The Contortionist at The Aslyum Venue

Support: Enemy of Atlas| Netherhall | Palm Reader
July 9, 2018 at The Aslyum Venue
Promoter: Surprise You're Dead Promotionst

Riding high on the back of last year’s phenomenal record The Clairvoyant, The Contortionist have finally reached Birmingham in their support of the album. In their tow they have brought one of the Britain’s finest talents in Palm Reader; the musical stylings may be at odds, but given that both are opting for softer vocals and ambience more and more, it also makes sense. Perhaps it is because both of these acts are great on record and phenomenal live, making this pairing a successful stroke.

Opening the evening was Wolverhampton’s Enemy of Atlas, who brought their deep growls and synchronised headbanging. An opening slot on a bill like this can be difficult, but these guys showed their experience and talent and looked confident during every step of the way. Their heavy metalcore-influenced sound was complemented well with the punctuating sound of their bass drum, which was mixed to perfection.

Enemy of Atlas. Photo: Josh Crawley

Birmingham’s faithful and reliable played next. Still without a vocalist, still performing like they never needed one, Netherhall played a “short and sweet” set. Having already written about them recently, this is largely the same description, but by no means less impressive. Arguably, they are the best band to complement The Contortionist, with their balance between weighty guitar riffs and softer, melodic sections. It is always a spectacle seeing Netherhall play live, and their enthusiasm for the music is a joy. The ability of their two guitarists Lewis Ward (electric guitar) and Tom Bushell (bass guitar) to use their pedal boards as a proper extension of their instrument shouldn’t underestimated. With only three members they are able to sound like a thousand, helped by the physical Jake Raybould (who also seems to break something every time we review them).

Netherhall. Photo: Josh Crawley

There seems to be a recurring theme with Palm Reader in that their crowds are not worthy of the band. There shouldn’t be gentle head bobs and the occasional fist in the air; there should be mania, raucousness and spin-kicks to top it all. This is only based on selective viewings, but it has been a recurring discussion that Palm Reader deserve a lot more than they are getting. They never let that affect their performance though, and touring on the back of their remarkable new album, Braille, they delivered a set filled with the energy and physicality that their music demands.

As Josh Mckeown towered over the crowd, his impenetrable stare apparently locked onto some demon, the band hurled their bodies (and hair in the case of Andy Gillan) around on stage, adding to the temperature of the already sweltering room. They managed to blast through several of the newer songs such as ‘Eternal Winter’ and the excellent ‘Swarm’, and one of last year great singles ‘Always Darkest’. Several older songs were welcome in the set-list, not least because it added to the intensity and brutality, e.g. ‘Stacks’.

Pam Reader. Photo: Josh Crawley

Palm Reader are certainly a band that one should see live (and they have recently just performed at 2000 Trees Festival) If anything, just to see set closer, ‘I Watch the Fire Chase My Tongue’ rip through their bodies.

Instead of rock music over the PA, as the Contortionist set up their stage, elegant ambient and electronic music played, soon revealing itself to be their walk-on song, the main titles from Blade Runner. They opened with the title track to their new album, before setting the clock back eight years and tearing into ‘Flourish’, from Exoplanet. You would be forgiven for thinking The Contortionist were getting rid of the heavy vocals entirely, but Michael Lessard jumped between all vocal styles with fantastic ease.

There was little crowd interaction, but the absorbing nature of the music, and the perfect flow between each technical passage made that irrelevant. The short run of new songs in the middle was particularly engaging; starting with th, now classic, ‘Reimagined’, then going into ‘Godspeed’ and ‘Absolve’, after which the progressive rollercoaster of ‘Thrive’ was almost a shock to the system.

After launching into several more songs from the back catalogue, the band closed the set with ‘Return to the Earth’. Michael then said, “normally we would go off now and hope you want more music … but as there’s no room … we’ll just play some more music if that’s cool with you?” Obviously, it was, and they played both parts of ‘Language’ from their previous album of the same name.

The Contortionist. Photo: Josh Crawley

The Contortionist, like their touring mates Palm Reader, captivated the audience with their dynamic and organic approach to progressive music. It was a technical marvel and an illustrious evening.

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