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Live Review: Glassjaw and Napalm Death - HMV Forum, London - 30/3/11

Napalm Death are on stage right in front of me, still as brutal and abrasive as ever. If you close your eyes to block out the image of the four slightly pudgy middle-aged men onstage you’d be forgiven for imagining a younger troupe of players; yet that would detract from their charm, they’ve never lost that youthful desire to get in people’s faces and make noise, regardless of taste or fashion.

It’s folly to measure them against modern standards of musicianship or songwriting. Taken in today’s context you’d perhaps be forgiven for taking one look at them in a dingy club and thinking: ‘Not for me’. That would be missing the point, however, because all the metal bands playing in pubs and clubs up and down the UK, indeed all over the world owe something to Napalm Death if only in some small way. They’ve been ploughing their furrow for more than two decades and are justly respected for the influence they’ve had on modern metal. An essential experience and a considered decision to put them on as support.

Glassjaw themselves come with a more complex reputation. They haven’t released a full-length since 2002, interim material has been variable and accusations that they are past their best and living on former glories are spoken openly. Memories of them as a jaw-droppingly intense live band remain strong however and The Forum is heaving by the time that they walk onstage to a warm, if muted reception.

There is silence, some shuffling around, a little more silence and then Daryl Palumbo looks back at the rest of the band behind him and moments later they launch into 'You Think You’re (John Fucking Lennon'). In the blistering hour or so that follows they play a ear-drum-shattering, wish-fulfilling set that brutally cuffs the doubts aside and triumphantly pronounces their return to form. Tracks from 2002’s 'Worship and Tribute' like 'Mu Empire' and 'Ape Dos Mil' sound as killer as they did a decade ago, the front-man’s awesome vocals scalding and soaring in equal measures; newer songs such as 'All Good Junkies Go To Heaven' and 'Natural Born Farmer' also acquit themselves surprisingly well.

Palumbo is still a wonderful front-man, lurching around the stage, switching from a drunken sway to campy shimmy with schizophrenic ease. It doesn’t take him long to have the crowd at his beck and call and they respond fervently. The most energetic action of the evening, however, is reserved for 'Siberian Kiss' from their first album, 'Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Silence', which sees the ground floor erupt and the heavily tattooed gentleman to my left propel himself straight through several startled onlookers to violently join the burgeoning circle pit.

It would have been the perfect ending, but by way of the encore enthusiastically called for by the crowd, the band come back out to play their new 'Coloring Book' EP in full. It’s good stuff; deep, dark and quite different from the Glassjaw of old but most of the attending haven’t yet familiarised themselves with it and for that reason it seems to fall a little flat.

One can question the logic of dropping a whole load of new songs in a lump at the end but as somebody remarked in a tweet I read after the show: “it’s punk as f**k to come out for the encore, play the whole of your new EP and not give a s**t about it.” He might have a point.

It’s perhaps a slightly anticlimactic end to a brilliant evening but there is no doubt that Glassjaw are back and more than capable of their visceral, enthralling best. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.

Words by Nick Worpole

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