There’s a form I sometimes have to fill in which has three categories: preparation time, travel time and time to deliver the activity. Quite apart from the fact that in my old eyes you deliver coal or milk, not activity, one thing I always appreciate about the bands who come on tour to the UK is that the first two categories completely outweigh the third. It’s a long way to come for an hour of performance and often less. Not such a long way today as the three bands here tonight played in Nottingham yesterday but then it’s off to France, Holland, Germany and finally Scandinavia to “deliver the activity”. The triumvirate playing tonight call this the Progressive Aspects tour. Even that sounds a bit workmanlike but my expectation of these bands, all of whom I was familiar with to a greater or lesser degree, was that we would be challenged in an interesting and mind-developing way, or just encouraged to reflect on the things happening around us and on our relationships.

I’d been told that tonight’s venue The Garage had been refurbished. I can’t say I noticed in the gloom – the toilet signs and the lighting around the bar, maybe – but it has always been one of my favourite venues. I was grateful to the security guy for letting us in nice and early so that we could escape the Islington rain. Prog bands in general evoke lyrically all British people’s favourite discussion topic of the weather and in particular the cold, wind and rain. Welcome to Progressive Precipitation.

Where are you, London? I counted 6 spectators, excluding myself, as Oddland started their set. I saw them play at ProgPower Europe in 2013, and have followed them since then. At the start, the guitarist made an announcement that the singer had lost his voice. The singer, to his enormous credit, battled on and Oddland played their unique brand of progressive metal. I really liked their album “Treachery of Senses” (2012) and found “Origin” (2016) interesting too but difficult to access. This hour long set did not change my view. There were sophisticated rhythms, crunchy bass lines and a powerhouse of a drummer, who looked very serious and even a little bit insane. The flourishes came from the guitarist who looked like ówt krì’s creator Kenneth Kovasin’s twin brother, but this isn’t perhaps so surprising as they are both from Finland. The set didn’t get any easier. Sometimes passages integrated and took a fluid course, while at others Oddland took a different direction. I sensed an Eastern rhythm at times. There were many highlights within all these dark and technical patterns. I particularly liked the power of “Above and Beyond”, the richness of “Penumbra” and the melodies of “Flooding Light”, which ended impressively with Finnish fire. The crowd, which had now swelled to 19, expressed appreciation of the vocalist’s efforts and the band’s technical skill. I like Oddland. It was a difficult set in more ways than one, but their music is bold and adventurous, and tonight this was also a triumph over adversity.

I saw Until Rain at ProgPower Europe in 2015, and to be honest I didn’t warm to their style of music at that time. In this past week I have been privileged to hear their latest album “Inure” and I was massively impressed. Until Rain are evidently not from Manchester or they’d be called “Always Raining”, I guess, but in fact come from Greece. They’d found the rain tonight but not in the convivial atmosphere of The Garage. The first thing to strike me was their visual presence. The vocalist is a little bearded man with hair almost down to his waist. The guitarist was invisible with hair overhanging his face. The bassist, who looked like a young Zlatan Ibrahimovic, twerked. Yes, twerked. This is prog, man. The hairy singer waved his arms like he was flying in a gale force wind, as the music went from growls to shrill-voiced power metal. The audience around me looked mystified. So was I. Hairy man tried the hackneyed “I can’t hear you” routine, a bit pointless when there are more band members and staff in the place than spectators. There was plenty of energy and even the familiar “Because Something Might Happen” – a very dangerous title if there are journalists about – was a mess. Hairy man was at odds with his instrumentalists. “I’m gasping for freedom”, he cried enigmatically. There was the distraction of a traffic jam left stage as young Zlatan, hairy man and the guitarist all descended on a small space. “Will she come”, warbled hairy man, emerging from the mayhem. At last there was now some cohesion. Hairy man sang with feeling. The stage went dark. The music was now sophisticated and mystical. But hairy man was too keen to show off his shouty, screamy vocals. “My Own Blood” provoked 5 seconds of clapping. Young Zlatan loved himself, making meaningless gestures and wiggling his hips. All in all there was a lot of movement and not much end product. “Progressus In Idem” came along. Now this is a bit of everything, and we had a bit of everything: deep, dark rhythms and pungent sections. Until Rain could do it when they wanted. Snaky hips Zlatan danced. No-one headbanged. But this was all over the place. A nice ballad “Broken Wing” followed – hairy man can sing, you know. No-one one was interested in taking up his invitation for a spot of arm-swaying. Hairy man seemed proud of the fact that a heavy number was to follow. For me, this is one of the weaknesses of the new album. As hairy man growled, young Zlatan danced and emitted strange gestures. There was rumbling thunder, and yet more twerking, moving and grooving from snaky hips Zlatan. The drum and bass held “Solitude” together. There was a keyboard solo. You get plenty with Until Rain. “Inure”, the new album’s title track, came next. It built up from softness to heaviness and developed into an epic atmosphere. Now the passages were well controlled. Hairy man picked up the gauntlet of making unfathomable hand and eye gestures. But he has an incredible vocal range. “Inure” is like a mini-musical but I found it hard to get hold of, and I’ve heard it before. Hairy man reached the vocal heights. There was lots of action, but it still didn’t sound or look co-ordinated. I lost track of what was going on out there. Did hairy man really say “don’t stop dancing until the music stops”? No need to tell Zlatan this. To be fair, he and the guitarist played a brief but electrifying instrumental. Zlatan, whose whole being was distracting me from what the vocalist was doing, was now obsessing me with his movements. At one point he pulled off a deft leg switch, which could have led to him falling over or alternatively impressing the Strictly Come Dancing judges. I also give him credit for his unending smiling enthusiasm, which extended to mingling in the crowd before and after, and supporting the other bands. The vocalist was good too, but I felt he needed to channel his remarkable range. The set ended with the ultra heavy “Brain Death”. Guess who played the rock star, vertical guitars et al. Energy and power were in abundance. There was a great vibe. Until Rain were very entertaining but I did feel that they need to control their exuberance, and concentrating on delivering the songs as a cohesive unit. For me that didn’t happen.

Wolverine are one of my favourite prog bands. Where other prog bands go into ethereal worlds and appeal to people’s emotions by solely creating existential sadness, with Wolverine they go beyond that and it’s about the fragility of real human relationships, seeing things from the other side and breakdowns of communications. Of course the musical content is equally important and here we have musicians who are the heartbeat and the creators of power and tension. I think was the fourth time I have seen them live. Once again I shared their world and was ready to be hypnotised. The bassist looked gloomy. I counted 35 spectators. Wolverine were on, and immediately captivated us with a powerful beat. Tension was in the air. “This Cold Heart of Mine” was strong, heavy, and an effective start. Stefan the vocalist was gracious and humble in his introductions. “Our Last Goodbye” had been going through my head all week. Here it was. Wolverine just don’t waste a note. Every beat contributes to the developing and enveloping aura. “Moments in time look like raindrops that fall … let it rain”. Ah, the weather. “Our Last Goodbye” has its share of pluvial references but it’s that Bennettesque chorus about looking out of the window at sorrowful people down below which never fails to make an impact. A brushing drum beat signalled in “Carousel”. The mix was heavy tonight, but there was still atmosphere coming from the guitar and bass, sophistication from the drums and emotional power at every level. Stefan then announced “Taste of Sand”. Drummer Marcus ramped up the power following the initial gloom. Wolverine could have left this out for me. I found myself trying to hang to the lyrical story, which always harder if you’re not so well acquainted with it. But it was well received, and of course it means something to the band. “Pulse” certainly meant something. The steady heartbeat running through it is dark and sinister. The almost irregular emphasis makes us stop and think: “When I saw the strength in your eyes”. The power intensified. “Pulse” is breathtaking. My pen hit the page harder as I wrote my notes. The drums were again at the fore as we now “moved onto something else”. This refers to the theme of the next song “In Memory of Me”. The regret is profound. “Wish I could do it all again”. The subtle words and merging of the past with the present mean everything. The accompaniment was powerful, sublime and laced with exquisite touches. Drummer Marcus and keyboard player Per added harmonised vocals to reinforce the impact. A softer section allowed breathing space for the message: “I don’t care what tomorrow brings, I strongly believe in who I am”. “Strongly” means strength of course but there’s also vulnerability. “In Memory of Me” was my highlight of Wolverine’s set. The musicianship was heaven and more. The song is clever, laying emphasis in the right places and at the right times, and yet also exuding strength in its heaviness and ending climactically. “Nemesis” had misty melancholy while the chorus has something uplifting about it. The instrumentals are deep and emotional, reflecting the mood. Wolverine’s song structures are sublime. Again the hard groove, which was clearly part of the band’s deliberate and thoughtful preparation for this show, was irresistible. “Wasted all this time, I walked for miles away from you”. The emphasis is on the wastage. We feel it. Ah, name that tune in one. Stefan announced the last song. “Your Favourite War” emerged. “I want to ease your pain”, we sang together. The keyboards, drum and bass all added to the richness. The emphasis is in the choral line again. There is so much power. “Your Favourite War” represents the ultimate in rejection and separation. And then it ended. There were calls for an encore, and there was time but it didn’t happen. Frankly this end was a damp squib. The band didn’t come back out to thank the spartan audience, who after waiting a while dispersed and made their way to homes in London and beyond. I felt it was a case of communication lost. “In Memory of Me” would have made a better end, and I’m sure I would have taken it down the underground with me and beyond. This was like a brutal cut.

As I walked out of The Garage after thanking the security staff and into the light rain, I reflected on whether the bands had delivered the goods. Yes and no, I’d say. Wolverine were good but missed a trick at the end. Until Rain made me realise why I struggled with them first time round, yet had personality and I know they have great songs in them. The heroes of tonight were Oddland. One rainy day I must spend 24 hours listening to their albums, and I’m sure I’ll be better for the experience.

Andrew Doherty