Nordic Giants

support Eigengrau
author AP date 02/12/17 venue Beta, Copenhagen, DEN

Despite managing to eclipse the headliner the last time that Nordic Giants last visited Denmark (in support of Sólstafir), the turnout for their first-ever headlining concert in the country is meagre at best. Only some 30 patrons have made their way to BETA tonight, hoping to be wooed once again by the cinematic post-rock played by the Brighton, United Kingdom-born duo — not that it matters too much, given how elusive the two musicians are renowned to be in the live setting. First though, there is a support act to be beheld, in the shape of Eigengrau from Denmark’s second city, Århus, whose most recent gig in the capital took place as part of the annual Uhørt Festival this past summer.

All photos courtesy of Michael Hyldgaard Løgtholt

Eigengrau

Just like the headliners, Eigengrau is a fully instrumental outfit, albeit much heavier and more hard-hitting. Although the quintet’s genre is still best described as archetypical post-rock, there are some other nuances at play as well: odd time signatures borrowed from math-rock, and staccato riffs as well as breakdowns incorporated from metalcore. Indeed, the Århusian outfit has enough distinctive characteristics to leave a lasting impression on me, even if the muted response from their audience would have it otherwise. By alternating which of the three guitarists — Hamed Golchin, Daniel Malling and Mads Trebbien — takes the lead in any given song, Eigengrau is also able to inject each song with its own personality, whether by virtue of crushing chugs by Golching, tapped leads by Malling, or the more classic, twinkly style to which Trebbien mostly subscribes. Their contributions are tied together by a rhythm section which is often difficult to predict, being not so fond of utilising conventional techniques and patterns.

On stage, the musicians do not draw much attention to themselves, adopting the post-rock staples of shoegazing and introspection, whilst letting the music do its own bidding. Trebbien makes the difference with his deeply affected expressions and movement, but even off the back of his efforts it would be a stretch to call Eigengrau a particularly energetic live act. But this never feels like an issue during their 40 minutes of performance, with songs like “Moment” and “Wound” creating such an intense environment on their own. In instrumental post-rock, it is crucial that the artist in question manages to convey the emotions normally expressed through lyrics, and I must concede that in this respect, Eigengrau has done its homework. The music dances between darkness and light, moods both suffocating and uplifting — and even succeeds in delivering a couple of those majestic, teary-eyed moments that tend to be the hallmarks of an evocative post-rock concert. The sparse, timid crowd stops it from ever grazing at transcendence, but put this band into some rammed, intimate confines and they are certain to be special.

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Nordic Giants

Even though Nordic Giants’ albums often leave a lot to be desired, the duo is nonetheless revered as one of the most unique concert experiences available today. Each one of their songs is accompanied by a short film (not commissioned by, but directed for them by an assortment of fans and indie directors), which, in essence, becomes a third member of the band. Indeed, despite the fact that the two musicians are dressed and masked as avian deities, it is quite seldom that one’s gaze is actually drawn toward either of them; instead, it is the footage running on the upright LED monitor at center stage, as well as the larger projector screen behind it that invites one’s curiosity. Ranging from the thoroughly disturbing (a group of scuba divers emerging from a lake to discover that the atmosphere has evaporated and suffocating to death as they run out of air during “Through a Lens Darkly”) through the life-affirming (violent criminals shedding their tough skin to reveal fragile children beneath during “Taxonomy of Illusions”) to the grotesque (two pallbearers tragicomically toiling to deliver a casket to its grave during “Illuminate”) and even the odd vocalist (Alyusha appears on screen during “Little Bird”), the clips are fascinating to watch and, in a sense, convey ideas and emotions far more powerful than words ever could. It is not often that one has witnessed a venue reduced to such profound silence as when “Spirit” bassoons its message of ”We will not destroy the world! We are an extension of the Earth. We are energy. We are spirit. We are power!” through sampled spoken word to us in a triumph of humanity.

Because the filmic element is so central to the duo’s performance, the music of course follows suite in being quite cinematic, and in a sense, watching Nordic Giants feels like watching the soundtrack to some epic, revolutionary documentary being played live. This does not take anything away from the two members — Loki and Rôka — whose prowess with keys, synths, effects, trumpet, drums and bowed guitar often brings you to the verge of tears through sheer beauty. One must not be fooled by the lightness of the tone either; there is tremendous emotional weight behind their compositions, and even if it is the films that hold your attention captive, they would be nothing without their post-symphonic backdrop. And when the two musicians do abandon their stations at either side of the stage, where they are only visible during intermittent flashes of strobe light, one can tell that they are no strangers to performing, with drummer/guitarist Rôka in particular carrying himself with all the drama and showmanship of an actor.

The audience remains completely transfixed for the duration of the hour-long concert, never uttering a word but simply clapping — and continuing to do so long after a song has ended. It is the sort of ovation usually reserved for theatre and deservedly so; “Autonomous”, with its clips of dust-covered office zombies tearing off their greyed jackets to reveal shirts in brilliant colours, is an inspirational way to conclude the set. There is no doubt that some people might find Nordic Giants’ odes to life too avant-garde, but the prevalent opinion inside BETA tonight seems to be that we have been given something truly special; the sort of concert experience that, like after a breathtaking movie in the cinema, makes you want to hit the nearest café or bar with your friends to discuss what you have just seen. Indeed, Nordic Giants are a band that makes you think as well as feel, and as there aren’t too many of those around these days, I would strongly recommend seizing the next opportunity to watch them live — even if ambient and (largely) instrumental post-rock is not your genre of choice.

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