Toundra Live In Cardiff

Spaniards bring their post-rock ambience to Wales.

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It’s apparent upon arrival at tonight’s show that things are a little fraught. The venue’s power is on the fritz, everything’s running late, the support bands’ running order has been flipped due to gear logistics and there’s a glint of anxiety in the promoter’s eye. While we’re not quite in ‘cometh the hour, cometh the man’ territory, it’s certainly true that a frisson of stress contributes nicely to the air of expectation crackling through the room.

Proceedings kick off with local duo Right Hand Left Hand dumping any preconceived notion of what a contemporary two-piece should sound like – Royal Blood, Japandroids, White Stripes etc – firmly on its coiffured nut. Live-layered guitar loops escalate into almost Tubular Bells levels of density, underpinned by rigid, driving drum patterns. The wholly instrumental set is a series of quickly changing, angular and often dissonant snapshots owing more to the robotic movement of Kraftwerk or a 16-bit Sparks rather than any traditional guitar/drums dynamic. The impossibly abrupt song endings occasionally jar, lending the set an overall twitchy and fragmented, though original, feel.

Sticking with the instrumental theme, and variously described as post-rock, post-metal and, lord help us, ambiental sludge, Madrid’s Toundra (Spanish for Tundra, non-linguists) deal in the kind of expansive and sprawling, emotionally-charged rock that has the guardians of genre definition reaching for the nearest thesaurus.

In the UK for the first time, promoting their fourth album IV that provides the bulk of tonight’s set, they’ve been slowly turning heads and ears for the last eight years, honing both their sound and line-up into an accomplished and well-developed proposition. Though not exactly scarce, the instrumental concept album doesn’t boast a lengthy pedigree, and any attempt to convey a story without narration, purely through mood and melody, is a difficult trick to pull off. Artistically, the closest comparison would be Camel’s The Snow Goose, though Toundra’s musical tale of two foxes leaving their fire-ravaged home wears its allegorical heart nearer the sleeve.

There are also a lot more riffs. Almost Floydian guitar washes ebb and flow, utterly uplifting melodic passages nestling cheek by jowl with downtuned, syncopated riffing and a punky live energy, revealing echoes of their hardcore past. And while subtle hints of Tool, Isis, Russian Circles and the inevitable M-word are never too far from the surface, the approach is different: more focus, less ambience, more colours to the swatch, and a concision and economy in the arrangements that propels things forward in a measured style. It’s impressive stuff and it makes more sense in a live environment, where the experience is shared. A musical journey indeed.

Tim Batcup

Tim Batcup is a writer for Classic Rock magazine and Prog magazine. He's also the owner of Cover To Cover, Swansea's only independent bookshop, and a director of Storyopolis, a free children’s literacy project based at the Volcano Theatre, Swansea. He likes music, books and Crass.