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A Magazine for Sheffield

The House Devils / Nile

1 June

The House Devils deserved a much bigger crowd than they got on a warm Sunday evening at the start of June. Nonetheless, this Irish folk four-piece tempted a tiny audience out of the sunshine and into the back room of the Greystones with a spirited mix of toe-tapping jigs and traditional ballads.

The highlight of the night came from the House Devils’ virtuoso flute and harmonica player, Mat Walklate. If you’ve never heard an Irish jig played on a harmonica (which I hadn’t) it’s a lesson in the subtlety of an instrument which is all too often degraded on the pub circuit by aspiring Bob Dylans. Walklate’s playing is also fantastic to watch, as his fingers move hypnotically to the fierce tempo laid down by the rest of the band.

The rhythm section keep things thumping along nicely with an acoustic guitar and some excellent bodhran playing. This traditional Irish drum adds depth to the band’s sound, with its adjustable pitch and muted tones providing the warm, bass notes just out of reach of the guitar. Couple this with the dexterity of Jonny Hulme on the banjo, and the House Devils can really fill a room with their richly-textured sound.

My only criticism is the fact that two members of the band share lead vocal duties throughout the set. Although both men have fine voices, this is the one aspect of their performance that feels slightly disjointed, as if the band couldn’t quite agree on who should be doing what.

In amongst the Irish folk there’s some classic American country and bluegrass from the likes of Jimmy Murphy and Bill Monroe. These songs are given a Celtic twist, and since Irish immigrants to the US had a strong influence on early bluegrass it’s interesting to hear the lines between the two genres being blurred once again.

There are even a couple of good old fashioned murder ballads thrown into the mix, and in between tunes the Devils apologise wryly for the odd song they sing in which nobody dies. That, apparently, means it’s not a real folk song.

Edward Russell-Johnson


25 June

Metallica's Glastonbury set notwithstanding, metal has fallen on tough times. The economics of touring is part of the problem, but that's just context. Metal has lost the kids and it's becoming a backwater as a result. The prevalence of buy-on support slots is a dead giveaway, too. You've seen them before – the young British band you've never heard of, all of whom play with a degree of college-honed aptitude in inverse proportion to their originality, aping stadium showmanship without the mind to see that the room's not with them. Epitaph's elder brothers clearly stopped buying records in 1992. They play polished but paint-by-numbers Sevenfold Funeral for My Chemical Valentine stuff, and are painfully mismatched to tonight's audience. I'm relieved for them once they're done.

Nile deliver exactly what the doctor ordered, assuming the doctor in question believes that tinnitus and psychoacoustics are suitable treatments for all maladies of the soul. It's hard to keep track of genres these days (I even can't tell black metal from misanthropic shoegaze any more) but Nile still sound like what I think of as death metal – hideously loud, madly fast (except when it goes funeral-march slow), shot through with blastbeats and guttural roaring, and wrapped up in song titles like ‘The Supreme Humanism of Megalomania’. The bassist is impersonating a blonde windmill. The two guitarists take turns at spattering out howling slivers of vaguely Eastern scales studded with tritones and whammy-bar divebombs. The drummer is = a fusion-powered robot clad in human meat and would make a fine artilleryman.

Frankly, I'm too old to enjoy this stuff anymore. It's an exhausting assault on the senses, and I've started wishing there were people renting out deckchairs and earplugs at live shows. I'm not sure it's just me, either. There's more enthusiasm than for Epitaph, certainly, but there's no pit, no slamming, and almost everyone here clearly has work tomorrow morning. Nile fight the good fight, but by the time they get to the encores, the death-growl call-and-response stuff has gotten a little bit Butlins. It's been a decent enough performance, but I'm not sure anyone much cares in anything other than the abstract. Death's not dead, perhaps, but there's always Dignitas.

Paul Raven


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