A serendipitous moment caused me to cross paths with SPLEEN last year when a planned event was cancelled. So when ‘the man from ASLEF’ said “NO!” to my recent plans, I decided to take advantage of the situation, step WAY OUTSIDE of my Extreme Metal safety net and check them out again as I was enthralled last time and because this time, they were bringing friends. It was a great excuse to check out the Hope and Ruin venue, which I found to be a warm and welcoming place.
SPLEEN – Human Leather – Plague Arcade – The Gaslight Illuminati
Hope And Ruin, Brighton – 10 February 2023
Words and Photography: Jools Green
At first glance, it’s a seemingly eclectic line-up which actually had the commonality of three of the four bands sharing many of the same members.
The Gaslight Illuminati
The Gaslight Illuminati opened. Fronted by Oli Spleen, superbly accompanied by Tristram Arnold on keyboards (also of SPLEEN) and Lizzy Carey on violin, their sound is based around Oli’s poetic creations and is delivered in the style of French chanson.
Performing within their set several tracks from their Still Life album, which was released last year, this is also available as a booklet for those who enjoy reading the lyrics as poetic pieces.
The set featured Refugee, A Memory Of A Memory, a particularly lyrically moving piece that reflects on loss and absence and the final piece, the powerfully emotive Dying To Live, at the end of which Oli dropped dramatically from the (thankfully low) stage to the floor, lying there, motionless for several moments, to the alarm of a couple of people, clearly unaware of the powerful visual statements he often gives with his performances. Overall, a gentle, engaging and sophisticated start to the evening.
Having given everyone at this well-attended event the opportunity to enjoy the well-stocked bars, next up were Plague Arcade, delivering an up-tempo and powerful meld of dark and heavy post-rock with a touch of shoegaze. Plague Arcade are a fairly new band that features several members of Spleen; drummer Simon, guitarist Adrian and bassist Mike, alongside Plague Arcade vocalist Michael and guitarist Ferg.
Their sound and delivery was absolutely killer. It was driving, exciting and powerful, complete with clean but rugged vocals. Their set opened with Queen Of Pain, followed by Animals, Utopia, and my particular favourite, Dark Night, which had a glorious horror tinge to it. Enemy, Hey Wanda, followed, ending on the anthemic Atheist.
I had heard positive things about Plague Arcade from friends and was keen to see if they could deliver, and they did not disappoint. I anticipate even greater things to follow from them.
At this point, my thoughts were, after another quick trip to the bar to calm my excitement, that Plague Arcade would be a hard act to follow. Still, I had heard intriguing things about the over-the-top sludgy noise rock duo Human Leather but hadn’t anticipated just how brutal, exciting, and hilariously bonkers they would be.
Featuring Tom on the smallest drumkit you could imagine an adult being able to play and from which he delivered the most maniacally fast but beautifully fluid and powerful drum delivery I have ever seen and heard, something that, on a larger kit, may not have been attainable. To the point that between tracks, he was briefly out of breath, such was his exertion.
Thankfully bassist and vocalist Amee had plenty of witty, between-track banter and jokes to give him time to regather his strength. Amee complemented Tom perfectly with her down-tuned, sludgy bass lines and slightly growly, slightly angry, deep vocal delivery. In total, a superb set, consisting of tracks that had such long names they’d not fit into this review. That absolutely hit the spot for me, so another band I’ll need to keep my eye on.
Finally, SPLEEN hit the stage. Fronted by Oli once again alongside those previously mentioned, shared members from Plague Arcade and The Gaslight Illuminati, delivered deeply confessional, forthright and often unnerving but hugely moving lyrics set to their uniquely eclectic, alternative sound.
This sound has subtle but groovy aspects of Electro/Disco amongst darker shoegaze and gothic elements woven into the construct, manifesting in something that, to me, sounds pretty unique and powerful but, most importantly, hugely enjoyable.
Their set included several tracks from their self-titled 2020 release; the up-tempo Bury Me Now/Bleed with its groovy driving bass lines, sonic keyboards and catchy repeat lyrics. The haunting Turning the Tide, with its slightly exotic sound, Fag Machine, with its ’80s style disco groove and closing on the slightly Electro/Gothic track Furnace.
It was interesting to see such an eclectic mix of people attending, including fellow Metalheads amongst the large turnout, about all of whom, Oli jokingly commented to me before the show, were there due to his use of emotional blackmail.
But having seen the genuine enjoyment expressed by them for all the bands, they were clearly there for the music and great atmosphere.