Live review: Unto Others, Camden Underworld

Dark knights Unto Others bring goth rock, macabre cool and plenty of ‘UNGH’s to the Big Smoke…

Live review: Unto Others, Camden Underworld
James MacKinnon
Paul Harries

Some are born to sweet delight. Some are born to endless night. Few rising bands seem to embody that oft-quoted maxim by poet William Blake as Unto Others. Standing onstage in Underworld’s subterranean proving ground, the shadowy Portland gang are a commanding presence tonight, fusing headbanging riffs and goth rock steeliness in a dark alchemy.

While the phenomenally sensitive Blake encountered visions of angels in London’s architecture, frontman Gabriel Franco’s vision of London tonight is of a more macabre nature – viewed through permanently fixed aviator shades. ‘You don’t see what I see, there’s a devil in my mind,’ he intones coolly as the band’s personal anthem Give Me To The Night rages on, ‘In the dark, I’m running free, give to me your energy!’ It would be rude not to oblige.

With songs about perished cosmonauts and bargains with the Grim Reaper, opening duo Zetra present their own alternate reality. Quite literally. A monolith of screens sits centre stage running footage of twitching eyeballs and smouldering shorelines, while the stolid pair unveil slow-burning synths, pop and metal swathed in corpsepaint. The effect is as if Behemoth trickster Nergal had joined Duran Duran.

If that sounds like a hard act to pull off, it is. The elements don’t always gel, with the glacial pace of their cosmic explorations sometimes feeling a bit weightless, despite the druidic conviction of vocalist/guitarist Adam. But when the stars align – as they do on Life Melts Away, Pt. 2 – the results are spectacular. Adam’s bursts of doomy distortion are lifted into the stratosphere by synth-lord Jordan’s space age melodies, holding the packed crowd in thrall.

Unto Others waste no time pussyfooting. Marching onstage they launch straight into the feral, metallic charge of Heroin. The glowering floodlights aimed straight at eye level are as much part of their shock and awe strategy as Gabriel’s bear growls, silhouetting the band as if they walked straight onto the set of Nosferatu.

Yet Unto Others’ shadowplay contains multitudes. The blackened chug of Nightfall is ably matched by Downtown’s sleazy goth rock, drummer Colin Vranizan shifting half-time grooves before pushing the pedal to the floor. And then there’s the vampiric disco of Instinct and Jackie, showing that Underworld’s clientele can shimmy as well as pump fists.

There’s simply no arguing with the imperious firepower of When Will Gods Work Be Done, though. Bassist Brandon Hill’s low-end groove drives the song with the sense of peril that comes from running with scissors. Each primal cry of ‘UNGH!’ – of which there are many tonight – piles on biblical intensity, before the dam breaks into a torrential outpouring of galloping bass and stormy guitar solos.

At the core of Unto Others’ world of pitch blacks and blinding lights, though, lies a burning lust for life. The crowd runs and roars with them on this joyride through the gloaming, with a blood-pumping cover of Thin Lizzy’s Cold Sweat causing Gabriel to lose his measured cool. “London, we’ve been here three times and this already feels like our second hometown,” Gabriel says, with a rare smile peeking out beneath those shades. “Needless to say, we will be back soon,” he promises.

Unto Others are doing the lord’s work. Long may their endless night reign.

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