Progressive music has something of a reputation for being that bit better than “standard” forms of music. The pursuit of broadening horizons through music, and crafting songs that stand out comes across as both a science and an art. So it is apt that three of progressive music’s champions will ply their trade at one of London’s heartland venues. That it is named after one of the Ancient Greek gods of music (amongst other things), only makes it that bit more appropriate that these bastions of challenging music are here to gift offerings to all.
There’s a certain quiet reverence reserved solely for Norway’s Leprous. Where many other progressive acts receive the greater attention, these Nords hold a special place in people’s hearts. A gentle chat regarding the finer proponents of the genre will inevitably lead to their name being brought up and you’d be hard-pushed to find anyone with a negative word to say about them. So it stands to reason that their live show would be equally celebrated. So how did they fare opening the show for the mighty Devin Townsend Project?
Leprous‘ music is not for the faint of heart, and such an eclectic amalgamation of some of rock’s most diverse influences will certainly play havoc with those expecting a thorough good metal seeing-to. Theirs is a far more subtle affair, with the “heaviness” coming chiefly from emotion and density – mosh monkeys need not apply. There are some glaring parallel’s that one can draw with the UK’s own Muse, with the Teignmouth trio’s penchant for the bombastic and vocal gymnastics apparent in Leprous’ own work. Just filter it through layers of existentialism and Nordic chill, and you’ll be in the ball park.
The stuttering intro to “Foe” sets the tone admirably: a bombastic romp through a progressive wilderness, whilst “The Price” brings a jazzy-edge to the fold that is lapped up by the crowd. Between this, the band doesn’t engage in any inter-song chatter; they just set to their performance and nothing else – it’s delivered with a quiet, unassuming power that matches the undercurrent found in each of their six-song set. As an opening act goes, Leprous aren’t the sort to light the blue touch paper and lay waste to a venue, but their music is a sophisticated sort that will get the embers burning.
One of the joys of music is its ability to invoke a number of phenomena in us. It works in tandem with memory, with emotion and even physical motion. But then there’s that one piece of music; that one that just gets to you. It transcends all of that and leaves you feeling both elevated and like a liquidated pool of matter. This sort is rare, but it’s the combination of everything you love within music that comes together to make for a wonderful experience. It’s this sort of thing that the UK’s TesseracT can bring to the table.
Where many modern “djent” band focuses on aping the complex, low-strung Meshuggah riffs, these lads from Milton Keynes opt to incorporate cinematic ambience and a keen sense of song into their music. The result is an immensely enjoyable and balanced affair; there’s something for the mosh monsters, and there’s something for those that love a little melody to their music. Despite the band’s largely static-nature on-stage (save for vocalist Daniel Tompkins), it’s the type of performance that begs to be observed, as opposed to the snapshots one would get from frantic forays into the pit.
Opening with the groove-tastic “Dystopia”, TesseracT‘s stall is set out early, with grooves, ambience and energy in abundance (especially through the chorus). It’s a damn-fine set, featuring some of the finest selections from the band’s three albums, including “Concealing Fate” pair “Deception” and “The Impossible”, as well as the resplendent “Of Matter – Retrospect” and bruising closer “Of Mind – Nocturne”. The detail and meticulous planning of the set is evident, with the entirety of it ebbing and flowing naturally, with fabulous levels of light-and-shade that draw the attention delightfully. Bring on album Number 4.
There’s few acts out there that command the same level of respect that Devin Townsend does. The man has been a staple within the rock and metal world since featuring on Steve Vai’s 1993 album ‘Sex & Religion’, and has created some of the finest pieces of metal committed to tape. None more so than ‘Ocean Machine: Biomech’, his second solo album back in 1997. As a celebration of its twentieth birthday, the Devin Townsend Project took to performing it in its entirety for the very first time and what a joy to behold.
A largely-staid performance (save for the irrepressible Townsend), it doesn’t make the overall sound any less grand. The album sounds as fresh in the halls of the Hammersmith Apollo as it did first airing back in 1997. “Seventh Wave” and “Life” mix light-and-shade beautifully, and demonstrate the man’s careful consideration of the lighter and heavier aspect of music. “Regulator” highlights the latter with aplomb, and damn-near brings the roof down with it’s thumping riffs and delightful, swirling keys. Even mellow album closer “Thing Beyond Things” fills the room with splendor that is duly soaked up by a willing crowd.
The gathered are clearly up for an evening of progressive music, but it is evident who’s crowd they belong to. Townsend’s appreciation for their support for the last twenty years is plain to see, and his gratitude expressed with heart (he even excused any mistakes that were heard during the course of the album’s performance, for which the crowd neither noticed nor cared about). The adoration in the room could be felt, and the number who remained long after the final strains of “Higher” from last year’s ‘Transcendence’ gives a fair indication of how good a show this was. Curfew is usually 11pm, so there could easily have been a little more squeezed into the evening as the curtain fell at half 10. Nevertheless, Townsend and the Devin Townsend Project continue to go from strength-to-strength, both in-studio and live. This band should not be missed.
With variety in abundance for all patrons to the Hammersmith’s premiere venue, there cannot be much to argue about the evening’s pleasantries. Dark, brooding prog openings with Leprous, neo-euphoric ambient-infused metal with TesseracT and the larger-than-life bombast of Devin Townsend Project – it’s a night of excess and indulgence that leaves a warm, satiated feeling at the end. That’s what good progressive music does and what keeps us coming back for more. A stunning night and one where sympathy must be meted out to those who were unable to attend. Next time folks, eh?