Bongripper, Conan, Humanfly & War Wolf: The Exchange, Bristol – live review

Bongripper, Conan, Humanfly & War Wolf made a doom laden voyage around the country last week, wrecking havoc & bleeding eardrums as they went. One of the cities they graced with their presence was Bristol wherein resides one of Louder Than War’s editorial team. Fearlessly he sallied forth & here’s his somewhat breathless review. All Photos © Mei Lewis.

Well, we all knew (well, I knew) that this was going to be a mind crushing, spell binding monster of gig but hec, little was I prepared for it to quite such a mind crushing, spell binding monster of gig that it’d jump straight to the top of my “best gigs of 2013” list, a list which was previously headed up by the two hour marmalisation I endured (sorry, enjoyed) at the hands of Gira & Co. Granted I probably shoulda been prepared for it to be something a bit special what with all the buzz n all but still, as I exclaimed all over twitter the next day “COR, FLIP! I wasn’t expecting THAT to be quite THAT good.”

Had this gig been a year earlier it woulda been taken place in The Croft, a venue which, as we reported last week, is due to close in 10 days. Just to prove that I can stick two fingers up in the face of sentiment I can honestly sat that I think this gig was better off for being at this venue, The Exchange the new home of The Croft’s management team. Apart from the general architecture being perfectly suited to BIIIIG bands (not BIIIIG in a ‘had lots of band members’ sense of the word, BIIIIIG in an “expansive” sense of the word) I fancy the event would’ve sold out had it been at The Croft too & it’ve have been criminal for anyone to miss a show like this.
Warwolf The Exchange

War Wolf kicked off proceedings, a band I was unfamiliar with but the person I with was. He filled me in on the band after the event anyway. They’re from Brighton & two thirds of the band were also in the excellent Dope Fight (not to be confused with Dope Body of course). If you’re at all familiar with Dope Fight, or, indeed, if you have the kind of imagination that lets you conjure up a mental audio image of what band’s monikered “War Wolf” & “Dope Fight” might sound should like you can probably skip the rest of this paragraph. If not then prepare yourselves for a barrage of describey words all of which mean “heavy”. (Confession – the first thing I did after writing the title for this piece was to open up my thesaurus on the page “heavy” and frankly I could exhaust the contents of the “heavy” page of my thesaurus on War Wolf alone. Except I’d definitely exclude the word “burdensome” becuz believe you me, War Wolf were anything but a burden). The trio had quite a powerful, hulking presence on stage as they powered through their set with minimal bantering between songs, which we probably didn’t want anyway as that might lighten the mood. This was some batshit crazy pounding stuff from three huge towering guys so imagine then how our hearts were in our mouths when we saw our photographer crawl on stage on all fours to adopt a position directly behind the bass player for to take (what turned out to be) an awesome, closeup, mouse’s eye view picture of the drummer along with his pierced nips, flailing sticks & ‘cover all’ tats. Our fears were justified as, straight after taking a couple of snaps, he ended up being trodden on by bass playing dude. Fortunately he lived to tell the tale (and furnish us with some ace snaps) & following the experience he was forced to make a speedy exuent, noticeably not to repeat the trick! Worth also pointing out that rather than being irked by the photographer WW’s bassist guy apologised for treading on him rather than getting cross with him!

War Wolf, The Exchange

People familiar with my writing will know I have a fancy for mixed bills & although the thrust of tonight was all in the same ‘heavy’ direction the next band on baulked that trend. A bit. Leeds band Humanfly have been around for twelve mighty ole years thus far & earlier this year they released the album “Awesome Science” on one of our (many) favourite labels Brew Records. They announced when they came on stage “i hope you’re ready to be taken on a psychedelic journey” then proceeded to do just that. Not that they needed to tell us of course, the banks of pedals & the Led Zep shirts attested to that fact alone. They kicked off their set with album opener “Golden Arrows”, one of the few songs of theirs which includes much in the way of vocals & one of the ‘every single one’ of the songs of theirs which included riffs. The set proceeded pretty much in the fashion of riffs, riffs, more riffs, effects, riffs, effects & lots & lots of lovely more riffs. Yes, very psychedelic, even more so than on record. Humanfly haven’t always been this way inclined, mind, and probably the reason they won themselves a place on this tour was because they used to flatten audiences with fast, hardcore, DIY punk. Granted “fast, hardcore, DIY punk” is, generally speaking, more my cup of tea than prog, but having the evening broken up by something a bit different worked really well, and their sheer musicianship & unabashed talent was greeted with much in the way of appreciative applause, something that spoke volumes for the open mindedness of the audience all of whom, I imagine were first & foremost there to be mauled by doom.

Conan time. Oh my, now things were about to get a bit serious! We must all be familiar with the recent split EP on another of our (many) favourite record labels Holy Roar right? On that split Conan threw down a 17 minute assault on all that’s nice & pleasant & good & proper in a track that, despite being monstrous, barely hinted at the damage they could do live. They describe themselves on their Arsewipe “About” page as “caveman battle doom”, something which I kind of think would’ve conjured up a more accurate sound image if it had read “neanderthal battle doom” because, for me, I picture neanderthal’s as more primal & fierce than cavemen. Neanderthal’s I picture wielding clubs, cavemen sat around campfires singing “Ging Gang Goolie”. Oh ok, lose the “singing “ging gang gooly” then. But you get the idea. (Oh, and if one person jumps on me because neanderthals live in caves I’ll piss in their gravy right)? When we reviewed the bands split EP (which can be read here, as can the EP be heard) we said of the band “The scouse lads have been garnering a reputation as one of the UK’s most exciting and crushing doom bands, mainly due to their punishing live shows…”. We weren’t kidding! This was straight up, no messin’ doom, solid & dense & it seriously got the metronomic head banging going amongst the audience. Apocalyptic remorselessness has never felt so good. Believe you me, thee doesn’t want to be within two yards of the Amp stack when these guys launch into their set. Vocals were, as ever, shared between the two front persons, both singing in very different ways reminding us once again that the human voice is the most versatile of instruments even when, as invariably is the case in the live scenario, the vocals are lower down in the mix that other instruments.

And so to the token headliners (as per the EP you’re probably as well off, in the UK at least, to have considered this a split headlining tour). Although ostensibly very similar to Conan, Bongripper had an edge over Conan for me. There’s a certain je ne sais quoi about their sound that set them apart from Conan (and other bands of their ilk) and that meant I enjoyed their set more than I enjoyed that of their predecessors’ (obviously DO NOT tell Conan I said that). Weirdly though I didn’t become aware of this through listening to their sound but rather through feeling it. When Conan played all the music made me want to do was to thrust forward / backward in time honoured “head banging” fashion. However when Bongripper were playing I found myself throwing in some lateral movement too, meaning I pretty much was performing what shall from this point in “figure of 8 head banging”. One only gets this (s)urge when there’s something a bit clever going on in the music, when it’s not just a one dimensional barrage. And that’s precisely what Bongripper were, not one dimensional. They have a more visceral effect than the other bands on the bill, touching you at a deeper level. Granted they had a second guitar player which probably helped make them sound multi dimensional but it takes much more than just throwing in another guitarist to pull the effect off – both need to play with each other perfectly in time for it really work, something which, no doubt, is made easier because the band has been playing together for so long.

They played a long set & capped off what was a brilliant night full of the most sublime heavy doom you could possibly imagine. And before you say anything, yes, doom metal can be sublime. Case. In. Point.

I got in touch with the photographer after the how to ask if we could use some of his photos. He said yes & also sent us a link to the following video of which he said:

While I was doing stills I shot some video footage with the idea of making a (very) short film giving a feeling on what a night at a gig like this is like.


Bongripper’s website is here. They also have a Bandcamp & are on Facebook.
Conan are on Bandcamp, Facebook & Twitter as well as having a website..
Humanfly are on Bandcamp and Facebook. They also have a WordPress blog.
War Wolf are on Bandcamp and Facebook.

All words Guy Manchester, all photographs © Mei Lewis of Mission Photographic. More writing by Guy on Louder Than War can be found at his authors archive here. Guy tweets as @guid0man & uses Tumblr.

More of Mei’s photos from the night can be seen below:


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