By: Jake Murray
Converge | website | facebook | twitter |
Support: Crippled Black Phoenix | website, Grime | website, Full of Hell | website and The Body | website
Electric Brixton, London | April 13, 2016
It’s a rarity these days that I find myself wading into the world of “big gigs”. Pecuniary devastation aside, no matter how much you love a band, or how good a spot you get in a crowd, or any other manner of miniature redeemers you experience during the event, there’s just something impressively underwhelming about them. Going to a large concert is not dissimilar to being in the car with your parents on the way to Disneyland, and then suddenly waking up on the operating table with a dentist smashing your face in with a hammer. To bright-side the entire affair, you settle with a hazy memory of something you think might have been a good time, but aren’t quite sure, and assure yourself ultimately you’ll come away for the better because  you’ve learned to never trust your parents again, and  the teeth you have left look pretty nice, so the world is your pearly oyster.
Converge: Blood Moon, announced initially as a one-off for Roadburn Festival, seemed like something of a heavyweight unicorn or a big noisy Sasquatch. It wasn’t just the idea that the band would be playing a rare show focusing entirely on their stellar slow/heavy stuff (ordinarily reserved for “okay guys, take a breather” interludes between their knuckley barrage)… it was also the lineup. Bringing along Chelsea Wolfe, Ben Chisholm and Stephen Brodksy, alongside Crippled Black Phoenix, Grime (originally intended to be 40 Watt Sun), The Body and Full of Hell all added to their London show was an instantly insatiable idea. Loud fans of all persuasions lapped their tongues and sweated profusely at the idea. And that was just looking at the [gorgeous] poster. It was a big deal. So, why then the grumpy introduction, you say? Righto.
Electric Brixton is probably an appropriate choice for an event of this size; it’s as overpriced as it is heavily guarded by all the doormen in the world. Sure, it’s not a bad looking venue by any means, and is in fact quite easy to get a reasonably good vantage point of the stage. But, it is for every bit good-looking, its own picture of Dorian Gray to the ears. Ordinarily, a few spectacularly overpriced cans of piss beer and a good set or two from the performers would have you moving on beyond the acoustic pittance awash through the holes either side of your head, but not this reverberant orifice of a venue. Sadly, Full of Hell suffered it the worst. It’s the nature of being first band on the bill that you get a slightly weak deal on the sound-front, but it has to be the first time in my career as a gig goer that I’ve witnessed a grindcore band where the guitars are completely inaudible. From beside the mixing-position we strained to hear anything beyond washy sounding drums and vocals, and marvelled as each guitarist, flanking the stage, ran their arms up and down their fretboard as if grating cheese… and they might as well have been because it it would have been equally lost in the mess. Bands like Full of Hell flourish, nay command, in the heaving pits of nights like Cosmic Carnage where the bands breach the crowd, and the crowds hurl themselves on top of each other, but are utterly wasted in a venue like Electric Brixton. There was no chaos, and nothing at all compelling, it just sounded like a band who’d finally ventured out of their parent’s garage only play an empty school gymnasium.
But of course, not every band on this punishing stack of a lineup was straight up grindcore, or as unlucky as Full of Hell were. The Body, for example, managed to follow with an almost total coinflip and played the venue to its hand. Beginning with a swelling, dissonant drone that resonated the entire venue (and actually vibrated my skull to the point of sonic modulation) it was quickly evident that the immensity and tempestuous nature of the prolific duo would be far better suited. I’ve always found The Body to be somewhat mysterious in their very-regular output of continually interesting music, and the live representation added yet another dimension to this complex form. Simpler and scathing, like a salted wound, the duo performed hulkish washy churns of energy, screaming vocals into the wind from an unhealthy microphone-distance. And still between each song the sound of the room was beating from the overpowering drone that oppressed even the “thankyous” and “goodnight” from the stage.
At this point the room had finally filled up to a considerable population, presumably because it was reaching a more normal time for a gig to start and most people had, more sensibly than this weary writer, been for a spot of dinner after work and to hell with the support bands! But of course, it’s no re-rentry and Electric Brixton isn’t exactly the sort of venue where one can order a burger or even a packet of crisps, so it’s understandable that people didn’t pile in immediately. Grime were a sensible choice for the line-up, and a fair replacement for 40 Watt Sun, as they fitted nicely in the middle of the previous two acts; sludgy enough for The Body’s fans, but equally doomy enough for the Full of Hell blastbeat brigade. The guitars were significantly more prominent than Full of Hell, more defined than the blacked swarm cloud of The Body, and overall just better sounding as a mix (perhaps the engineer had stuck his out out of the booth finally). However, with all of their songs sounding so remarkably similar [for a band with three records], it became difficult to differentiate between them and ultimately significantly less engaging than it could have been. Circle of Molesters is a fairly samey record throughout, opting for relentlessness over diversity, and I can’t help but feel that might have also translated better in a more intimate, intimidating venue. Finally, their set was ended in a hasty, but heartfelt thank you from the Italians, not only to the crowd, but to Crippled Black Phoenix who it seems swooped into the band’s rescue when their van broke down en route: “without them we wouldn’t be here tonight”.
And with that it was time to change pace once more. With another line-up change and a temporary sub for Daisy Chapman (currently on maternity leave), Justin Greaves and co took the stage with recent opening-favourites ‘Rise Up and Fight’ and ‘Long Live Independence’. Crippled Black Phoenix no more than a few moths prior had opened with the very same sequence at Tufnell Park Dome to a packed and enthusiastic audience, however this time the room-full of riff goblins had seemingly no interest. Ironically, it’s as if the room either had forgotten that Greaves was a seminal member in more hardcore and “heavy” acts than one can list in a review segment, or they simply did not care. As the band moved into the quieter section of their set, the crowd’s chatter grew so loud that Crippled Black Phoenix were all but completely drowned out. Se Delan’s Belinda Kordic joined the stage, as she often does, and her voice was quivered and barely audible as the contagious wave of blatant disrespect spread through the echo-chamber. Although able to wrestle back an interlude of attention with the raucous ‘Born in a Hurricane’, Crippled Black Phoenix had lost the room. Finishing up with the grand and invested crescendo ‘We Forgotten Who We Were’ to a cold sense of “Just give us Converge” and a lukewarm applause was a painful sight to see. Ironic really, had the crowd known how long the Converge/Crippled Black Phoenix tour had been in discussion, or had they considered that the band was in fact the perfect act to scale down towards the unique (and serene by their usual standards) Blood Moon performance. In all the years I have been going to live music venues, large and small, I have never seen a crowd be so unforgivingly rude to a band on stage, so inconsiderate of the people around them trying to watch with such difficulty, and to a headliner who had asked their old friends to join them on the road. Ironic really considering they also performed ‘Human Nature Dictates the Downfall of Humans’.
But it’s fine, because baby got it’s bottle. Converge mounted the stage like a punch to the face with ‘Plagues’ and ‘In Her Blood’, which is as savage and straight to the point as anyone would expect Converge to be. In typical form with this sort of gig, the sound was noticeably better than all four support acts, and equally unsurprising was the attentiveness in the crowd as the group performed ‘Grim Heart/Black Rose’, a song more similar to a Crippled Black Phoenix ditty than most of that particular audience would have been happy to admit. ‘Black Rose’, by the way, was particularly (predictably) captivating. It was, however, as the performance hit its middle that Blood Moon started to really take form. The strength of Converge’s stunning rendition of ‘Disintegration’ by The Cure, with the larger ensemble, was rich and entrancing. Bursting with huge power and dynamics, and a stunning example of Bannon and Brodsky’s vocal pairing; a total highlight of the evening without a doubt. This was followed swiftly by personal favourite Converge original ‘Wretched World’. In this rendition, with all the glory of the full Blood Moon band in force, the constant crescendo was more akin to a Neurosis performance than what one would expect at a Converge show, but that was entirely the point. Chelsea Wolfe, who’s recent album Abyss is something to behold, did a fine job of taking lead vocals, though without the snarl of the original transformed the song into some blackened lullaby. The duality of Blood Moon became quite evident as it moved along through ‘In Her Shadow’ and finally to ‘Last Light’. Where “Act A.” stood firm as the less-insane-Converge-you-all-know-but-still-unmistakably-Converge and had the strength of a freight train, “Act B.” was the spectacle they’d clearly worked so hard for and were showcasing. ‘Last Light’ as a finale was a perfect marriage off each individual element working together harmoniously in a cacophony of soul shattering dissonance. Then, of course, was the brutal encore ‘Jane Doe’: The seemingly mandatory final blast of rage that sprayed the room with fury and hurled us into the smoggy Brixton night, with our faces melted, our underpants wet, and just wishing that, for fuck’s sake, they’d just made it a fucking all-dayer so we could’ve got a snack between bands.