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Theatres Des Vampires
All Living Fear
Underworld, LondonMaleficent
Saturday May 27 2006


Tonight we have a goth gig, of sorts, up at the Underworld. That's not a particularly startling state of affairs, of course. The Underworld quite frequently hosts goth gigs, of sorts.

However, this one's a bit unusual in that it mixes up everything from vampire-metal to good ol' gothic rockin' - but then, I dare say the subtle differences between the sub-scenes which lurk under the gothic umbrella are only of interest to the most esoteric social anthropologists. Most of tonight's crowd just want the guitars turned up good and loud.

First, we have Maleficent, who certainly oblige in the guitar department. Imagine, if you will, a spook-metal version of Queen Adreena. Lots of theatrics, lots of flouncing about, to a deafening neo-metal soundtrack with rasped-out vocals. By and large, Maleficent go 'Huuuurrrggghh!', and while a little of that kind of noise goes a long way with me, I have to admit that the band do it with style.

The singer, her dreadlocks flying and her supersized false eyelashes flapping, stalks and flounces around the stage as if acting out the more lurid scenes from Dante's Inferno. There are episodes of staged confrontation with other members of the band, and although you know it's all an act, there are nevertheless a few moments when the grabbing and snarling looks worryingly real. Then the metalnoize cranks up again, and we're back in the relative safety of the rock zone once more. Verdict? Great theatrics, punishing racket.

Here come All Living Fear, a familiar name from the 90s British goth scene, now making a comeback after a slight vacation in the Where Are They Now file. 'We haven't played this venue for nine years,' remarks guitarist Matt North, to puzzled looks from the teenage vampire metal fans in the front row. To the younger element of tonight's crowd, nine years ago is ancient history. For them, All Living Fear's All Living Feartake on the traditional 90s Brit-goth sound - essentially, four-square Sisters-esque rockin' to a drum machine beat - is a cool new thing.

Always regarded as diligent craftsmen rather than wild-eyed mavericks, All Living Fear still have something to prove. While contemporaries such as Manuskript and the Dream Disciples scrabbled up to headline status at venues like the Underworld, and topped festivals such as the Whitby Gothic Weekend, All Living Fear never quite made it beyond the 'useful support band' level first time round. Maybe a new young audience for whom their sound is very fresh will help them get there this time.

For the old schoolers, it's greatest hits a-go-go. The old songs are rolled out with vintage aplomb. 'Crimson' is a nostalgic anthem - this was a Slimelight dancefloor hit in its day, believe it or not. The rocking groove and conversational vocal of 'Stranger To None' comes over well, the punchy soundmix helping the guitar to power the song along. The audience gets into it, youngsters and oldsters alike, and that neatly illustrates All Living Fear's secret superpower: now, as then, they can always get an audience on its feet.

D.U.S.T.D.U.S.T. are also making a bit of a comeback, although after a rather less extensive hiatus. There's a new guitarist in the band, too. Ben, ex-of Earth Loop Recall, has been, erm, recalled for plank-spanking duties, and the prospect of D.U.S.T.'s trademark in-yer-faceness with an added dose of ELR-style wall of guitar is decidedly enticing.

The band give it their best shot, a big bad blast right from the get-go, which was always the D.U.S.T. modus operandi. They obviously haven't gone easy listening during their downtime. Ben fixes the audience with a fuck-you glare and lays some fuck-you riffs on us, while Mikey, on vocals, hollers mightily and throws an impressive array of manic shapes. The entire set seems to be a run-up to the climax, which turns out to be an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink rendition of what, I suppose, now counts as a classic of yesteryear - 'From The Sublime To The Obscene', all its aggro intact, and definitely still kicking.

Well, that was certainly powerful enough for the teenage vampire metal fans down the front. A bit of a crossover probably just happened there, which isn't a bad result in itself. Yep, it's good to have the band back among us. I suspect things will get rather noisy from this point forward.

Theatres Des VampiresThe prospect of catching a Theatres Des Vampires set does not, I must admit, fill me with joy. I've seen them before, back when they were fronted by a male singer who sported a rather unfortunate moustache which made him look like a certain much loved British TV sports presenter - which inspired DJ Martin Oldgoth to nickname the band 'Theatre Des Lynam'.

Then, they played a set of standard, everyone-is-doing-it huurrgghh-metal, with some interludes of clunky, hammed up I-vant-to-drink-your-blood play acting thrown in. I thought they were blimmin' awful.

Fortunately, things are different now. The band has reorganised itself, stripped itself down to the essential stuff. Des Lynam has gone. Theatres Des Vampires is now fronted by an assertive young lady in no-shit shoes and minimal PVC (the 'stripped down' policy also applies to the stage outfits, obviously), who in the band's previous incarnation only had a walk on part as a kind of handmaiden/backing singer. She struts so confidently in her new role it's almost unbelievable that she wasn't given the lead vocal position in the earlier line-up.

As the band slams into the set it's immediately clear that the extended interludes of play-acting have also been binned in favour of a baggage-free rock workout. The music has been polished up to almost Hanoi Rocks-levels of swaggering catchiness. Oh, and all those 'Huuurrrggghh!'-style vocals, which always set my teeth on edge, have gone, too, replaced by Ms. Vampire's hellcat wail.

It seems a certain measure of vamp schtick still remains in the lyrics, which seem to cover all the usual souls-in-torment bases, but the revamped Theatres Des Vampires are a far more palatable proposition than they used to be. There's humour, too - the singer snaps a pair of handcuffs on a willing volunteer down the front (which probably fulfills any number of his private fantasies in one fell swoop) and then, when he holds out his hands to be released, she simply grins. 'The key? No, I don't have the key!'

Theatres Des VampiresA little bit of the band's old theatricality makes a comeback with a swift book-burning session, but it doesn't interrupt the flow of the pounding rock monster that is the new, improved Theatres Des Vampires. The band have obviously sussed that locking it down and keeping it coming is the key to success, even if it's not the key to the handcuffs.

In their lead singer they have a genuine star. I find myself unexpectedly impressed by this lot. I can't see myself rushing out and buying lots of Theatres Des Vampires albums, mind, because when all's said and done I Don't Do Metal. But next time the Vamps take a swing through London, I reckon I might just turn up to the gig, because here's a band that knows how to rock it up on stage, with a feisty frontwoman who certainly knows how to handle a show.

That's impressive in itself, but the way the band have progressed from their earlier naffess to their present lean, mean, glam-metal-noir incarnation is an unexpected bonus. Three costume changes, too - now that's showbiz!


Essential links:

Theatres Des Vampires: Website | MySpace

D.U.S.T.: Website | MySpace

All Living Fear: Website | MySpace

Maleficent: Website | MySpace

For more photos from this gig, find the bands by name here.

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  Page credits: Review, photos and construction by Michael Johnson.
Nemesis logo by Antony Johnston, Red N version by Mark Rimmell.