Xenon Codex, Mister Manana plus Device

This review is long overdue, so my apologies to the bands, the venue and the promotor for that.  I like to have my reviews up in time to notify you of what is happening next with those involved, and I know I have missed a few things with this delay.

Alternator Promotions are running a free (yes, free) night at The Nag’s Head in High Wycombe every Thursday, and I went along on Thursday 2 April, partly to try it out, but also because I had been trying to get along to see Xenon Codex for some time.  The Nag’s Head is where I saw the first Porcupine Tree gig, and it is good to see it rebuilding a local reputation for live music.  By the time this evening got going there was certainly a good crowd inside, and mostly a young crowd, which can only be good for a thriving local music scene.  Just a quick word about Alternator Promotions before I get going – I had a chance to chat with Neil, the guy behind Alternator, after the gig and he is passionate about what he is doing, about music in general and not just one genre, and has some inspiring ideas about how promotion should be carried out – in short, he is someone worth supporting, and I will be looking out for gigs arranged by him.

First up tonight were Device (although there are signs on their MySpace site that they might be changing their name, and there were flyers up here saying Primal Device), who are relatively local to High Wycombe, coming from Milton Keynes/Northampton, and labelled on their MySpace as progressive/alternative rock.  I got in during their soundcheck to hear some heavy riffing, a hard edged sound, smooth vocals, so I was really looking forward to the real thing !  They opened with Ornamental Life, dedicated to Katy, and it hit in hard and fast, rumbling as screeching guitars bite, the track is heavy, racing, tight.  The sound eases to allow the vocals to come in, but the drums maintain the tempo, the vocals now running fast, but still a very clear sound to them, and the track moves into heavy guitar riffing before easing again into a slower part, lighter, notes being picked out, then runs off again into echoing feedback, the drums kick in and we race to the end.  Reflections is on their debut album, Obstacles and Playgrounds, a melodic opening with deep bass undertones before it kicks off and we are racing in the same vein as the previous track.  It eases a little into melodic guitar, the drums still racing, the bass thumping, and the vocals come in.  I only know a little of Idlewild, but for me this track has that feel about it, and that is a good thing.  It is very well constructed, has a good flow to it, moving from melodic parts into harder riffing with ease, the drums and bass keeping the rhythm consistent, and as the riffing continues the melody comes from the vocals of both guitarists.  Next up is Scattered Fall, a guitar introp joined by an uptempo beat on the hihat, the bass coming in and the track holds until finally the drums kick in and we move off, racing again, full of energy, the melody coming from both vocalists again, and they work well together.  There is a great beat to this one, and a very interesting drum part in the middle section, before the track suddenly quietens, the guitar sound is phasing and then very melodic, the track now drifting along, before it just as suddenly kicks up again with some heavy flourishes, the beat kicks in with flourishes still hitting through, and then the track races off again, pausing only to lead into a drum flurry as the guitar sound phases through and then we race again to a sharp finish.

They continue with the title track from their debut album, Obstacles and Playgrounds, an excellent album, and an excellent track.  Hard biting beat to open with, the cutting guitar sound has a Metallica feel for me (again, not a bad thing), and then the track drops into big riffing, before quietening into the guitars picking out the theme, continuing with cymbal flourishes and the bass thumping.  The sound is circling, building, then the track rolls off again, kicks into an uptempo beat and rocks on to a close.  Next up is A Decade in, also off their debut album (and ‘in’ does not have an initial capital letter, in case you are wondering – an I like such thought and attention to detail they have put into their song titles and how they present them), melodic guitar opening the track with cymbals accompanying, then the drums kick in and a loud, hard sound races away.  There is more melody from the guitars in this track, but they still keep the fast riffing, and a relentless beat.  It eases in the middle for a melodic guitar part which leads into the solo, then builds and kicks off again, big riffing taking us to the close with feedback.  They finish their very enjoyable set with the closing track from their album, Whilst we’re on the Subject, the considered, melodic guitar opening is circling, goes into feedback and then riffing as the track gets harder, fast, pushes on, the vocals coming in over the top, producing a powerful, smooth, full sound as the track drives on, full of energy, hitting into the guitar solo, then easing, pausing for more great vocals before the guitars pick it up again and drive us on once more, into fast riffing, really rocking out, some feedback thrown in for good measure as they go into a big ending, a wall of noise, the guitarist coming off the stage, the bassist on his knees, and you know that if they could, they would feed their energy into smashing their instruments – one day soon they will be on a bigger stage and in a position where they can smash away at will !  You can catch them next at The Gander in Bournemouth before they head off for some dates in the Czech Republic.

Mister Manana were on next, all the way from Carlisle, and I am glad they made the journey with their own brand of progressive, alternative rock.  I have to say at this point that although they played six tracks, because of the way they blend one track into the next (a style which I very much enjoyed, by the way) it almost came across as just two tracks – add to this the fact that two of the first four tracks were so new that they are currently untitled, and some of my comments might be a little out of synch !  They opened with Human Fly, from their Caprisun & Wrongbow ep, a hard, heavy sound, powerful with a strong melody within it, slow paced with the vocals low, almost growling, guitar flourishes cutting through the sound three times before the guitars come in with a drifting airy sound, a big bass sound underlying the track, drums chipping along before driving in as the guitars burst through.  It’s a tight sound, occasionally mmoving into feedback, but mostly deep, moody, continuing with a dark feeling of doom, the drums biting as the guitars circle and drift, the vocals screaming out, a big noise has been created now, the bass rumbling through as the guitars buzz and it ends on feedback.  I am hooked.  The tempo starts to pick up and roll as they head into Heirarchy, which then ebbs and flows between melodic and harder sounds, the vocals are pushing through, forceful now, drums biting in again, bursts from the guitars, controlled, not quite soaring, building a big wall of noise which moves into guitar screeches and then feedback.  Then the first of the untitled tracks, more laid back, deeper, the excellent vocals drifting, the track moves into the guitars picking out a melodic theme, then swapmed by the drums and bass, and move to riffing.  Everything eases off for the vocals to come through again, with the guitar occasionally clanging in with flourishes, the bass building then easing again, the track has an airy feel to it now, atmospheric, before the guitar sound picks up the tempo and it rocks off again, the drums insistent as they take us on, the guitar tries to soar but is held back as the track eases again, still moving on but only through the drums, everything else moving around the beat, then big riffing coming in, moving to swirling guitar, the bass keeping us grounded, and it rumbles to a silence.  And it is at this point that I think we move into their newest untitled track, a melodic riff picking up again and crashing cymbals take us on, the sound is straightforward now, faster, heavy, the vocals still a low sound, the guitars floating, flourishes coming through and then it hits into some powerful riffing, the drums cutting in sharp before easing off again, a guitar echo dominating the sound, the track eases with just the bass coming through before kicking off again, hard, heavy, relentless, and closes on feedback.  It has been an outstanding opening to their set, and even though they have cut straight through four tracks, a huge part of me wishes it had not yet come to an end.

Thankfully there is still more ot their set, and they move on to The Passing Of, another track from their ep.  A hard, heavy opening with a big bass line, it calms into melodic guitar flourishes with echo, very atmospheric, building with the guitars almost screeching, then soaring and fading, the bass thumping through as the vocals come in.  More guitar flourishes cut in, melodic again, the sound building in echoes, then the guitar sound soars and keeps going, the track moving along with the guitar, easing, but then the whole sound builds again before finally bursting out, harder, fuller, faster, a big drum sound joined by the bass and guitars, crashing sounds as it is rocking along, heavy, lots of guitar parts, swirling, mixing, and then it eases into Witch Hunting, again from their ep, a bass sound with drums, guitars circling in, the vocals coming through almost having a Kurt Cobain sound to them, the track picks up, heavy, deep, a faster tempo – big, fast and riffing now, the drums pounding, and not for the first time in their set, utterly relentless, but suddenly it is airy again, a lighter feel, drifting, before it kicks off, building another solid wall of noise, and ending on feedback.  I do not know how often Mister Manana will be travelling down from Carlisle for gigs near to me, but I hope I do manage to catch them live again soon – until then, at least I have their excellent ep, Caprisun & Wrongbow, to see me through, because they have an excellent sound and have created some outstanding tracks around it.

By the time I have this up in my blog, Xenon Codex will have played the Cosmic Puffin Festival, so I hope that went well for them, and if you cannot guess from that reference and their name, they are a heavy space rock band, with ambient and psychedelic influences, and I had been wanting to catch them live for some time now – I was not disappointed when it finally happened.  They are another band who like to roll their songs together, so they started with In The End and then went into Flying De Lorean Dub, and being new to their music I am not sure where the one ends and the other starts, so bear with me and I will carry on through the two.  They open with big sustained riffing, rolling drums, then the sound dies and there is simply pulsing from the bass until the drums kick in again, then riffing from the guitars and the keyboards join in, everything building a big sound as the track holds, the vocals coming in full of energy, a strident feel to them, as the melody is building within the keyboard sound.  The track is rumbling along now, growing the atmosphere around it, the tempo starting to pick up, the riffing becomes more pronounced and they have developed a real space rock feel now.  Then the music is moving in bursts, the sound eases back, there is feedback, then it is more melodic as it continues, the guitars making a piercing melody with the keyboards providing a bass sound, then the drums and bass kick in and move us along at a steady pace, not quite drifting, and the sound is growing, the guitar flooding out, an increased beat now, rolling along again, a high melody from the keyboards, spacey, with interesting interruptions within the beat, and the tempo really picks up in an instant, racing on as the voclas come in and I am thinking this has a big Hawkwind sound now, and of course it does because they have now moved on to the magnificent Spirit Of The Age, one of my favourite Hawkwind tracks, the beat now getting faster, more insistent, while the melody swirls, floats, drifts, and the vocals are screaming out.  It all comes together with a hard edge and rocks on, again some interesting interruptions within the beat and a nice bass line coming through, and I am enjoying the rhythm section in this band.  It becomes airy, spacey again, slows, calms, drifts as Greg Singh is clearly warmed up and takes off his jacket, and then it fades to an end.  Brilliant.

They do not let up, and a riff intro takes us into Skin You’re In, some screeching from the guitar, a heavy sound even before the bass thumps in, and then the sound begins to circle, the vocals are forceful, definitely have an edge to them, and the track is rocking along hard and heavy, some really great guitar parts mixing so well with the keyboards, an uptempo beat, rolling along, some very high parts screeching out, and then rthe riffing comes in hard to dominate the tempo, then eases, floats, before the beat picks up again and the track rolls on, easing down again for the vocals to come in, but the melody still reverberating around the room, floating guitar, a hard beat, forceful vocals, the sound drifting now, the guitar part being picked out, the drums and bass still hard with a steady beat but everything else floating around the beat.  Some slide guitar now, but also using the slide to play out the riff, building a big sound as the tempo fastens, the drums really racing now, the bass rumbling through, and now the guitars join in and pick up that same pace, very fast now, speeding along, tight, then easing into a steady beat with a great rhythm, the keyboards flooding the sound, tinkling, then circling, rising, falling, and the vocals become a chant and we move into Win Some Things, and a new person has joined them on stage from the crowd and is playing one of the cymbals, and now the sound has become very Native American, rumbling along, a heavy sound, hard, the vocals moving on to lyrics from the chanting, and there is a wonderful atmosphere about the place now.  The vocals become forceful and the rhythm is still very strong, there is a power to this track, and the guitar starts to cut across it as we move back to the chanting, which is now very dramatic, and the track breaks out and flows, a big sound but tight, very tight – how do they keep something this vast so tight ?  Well, here the drums are dictating where the track goes, holiding it all together, and then they slam the whole thing to a sharp halt.  Truly breathtaking.  They close with Theme From Xenon Codex, which you can hear on their MySpace profile, after thanking Neil from Alternator Promotions for arranging the night, and the guitar part opens picking out the notes, the drums come crashing in in bursts, and it is a slow, restrained start before it picks up and starts to floe, melodies floating around, then the sound gets harder, more together, and moves on.  There is a steady beat, but still slow, restrained, and the person who had joined them on stage before is now back at the side of the stage with no top on, but wearing a white face mask, and suddenly he is adding sounds into the vocals, and the track itself is growing, rising, the tempo has picked up and it is rolling along now, before easing a little, and the new guy is singing and his decent vocals are certainly coming through while the drums are biting, the melody is floating, and then the sound fades to a close.  It has been an interesting and enjoyable set, and there was a nice touch of theatre at the end there.

This was an outstanding night, and I would have paid good money to see any one of these bands, let alone having all three on the same bill – so my message to you is to support local nights like these.  Frankly, the Nag’s Head should be bursting every Thursday with free nights like these in a town like High Wycombe, with its student population.  So do not take it for granted, and make sure you get down to the next one.

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