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First Look: Mandala

Reunited band fronted by UK born, Norwegian resident Rhys Marsh hit London

There’s sometimes an advantage to be had from an empty venue

The reunited Mandala haven’t attracted more than a handful to this show, their first in London for over a decade. But the trio use the echo in the club due to the absence of bodies to give their darkly psychedelic approach an eerie atmosphere. And this adds immeasurably to what is a satisfying return.

Led by Rhys Marsh on vocals and guitar, the band begin a little tentatively with There’s A Wind That Blows as they ease into a groove. But everything is stepped up with the formidable Ghizou, as Marsh’s stirring vocals and striding guitar virtuosity combine creatively with Francis Booth’s grumbling bass runs and Will Spurling’s dynamic drum thrusts. And once this foundation has been settled, the band rise to the occasion with some stunning moments.

The rousing I Have Fallen and Within offer up hints at the folk rock intimations which are certainly part of Mandela’s repertoire, even if these are often buried beneath more combative psychedelic tapestries like Dreaming and Sun. The latter is unquestionably a highlight of the set, as all three musicians open up with a breathless, plunging, joyous piece that especially allows Spurling to show off his chops, as he bounces around his kit with clarity and purpose. It’s here that the drummer comes into his own, nodding towards the influences of Neil Peart, Mike Portnoy and Bill Bruford, yet also adding in his own individual forages. Up against this inspired roustabout, the others are happy to play second fiddle, augmenting Spurling’s tornado with their own clever tones. It’s not exactly a jam session, but certainly close enough to feel like all three are allowing free rein to their instincts, as opposed to following a tightly orchestrated blueprint.

While the core of the performance comes from the recent Mandala debut album Midnight Twilight, it’s also peppered with the occasional track form Marsh’s 2014 solo album Sentiment. Now, there’s no doubting songs like Burn The Brightest Day and Pictures Of Ashes are decent, and probably work well in a Marsh set, but they don’t really adapt well to a Mandala arrangement, as they’re a little lopsided, lacking the distinctive depth of their own stuff.

The band also unveil one new track here, namely Alive On The Edge. Although still very much a work in progress, it will surely mushroom into a major part of the band’s future, offering a glimpse of the way in which they plan to develop in the coming months, with the emphasis on a psychedelic trip that benefits from being pared down to a raw state.

The band here dispense with the female string section ghat is usually part of their live arrangements, and this gives them a formidable focus. The way the whole event builds towards a climax with The Waltz and Into The Night is fearless, before Fire Is Mine ends the set leaving the sparse audience clamouring for more.

There’s a lot more to come from Mandala.