Beastwars/ Spook The Horses/ Robin—Live! SFBH, Wellington, NZ, 23 March 2012.

Beastwars Mar 26, 2012

Friday’s album fundraiser for Wellington’s Beastwars was a hugely emotive evening, with three excellent acts serving up hefty rock and metal to a legion of devoted followers. Beastwars are worshipped round this neck of the woods, and rightly so. They appreciate the fact that their loyal fans’ steadfast support set the groundwork for their national and now international success (the band’s done very well since the European release of their debut recently). As they’re soon to enter the studio to record their sophomore album, the evening presented a fine opportunity to run through some new material and reward the faithful.

You know you’re in for a great night when the venue is packed before the opening act plays a note. First on the bill for the sold-out show was instrumental post-rock outfit Robin. Comprising two sisters, Katie and Jem Chur, this Palmerston North duo pulled tracks from two EPs: *Away from the Forest, Out to the Sea *and Always Different (both available for free from the band’s Bandcamp page). The last time I saw Robin, opening for Beastwars that time as well, they seemed somewhat nervous. But tonight, they breezed through their set sounding great. Though only a two-piece, they wrenched a big sound from the drums and guitar, with flecks of doomy chamber drone, sludge, shoegaze and an almost Earth-like finish to their songs. The crowd lapped it up. Plenty of cheers and aroha greeted the band throughout their set, and a more self-confident performance from Robin set the evening off to a great start.

Up next were Wellington’s heaving post-metal five-piece Spook the Horses. Their self-released debut, Brighter, was greeted with universal praise upon release in December ’11, and quickly sold out its first run. There’s no doubt it’s a magnificent album, but this was my first time seeing the band live, and I was unsure how their intricate, often subtle songs would transfer to the live setting. Turns out I needn’t have worried.

From the second the band leant into the churning riffs of the opening track, “Paper Harbours, Hanging Skies”, it was apparent there’d be no issues transferring all that nuance, technicality and emotionality onto the stage. Frontman Callum Gay roared his way though tracks with all the vigor of ISIS’s Aaron Turner, while the band, draped over their instruments, worked though a raft of epic suites, shifting from the dense and textural to spacious and light with abundant self-assurance.

“My Memories Will Be of Muted Greys” and mammoth finale “My Photographs Will Be of Skylines” both proved to be exceptional tracks in the live environment. With Callum, Ben Dentice and Donnie Cuzens making up the band’s three-guitar lineup, it was an overload of Cult of Luna might, with plenty of Jakob-like dexterity. The crowd roared their approval throughout, and special mention has to go to bassist Alex Ross and drummer Zach Meech, who provided a perfectly weighted backline for the rest of the band to work off. A spectacularly affecting set, sealing their reputation—leaving the crowd and myself suitably awed.

And then they took the stage—hometown heroes Beastwars. Here to celebrate their impending studio time, and to give fans a peek into the new material they’ve brewed up. While the band has a sterling live reputation already, it was obvious we were in for something special when frontman Matt Hyde was tilting menacingly over us, hanging onto the roof halfway through the first song, and was then carried atop the crowd during the second tune.

The band’s new songs were scattered throughout the set, melding seamlessly with their established material—the segue from new track “Tower of Skulls” into the rousing “Call Out the Dead” was certainly a sight (and sound) to behold. The newer tracks seemed doomier and dirgier and more wretchedly atmospheric. We’ll need to wait for the new album to decide whether they are ultimately heavier, because everything on the night was monolithically crushing. While gigs in which bands showcase new material are often subdued affairs, in this case there was none of that hesitancy on display from either the band or the crowd.

Whether playing new songs or older favorites, the band put on an energetic and stirring performance. Clayton Anderson bent those strings on his wonderfully distorting guitar throughout, James Woods laid into his bass, and Nato pounded the drums ferociously. While Matt, of course, stared down from his fervent pulpit, channeling the sonic onslaught with his flurried gestures. Beastwars always deliver on stage, and with their name being chanted between virtually every song, the crowd had a vital role in the night’s success. The admiration that flowed between the crowd and band made for a genuinely moving set as the group worked through familiar tracks like “Damn the Sky”, “Lake of Fire” and  “Empire” with blazing determination.

Beastwars once again reminded us of the transfixing and cathartic potential of forthright, honest metal. That interconnectedness between fans and the group highlights everything that is grand and (un)holy about Beastwars in the first place. We were all there, as one, following the band’s raison d’être to the letter—obeying the riff for all it’s worth.  Roll on album number two; we should do this again, real soon.

All photos courtesy of the enigmatic Greg Parsons.

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