Looking at the sparsely populated Brudenell tonight, you can’t help but feel a bit sorry for relatively little-known bands seeking to, ahem, rock out on a wet Monday night.
The fact that tonight’s turns have travelled here all the way from the northernmost edge of Europe doesn’t improve matters much, even if the light snowfall that coincides with the show’s end time might make them feel more at home.
Those who haven’t made the effort to be here are missing a considerably alluring double-bill of modern Nordic psychedelic rock.
Sweden’s New Keepers of the Water Towers open the proceedings with a well-received set that’s relentlessly heavy, but not in the Metal sense that automatically springs to mind when Scandinavian music is discussed. The five-piece specialise in monolithic, droning epics, with moments of (intentional?) comedy when one member sets out to tinkle tiny hand cymbals, the anaemic ringing of which seems ludicrously feeble next to the dense wall of sound cooked up elsewhere on the stage. The ensuing psych-rock barrage toys with losing sight of nuance at times, but the concluding percussive work-out proves the band are capable of conjuring a Swans-esque hypnosis you wish would go on for much longer than the song’s already extensive duration.
The phrase “I hope you like our new direction” might trigger mild panic in many music fans. In case of Hexvessel, there’s no need to worry. The Finnish band’s recent third album When We Are Death trims the prog-tinged sprawl of the self-styled Psychedelic Forest Folk outfit’s past output, with tracks like the gloomily pulsating Mirror Boy – enriched by keyboardist Kimmo Helén’s mournful trumpet – and muscularly swirling Teeth of the Mountain – catapulted by cape-wearing frontman Mat McNerney’s dramatic performance - revelling in a hitherto hidden talent for instantly infectious material. Elsewhere, Transparent Eyeball taps into Hexvessel’s old hard rock and prog influences but with a newfound sense of urgency that makes some of the older material on display tonight seem unnecessarily cluttered and heavyset.
Saving the best towards the end of the set, the genuinely moving Cosmic Truth – with hints of Midlake’s magnificent The Courage of Others – suggest the band are now in possession of material of such resonance that their days of playing for a handful of devotees deserve to be over soon. “That’s a classic!” one impressed audience-member yells at the song’s conclusion. He’s not exaggerating.