cult of Luna to board the stage, in a gritty club, 5 hours bus ride north of Helsinki, in a city ringed by frozen lakes and dense pine forests.  You know, the usual Saturday night. 

A few hours earlier, the title of Cult of Luna album, Somewhere along the Highway, had come to mind.  A bus unexpectedly dumped me in a small town somewhere a couple of hundred kilometres out of Helsinki, and a long way from the Cult of Luna gig in Jyvaskyla.  Sure it looked pretty cool to be on a highway surrounded by snow and black pine trees.  But where the feck am I?  And I how do I get to Jyvaskyla from here? 

 

I found the town’s bus station and I ordered a beer while I consulted my guide book and my bus tickets to work out how I get out of here.   The beer that they presented me with was a Fosters.  That can’t be a good omen.  Is this how it’s going to end…  somewhere along the highway?  Will the news reports back home say “the Australian national was last seen drinking a Fosters ”?  How embarrassing.  Fortunately the Finns speak English better than I do, and so I found myself in Jyvaskyla just before nightfall.

 

The Lutakko club is right on the bank of a large frozen lake, so dense with snow cover that people were skiing on it the following Sunday morning.  A ring of the lake had been ploughed clear of snow so the locals could skate too.  I was just trying to keep upright on the banks. 

 

Stepping into the venue, it’s a cool gritty bar that you would expect to find just off a university campus.  Jyvaskyla is a university town, and the crowd looked like it consisted mainly of students.   I’m not sure what the liquor laws are in Finland, but the entrance to the bar was fenced off from the floor in front of the stage.  This is the only area in which you are allowed to drink.  Everyone had to show ID to get into the bar area…  everyone that is except for me.  Come on, man.  You can’t even see my grey receding hairline.  I’ve still got my beanie on.

Cult of Luna didn’t board the stage until 11:30pm.  I got there at 8pm.  So that’s a few more 5 Euro beers than are ideal for the budget of a corporate wh0re between tricks.

The club has an unusual set up.  The bar area forms an L shape around the floor, with the biggest section of the bar actually behind the stage.  The bar appears to have a larger capacity than the actual performance space, but only from a small section of the bar can you see the stage.  Because of the size of the bar, I’m sure the capacity of the place is quite decent.  Yet there is no way all those people can fit on the floor in front of the stage.  When the band starts emerging this leads to as many people as possible trying to squeeze onto the floor and the remainder hanging over the bar barriers, trying to obtain a viewing position. 

 

The Tavastia club in Helsinki was a purpose built venue, with a solid sound set up.  Lutakko in Jyvaskyla is one of these odd shaped clubs like the Underworld in London or Fowlers in Adelaide.  Sure the space isn’t purpose designed for acoustics, but that packed club atmosphere is worth more than perfect sound.

Cult of Luna played the same set that night in Jyvaskyla as they did previous night in Helsinki.  With the intimacy of the smaller club, I was even more absorbed in the music than last night.  From the sparse opening of Dark City, Dead Man to the frenetic close of Ghost Trail, I was oblivious to almost anything but the sound. 

 

A cult of Luna set is always a night of ebb and flowing dynamics, and circular themes, that build and retreat like in Finland.  The band march in Owlwood, and they stomp in Eternal Kingdom.  At some stages a single guitar strikes the odd note, minutes later all 7 members are filling the room with the same theme that the sole guitar started. 

For most of the set I’m so immersed in the sound that visually I’m not taking anything in.  Even though I’m looking directly at the stage, I might as well have my eyes shut.  The only thing that took me out for a moment was when a spied Klas Rydberg hiding behind the stacks.  The poor dude delivers back-up vocals to Persson’s roar for the first couple of tracks, well hidden by amps and equipment.   I couldn’t but help think of the keyboardists being hid off stage by the rock bands of the eighties.  But Rydberg springs to centre stage towards the close of the third track, Dim.  His tortured vocals soar out Eternal Kingdom in front of the army of swaying guitarists.

 

The focus of the set is on their louder tracks with a rockier edge.  This is what has distinguished Cult of Luna from the post metal pack in the last few years.  There is a sense of rocking groove throughout their set that some of their more noodly contemporaries lack.  The set is dominated by tracks off Eternal Kingdom and Somewhere along the Highway, but they still reach quite deep with a track each off Salvation and the Beyond

As per last night in Helsinki, Cult of Luna close with the live monster of Ghost Trail.  That repeated guitar lead and the subsequent cutting, harsh vocal crush me every time.

 

I saw Cult of Luna 2 nights in a row in Finland.  I could see the same set over and over again and I think I’d still be as absorbed each time.  Helsinki and Jyvaskyla are a long way from Australia in more ways than just kilometres.  To see such gripping performances in a place so different from my home is an experience that I will never forget.

Cult of Luna in Finland, February 2010, Part 1 of 2

Posted in Gigs with tags , , , , on March 10, 2010 by Noise Road

Cult of Luna @ Tavastia, Helsinki, Finland, 26/02/10

Finland

 

Finland knows how to bring the snow.  I saw more snow here than I saw a few weeks ago, in the Norwegian, Arctic Circle town of Tromso.  On an unrelated note has anyone seen my car?  I just popped into a bar for a glass of Koff.  I thought that I left it right here…

 

Damn it! This is just like yesterday, when I lost my motorcycle…

 

Also, has anyone seen the Gulf of Finland?  It’s got to be somewhere near that cruise ship, right…

 

The compact city of Helsinki is surrounded by the Gulf of Finland.  When I was there, the sea was frozen and covered by snow and ice.  In fact any surface in the city, that hadn’t just been scraped clear, was a blanket of snow.  White so dominated the landscape that I’m really struggling to imagine what this place looks like in summer.  It would be a fair contrast when the blue of the surrounding harbour waters and the green of the parks resurface. 

If I only ever visit Helsinki once in this tour, I am glad that I did so in winter.  This snow city is visually the biggest contrast yet to my hometown, the desert city of Adelaide.

 

My guide book tells me that Helsinki is a city of art nouveau architecture.  I really don’t know what that means…  What I can say is that Helsinki looks like the two regions that it is sandwiched between.  Obviously, it’s got a Scandinavian look, but there are areas that look similar to the nicer bits of Russia too. 

It is a town that you can pretty much stomp in a day.  The thicker layer of snow is hard on your legs – but it’s better than that constantly slipping on a layer of ice that you get in some cities, where it snows less.   A highlight of marching any Scandinavian city is the excellent record stores for the metally inclined.  I had to use all my powers to resist leaving without a swag full of CD’s.

 

On Friday night, I ploughed through the snow to the Tavastia club.  I headed inside to what appeared to be just a bar.  It was a nice looking bar and everything, but where is the band going to play, dude? 

Clearly a beer was required to ponder the logistics of the mystery at hand.  A beer will set you back 5 Euros in a Helsinki bar.  The beer price is reflective of how expensive Finland is.  On the positive side, the beer is slightly cheaper than in Norway.  And the beer also tastes better than the reasonably tasteless Norwegian lagers.

The crowd in the bar looked similar to what you would expect – Scandinavian-looking, beardy types.  The beards in Scandinavia tend to look a bit more sculpted and clean in comparison to the stoner beards at gigs in the UK or Oz.  Also, metal appears to be far more accepted in the wider community in the Scandinavian countries.  Hence there is a somewhat broader cross section of people at the shows, including a larger percentage of women than you would see elsewhere.

It got to the point where it didn’t look like any more people could fit into the bar.  Then shortly before the Cult of Luna were due to board the stage, the staff started sliding away sections of the side wall of the bar to reveal a mid-size, purpose-built venue…  A venue appears as if from nowhere.  I was almost expecting a “tah-dah!”  or a “hey, presto!”.

 

A bit before 10pm, the Swedish lads in Cult of Luna emerge from the smoky blue haze, and ease into the opening sparse guitar strikes of Dark City, Dead Man.  The full band kicks in and guitarist/vocalist, Johannes Persson’s, harsh roar cuts through the venue. 

Like their older post-metal brothers, Neurosis and Isis, Cult of Luna play circular, building epics.  The recorded version of Dark City, Dead Man clocks in at just shy of 16 minutes.   Some of you are probably wincing at the thought of a night of 10 minute songs.  But the songs never seem 10 minutes long.  More so than other bands in the genre, I feel completely immersed at a Cult of Luna gig.  It’s more akin to a psychedelic show.  I never find myself outside the music, thinking of how far into the set we are, or if I need to take a p!ss, or how that dude in front of me has really rank dreads.  I trance out to the music.  I’m lost in this heavy wall of encompassing sound.    

Tonight the wall of sound is provided by a skeleton crew of 7 members.  Last time I saw the band, they managed to squeeze 8 members, and a second drum kit, onto Fowler’s tiny stage.  To be honest, I didn’t really notice the absence of the second drummer tonight.  Maybe it was because behind his wall of keyboards and electronics, Anders Teglund, was working the maracas and tambourine extra hard.  Metal and tambourines – who would have thought it?

 

Dark City, Dead Man led into Owlwood, the opening track off their latest album, Eternal KingdomEternal Kingdom is a fantastic record that distinguishes Cult of Luna from the post-metal pack.  It is a heavier and rockier work.  It still has softer and building dynamics, but the base level is louder.  The vocals on the album are harsh and bereft of melody or softness/subtlety.  They set a desperate, pained tone to the album and the live show.

Dim, taken from their previous release, Somewhere along the Highway, followed.  Towards the end of the Isis-y Dim, the second vocalist, Klas Rydberg, finally appeared from behind the stacks.  Rydberg took centre stage to bellow the title track off Eternal Kingdom.   Even though the previous albums show signs of melody in the vocals and quiet noodling in the guitars, tonight’s set is dominated by the heavier pieces from Eternal Kingdom and Somewhere along the Highway.  There is no vocal melody, to break up the tortured sound in both the vocalist’s roars.

There is however a brief respite from the building psychedelic aggression with the electronic interlude of Osterbotten, before the attack is relaunched.

 

The crowd had been chanting “Finland!” all night – which would be odd if there wasn’t a song off Somewhere along the Highway called Finland.  Rydberg saluted the crowd as they launched into the 11 minute epic of dynamic contrasts.  The initial stomp of the song’s opening gives way to perhaps the quietest noodling of the night, before rebuilding. 

 The awesome 12 minute rocker Ghost Trail closed the set.  I think this track perfectly sums up Cult of Luna – circular, building themes (including a repeated soulful guitar lead), tortured vocals, and large dynamic contrasts that build to a powerful crescendo.   Live, this track is a monster.  Ghost Trail is a great starting point for anyone new to Cult of Luna.  In fact, stop reading my sh!tty words now and go search it out.

In the final minutes of Ghost Trail, the band stands motionless, in formation, as the tempo builds and the track crescendos to a sudden stop.  Over 70 minutes had passed and it felt like less than half that time.  Their gig tomorrow night in Jyvaskyla cannot come quickly enough.

Napalm Death @ Wulfrun Civic Hall, Wolverhampton, UK

Posted in Gigs with tags , , , , , on March 4, 2010 by Noise Road

9/01/10

 

Time Waits for No Slave.

 

After having my laptop searched for “things that are illegal in Canada” at Ottawa Airport, I rode an Air Canada bird into London on the third day of this decade.  A popular fairy tale tells us that things can rise on the third day.  However the temperature in London had failed to rise since I was last there.

That first week of January was the biggest freeze in the UK since the 1960’s.   Parts of Scotland were cut off by road and rail from the rest of the UK.  The Eurostar was cancelled and Gatwick Airport was shut for multiple days.  Businesses and schools throughout the UK closed their doors. 

Unuse to large snow falls, the infrastructure in London failed.  Trains ceased to run into central London.  As a consequence people didn’t go to work and people didn’t come into the centre.  I walked along the Thames, from opposite the houses of parliament to London Bridge, and passed only a handful of people.  I was the only person in the Borough Market and I had my pick of seats on the tube in peak hour.  Have you ever seen the start of that movie 28 Days Later?  This was exactly the same – except there was slightly more snow and slightly less flesh eating zombies…  not even 3-day ripened zombie Jesus.

So it was with a fair amount of doubt that I tubed over to Euston train station, the following Saturday.  What were the chances of a train to Wolverhampton leaving the platform in the snow?

The train did get away though, and I’ve got to say I’m glad that I didn’t have to exit at Rugby.  There was a g0d d@mn blizzard falling when the train paused there.  Whilst not under the same blizzard conditions, it was a snow capped Wolverhampton that I arrived into mid-morning.  After getting used to the scale of cities like London and Chicago, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself at my hotel door within a 100m walk from the train station.  The hotel took my backpack while I strolled the town.  I don’t know what Wolves usually looks like, but those old buildings under a layer of snow looked pretty cool.

The centre of Wolverhampton is pretty small.  There is a university, a pedestrian shopping mall and lots and lots of pubs.  I had my priorities straight and headed directly to the town’s brewery, Banks Brewery – but there wasn’t a place to buy a beer there.   Disappointed and thirst unquenched, I continued out of the centre, to the town’s park which rivals the centre of town for size.  The park was a blanket of white.  If it wasn’t for the nice ducks I wouldn’t have known where the park started and the lake ended.  Except for a duck sized opening, the frozen lake was covered by snow and so it looked like the rest of the park. 

After consulting the ducks for my next move, I headed back through town and grabbed some sausage and mash at one of the many, many pubs in town.  The Wolverhampton prices were a refreshing change from London.  I finished my lunch and headed next door for a pint with the professional Saturday afternoon drinkers.   This was a real English pub with serious drinkers.  It wasn’t one of those chain pubs full of tourists and the exact same menu as the place next door.

I rolled into Wulfrun Civic Hall shortly after doors opened for Napalm’s hometown (well almost) gig.  With Wolverhampton being within 20 minutes of Napalm’s hometown of Birmingham, I’m going to call this one a hometown gig.  Wulfrun Civic Hall looks like it sounds – it’s a town hall.  I didn’t know whether to move a motion to save the clock tower, or break my neck to some grindcore.

For those who came in late (and I came in later than a lot), Napalm Death are pioneers of grindcore.  They’ve been merging the sounds of crust punk and death metal for nearly as long as I’ve been alive.  And I’m old, dude.

With the local brew, Banks, in hand, I made my way to the merch tables in the foyer of Wulfrun Hall.  Just where can you wear a band shirt that has “NO FUCKING SLAVE” covering the back?  Is that like something you wear to the annual, extended-family Xmas dinner?  Or maybe it’s more appropriate for that work social do that’s coming up.  I think I’ll save mine for my nephew’s baptism.

The first 3 bands for the evening, Nekkrosis, Speed Theory and Warlord, were pretty serviceable metal bands from the north of England.  If you wanted to have a chat with Napalm’s bass player, Shane Embury, you could have found him in the bar during the Warlord set. 

The next band up for the evening, snotty hardcore punkers, the Rotted, put only a highly entertaining set.  The vocalist made the pit perform a “congo of death” (which turned out to be just a regular congo line performed to a punk tempo).  He also appeared to be delivering a serious speech about knowing your limitations.  Was this going to be anti drugs song?  No – the song’s message was that when you hit your late twenties, it’s time to give up naked tour bus surfing.  Like I said, it was a fun set. 

The last support for the evening was the black metal-ish, Anaal Nathrakh.  The crowd were definitely up for them.  I thought it was pretty interesting set and the pit was severe enough to leave a bloodied bathroom afterwards. 

It was a different type of a pit.  It was loose and the people in it were loose.  The room in the pit allowed momentum to be built up between clashes.  I saw multiple blood noses leave the front during both Anaal and Napalm’s sets.  There was no way I was getting anywhere near that drunken, violent mess.

After 5 support acts, the punters were more than ready for Napalm.  They certainly were drunk enough.  Napalm have a very punk ethic.  Their light show is minimal.  There aren’t any theatrics or gimmicks.  So the lads wandered out and dived straight into Strong Arm from their latest album, Time Waits for No Slave.  Napalm’s vocalist, Barney, slipped over 3 times during first song.  I’ve seen Napalm once before (in Japan of all places!), and Barney is an excellently bad dancer.  He’s got all this energy that he just can’t get out of his body.  He’s like a little kid.  A really angry grindcore kid.

The biggest difference between the two Napalm gigs that I’ve seen is in the crowd.  It is worth seeing any aggressive band in Japan.  Japan don’t do aggression like we smelly westerners.  They treat metal as a chance to jump up and down, run around and have a party.  I walked straight through the Japanese “pit” to get to the front for a photo.  In contrast, I wasn’t willing to get anywhere near the mob in Wolverhampton.

The internet has brought positive and negatives to underground music.  It’s doubtful I would have a Napalm recording without the internets and I definitely wouldn’t have been able to tee up seeing them in Tokyo and Wolverhampton.  The internet means I can find interesting music made anywhere around the world – even if radio doesn’t play the band, CD stores don’t stock the album and record companies don’t sign the artist. 

But the internet has homogenised the geography of the underground.  Bands and fans can access all the bands in the world on their computrons.  So there are no longer massive differences in the sound of underground bands in one part of the world compared to another.  There are no longer many scenes determined by geography.  Similarly the fans at a band’s gig tend to look similar all around the world….  But there still are differences – definitely in Japan and there were some pretty cool differences here at Wulfrun’s Civic Hall.

Napalm pioneered the grindcore sound by melding snotty, politically charged crust punk with early death metal.  Their crowd in Wulfrun Hall reflected this.  Sure most of the punters are wearing death metal or hardcore band t-shirts, but there were a bunch of old school crust punks, wearing thick check shirts with leather jackets.  It is nice to have a more unique vibe going on.  In Wolves, I felt like I was at a local show – except that this local band is the pioneer of an entire genre.  This band travels the world bringing a honed brand of deathgrind with a punky enthusiasm and sincerity wherever it lays its hat.

Part of any Napalm show is some sincere ranting from vocalist, Barney.  I can’t stand many bands forcing their uniformed, self important views down my throat.  But whilst I don’t agree with everything Napalm are about, they certainly are far more informed and intelligent than your John Butler’s and far less ego tripping than your Bono’s.  Napalm came out of the whole leftist crust punk scene and their politics, while matured and progressed, reflect this.  I can get behind pretty much everything Barney says onstage but I find myself cringing at the political correctness in some of his interviews.

Tonight’s topics included an anti-religion rant before the band assaulted us with Brink of Extinction, and an anti-torture rant before they launched into Life and Limb.  Barney had me onboard.  Who’s gonna argue with an anti-torture message – I mean apart from the US government and the complicit UK and Oz governments.

Having over 25 years of grind in the bank, Napalm pummelled out such seminal works as Scum and Suffer the Children. Napalm have gone through several phases in their career, and consequently there is far more variety in their set than the average deathgrind act.  For example, Barney’s baritone melodies really shone through on the last couple of tracks from Smear Campaign. 

My favourite off the new album, the title track, Time Waits for No Slave was a thumping catharsis – but I reckon Barney probably needs some backup vocals to match the layering of the recorded version.   But I guess that is Napalm’s approach – no frills energy over technical perfection.

Napalm closed the hour long set with fan favourite, Siege of Power. An hour is a decent length considering the number of bands on the bill and the length of most of Napalm’s songs (You Suffer clocked in at total length of 1.316 seconds).  Barney spent 10 minutes after the show talking with the punters on the barrier.  It really was like a local show.  You could have a beer with the bass player before the show, and have a chat with the vocalist after the show.

In the Metal Sucks review of Time Waits for No Slave, they described Napalm as “the last decent punk band”.  I think this statement rings true.  To a modern punk fan’s ears, I’m sure this sounds a million miles away from punk.  But the music I heard in Wolves had that early punk sincerity.  Whilst the band have definitely honed their abilities and craft over the years, it has never favoured the technical over attitude or energy.  You listen to their latest album a few times and tell me if you don’t think that they’re the heaviest punk band on the planet.

After a fry up, and some more strolling around Wolves on the Sunday, the following Monday morning I was taking penguin steps to the train station to avoid falling over on the icy pavements, with 20kg of backpack on my shoulders.  The Napalm mission to Wolves had been another triumph.  There’s nothing quite like a quiet weekend of grindcore, beers and local pub fayre in the English countryside.