American Nightmare return to London

Support: Departures

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On occasions like tonight you would expect the crackle of anticipation to hang heavy in the air. But, rather disconcertingly, it isn’t. More than a decade on from their last UK shows and with enough interest for a second night to be added, you’d expect more than the sight of a three quarters empty Electric Ballroom of people idly chatting and wandering around. Departures [5] don’t help matters, their main support slot is brief and perfunctory but seems to reflect the general apathy inside the venue. There is a distinct lack of the fire and passion that this music relies on, and although there is nothing inherently wrong with their songs, Departures are to the headliners what Bush were to Nirvana – a pale imitation that contained everything other than what made the band that inspired them so exciting in the first place.

As the lights slowly dim and iconic post-punk from The Cure and Siouxsie And The Banshees wafts from the venues speakers The Electric Ballroom finally begins to fill up. It isn’t sold out, but you do at last get the feeling that something exciting is about to happen. After all American Nightmare [7] are a band that have achieved cult status in the twelve years since their last visit to these shores. They have a back catalogue of unique and furious Boston hardcore anthems and, in 2001’s stunning Background Music, recorded an album that would sit comfortably with any hardcore album in the history of the genre. And as soon as the band wander onstage, before they’ve even picked up their instruments in fact, there is a huge circle pit swirling around half of the venue. When they do kick into their set, a set which features barely a pause in between their nihilistic, warped hardcore, those at the front scream back every word to vocalist Wesley Eisold with the kind of passion that very few bands can inspire. So now, you imagine, it all kicks off and American Nightmare experience a triumphant return right?

Well, not quite, no. There are problems with tonight’s show, many problems. The first is that, while the first half of the venue is losing it’s shit and gorging itself on seeing this band for the first time in an age (or ever for some), there’s a sneaking suspicion that further back people that are here just to be seen to be here. Phones are checked, yawns are stifled, shoes are shuffled, tattoos and Revelation Records t-shirts are displayed to prove ‘punk cred’, but very little passion is shown. Which leads to the next problem, this venue is not built for this type of music. The Ballroom isn’t huge, but it’s too big for a band like American Nightmare and the type of punishing, unforgiving music they play. Surely a club show in front of 400 diehards would have suited everyone involved better? The band themselves even seem uncomfortable on such a huge stage, maybe this is due to their recent lack of live action, but, whatever the reason, they end their headline set after 40 minutes. For those paying £20 a ticket that doesn’t amount to value for money. If you were seeing it for a fiver in a pub, fine. But gigs of that cost owe their audience more than what’s provided tonight.

Ultimately though, American Nightmare achieve a score higher up the scale as just hearing the likes of Postmark My Compass with the roar of hundreds of fanatics bellowing along is enough to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. And there are plenty of those moments, be it the snot covered blur of Love American or the opening snare that let’s you know AN are about to launch into AM/PM, it’s just there are plenty of moments that detract from them too. Shame.

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.