Devin Bellend Reviews Haken, Leprous, Maschine @ Garage , Islington – 23/10/14
On the 23rd October I was fortunate enough to be able to watch one of my absolute favourite bands (no bias in this review, then) at the Garage in London, along with two other great bands – Leprous and Maschine. I also had the chance to interview Haken, which you will be able to read very soon!
What made this gig even more interesting for me was that it’s the first one I’ve been to whilst in this current period of self-imposed sobriety. This was testing for me as gigs are usually the place where I liked to get most dosed up and act like a complete melt. One of the main things I noticed is how much gigs hurt your back and feet when you’re sober. How do you people do it? I felt 80 years old after twenty minutes – but I pressed on in the name of science.
I arrived at the venue early, having travelled straight from work, and looked for a way in. It appears the Garage of Islington is an impenetrable fortress, and having no contact details for anyone inside, I sat there for a while, pressing the buzzer over and over, receiving nothing but an overwhelming sense of loneliness, like an existential imitation of that episode of The Simpsons where Bart won’t stop touching the fucking electric cupcake.
I stood there for a while, disheartened…. Until an echo of a previous sexual experience called to me in a stroke of intuition – “Why not try the back door?” – And it was now as it was then. I did try the back door and lo and behold glorious treasures awaited inside, only this time I was greeted by the musk of sweat and alcohol whereas last time I was…. Oh.
I made my presence known and waited for the band members to become available for the pre-show interview. My decision to sit on a step near the bar proved an ill-informed one as I spent the rest of the day thinking “what is that awful smell and why does it go everywhere I go –it’s like a mixture of floor beer, floor sick, and floor sweat…”. It wasn’t until the next morning when I smelt the backside of my jeans (what do you mean why was I doing that?) that I also asked the question aloud “why do my jeans smell like last night?” I am not a clever man.
After the interview I had my dinner (a fucking massive bar of galaxy chocolate) and met up with some friends, prepared to watch the show…
The first band on were Maschine, a 5 piece Prog outfit of young musicians from the southern paradise of Brighton-By-The-Big-Puddle. According to their facebook page, the oldest member of Maschine is about 6. The only reason I’m mentioning their age is to put their talent into context. Every member of Maschine is a furiously gifted instrumentalist who command their instrument with a touch of class far beyond their years, which is quite something to watch.
Fronted by Luke Machin on vocals and guitar, the band tears through heavy riffs, quiet Opethesque sections utilising a wide range of tonalities and timbres, and melodic choruses. The title track of their album, “Rubidium” opens with an eerie Eastern-sounding guitar and vocal unison before tearing into a heavy, odd-time riff. The middle of the track channels the spirit of muse, (possibly an homage to “Knights of Cydonia”?) before returning to more heavy riffs with some intense widdly guitar runs a la Protest the Hero. It eventually closes with what I can only really describe as the percussive equivalent of an epileptic fit – an absolutely terrifying drum solo from James Stewart. The other analogy I found myself using on the night to a friend was that James, with all of his energy when playing, “looks like a schizophrenic octopus fighting off a swarm of imagined bees”.
Maschine have enormous potential as a band, and having already been twice voted Prog magazine’s ‘Band of the year’, and now touring with the likes of Haken and Leprous, seem to be quickly making headway. There are a few things which I personally feel may be changes that could be made to see them climb to the levels I think they’re capable of.
Firstly, their songs need closer attention given to the songwriting. One of the most obvious things to me that separate Maschine from the other two bands on the bill is they lack to an extent the ‘glue’ that shapes and themes a song in the same way that makes the tracks of the other bands congruous and consistent (even though they still all vie of on crazy genre-bending tangents). This is not a criticism, though. Maschine are obviously still in their formative years and have, like any and every band, maturing to do musically. I have no doubt that if they stick together we will see some excellent tunes from them in the future. Secondly, I don’t think Machin is a lead vocalist – he is an absolutely phenomenal guitarist and I think his focus should be solidly on his instrumental performance. He certainly isn’t an incapable vocalist – he pitches well and knows what he’s doing, it’s just I feel his voice doesn’t do justice to Maschine’s material in the way that it deserves. Having said that, as a fellow song writer I appreciate that what the audience hears is subjective and does not always correspond with the original sound the writer has in their head – which may or may not be deliberate!
During the break between the bands, I had to figure out how exactly one orders a soft drink at the bar. A whiskey and coke without the whiskey? A virgin lemonade? “JUST SOME ICE PLEASE???!” I just didn’t know, but I got through it and enjoyed drinking some tasteless black juice. I also spent a good twenty minutes standing awkwardly in front of an air conditioning unit, holding my shirt down so I didn’t turn into an impromptu strippergram.
Leprous were the second band on, and after having their praises sung to me by my friend John, I was rather excited to see them. Out they come, all dressed smartly in black and accompanied by two TV screens to showcase some pretty interesting visuals. They open their first song with a riff so heavy and slow that it sounds like a big old bear just stomping around for no reason.
The song continued in the same fashion with heavy riffs, lamenting, theatrical vocals and a dark, moody atmosphere until the song comes to a close with a massive happy vocal canon that brings to mind that Lloyd’s TSB advert. Suddenly, Leprous up the ante with an enormous surge in energy to start off their second song which is comparatively manic when placed straight after the first tune. This one opens with a fast, heavy riff drowned in harsh growled vocals. Maybe they just weren’t happy with how their first song went. Very angry. Calm down. One thing, 10 minutes into the set, which I noticed about Leprous is their exquisite songwriting ability.
They have this capacity to take one riff or motif and return to it over and over again, but varying it every time – melodically, rhythmically, harmonically – making each time you hear it unique, and meaning it never gets boring; something I really admire in songwriting for progressive music. Whilst Leprous explore a lot of musical avenues, everything they do seems to sit well with everything else as it is all encompassed by a common atmosphere and tone. They experiment with a range wide of vocals: Clean, Falsetto, Harmonies, Harsh growled vocals and even some hardcore style shouting, which makes for a constantly engaging performance from the front line of the band. The thing with Leprous is they go up-and down in tempo so frequently. When they’re playing their high-tempo riffs, they’re good. When they’re playing their slow riffs, they’re really bloody good.
Their slow riffs are so thick and heavy and disgusting, like shit being forced out of an overflow pipe. I know that, on the surface, that doesn’t sound like a compliment, but you’ll have to trust me. It is. I was told by a friend about how regularly Leprous tour and perform, and it’s absolutely evident.
Their professionalism on stage is infallible and their performance is absolutely mind-blowing. They hold the audience in some kind of “Metal Trance”. Every aspect of their show is rehearsed to perfection, right down to the individual instrumental performances, for which I have to give special Kudos to the drummer. Some of his drum fills are so subtle and classy, so dynamically controlled that you almost don’t notice they’re there sometimes – the way they fit into the song is stunning.
Finally, I have to mention, despite the level of energy throughout the show, how much their performance ramped up for the final song of their set. I can’t remember the name of the track but it was very avant-garde, a lot like another fantastic Norwegian band – “Shining”. I will definitely be listening to Leprous again and am thoroughly glad to have seen them live. I highly recommend you check them out if you get the chance.
In between Leprous and Haken I, like the octogenarian I had become, went to find somewhere to sit down that wasn’t covered in stank. Sadly there was nowhere. I asked the security manager if I could sit in the little minibar for a while in quiet contemplation to reflect on just how awful my spine is but he denied me this. I considered for a moment the possibility of bringing his existence to a close and using his cadaver as a seat but realising that might be ‘frowned upon’ I returned to the venue. Also he was bigger than me so it wouldn’t have been a pragmatic decision either.
Anyway, I waited in chronic pain and excitement for Haken to take the stage. I’ve seen them a good 4 or 5 times before and they are always fantastic, so I was hoping tonight was going to be no different. I moved down toward the front and started humming some arpeggios to myself, warming up so as to be ready to sing along in harmony to Ross Jennings’ vocal melodies like the pretentious piece of shit I am. I was sandwiched in between a girl who kept falling over on my right due to being unbelievably drunk (of which I was very jealous), a man who was very potentially the reincarnation of Tony Soprano and a guy who wouldn’t stop pointing his camera at me.
Haken took the stage whilst “The Path Unbeaten” played, accompanied by a huge roar and round of applause from the crowd. “The Path Unbeaten” is a variation of a beautiful motif that comes around several times on their latest album, “The Mountain”. As soon as the on-track came to a close, the band launched into “Atlas Stone”, opening with a haunting piano riff. As soon as the full band kicks in, everybody’s clapping along – and it’s always fun watching a room full of people trying to clap in 11/16 – but everyone’s immediately thrown into a frenzy of proggy joy. The first chorus comes around and the crowd magically transforms into an enormous choir, which was very fun to be a part of. Haken twist and turn through their numerous instrumental sections, but what they do so well is to always base their instrumental sections on variations of the main themes of the song – they never stray too far from the chord progressions and timbres of the verse, chorus, or main riff, and this is what so special about their songs.
Haken continue their set with “In Memoriam” – another track from “The Mountain”. This track again opens briefly with a piano melody before being joined by a heavy full band riff, immediately showcasing their grittier side, and showing just why they definitely deserve their metal cred. The highlight of this son, for me is the crazy, frantic, glitchy instrumental moment at around 3:00 (check the video below) which would make Meshuggah, Sikth or any of the big tech bands at the moment envious – and they execute it flawlessly before calmly returning to their chorus as if nothing had happened.
“Featured: In Memoriamphetamines”
“Darkest light” is up next – the first track off of their new EP “Restoration”. This track is a reimagining of a track from their original 2007 demo. The new track has all the original themes and melodies of the original but has been reinvigorated within the new format and timbre of the band’s music and has been pulled off brilliantly. There seems to be a lot of long-time hardcore fans at this gig judging by the response as Haken begin the song. This track includes a lot of djent-style polymetric riffs underneath melodic vocal or instrumental work, as they have seemed to sometimes lean towards with this new release. There’s also plenty of creative use of Charlie and Richard’s new Strandberg fucking 8 strings oh my God are you serious??
Haken’s set remains consistent and they are on top form tonight as they blast through “Pareidolia” and “Cockroach King”. The shape and tone of “Cockroach King” has a number of people visibly dancing – I mean it – dancing. That is something I never thought I would see at a prog metal concert. Oh, and by “a number of people” I mean me… and hopefully some others to make me look less mental. Sadly, the dancing comes to an end and it becomes clear that Haken have had to rearrange their set due to the show overrunning (which is possibly due to Leprous doing an extra song). This means that the Aquarius era “Drowning in the Flood” is cut, and Haken move straight into performing the brand new 20-minute epic “Crystallised”, which frontman Ross Jennings introduces as ‘Do you want something new? [Yes!] Something 20 minutes long? [Crowd goes mental!]”.
This track is an absolute monster and many Haken fans are already calling it one of their best. When performed live it’s easy to see why. The track opens with this fantastic John-Williams like brass melody over the foundations of this heavy riff. The track moves through a labyrinth of musical carnage with plenty of Pareidolia-esque low key moments, crazy instrumental sections and use of extended vocal canons, building upon what they started on “The Mountain”. It’s also important to note that this was a live première; it was a stunning performance and powerful moment for the crowd all the more for it. Every time the chorus came around the crowd harked back to that choir they’d self-arranged into earlier.
As I mentioned earlier, Haken were working on a limited time schedule, and with every one of their songs being almost a million years long, they had to carefully pick what to perform to get the most out of their remaining time. “Fuck it” they evidently said to themselves as they launched into the 24 minute goliath “Visions”. However, having seen this song live quite a few times now, I noticed that drummer Ray Hearne started the song a good 10% faster than it usually is and continued as such, presumably to try squeeze it in before the curfew. This just means that it’s almost unbelievably how they managed to pull off all the hectic moments in this song at this exaggerated tempo… but they did! “Visions” is always the perfect end to the night, with the emotive, moving string quartet closing the set.
Haken went on to prove yet again why they are the absolute best band in the progressive rock/metal market at the moment, and provided everyone who came with a show to remember. Everyone I spoke to after seemed to have loved the show with the exception of one drunken twat who kept shouting out “Play the GOOOOD stuff, you didn’t play any GOOOOD stuff!” Given that they’d played material from every era of their being a band (with the exception of the early Aquarius – and only because they didn’t have time), it’s obvious that this man was alone in his criticism. As they always do, the band members came immediately into the audience after their set to speak to their fans, give autographs and engage with everyone there on an equal level, which is great to watch.
I absolutely recommend any music fan who is interested in intelligent, engaging music that remains emotive and moving to check out Haken – possibly starting with their most recent full album, “The Mountain”.
Oh shit I’ve just realised I forgot to be funny for the entire last 1/3 of that review. Hopefully this’ll make up for it: