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LIVE REPORT: Neurosis & Godflesh
Toby Cook , December 17th, 2012 04:26

Two of the most formidable names in heavy music teamed up for a "malicious & supremely oppressive" recent billing in London that largely lived up to the weight of expectation, reports Toby Cook; live photographs courtesy of Valerio Berdini

We all did it at high school, didn't we, and it was great, wasn't it? Sneaking off to the car park behind the football pitches during lunch to get stoned on something that more closely resembled a bag of grass clippings than it did anything else, only to then spend the greater part of the following history lesson debating your ideal gig line-ups, furiously immortalising the results by biro-ing them across the chests of the various historical figures depicted in your textbook so that future generations of GCSE history students could settle in to learn about the bloody code and open their book to find a lithograph depicting hanging victims with 'Slayer/Cannibal Corpse World Tour '01' emblazoned across their chests. For posterity and all that, right?

In reality of course, booking the perfect gig is a much harder prospect than that – just ask whoever it was that got Showaddywaddy to support Einstürzende Neubauten in London back in '87 (yes, that really, really happened), a pairing that walks the line between genius and insanity so fucking brilliantly that if you think too deeply about it you're likely to end up like Michael Ironside at the end of Scanners. Godflesh followed by Neurosis at the Kentish Town Forum though, that's a no brainer, isn't it? Sure, it's somewhat malicious and supremely oppressive, but as it turns out it's even more challenging than it looks on paper – although not for the reason you probably expect.

Justin Broadrick and Godflesh have had their fair share of unusual gig and tour partners – supporting a pre-Nevermind Nirvana at the Astoria in '92 and their appearance at tonight's venue last year when they were supported by DRI and Goatsnake both stick in the mind as particularly fine, if not obvious, pairings. Tonight though, it just doesn't work for the legendary duo. Over-lit and with no dry ice in sight they look alarmingly exposed. Maybe it's that intangible and subconscious sense that you can have too much of a good thing – or in this case a thing that's so heavy it's likely to destroy that delusion that you're living a happy and productive existence – and it's merely prohibiting you from totally immersing yourself in the onslaught in preparation for Neurosis. Or perhaps, and most likely - no matter how painful it is to say it - is that it's been two years now since Godflesh reunited and it's starting to get a little stale, a little repetitive. In terms of song selection and execution, and sonically speaking, there's nothing wrong: they're taught and wrought with the usual purging anger and frustration you'd expect, but coupled with the announcement that they'll be playing Streetcleaner follow-up Pure in its entirety at next year's Roadburn and with Broadrick's recent output as JK Flesh and as part of The Blood Of Heroes it just feels, alarmingly, a bit safe.

With visual artist and video projection maestro Josh Graham having departed the group only days before heading to the UK, if there was only one concern ahead of tonight's show it was just how imposing and enveloping Neurosis were going to appear tonight without apocalyptic visions of exploding suns looming behind them. So integral has Graham's work become that it's hard to imagine Neurosis without it – as anyone who remembers their Through Silver In Blood shows, when a constant loop of the suicide of Dwyer was projected behind them, will no doubt attest. Perhaps unsurprisingly however, such concerns are left unrealised – if anything, exposed in bleak human form, tonight the five musicians have the towering presence of tattooed Easter Island heads and are more intimidating, imposing and fucking threatening than ever.

In a set that equally unsurprisingly leans on tracks from their recent, stunning recorded return, Honor Found In Decay, the Californians so brutally traverse the darker spectrum of human emotion that you don't so much enjoy or become draw in by their performance, you withstand it; you brace yourself, plant your feet in the beer soaked floor and have your third eye mercilessly scoured. From the relatively melancholic constrictions of 'My Heart For Deliverance' through the crushing weight of 'Times Of Grace' and the raw, arid strains of 'Bleeding The Pigs', the so called new chapter in the history of one of the most righteous and influential bands on the planet has, tonight, started better than you could have hoped even in your best nightmares. If you'd have written about this shit on your school textbooks you'd have been given counselling. And you'd have fucking deserved it, just like the rest of us.