Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN - 13/3
support Agent Fresco + VOLA
author LF date 27/10/16 venue Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN
Progressive metal and rock have been some of my favorite genres for years and thus there was no chance I would miss tonight’s strong line-up even though I am a relatively new Katatonia-fan. Both VOLA and Agent Fresco are bands I have seen before and been impressed by so I have high expectations as I make my way to Pumpehuset. Katatonia's newest albums have likewise been in steady rotation on my stereo recently and I am excited to see if the songs can carry through live as well as this is my first time seeing the band.
I have seen VOLA play in smaller venues before and it has been good and intense but I am happy to hear their potent songs played in a room that really has space for them. They play songs from their recent album "Inmazes" and while they clearly have some longtime fans headbanging with them up front, they do the rest of the audience the nice courtesy of presenting every song by name - embracing their role as one of the lesser known bands on the bill. Clearly thrilled to be on this tour, the band members are all smiles in between songs and they definitely have reason to be happy, as their strong material seems to convince most of the already filled venue of its quality. The offbeat "The Same War" opens the set and later on especially the electronic rave-like parts of "Your Mind Is A Helpless Dreamer" and the beautiful "Stray The Skies" make good impressions. Their set is a good length but the sound mix seems to favor the drums a little too much – a recurring problem through the evening. Especially during the breakdown parts of the songs, VOLA's sound gets very flat and the guitar drowns. On the positive side, the high notes sung by their backing vocalist/bassist really hit the spot and add a nice texture throughout.
Agent Fresco is lucky to be the band with the best sound tonight and they also play longer than VOLA. In my experience, their complex compositions and melodies are hard to take in, especially when hearing them for the first time, and this is also the reason I haven't yet really taken the time to get to know their music outside of live experiences - something I definitely hope to amend soon. Never disappointing, the band gives us an emotional set tonight, featuring not least "Dark Water" and "Pyre" that are some of the best songs I've heard in a long time overall. Their songs move with such smoothness from delicate falsetto-singing and piano-pieces to entirely devastating, heavy riffs even featuring some growling or screaming from time to time and it's hard to imagine anyone present not being taken aback by that alone. Frontman Arnór Dan Arnarson admits his nervousness to us shortly into the set, caused by several of his family members being present in the crowd, but it seems that this only makes him and everyone else in the band push themselves as much as they can to deliver the best possible versions of their spectacular songs. Little details like the guitarist taking on a helping role for the drummer and stopping the cymbals meticulously from ringing for too long, or how Arnarson makes fluttering effects on his vocals by simply moving the microphone back and forth in a calculated manner in front of his mouth gives their performance an organic feel even though at the same time they're also a band who rely on their backtrack to support their layered songs, obviously. Towards the end of the set, Arnarson mentions how "Eyes of a Cloud Catcher" was written about the moment he and his siblings present here tonight lost their father to cancer, and he channels those emotions beautifully into the song. The touching chorus is later sung acoustically and with the spontaneous help of the audience up front, and Arnarson jumps down amongst us to hug some familiar faces. Their set is a little long for a support slot but as they end up making the best impression out of the three band's tonight, I have absolutely no problem with that.
When I say that Agent Fresco plays the best set of the evening, Katatonia mostly loses out because of a sound balance that is weird and muffled, especially - as with VOLA earlier - when considering the drums. As soon as they take the stage, it is otherwise evident that this is a band on another scale than the previous two. I recently reviewed their latest album "The Fall of Hearts", and am happy to hear them begin with the enjoyable "Last Song Before the Fade" from that album. Their bleak sound seaps into the room but their songs also get an added heavy quality from being played loud and live, and many of them feel more energetic tonight than I am used to. Soon we also get a nice rendition of the electronically dominated single "Serein", featuring some really nice guitar work, as well as "Dead Letters" from "Dead End Kings" - the only other album by them I know reasonably well.
Lead singer Jonas Renkse sings steadily and on point throughout the set, and one good thing about the mix is the way his voice is balanced with the sometime sudden changes in volume between quiet and heavier parts. He is almost always hidden behind his long, black hair - a trademark look for the band I am told - but his face peeks out later in the set, to the joy of the fans in the front. My favorite from the latest album, "Serac", falls a little flat because of the sound problem which is of course a huge shame. With the appearance of "Saw You Drown" about midways in the set, I begin to get a little bored as well because of the entirely excessive repetition in it. Even though "The Night Subscriber" makes a nice impression later on as well as of course the fabulous "Old Heart Falls", which receives widespread clapping and singalongs, their set never really reaches a high for me. They do come back for a cool encore though which features "My Twin" and "July", marking a set with a big selection of songs from "The Great Cold Distance". In between the two, we get a great version of "Lethean" with an added guitar solo - an element that is otherwise not so present in the band's music. Still, overall the sound comes in the way of a band whose songs I am sure could otherwise provide for a magical evening.