If you’ve never been to Camden’s rock’n’roll hangout Our Dark Heart you are in for a treat. Tucked away on a side street moments from the tube station, it’s like stepping inside the fantasy of the bar you always hoped to find at the end of your road. Dimly lit, serving excellent beers, blasting awesomely heavy tunes and serving some of the best burgers in London, you’ll be right at home and put very much in the mood for an evening of rocking out.
So, mood set, let’s get up stairs to the funky little room and get deafened. First up is three-piece Pilgrim. What strikes me first are the old soul in a young body vocals of The Wizard which are excellent – mournful and captivating with enormous gravity. The music though is rather two dimensional, the band having just two speeds – stately trudge or leaden-footed crawl, apart from one track that sounded like Venom meets “Ride The Lightning”-era Metallica. After four or five tracks of the repeated drama of delayed downbeat into crushingly heavy riffs left no room for colour, apart from occasional percussive flourishes from drummer Krolg Splinterfist, Slayer of Men (don’t the good people of Rhode Island have funny names?!). They were enthusiastically received by the crowd, but this is very much a genre band, too niche to ever break out of the cult of doom.
Now Windhand on the other… errr… hand, have found themselves feted by a large cross-section of the music press, and with a successful tour could really make a name for themselves. It’s going to be an uphill struggle, though, as they lost guitarist Asechiah Bogan to a blood clot on the hand almost as soon as they landed in the UK. The evening turns out to be quite a trying experience for band and fans alike. The lack of a second guitarist leaves them sounding rather earthbound, lost in the fuzz and missing the complexity of their recent recorded output. However, the more straightforward pre-“Soma” material works quite well with it being slightly faster and the energy of singer Dorthia Cottrell‘s attack overcomes any concerns about finesse.
What was obvious, though, was the total lack of stagecraft throughout the show, possibly due to nerves caused by having to appear as four-piece, but more likely from a lack of experience. There was no eye contact with the crowd at all and due to technical difficulties no real head of steam until the double-whammy of ‘Orchard’ and ‘Cassock’ at the end of the set. Combine that with more technical issues delaying the encore and the result was a palpable lack of momentum, even for doom metal.
I find the band’s current album “Soma” transcendent at times – the cultish psychedelic fuzz and sadistically massive riff repetitions take me somewhere like a higher state to metal nirvana. Tonight both the band and I came crashing back down to a small room in North London. I have faith, however, that Windhand will triumph in the end to become a live band that can match their awesome recorded material.