Wednesday 7 May 2014

Live Review : The Haxan Cloak, Neurosis. The Cockpit, Leeds, UK, 3/5/2004

Under the twilight of a hollow arch in the centre of Leeds, UK, tonight is all about Neurosis. Stepping away from the South and playing their first UK shows outside of London in 10yrs, the overwhelming consensus was that Neurosis were compelling and brutally loud during their set at the inaugural Temples fest; decimation by aural drone.

20 yrs or so earlier I witnessed Neurosis for my first and only time. Ironically enough that was in the West of Yorkshire in a club called Rios. Acting as main support to Entombed at the time, Neurosis were likely to have been supporting their breakthrough record ‘Through Silver in Blood’.  Fast forward to the present and with the touring cycle for their current record ‘Honor Found in Decay’ likely to be coming to a close. Tonight is a very rare spectacle and one that may not be repeated for sometime to come. For that reason tonight's gig is very special for a host of different reasons. Upgraded from Leeds Uni. Neurosis on bank holiday weekend is the hottest ticket in town.

Acting as main support, The Haxan Cloak is one man, producing electronic experimental drone. The darkness of the room is met with punishing bass that literally has your body shaking. Feeling like you're in a packed metropolis with the floor rumbling under each gargantuan footstep of Godzilla. The din is cacophonous with waves of ambience enveloping your senses. Sounds and samples that you'd expect to emanate from the page of a Philip K Dick novel. Or even H G Wells’ War of the Worlds. Hell you expect a psychopathic replicant from Blade Runner to appear in the haze of smoke and begin to chase you.

In terms of musicality, The Haxan Cloak kinda reminds me of Pre Millennium Tension era tricky. It's incredibly heavy stuff, your body spasmodically shaking under the tremors of bass. The music affects your senses and almost gets under your skin, creating tension and claustrophobia. This stuff could serve as the accompaniment to an Alien movie. It is stunning stuff and perhaps with an accompanying visual display it would perhaps give the listener more to engage in. Despite this, your mind kinda creates its own visual narrative based upon the sounds and textures. Most of which evoke darkness, like you’re observing the destruction or desolation of humanity.  I can't actually describe the music because I haven't actually heard anything like it. There are pulses of electronica which are delicate, married together with thudding ambience. It really is captivating stuff and unlike anything else I have heard. If you fancy something experimental and left field this is surely some of the most ambitious and mind bending stuff. Electronic ambient drone genius.

It is hard to describe the sense of anticipation for Neurosis, there is rampant fervour building amonsgt the masses present and for me tonight’s gig doesn’t actually feel real somehow. The tension builds until Neurosis unloads into ‘A Sun That Never Sets,’ instantly the drums sound huge, with every detail on record translated perfectly on stage. Steve von Till’s voice is anguished, languid and impassioned. Next up is easily one of my favourites, ‘Locust Star’which is tribalistic, the dueling vocals, the driving bass slides from Dave Edwardson, with his ferocious guttural vocals.  From the outset everything is pitch perfect, in between songs, the electronics and ambience immerses you. Jason Roeder’s drums are huge, the snare cracks, with the drone of guitars engulfing you like a rampant conflagration.  Seriously this is barbaric stuff, and yet the decadence of the ambience transcends you to a spiritual plain, where on a battlefield warriors lay down their arms before the charge begins again with more vicious guitar breaks. Not a layer of sound is missed and it's as if a story from a page has come live and is told through the crunching music. This is night perfect.

Again, Jason Roeder seemingly has 8 arms connecting this tyrannous music together with massive sounding drums. The first song from ‘Honor Found in Decay’, sounds like a classic. Something they have been playing for 20 yrs, Scott Kelly taking the lead vocals for the first time. The music is so graceful and powerful, The Cockpit awash with a maelstrom of anthemic decadence. The heat is overwhelming but the crowd are hypnotised by the juxtaposition of ambience married with the crushing heaviosity. Scott Kelly barking out ‘From the hills’, a front man spewing out his words with vigour and such intensity it makes the hairs on your back stand on end. The music of Neurosis is a journey of peaks and troughs, but you’re always drawn back to the snap of Roeder’s snare. Snapping you out of the trance you have immersed yourself in.

Ultimately Neurosis play music that is dense yet tranquil, but you have to give yourself to the music. Invest in it. Indeed those present are stupefied by the brilliance of the music. It can become plodding but it's never boring because the sloth like pace always leads to a road of ferocity. The tone is often orchestral, elements of electronic soundscapes infusing the clean guitars giving it a spacey and organic feel. A single note of the piano sending a shiver down your back and the reason it all works is that Neurosis are a live band. On record it is tracked live. What you hear has ultimately been committed the same way on record, hence the measured and tight performance.

The magnificence of it all is that the show seemingly goes on for days because the band is so absorbing and you’re completely immersed in the music. It's epic in length but it doesn't feel that way. 90 mins or so into the show, they begin ‘Bleed the Pigs’, by this time it seems like Von Till has been a spectator but his vocal delivery is venomous. Spewing out ‘Bleed the Pigs of Its Life.’ Remarkably Roeder is as fluid at this stage of the set, performing for nearly 90 mins without a break. This guy could perhaps be the best out there. His performance is monumental, and let us not forget Edwardson, his bass booms and at times it feels the roof is going to fall in around you.

Just when you think it can't get any better, Neurosis unleash into ‘The Doorway.’ One of the best things they have produced from arguably their best record to date. Seriously the songs just keep coming, spilling over like an overflow of black sludge. This tune brings the ‘weight,’ the refrain of "Standing in the doorway" is belted out and here I am having walked through a doorway to watch possibly the best live performance I have ever witnessed and I will swear to that under oath in court.  Omnipotent, all-powerful, invincible.  Neurosis reined supreme.   

Words by : Aaron Pickford

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