LIVE REPORT: Seven That Spells/ANTA

Joe Banks witnesses magic in a context of modesty at The Shacklewell Arms

Photo by Kris T. Therrian/17 seconds photography

The Shacklewell Arms is a classic back-room-of-a-pub venue, where a painted wooden surround across the rear of the stage means that drummers have to sit in what looks like Santa’s grotto. However, it’s also a little off the beaten track, so when I enter the "dance hall" (as it’s charmingly signed) bang on time, the space is pretty much empty apart from me and the bar staff. I begin to wonder if gigging under the "We’ve Not Heard Of You Either" tour banner (as Seven That Spells and ANTA have done) isn’t perhaps tempting fate just a tiny bit, but thankfully the room starts to fill as ANTA take to the stage.

Of course, you should have at least heard of Bristolian heavy space prog instrumentalists ANTA, as tQ has been flagging them for a while. Black-clad and bearded, they look like a cabal of modern-day sorcerers, with keyboardist and shaved headed Merlin figure Alex Bertram-Powell front and centre, flanked by bassist Joe Garcia and guitarist Ben Harris. Drummer James King gets to sit in the grotto. There’s a moment of hesitation, then as one they summon forth a dense, controlled explosion of noise.

After the tasty sludge prog of debut album The Tree That Bears The Equine Fruit, their follow-up Centurionaut moved into more complex and technical territory, and it’s from this that the majority of tonight’s set is drawn. Live, much of the high-end twiddliness is lost in the mix, but that’s more than compensated for by the purposeful brute force of the sound and urgency of the arrangements. There’s a relentless ebb and flow to their set, with ANTA being very much from the "loud and louder" school of dynamics. They might be in the progressive category, but this is a band that loves riffs more than flash virtuosity. My notes read "Van Der Graaf Sabbath", but certain sections tonight would make even the likes of Electric Wizard proud.

Seven That Spells really are an unknown quantity on these shores though, with this being their first London gig. In their homeland of Croatia, they play to much bigger crowds than this and have already produced eleven albums, moving from jazzy noise rock freak-outs to the precision-tooled heavy prog-psych of their more recent releases. As such, they’re used to getting their sound right, so Niko Potočnjak and his band take their time to tune up and adjust levels to their satisfaction. The small crowd watch with a certain bemusement, not knowing quite what to expect, but any doubts quickly evaporate once STS start playing.

Basing their set around last year’s teasingly titled The Death And Resurrection Of Krautrock: IO, they open with the twisting repetition of ‘In II’, which reconfigures the same sinuous guitar run again and again like a snake trying to swallow its tail. But this is merely an amuse-bouche for the three epic tracks that follow. ‘Io’ starts with invocatory chanting from bassist Jeremy White before locking into a joyous devotional psych riff that gradually builds in power – we might be in a small room in Dalston, but this sounds like it should be blasting out of the ruins of Angkor Wat. I glance at the audience and see the signs of irresistible grooving, which turn into full body convulsions come the song’s pounding, super-heavy climax.

‘Burning Blood’ ups the hardcore mantric riff vibe, and special mention has to be made here of Nikola Babić’s truly ferocious drumming, which feels akin to standing in the engine room of a ship at ramming speed. And then ‘Aum’ brings proceedings to a close, its staccato intro like a giant mechanical bell being repeatedly struck, followed by sounds and scenes of wild abandonment. At the song’s end, the four members of the band stand together at the front of the stage, arms folded, in a moment of communion with the audience which is oddly affecting. Then the show’s over, and there’s a mass descent on the merch stand, which suggests that STS have certainly made some converts here.

There’s something slightly magical about witnessing such a great night of music in such modest surroundings, but it’s in places like this where all the best shows happen. But for those lucky few who caught these two bands together in action, it’s certainly a night to remember.

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