Dead Swans [farewell show] – Relentless Garage, London, 30/3/13

Despite not registering as a ‘cool’ band amongst some of the hardcore scene’s more picky and trendy crew for a few years now, it’s a fitting testimony to the band’s impact on UK hardcore that Dead Swans play out their last performance in front of a sold out crowd in probably the largest venue the band has ever headlined. A refreshingly varied bill of eight bands gives the show a festival atmosphere as the cream of the UK underground bids farewell to one of the most passionate, uncompromising and intense acts on the hardcore circuit.

Unfortunately I missed Strange Places and Departures but the latter of the two deserves upmost recognition for undertaking a monstrous seven hour journey to play for a mere fifteen minutes. Dedication indeed.

Honour Among Thieves, previously defunct, have picked up their instruments once again at Dead Swans’ behest. Well aware that a great swathe of the heads in the room are unfamiliar with any aspect of the band, the vocalist takes a confrontational approach in the hope of provoking some kind of response. Placing himself in the midst of the crowd, the response is gradual, but by the end of a set of rather straight-forward speedy hardcore, said vocalist is being jumped on by an eager gaggle who seem to know some of the words. A success for a band who clearly imagined they were going to play to a sea of blank faces and static figures.

Holding up the banner for carefree party jams is Gnarwolves who are going from strength to strength as of late. Stage divers, taking advantage of the lack of barrier and overbearing security, immediately set themselves upon the overwhelmingly young audience who press themselves against the stage. The kids in the know regurgitate every single word to breakneck melodic punk tunes such as ‘History Is Bunk’ as well as the softer and potentially lip quivering ‘Community, Stability,Identity’. Although they still maintain their ragged charm, the Brighton trio are a much more solid live entity thanks to their unrelenting touring schedule. The group surely won over some of the crusties at the back of the room, if not for their engaging performance, than for their much applauded quips at Don Brocco (who are cunts apparently, who knew!?). Gnarwolves debut album is awaited with eager ears.

Spitting in the face of any essence of monotony are Landscapes, who have done away with hardcore’s limitations and much notion of any distinct ‘fast’ or ‘mosh’ parts to actually create fucking great songs that are heavily impassioned and have obviously been painstakingly arranged. Sticking entirely to their much lauded debut Life Gone Wrong, the band incites a fervent response as many at the front seem to have taken it upon themselves to burn every word screamed by the emotionally pained vocalist onto their brains. Relying more on poignancy rather than sheer brutality, tracks such as ‘D.R.E.A.M’ are works of masterfully controlled dynamics that have much of the venue enthralled from start to finish.

Breaking Point have failed to impress me in the past, but despite sticking rigidly to a one-dimensional ‘mosh’ sound, tonight they seem a much more engaging live proposition. The hardcore dance enthusiasts finally take their cue to violently hurl their body parts round the pit to the mosh-ready riffs and lyrics of the vehemently straight edge disposition. Frontman Louis is rabid, confrontational and fresh off the road with his new position in Brutality Will Prevail. He repeatedly urges the crowd to “get ignorant”, a command to which they respond with aplomb.

A band with no concept of subtlety, Last Witness are instead more concerned with battering the audience into submission as down-tuned riffs rain down on a now well warmed audience. Coming on stage to the demonic screams of the intro to Slipknot’s Iowa seems perfectly apt way to signal their arrival. Despite hardly being the most intimidating of figures, lead growler Theo commands a brilliantly abrasive and guttural scream which he unleashes unfailingly even as he spends a large portion of the set in mid-air, bouncing non-stop around the stage. The riffs, ingrained with hints of nu-metal, are disgustingly crushing in their unrelenting fury. Oldie ‘Dreamland Welcomes You’ and newie ‘Saccharine’ are blasts of ultra-aggressive metalcore that keeps the pit action frantic whilst closer ‘The Void’ and its groove-laden metalisms end the set on a positively destructive note.

Taking to the stage in a hail of feedback, the scream of “It’s starting” announces the arrival of ‘Thinking Of You’ from Dead Swans‘ only full length, Sleepwalkers, with stage divers launching themselves from the monitors onto the packed front rows. The band only make it halfway through the song before their frontman has hurled himself into the crowd. An inspiring vocalist, Nick throws every morsel of anguish and pain into his vocals and despite becoming increasingly intoxicated throughout the set his acerbic vocal chords never falter. For once, a hardcore show is blessed with a live sound of relative clarity, with Benny’s dazzling drumwork sounding nothing less than monstrous through the forgiving PA and the vocal often distinguishable from the cacophony around it. With most of their songs clocking in at two minutes or less they manage to cover a great swathe of their discography, the cataclysmic ‘Hanging Sun’ from their debut Southern Blue to the breathtakingly aggressive ‘In The Half-light’ from the split with the now massive Architects boys and their well-honed hardcore sound of ‘You Can Only Blame Yourself’ from their most recent release Anxiety And Everything Else. Throughout the almost hour long performance every band member experiences the joys and perils of stage-diving, with even sticksman Benny finding a break in the set to jump on some heads. Although the pace of the show falters toward the end, an understandable factor considering the amount of energy thrown into every song, the bands performance is pure passion from start to finish and an inspiring spectacle. Finishing with an encore of ‘Preferring The Worst’, the first song ever penned by the group, rounds off the night in logical fashion. An awe-inspiring performance by a group who obviously still court huge adulation in the UK underground. Dead Swans and much of the crowd are by the end of the set saturated in sweat, mentally drained and physically battered- all the hallmarks of a perfectly executed hardcore show and the best send-off Dead Swans could have asked for. They will be sorely missed.

5 out of 5 high fives!