Before we begn, allow me to insert the customary disclaimer. I don't do metal. And yet, here I am at an unequivocally metal gig, ready to headbang with the best of 'em. Well, actually, I doubt if I'll be going quite that far. As it happens, I'm only here for one band. All due respect to the others on the bill, but it's the prospect of catching Maleficent in full effect that has dragged me, kicking and screaming (well, cynically scowling, at any rate) into the metal zone tonight.
Maleficent are different from the usual hairy-arsed riff 'n' grunt merchants that populate the blasted wastelands of the metal scene. In fact, Maleficent could be just as accurately described as a surrealist performance art troupe as much as a band, and if at times it's difficult to work out just what their performances are all about (Death? Resurrection? Blood, guts, glamour? How to make clothes from net curtains?) that, I suppose, is all part of the concept. The band throws imagery and antics out from the stage: make of it what you will. The music is brutally punchy, heavily rhythmic, and dominated by vast, shuddering slabs of guitar. Odd fragments of programmed electronics poke in and out, and while the vocals more or less stick to the standard metal-band 'Huuurrggh!' sound (not by any means my favourite vocal style, and one of the principal reasons why I usually steer clear of the metal zone) in the context of the Maleficent's overall rolling thunder, it works. But rock 'n' roll, ladies and gentlemen, is an audio-visual art form. And this is where Maleficent get interesting.
The musicians of the band maintain an aloof presence towards the extremities of the stage. Doctor M Sickx, on bass, hidden behind a mask and costumed like a surreal schoolboy, reminds me of a rock 'n' roll Jimmy Krankie. This, notwithstanding all the blood, guts, and freaking of the performance, is the most genuinely disturbing thing about Maleficent. But it's in the middle of the stage - indeed, in the middle of the band - where the performance really happens. Here, front-duo Mortimer Cain (suit, pointy beard, manic gleam in eyes) and Maleficent Martini (frothy white dress, eyelashes out to here, ballet moves and bedlam) act out a nightmare pantomime involving death and dancing, glitz and doom. The stuff of everyday life, then. It's effective and slightly scary - although we know they're just acting, the bit where Mortimer strangles Martini and hurls her to the stage makes the audience shift uneasily and exchange glances, as if seeking reassurance that this is all an act, right? Fortunately, Martini rises from the dead after being sprinkled with green glitter (powerful stuff, that green glitter, you know) and the show lurches ever onwards, a kind of unholy collision between David Bowie's glam-rock nightmares circa Diamond Dogs, and a surrealist rock 'n' roll fantasy co-scripted by Edgar Allan Poe and Dario Argento. And, naturally, always soundtracked by that relentless brute-metal rumble - although Maleficent's cover of Nick Cave's 'The Wild Rover' (every line of the lyric acted out in a flurry of rose petals) indicates the band have more influences than just regular metalnoize. In fact, Maleficent could probably expand their appeal way beyond the metalhead contingent if they backed off the 'Huuurrgghh!' stuff and went slightly more in the direction of vintage Nick Cave: tall tales set to mutant blues riffs. As it is, Maleficent's combination of theatrical spectacle and bulldozer noise works rather well - certainly well enough to haul me out of my usual haunts, and get me to a metal gig. And I don't do metal!
For more photos from this gig, find Maleficent by name here.