Truly great venues are hard to find. There are legendary venues; venues that, for nostalgic reasons, you forgive the fact that you stick to the floor form the moment you walk through the door and there are venues in which you can even forgive appalling live sound in exchange for atmosphere; but really great live venues are few and far between, which is why any excuse to head to the Nottingham Rescue rooms is such a pleasure. Small but, as the saying goes, perfectly formed, it is a venue which miraculously combines great sound with good lines of sight, a decent pub next door and a good atmosphere. Thus, when we discovered that the legendary Matt Pike would be playing there with his troops of doom (that’ll be High on fire then), there was never a question of not attending.
Hence, on a cold and rainy Saturday, we find ourselves at the Rescue Rooms witnessing not just High on Fire but three fantastic bands, two of which were hitherto unknown to us but which are very much on our list of bands to discover as a result of their excellent performances. That High on fire would provide any less than a night of memorable entertainment was never likely, but it’s rare that you get three bands of such power on one bill, and whilst the venue was shamefully empty at the outset, things soon warmed up as the evening progressed.
First on the bill were the mighty Jumping Jack. Hailing from Nantes, Jumping Jack are a monumental three-piece in the vein of HOF. Dealing in a powerful stoner groove, you can see why the band were picked for the opening slot and, despite being a three piece, their ability to fill the venue with a roaring, bass-laden sound is uncanny. Most notable are Julian’s vocals which attain Phil Anselmo-esque levels of tuneful intensity, whilst the band’s final song (sadly we don’t, as yet, have the name for it) strikes the perfect balance between Black Sabbath’s ‘Iron Man’ and Queens of the stone age’s ‘no-one knows’. You can find out more here: http://jumpingjack.bandcamp.com/ and there is no doubt that Jumping Jack are an act to watch closely.
Another impressively noisy three-piece, LizZard also hail from France, but here the similarities end, for lizZard deal in highly charged progressive rock which deftly falls between the complex dynamics of Tool and the stop/start riffing of helmet. Right from the opening track, ‘disintegrity’, the band impress with Katy Elwell’s dynamic drumming providing a thunderous backdrop for William Knox’s bowel-shaking bass and Mathieu Ricou’s tuneful vocals and guitar shredding. Clearly heavily involved in the music, all three band members lose themselves in the moment with the result that their set is a master-class in delivering tight as fuck, dynamic alt-rock with a strong melodic and progressive edge. As the second track of the night emerges from a haze of heavily processed guitar, the drums pour from the stage in a torrent of sound that is as sudden and brutal as a monsoon storm before William and Mathieu change gear and unleash a sonic shit-storm that bulldozes right through the senses. It’s not all sonic terrorism, however, the band offering complex changes and twists throughout their all-too-brief set, the concluding might of ‘twisted machine’ an inspired and inspiring set closer that sees the band rocking out as the stage becomes washed in blue light.
By the time Matt Pike and High on fire take the stage to the strains of ‘Screaming for vengeance’ (and at the stupidly early time of 9:30), the venue had filled appreciably. Launching straight into ‘Serums of Liao’, the track proves not just to be the perfect album opener, but the perfect set opener as well. Des Kensel is simply one of the best metal drummers on stage today, his work as recognisable as that of Dave Lombardo or Brann Dailor, and the wall of sound that emerges from him alone guarantees that the gig is liable to be one of the loudest you’ll ever hear (for us it was up there with Tool’s devastatingly loud ‘10,000 days’ show and Machine Head’s ‘burning Red’ tour). Indeed, so loud is the band that you find yourself pinching yourself and checking again to make sure that, yup, three people are making that almighty sound, the waves of guitar rolling from the stage like mini-tsunamis with the net result that the music, astonishingly, is even more powerful live than it is on record. With ‘serums of liao’ a visceral, thuggish battering of mastadon’s progressive work it takes a moment for the senses to clear enough for you to realise that HOF are leaner, tighter and just plain meaner than they’ve ever been before. Possessed, perhaps, by the ravenous wolf tattooed across Matt’s shirtless torso, the band deliver a performance that is the ultimate product of shock and awe mentality, the rampaging songs barely held in check by the seriously overworked PA, and a as a surging mosh-pit develops the whole venue threatens to implode under the assault. Highlights of the gig include a mesmerising ’10,000’ years, but it is the brutal finale of my personal favourite – the monumental ‘Snakes for the divine’ – which brings the house down and my blood pressure up in equal measure. Even more intense and mesmerising in the flesh, as you can see the sweat and hair fly, the gig attains a momentum so powerful that all you can see from the front to the back of the venue are heads swinging in slow-mo, and it’s more, really, than mere words can describe, suffice it to say that few bands are capable of this kind of brutal mass hypnosis. Then, with barely a word, HOF leave the stage, feedback trailing their footsteps, and the audience are left to rearrange their shattered senses in whatever way they see fit before staggering from the venue like zombies on ketamine.
That HOF were outstanding was never really in doubt, but that both lizZard and Jumping Jack held their own against the mighty headliners made this one of the most memorable and exciting gigs we’ve had the good fortune to attend. An amazing tour and an amazing night, High on fire remain a very special band and the night will live long in the memories of those lucky enough to attend.