eurovisionary

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circle / hey colossus / opium lord                                                 hare & hounds, Birmingham, May 21st

Their countrymen PKN may have been cruelly put out of Eurovision at the semi final stage but Circle are over here burning the flag for Finnish punk-metal-kraut-prog freeform insanity, and certainly holding up their end of the bargain on the stage costume front too. First up though, local sludge/doom champions Opium Lord. They make a fine enough racket, blending familiar elements into their own thick, dark brew. In contrast to the headliners they’re a t-shirts and jeans band, they’ve a great, restrained drummer and possibly the most Brummie frontman I’ve ever seen. Unassuming to the point of selfconciousness, when he’s not singing he shuffles about the stage, he even gets down off it and amongst us as if the lights and the eyes are burning him. None of this is a problem, he’s pleasingly short on the sort of face pulling, shape throwing, audience pointing nonsense that often makes metal bands so ridiculous. But then there’s the singing. While he’s far from the worst offender it’s that throaty growl/screaming style that can get a bit cookie monster and, although I can cope with a bit of it, I’ve never really got along with that myself. Not for me then, but they do it well.

One pretty swift turn around and it’s time for Hey Colossus. Who’s your favourite one? Currently the best rock band in the land by our estimation Hey Colossus are on fire at the moment. In Black and Gold is clearly their best album yet, fierce and more focussed than previous and they’re already busy on a follow up. If you have still, wilfully, not listened to it here is the bandcamp stream again. Seriously, get on that. Tonight they’re awesome. For a band that live miles apart and rarely get to rehearse they seem ridiculously well drilled, again the three guitar parts locking together into a formidable juggernaut. Now, some people I know have the same problem with Sykes’ vocals as I did with Opium Lord. I guess it’s a matter of taste. He sings with a lot of echo and effects on his voice but he also uses it in a wide variety of ways from speaking to screaming and, y’know, actual singing too and he’s in fine form this evening. He also generally eschews the showbiz frontman type shenanigans, back often to the crowd a tall man on his tiptoes half the time, toward the end of the set he finally takes the mic from the stand and gets into a bit of leaping about and it’s all the better for seeming entirely natural. Checking they’ve any time left they end again on ‘Sinking Feeling’ making more sense than ever as a closer to the set. Go see them. Buy their record. Buy the Henry Blacker one too – it kicks ass.

So, here come the crazy art-metal vikings from the land of ice and snow, what have they brought us from their ice castle? Circle have been around for years but largely passed me by until now, they have a fine live reputation in these parts thanks to a couple of appearances at Supersonic in previous years, (tonight kicks off the run-up to this year’s festival in three weeks time) but I missed them so I’ve been trying to get up to speed on youtube and soundcloud. Quite the task. They have a full and wide ranging back catalogue to take on, lurching from time to time toward the various elements that make up their own hard to pin down sound. I’m having trouble again with the vocals on some of the older recordings but the instrumental stuff is impressive. If post-rock hadn’t become a meaningless and dirty word signifying endless crescendos and occasional string quartets it might actually be of use to describe what they were up to – pulling rock to pieces and sticking it back together in their own idiosyncratic ways. Also, just as Hey Colossus now have Henry Blacker, Circle have a long running, more straightforwardly rock, little brother band in Pharoah Overlord. Circle’s new album is called ‘Pharoah Overlord’ and Pharoah Overlord’s new album is called ‘Circle’ suggesting that perhaps they have finally come back together as one. Only they play Raw Power festival this weekend under both names. Probably just as well I can’t understand the words, some Finnish, some in a made up language, there’s already more than enough confusion happening. Apparently “On Pharaoh Overlord, Circle explore the smouldering terrain of their kindred spirits to find the means of transgressing the border of parallel existence with their idols (that is, Pharaoh Overlord) with the intent of merging into one abstract entity of sonic flesh. There is no sobriety like loss of identity.” Well, quite. What exactly they sound like is hard to describe, before they take the stage I’m talking to friends who saw them a few years ago and even they aren’t sure what they were like, just that they were good. So, are they any good then? Yes. Yes they are. A loud, groovy, relentless, shifting, assault. Their ridiculous stage outfits gleefully revel in rock band cliché – studded leather belts, flying v guitars, shiny spandex, a riot of colour and beards and hair. and fluffy legwarmers. and adidas tracksuits. Much like the audience then. On the other hand their music seems hard to pin down because even as it draws on kraut,punk, metal, psych and so on it rarely falls into the trap of doing what has been done before. They once described themselves as “like Judas Priest crossed with This Heat” which pretty much nails what I’m trying to say here. Mind-blowing, fantastic and kind of indescribable but if, like me, you want to know where to start with them I’m enjoying the new album and it seems like as good a place to start as any…

the pic of Circle was taken by The Prince Reelfoot at threadfest the following night. he’s very proud of it. The band seem not to have changed their clothes…

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