Just by taking a look at the names of the four bands on tonight's bill, you didn't need to be a genuis to guess this wasn't gonna be an evening of tea and cakes. I was looking forward to this event mostly because I'd heard of all the bands but had never actually heard a single one.
English band Maruta Kommand's self-released debut album, Holocaust Rites, recently received a more than respectable 8/10 in Metal Hammer, and judging by the amount of people already on the dancefloor, many had come to check out this, their debut gig. A four-piece live, MK's WWII back projections of Hitler, Stalin, victims and weaponry set the tone for the entire evening. Two percussionists, a half naked lead vocalist with a bespectacled 'scientist' sat at a table fiddling with small boxes made for an interesting stage presence. Maruta Kommand quickly established a disinctive atmosphere with their exploration of the less attractive aspects of the human psyche. Most memorable was the slow tempo of much of their set rather than the more obvious thrash approach one might expect from death industrial. Similarly, the vocalist avoided resorting to the standard screams and yells, instead making great use of weird vocoder effects so that half the songs sounded like they were performed by a demented Dalek. Refreshingly non-macho, MK's death-march tribute to the dead was a thought-provoking and impressive way to begin tonight's procession.
The Pain Machinery
Immediately more 'electronic' than their predecessors, Swedish three-piece The Pain Machinery picked up the tempo and, once again, utilised back projections to add extra interest. Again, this was another live debut. This time it was a slightly odd (but effective) montage taking in everything form Pop Art to dental records. The stage image was markedly different to Maruta Command but no less interesting. The vocalist (who also played the odd piece of percussion and keyboards) was flanked by a casually-dressed guitarist and cool drummer wearing regulation goggles. Both drummer and guitarist wore red tops and gave the stage a nice symmetry. Again, relying more upon an emerging mood than conventional verse/chorus/verse song structures, The Pain Machinery's heavily-treated, anguished vocals and driving drums, overlayed with copious amounts of noise, was an interesting combination of accessible electronics and less immediate but equally effective darker tones. The ever-growing audience clearly appreciated what they heard and I wouldn't be surprised if we see TPM back in the UK before too long.
"This is Punsihment State" announced the singer of this British outfit that blend elements of Front Line Assembly, Front 242 and Cubanate. The result is precisely what you'd expect from such a focused combination, and brought more 'melody' to the night. This despite the fact that at times three of Punishment State were simultaneously playing percussion! The PVC-clad female at the rear of the stage combined some backing vocals and the odd drum whack with some nice posturing. Maintaining the good presentation, this bunch had projections too, even if they were a touch more 'home made' than what had gone before. The softcore porn clips were entertaining though. If they could loose the shackles of their influences, Punishment State could go on to be more distinctive - their energetic frontman already has the right attitude.
It's been some time since I've heard so much about a band, and other people's opinions of them, before having heard them myself. Everything I'd heard about UK outfit Sulpher (who count ex-members of The Creatures and Curve among their number) was positive. Very positive. The tag line was always "Curve meets Nine Inch Nails" and although not a huge fan of either of those bands, there surely had to be something to all these excited comments I read and heard. Sure enough, there is. Sulpher's sound has a large crossover potential and it didn't take long to realise they are going places and, if the manic crowd now crushed onto the modest dancefloor of the Underworld was anything to go by, it won't be long before some wise (and probably quite large) label gets them to sign on the dotted line.
Musically, everything from the terrific drummer to the memorable bass guitar was imaginatively structured and instantly impressive. Most tracks were driven by the heavy drums and lead guitar, but there were a couple where the synths led the way. Aside from the above-mentioned bands, at times the heavier stuff touched on Ministry territory and it was difficult not to believe that MTV could be beckoning sooner rather than later. The temperature was rising rapidly as the crowd got more worked up. "This rubber stuff is fucking hot" said Sulpher's vocalist of his black, tight-fitting top. Time was running out as the 10.30 curfew rapidly approached. A extremely brief but powerful encore brought the event to a sudden close, but the audience had clearly enjoyed every second. Catch Sulpher just as soon as possible, before their global popularity rules out any more gigs at venues as small as Camden's Underworld.
Tonight's event was brought to the UK industrial scene courtesy of a new promotion set up called Armalyte Industries. Their aim is to keep the term 'industrial' true to its origins, with the emphasis on the darker, heavier side of the scene with no concessions to the lighter electro pop movement sweeping across Europe at present. I suspected that this was so niche a target audience as to be unprofitable. If the Slipknot T-shirts and bad BO were anything to go by then there was obviously a metal crossover appeal to tonight's line up, and with over 300 people making the effort on a cold Saturday night this must be seen as an unqualified success. I look forward to hearing from Armalyte Industries again...