[Live Report] Sumac + JK Flesh + Mammifer + Janne Westerlund @ The Underworld

Since Aaron Turner departure of Isis he has spent his time between many projects which means for this occasion he has brought two in Europe. The first one is Mammifer which he shares with his wide, Faith Colocia, and the second, and most awaited one, Sumac, with Nick Yacyshyn from Baptists (drums) and Brian Cook from Russian Circles and ex. Botch (bass). Basically, Turner now spends his time touring with his friend or loved one. A lifestyle choice he was able to apply also to this night’s line up augmented by the presence of two more performers.

The first one was Janne Westerlund, a Finnish musician associated with Circle, Hydrahead alumni who opened for Isis on their last European tour and for Old Man Gloom. However, those awaiting a show in the vein of the enigmatic Fins were to be disappointed as the man played an excellent set of minimalist Americana with a banjo and later on with a slide guitar. With his voice and only one instrument per song, he still managed to capture the small audience’s attention for a short collection of songs greeted with some respectful silence and enthusiastic applause.

Mammifer followed and drew a bigger crowd. I last saw them five years ago opening for Master Musicians of Bukkake so I can only presume this was many people’s first time, or at least second time, seeing them. Sadly, I can still address the same criticism that I did years ago. Despite some good parts, their set feels like a collection of good moment followed by throw away experimentation ranging from a wall of noise to some harmless melodies played on the piano by Coloccia. The trio formed by Turner and Coloccia and completed by Cook uses a lot of machinery but lacks the creativity to make their music sound like a basic « experimental » soundtrack to a short film that outlast his welcome.

Justin Broadrick (Godflesh, etc…) was next under his techno moniker to perform a set of industrial techno reminiscent of his work in Techno Animal and of his fellow Birmingham native from Scorn, and also ex. Napalm Death, Mick Harris. Dressed completely in white, he hunches forward a laptop, a mixing table and some effect to perform an excellent set which ends up making even the long-haired member of the audience dance to the beat. Towards the end of the set he also ads his vocals to the mix by screaming without any effect and adding a layer of humanity to the coldness of the beats. Even if he is not revolutionizing music with this, Broadrick seems to be enjoying himself and I would love to hear him put out more material of this kind. Catch him whenever you can.

Finally, the main event. Sumac takes the stages to batter everyone’s eardrums with the kind of compositions only made fascinating by a trio of trained musicians capable of stretching a few riffs per song and a wall of noise into a fascinating experience. The most technically proficient musician of the trio is definitely Nick Yacyshyn and his inhuman strength behind the drumkit. If Agoraphobic Nosebleed is ever looking for a drummer to replace their drum machine, Yacyshyn is the man to call. His frenzy could even make Ben Koller look like a Doom drummer but it also takes away some of the space the riffs might need to be even heavier. Despite this small problem to my taste, there is plenty of low-end to go around with a Bass capable of producing a minute long echo with just one note and a guitar plugged directly into the bowels of hell.

Turner might be the main appeal of the band for many but in this band, he only takes the center of attention when he moves towards the center of the stage like he always does in every band he plays in. Musically however he has equal footing with his friends and Sumac is very much the result of three pairs of hands working to create a massive wall of noise made of concrete. The perfect soundtrack to a sculpture by Richard Serra. The set is not as long as advertised (half an hour short of the hour and a half announced on the set times put around the venue) but it is sufficient to leave everyone happy. No encore and a message of love and respect from Turner, in the face of the increasing level of violence of the last months, is enough to make this set a great entrance in Europe. You will undoubtedly see them again but probably not in such a small venue.

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