I’ll say something about this show, it would have sold out a lot quicker than a few hours before doors if Roadburn was not on. Zeal And Ardor’s excellent ‘Devil Is Fine’ album has caused a huge buzz among those in the know. It got top marks here and Nightshift Promotions were equally quick off the mark booking them for their debut show. If you were in well done, if you were not, boy did you miss out. The support bands were a feast themselves making this all the more special a show and first up are the oddly titled Combineharvester a completely unknown outfit as far as I was concerned who apparently come from Basel Switzerland and London. Unfortunately fickle audience turn out for their early show made things a bit thin on the ground at first but perhaps the name of these farmer boys put people off and they didn’t want to take the chance of seeing a band covering Chas and Dave songs. Luckily there were none of these on display here. It’s a guitar and bass stroking appearance from the trio at first, building with drums joining in and getting more rugged and shaking the rafters. One gets the sense of flamboyance, avant-garde sensibilities and unconventionality and there is nothing particularly linear and structured about the band’s approach at first. Indeed I got the impression they could have all been playing different songs but suddenly it all gels and moulds together. The drumming is a powerhouse, the vocals a little on the higher end for comfort and there is a bit of a post-punk flavour that with the singing reminds a little of PiL at times. A two-step military sounding rhythm beats out and things go marching off with ten league boots. A mix of abrasive noise, scattergun jazzy rhythms and wailing sees one song on the wrong side of a stoned Krautrock convention but you can’t say that this isn’t interesting and engrossing. Something resembling more of an actual structured song is aired, it’s got a gobby feel and some hard jagged guitar as it flails away and would have no doubt gone down very well with a certain John Peel as it definitely has a touch of The Fall about it all. Can’t say I was blown away or will be rushing to check out more but this combineharvester definitely made a memorable mess of those that witnessed it.

I had checked out Pryapisme earlier today and discovered the band playing “Weird Music From Clermont-Ferrand” also have ties to the excellently eccentric and strange Stagnant Waters. One listen to their latest EP ‘Repump The Pectine’ was all it took and I grabbed a copy as soon as through the doors, still that was nothing to prepare for just how marvellous and out-there the band are live. It sounded like the first track from this that they started off with, we were warned that song titles were ridiculously long and French so was not bothered too much about trying to document them. Playing around on various keyboards and consoles it seemed like this lot had been unleashed from their basements to create mayhem and that’s certainly the sound we got. Think 8-bit video game sounds, some gabba blasts, riffs that would give your average Cardiacs fans nightmares and full flowing proggy noodling and you are somewhere in the right area. It’s sheer bloody lunacy, totally unique and of course I along with quite a large section of the audience seemed to be totally enjoying it. I thought one song was introduced as Supermatch Game although I’m sure it wasn’t but once in my head it was as if they were aping the annoying melody of that terrible old quiz show, my brain was definitely getting messed with here. There’s deranged piano sound cutting in and a sudden section of ice cold synthwave sounding like it’s escaped from, well New York in a movie sense. It’s impossible not to get caught in the grip of it all and boogie on down. We rock out to some sort of Moroder 80’s cop show sounding theme which spirals into Italian giallo soundtrack craziness wigging out in a proggy frenzy. The band are animated and quip away between songs telling us to expect one that’s “as cheesy as fuck.” It sounds like we are being attacked by Galaxians, there’s a guitar break then complete mentalism with drum and bass parts, some Hawkwindy space rock and whatever else they could throw in. Naturally after every song applause is close to bringing the house down. I’m sure there were some normal people in the audience, possibly hiding at the bar as the band whip up a grand-guignol section of pure terror before flying off into a salsa dance but it felt like I was surrounded by Zappa enthusiasts and gamers in my head. Next its lounge-jazz, some bontempi keyboard sound, smooth then fast, black gloves on, strangulation in progress, stabby motions, total bloodshed and an eye gouged out amidst the audial mayhem, in musical form of course. Pryapisme with a polka charged dervish of Night On Bare Mountain! I have no idea what Mussorgsky would have felt about it as things stylistically shape-shifted but we loved every deranged second of it. I think I have a new favourite band but considerably less brain cells.

After finding somewhere to get composed and in the recovery position for a few minutes it’s time for Zeal And Ardor. They certainly had a tough act to follow and as far as I was concerned had a lot to prove to live up to the sound of their recorded output on stage. Of course another concern is that said album is rather short and how were they going to turn things into a headline performance? I need not have worried there as it appeared they had plenty of extra material to regale us with. With the intro music of ‘Sacrilegium I’ dubbily reminding of the likes of FSOL and Leftfield it appeared there were no shortage of people involved to entertain us on the stage too. Naturally focus is upon Manuel Gagneux who is very much the central proponent of the whole project but as the drums boom in  on ‘In Ashes’ we are rooted to the spot not knowing how quite to take both sound and vision in. The sound is absolutely massive and there are two additional vocalists on hand to fill in the small gaps left behind Gagneux’s huge, commanding roars. The blackened swagger and elements come across fantastically, there’s another guitarist on the far side of the stage who I can just about make out whipping up a storm and things spread through the crowd and totally infect us. One of the additional vocalists spurs us on with a rigorous display of head-banging and it seems near compulsory to join in. The immediacy of the songs that I had not heard before is staggering and it is easy to get into them on 1st airing, perhaps it is down to the pure traditional flavours flowing through them, the only annoyance left in the wake of numbers like ‘Servants’ is wanting to relive them all again.

The fragrant chants of ‘Come On Down’ bring the blues and when the roaring yell is unleashed by the vocalist the crowd who are very much down can contain themselves no longer, unleashing their very devils in a short sporadic pit. The good guy is the devil and ‘We Never Fall,’ the fire and the brimstone righteously flows through us invigorating every pore. The atmosphere is amazing and although it sounds like hyperbole unless you had witnessed it yourself, the religiosity of the whole experience is nothing short of overwhelming. The rivers run red with spirits as we ‘Row Row’ along with it all, that particular song being one that really sticks out on the first hearing. There’s an odd Slayer sounding riff flung in further down the line for good measure and a really intense thumping drum salvo as they totally thrash things up on ‘Cut Me.’ The gorgeous musical box caress of ‘Children’s Summon’ tinkles away descending into a full on barraging tumult that pretty much takes heads off and the blistering fervour has people dancing like loons. Bodies are buried and we trawl through small towns in our heads and imagination runs riot until Sacriligium III’s strange and haunting tones signal an end to proceedings. Luckily though it’s not the conclusion and there is little escape for the band as the audience clamour for more. ‘Don’t You Dare’ proves a must hear again song and has the front rows quickly joining in and singing along and then comes the one everyone was waiting for ‘Devil Is Fine’ totally bringing the house down on what has been a very special gig. The band take a final bow, massive smiles beaming from their faces as they fully know they have absolutely nailed it. Not bad for just the group’s 3rd ever show!!!! Fittingly next time they play London it will be at Brixton Academy, even if just as support to Prophets Of Rage (June 13th) but you know what? I can quite easily see them headlining there not too far down the line.

(Pete Woods)