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LIVE REPORT: Loop & Godflesh
Joe Banks , June 12th, 2014 13:49

"Like the gates of hell repeatedly slamming": Joe Banks gets nostalgic as Loop and Godflesh co-headline London's Heaven. Photo by Dave Pettit

Oh nostalgia, how the ghost of you clings. Loop and Godflesh were a couple of bands I was a little bit obsessed with back in the day, their distinctive but complementary brands of noise rock being two of the most extreme musical experiences coming out of the UK at a time when the US was making all the running in this genre. But since the early 90s, I'd lost touch with them – Loop dissolved and Robert Hampson pursued more abstract territory with Main, while Godflesh seemed to lose their initial impact as Justin Broadrick spread himself across a variety of other projects. But now they're back together again, and while part of me wanted to stem the urge to take yet another trip down rock's memory lane, I just couldn't resist.

Broadrick and bassist Benny Green wander onstage without fanfare like a pair of mechanics off to work. It's an apt image as the drum programme kicks in with robotic efficiency and the familiar imagery of flaming crucifixes starts screening behind them. Despite Broadrick's assertion that he has no interest in playing to balding 40-something men, that's a pretty good summation of at least half the audience here, and the first couple of newer opening tracks – including 'Ringer' from their latest EP – elicit minimal response, which is kind of odd to watch given the pummelling, monolithic nature of the music. But then Streetcleaner's 'Like Rats' bursts into life, and the crowd start to warm up, Broadrick still doing that lurching thing as he plays, like a man constantly threatening to throw a baby in the water. The slo-mo industrial funk of 'Christbait Rising' is up next, and now I'm lurching too, that 'War Pigs'-esque rhythm pattern and Iommi-grade riffing paying homage to the glorious musical history of Godflesh's city of origin.

The set list sticks to the band's earlier albums, with 'Spite', 'Mothra' and 'Monotremata' from Pure all aired in quick succession. The first two are probably the closest that Godflesh have ever got to mainstream rock, the metallic hip hop undercarriage that drives them along injecting a sense of dynamism that's absent from their more grinding material. 'Monotremata' on the other hand is sprawling and immense, with drums like the gates of hell repeatedly slamming. With its mantric, locked groove riffing, it's here in particular that the parallels with Loop's aesthetic become clear, and when Broadrick's guitar breaks off from the low end to shoot squealing shards of laser-like notes into the upper atmosphere, Godflesh create a strain of mega-dense space rock that transfixes the soul before crushing it. Amusingly, Green packs his bass away in its case and walks off before their set even finishes, which is certainly one way of saying "no encore".

If Godflesh often sound like they're excavating the bowels of the earth, Loop seem intent on punching a hole in the time/space continuum from the very start. 'Soundhead' literally blasts off the stage in a relentless display of force that belies Loop's initial pigeonholing as mere psych revivalists. I'm stood up on the gantry above the audience now, and wondering "blimey, what's wrong with this crowd??" There's practically no movement from any of them, as though dumbfounded by what they're witnessing. No matter, because Loop follow up with 'The Nail Will Burn', and when the riff explodes forth, an involuntary shout of "OH YES!" escapes my lips as I start nodding my head frantically like Churchill (the dog, not Winston). 'Straight To Your Heart' still has one of the greatest riffs ever, but now that title has me thinking less of trippy love sentiments and more of the scene in Pulp Fiction where Uma Thurman has a syringe full of adrenaline plunged into her chest.

'Collision' is a track that's never far from my sub-conscious, and its pulsing two chord wave of rock results in another "OH YES!" Ahem, just as well it's very loud in here. In fact, Hampson's guitar is so loud that he actually all but drowns out everything else, including the drums, further warping the fabric of reality. (Incidentally, Hampson is looking very dapper tonight, not unlike a younger Nick Lowe). 'Arc-Lite' is Loop's most austere yet still compulsive track, a clipped machine riff played straight for four minutes with minimal adornment, and shows how in the space of just three albums, Loop went from being heavy psychonauts to sonic formalists, not only pushing at the boundaries of sound but the physics of arrangement too. The band attempt to alleviate the intensity with some slower numbers, but 'Forever' is shot through with feedback that's searingly bright, while set closer 'Burning World' inevitably moves from groovy bassline to gigantic sheet of noise.

They encore with 'Vapour', a driving, propulsive slab of krautrock that's essentially super-charged Hawkwind, particularly its thrilling, 'Brainstorm'-esque coda (making it all the more mystifying that Hampson claims not to be a fan of Brock & co – clearly, he needs to sit in a dark room and whack Space Ritual up nice and loud), and finish with a blistering version of Can's 'Mother Sky', where Hampson truly gets to unleash his inner Michael Karoli.

Is it just nostalgia? Are these bands still relevant in 2014? Simply put, delivering a hit to the brain and jolt to the body of this visceral quality never goes out of fashion. I'm wearing the t-shirt and the inside of my head still feels concussed. So yes, welcome back, guys.

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