By Karum Cooper
Arcane Roots are on fire. Their new album is blisteringly good (read the review here) and the band remain in my top 20 UK Alt Rock bands (EVER). Obviously when they announce tour dates that pass through my ends I’m going to jump on the opportunity. This is the first time seeing these guys since Reading Festival last year – I was oh so very excited!
Upon Gold Key taking to the stage, I was met with a wall of sound. Thick, reverberated, ambient and layered guitar effects was all anyone could hear. There were subtle backing track/synthesized ‘blips’ poking their way out through the curtain of noise coming from on stage – this took the edge off some of the harsh feedback and reminded me that this show was not just your average rock show, this was going to be something special.
Gold Key erupted with an infectious and stomping groove courtesy of bassist James Leech (of UK prog metallers Sikth), what was nice to hear was the sense of harmony & melody supplied by Leech and Steve Sears (vocals & guitar) that so gently and effortlessly sat on top of this superbly metrical bass/drum groove. Jack Kenny (Nervus/Blackhole) was behind the kit and provided an exceptional backbone to the band’s set – without overplaying or underplaying, driving the groove home. Featuring just the perfect amount of odd time to tease the crowd, and a phenomenal sense of melody, Gold Key surprised me with only 1.3k facebook likes!
It was very clear that these guys were DEFINITELY choice of Arcane Roots themselves based off their current musical tastes, I could hear so much Radiohead/Pink Floyd/Muse influence throughout Gold Key’s set – the former 2 of the 3 bands were very clearly the benchmark bands from which the inspiration for ‘Melancholia Hymns’ was taken.
It was with such sadness that I found out main supports Good Tiger were no longer playing as they’re currently one of my very favourite UK bands but nonetheless the suspense was real! The room was packed. Every single person’s face was filled with a childlike anticipation.
In a very similar vein to that of Gold Key, Arcane Roots walked out onstage to a chorus of ambient guitar sounds, feedback and synthesized/backing track wizardry. This time, however, on an entirely different level. The wall of sound was so thick I felt like I could touch it. Like I was floating in a thick, viscous and ebullient sonic bath. The live mix was so loud I could feel it in my chest. Despite this, it was crystal clear and I could hear every nuance & sonic layer (more on that later). The aforementioned thick audio wall quickly deteriorated and Andrew Grove took to stage to sit behind a real (yes, real and analogue!) synthesizer – as the intro to ‘Before Me’ emerged from the sonic fog and things got very real very quickly.
It was really refreshing (and somewhat surprising) to see that all electronic/synthesizer parts audible on ‘Melancholia Hymns’ were replicated live and played by the band members themselves with very subtle backing track ambience poking through the mix. Bassist Adam Burton also had an arsenal of slightly smaller modular synths which created the most incredible ambient layers. As arguably one of the most dynamic/versatile song in AR’s set – it was a perfect example of how incredible the band’s front of house mix was (assuming they have their own engineer to thank for this) – from electronic to the harder hitting riffs – every single sound was crisp and clear and hit me straight in the chest.
Having read some questionable reviews regarding Arcane Roots inability to serve justice to their newer material at a live show – I was somewhat skeptical to hear the new record played at The Fleece. But ‘Roots played a lot of material from the latest release at this show; and they couldn’t have given any more. Andrew Grove’s voice was absolutely exceptional. With very few pitching/articulation problems, Grove transitioned from beautifully serene falsetto clean vocals to some of the most spine chillingly vehement harsh vocals I have hear in a long time (even whilst playing some astonishingly complex guitar parts). When taking into account the month or so of touring UK and Europe prior to this gig, Andrew has done exceptionally well to preserve his voice to the level where he can give an unadulterated, identical to the record vocal performance every night. This just goes to prove the pure, accomplished musicianship on display within this band. The sense of melody was vivid and scintillating and harmonic/textural sense was also proficient.
I’m a firm believer in the whole “You can’t judge a band until you’ve seen them live”. Arcane Roots cemented by belief in this notion. Although I have witnessed the band play live before; a sweaty festival set on the Saturday of Reading Festival when I was dehydrated, drunk and definitely more interested in catching numerous other bands playing the festival did not cause my opinion to sway as much as it did last sunday. This gig is secure in being in my top 20 live shows witnessed ever (and I’ve seen about 8 of my all time favourite bands). I think ‘Melancholia Hymns’ is a phenomenal piece of work, but I wasn’t entirely sold on Arcane Roots as such an astounding and vital part of the live UK rock scene until now.
The band are quite obviously veterans of their craft – these guys put on a stadium caliber performance in a 450 cap venue and clearly have been doing this night in and night out for the month or so they’ve been on tour. No doubt with such a blistering live show and such meticulously thought provoking recorded material, it’ll be a minimum of three years before the band are putting on stadium caliber performances in actual stadiums.