It isn’t often that it takes a band nearly ten years to reappear after a first album, without completely disappearing from view and/or being forgotten. But somehow, that is what has happened with Sulpher. Well, I say disappear, but what actually happened was that Rob and Monti in particular ended up working with other bands. And seriously high profile ones, too – The Prodigy, Marilyn Manson, Curve, Gary Numan…indeed the latter day Gary Numan sound, much-more guitar-industrial heavy than before, clearly owes a lot to the influence of Sulpher in the writing and production process.
All of that other work has meant that the long-promised second album has still not yet materialised. But with this gig, the first in god-knows how long (five, six years, maybe?), the return has finally begun, and judging on the large number of people that turned up (including members of the Prodigy and Gary Numan himself!), I wasn’t the only one with an interest in how this was going to work out.
But first, we had to get through the support acts. I missed Global Citizen – I might have at least seen the end of their set if it hadn’t been so ludicrously slow to get in, always an issue at the Purtle – but I did see AlterRed, who were apparently launching their new album.
I saw them a few years back, and while they are clearly a considerably more polished live band than they were then, I’m afraid they still do little for me. More than anything they sound an awful lot like IAMX, in other words aiming for preening, bombastic synthpop with a dark edge. And while the ideas are clearly there, it all seems a bit half-baked, with few if any songs sticking in my head whatsoever. In fact, the two moments they really grabbed me was when the sound got that bit harder and heavier, but sadly those moments were all too brief. Still, kudos to the band for doing something different, and not being yet another band relying on tired 4/4 beats and processed vocals.
And so onto Sulpher. We were made to wait for new stuff, which was peppered through the set, and instead treated to a few old favourites to get us started. These quickly proved that the band haven’t lost their fire and intensity – You Ruined Everything in particular was brutal, an industrial rock anthem that never quite was.
The new stuff was of great interest, too, as only the odd snippet has been released so far from the band. Two of them in particular stood out: the chugging intro, soaring chorus and piano interlude of No One Will Ever Know marked it as a potential album highlight, and better still was Threw It All Away, a pitch-black, brooding track that bursts into life for an epic chorus. Otherwise, I’ll likely need to hear the other new songs a few more times before I can appreciate them properly – as the one thing I did think was that so far, the new material doesn’t have a truly killer song like You Ruined Everything just yet. But then, the band haven’t aired anything close to the full album yet, so there is still time for that.
One Of Us
You Ruined Everything
No One Will Ever Know (new song)
Disintegrate (new song)
Throw It All Away (new song)
(Unknown) (new song)
Nothing (new song)
Take A Look (new song)
Or maybe the band aren’t interested in that any more? Sulpher were always about dynamics in their sound, being masters of switching from quiet to LOUD in a heartbeat, and this was something that a (somewhat overworked!) PA did a relatively good job of showing off. Unknown built to a staggering explosion of fury, and a later Problem did similarly. But for me it was the closing Scarred that was the highlight of the entire evening.
The first real moment of calm all evening as it began, but it was one of foreboding, as we all knew what was coming…and as “What am I supposed to do?” is whispered into the mic, the break is drawn out…before /that/ monstrous riff rips in, and the whole crowd rocks back on it’s heels. Oh yes. Worth the entry fee alone, finishing with this monster made it pretty much fine that the band either decided against an encore or were denied one – it was difficult to tell. Either way, it meant that one or two old favourites were missed out, but what this show did demonstrate was that Sulpher are back, fighting fit, and a new momentum that should see them gain new fans along the way, especially when the new material finally gets released.