Camden’s hipsterish upstairs gig room at The Black Heart isn’t a spacious venue to showcase tonight’s line-up and at first sight it looks like people have got better things to do. There’s hardly anyone here, the floor is strewn with guitars and amps, and the barman is inserting his cash tray into the till. Apparently ex-Rage Against The Machine bassist Tim Commerford and his crew blew the sound system last night, so the soundcheck is starting late.
Twenty minutes later, Stereo Juggernaut are on stage, a risqué medley of brawn and Placebo-esque bravado. Befitting the venue’s murky environs, this London four-piece churn out brash metal-tinged tunes buoyed by nebulous synthesised textures.
Black Orchid Empire smack of 90s grunge bands. Not in a fuzzed-up, sludgy way but with their angst-ridden, catchy hooks. But it all feels like a warm up for Agent, who have already racked up a few credentials by way of their superlative Kingdom Of Fear album, strewn in Tool-meets-Karnivool vibes, with appearances at HRH Prog, HRH Road Trip and Tech Fest chucked in for good measure.
Their short set intrinsically feels professional, in spite of the stuffy surroundings and a glitchy fire alarm that keeps going off. Songs brim with epic, emotive and brooding sentiment, fleshed out by massive hooks and a healthy nod to Karnivool and Dead Letter Circus. In fact, Agent would be the perfect support for these bands (bookers, take note).
The focus here is on new, unreleased songs – it’s the first time they play Suicide By Tiger, a powerful performance showcasing James Donaldson’s strong, melodic vocals, while Black Mirror optimises their knack for modernist prog rock with an expansive edge. It might be early(ish) days for these UK-based New Zealanders, but in a live setting, they’re showing real potential.
Headliners The Alchemy merge twinkling guitars with rumbling basslines, far-reaching sounds sizzle with moodiness, and their frontman Rhys Taylor radiates energy. Halfway through their set, Taylor’s mic needs taping up, and then the stage lights go out for an uncomfortable amount of time. The vocalist takes the opportunity to mention they have an ongoing Pledge campaign, and stresses that they’re skint.
But none of this has any bearing on what’s another exceptionally well-executed set. It’s part of a night that nods towards the expansive-sounding prog rock scene that’s exploded out of Australia in recent times (although these boys hail from Canterbury, Kent, not Canterbury, New Zealand!), wrapping up a solid package of up-and-comers.