It’s difficult to think of a better lineup than this trio for those who love their music heavy, technical and progressive. From the outset The Garage is respectably packed with punters of all ages. Clearly there is an appetite for muso-centric instrumental proficiency beyond the realms of jazz and traditional prog.
First on the bill is Maschine. With influences as diverse as John Coltrane and Tool this five-piece’s youth and freshness-of-face betray the depth of their experience and abilities. Luke Machin’s prodigious six-string talents have seen him rise to front his own band via the ranks of The Tangent. That rise has been inexorable but tonight there’s something not quite right. A muddy FOH mix and off-key vocals (presumably due to similar sound problems on-stage) detract. Things thankfully come together for the last song, the eponymous track from “Rubidium”, which features some incredible guitar pyrotechnics. Having seen them live before it’s a shame that external factors conspired to make this a less-than-optimal set but it is a mere blip in the rise of a future star of prog.
Whether the audio issues were fixed before Leprous or their low- to mid-frequency spectrum simply better suited the foibles of the PA and desk is impossible to say but damn these Norwegians sound good! ‘Foe’ is the perfect opening statement. Its demonic discordant staccato power chords are the foil to Einar Solberg’s wide vocal range. His extended a cappella falsetto which closes the song forms part of a medieval-style descant. It seems to last forever but is totally captivating. The remainder of the set is every bit as enthralling. The almost subsonic keyboards when coupled with the bass make Leprous a visceral live act. At odds with this is the formal attire. Dressed in identical black shirts and trousers with the odd tie as a flash of colour they are visually as striking as their avant-garde metal sound. Synchronised headbanging has never been pulled off with this level of chic panache.
Sticking to the “Coal” and “Bilateral” albums they reach their apex with the stuttering ‘The Valley’ which is executed with surgical precision. It’s been a jaw-dropping performance from the off and frankly I’ve just seen one of the most mesmerisingly brilliant live acts I’ve ever witnessed.
The headliners have their work cut out for them after that but they have the proficiency to pull it off and plenty of partisan support to hold them aloft while they do it. After the opening intro from “The Mountain” those disciples are rewarded with ‘Atlas Stone’. Sherpa Ross Jennings guides the crowd in a singalong through its precarious musical paths. His introduction of a new song is enthusiastically received and despite only having been heard by a minority ‘Darkest Light’ from the “Restoration” EP keeps the energy levels high before the hypnotic vocal shenanigans of ‘Cockroach King’.
A brief inter-band discussion signals a last-minute change of plan and we are treated to the live premiere of the EP’s highlight – the twenty-minute ‘Crystallised’. Its proximity in the set to ‘Cockroach King’ doesn’t do it any favours (the Gentle Giant homage looms conspicuously tall) but it’s a faultless rendition of what will surely be a highlight of sets to come.
‘Visions’ brings the evening to an end. Another epic? Such self-indulgence would be tedious to most but of course we’re all here because we love such capers.
If I were inclined to make comparisons I would contrast Haken’s static stage presence with what had just gone before. Of course that would be unfair as this is a different beast, more focused on multi-layered complexity and brow-furrowing instrumental prowess, but that doesn’t alter the fact that Leprous really were bloody fantastic.
Overall that was a glorious night of progressive music from three young bands whose first records were released only 7 or 8 years ago. Each of them will go on to even greater heights so seeing them all on one bill really was a bit special.
Photos by Sabrina Ramdoyal