It’s a trip that’s a bit out the comfort zone tonight to hip Shoreditch where beards, vaping and craft beer rule supreme. Interesting to sit outside the venue once it has been found and watch street artists at work and it’s not long before a crowd starts snaking down the road outside The Village Underground and we slowly gain admittance. The venue is a large converted warehouse space and looks very nice, indeed it proves to be during the evening, that’s as long as you don’t want to get drunk in here. A visit to the bar where there is no draft on tap and only coke can sized cans of craft beer and cider at £5 a pop proves painful. Well it’s going to be a sober night. Still we can let the music take us to far off places that booze will not touch and that is definitely the case as far as the support band are concerned.
Zeal And Ardor have kept things very real and have not brought a trendy young bunch of bucks playing avant-garage or anything like that with them but have Swiss countrymen Schammasch in tow. We approve of this wholeheartedly and it is the second encounter with the spiritual blacksters this year after seeing them support Batushka. It is no surprise that dry ice is swirling about the stage when they stride on and turn backs on us ready to unleash their sonic might. Blood red and cold icy blue light fill the spaces as they turn and bring a huge sense of gravity allowing us to instantly realise that the PA here has plenty of beef about it. Swaggering, adroit and clinical they are a force to be reckoned with as they plummet us into a heaving, chasmic void. Main vocalist C.S.R is a cloaked demon from the outer limits with his gruff commands but the music is at times graceful and full of grandeur. I’m wondering if some here have even encountered music like this before, looking around I suspect not all have and this is a real baptism in ‘Golden Light’ for them. The band seem to capture and mesmerise the audience though as songs flow and entrance. Naturally billowing out dark passages, miasmic instrumentation swirls like ectoplasm through the ether. Moving back in the venue the sound is near perfect the drums hitting the brick work and the sharp treble tones of the guitars glistening. We are finally greeted and urged to close eyes and receive of transformation before being swept into last song ‘Metanoia.’ With plenty of clean and near hymnal vocals we indeed reach the musical enlightenment the band had invited us into. With 3 guitars and bass all strumming up a storm it’s an impressive conclusion. Schammasch are a band who constantly manage to beguile and do very odd things to the senses; tonight the light poured out of them!
After a break the place is suddenly rammed, expectations are high for Zeal And Ardor and having seen them before we knew that they were totally capable of delivering the goods. As they filled up the stage in front of us and unleashed a fantastic sounding assault it still had the power to sweep right off the feet and then some. After looking around and getting co-ordinated to the sound and the 5 figures at the front of the stage who filled a void between them and the drummer at the back, they delivered a triple whammy of a vicious sounding ‘Servants’ blackened and brutal, ‘Come On Down’ and ‘Row Row.’ Of course the new album is not out yet and was unfortunately not on sale tonight but even if people had not heard some of these songs before you would have never guessed it by the reaction. I felt somewhat dazed and there was no blaming the booze. Staggering out the photo pit I realised that I could stand at the side of the stage and watch the rest of the show from a brilliant vantage point. Having flung off his hood after a number or so Manuel Gagneux may have been centre stage and the focus but the other players should not be sold short in the slightest, the backing vocals add huge depth and the guitar and bassist on either side of the stage rip things up. They literally drive us black and blue in sound and musical origins and it is absolutely sublime.
I am totally impressed watching drummer Marco von Allmen flooring his kit on songs like ‘Blood In The River’ there are blasts aplenty in between the fantastic sounding soulful vocals. The band seemed to feed off the audience and threw themselves into things with more vigour and this is the 4th show of a tour that is going to have them on the road pretty much through the rest of the year taking in Download festival in the UK, Graspop Belgium, Hellfest France and even the Montreux Jazz Festival back home. Everyone who catches them is certainly in for a treat. The songs come thick and fast and I swear the set list on the stage floor went out the window, although it seemed to be going by all too fast I think they played much more than was listed and pretty much every song they had in their armoury. ‘Gravediggers Chant’ brought a chorus of dead bodies but was paradoxically so life affirming. ‘Children’s Summon’ brought out their musical box of tricks and some of the most battering drumming of the evening. I have to admit some of the chanting parts on this and a couple of other songs are a bit too Ghost(l)y for comfort but Z&A are in time probably destined to spook as many people as them and this is just the start of their meteoric rise to fame if I am not very much mistaken. New album title track Stranger Fruit was more than a tad juicy and an Arabic sounding thrashathon also really hit the mark. It’s down to devilish things Baphomet’s Coagula and a brief pause towards the end and everyone was waiting for one particular number. ‘Devil Is Fine’ was it and everyone chanted along, I moved towards the back with a grin on my face and took that moment to escape from bandit country before the crush. It’s still going round in my head this morning and no doubt will be for weeks. I seriously wonder how long it will take this band to play a venue as big as Brixton Academy; I somehow think it’s guaranteed in Zeal And Ardor’s bright looking future.
(Review & Photos Pete Woods)