Black Moth at The Hope & Ruin, BrightonSupport: Grave Lines| NO:VA
February 7, 2018 at The Hope & Ruin, Brighton
Promoter: Metropolis Music
I’ve been to so many gigs in the last year that I’ve started to rely completely on Facebook Events for set times, so much so that most afternoons around 4 pm it becomes a candle to my moth. Generally, I’m flitting around the Zuckerberg flame while trying to look for a window in the train timetable that ensures, at the very least, that I’ll be at the venue in time for the main-support slot.
Today, I’m particularly anxious to get there by 7:30 to catch local heroes of Doom, Grave Lines. But when I get to the Hope, I am confronted instead with an unannounced extra support in the form of NO:VA, playing a sub-genre described as “Easy Core”. If that conjures up an image of the devil with his pipe and slippers listening to his James Last Plays The Beatles album, you’d not be far wrong. It’s a troubling combination of radio-edit melodic pop interspersed with Death growls that satisfies neither camp – Uneasy Core, you might say. This is a young band who have barely been together a year, and I would at least like to commend them for their energy and enthusiasm, if only it weren’t the problem: over earnestness in bands is never a good thing (it communicates fear to the audience) and less is usually more. They clearly have steep learning curve ahead of them, and I wish them well, but they are a curious choice to open an evening of Doom and Stoner, and at this period in their gestation this gig has simply come too soon for them.
Grave Lines haven’t been together long either, a mere two years, but bring with them considerable experience of established heavy bands, notably Sea Bastard and Landskap, as well as an extraordinary sense of character. They’re a pretty disparate bunch: a tattooed ghost Viking, a (Nick) Cave Bear, a Middle-Earth pirate and a Casual Nun, all them staying true to themselves yet somehow meshing together in an incredible doom noise, full of sound and fury, signifying everything.
And while others have described their music as bleak and nihilistic, what strikes me on seeing them for the first time is the irresistible somnambulant sensuality. . . a slow-burning sexual taper, heightened by charismatic front man Jake Harding (the only guy since Bruce Willis to successfully sport the torn white-vest look) switching between a Nick Cave-profile rock-snarl and a dark bear-growl that resists the death-rattle cliché. It’s a mesmeric performance underscored by some delightful individual touches from Oliver (Irongiant) Hill and Julia Owen, including a generous pinch of serious heavy-rock seasoning in some of the chord sequences and Julia’s attack on the ride cymbal.
And there’s a wonderful dynamic to the order of the set, auguring well for new album Fed Into The Nihilist Engine from which most of tonight is taken, including an unexpected ambient number in which Julia drops sticks and comes to the front in a moment of doomy choral beauty.
It’s moments like this, and Grave Lines’ unique sound, that convince you this is a special band capable of reinvigorating the Doom genre. With the launch of the new album on a heavyweight label in May, they have an exciting 2018 ahead of them – one that will surely liberate them from playing plot-sized burial chambers to the more cavernous spaces they’re clearly worthy of.
Taking the stage in a wide formation, with the guitarists out so far on the wings they’re shading the touchline, Black Moth quickly dispel any thoughts that the first night of the tour might be a toe-dipping exercise for their new album, launching full tilt into ‘Istra’ and ‘Moonbow’ before treating us to six further tracks from Anatomical Venus. Like Grave Lines before them, this band smoulders with intent, the difference being that they can go from glowing embers to full-blown, headboard-tilting 4 am crazy encore-sex (and back again) in the space of one song. Riff after irresistible riff give this band the sort of raunchy rawness that has been The Dead Weather’s stock in trade for so long. And though her voice is sitting a little too low in the mix, this evening, Harriet Hyde has that Alison Mosshart wild-child vocal delivery that can score carpet burns on your knees.
Now, were it not for the fact that a couple were seen making out during their London show, the night after, I might have been rather more ashamed to say all this than I actually am, especially as going on up top, as ‘twere, are some of the most forcefully intelligent lyrics you’ll hear in rock all year – characterising femininity in its many forms, and campaigning against prejudice and discrimination through a conceptual collection of songs anticipating many of the events in our post-Weinstein world, but which eerily pre-date them by almost 12 months.
‘Sisters of the Stone’ for example is a clearly a #timesup call to arms: “We’ll annihilate dishonest words / Justice is the feast we desire.” While #metoo clearly resonates around the spookiness of both ‘Severed Grace’ and ‘Screen Queen’: the former depicting the extraordinary Anatomical Venus dolls that became fetishistic objects of desire for morbid Victorian medics; the latter portraying what might be considered a contemporary equivalent of sorts – the life of a webcam girl.
Heavy thoughts, then, to go with heavy music, but it’s a juxtaposition that works brilliantly. In short, Black Moth have never sounded so good or spoken out so incisively. Anatomical Venus is undoubtedly their career-defining moment, and all the hard work that has gone into it in the studio is paying dividends for them in front of an audience.
And when it comes to that live sound, do not underestimate the injection of rocket fuel that newbie Frederica Gialanze brings to the guitar. Standing a little too askew from the band, she quickly overcomes a dodgy cable to produce another dazzling performance, moving with ease from Iommi-style Doom to Gary Moore virtuosity and everything in between. But the standout moments of the evening prove to be when she ventures across the stage for some Thin Lizzy-style duetting with Jim Swainston. It’s simply sublime and leaves me hoping that the two of them will eventually play side-by-side for the duration, just as Gorham and Robertson did in the greatest Lizzy line-up.
This then has been a performance of supremely intelligent heavy rock music that is an inspiration. In an industry still blighted by discrimination, abuse and NDAs, Black Moth’s pansexuality – feminine sensitivity in perfect harmony with masculine grit and determination (due in no small part to Dave Vachon’s gravel-shovelling bass work) – should give us all cause to hope for the future of heavy music. One day, all rock bands will be like this.
In the meantime, though, Black Moth have quite a year ahead of them. After some inordinate delays, Anatomical Venus is finally released on March 2, just in time for International Women’s Day. And in a moment of supreme irony, which I quite expect to be lost on that (predominately) male bastion of commercial radio, one of the Smashies and Niceys at Planet Rock will undoubtedly devour the album and give it some serious air play.
And then there’s Desertfest, where the somewhat lowly billing of a late-afternoon slot at the Underworld should surely be jacked up to a main support that fairly reflects the buzz surrounding the band come May. And of course, I hope to see them again Brighton before the year is out where, on their return, I feel certain they will no longer be playing to 150 people in a pub, but rather to 1,000 at Concorde 2.
Make no mistake, this Black Moth has done its time flitting around the candle. From now on, the candle is coming to them. . . only it’s not a candle any more – it’s a bloody great beacon.