Cubanate/VNV Nation/Leechwoman/Saints of Eden

Astoria 2, London - 11 December, 1999


[Flag gig poster]"You'd be surprised to hear just how good an old dustbin can sound!"

Hot on the heels of the superb Black Celebration 1999 event comes another great industrial line up courtesy of Flag promotions, who now seem to have their sites set on being the number one industrial promoter in the UK. Whatever their aims, their efforts are certainly appreciated.

Saints of Eden

I couldn't afford to miss this first act - not after reading the description on the promo flyer as "Metallica meets Underworld"(!), so I made sure I turned up early. Saints of Eden feature ex-members of Goth gods Fields of the Nephilim but you shouldn't rely on that previous job as too much of a guide to what SoE are up to. Their sound is full of atmospheric, sweeping keyboards and harsh guitars, accompanied by doom-laden vocals from the depths of the earth. Maybe, at a pinch, Nephilim in a very bad mood.

Despite the enticing flyer description, I'd say that their set was structured in such a way that they sounded like Metallica at first, but as things went on they wound up sounding more like Underworld. The bleak vocals reminded me briefly of Martin Bowles of Attrition. Here, they were grumbly with great swathes of echo and so low in the mix that at times you'd think the songs were instrumentals.

With their chugging guitars featuring heavily throughout, Saints of Eden probably have a lot of mainstream crossover potential and could go onto big things. Their mixture of big drum sounds, heavy guitars and fast sequencers made their final track sound like KMFDM meets Underworld which can't be bad! I've not heard the first SoE album (a second is due soon), but it's something I've made a mental note of, and will report back here if I do.

Leechwoman

Imagine, if you can, laying on the sleepers of a old railway line as a train thunders overhead. Or perhaps standing, exposed and alone in a battlefield, as a division of Sherman tanks make slow but very deliberate and loud progress towards you - that's a bit like listening to Leechwoman. With their construction site harmonies and washing machine-interior drums, this traditional industrial outfit continue to drive a steel bolt into the heart of complacent chart music. You'd be surprised to hear just how good an old dustbin can sound!

If you've an ear for it, there's much fun to be had in watching Leechwoman perform live, but, put it this way, I can't see them challenging for the Christmas number one slot. Kerosene in your ear maybe? The only complaint is that Leechwoman are dangerously close to over-exposing themselves on the small UK scene. It's been hard not to see them over the last twelve months or so!

VNV Nation

VNV Nation sound great on CD and also sound great live despite their minimalist set-up. Singer Ronan Harris and keyboard/percussionist Mark Jackson manage, thanks to the faithful backing track, to sound like a whole lot more than two blokes with one keyboard and a few standing drums and cymbals. Critics of electronic music undeniably have a point when bands rely too much on a backing track to carry their live performances. But there is more to playing live than just playing live - if you see what I mean? And whilst you can say that VNV rely heavily upon their backing track they are also a terrific live 'act'.

They've got all the moves, the looks, the attitude, and the cool paraphernalia like the banners hanging behind them to let you forgive the over-reliance on the pre-recorded playback. Ronan's vocals are not a strong live as when in the studio - but that's hardly unusual - and I'm sure they've improved over recent months. As always, the vocal version of Forsaken proves that when Harris doesn't have to keep up with high BPM tracks he can deliver a strong and emotional vocal line, the impact of which is hard to dismiss. The strengths live are largely due to the conviction of the two men themselves. They are so into what they're doing that only the harshest skeptic would find it easy not to be swept up by the passion of their live performances

Tonight's set was a journey through the last two albums - the mightily impressive Praise the Fallen and the newly-released Empires. There was nothing from the less-polished first album, Advance and Follow, but that may be because the encore seemed to be cut short due to the slight overrun (Serial Killer from the first album often crops up at this point).

The track Rubicon first appeared on the Septic Dependent label sampler. VNV then made public their concerns over the quality of that version and said this would be rectified on the new album. It was, but I'm still not totally convinced that the less 'abrasive' version that has found it's way onto Empires is a significant enough improvement. Live, however, the song is a stormer - taking up a middle-ground position somewhere between the extremes of the two recorded versions.

One cannot help be impressed with this act though. Their entire set sounds like a list of hits. All the songs they performed, including the instrumentals, are such strong compositions that it's hard to believe that mostly these are 'just' album tracks selected from the last two albums. There's never a dull moment when VNV Nation play live, there's a lot of emotion and some of the best contemporary industrial music on the planet.

Cubanate

I have to confess, I've never been a fan of Cubanate. If they are supposed to be tongue in check - I can't see it. But I hope they are. There are other bands who do the industrial/rock crossover sound much better, like Die Krupps, for example (who are also much better songwriters and far more impressive live). In a world full of great music life is too short for me to spare time for Cubanate.

But most of the audience seemed to be enjoying themselves so my view in this regard may not be representative of the majority. I retired upstairs to get a beer and some chips, have a chat with some friends and called it a night, leaving before Cubanate finished shooting their load.

All in all, though, it was a great night out and probably my last gig of 1999 and the you-know-what. I can think of a lot worse ways to see the century out.

Rob Dyer


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