20 April 2007

Live Review: These Arms Are Snakes, 5th December 2006

Leeds Cockpit. Support: no idea

I’m terrible when it comes to gigs nowadays. Too many pass my by due to my indolence, from Down and Dungen to Tool (with Mastodon in support). I, after a lot of soul searching, passed up Neurosis in London in favour of seeing Genghis Tron, here in Leeds. And when I got to the latter gig, at the Fenton, it had apparently sold out. Bands get booked into the wrong venues – Genghis Tron playing the Fenton is insanity. This gig caught me by surprise and, while I was close to lazing it out, I decided to go.

These Arms Are Snakes belong to a genre I hereby christen Jimcore. This nomenclature is shorthand, in honour of my friend Jim, given to those bands that don’t seem to belong to any other genre. It’s that kind of music with roots in punk rock and hardcore, but that has branched out into more ‘rock’ territory, with angular riffs and occasional electronic sounds added to it.

Bands like At The Drive-in and The Refused were Jimcore, and I suppose the progenitors of the genre were Fugazi. Anyway, it’s code for those bands that, when I hear them, I know Jim will like. I think some people would refer to these bands as ‘Post-Hardcore’, but that’s just a silly name, and there’s enough post-stuff happening anyway. Propagandhi got pretty Jimcore on their last album too.

Being now officially in my late twenties, I am too cynical to watch support acts that I have not specifically gone to the gig to see; the openers on this night, then, remain a mystery; not that I care. We turned up just in time for the headliners to make their way to the stage and I was pretty stoked, even if These Arms Are Snakes have a history of slightly disappointing me.

Not that they are not a good band, because they really are – it’s all about context. Back in the day (‘the day’ in this case being seven years ago) I got into Botch, and they were brilliant. One of the key acts in the late nineties ‘Noisecore’ movement (the brief musical trend that I consider my own), they were intensely heavy, structurally daring, musically extraordinary and – like all Noisecore bands – seemed to hate the scene trappings of both metal and hardcore.

Like most Noisecore bands, they didn’t last into this decade and left little other than fond memories. Naturally, I was excited to hear that bassist Brian Cook was in another band: These Arms Are Snakes. To add to the pressure, their debut EP, This is Meant to Hurt You (yeah, quite an emo title) came just after peers Cave In had disappointed fans with major label debut Antenna; the punk rock media had decided that ‘if you were disappointed with the new Cave In, you should get this’.

That was a deadly game, as we were only disappointed with the last Cave In because the prior album, Jupiter was such a work of remarkable beauty. If this new band was anything less than stellar, only disappointment could result. And there you have it, disappointment resulted.

Time passed and their debut full length, Oxeneers or The Lion Sleeps When Its Antelope Go Home dropped in late 2004. I was very impressed after a few listens, as it merged hardcore rock delivery with less barking vocals, a subtler sense of dynamics and the odd musical surprise (Cook doubles up as pump organist, apparently). More to the point, it had some mean riffs; I didn’t even know if Cave In were still a band at this point.

Fast forward to 2006 and new album Easter is potentially better still. The angular guitars have been rounded out to more of a Sabbath-inspired groove, like Comets On Fire but less bound to the past.

The gig itself was good, even if the crowd was as dumb as I have come to expect. Most of the attendees didn’t seem like they knew what the band even sounded like before they bounded onto the stage. I expected, what with history in bands like Botch and Kill Sadie, more of a hardcore/punk rock turnout, but they were absent, their places filled by clueless students. Perhaps These Arms Are Snakes Have sold out or something. Well, they haven’t sold out that much as they are technically playing the Cockpit’s little sibling room, the Rocket.

The band kicked off with ‘Mescaline Eyes’, the opening track on Easter and I loved it from the start. The riff rides on such a gargantuan groove, such a gap between notes, that it is impossible to resist rocking out to it. Well, that’s what I thought, but the people around me seemed resolutely unmoved. The moron in front of me even held his hands over his ears for a moment after a particularly dramatic kick-in.

This audience apathy seemed to take its eventual toll on the band. Vocalist Steve Snere, who would apparently flail around like a madman, mock-hanging himself with his belt and generally flying about the stage on the next time they would play Leeds, tried engaging in stage banter, which got increasingly passionless as the set progressed. His dancing, though cool, lacked the drama I am informed it had when they supported Pelican in a sold-out ‘big room’.

Still, the material was performed well enough that I had a great time (save my annoyance at the rest of the crowd), and dancing was done in small pockets of the room. Both albums were well represented, but it seemed as if the band left the stage a tad early; possibly sharing my vexation at the sheer lack of atmosphere in the Rocket. Not much more to say on the subject, really. It’s a shame we missed their set the next time they played – to a packed, allegedly bewildered, house.

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