Live Review : SUMAC + Baptists + ENDON @ The Deaf Institute, Manchester on March 18th 2019

The good old Manchester rain means that by the time we get to The Deaf Institute everyone queuing is soaking wet and reminiscent of the veritable drowned rat. The Music Hall upstairs at The Deaf Institute is a cracking little venue, almost like a tiny theatre, and the steam rising from the amassed crowd up the stairs makes it feel like we’re waiting to enter an underworld gladiatorial arena.

Unfortunately, there's been some kind of communication breakdown between the label rep and the tour manager, so Johann and I have to watch Japenese opening act ENDON covertly through the entrance door whilst waiting for someone to give us the green light to enter. I’m glad there's a door between them and us to be honest, because they are undeniably abrasive. It’s difficult to discern any kind of narrative to their songs, but for those more au fait with the nuances of noisecore bands like this, I would highlight that these guys perform with immensely controlled intensity and musicianship.

We’re eventually let in and set up shop for the second band of the night, Baptists, who kick straight in with their visceral brand of hardcore punk metal. They immediately hit an exciting balance between snarling aggression and persistent groove. Frontman Andrew Drury menacingly prowls back and forth, spitting mouthfuls of water into the initially empty pit between vein-bursting songs. They ooze the DIY punk ethic from every pore and attack each strike, hit and yell with an impressively violent musicality. Much of Baptists' set reminds me of very early Cancer Bats, but there are definitely elements of Will Haven mixed in with an extremely high octane Fugazi too.

I think the band mistake the respectful yet eerie silence early on between songs to be a sign of a lack of engagement from the crowd, but as the beers flow during the pleasingly lengthy set the pit eventually rears its head. In fact it’s Drury who, following a brief stint walking across the bar top (coming close to kicking my beer over and almost garrotting me with his mic lead), really kicks the pit into full action. He races from side to side, sending all of us flying, and kickstarting a pit as brutal as the music it’s being played out to. I expect this band normally play to a pulsating pit and Baptists deserve to be aggressively flung around to. If you like it brutal, catch these guys live for sure.

SUMAC are something of an experimental sludge metal supergroup, with Aaron Turner formerly of Isis, Brian Cook of Russian Circles and Nick Yacyshyn of Baptists. Yes, the same Baptists that just played – the man is an exhausted yet unstoppable force behind the drums by the end of the night let me tell you.

Musical improvisational guru Keiji Haino agreed to jam with SUMAC in 2017 and it’s fair to say the three-piece have never looked back since. Tonight they treat us to something akin to a musical soundscape installation; a tsunami of sludge gives way to squealing avant-garde guitars, which then in turn step aside for what can only be described as doom jazz. No sooner have we got our heads around this than we’re thrust back into the hypnotic wall of chaotic sludge.

The soundscapes are luscious and intricate with surprising twists and turns, yet the narrative they play out is cohesive and satisfying. Passages of primitive minimalism, interspersed with Mastodon-esque guitar assaults, shift to guitar-only atmospheric meanderings, and then to a final unrelenting sludge set-piece finale. You feel like you’re experiencing the soundtrack to a movie screenplay that no one will ever dare write.

Yes, there are elements of Isis here, but Cook and Jacyshyn ensure this is something fresh; an unrelentingly thundering bass and progressive yet chaotic drums ensure that SUMAC is a unique offering of arguably greater musical maturity and depth than Turner has ever created before.

Two thirds of the way through the set Turner’s guitar amp stops working, but whether anyone down the back has immediately noticed is questionable, as Cook and Jacyshyn use the opportunity to provide an impromptu improvisational piece between them. Unfortunately, everyone definitely notices when Turner eventually calls an end to the gig half an hour early due to unrepairable equipment. Everyone is understandably disappointed, but equally satisfied that they're witnessed something very different and just a little bit special tonight, both within the individual sets and between the bands as well.

Words by Matt Fraser
Photography by Johann Wierzbicki