Saturday night in one of London's best known rock venues, and a bill which features an up and coming act from the French metal scene, plus a legendary band from the golden age of goth. Should be a packed house, right? Surely we can expect an eager crossover crowd, ramming the place to the rafters?
Well, not exactly. The crowd tonight hovers around the 100 mark, and although the Underworld is not exactly the Enormodome it's impossible to disguise the fact that the venue is far from full. Eths must wonder what they've let themselves in for. This is the only UK date on their European tour, and right now they must be puzzling over what's happened to the legendary London rock scene.
At least half the reason for tonight's paltry turn-out is probably the simple fact that even the most eager metalheads will be reluctant to take a chance on a band they don't know. Eths are very new to the UK, but they've got the chops to make a mark. Taut, economical riff-heavy rock is their thing. No guitar solos, no messing about. Two guitarists and a bassist slice chunks of hefty metalnoize into precision-crafted blocks of sound, while indulging in some equally precision-crafted formation headbanging. It's corny in a way, but what the hell. A bit of showbiz sugar helps the metal medicine go down.
The Eths riff machine is fronted by an energetic female vocalist, who hurls herself about the stage in a controlled (everything about Eths is controlled) frenzy. She lets rip with a vocal that defaults far too frequently to the standard 'Hoooaaarrgghh!' noise for my taste, but these days your band just doesn't cut it with the rawk kidz unless your vocalist makes that kind of formless noise.
In short, Eths have all that it takes to make it in the metal market. They've got the essential no-shit racket nailed, while the band's vocalist throwing shapes and striking poses with a manic determination that never quite gets goofball makes the band as entertainingly accessible as a heavy metal Birthday Massacre. Now all they need is an audience.
And here's the other half of the reason tonight's gig is somewhat under-attended - Christian Death. Old goths with long memories might recall that back in 1989 Christian Death headlined the Astoria, a London theatre venue traditionally regarded as the place bands play when a big-time breakthrough is iminent. Alas, the breakthrough never quite arrived for Christian Death, and the band's brief late-eighties heyday is now long in the past.
As Christian Death veered increasingly towards the metal zone through the 90s, their original audience of first-wave goths dropped away, but was not significantly replenished by a new contingent of metal fans. And now, here we are, in the Underworld in the twenty-first century, wondering where everyone's got to.
Perhaps Christian Death's frontman and main man Valor has realised that the reincarnation of the band as warriors of the metal apocalypse wasn't exactly the greatest idea he ever had. At any rate, tonight Christian Death unveil a distinctly de-metallised sound that has much more to do with their 80s post-punk roots than the latter-day metal makeover.
Sparse and rhythmic, with the bump 'n' grind of Maitri's bass well to the fore and Steve Williams keeping the guitar on a short leash, this is a Christian Death stripped down to the punker essentials. Valor's vocals are terse and dryly economical; when Maitri takes over, Christian Death suddenly sound more like vintage female-fronted punk acts such as Penetration than anything gothy or metallic. 'Narcissus Metamorphosis' is a ramshackle stomp-along - significantly, it's a new song that sounds distinctly old-skool - while the late eighties hit 'Church Of No Return' isn't so much a looming, dramatic, gothic cathedral as a corrugated iron chapel rattling in the new wave wind.
'Five hundred milliseconds!' hollers Valor suddenly, in his most melodramatic utterance of the night. Is this the title of a new song? Nope, he's just telling the sound engineer how much delay he wants on the vocal for 'This Is Heresy' - and yet even with this suitably sepulchral treatment the song is still dominated by Matri's take-no-shit rumbling bassline, as if she's tapping into her inner Jah Wobble. Yes, we're quite a way from the heavy metal zone tonight.
So, Christian Death as born-again post-punkers? Assuming that the shift in sound and style we've heard tonight is deliberate, and not just an accidental quirk of the present line-up or tonight's soundmix, it's a move that makes some sort of sense. Valor's attempt to storm the citadels of heavy metal clearly never really worked, while the band does have a genuine claim to the new wave wastelands.
is it all a bit too late for Christian Death? If the band is indeed
making some sort of stylistic move, does anyone care enough to join
them on the journey? The score on the door tonight tells its own story.
The Church Of No Return is looking very much like the church of diminishing
returns these days.
For more photos from this gig, find the bands by name here.