If you’ve never been to a gig at the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds then I’d urge you to do so. This iconic venue has been putting on live shows for decades with a massive range in genre styles sometimes overlapping as the venue has two gig rooms with the second room being smaller. A fellow scribe for the site outlined some aspects of the venue but it is safe to say it is probably one of the cheapest if not the cheapest place to go to a gig and have a few beers which are wide ranging served by a throng of staff on a busy gig night like this was.
Previously I saw Katatonia play an acoustic show at this venue three years ago which was absolutely packed solid. This gig wasn’t as full as that one as the opener for the night The Great Discord, from Sweden, were already on stage at 7.30 despite the event saying doors at 7.30. Luckily they had only just started and a small gathering of people was watching their enigmatic singer decked out in black sporting a black headdress glide around the stage like an obsidian angel. Stage space was at a premium as the second drum kit dominated the front but still allowed some movement as they played a tight set of progressive metal laced with atmosphere and occasional aggressive outbursts. As Fia (vocals) stalked the stage her onyx aura stretched to her eyes which were also black and created a ghostly, even ghoulish look that fit with the music overall. With no song titles being announced the band flowed through each song with confidence though the backing track was a little excessive I felt in places. However if they did have a keyboard player I am not sure where the person would put his/her gear as it wouldn’t go on the stage. With very little interaction between the crowd and the band they produced a slight mystical edge to their performance which was going exceptionally well until about two thirds in, when a massive feedback noise erupted causing many to grab their ears for protection. It seemed to be caused by the bass, though I’m not sure as all power was lost leaving the drummer to continue playing and Fia to remain singing without a mic which was admirable and utterly professional as the audience appreciated this aspect of their show. Power was restored but was fragile for the rest of the set as sudden drops in power kicked in randomly ably assisted by that loud noise, I was glad I was wearing ear plugs. Battling through the problems the band’s music was warmly appreciated, allowing good guitar work to compliment the vocal neatly and with passion as Fia appeared to be acting out every song with flamboyant arm movements and occasional crouching to the floor. As their set came to an end, the audience cheered rapturously at getting through it under such duress and picked up a few new fans along the way including myself.
I purposely did not investigate either of the support acts for this gig preferring to be wowed when I saw them, as the muttering of a friend of mine said she had seen them at Bloodstock and thought they were shit, her words not mine. However I kept an open mind as US outfit Ghost Bath arrived on the still limited stage space made even more cramped by there being three guitarists but at least one of the guitarists was singing. Remaining static throughout the set purely down to movement being virtually impossible the band launched into their set amid a deluge of smoke effusing from the stage like a carpet. Initially the sound was muddy softening the harshness of their blackened art somewhat which was peppered with depressive and melancholic elements that came across well with the now increasing crowd numbers. As their set progressed through various layers of sonic despair my shooter said the band was like Deaf Heaven, which I found to be true when I gave them a quick listen. The bands black metal approach was tempered by sublime guitar work fitting with a post-black ethos through their set. Again no song titles were being announced as a lull in the smoke enabled me to see that the band had some paint around their eyes which if I’m honest hinted at trying a bit too hard as their music said plenty. The brief silent pauses between songs was eerie at times creating a good atmosphere as a lot of their stuff also reminded me of Agalloch and A Forest Of Stars. There was an intensity to their set that was tinged with desolate inhumanity as the songs carefully crafted soirees of pernicious barbarity with serene guitar work, giving the harsh vocals a savage edge. Whilst stood watching it was clear that the band wasn’t to everyone’s taste as some retreated from the room to ready themselves for Katatonia, but personally I enjoyed their set a lot, with its varying sonic hues and malicious intent being expertly delivered through songs that linked consummate violence and palpable tranquillity.
I was very surprised that the venue wasn’t packed for this show, like it was three years ago when Katatonia did an astounding acoustic at the Brudenell. With their newest output being a live album recorded in Bulgaria with an orchestra plus the “Proscenium” EP out last month I was surprised and disappointed that neither was for sale, only signed copies of the last full length was available plus the usual raft of shirts.
As Katatonia’s set time approached people filled the venue as they opened with “Last Song Before The Fade”, and with the stage space being better it allowed the band to engage with the audience. I took a photo of the set list and it was apparent and maybe even obvious that the songs were more on the rockier edge than soulful despondency that embellishes all their albums; like a greatest hits set my shooter observed. As expected “Criminals” was greeted with a cheer as I watched my son sing every word; he was weaned on the “Viva Emptiness” album. It is still one of their best songs as Jonas delivered the vocals superbly, dripping with passion and even a little animosity as the crowd joined in the chorus lines of ‘he came back to our house…’ leading into the audience shouting ‘he went too far, the fucker!’ as one unit. With the guitarists adopting a synchro head bang, probably the slowest ever, except for ZZ Top, the band went into “Serein” from the bands last album “The Fall Of Hearts” as I wondered whether the songs were going to alternate between new songs then older ones as the songs rockier approach was washed aside when the tranquil and flawless guitar work oozed from the stage.
As ever Jonas was hiding behind his hair as I rarely saw his face during the set preferring to allow his vocals to do the work which he did magnificently and is probably one of the best male vocalists within this genre as his mournful voice was excellent on “Old Heart Falls”. Conveying the mood of Katatonia’s music is tough as each song has its own brand of solemnity as the crowd immediately recognised “Teargas” and cheered immediately as this part of set gave the crowd a spread of older material. With the guitarists facing off each other on the leads there was good humour to the performance despite the oft saddened music that continued with “Evidence” from the said “Viva Emptiness” which I couldn’t believe is 14 years old. You can feel Katatonia’s music, it’s not the volume or bass deluge; it was the palpable musicianship with its depressive nuances infecting your soul to the point of heart wrenching grief. Instantly recognised “Ghost Of The Sun” followed as Jonas had a brief chat with us hiding behind his hair as the song increased the heaviness substantially. Again the crowd sang the chorus in unison being very exuberant on its second part which is ‘I trusted you, you lied! It’s all I hear, a fucking lie?’ which is followed by a colossal surge in power from the bass and drums. I never tire of hearing this song it is immense and always will be as a calmer approach was adopted for “Soil’s Song” as I stood and listened to such aural finesse as the mood dived ever further into swathes of soporific proved ably by the woman sat near me who had nodded off during “In The White”.
The momentum of the set dipped slightly with “Forsaker” being recognised but not with enthusiasm as another synchro head bang ensued that linked into “Leaders”. That lull continued into “Passer” which signalled the end of the main part of the set. As the crowd shouted for more they returned rather sharply and played “My Twin” another stalwart of the bands set these days which was instantly grabbed by the audience as one they definitely know. With “Lethean” and “July” to follow I was surprised at the encore choices but I guess they can’t just have songs like “Criminals” and “Teargas” as purely encore songs when they have such a plethora of material to feed from, though I yearn for an older song or two in the set. Despite the lull and surprising encore choices Katatonia performed supremely, with a show saturated in atmosphere, dripping absolute class via the musicianship and the vocal display which was impeccable.
WORDS: MARTIN HARRIS
PHOTOS: ANDY POUNTNEY