It’s another cold and wet night in Bristol and tonight marks the end of another working week for many stood in a long and winding queue to catch two mega prog metal bands live; Karnivool with support from The Ocean.
The queue diminished quickly as fans head straight for the merch stall in the O2 foyer to grab their latest tour t-shirt, while others made a beeline for the bar or to get a front-row spot near the stage.
The stage was lit with misty blue smoke and as members of The Ocean walked out to grab their instruments, the tune-up was completed in the dark to set the atmosphere.
This mighty German 6-piece, also known as ‘The Ocean Collective’, has only been around since their formation in 2000, but in that time they’ve managed to be consistent in producing a total of 9 studio albums to date. That’s a mammoth amount of tracks they have under their belt; not forgetting the EPs they’ve also released in that time and the fast turnover of 40 band members who’ve joined and left the band leaving the current line-up.
Heading straight into their first track of the night, the stage was back-lit with two large spotlights that warmed the stage intermittently along with the sporadic flashes of several strobe lights that pumped along with the beat.
Vocalist Lois Rossetti all dressed in black doubled over to let out some almighty howls as the bass from the drums hurled out such force, you could feel it beneath your feet. Guitarist David Ramis-Ahfeldt thanked the crowd for coming after ‘All It Takes’ lasted as long as a 12” record. The sound they produced varied in time signatures but was dark and dastardly time after time. Rossetti had the most intense guttural hollers you could imagine, backed up by co-founder Robin Staps and Ramis Ahfeldt on guitar. Drums provided by Paul Seidel were equally insane.
But the crowd, which had now completely filled every nook and cranny in the venue, just stood mesmerised as they soaked up each note that flowed over them like a tidal wave with a sea of nodding heads.
Midway through the set, there was a glimpse of a regular beat on the drums; but that was short-lived as the tone of every instrument played on stage went into complete and utter chaos as the track became more dark and deadly. Extraordinarily experimental but fucking nuts. There’s nothing like that feeling when you hear something so out of this world, that it takes your breath away; a sound that you can completely lose yourself in.
A much slower track followed as the lights turned soft to bring the crowd back down to earth, but the vibe is still sinister. If you’d not seen them play before, you’d need to be prepared for anything to happen. The tone and feel of their music can be turned upside down in a heartbeat.
As the lights work their way through the primary colours the erratic beats commence again as strobe lights light the crowd in time to the bass. With a few keys from Peter Voigtmann on his Moog thrown in, an alternating beat is formed with Rossetti’s more subtle vocals which had the crowd remaining deadly still. But as the track gains momentum, so do the strobes. Let’s hope those who suffer from Epilepsy were warned!
The last track of their set saw Rossetti pass his mic into the front row where the lucky punter who grabbed it was surrounded by an energetic crowd who’d formed a pit, waving their arms in the air and spurring him on.
By 9pm their set was over and Rossetti thanked their fans for coming along, and that Karnivool would put on a great show for them and expect a good time.
Once The Ocean had finished, the stage doors were open as the roadies offloaded their gear. The venue felt so quiet after that 50 minute set, leaving your mind wondering what the hell it had just experienced. A phenomenal set without a doubt.
40 minutes passed as the crowd got another beer and made their way back down near the stage. You could start to see people looking at their watches in confusion and getting twitchy.
At 9.50pm the wait was over as this Perth-based band with a huge following graced the stage. There was already a colourfully lit stage as Karnivool launched into ‘C.O.T.E.’ taken from their successful album ‘Themata’ released in 2005, and a strong start for the band.
‘All it Takes’ is the band’s latest track, released in 2021 and the next track on their set for the night. A much heavier sound to this one with some twisted guitar riffs that accompany the thundering and repetitive drums perfectly.
Ian Kenny on vocals who was the founding member of Karnivool took the opportunity to greet the crowd by telling them how ‘muther-fucking beautiful’ they all were tonight and how pleased he was to be back in Bristol.
Kenny remained very interactive with the crowd and doting fans all through the night, spending much of his time dancing on stage or opening up his arms and his heart to all watching.
‘Shutterspeed’ followed and lifted the tempo with its ludicrously catchy guitar riff courtesy of Drew Goddard on guitar, mimicked by Jon Stockman on bass and the drums played by the insanely talented Steve Judd. An enticing track is also taken from their album ‘Themata’.
Although the Karnivool are categorised as prog-metal, they portray a contrast in comparison to that of The Ocean, with harmonious vocals and a brighter sound. The crowd were often seen swaying to the music or slowly nodding their heads as far back as the bar. Again, these Australian ‘God’s had a large fan base who shouted out every lyric played, instantaneously recognising tracks after the strum of a guitar chord.
Every wall in the venue was getting pummelled by the sound of the bass drum as it reverberated around the room. Disappointingly, there were many times that the band’s sound was drowned as a consequence made by its sheer volume, making it hard to distinguish what was being played. There were moments when it was overwhelming. But it didn’t spoil the night for the fans who knew every track played, but for someone who’s not witnessed this incredible band live or heard any of their tracks before, it was a real pity. This is in no way any fault of the band, of course, just a case of the live mix not being tweaked to perfection or the acoustic set-up at the venue.
A large part of the set was taken from the band’s second album ‘Sound Awake’ with powerful tracks such as ‘Goliath’ to the more mellow sounds of ‘Umbra’. No matter what track was being played, each was filled with passion, heavily instrumental backed with the heartbeat of the bass drum. The harmonies provided by Goddard and Hasking on guitar emitted a beautifully rich sound along with the pulsating toms of the drums on ‘Deadman’; a gargantuan 12-minute long masterpiece and a refreshing change to hear.
The change in lights seemed to change the mood of each track. Red lights with an intricate and toppy guitar riff to start and thundering bass lines set the scene for ‘Themata’, as their set was nearing the end. The crowd had started to get a little vibrant as security started to line the barriers; but the feeling was that of emotion, not malice.
‘Change’ taken from the album ‘Sound Awake’ was the final track on the set. The sound of maracas and bongos played softly in the background as the deep strum of guitar was played on the first beat of every bar leading the listener to the echoes of Kenny’s vocals. This was the most experimental track so far of the night and another belter lasting 10 minutes long.
A bit of an interlude now once Kenny had grabbed his acoustic guitar and treated fans to a short tune whilst the rest of the band stood back and caught their breath. Was it time for the encore? It’s now 10.45 pm and a few people had started to leave to get at the front of the queue to pay for their parking ticket or to see what’s left of the merchandise before they head home for the weekend.
Only a couple of minutes passed whilst the band vacated the stage and they were back on to knock out their final tracks of the night. But that was only after Kenny had again thanked the crowd for their patience after tours were cancelled and they had waited some time for Karnivool to come back to Bristol.
‘Alpha Omega’ taken from their last album ‘Asymmetry’ and the only one played during their set, took the tone down a notch for the penultimate track of the night. The lights were dimmed as their sound became stripped down, giving Kenny’s vocals time to shine. And of course, what would the night be without seeing an array of mobile phones being held in the air to capture it all.
The venue is back to being lit dimly in blue as their final momentous track of the night ‘New Day’ is played. It didn’t take much for Kenny to encourage the crowd to join in whilst others at the back of the venue by the bar and back door sang fervently to each other with their arms on the air. There’s a bit of stage diving action going on and the mosh pit starts to pick up speed as the crowd use every possible moment left to lose themselves in the music.
“Til next time my friends. Thank you, Bristol, ” shouted Kenny as the set drew to a close.
It had been one crazy night. The venue was packed and the atmosphere was deeply content. No nonsense and lots of smiling faces.
For those who’ve not witnessed these fiercely talented Australian musicians live, get yourself along to one of their shows. In the meantime, get your eardrums around their discography. It’s mind-blowingly impressive.
Review & Photography: Emma Painter
“The Regeneration Tour”
January And February 2023