Live Review : Voices + Bast + Mairu @ Rebellion, Manchester on April 26th 2019
Gigs like this are the lifeblood of what we do here at ROCKFLESH Towers. Voices, Bast and Mairu are the very definition of niche and the truth is that none of them will ever bother Manchester’s multiple larger venues, but they play such a hugely important role in our world as they ply their highly unique wares to their small but passionate followings in characterful venues such as Rebellion. In fact it is shows like tonight’s, and the select loyal following that turn up for them, that make our world go round as life would be really dull if everyone was producing identikit anthemic enormodome fillers.
Liverpool’s Mairu are super-sub openers brought in on the eleventh hour to replace Drug Vulture and I for one are really glad they are here as they are really rather excellent. They deliver a highly impressive and immersive half an hour of instrumental and experimental post-doom that is both intriguing and confounding. You see their music never actually goes where you expect it to; when you think it is going into an introspective quiet bit it suddenly explodes into white noise and when you think it is going to be as heavy as hell it goes all introverted and delicate. There are huge whiffs of Cult of Luna all the way through but Mairu manage to navigate a path of originality by continually disorienting us on where their atmospheric rambling are going next. Really rather good.
Bast are essentially Enslaved playing Pink Floyd covers in the style of Black Sabbath. When I bump in to bassist Gavin Thomas in the Salisbury after the show he admits that the band have never felt that there is a specific label that actually captures what they do, I inform him (potentially rather unhelpfully) that for me they are Black Prog with of course a doom chaser. However you could call it post-psychedelic space rock warbling’s for all I care as tonight it actually does not matter one iota what tag we decide to give them as Bast are just simply incredible. Space restrictions means that they play in one straight line across the front of stage (drum kit and all) and this only adds to the excitement and drama of watching them create their absorbing soundscapes, as you can now clearly see the looks, nods and little communications between the three of them as their semi-improvised music unfurls. Over forty five minutes we get four (lengthy) tracks; two from 2014’s “Spectres” and two from last year’s sublime “Nanoångström”. The latter record is an astounding step up for the band and is the sound of them maturing and becoming more confident and comfortable with pushing both their own musically abilities and the norms and expectations of the musical realms that they operate within. However in a live setting the two tracks from “Spectres” seem to more than keep up with the brilliance of their younger siblings, it is like the evolution that the band have been through with “Nanoångström” has allowed them to expand and experiment more with their older material.
Tonight’s version of “Spectre’s” ‘Psychonauts' is nothing short of astounding. The aforementioned set-up means that drummer Jon Lee sits stage centre and lays down what can only be described as a complicated but laid-back Jazz like drum pattern whilst he is aurally surrounded by a tsunami of dark dense sound emanating from either side of him. I don’t know if it intentional or a result of the positioning but the drums are so high up in the mix during ‘Psychonauts' it feels like you are witnessing a drum solo that just so happens to be accompanied by rich swirling atmospheric post metal. Whether it was envisaged this way or not actually doesn’t matter as it is just utterly utterly incredible and the wild ovation that greets the track’s conclusion makes me realise that I am not the only one that had been blown away by it tonight. The set concludes with 'The Ghosts Which Haunt the Space Between the Stars’ (the final track on “Nanoångström’), a wonderfully sprawling modern reinterpretation of Hawkwind–esque space rock filtered with a haze of taught Black Metal. It may sound like two separate things but it is that juxtaposition of claustrophobic snarly vocals and riffs followed by hypnotic and interpretative sections that makes the track and in-fact the whole set so fantastic. Every time I see Bast they seem to make another leap in scale and ability and I await their next Manchester appearance with real expectation.
Black Metal in the main concentrates on the fantastical and other-worldly; it is fixated on ancient evils, the dark forbidden corners of the occult and malignant deities. One of the reasons I love Voices so much is that they take Black Metal’s jolting oppressive intensity and take it screaming and kicking into the horrors of the real world and modern urban decay. There is no Satanic references or scary make up here, instead they concentrate on a ferocious sound and the pained vocals of Peter Benjamin to paint a sordid picture of exactly how god-darn hard and horrific it is to be alive in today’s world. Tonight’s set bounces between material from their stunning but highly disturbing concept album “London” and last year’s equally excellent but utterly different “Frightened” and it is that variance between the two styles that makes the show so enticing and absorbing. You see “Frightened” is more dark goth than metal and with tracks like 'Unknown’, 'Manipulator’ and 'Evaporated’ they have slowed down and expanded their sonic assault, but not lost any of the creeping intensity.
This is the first time I have seen stuff from “Frightened” performed live and it is simply majestic. There is more space for the band to build walls of alluring noise that drag you into their disturbing world. In fact it is so all-consuming and immersive that when the harsher stuff does appear, in the shape of tracks from “London”, it does knock you slightly out of your stride. There is so much power and infectious passion exuding from the stage and being reflected back by the attentive audience that though the crowd is small this doesn’t seem to effect the performance or the experience. Voices are the best I have ever seen them tonight, there is a ferocity and swirling vigour that means that when it does end after barely an hour we feel satisfied (and knackered) rather than short-changed. This is essentially why I go to gigs, to be swept up and captivated and become totally engaged and enthralled by a cathedral of sound. Tonight Voices, Bast and Mairu all achieve that and I wander off to the aforementioned Salisbury a very happy man.