Sunday 10 February 2019

A View From The Back Of The Room; Obscura, Fallujah, Allegaeon & First Fragment (Live Review By Paul H)

Obscura, Fallujah, Allegaeon And First Fragment, The Fleece, Bristol

With more strings than a harpist convention, a night of technical death metal was always going to provide entertainment through endurance. It’s a strange genre; technically untouchable but at times stunningly dull as noodle after noodle screams past, buried under deafening blast beats and six string bassists intent on playing as fast as possible. So, with a very respectable Monday night crowd still filing into the venue, it was time for openers First Fragment (5) whose lack of cohesion combined with a rather dull stage presence was a little underwhelming. Musically challenged by a mix that failed to allow the duel guitars to cut through the mud until close to the end, the band weren’t helped by frontman David Alexandra Brault Pilon whose death growls were as expected unintelligible but who failed to really engage apart from the odd fist in the air. The band, who hail from Quebec, struggled to gel and drummer Nicholas Wells at least earnt points for his mid blast beat wind milling. Overall a mediocre start but I’d like to hear these guys on record to see if the mix was their downfall on the night.

No such problems for US masters Allegaeon (8) who showed exactly how to play a 35-minute slot with a bone crushing set which didn’t stop for air from start to finish. Brandon Park thundered his way through a storming set, with guitars slicing through the mix with much greater clarity than earlier on the evening. If you want to see a frontman do it properly then look no further than Riley McShane whose front and centre approach grabbed your attention. Losing his specs halfway through the set allowed him to loosen the neck muscles whilst the flanking windmills of bassist Brandon Michael and guitarists Greg Burgess and Michael Stancel ensured activity all around the stage. Technically this is a band I’ve long appreciated, and they didn’t disappoint, with a new song sitting comfortably alongside older material. A band I would travel to see again.

A surreal experience throughout the evening as The Fleece appeared to be playing an indie playlist during the breaks, creating a bizarre backdrop as sound check riffage and pounding drums competed for the gentle melancholy and angst-ridden soundtrack.

I saw main support Fallujah (8) at BOA a couple of years ago and despite a stand in singer at the time they did alright with a gritty late morning opening slot. Aggressive and assured, new singer Antonio Palermo now firmly within the ranks, the San Francisco outfit exuded a quiet confidence which was totally on point as they delivered a set of devastating quality. Whilst there may not be as much enthusiasm as McShane showed during the previous set, this is a band who are very comfortable with what they do. New tracks included Sapphire which was for me the pick of the whole set. Captivating is probably the wrong word, but their crushing technicality spared little, the thundering heaviness underpinned by a melody that isn’t always present in this toughest of genres. Fallujah may not have chosen the best name as a band, but they are hell of a live outfit. Ferocity on ten legs. With new album Undying Light due out in March, this should be another good year for the band.

So, it was left for Germans Obscura (8) to demonstrate their top billing was warranted. With their 2018 release Divilium one of the most brilliant releases of last year, musically there was no challenge. Live, the band breathe technical excellence, and with 20 strings between the three guitarists there was an octopus like movement up and down the frets. Crystal clear sound allowed the intricate patterns and loops to air with ease. Vocalist and guitarist Steffen Kummerer growled through tracks from their last album, including a massive Divilium, and Akroasis, the title track from their 2016 release. Smiling and sincere in their joy at a decent turnout and a return to Bristol, the show was backed by an impressive light show which enhanced the complex songs. With several line up changes over the years only Kummerer remains from the 2002 line up but Rafael Trujillo is a stunning guitarist whilst bassist Linus Klausenitzer grappled manfully with his six-string machine. Having lasted most of the set, including a numbingly dull bass solo, my post viral fatigue started to kick in, I left the Fleece with Obscura heading towards a magnificent conclusion to a solid night of extreme metal. Technically magnificent, this was a fabulous value for money bill and well worth the Monday night effort.

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