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LIVE REPORT: Ghost & Gojira
Tom O'Boyle , March 28th, 2013 09:09

Last week, Tom O'Boyle journeyed to Birmingham to witness a powerful double header of modern metal, pairing "Hell's wedding band" Ghost with France's Gojira


Photos by Katja Ogrin

'We regret to inform you that tonight's show has been cancelled,' reads the email, sparking the ire of weary travellers 100 miles into a heavy metal road trip through ever-increasing depths of snow. After mixed social media messages frustrate the situation, a phone call to the venue confirms that, indeed, the show will go on. The last chunk of rapidly greying service station burger is swallowed and we're back on the road. After parking in the city centre NCP we stumble upon an illicit drug deal in one of its dank stairwells and, in very British fashion, awkwardly apologise.

At just five pounds tonight's Jägermeister sponsored line up is amazing value for a roster of bands who make strange bedfellows. London's The Defiled couldn't be more squarely aimed at teenagers if you sat them around the local cenotaph with a bottle of cheap cider and a packet of fags. Within a few minutes of their set it is easy to see why they are receiving a steadily growing amount of attention, with their perfectly coiffured industrial look, replete with matching ragged outfits and 'crazy' keyboard player, who - when he isn't throwing his keyboard about - spends his time imploring the 'motherfuckers in the fucking pit' to go 'fucking crazy.'

For all the different sub-genre tags bandied about these days, the only thing that seems to differentiate many of the bands at metal's commercial edge is the way in which they dress. The Defiled have the 'industrial goth' look down pat, but they also have sugary choruses and hardcore breakdowns, just like most other popular metal bands from oh, the last 10 years or so. Sure, there's a few spooky Theremin-tinged keyboards in there, to add to their Tim Burton chic, but is that really enough to differentiate them from the herd? Tonight they underwhelm but will very likely proliferate - staccato riffs and breakdowns may have been done to death, but people still bloody love them.


Gojira

Anticipation is high for Gojira, whose eco-friendly death metal bombast seems an odd support choice for tonight's ghoulish headliners, given that their thematic and musical perspectives are oceans apart. The reputation of these Frenchmen as a devastatingly powerful live band precedes them. Opening with 'Explosia' from last years L'Enfant Sauvage, they proceed only to reinforce this. At centre stage guitarist/vocalist Joe Duplantier cuts a stoic, commanding figure, often reminiscent of James Hetfield; stock still, charismatic, effortlessly cranking out their arsenal of ferocious grooves.


Gojira

'Toxic Garbage Island' stands as a wonderful example to all modern proponents of the aforementioned staccato riff of how to do it right - used infrequently and incisively placed within the arrangement, the audience gleefully knock seven bells out of each other whilst the band retain their unique musical voice. Duplantier's plaintive roars of "plastic bag in the sand" are perhaps a lyrical curio, but are part and parcel of the indignant rage at mankind's treatment of the planet that makes Gojira's output so heartfelt. 'Wisdom Comes', the only 'old' song aired, affirms how much the band's songwriting has developed, containing within it the harmonic technicalities for which they are celebrated but with much less finesse. They close to much celebration with 'The Gift of Guilt,' a gift the devils in Ghost subsequently happily absolve of the infernal congregation.


Ghost

As incense wafts ethereally through the venue, white smoke emerges (any issues of Papal leadership are thankfully kept backstage), before the faceless, hooded ghouls that comprise the band take their positions onstage. Stoic and solemn, Satan's representative on Earth, Papa Emeritus emerges, gliding to the fore within a jet black cassock adorned with inverted crosses. Benign waves of his hand bless the flock, his eerie skeletal make-up accentuated by the sickly green light show.

Ghost have become something of an underground phenomenon since their stunning debut Opus Eponymous put them at the forefront of a burgeoning movement of 70s inspired occult rock revivalists. It is a warm, nostalgic sound that translates as perhaps a little toothless when compared to such savagery as Gojira, but succeeds due to its melodrama and eerie, Satanic overtones, not to mention a plethora of unforgettably catchy riffs. If there was a wedding band in Hell, they would surely be it.

Opening with 'Infestissumam', the title track of their forthcoming second album, the band sound note perfect, Papa Emeritus' voice strong and clear, but are met with a somewhat nonplussed response. The reaction warms considerably for the better known material: the irresistible 'Elizabeth' and 'Satan Prayer' get hands clapping and bodies moving, whilst the band perform relatively motionlessly on stage. Resplendent in theatricality, Papa drifts hither and thither, serene in the corpse light as he eulogises. This is ghost train Satanism, Papa the ultimate heavy metal Scooby Doo villain. New song 'Secular Haze' again seems to be met with ambivalence, but given the strength of the material, it is frustrating to observe an audience that should be lapping up the creepy spectacle on offer. Heavy metal has always had a taste for the theatrical, yet you get the impression that the majority of those in attendance would rather be diving into each other to the tune of relentless double bass drums - a frustrating indictment of the occasional narrow mindedness of the metal head.

'Year Zero's' infectiously catchy riff/vocal combo starts off a strong finish, and the set ends on an atmospheric high in an evening where it was easier to find fault with the audience than with the performance. The metal scene should be grateful for Ghost and all those who dare to be different; nothing is more stultifying than a glut of bands that all look and sound the same.

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