Tuesday 2 May 2017

Live Review: Oxbow, SUMAC @ Brudenell Social Club. 26/04/2017 Leeds, UK

By: Aaron Pickford & Charlie Butler

Few could argue that Aaron Turner has been one of the strongest advocates for the promotion and composition of heavy music over the last 20 years. Musician, artist and founder of the highly regarded Hydra Head Records, Turner has played a pivotal role in the release of countless classic albums, but it seemed that with the demise of the revered band ISIS (band), perhaps Turner’s appetite for producing suffocating heaviness would end too.

Whilst Tuner was far from inactive in music since ISIS (band), Turner would re-emerge on his own terms alongside drummer Nick Yacyshyn with a new project and they set about creating some of the heaviest music they had ever written, indeed over the course of two albums, their debut “The Deal” and 2016’s “What One Becomes” SUMAC's music seamlessly weaves between periods of crushing heaviness, fragile calm, hypnotic repetition and mind-bending mathematical chaos, taking all of their previous achievements as a foundation and building something even bigger in its own right.

SUMAC have indeed found their voice and with their following growing exponentially, they returned to our shores for the second time in 12 months and on April 26th in Leeds, my appetite to see them was impossible to quantify. 

Now with a career spanning nearly 30 years, it was a view in some quarters that it was somewhat of an injustice that San Francisco exepermentials Oxbow would act as second fiddle to tonight’s headliner, however the band were consummate pros tonight and their talent was clear to see, showcasing their truly unique sound.  Trying to categorise their music, is the equivalent of putting a square peg through a round hole, it’s like musical algebra, but impossible to quantify by way of rationale mind.  For me the commonalities of their music is indicative of Nick Cave esque post punk circa The Birthday Party, songs laden with staccato guitar and flagrant discordant keys, giving the listener a sense of nausea, whilst front man Eugene Robinson in a typically rambunctious manner spits out his laments, stalking the stage like a prowling cat.  Given that Oxbow was entirely new to me, to my ears their music evokes the quirkiness of The Butthole Surfers, whilst not entirely draped in acid, the songs are of kilter , unconventional and the antithesis of anti pop.  This is a band who don’t play by the rulebook indeed their din of exultant noise leaves you queasy green like a 5 years first boat journey.  With a promise to return next time in under ten years, the final track opens with layers of feedback like the swell of an ocean enveloping your senses, guitars , bass, drums coming at you even more cacophonous than what has come before it and their set is over and my anticipation for SUMAC has literally reached fever pitch. 

It is hard to frame concerts without resorting to the clichéd response of “man it was awesome”, in fact the use of a simple adjectives to describe an experience cannot truly encapsulate that experience and yet here I am attempting to do just that, however truth be told, words fail me for what I witnessed with SUMAC.  Given the dense nature of their recorded material, SUMAC brilliantly translated their music from record to the live arena, shimmering between pummeling heaviness, and more free spirited jam movements.  “Blackout”, “Rigid Man”, “Thorn in Lion’s Paw”, “Image of Control” all were aired tonight, at times the music is as subtle as a brick to the face, with the bass at times overriding the guitar, but SUMAC are more than just a vessel of heaviness, live there is a genuine symbiosis between Turner and Yacyshyn, so much so in fact that if you didn’t know the songs, you could be forgiven for thinking they were improvised jams, Turner flipping between dense riffs to master noise manipulator, allowing the feedback to ring out then we’re awash with psychedelic passages, Turner producing a drumstick to tap the strings, Yacyshyn pulling off impossible drum beats and at times giving the impression this is a man built at a cost of six million dollars, given his apparent bionic abilities.  This was not perhaps a gig that everyone would enjoy, yes at times you're banging your head , but live these compositions are more about feel, dynamic shifts, the manipulation of sound and for me it was an absolute pleasure to witness.  It was a lesson in absolute power.  

Band info: Facebook