support Serpent Venom + Crystal Head
author EW date 21/05/13 venue Underworld, London, UK

As a certain band from Birmingham are plying their trade again across the arena stages of the world in anticipation of their eagerly-awaited new album, a much younger, smaller band of reputedly similar style have also been seen hitting the club stages of Europe in support of their own new album. Orchid will never achieve the superstardom, success or wealth as Black Sabbath but whereas to catch one involves £60 tickets for a distant view, the other is a much more fan-friendly £10 and a concert on this scribe's birthday nonetheless.

Crystal Head

A band of whom I had no prior knowledge before this performance, London collective Crystal Head in their half-hour taught me: that in a gig headlined by a 1973 revival act they looked impossibly hip in the 2013 sense; that beards automatically endow an extra level of panache on their wearer; and that their Queens of the Stage Age & Clutch inspired rock was deserving of a more confident frontman than came in Tom Cameron. Oozing an air of mainstream accessibility that was noticeably absent from the night's other two bands Crystal Head did a surprisingly decent job in filling their half hour slot with a nice mixture of head-nodding riffs and flowing instrumental sections albeit with a sense of not looking comfortable at being on such a bill. The quiet and minimal exhortations of Cameron matched with a stern and displeased look suggested his mind lay elsewhere but in front of him was a sizable crowd in polite reception of an otherwise commendable first act.


Serpent Venom

Adding weight and slowing the speed of proceedings to proper doom standards, London's Serpent Venom on paper certainly look the part. A listen to their debut album "Carnal Altar" before the gig revealed a band more in love with the traditions of true doom than any startling ability to play it well, the result of which live becoming painfully true in a slowly moving uneventful 40 minute set. Aside from a couple of small speeches aimed primarily at the throngs directly in front of the stage, the lack of stagemanship from the whole band rendered the performance leaden-weighted and uninvolving, a fact which only increased when taking their material into account. Playing songs averaging around 8 minutes in length is standard for doom, as is the restrained delivery of said tunes, but the mediocre quality of riff did not display any unique identity possessed by the four piece that could be taken away with glee. Educated in doom without doubt but a foot soldier of the ranks would be the current status for Serpent Venom based on this experience.



After conducting recent reviews of the "Wizard of War" EP and "The Mouths of Madness" LPs, admiring and condemning the overt Sabbath influence in equal measures, this was a show I had been rather looking forward to. So imagine the opening line of vocalist Theo Mindell after strolling onstage in his 70’s hippie attire: "How can you guys live in such a grey place like this?". Said half in jest for sure, but to come on and openly insult your audience's home city is not the way to endear oneself and set proceedings off, at least in my heart, negatively. Coupled soon after with a couple of jokes that left Mindell himself as the only one laughing amid a sea of silence. Hmm, uncomfortable.

Naturally things did pick up from this point. Keeping a taciturn approach to their performance as bassist and guitarist were happy to stay permanently in their share of the small Underworld stage, it was left to the naturally confident (bordering on cocky) Mindell to be the focal point of attention. Luckily with a wail like Ozzy himself and a willingness to look happy onstage (in this grey city of ours) he does do this well, leading the troops through an array of tracks from "The Mouths…", debut LP "Capricorn" and 2009 EP "Through the Devil's Doorway". Doom they might be by virtue of their Sabbath association but "Capricorn", "Black Funeral", "Eyes Behind the Wall" and "Wizard of War" are not stodgy depressive numbers; their upbeat rhythms and colourful delivery, which at times remind me of Graveyard, make for songs well built for the live arena. Despite their over-enthusiastic usage of the Sabbath template Orchid do still have the kind of riffs that are of infinite more interest to listen to than our Serpent Venom above and which, despite the lack of significant energy being spent by the crowd in their anticipation, made for a cheerful closure to a slightly under-whelming show.


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