It is a Tuesday and I am sat on a train traveling south to Birmingham. Looking out of the window the skies are darker than I have seen them during daytime hours. A storm is brewing on this April day that has already unleashed snow, hail and thunder. Portents for tonight?
This gig at Birmingham’s Institute is an odd one, teaming up a “blackgaze” band with an electronic industrial act. Whoever formulated this plan is brave and to be admired. We have Surprise You’re Dead Music to thank for giving the tour a Birmingham spot.
A two piece act from Los Angeles, Youth Code are solidly along for the ride with a resurgence in harder and electronic industrial music besides the likes of 3t33th, Chrysalide and Horskh. They prowl onto the stage with obvious intent, pent up energy waiting to be discharged, like static looking to ground. The sound brings to mind early to mid era Skinny Puppy, doses of beat heavy Revolting Cocks and a splattering of Angelspit like breaks. The thick and layered synthesizers sculpted by Ryan George ensure that a menacing atmosphere pervades the entire set while the snarled and aggressively roared vocals courtesy of Sara Taylor up the ante as countless calories are burnt in a whirlwind of activity. The performance is entirely enjoyable and I will surely investigate their 2016 release “Commitment to Complication” further.
Deafheaven. If they were a cake, half of it would be pitch black. Most of the rest of it would be the varying shades of grey of post rock and metal. The filling would be the blackgaze tag which the press are only too keen to label them with. Black metal is not my scene though I really enjoy the excursions that some such bands are willing to take into other musical territories. Deafheaven have been on my radar as one such band since their album “Sunbather” and I enjoy their sound as I do that of Wolves in the Throne Room and other more experimental or progressive black metal based acts. Tonight is my first chance to see Deafheaven perform live.
To these battered ears Deafheaven very much use black metal as a launchpad for their sound. Live, the blasts and walls of sound throw down a spiky gauntlet as far as intensity is concerned so that even when they channel their inner peace with post rock and their more gazey moments, they do so with the same degree of brutal intensity. The more musical passages are deftly composed, filled with subtle nuance, but somehow the San Franciscan band managed to take these almost fragile creations and batter the senses of the audience with them. In this live setting it is clear that each and every member of the group is as swept away by their combined effect as the audience are, a rare thing to experience. Vocalist George Clarke stalks the stage like a possessed marionette, or perhaps the ghost of Brandon Lee as The Crow conducting a symphony for the damned, memorising stuff. The whole thing is also punishingly loud, such that the vibrating air sent forth from this stage had power enough to send pulses through my clothing and rattle my poor teeth.
As I’ve already hinted, while I can appreciate some black metal, and indeed I have followed the genre from it’s inception, I personally prefer the post metal moments and the shimmer that has earned the band the blackgaze tag. These compositions bring to mind Isis and Cult of Luna, with a warmth provided by full sounding guitar interplay and healthily reverbed snare hits which provide a stark contrast to the more bleak extreme sections. That said, I wholly embrace the idea that you must have noise to appreciate the quiet, cold to appreciate the warmth, and ultimately blackness to appreciate the light. This is clearly where Deafheaven excel. A powerful experience.