Devin Townsend Project

support Between The Buried And Me + Leprous
author AP date 05/03/17 venue Amager Bio, Copenhagen, DEN

The third instalment in my two weeks of intensive gig attendance brought a mouthwatering prog-package to Amager Bio on the oft-berated ’s**t island’ of Copenhagen. It was not a bill that had gone unnoticed, either — as I arrive, just in time to catch Leprous letting loose their first notes, the venue is already brimming with thoughtful looking professors of prog and must be approaching its maximum capacity of 1,000 patrons. The turnout is unusually strong for a Sunday night but on the other hand, it also conforms to the growing trend of Copenhageners showing up to metal shows in throngs that regular attendees such as myself will have noticed over the past one or two years. Or perhaps it is simply that the city’s bookers have grown increasingly apt at bringing the most attractive artists the genre has to offer here?

All photos courtesy of Lykke Nielsen

Leprous

Leprous, from the Norwegian town of Notodden, has long featured on my bucket list, having been exposed to the group’s prowess through Ihsahn, who not only utilised them as his live band from 2010 to 2014, but also continues to invite selected members of the outfit to contribute to his records via guest appearances. Leprous essentially represents all that is quintessential in prog — the music is difficult to digest at first, thanks to Einar Solberg’s distinctive voice and the jarring staccato rhythms that many of their songs are built upon, and there is a cool poise and elegance about them that you could be forgiven for taking as arrogance. With the exception of Baard Kolstad’s dizzying performance on the drums, it almost feels like the five musicians strive to look as mysterious and distant as possible, hidden away by the dim, moody lighting.

Leprous should thus consider themselves fortunate that the engineer-on-duty has blessed them with a high volume setting and an immaculate sound mix, which brings out the low end and loads the likes of “Third Law” and “The Price” with a power and punch that you just do not experience when listening to the band’s music on record. And this happens without compromising any of Solberg’s delicate falsetto or soaring tenor, nor any of his synthesised keys or the melodic notes dripping from Tor Oddmund Suhrke & Øystein Landsverk’s 8-string guitars amidst the rumble. As a result, they manage to deliver songs such as “Rewind” through renditions that sound as gorgeous as they are hard-hitting, spellbinding the audience (well, me at the very least!) with a tightly controlled half-hour that leaves you thirsting for more.

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Between The Buried And Me

Admittedly, this is one of those line-ups in which it is not the headliner but rather the special guest that decides my attendance. Between the Buried and Me has been among my absolute favourite artists ever since they released “Alaska” in 2005 and with each successive step of their evolution, my infatuation with them has grown more relentless. And this is not a symptom of mere fanboy-ism; even an objective listener would find it hard to dispute that BTBAM has developed into one of the most crucial pillars of modern progressive metal, never ceasing to push the envelope and produce the unexpected, as their latest opus “Coma Ecliptic” so vociferously proved. Live, too, the five musicians play like a single, superhuman organism and leave most of their peers coughing in the dust — albeit that they have often, regrettably, settled for rehashing a tried and tested setlist and skipped their quirkiest and most intriguing cuts.

But for this tour, BTBAM appears to have felt the necessity of changing that; out of the six tracks aired tonight, only the staple “Lay Your Ghosts to Rest” have I experienced in-concert more than twice — and three of them never before. It seems like the five musicians are themselves re-energised by not having to indulge in the 13-14 minutes of wizardry that the likes of “Ants of the Sky” and “White Walls” demand (brilliant though those songs are), looking to be in high spirits and mentally tuned to woo us all with more peculiar choices such as “Fossil Genera - A Feed from Cloud Mountain”, “Bloom” and “Life in Velvet”. And the constant forays into soft ‘Floyd, free jazz, lounge music, foxtrot and even humppa that distinguish those picks appear to have the desired effect: the crowd’s unanimous reaction seems to be a look of perplexity, wonderment and roaring approval. If you ask me, this is among the best BTBAM have ever been live, and the only gripes that one could possibly have are the low presence of Tommy Rogers’ vocals in the mix and that, with their newfound affection for the less obvious elements of their repertoire, this is not a longer, headlining concert.

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Devin Townsend Project

As a disclaimer, it should be noted that prior to tonight, I have very little actual knowledge about Devin Townsend’s discography, having always been discouraged by the many inroads that the Canadian madman makes to symphonic (and power?) metal in his compositions. But although the proceedings tonight, my first time seeing the Devin Townsend Project live, does nothing to rewire my musical tastebuds, even the most cantankerous skeptic would be hard pressed to suggest that Mr. Townsend and his cohorts do not constitute an entertaining live act. The grandiose and rather classic style of Townsend’s music seldom manages to intrigue me, but the band plays with artisanal perfectionism and has the kind of production that leaves nothing to be questioned in terms of their musicianship. Whether it is the ‘djent’-y coloration of “Failure” or “Planet of the Apes” (”the wanking prog-metal part of the show,” according to Townsend) or the ‘80s balladry of “Where We Belong” (a style of music that is ”another way to achieve sexual copulation as a man,” he explains), the collective prowess of this band is never once in doubt.

And, as those bracketed excerpts prove, the show is laced with humour; riddled with conscious heavy metal clichés (”the most fundamental part of the show,” apparently, if Townsend’s words before “Ziltoid Goes Home” are to be believed) and comical face expressions, and interspersed by jokes that seem to grow nerdier and more outrageous every time. Often the comedy bleeds into the songs, too, and indeed as something of a surprise, the most impressive moment arrives with Townsend solo acoustic piece, “Ih-Ah!”, which draws a thick line under his capabilities as a singer, disintegrates into a number of quirky remarks and has the audience crying ”ih-ah!” in loud unison. It serves as a subdued, yet irresistibly emotive climax that even the final crowd-pleaser, “Higher”, cannot supersede. The flair and energy of the ‘Townsend Project nonetheless manages to render my personal feelings toward the music moot, and who knows? Perhaps they have a new regular face at their future concerts in me.

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Setlist:

  • 01. Rejoice
  • 02. Night
  • 03. Stormbending
  • 04. Failure
  • 05. Where We Belong
  • 06. Planet of the Apes
  • 07. Ziltoid Goes Home
  • 08. Suicide
  • 09. Supercrush!
  • 10. March of the Poozers
  • 11. Kingdom

— Encore —

  • 12. Ih-Ah!
  • 13. Higher

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