4 Dec 2020
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Gig Review: Spook The Horses @ The Thirsty Dog, Auckland - 7/11/2020

08 Nov 2020 // A review by Kev Rowland

I had been waiting for this gig for months, but eventually it arrived so just before heading out I checked what time they were playing, which is when I got a shock, as Spook The Horses  were no longer playing at The Whammy Bar, but at The Thirsty. As I was on the guestlist I never received a notification that there had been a change, but a few minutes googling made it clear that there was indeed a venue change, which made me glad I had indeed checked what was going on. As is normal, I arrived early and was met by guitarist Donnie at the door, where we proceeded to have a conversation on why the change? It transpired that for some reason The Whammy Bar had been double booked which they only discovered on Monday,  which led to some frantic hunting for a different venue. Ding Dong Lounge was unavailable (as they were hosting the second semi-final of their Bands battle), but luckily The Thirsty did not have any bookings that night, and were happy to host their first extreme metal bands in some time.

Both of the support acts, Graves and Bridge Burner were new to me, but Spook The Horses singer Callum is quite a fan, even wearing a Bridge Burner shirt, and sat with me giving me some background on the bands. Both feature guitarist Josh Hughes, with Graves being the first band, but after they went dormant, he started another, Burning Bridges, before Graves then started up again. He is the only member in both, and while both musically extreme they are quite different. Callum then went back to the door, and after a while I introduced myself to Josh, which then led to a conversation on extreme bands and influences that, if it weren't for the small fact that he had to play, I am sure would have gone on for hours. It transpired we were both at the Napalm Death and Carcass gig at the King’s Arms back in 2015, which led to lengthy discussions on what is their best album (for the record, for me it is Scum and for Josh it is Enemy of the Music Business). Further conversations on the importance of Swans, Discharge and Nasum were short circuited as it was time for him to hit the stage.

The guys from Graves got up to check their instruments, and the first thing singer Eddie Murphy did was to move the microphone stand offstage as he had no need for that tonight. Both Josh and drummer Allan Lachlan were with Graves in the very early days, playing on their self-titled 7” released in 2012 (available as vinyl from the band or a free download on Bandcamp), and tonight they kicked off with two songs from that set, namely Graves and Husk. Right from the off this was a brutal assault on the senses in what has to be one of the most aggressive, and loudest, bands I have come across. The line-up is completed by bassist Matt Berry, and while the three musicians locked down into a ferocious Napalm Death-inspired hardcore/grindcore/punk crossover it was obvious that singer Eddie Murphy was not taking any prisoners. Offstage he is a mild-mannered individual more than happy to talk about the importance of singing from the diaphragm to ensure everything is controlled, but when he has the microphone clasped in both hands, he is a beast. His over the top vocal attack was just right for the straightforward in your face venomous approach.

The set was blasted through, with some songs lasting for less than a minute, while Suffer seemed positively epic at 3 minutes in length. I had positioned myself at a table to the side of the stage, from which I had a great view of Allan, and I have no idea how he managed to keep everything going while wearing a mask. He was all over the place on the kit, playing like an absolute demon with lots of different styles and impacts, which shows that wearing a mask cannot have that much impact on being able to breathe! This is hyper-aggressive music which has no place being played in a venue where there is carpet on the floor, and while they may not always have been fast, even when they slowed it down it was incredibly heavy, with a punk attitude and really nasty. Josh was solid like a rock, just cranking out the riffs, Matt was moving where he could, really into the music, while Eddie was manic. Overall, one heck of an introduction.

A changeover of cymbals, and it was time for Bridge Burner. According to the Bible which is Encyclopaedia Metallum, Bridge Burner are Death Metal/Crust Punk, which is a pretty good way of describing them to be honest, but it does not really show the variety within their music. They are as extreme as Graves, but whereas the former is always attempting to rip off your face in a direct manner, these guys are achieving exactly the same goal but in a more roundabout way. Drummer Louis Malloy is  a very powerful drummer, who uses a variety of styles to drive the band forward – I always find it interesting when some people discount music like this as “noise”, as technically this is very difficult material to play well. Up front Josh was joined by bassist Gary Brown, who could often be found to be linked into the guitar melodies while at others he would provide foundation, and then there is singer Ben C. Read who uses a variety of styles, all brutal. He switches between death-style growls, hardcore screams, and even melodic singing (although in fairness, there is not much of that). Their music has more of a groove and space within it than Graves, the songs are longer, and they certainly mix it up.

They kicked off with some songs from their 2018 album Null Apostle in The Blood Never Lies and Keelhauler, while we also had their 2019 single Chlorine Eyes and some material from the new album which should be out soon. They sometimes bring in doom influences before turning the songs into a crusty monster, Ben doubled up at the edge of the stage spewing vitriol into the room, putting absolutely everything into it. These guys are incredibly tight, stopping dead, and using little nuances here and there (such as a few delicate cymbal hits when no-one else is playing). By the time of Separating Ben was no longer on the stage but down on the floor in the audience where he stayed for the rest of the set. This is a brutal act who give absolutely everything, create space inside complex song structures which leads to a really interesting take on extreme metallic hardcore punk. It certainly set the stage for what was to come.

Spook The Horses are signed to a European label, who use a New York-based PR company, who in turn work with me on publicity, which is how I first came across this Wellington-based band earlier this year when I heard about the release of their latest album, Empty Body. I was incredibly impressed with this, as while obviously influenced by the likes of Devin Townsend and Neurosis, they combine this with post rock bleakness to create something very special indeed.

When they started to set up onstage I realised just how different this was going to be from what had gone by, as bassist Alex Ross was pushed to the back next to drummer Zach Meech to make room for the three guitarists who were all using large effects boards. Callum Gay, who also provides vocals (and tambourine) is centre stage, then on his right was Donnie Cuzens who provides most of the effects and over the top sounds, and to his left was Ben Dentice who provides most of the underlying melodies and heart of the sound. This is a musical tapestry, where the rhythm section provides the foundation and then the guitarists weave their different strands together.

Their music is incredibly atmospheric, yet is a sonic soundscape of power and density, with Callum’s over the top vocals providing yet another layer and edge. By the end of opener Apology Rot, taken from the new album, I was already in awe of what I was hearing and seeing. I have not previously come across a band quite like this, using effects and melodic lines over the top of an incredibly heavy platform. No-one could doubt they were hearing something which was melodic, yet at the same time also extreme and pushing boundaries. In just one song they can change tempo and styles, so it seems almost as if the band has switched into something else, while the use of crash cymbals also provided real emphasis.

Their latest single, Inheritance, was up next and this found the band moving almost into djent territory with a strongly Meshuggah influenced introduction. The bass and all guitars all followed the same rhythm until it was time for the guitars to start to peel off and follow their own path. This was really intense as the guitars built and created layers of sound. Some songs saw them put aside any pretence of niceties and go straight for the jugular with a far more focused attack on the senses, yet at all times the guitars continued to interweave their spell. There were times when a section would be just bass and drums, then all the guitars would come back in at exactly the same moment, and I was continually impressed at just how tight this band is. They are creating complex music yet are in total control, knowing exactly where everyone is within the soundscape. Zach was also mixing it up at the back, sometimes using mallets instead of sticks, and at one point he was playing drums with his right hand while using a shaker in his left, all creating variety within the overall sound.

The stage may have been small (certainly with three guitarists using boards) but they were determined to put on a show with Callum often lost in the moment and Donnie often to be found bent right over his guitar as he attempted to channel what he was feeling inside, and the audience certainly responded to what was happening in front of them. At the end of the night Callum announced there were only five copies of the album left as it had sold out, and while there was going to be another pressing it was best to grab them now. Tonight was a great night, with three very different extreme metal bands putting on a wonderful show. Kudos to The Thirsty Dog for putting on the gig at short notice, and also for allowing the guys to play one of the loudest gigs I have ever attended – volume was being used as a weapon tonight. It was one heck of a night.


Photos by Kev Rowland

 

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