England in December is a country renowned for its gloomy weather, able to cast both city and countryside into shades of ethereal gray. So, it seemed appropriate that three purveyors of gloomy metal were to descend upon the port-city of Bristol to round out a lengthy Dead Ends Of Europe tour. Heading this tour were Swedish masters of doomy gothic metal Katatonia, main support in the capable hands of French post-black metallers Alcest and eager US “metalgaze” openers Junius kicking off the evening. The Fleece, a friendly venue whose four walls have had a staggeringly wide variety of acts from Amy Winehouse to Aborted, seemed an apt venue for these three bands, all of which tread the fragile boundary between rock and metal.
Before they hit the stage, Junius were wholly unfamiliar to me, but it wasn’t long before their sound enveloped The Fleece. Rightly described as the lovechild of Neurosis and The Cure, they put on a blinder of a set built around gloomy synthesizer melodies with heavy shoegaze-metal riffing to back it up, and hoodie-bedecked frontman Joseph Martinez crooning into the microphone over it all. The band drew from both their full-lengths, starting with the two video-singles from the latest, Reports From The Threshold Of Death. The sound was catchy and soothing (well, for metal), and served as an effective taster of their style. Despite being lumped into the “art rock” category, Junius proved more than their metal worth that night, clearly so much so that most of Katatonia decided to join onstage during a singalong section. The band held the audience’s attention through their entire set until the end notes of “The Antediluvian Fire” rang out, and received possibly the warmest applause I’ve seen for an opener at the Fleece. Providing an excellent start to the evening, Junius left a strong impression on both old and newly-discovered fans, and more than a couple of people peering at their merch stand.
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Next up were Alcest, a band I took to heart recently after falling in love with Les Voyages De L’Âme when it was released in January this year. They’ve come a long way from their raw black metal origins, having evolved into this captivating blend of post-rock tranquillity and black metal fury, stunning both on disc and onstage. Their musical style is difficult to describe, focusing mostly on repeated calming melodies as “post-” is want to do, but not being afraid to heighten the tension with blastbeat drums and tremolo guitar lines. Alcest’s set, an abbreviated version of the one they graced Bloodstock Festival with, focused mostly on their latest album as the band flowed through each of the first three tracks with minor sound issues. Frontman Neige, although regrettably near-inaudible when singing, showcased an impressively fierce rasp in “Là Où Naissent Les Couleurs Nouvelles”, and was supported solidly by drummer Winterhalter, Indria on bass and Zero as second guitarist/backing vocalist (whose singing was also superb). A song from each of Alcest’s two previous albums were also aired: “Percées De Lumière” from Écailles De Lune and Souvenirs D’Un Autre Monde‘s title track, each more than welcome for more established fans. The former, markedly heavier, was an all-screamer that saw a much more animated band, while “Souvenirs D’Un Autre Monde” was on more familiar melodic territory. The final song, the anachronistic “Summer’s Glory”, sounded magnificent in the heart of winter, and even faintly amusing as Martinez joined Zero on harmonized vocals near the end, hazarding a guess at the melodies.
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Soon, it was time for the main attraction, for darkness to descend and Sweden’s own Katatonia to take to the floor. The band quickly launched into their latest album, Dead End Kings, with a two-fer of “The Parting” and “Buildings” that soon had the audience in the palm of vocalist Jonas Renkse. The usually reclusive yet imposing frontman was more open this time round, engaging the audience between his bouts of strong mid-range singing from behind his hair-curtain. He was surrounded by guitarists Anders Nyström and Per Eriksson, the latter of whom had a remarkable range as backing vocalist, accompanying Renkse for many of the songs. The haunting guitar melodies were effective, especially to these unversed ears, and each song had its distinctive touch to cause the audience to roar with approval as it started up.
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With 7 albums of material to choose from, the fans were treated to a full gamut with tracks from all the way back to 1998’s Discouraged Ones (“Deadhouse”), and surprises such as “Strained”, “Burn The Rememberance” and ballad “Soil’s Song” from other releases also emerged. Surprising harsh vocals were provided by Nyström (whose cleans were muted), while bassist Niklas Sandin and Daniel Liljekvist’s animated drumming rounded out a united and strong band performance, which reflected in a near-enchanted audience through the duration of their set. Regrettably, Last Train Syndrome meant I had to leave during “Ghost Of The Sun” as the audience were shouting along with the line “It’s all I hear, a fucking lie”. Well, I can assure readers that the gig was the real deal in doom. If you’ll excuse the pun, the concert was the last fair deal gone down before the year rounds out, and a new one will enter with many more opportunities to hear these fair bands at work. For a final date on a lengthy European tour, each band pulled out all the stops and gave impressive performances for a fantastic final show of 2012.
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Check out our interview here with Katatonia’s frontman, Jonas Renkse, which was taken during this tour before the London show.
All live pictures of the bands were taken during the bands’ stop in Glasgow and are property of Stuart Cole. Have a look at Stuart’s full photo gallery of the tour stop in Glasgow here.