There has always been a healthy fanbase of stoner rock in all its different sub-genres and splintered factions in Birmingham, aided in no small part to the sterling work done by promoters Capsule, who have consistently provided a stage for some of the worlds finest artists in this field. After winding down 2009 with appearances by Electric Wizard, Isis and Sunn o))) amongst others, and with a Baroness show in January, you’d have been forgiven for assuming there’d be more to follow swiftly in their wake. But nothing. Bit of IDM, some Krautrock legends. And then, out of the blue, confirmation that Capsule had nefariously been toying with us. Waiting to drop their bomb.
Eyehategod are playing Birmingham.
Eyehategod, godfathers of sludge, playing Birmingham? This was a coup and a half, for real. With a police record as long as the list of bands they have influenced, they have notoriously played few shows in these isles. Certainly over the past ten years at least, the only occasions I can recall were a double-header supporting Crowbar in London, and a headlining set at the Nottingham Morrowfest (in memory of much-missed Iron Monkey vocalist Johnny Morrow), with the latter gig sporting a truncated lineup due to VISA issues, drug problems, police niggles, whichever story you choose to believe or find more entertaining. One thing was a definite though, they hadn’t played Birmingham before. This gig was going to be awesome.
Just as I’d imagined, the Asylum was rammed. The bar staff were seeing some serious action, with 90% of all punters attempting to witness EHG in arguably the most ideal fashion — hammered to the gills. I arrived just in time to catch Totimoshi for the second time in as many months, having been main support on the recent Mastodon UK tour.
As was with the case on that Mastodon tour — or at least the Wolves show I bore witness to — Totimoshi were met with general apathy all-round, with most people content to hover in the beer garden sharing their enthusiasm regarding the near-approaching headliners. Normally this would trigger a vengeful journalistic tirade about people supporting all of the bands on the bill, rather than just the headliners, but in this case it was sadly warranted. To be fair, the impromptu EHG performance in the beer garden on one-man-band gear could have had something to do with it as well.
Whilst there were hints of Melvins and Jesus Lizard scattered around their sound to use as reference points, there was none of the formers eccentric individualism (nor their awesome riffs), and none of the maniacal, edge-of-your-seat skronk (nor maniacal, cock-out frontman)of the latter.
Post-gig, I ruminated on whether the lack of response to Totimoshi on both occasions was due to the similarity in how the headliners on both shows inspire a fanbase of frenzied, almost religious devotion that they were perhaps unwilling to give the band a fair roll of the dice. So, in the name of fairness I’ve given their ‘Ladron’ LP a listen, and subsequently, I’m going with the conclusion that there are a lot more bands in a similar field pulling this off with far more satisfying results. I do love to be proved wrong though, so if there’s something I’m missing be sure to let me know.
Still, if the crowd weren’t into the main support, there wasn’t going to be any such troubles with the headliners. And once Eyehategod took to the stage and bled the first trickle of feedback through the PA, annihilation was the only conceivable result. Initially, a mighty roar came from the crowd consisting of both joyous fandom and delirious relief that the band had finally made it onstage after so many cancelled tours and splits in the past. Once the first chords of ‘Blank’ were struck it developed into some kind of simian roar, which finally erupted into full blown carnage as it kicked in proper and created a huge pit that took out many an innocent bystander with its whirlwind maelstrom of drunken revelry.
Having helped lay the foundations of sludge metal with such genre defining albums as the harrowing ‘Dopesick’ and its predecessor ‘Take As Needed For Pain’ (voted as the #1 sludge album of all time in Terrorizer magazine), Eyehategod’s misanthropic sound blends the sheer might of classic-era Sabbath riffing and a shared love of blues and southern rock with the aggression of such first-wave US hardcore luminaries as Flipper and Black Flag. Part of the infamous ‘NOLA’ (New Orleans, Louisiana) scene that spawned the likes of Crowbar, Corrosion of Conformity and Soilent Green, EHG became figureheads for the sub-genre amid a backdrop of drug and substance abuse, and their sporadic appearances and numerous Chinese whispers and rumours that follow them have only served to make the band even more legendary.
Vocalist Mike Williams, the dishevelled, howling voice of EHG has weathered more storms (literally) than many of us will see in a lifetime, and his performance was the soul of the band tonight. Mockingly clad in a ‘POLICE’ shirt, he acted as a conduit for the nihilistic, anti-authoritarian aspect of the band, blowing snot rockets in all directions and shrieking his tortured, stream-of-consciousness poetry of degradation with all he could summon.
There was also plenty of hero worship reserved for guitarist Jimmy Bower, who having conquered the metal world already with Down (his prior commitments with them being the actual reason for the shrunken lineup last time round), had his own little fan club down the front. With Brian Patton (also of Soilent Green) on guitar, Joe LaCaze on drums, and latest in a line of bassists almost Spinal Tap in number Gary Mader, this truly was Eyehategod in full force, and they were completely devastating.
Having remained one of my favourite bands for many years, this was a performance far better than I was expecting, boasting a setlist that no one could argue with. Classics such as the obscene swing of ‘Sister Fucker’ saw the “burn her” refrain yelled back with glee, and the more uptempo, punk-infused numbers such as ‘Peace Thru War’ were met with a riotous response in the mosh. With overarching walls of feedback permeating every possible gap in the music, it acted almost as a sixth member, and the bands use of it was deft. And much in the same way that I always listen to their albums from start to finish, the feedback helped bring the set together, with many of the songs bleeding into each other.
Other memorable moments within the drunken fishbowl of memories from the night were the always welcome Black Sabbath shoutouts, the brooding evil of ‘Depress’ sounding like Sabbath themselves drowning slowly under a pit of dirty needles like that one in ‘Saw’ and the grotty, twisted blues riffs of ‘Jackass in the Will of God’ malevolently spiralling downwards out of Bowers’ guitar. ‘Kill Your Boss’ and ‘Dixie Whisky’ boast all time classic riffs within the genre, and the middle eighth in ‘Serving Time in the Middle of Nowhere’ could give Chuck Norris a run for his money with it’s all-out badassery.
No doubt about it, this was not a show for the unconverted. EHG’s sound and ethos is extreme, aggressive and unashamed. They write anthems for the sick, for the outcasts and losers of the world; and for what the band lack in the way of financial success or just plain good luck, they take their reward in the love and respect that everyone here threw their way for every minute of the set. And probably a fair bit of drugs as well. This was a show for the fans, and if you own even a single Eyehategod CD you should have been here, it was truly amazing.
Review – Duncan Wilkins
Photos – Katja Ogrin