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LIVE REPORT: Årabrot
Toby Cook , November 11th, 2014 10:43

Toby Cook heads down the Brixton Windmill in London to witness the glorious return of Kjetil Nernes. Photo taken from a video by Elena Lopez-Brea.

You can easily argue that life as a whole shouldn't be taken too seriously (which, granted, is easier to say when you're single, middle class, and still just about the right side of 30), but that doesn't mean that there aren't things in life that should be taken seriously – things like cancer.

Cancer can be an incredibly difficult thing to talk about; it's sensitive issue for those affected by it and yet we've developed troubling paradigm whereby on one hand the disease has undergone an almost ludicrously abstract personification, to the point where we are all invited to "stand up to cancer" in the same way that we're invited to "stand up to terror", or treat it like it's literally some obnoxious bloke on a bus. On the other hand, however, it's responsible for the deaths of around 160,000 people in the UK each year, regardless of each individual sufferer's propensity to "stand up" to things. Sadly I've seen both friends and family members have to fight cancer – some successfully, others unfortunately not. Although there is no way to really understand the condition unless you've suffered it yourself, one thing I can tell you is that in each one fought it in their own unique way, just as hundreds of thousands do each year. And, whether their battle was one of quiet, dignified stoicism, or as with one particular friend an unnatural level of positivity and humour (he greeted his diagnosis by going out all night and shovelling MDMA down his neck, and later turned up to his first chemotherapy session in a latex wolf mask), when they were eventually given the all clear the last thing they wanted was to have their every subsequent action, every further development in their life, judged by and related back to their cancer, no matter how remarkable their recovery. Yet when it happens to musicians, that's all we seem to want to do.

Tony Iommi's fearfully unlikely return with Black Sabbath at Donington in 2012; Nergal's triumphant, and now legendary, return with Behemoth at Bloodstock the same year; it could all so easily be misinterpreted as a selfish thing. We want to see our favourite band back together, all of them alive, and once again playing the music we love, for our enjoyment. But it's more than that, deep down what we really want is to share in the joy of their recovery; we understand better the ultimate fragility of our existence and to see someone we admire as a musician and an artist not just survive such a common and sometimes devastating illness, but to seemingly comeback even stronger, gives us a small sense of hope. When Årabrot main man Kjetil Nernes was diagnosed with throat cancer earlier this year it's no exaggeration to say that there was deep concern felt amongst the relatively small community of metal heads and noise rock aficionados who have become so enamoured with the Norwegian volume freaks over the last 13 years. It was in this spirt of celebration, then, that we welcomed Årabrot, and band leader Kjetil Nernes back to the London live scene, in the delightfully dingy surroundings of the Brixton Windmill.

Despite its relatively awkward location, and the uncomfortable fact that a large number of London's metal crowd seem to get the bends if the venture any further south than the Elephant & Castle, the Brixton Windmill–and local promoters Cosmic Carnage – have over the last few months been responsible for curating some particularly excellent shows–being able to tempt Belfast based bludge-o-nauts Slomatics into playing their debut London show a particular recent highlight. But as is, and has so often been the case over the last 13 years, Årabrot represent something else entirely; something unique, and devastatingly so.

As if they weren't loud or imposing enough already, since the group's return they've expanded their ranks, becoming a five piece with the addition of second guitarist/synth wrangler Håvard Skaset and percussionist Joakim Johansen. Right from the bristling and charged explosion of opener 'And The Ass Had Spoken', as the groups vast and necessarily excessive back line swamps the venues PA and sends jagged, chest-caving shockwaves through the entire room it's clear that this expanded and re-tooled line-up is allowing the true sound of Årabrot to be expressed in its most viscerally complete form. Those who caught the bands storming Desertfest performance earlier this year–their last London show–will know of the sonic power of an Årabrot show, and yet tonight they seemed to have amped things up yet again. As Nernes' cohorts headbang an constantly contort their limbs around their instruments the waves of riff and volume become consuming; enrapturing and somehow taking on an almost physical presence the quintet again revel themselves as of the few bands on the planet whose music is able to so effectively draw and audience into the same disorientating realm as the band themselves, and not release them for the duration of their set.

Of course, part of what makes Årabrot so viscerally unique is Nernes' demonically summoned vocals–although having long since dropped the "Bobcat Goldthwait in a suffocation chamber" like approach to vocal delivery that marked out releases such as I Rove Nernes' painfully rasped oral excretions are still perhaps some of the most threateningly strained around. Having undergone particularly invasive surgery on his throat only months before, if there was any concern that his vocal chords might not, understandably, be at their most powerful those concerns are totally obliterated tonight. During the likes of 'The Grip Of The Family, A Cinch', a number that's warped and fluctuating vocal lines would put any vocalist to the test, Nernes' voice seems to shake the lice from the already crumbling ceiling and the fillings form the teeth of the rather confused looking local pensioners at the back (who, fair play to them, stick it out right to the bitter end).

Given the circumstances leading up to tonight's show, it's perhaps easy to get carried away with the significance of a performance which is unquestionably, on its own merits, one of the most furiously incendiary and deceptively diverse that you're likely to have witnessed in the capital all year. Yet the fact remains: Kjetil Nernes' recovery is remarkable, and like that of any other survivor it should be celebrated. Tonight, it was, and those few that made the trip south of the river know they witnessed something genuinely special.

Fuck cancer.

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