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Live At The Kentish Town Forum, 22.07.19

Neurosis, Godflesh Live at the Forum, Kentish TownSo I made my way from Kent to the Kentish Town Forum (further away than it sounds like it should be!) to see the Godfathers of ‘Post Rock’, Neurosis. They seldom tour and I missed them last time so I didn’t want to miss them this time. The gig had the added bonus of Godflesh playing, a band I have loved since I got Pure, way back in 1992 but have never managed to see live. Thanks to the Forum allowing me early entry, I took my seat at the front row of the balcony. I have never been up there at the Forum before but it afforded a great view of the stage.

It wasn’t long before opening band Yob ambled on to the stage, plugged in off we went. They are a band I had only heard of by name. The trio hail from Eugene, Oregon and my they make an almighty racket. Yob sound like Kyuss multiplied by Trouble filtered through Black Sabbath; doom metal merchants of the highest order. They only managed three songs (according to setlist.fm) but they were lengthy, complex workouts with lots of instrumental sections. When Mike Scheidt did sing it was buried in the live mix as the hurricane of auditory delight whirled around. They went down well and, this being a rare trip to these shores, the Forum was almost full before they appeared, which gives a clue to the stature they are held in. Certainly a band I shall be checking out further.

After a quick change around, industrial, grindcore legends Godflesh appear. To say I was looking forward to them is an understatement and they didn’t disappoint. Godflesh consist of two mightily pissed off men, one MacBook (In lieu of the old drum machine) and the sound of the end of the world. G. C. Greene’s bass isn’t so much heard as felt through the foundations of the building, a deep, earthy rumble. The counterpoint is guitarist/vocalist Justin Broadrick, riffing furiously and shouting into the microphone. His vocals sound like he’s been gargling with acid and sandpaper as be barks and spits his somber tales of personal loss and societal decay.

For the best part of an hour Godflesh pin us to the wall with their righteous noise. Wreathed in darkness the duo treat us to a career-spanning set list taking in three cuts from their latest album, Post Self and choice tunes from most of their other albums. Highlights include a slow, grinding Predominance from the aforementioned Pure and the closing Defeated from the very underrated Hymns album. A slight disappointment that there was nothing from Streetcleaner but that’s a minor point. The duo have to be perfectly in time with the mechanized clanking and the avalanche of noise emanating from the MacBook and they never miss a beat as Green pummels his bass into submission and Broadrick riffs to oblivion. They get huge cheers from the crowd all the way through their set and depart like conquering heroes.

And so to the headliners, Oakland, California’s finest purveyors of aural brutality. They have been doing this a long time and know how to put a set list together. Tonight is no exception, although it’s a somewhat melancholic affair. The show is bookended by two tracks from A Sun That Never Sets, choosing to open with the slow, sprawling title track, a song that builds almost imperceptibly towards a crescendo as the repeating riff is wound tighter and tighter.

Next the band launch into the punishing strains of My Heart For Deliverance with Scott Kelly’s rasping vocals fighting their way through the melee. Starting stridently, the song breaks down half way through with nothing but plaintive piano cords and sampled speech before the band crash back in breaking like a tsunami on the shore. A gorgeous ascending riff and a squalling solo from Kelly drag the song towards the ten minute mark but not a moment of that is wasted.

Unlike Godflesh’s full frontal assault, which is similar to being repeatedly beaten with a lump hammer, Neurosis are far more subtle, somewhat akin to tectonic plates shifting slowly but inexorably towards collision. The pressure and tension build gradually until they reach breaking point and the inevitable release. It's also notable that Neurosis aren't prepared to trade on past glories; the newer songs all sound mighty fine tonight. The set continues with two newer epic compositions, the ominous rumble of A Shadow Memory and the sludgy At The Well.

The musicians are on fine form tonight; Jason Roeder is an absolute powerhouse behind a relatively small drum kit. He’s not a flash player and his kit consists of absolutely no more than he needs. He is precise to the point of being metronomic, laying the foundation for the rest of the band to follow. Fellow rhythm king Dave Edwardson on bass, resplendent with lovely green hair, thrashes about on his bass, totally locked in with Jason. He appears to have occasional equipment problems tonight but it doesn’t phase him. If there’s one criticism of the sound tonight it’s that he’s not a bit louder in the mix.

Twin guitarists and vocalists Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till are imposing figures. The former looks like Grizzly Adams after a bad LSD trip, stalking the stage with menace. The latter, with his bald head and long beard, throws shapes, rarely standing still when not tied to the microphone. Both are superb within the context of the band, equally comfortable grinding out complex riffs, coaxing feedback and noise out of their instruments, or shredding occasional solos.

Keyboard player Noah Landis is possibly the most underrated member of Neurosis. Never still behind his keyboards he adds texture, melody, colour, light and mood to the music. His sounds weave in and out of the band’s thunderous assault and without him the band’s music would just be noise. Without him it just wouldn’t work. Totally into the music he throws himself about, often pushing his keyboard stand precariously forward. Beside him is the obligatory MacBook from which spews sampled effects, noises and, I guess, it also controls what sounds his drum pads make.

We are treated to At The Well, from Honour Found In Decay and Bending Light and Reach from Fires Within Fires, showing the band are confident in their newer material and rightly so. Reach is languid, almost laid back and one of the few songs where both guitarists sing together. Bending Light highlights the importance of Landis, being built on his distorted, oscillating keyboards, the guitars a subtle background presence until they gatecrash the party halfway through. The second half of the song is pure power, the vocals lost in the maelstrom.

Sandwiched between those two Fires songs is one of the absolute triumphs of the night, the monumental Given To The Rising. Built on a colossal riff this song is like a beast straining to get free while the band fight to keep it under control. One of the heaviest songs played tonight it ebbs and flows like molten lava, subsiding into a muted section in the middle fuelled by an echoing, discordant riff. The song then erupts with fury as the band power towards the climax.

As we head towards the finish we are treated to the eerie complexities of To The Wind and the elegiac sturm und drang of End Of The Harvest, the sole song from played from Times Of Grace and the other song fighting for the title of heaviest song of the night. It reels you in gently before clobbering you over the head repeatedly with concrete-heavy riffs. This song is also notable as the only one to contain a vocal contribution from Mr Edwardson, who sounds like Beelzebub after swallowing a swarm of bees!

Neurosis pretty much spawned an entire musical genre with the shift from their hardcore roots to a more diverse sound. Their songs are perfectly crafted, using a beautiful musical chiaroscuro in their compositions. At turns heavier than an elephant made from osmium and light as a feather, they twist and turn their music in a multitude of directions. They are such awful teases too, offering glimpses of calm and hope amid the apocalyptic noise, before firmly slamming the door shut in your face.

Having seen Neurosis a couple of times before one thing I noticed was that during the gaps between songs, while the other musicians change instruments, Landis fills the gap with weird and wonderful noises building to the start of the next song. This helps the show flow much better than previously when everything just stopped while they were doing this and momentum was lost.

And so to the zenith of the show, the other song from A Sun That Never Sets, Stones From The Sky, a typically perfect Neurosis set closer. Clanging bells herald the song’s arrival, as if calling the four horsemen out to play. The ominous psalm starts so gently, the build up to the clashing, dissonant end is almost unfathomable. The song takes on a shamanistic quality with both Scott and Steve howling “You’ve been shown over and over, don’t you know?” as the song shifts slowly towards it’s apogee. Everything tips slowly over the edge into total mayhem, the finale is reached in a cacophony of delicious feedback and noise. Noah's keyboard also ends up several feet away from where it was when the song started!

Neurosis don’t do encores. Or stage banter. They exit with brief waves to the ecstatic, cheering crowd and the house lights are turned on. As I exit I reflect on the night’s show. Musically everything was pretty much perfect. The sound engineer did a good job apart from the bass being too low in the Neurosis mix. Lighting was fairly simple but none of us were here for that, it’s all about the music. One other slight disappointment is the lack of any material from either Through Silver In Blood or The Eye Of Every Storm. Given the nature of the set list I can understand the Through Silver material being omitted, given the savage industrial quality of the compositions but songs from Eye would have fitted right in. Only a minor quibble and I recognise it must be hard choosing a set list with so much material to choose from. Neurosis have been doing this for 34 years and no one knows how much longer they might be making such glorious noise so I am glad to have had another opportunity to see such a special band live.
Yob set list: Quantum Mystic / The Lie That Is Sin / Our Raw Heart
Godflesh set list: Sterile Prophet / Predominance / Anything Is Mine / Merciless / Post Self / Parasite / No Body / Defeated
Neurosis set list: A Sun That Never Sets / My Heart for Deliverance / A Shadow Memory / At the Well / Bending Light / Given to the Rising / Reach / To the Wind / End of the Harvest / Stones from the Sky
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