21 July 2019

Live Review: Neurosis and Godflesh at Birmingham Town Hall, 19th July 2019

Tonight, Birmingham is to witness yet another landmark event in the history of all things heavy, Neurosis and Godflesh playing the legendary Town Hall on the opening night of the ever essential Supersonic Festival. Simply wow. Five reasons I am excited:

1. It’s Supersonic time! This is the festival I have treasured for many years above all others.
2. I’ve never seen Neurosis live, they are the one band that circumstance has prevented me from seeing until now.
3. Godflesh are also on the bill for chrisakes! I can never see Godflesh enough times.
4. All this is happening in a beautiful historic building that I have admired from outside whenever walking through that part of Brum and tonight I get to go inside.
5. All of this fits so nicely with the Home of Metal exhibition currently happening here to celebrate 50 years since Birmingham birthed heavy music.

Someone pass me a herbal tea and a slice of cake before I get carried away, it is time to tell you dear reader about this tumultuous event.

So tonight, the first band of the night to follow in the footsteps of iconic heavy bands that have played here before such as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath are Birmingham’s own industrial sons, Godflesh. Not only are Godflesh an essential part of the Birmingham musical landscape, they are an essential part of the international landscape of all things heavy. What is more, Justin K. Broadrick has to consider Supersonic Festival s spiritual home from home, as they have played host to many of this musical endeavours.

Godflesh by Mark Rhodes

Photo credit Mark Rhodes

The Town Hall is still filling when our local heroic duo take to the stage, and Broadrick is quick to ask for the house lights to be turned off, it is clear that things are going to get a bit darker in more ways than one. It is a large stage, Broadrick and Green take a side each with a large barren space between them. Above them towers a grandiose pipe organ very likely capable of a different kind of sonic drama. The scene is set, stark and static blue lighting blazes forth, and Godflesh fire up the engines. Godflesh have always had a large sound that can never stand accused of being thin or weedy, but in this venue tonight they sound gargantuan. The acoustics of the hall add a think reverberation that just adds weight to everything, without the flab of overly echoey spaces. Every harmonic squeal and bent string is audible even through the dense bass heavy onslaught. Between songs, the wall of sound emitted from Broadrick’s guitar board make the necessary de/retuning almost sound art itself. The duo utter barely a word throughout, letting the mechanical and bristling tracks to the talking. The hefty and brutal set includes tracks spanning their entire career and the songs gel stylistically so well. Personal highlights for me were ‘Defeated’ from the ‘Hymns’ album, and ‘No Body’ from the relatively recent ‘Post Self’ album but the whole set was impressive in this setting.

Neurosis, the band that I have tried to see live for over a decade. Over a 30 year period they have travelled a journey that has traversed hardcore punk all the way through avant-garde electronics, pretty much forging the sound to become known as post metal in the process. Always active and releasing essential albums, most recently ‘Fires Within Fires’ in 2016, the band are currently overseeing the release of remastered earlier albums. They have a reputation for being an immense live band, one that is supported by the release of numerous live recordings of which I own a few of in attempt to satiate my appetite for seeing the real deal. Needless to say, my expectations are as high as the ceiling in this fantastic building.

Neurosis by Joe Singh

Photo credit Joe Singh

I am more than pleased to confirm that Neurosis do not disappoint in any way at all. Out of the dark, the five members take form and the air is filled with their slow and powerful sound. It is mixed and balanced pretty much perfectly, which is not at all surprising for a gig brought to you by the Capsule team. Once again, the town hall is filled with a muscular sound field, though it is somewhat more poised than the earlier onslaught that Godflesh wrought. ‘A Sun That Never sets’ begins the set, with the drums and electronics setting a thunderous tableaux for the voices and guitars that soon join the game, with the deep vocals and brooding guitars delivering even more impact from stage as from the studio. Very soon I conclude that not only did Neurosis lay down the blueprint for this thing we call post metal, they are also still very likely the best. The performance is raw yet flawless, heartfelt yet concise, and most importantly it is powerfully heavy. The ten song set spans their career from ‘Times Of Grace’ through to ‘Fires Within Fires’ though the more recent albums are more heavily represented which is something I am entirely happy with. The quiet/loud dynamic that is a signature works perfectly in this space as the songs evolve, stretch and engulf the audience.

One thing I noticed was that the electronic elements of the performance stood tall, synths adding to the weight of the riffs and soundscapes playing wonderfully in stereo around the hall. This is just one example of the attention to detail that make Neurosis such a jaw dropping band to see live. Elsewhere in the set, is is hard to choose highlights. However, ‘A Shadow Memory’ is majestic and magnificent, and ‘Given To The Rising’ is simply monstrous. There are numerous points in the set I find myself grinning from ear to ear as the band exercise their craft so well and there is no doubt that I will remember this performance for as long as my brain has function. Appropriately, the set ends as it starts with a song lifted from ‘A Sun That Never Sets’ in the shape of ‘Stones From The Sky’, and as I leave the venue somewhat elated I reflect to myself that I hope the sun doesn’t set for a good while of that band I have finally experienced live, Neurosis.