Support act Novembre (I missed first band The Prophecy) were ok, and evidently loved by a good proportion of the crowd, but not really to my taste. Standard doom, really, with a lot of each track on a DAT – made all the more obvious by their brave cover of Stripped. Full marks for effort, though – they were beaming between each song and evidently loved being there.
By the time MDB came on stage (bang on time at 2200, too), the venue was heaving – I hadn’t noticed in the run-up to the gig but it apparently had been sold-out for a couple of weeks at least – and it is some time since I last saw that at Rios. The lights dim, everything goes purple, and a few minutes into the intro music the band troop down the stairs and kick straight into For You. A good portent of things to come – very little new was played in the 90 minutes onstage, effectively we were treated to a “best-of” set – and there were no complaints from anybody. A seething My Hope The Destroyer, an old old old Thrash of Naked Limbs, the lighter The Blue Lotus, a truncated The Whore, The Cook and The Mother following directly into a sublime Like Gods Of The Sun, followed by a snarling The Prize of Beauty rounding off the first half of the set.
What was noticeable, of course, was Aaron (the singer). Dressed in faded red combats and bondage top, with his straggly black hair, he was hanging off the mic stand for most of the time, and with a spotlight below him looked even more unhealthy than he perhaps actually was. Talk about suffering for his art – emotionally draining as their music his, his lifeblood appeared to be simply fading in front of our eyes. Even stranger were the fleeting moments where he opened his eyes, and spotlit as he was they appeared black – no other colour at all.
Things got better and better from thereon in. The sound all night was fantastic – the complex interplay of the six-piece as the songs wound in and out lost nothing at all, and every word sung by Aaron was a beacon of clarity in comparison to his body language, his deep and warm vocals proving there was life there somewhere.
For the second half of the set, there was a collective sigh from the entire crowd as the haunting guitar intro of The Cry of Mankind echoed across the room and built into what has always been one of their most loved songs – again though, the long, long fade out of the track was omitted – to be followed by another glorious epic in She Is The Dark. Bit of a surprise next, in oldie Sear Me III (which took us bloody ages to work out what it was, it is that long since I have heard it!), with the rather newer (and darkly erotic) Catherine Blake to round-off the main set.
No heading off for an encore (as Aaron amusingly reminded us, the stairs at the back of the stage to the dressing rooms are rather steep and treacherous!), instead they run straight into the darkness of The Dreadful Hours (and with the rumbling samples of rain and thunder during the intro, I was half expecting to get wet, they were that effective), with a final flourish through The Forever People – the only time the beats properly moved above walking pace.
Overall, another fabulous gig from another band I have been waiting to see for years. No bad songs, no little effort (no laziness, or just the appearance of a band on autopilot), a band that truly give a shit – after 15 years that is something to be proud of. And one last thought – it occurred to me during the gig that MDB still sound truly unique. There are many other doom acts worthy of note, but none that manage to combine everything into such a majestic whole as this.