Arcane Roots at The Scala, London - live review

Complex three-piece wow at sold-out show

Arcane Roots singer Andrew Groves performing on stage
(Image: © Will Ireland)

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Arcane Roots have a well-deserved reputation for fiery live performances. Over the last few years, the Kingston‑upon-Thames three-piece have honed their gigging chops on the festival circuit and have supported explosive trios Muse and Biffy Clyro on European tours.

Their almost effortless ability to deliver complex time signatures while doing their best to self-inflict whiplash has earned them a rightfully large, equally frenzied fan base. So it’s really no surprise that a sold-out Scala is straining with fans tonight – latecomers have to fight through knotted crowds half an hour before Arcane Roots even hit the stage. The thrum of adrenaline is already so palpable you can almost taste it.

Vocalist Andrew Groves’ typically frenetic stage persona cuts a rather more sedate figure during the fizzing electronics and warm hues of opener Before Me, as he delivers walls of Anathema-like synth and near celestial vocals, before pushing back from his keyboard and taking up his trademark high-slung guitar.

This is the proverbial calm before the storm, as one clueless punter shouting for “more energy” quickly finds out. The rolling drumbeat and stabbing guitar line of Matter churns the audience into a frenzy that rarely dies off for the rest of the evening.

Half of this evening’s setlist is, perhaps unsurprisingly, made up of songs from Arcane Roots’ new album, Melancholia Hymns. If it was ever in doubt, tonight lays bare just what a triumph of complexity and craft the band’s newest album really is.

Whether it’s the fist-pumping chorus of Off The Floor, the shimmering homage to clubland electronica Indigo or the densely layered, mesmerising Curtains, seeing …Hymns performed live feels like you’re discovering this material all over again.

Then there are the hooks. Complicated music – call it math rock, prog or post-hardcore – isn’t generally known for its melodies, but Arcane Roots have them. This is captured in the emotive strains of Leaving, a song Groves admits is probably their favourite to play live. From the opening salvo of ‘Hold the rope now baby’, the crowd take the lyrics and the venue fills with hundreds of voices.

By the time the evening closer If Nothing Breaks, Nothing Moves comes around, the cavernous room is considerably warmer and, as a result, slicker than it was a couple of hours before. The feast of riffs and whirlwind drum rolls is a veritable maelstrom, and a suitable finale to the show.

As the track’s title suggests, unless you’re willing to tear everything up and start again, you’ll never progress – and nothing captures this exploratory band’s ethos more, so it’s a fitting showstopper.