London-based multinationals Looking For Droids play a guitar-heavy strain of heavy psychedelia. They’re at their best when dropping down a few notches with Damaged Goods, or the more hummable Everything, though in resorting to mere full-on rock’n’roll they come across as just a bit… meh.
Armed with pneumatic drums, rapid-fire guitar runs and a lady keyboard player to colour the sound, Memoreve are much better suited to such a prog metal-themed occasion. The Leeds six‑piece draw cheers and devil horns from a small but dedicated crowd, and their highly proficient display is crowned by Falling Further, the current YouTube single that was made with the help of TesseracT guitarist Acle Kahney.
Gabriel are a bit more of a mixed bag, marrying melodic influences and even the occasional growled vocal to their enthusiastic prog metal foundations. The improbably monikered Kostas B Hades has a decent enough storytelling voice when he’s not trying to impersonate a grizzly bear, and the Londoners clearly have the potential to craft something worthwhile. However, right now, those song arrangements are just a wee bit too lumpen.
In stark contrast to two of the acts to warm the stage for tonight’s headliners (your correspondent has been privy to some studio material by Looking For Droids that confirms their locker contains more than mere powerthuggery), Circus Maximus defy easy categorisation. Now into their 11th year as a band, the Norwegians add a crucial, deeply melodic foundation to their music that sets them apart from the pack. They can riff it up with the best of them, but intelligent, catchy song structures allow them to sidestep the genre’s more obvious restrictions. Two years ago Circus Maximus took the UK’s melodic rock weekender Firefest by storm – perhaps no surprise given that Michael Eriksen also fronts the highly acclaimed modern-AOR combo The Magnificent.
Circus Maximus enjoy a little grandstanding and treat The Underworld like it’s Shea Stadium.
As befitting a band that honours an ancient Roman chariot-racing stadium, Circus Maximus enjoy a little grandstanding. The Underworld might be bereft of punters, but they treat the place like it’s Shea Stadium. This year’s fourth album, Havoc, is inspired by “Moments and experiences in life that lead to love and hate” – is that prog enough for you? – its unusual time signatures and sudden changes of tempo enhancing their progressive credentials.
With Eriksen conducting as the audience bellow along to Lasse Finbråten’s simple yet irresistible keyboard hooks during Chivalry and Game Of Life, one starts to wonder whether a Coldplay fan or two might be closeted away in the band’s midst.
One thing is for sure: Circus Maximus will never again be faced with just 250 people in London on a Saturday night.