Combichrist // Priest // Mimi Barks // Live Review // The Fleece // Bristol
First to grace the stage with her presence tonight was Mimi Barks, a formidable, independent trap metal artist from Berlin, who is currently touring the UK and accompanying Combichrist for many of their shows. To say her show packed a punch would be an understatement. Without warning, she dives headfirst into her first song of the night dramatically, with a deeply haunting melody and ferocious screaming vocals that could put any female singer to shame. Her musical prowess is clear to see from the outset. She is dressed completely in black and crouches at the front stage pedestal, a wind machine blowing through her hair, as she stares out at the audience members with blacked-out, demonic eyes. With some hints of rap and nu metal, her presence is confrontational, confident, and charged yet highly emotional. At this point, it was damn near impossible to focus on anything else in the room except Mimi.
The powerful, devastating bassline is perhaps what was most distinctive about her musical style throughout the set; it seemed to penetrate the walls, pulsing intensely in your chest, and was a fantastic accompaniment to the singer’s lyrical message and stage presence. There were only two musicians on stage – Mimi and Mike Heller the drummer, but the whole show was a sonic success from start to finish. It was a massive hit with the audience too, with a few audience members at the front appearing completely mesmerised, staring up at her almost in a state of complete awe. Without a doubt, I would go and see her again. I had listened to Mimis’ music from home, but her live performance delivery is very different and somewhat of a theatrical, underground spectacle that I’d highly recommend anyone go and witness.
Next up was Priest, a synth-heavy electronic project featuring previous members of the Swedish rock act Ghost, who have been releasing music as a solo project since 2017. The black studded, masked figures make their way onto the stage, circling somewhat secretively behind their synth machines, as if preparing to begin some dark, unholy ritual. After a few mysteriously silent moments, Priest proceeds to warm up the room with dark, cryptic, yet industrially futuristic synth-ladened beats.
Salt, the lead singer is very good at getting the crowd going, and has a notable presence on the stage, interacting with individual audience members and systematically punching the air as he moves energetically around the stage. His vocal style mixes very well with the sound of the synthesizers, both of which are dark and cryptic. The beat is eerily constant and brooding, resembling clear influences from the 1980s darkwave movement. The set starts slow and steady, but as the night progresses, the music becomes progressively more intense and morphs into something more trance-like. At four songs in, the crowd is lured into a highly infectiously haunting, techno-heavy song that is an immediate hit with the audience.
Following on from here with another popular song, the crowd is wowed halfway through when the keytar player stands on the front stage pedestal to blind us with an impressive electronic solo. Though the music is dance and trance-like, the themes and musical riffs remain cryptic and dark throughout the set.
Priest has a very unique, niche sound, and though you might expect some similarities to Ghost, this project is entirely different.
Combichrist is a force to be reckoned with. They took the scene by storm with their first album in 2003 at a time when many believed that industrial metal was dying. They have become well known for their intense performances, aggro-infused beats, and nightmarish theatrics, touring with Rammstein as well as for their growing following of devoted fans.
The devotion of the fans was clear to see at the Fleece Bristol tonight. All were super excited anticipating the arrival of Combichrist and everybody clapped as we were thrust into a cloak of darkness and subjected to a suspenseful one note on the synth as we waited for them to arrive.
After sprinkling audience members at the front with a generous helping of spring water, Combichrist got straight to headbanging through their first song, going completely wild with some pretty powerful growls from Andy LaPlegua. The audience mirrored the energy straight away with equally enthusiastic headbangs and jumps and at times the energy in the room felt downright euphoric.
The music throughout was aggressive and touched upon dark topics, often exploring socio-critical themes which are typical of the aggrotech scene. The beats from their newest drummer, Dane White were industrial and powerful giving the songs a strong, repetitive pulse (a defining characteristic of dark techno) but without straying too far from creative melody and the use of heavy guitars, which is an important characteristic in rock and metal music.
Lyrically, the songs have great depth to them, exploring darker aspects of the human psyche and themes like corruption which are less talked about in society. Surfing right on the edge of controversy, Combichrist pulls these topics out of the dark, to shed light on them, make sense of them, and break them apart. These often complex messages translate brilliantly live.
What’s more, they are not just a band playing to an audience. Their surreal, dramatic visual imagery paired with the exploration of darker themes and our unconscious minds along with their relentless tendency to go against the grain and challenge our thinking puts them directly on the platform for subversive art. Combichrist is an interactive band with a mission. To break and destroy but for a greater good, for independence, and personal freedom.
The songs tonight were intense, aggressive, and melodic with an almost punk attitude, complete with the nightmarish theatrics and terrifying face paints characteristic of Combichrist shows. Though the influence of the Aggrotech and Industrial metal genres are clear, Combichrist has a distinctive, unique sound that is very much their own, a quality I can only admire. And as far as the genre goes, I can safely say I just received a full education in industrial metal.